Posts Tagged ‘children’s poetry’

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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My last offering for poetry month is this new gem created by two favorites of mine, poet Julie Fogliano and artist Julie Morstad.

when green becomes tomatoes cover imageWhen Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons
published in 2016; a Neal Porter Book from Roaring Brook Press

Grouped by season, Julia Fogliano’s poems are colorful fragments of observation, almost exclusively about the outdoor world inhabited by children. Joyous, free, simple play in meadows and on beaches, alone or with friends. That makes this collection a prime Orange Marmalade choice !

when green becomes tomatoes interior fogliano and morstad

There are poems about daffodils “shivering and huddled close” in the chill of early spring…

…about the lovely coolness of a swim on “a day that drips hot and thick like honey.”

…about snowstorms and carving jack-o-lanterns and starlight and beach picnics.

In other words, poems about familiar places and events graced by the unique when green becomes tomatoes illustration julie morstadperspective of a poet. All of them are titled by just a date making it especially nice to dip into over the course of a year, or to spot the poem closest to your birthday.

One of the things I like about Fogliano’s poetry, seen in this volume as well as in two other books I’ve reviewed — And Then It’s Spring and If You Want to See a Whale — is the almost ephemeral quality to her words; so light, they’re like a snowflake on your tongue.

For example, the poem “february 15” reads except for a squirrel/quick quick/and then gone/all is still/in the woods/in the winter.

I feel myself hush when I read them, on the alert to glimpse the shimmer of idea in her spare words.  Of course, many children’s poems are silly and rhythmic and boisterous, and I love those, too. But there is a lusciousness to these quieter pieces. We all know today’s children are in great need of quietness, space, and a pace for thoughtful wondering. These poems accommodate that.

No one could better illustrate these, I think, than Julie Morstad, whose work I adore. Every page is squoze full of her signature charm. I do love that on many of these pages, she draws a child alone.

when green becomes tomatoes interior2 fogliano and morstad

Lying in a flowery patch, face towards the sky, one little girl examines a flowerhead, her basket of berries and a book by her side. Lost in lovely thought.  One child atop a summer hill. One curled up by the fire on a winter night. Can we be brave enough to let our children play by themselves this way? Morstad’s vision of aloneness is a content, creative, enriching solitude. It makes me glad.

when green becomes tomatoes interior3 fogliano and morstad

I will say that the majority of Morstad’s figures are little girls. Thus, I think there is more of a girl-feel to the book on the whole.

It is an imaginative beauty, for ages 4 and up.

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It’s Earth Day tomorrow, and Poetry Month all April long, so this slim volume of poems by Wendell Berry, one of our most eloquent spokesmen for the respectful care of the Earth, seemed like the perfect collection to share with you today.

terrapin and other poems cover imageTerrapin And Other Poems, by Wendell Berry, illustrated by Tom Pohrt
published in 2014 by Counterpoint Press

As my blog title indicates, these poems are not only for children. In fact, I have no idea that Berry intended them for children per se. According to the book jacket, it was artist Tom Pohrt who set about collecting pieces by Berry that he deemed especially accessible to children and creating initial sketches to accompany them. In time, he and Berry collaborated in order to deepen Pohrt’s knowledge of the flora and fauna for his watercolor illustrations.

All that to say — this is a volume for all ages. The briefest poems in the book are only a couple of lines long, while others extend quite beyond that. Some of these gems will spark an interest in even very young children — a reflection on a rabbit caught in the rain; a musing about the first person ever to whistle.

terrapin and other poems illustration1 tom pohrt

The poem which gives its name to the collection, The Terrapin, is a delightful piece for children with its commentary on a fellow who is always at home and who “pokes along” with “no map and no suitcase” because he can never really get lost! No matter where he wanders, he is “always home.”

Other pieces incorporate expressions and crafting that obviously require more heft than a 2-year-old can muster. Some will be best appreciated by middle-graders and older, making it a nice volume to grow into.

terrapin and other poems interior berry and pohrt

Berry’s habits of observing and keenly appreciating the natural world mark these poems. They are written by one who listens intently and snuffs in the odor of forests and feels the companionship of unelectrified, velvet nights. There’s a down-to-earth sense about them, a muck-on-the-boots, frost-nipped-face feel, rather than anything artificially romantic.

A snake swells with the body of a mouse. Trees are planted in the hopes they “may live when I/ no longer rise in the mornings/ to be pleased by the green of them/ shining…” A calf is birthed, and a squirrel met whose terrapin and other poems illustration tom pohrtragged tail testifies to a time when “he should have hurried more than he did.” Glimpses and gazings at the real, natural world.

We have Tom Pohrt to thank for this collection, and what is more, for his elegant, captivating watercolor paintings that fill each page with such grace and beauty. It is a felicitous partnership.

Everything about this book works together to slow us down and draw our minds and aesthetic tastebuds to the detail and expanse, stillness and music, temporal and eternal, ever on display in Nature. 

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Last week I featured those amazingly-original Reverso Poems.

This week’s poet, Bob Raczka, is also an Olympic-level word-gymnast. His format: concrete poems. Raczka has published other volumes of these ingenuous pieces. This is his most recent:

wet cement cover image

Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems, created by Bob Raczka
published in 2016 by Roaring Brook Press

A concrete poem is one where, rather than just standing in straight lines down the page, the words themselves are twisted and spiraled and bent into shapes and patterns which augment the meaning of the text.

Think of it as a marching band in a half-time performance, with the players (the words) parading around the pages into clever formations that echo the lyrics.  Something like that anyway.

A few images will do a much better job of conveying the genius behind these creations:

wet cement interior2 bob raczka

Do you see the airplane shape on the left, shooshing off? Underneath, forming the shape of a shallow, Kitty Hawk dune, words rise and fall describing the Wright brothers’ first flight. 

And here’s another delight:

wet cement interior1 bob raczka

The cleverness just puts a smile on my face.

Raczka’s poems in this volume cover everything from icicles to xylophones, fireflies to pop flies. They will tickle the fancy and imagination of elementary school children and up. I found them irresistible! Give them a try, and then search for past volumes of his playful work.

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April is National Poetry Month and this year I’m posting one book of marvelous poems each week.

Except today, I have two. Two companion volumes of a very tricksy, utterly-delightful form of poetry called Reverso Poems, created by the word-magician, Marilyn Singer.

follow follow cover image

Follow Follow: A Book of Reverso Poems, was published in 2013.

echo echo cover image

Echo Echo: Reverso Poems about Greek Myths, was published in 2016

Both are gorgeously illustrated by Josée Masse and published by Dial Books for Young Readers.

So, what’s a reverso poem, you ask?

It’s a poem that conveys one meaning if you read the lines top to bottom, and a twist on that meaning when you read from bottom to top.

I am telling you, the patience required to invent just one of these pairs has got to be staggering.

Singer is, astonishingly, the inventor of this format. Her first volume of reversos, Mirror Mirror, I reviewed here. Her second volume, Follow Follow, likewise takes as its theme fairy tale characters. I will give you one example, so you can be as bewitched by this sleight of hand, word-spinning as I am:

Birthday Suit

Behold his glorious majesty:
Who dares say he drained the treasury
This emperor has
sublime taste in finery!
Only a fool could fail to see.

follow follow illustration josee masse

Now, with just some punctuation changes, we read the lines in a reversed order:

Only a fool could fail to see.
Sublime taste in finery?
This emperor has —
ha! —
Who dares say he drained the treasury?
Behold his glorious majesty!

Isn’t that amazing?!?!

Grab hold of all three volumes if you can, and enjoy the remarkable cleverness in pages and pages of these pairs, all illustrated in vibrant color and clever compositions by Masse. Singer’s third volume, Echo Echo, covers myths from Pandora to King Midas. Medusa and her snaky locks are here. Theseus and the Minotaur. I can’t think of a more engaging way to accompany an introduction to Greek Mythology.

Each of the poems in Echo Echo includes a tiny synopsis of its original myth so you can understand the poem’s references if you’re unfamiliar with the story. Short summaries of the tales referenced in Follow Follow are located at the end of the book.

follow follow interior singer and masse

Go ahead and dive into all three volumes, accessible to such a wide age-range. Young elementary children will enjoy them for sure, but readers in their teens and adults will also find them exceedingly clever and may be inspired to give their own set of reversos a try.

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il_570xN.848762486_49ptI remember that as a child, each New Year’s Day felt immensely consequential. With one flip of the page, an entire calendar, a year stuffed with life, was over; past instead of present. A weirdly sacred finality accompanied the rite of taking it down from the nail on my bedroom wall and chinging it into the garbage can. Voop. Gone. And a tingly new year lay ahead, shadowy with mystery,  vintage-calendar-januarystretching out long and somehow both empty and full at the same time.

January in northern Minnesota was always, predictably, frozen. A time to head to the ragged, outdoor rink night after night for frosty-breathed ice-skating. We knew we were in for months more of winter before the briefest of springs, a short summer, one glorious blast of fall, and then… winter again. You had better love winter to live in the North! 

Every season has its loveliness. As we begin 2016, here are six books that call our attention to the beauty of the seasons:

a bear's year cover imageA Bear’s Year, by Kathy Duval, illustrated by Gerry Turley
published in 2015 by Schwartz & Wade Books

A bulky, frowsy, Mama Bear and her two snuggly cubs mosey and grow through the year in this fetching book.

Brief, poetic text guides us from their quiet den under northern lights, out into spring carousing, summer feasting, autumn sheltering, before tucking them back into a cozy den in a snowy, sleepy world.

a bear's year interior duval and turley

Gerry Turley’s wonderful illustrations capture the galumptious bears and the glories of their rambling wilderness — frosty nights, spring glades graced by elegant paper birches, bushes spangled with persimmon berries, mountainsides garbed in glowing russets and golds. Really gorgeous work here, in bold, up-close views that plant us right in their midst.

a bear's year interior2 duval and turley

A fabulous treat to share with children 18-months and up.

a child's calender cover imageA Child’s Calendar, poems by John Updike, illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman
poems first published in 1965; published with new illustrations in 1999 by Holiday House

John Updike was a Pulitzer-prize winning, every-award-winning, American novelist who also wrote this joyful volume of children’s poetry in 1965.

His twelve, brief poems explore the gem-like qualities of each month, both in the natural world and in the children’s world of activities. So, in January, The days are short/the sun a spark/hung thin between/the dark and dark. Fat snowy footprints/track the floor/and parkas pile up/near the door. Nature and recreation, side by side.

a child's calendar illustration2 trina schart hyman

One of the lovely elements of these poems, then, is the children’s interaction with the outdoor world, the active, playful, creative, pastimes which occupy them throughout the year. Idyllic and refreshingly naive.

They were originally illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert, then republished 30 years later with a tiny bit of editing by Updike, this time illustrated by the masterful Trina Schart Hyman.  She won a Caldecott Honor for her work.

a child's calendar illustration trina schart hyman

It’s gorgeous, as all of her work is, and what I find especially appealing is that she incorporated a multiracial cast in a book set firmly in small town/rural New England. Far too often African American children in picture books are limited to urban scenes, yet here we have a beautiful mish-mash of folks sledding, gardening, tumbling in deep drifts of Maple leaves, and wading through reedy ponds.

It’s a timeless collection for children ages 2 and up.

antler bear canoe cover imageAntler, Bear, Canoe: A Northwoods Alphabet Year, written and illustrated by Betsy Bowen
published in 1991 by Houghton Mifflin

Betsy Bowen is a Minnesota artist, an exceptional woodblock printmaker from wayyyy up north in the tiny, picturesque, Lake Superior town of Grand Marais.

You’ll fall in love with her artwork in this alphabet book which walks us through the seasons in the north woods.

Dominated by her bold, striking woodcuts, the pages move from winter, to spring, summer, fall, and close in the frozen depths of winter again. Fitting, for a home town perched at such a northerly latitude.

antler bear canoe illustration betsy bowen

Whether it’s D is for Dogsledding, K is for Kayak, or S is for Saw, Bowen adds just a few lines, chatting about how this is part of her experience living in this place. In September, “we cut firewood to keep us warm all winter. When we stop our chain saw to add gas and oil, we can hear our neighbor’s saw way off through the woods.”

antler bear canoe illustration2 besty bowen

Immerse yourself in the beauty of the northwoods and in the vigorous, outdoor activities loved by folks who live there. I hope you’re inspired by the sense of community she relates as well as the close-to-nature life she describes. Ages 3 and up.

snowy flowy blowy cover imageSnowy, Flowy, Blowy: A Twelve Months Rhyme, written and illustrated by Nancy Tafuri
published in 1999 by Scholastic Press

Nancy Tafuri is a genius at books for the very young; this one is perfect for the youngest of bookworms.

Each month gets just one word. That’s it. Based on an old poem by Gregory Gander, a poet who lived from 1745-1815, the rhyme progresses in 3-word triplets: Snowy, Flowy, Blowy. Showery, Flowery, Bowery.

snowy blowy flowy illustration nancy tafuri

Double-spreads on big pages bloom with glorious, wall-to-wall illustration. Tafuri’s clear, bold art grabs our attention and rivets it to her simplified, endearing forms. Every month we spy children playing out of doors, and also meet beautiful birds and other wildlife and plant life.

There’s also a little black dog to spot in every scene. It’s got a sweet, old-fashioned feel, for kids ages 1-3.

cozy light cozy night cover imageCozy Light, Cozy Night, written and illustrated by Elisa Kleven
published in 2013 by Creston Books

Elisa Kleven’s color-spattered, jubilant scenes carry us through a cozy, happy year, this time beginning with Autumn and closing out with Summer. So, if you’re tired of beginning with January and wintertime, here’s a nice change of pace.

Cozy Light Cozy Night interior elisa kleven

The months spin by to the tune of a skippety, frolicsome, boundlessly-happy, rhyming text. Again, I love that Kleven features children of diverse races, indoors and out, urban and rural, engaged in a marvelous, kaleidoscope of creative activities — baseball and beachcombing, popcorn parties and pumpkin patches, singing and swinging. There is so much to look at on every page.

Cozy Light Cozy Night interior2 elisa kleven

I just dare you to read this and feel grumpy. It’s a splendid choice for ages 2 and up.

my year cover imageMy Year, by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake
published in 1993 by Viking Penguin

And finally, this lovely journal/memoir written by Roald Dahl during the last year of his life and published posthumously more than 20 years ago.

It’s a conversational meandering through the months. I felt myself to be sitting, relaxed, in Dahl’s home, Gypsy House, nestled in the Chiltern Hills between London and Oxford, hearing about the countryside he loved over a cup of tea. He is pointing out many English birds, telling me their names — willow my year illustration quentin blakewarblers and chiffchaffs and hedge sparrows — and describing their small habits including all the nastiness of the cuckoo, a bird Dahl loves to hate. The trees and hedges, too, are not simply a mass of green but a beloved collection of individuals: hawthorns with blossoms like snow, guelder-roses with their scarlet berries, and horse-chestnut trees whose conkers were just the thing for epic contests among Dahl and his schoolfellows.

So, there’s an outpouring of nature lore here, expressed with palpable fondness, clearly the result of many, many hours quietly observing and relishing the open spaces around him. Dahl is no lover of the city.

Mixed in with these almanac-type comments are rabbit trails of remembrances of various escapades from his youth. Hair-raising adventures collecting birds’ eggs, annual Easter vacations, an illicit motorbike stashed away and ridden in gleeful disguise during his my year illustration2 quentin blakelast school term, and a humorous story of a booby trap he built with his Meccano set at around age nine. Bit of A Child’s Christmas in Wales feel.

Dahl does not hold to a sentimental view of life. At times he sounds just a titch like your grandfather who walked seven miles to school in the snow barefoot…but we’ll grant him that. For what a life he led, and what a world he saw, and how he upends our pretentions with his wild storytelling.

This book is clearly aimed, by Dahl, at young readers, maybe ages 12 and up. I don’t know how many kids out there are interested in memoir per se. For those willing to give it a try, and for adults, this is a quiet gem. Quentin Blake’s loose, tender watercolors are the perfect, final collaboration between two giants of children’s lit.

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finding winnie cover imageFinding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear, by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
published in 2015 by Little, Brown and Company

This picture book is a dream, pure and simple.

It’s the true story of how a young Canadian veterinarian adopted a bear cub as he was on his way to active duty in World War I, and of how that bear, named Winnipeg, or Winnie for short, became the dear friend of a little English boy named Christopher Robin and the inspiration for that lovable Bear of Little Brain, Winnie-the-Pooh.

finding winnie interior by mattick and blackall

The author is a descendant of that Canadian vet and she reels off this sweet story with exquisite, storyteller’s ease.

And then! Sophie Blackall picks up her art tools and delivers perfect illustrations — tender, clean, utterly captivating watercolors that pull us irresistibly into this world and into friendly companionship with one frowsy bear. Every page is as delicious as a cream puff.

finding winnie interior2 mattick and blackall

A miniature album of historic photos and documents is included. It’s one of the loveliest books of the year. Don’t miss it, for ages 3 through Adult.

counting lions cover imageCounting Lions:Portraits from the Wild, by Katie Cotton, illustrated by Stephen Walton
published in 2015 by Candlewick Press

Stunningly beautiful portraits of wildlife by illustrator Stephen Walton will stop you in your tracks from your first glimpse at this book’s cover, right through to the end. That’s not a photograph, friends. It’s a charcoal drawing.

Walton treats us to exquisite portraits of ten different animals who counting lions illustration by stephen waltonare threatened to some degree. His painstaking drawings convey strength, majesty, tenderness, and such beauty. Textures — the wrinkly hide of an elephant, a luxurious mane, the heavy velvet of a tiger’s paw, prickly grasses and downy feathers — are intensely realistic, yet there is a lovely quietness to every page.

Short snatches of poetic text draw our attention to some uniqueness of each creature, but mainly leave us to wonder over their loveliness. End pages contain further notes on each species, what their protected status is, and of course, in this book about counting, an estimate of just how many of these glories we have left.

A gorgeous piece of work that spans the age ranges — 2 to 100.

beatrix potter and her paint box cover imageBeatrix Potter and Her Paint Box, written and illustrated by David McPhail
published in 2015 by Henry Holt and Company

This charming biography of Beatrix Potter focuses on her love of painting, beginning when she was a child.

Sketching and painting the menagerie of animals that made their way to her nursery, and the idyllic countrysides she saw on their summer holidays in Scotland, Beatrix became an accomplished artist. Her sympathy for a sick child became the impetus for the writing of her first little tale of Peter Rabbit.

beatrix potter and her paint box illustration david mcphail

Brief and eminently accessible, this will absorb the attention of children as young as 2. McPhail’s characteristically warm, soft paintings envelop us in a world of color and beauty.

It’s Beatrix Potter’s 150th birthday next year. She is one of those authors that I so dearly wish today’s parents would introduce to their children. I have a funny feeling that far too many know a vague-something about Peter Rabbit…and that’s about it. It’s worth your while to make your way through her entire bookshelf — many of them are surprisingly lengthy.

how to swallow a pig cover imageHow to Swallow  a Pig: Step-by-Step Advice from the Animal Kingdom, by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
published in 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Steve Jenkins is a genius at presenting information about the natural world in uncommonly clever, enticing ways, and here he’s done it again.

Get tips from the masters — from humpback whales to ant lions — on how to accomplish tasks such as repelling insects, building nests, or getting some dinner. (Please note that said dinner may be a wildebeest or a mouthful of live fish.)

how to swallow a pig interior steve jenkins

Step by step instructions make it oh-so-easy to achieve success! Jenkins’ beautiful paper collages are there to help walk us through these feats. End pages contain more information on each one of the highlighted animals. It’s an invitation to wonder at the amazing capacities of the wildlife in our world. Ages 5 and up.

emmanuel's dream cover imageEmmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, written by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls
published in 2015 by Schwartz & Wade Books

Journey to Ghana, West Africa, where a little boy named Emmanuel is born. With just one leg. And a father who abandoned him and his mother.

Watch his mother, fittingly named Comfort, raise her boy to believe he could live an active, purposeful life, and watch Emmanuel take up the challenge and go, go, go.

emmanuel's dream interior thompson and qualls

As a young man, Emmanuel decides to work for the equal treatment of all disabled persons in his nation, to improve their opportunities and remove some of the stinging obstacles he faced. Watch him do this…with a bicycle.

It’s an inspiring story of hard work and success, illustrated in strong, stylish mixed media by Sean Qualls. An Author’s Note tells more about Emmanuel’s activism. Ages 4 and up.

the 50 states cover imageThe 50 States: Explore the U.S.A. with 50 Fact-Filled Maps, written and researched by Gabrielle Balkan, illustrated by Sol Linero
published in 2015 by Wide Eyed Editions

Here’s another brilliant book of maps from Wide Eyed press. This time, we’re touring the U.S.

Browse your way through fifty, extraordinarily well-designed, eyeball-pleasing, two-page spreads and learn a bunch of interesting this-and-that about each of our states.

the 50 states interior balkan and linero

Tidbits about famous places and people, animals that make their homes here, foods that originated there, pepper the pages with so much engaging info, you could spend hours and hours lingering and learning.

There’s a definite, contemporary leaning to what’s included here which makes it more exciting for young people. Where were emoticons invented? What state is home for Tomie DePaola? Where can you buy a Voodoo  Doughnut? And never fear, you can also spot our national parks, get a glimpse of every state capitol building, learn the state capitals and all that other, regular, jazz.

the 50 states interior2 balkan and linero

Another example of the stunning design coming from Wide Eyed. This is brilliant for ages 5 to Adult.

daylight starlight wildlife cover imageDaylight Starlight Wildlife, written and illustrated by Wendell Minor
published in 2015 by Nancy Paulsen Books

In this engaging book for very young children, master-illustrator Wendell Minor draws our attention to animals that like to be out and about in daytime, and those who prefer the dark of night.

Such a simple concept, brilliantly executed. Written beautifully, daylight starlight wildlife detail2 by wendell minorwithout talking down, Minor communicates interesting bits of information accessible to the Under-Two set, then illustrates the pages in a flood of gorgeous color, setting each animal in its stunning environment.

daylight starlight wildlife detail by wendell minorHis author blurb says, “Wendell Minor’s mission is to inspire children to go out into the fields, woods, and mountains to see wildlife in its natural habitat and gain a positive perspective on the world’s beauty.” Well. Don’t we love him?! This is a fantastic book for doing just that.

elephant man cover imageElephant Man, by Mariangela Di Fiore, illustrated by Hilde Hodnefjeld, translated by Rosie Hedger
published originally in Norwegian in 2013; first English edition 2015 by Annick Press

I can feel emotion welling up just thinking about this title. What a brave subject to tackle in a picture book.

Most of you will have heard of the Elephant Man, a young British man afflicted with severe deformities, who lived in the late 1800s.

elephant man interior di fiore and hodnefjeld

Here is his story, written in such honesty and forthrightness: his completely normal body at birth, and his gradual, inexplicable disfigurements and losses; the devastating early death of his mother, and cruelty of nearly everyone else he encountered; his stint on display in a freak show, and the desperation that finally drove him to wear a bag over his head in public to avoid the screams of horror.

There are a couple of kind people in this story as well, and one incredible hero — the Elephant Man himself. Illustrated in striking collage and mixed media, this book will deeply impact your heart. Includes an Afterword and historic photographs. Ages 7 and up.

flutter and hum cover imageFlutter & Hum: Animal Poems/Aleteo y Zumbido: Poemas de Animales, written and illustrated by Julie Paschkis
published in 2015 by Henry Holt and Company

Julie Paschkis is one of my favorite artists, and just look at the stunning cover of her new book!

Dancing, poetic thoughts about more than a dozen familiar animals, written in both Spanish and English, tickle our imaginations. Such tasty words!

flutter and hum interior julie paschkis

And of course, every page is a glory! Thrumming with beauty and life. So much movement, sometimes whispery-graceful, sometimes bounding with joy.

flutter and hum detail by julie paschkis

She’s also incorporated piquant words in her illustrations, intriguingly meshing the visual and textual forms of art. An Author’s Note describes how Paschkis fell in love with the Spanish language and went about creating this book. A delight for ages Under-Two through Adult.

an inuksuk means welcome cover imageAn Inuksuk Means Welcome, words and art by Mary Wallace
published in 2015 by Owlkids Books

Coming to us from Canada is this beautiful look at the Arctic world and the unique stone markers there called inuksuit. 

For thousands of years these tremendous towers have been built to guide travelers in a landmark-less region of unrelenting snow and ice. Mary Wallace guides us through a short survey of the different shapes and messages an inuksuk can have, as she also introduces us to life as it’s lived in this truly awesome zone.

an inuksuk means welcome illustration by mary wallace

Bold paintings, pulsating with color and strength, dominate the pages, welcoming us into a tremendously appealing world. There is very little text, but it includes Inuktitut words, their pronunciations, and the way they are written in the Inuktitut alphabet.  It’s a handsome, captivating glimpse of another culture, for ages 2 and up.

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