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Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

Have I saved the best for last? Giving books and bookish gifts is obviously what I love to do! Here are some great ideas for the kids in your life, plus a give-away

Litograph t-shirts

Text and illustrations make up these clever t-shirts. I am partial to Blueberries for Sal, but there are lots of choices so check them out.

Out of Print t-shirts

Favorites old and new beautifully printed.

Bookplates for those special books

I had bookplates as a child. It is lovely to feel ownership of a really special book, one to keep for always.

Anorak magazine or Dot magazine subscription

Magazine subscriptions sashay into a child’s mailbox all year long.
I recently discovered these tremendously creative magazines coming out of the UK. Gorgeous graphic design. A lalapalooza of imagination-sparking, brain-fizzing stuff for ages 2-5 (Dot) and 6-12 (Anorak.)

Visit their awesome webpage to get the details. Keep in mind these are British magazines so embrace the British English and some UK-oriented features. To me, that is an added bonus!

GIVE AWAY ALERT! If you’d like to win the two copies Anorak so graciously sent me — the Food issue of Dot and the Art issue of Anorak — just comment with a “sign me up!”. Winner will be notified on the blog, December 4th, so don’t delay!  U.S. mailing addresses only, please.

Literary cookbooks

Jama Rattigan’s delectable blog, Jama’s Alphabet Soup, has a round-up of delightful cookbooks based on favorite characters from Goldilocks to Star Wars.  Kids will love mixing up Diana Barry’s Favorite Raspberry Cordial or Hans Soloatmeal!! You can find Jama’s entire list here.

A boxed set of classics

Wow. Gorgeous design work courtesy of Rifle Paper Company. Many happy getting-lost-in-a-book moments all packaged up for you! I love tempting new readers with old classics.
Amazon Link

And a few more ideas for book-giving — one classic and one new title for each age group. I had to limit myself or the list would get too long! Browse through my blog for gobs more ideas.

 One for the whole family: The Lost Words

Read my review here to see what’s in store in this gorgeous, remarkable book.
Amazon Link

Ages 0-2:

something old: More More More Said the Baby (regular and board)
Amazon Link
review here

something new: Night and Day: A Book of Opposites, by Julie Safirstein
published in 2017 by Princeton Architectural Press
I haven’t reviewed this on my blog but it’s exploding in clever, exciting pop-ups for careful fingers! And yes, many small children can be careful with books. Plus: tape.
Amazon Link


Ages 2-5:

something old: My Father’s Dragon
Amazon Link
review here

something new: The Street Beneath My Feet
Amazon Link
review here

Ages 5-8:

something old: A Bear Called Paddington
Amazon Link
review here

something new: This Is How We Do It
Amazon Link
review here

Ages 8-12:

something old: Swallows and Amazons
(The new paperback from David Godine has a wretched cover! Here’s a link for this one which is available from 3rd party sellers.)
Amazon Link
review here

something new: The Wonderling
Amazon Link
review here

If you are able — please shop at a local Independent Bookstore. That’s who will keep the great books coming to us, trust me.

If you’re going to shop at Amazon anyway, then consider using my Amazon affiliate links. If you click through to Amazon on one of my links, I get a small dab back from Amazon no matter what you purchase. Thanks to those of you who do.

That’s it for 2017’s gift lists.
I’ll be back next week with some cheery new Christmas titles!

 

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I just received my copy of The Lost Words and it is much larger, just as handsome, and quite as magical as I suspected it would be.

The Lost Words: A Spell Book, written by Robert Macfarlane, illustrated by Jackie Morris
published in 2017 by Hamish Hamilton, an imprint of Penguin Books

To fully appreciate the book, a bit of background is required.

I do love British literature and find myself very often recommending British children’s books here on Orange Marmalade.

my well-worn Pooh Bear

From my tattered, stained, childhood volume of Winnie the Pooh through the entire 12-volume Swallows and Amazons series which we read aloud with our children, often around the campfire during our annual summer camping trips…

Barklems knowledge of natural history is on display throughout this charming series.

…to the loveliness of Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge series, and Beatrix Potter’s thoroughly unsentimental tales… I could go on and on.

One of the differences I’ve noticed over the years between British and American literature — for children and adults — is the propensity of the Brits to properly name the flora and fauna in a story’s setting. Thus gorsebushes, hawthorns, and cowslips, thrushes, starlings, and coots, all appear even in stories for very young children, rather than merely birds, ducks, flowers, and trees.

A gorse bush, such as ambushed Pooh Bear on occasion.

To conjure up a picture of a woodland “filled with spring flowers” or to conjure an image of a woodland “drifted in trillium” for example, is quite a different thing. If you know what trillium is.

Trillium bloomed like snow in the woods near my in-laws home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

To speak of a barn swallow’s nest to children who have seen one mudded into an out-of-the-way corner, nestled in the porch rafters perhaps, creates a vivid picture quite different from simply “a bird’s nest” which could look dozens of different ways.

However, British researchers have substantiated the sad reality that yes, even in Britain, these richly-precise words once commonly used by children to talk about the natural world have begun to fade away. No longer do children talk of brambles or ferns, kingfishers or wrens. Their study results, published in Science, mourned the fact that presently children seem “more inspired by synthetic subjects” such as Pokemon characters, than by “living creatures.” Part of the tragedy, beyond the richness of life and experience which is lost when children are nature-deprived, is that since “we love what we know,” fewer children can be brought to care about the extinction of a species, for example, the loss of habitat, the despoiling of a vibrant, vital natural world.

Children’s language and writings on the whole began not to employ this more precise vocabulary. Thus we arrive at the “lost words” that Robert Macfarlane began to ponder as a result of his reading and reflecting on this research.

If the act of naming something lends credence to it, acknowledges it, vivifies it, the disappearance of that name correspondingly blurs its reality, perhaps even disappears that thing — wren-ness, bluebell-ness — from our conscious knowledge of its existence, our ability to experience its reality, to see it. This idea set author Macfarlane to musing about the almost magical power of naming in old fantasies and eventually brought him to the concept of this profound, gorgeous book. You can read Macfarlane’s article relaying in much fuller and more cogent detail his thoughts — the article that initially cued me into this title — at the link here. It’s absolutely fascinating.

So, the book. Twenty living things — from dandelions to weasels — are conjured once again in The Lost Words, brought back from a sort of banishment into their old vigor and resplendence via the “spells” spoken by us, the readers. These spells consist entirely of naming the creature. The way it works is this:

On a double-page spread, a tangle of letters meanders atop a natural setting in which it feels, somehow, that something is missing. Here, for example, is a glade of trees with a sense of barren vacancy.

If we pick out the letters in blue (contrasting with the other, golden letters), we find the name of what is missing. “Bluebell.” Say that name aloud, and turn the page…

Voila! A bluebell appears, and an anacrostic poem describing a bluebell-filled wood, with “billows blue so deep, sea deep, each step is taken in an ocean.” Macfarlane wrote these poems, and each one is finely-crafted, dignified, wonderfully respectful of children’s minds.

Turn the page once again and Jackie Morris’s stunning painting spreads a revitalized scene before us. Our “spell” — our naming of bluebell — has worked! The wood is transformed with the reappearance of this splendor of nature.

The size of the book — coffee-table worthy — means we feel ushered right into these lush scenes, magically whisked feather-close to the cerulean line-up of kingfishers perched just over the pond or up into icy alpine world of the raven.

Elegant. Artful. Inspiring wonder. Bidding us to attend to the natural world more closely, know it, name it. This highly unusual book knits together science, poetry, and art, magnificently. I hope it coaxes many into the great outdoors to exult and see and name and know and care for the treasures of nature around us.

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Welcome to another school year, whatever your schooling looks like.

Today I’ve got five top picks for those heading to what my kids fondly called “real school.” But if you’re a homeschooling family, let me just remind you that Jonathan Bean’s This is My Home, This is My School is the best thing out there for celebrating that rumply, freewheeling, juicy-living lifestyle some of us have happily embraced. You can find my review of that here.

I’ve gathered all my school-ish sorts of titles in one new list on my Subject page, so if you want more school-oriented reads, take a look there. All are linked to their original reviews.

A New School Year: Stories in Six Voices, written by Sally Derby, illustrated by Mika Song
published in 2017 by Charlesbridge

I love this book’s clever, honest, tender introductions to six children beginning a new school year. One each from grades K through 5. Girls and boys. White, Black, Hispanic. Hearing impaired. Latch-key. Each one with tiny trepidations, misgivings, longings.

In free verse, these kids tell what’s on their minds as they manage the first day of school. Four chapters usher us from “The Night Before” through “After School” with entries from all six kids in each section. The honesty and vulnerability expressed make this a very relatable book that can also help grow empathy within child and adult readers. Mika Song’s soft, fresh illustrations clearly, unobtrusively introduce kids we care about.  Share this with ages 5 and up.

Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten, written by Candice Ransom, illustrated by Christine Grove
published in 2017 by Doubleday Books for Young Readers

I fell in love with Amanda Panda on page 6 of this funny, warm story of mismatched personalities, vexing disappointments, and finding the way to kindness.

Amanda is a gal who knows her business. Likes brown. Speed. Vehicles. And being important. Her plans for kindergarten are big and bold.

The first inkling of a spanner in the works comes at the bus stop where Amanda meets “a girl in head-to-toe pink. So much pink it gives Amanda a headache.”

In fact, this pink girl gives Amanda more than one headache, so Amanda up and quits kindergarten. Joins her big brother in the second grade. As you might expect, this choice is not actually allowed.

Read this story, groan with Amanda, and cheer her on as she chooses kindness in the end. Christine Grove has captured the larger-than-life personalities here perfectly. Great fun for ages 4 and up.

Daddy Long Legs, written by Nadine Brun-Cosme, illustrated by Aurélie Guillerey
originally published in France in 2015; English edition 2017 by Kids Can Press

Meet a fashionable, contemporary, father-centric, school story that echoes the steadfast love of Margaret Wise Brown’s Runaway Bunny.

At least, that’s what this charming tale recalled for me. 

Daddy is driving his small charge to kindergarten. The old green car was having a bit of trouble this morning, however.  Sounded like it had a case of the hiccups. This sets small Matthew to worrying —

— what if, this afternoon, when Dad’s supposed to come pick him up, the car plum won’t start??

Not to worry. If the car won’t start, says Dad, “I will come and fetch you in the neighbor’s big red tractor.” And if that won’t work — still no worries. Dad’s got every possible wrinkle covered. He’ll be there at the end of the day. You can bet your bottom dollar!

Zesty design makes every page sing with retro happiness in this warm, loving story for ages 2 and up.

Monkey with a Toolbelt and the Silly School Mystery, written and illustrated by Chris Monroe
published in 2017 by Carolrhoda Books

Huzzah for Duluth, Minnesota author Chris Monroe and her manic, handymonkey, Chico Bon Bon! These are dandy stories, if you haven’t already made their acquaintance.

In this episode, Chico Bon Bon and his pal Clark are off to school. And of course, Chico has got a specialized tool belt for the occasion. Wowza! He did not kit this out at any school supply store I have ever seen. Complete with sparkle sprinkler, maple-scented glue, light-up scissors, calming fluff…you name it. Seriously.

Chico’s tool belt comes in super handy for fixing all manner of defective items around school, but it’s especially advantageous in solving a great mystery involving Many Curiously Missing Things, from library books to taco shells. Learn all about the bizarre goings-on at Chico’s school and the surprising discovery he makes in this splendid adventure, perfect for ages 4 and up.

A Perfect Mess, written and illustrated by Steve Breen
published in 2016 by Dial Books for Young Readers

Henry is a great kid. He loves to play hard, share, make his mom proud, do the right thing…

There is just one problem: Henry is an incredibly messy little rhino. He has the dickens of a time staying clean.

Most days that’s okay, but today? Today is a special day and Henry has vowed to keep his shirt spic and span. All. Day. Long.

And you know what? He does it. Henry manages to emerge at Class Picture Time just as neat as a pin. How does he do it?

I predict you and your kids will laugh out loud at this comical, warmhearted story. Dear Henry, and dear Mrs. Williams, his unflappable teacher. I love ’em both. A riot for ages 3 and up.

 

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I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my quest for the best new nonfiction titles out there as I lovelovelove a good nonfiction picture book! Here are some of the juicy best I’ve seen thus far:

The Street Beneath My Feet, written by Charlotte Guillain, illustrated by Yuval Zommer
first published in the UK; published in the U.S. in 2017 by words and pictures, part of The Quarto Group

Truly, this is one of the most exciting nonfiction books I’ve seen!

The mysterious depths of the earth, nature’s unseen surprises and buried treasures, the murky pipes and wires of urban networks — all of this lurks beneath our feet, hidden from view. Perhaps so utterly unseen, it even evades our curiosity!

Until it’s unfolded in splendor by Yuval Zommer  — just look at the way this book opens up as we descend down, down, down, to the Earth’s inner core, then turn about and travel back to the surface. About 9 or 10 feet long when it’s all stretched out, with different illustrations on each side.  How cool is that?! Along the way, we get a guided tour of all the fascinations beneath our feet. Earthworms and storm drains, subways and stalactites, badger setts and precious gems.

Phenomenal illustration work. Just the right amount of information. An utterly inviting format. This comes with my highest recommendation! Grab a copy for kids ages 3 and up.

Bravo!: Poems About Amazing Hispanics, written by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López
published in 2017 by Henry Holt and Company

This rich sequence of poetic and visual portraits brims with promise, passion, courage, and LIFE!

Unreeled for us in chronological order, eighteen free-verse poems celebrate a tantalizing diversity of amazing Latinos. Meet Juan de Miralles who is said to have saved his friend George Washington’s troops from scurvy by delivering Cuban fruit to them. Botanist Ynés Mexia who explored Mexico and South America at the turn of the century identifying hundreds of new plant species. The well-known Roberto Clemente, and the lesser known, fascinating Fabiola Cabeza de Baca — what an amazing life she led!

Each brief poem is matched with a powerful, vibrant illustration in sizzling color. Wow, these pages pop!

Brief, prose sketches of each individual are included as well as a rhythmic listing of many more Latinos to learn about. What a fantastic fusion of history, culture, artistry for ages 6 and up!

Penguin Day: A Family Story, written and photographed by Nic Bishop
published in 2017 by Scholastic Press

Who can resist penguins? And who can top Nic Bishop’s outstanding nature photography?

There you have it — the perfect recipe for a charming photoessay. Witness a day in the life of a rockhopper penguin family as Mom and Dad care for their baby, guarding him and undertaking an extraordinary journey to collect food.

So much chub, fluff, drama, and cuteness! Dominated by Bishop’s crisp, stunning photographs with a minimal narration of events, this book will entrance children ages 2 and up. An Author’s Note provides scads more information about these Antarctic residents for parents or older siblings.

Karl, Get Out of the Garden!: Carolus Linnaeus and the Naming of Everything, written by Anita Sanchez, illustrated by Catherine Stock
published in 2017 by Charlesbridge

Karl Linné, or Carolus Linnaeus, is one of Sweden’s great figures, whose name is borne by a delicate pink wildflower found in the far north, the Linnaea borealis. My dear mother-in-law, Elsie Linnea, child of Swedish immigrants, is named after that Swedish beauty. I love that!

Linnaeus is famous for having developed the classification system for all living things which we take so for granted that most of us don’t pause to think how it originated. A man with insatiable curiosity and wonder who was devoted to botany, Linnaeus began by gathering and using plants for medicinal purposes. What he encountered was chaos due to no uniform method of naming and conversing about anything from a dog rose to a honeybee. So he set about creating order — an enormous task!

Catherine Stock’s gorgeous watercolors beautifully present Sweden in the 1700s and the world of plants in particular which Linnaeus loved. This little gem is accessible to children ages 5 and up.

Animal Journeys, written by Patricia Hegarty, illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle
first published in the UK; published in the U.S. in 2017 by 360 Degrees, an imprint of Tiger Tales

Such a beauty! Small but chunky, nature-sketchbook-sized, crammed with lovely illustrations and morsels of text about all manner of animals on the move, it’s a book that’ll lure you into discovering more.

Migratory animals, swimmers, animals coping with challenging environments, surprising animal antics. Wildebeest and pond skaters; wolf packs and dung beetles; echolocation and piggybacking. Dabble here and there in the animal kingdom and be amazed by the variety of travelers.

Graced by Jessica Courtney-Tickle’s captivating artistry, this one’s accessible to kids ages 3 to much older.

Lighter than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot, written by Matthew Clark Smith, illustrated by Matt Tavares
published in 2017 by Candlewick Press

Just take a look at that lemon-chiffon light, soaring candy-striped balloon, impossibly-lithesome wings buoying Sophie and her wicker basket high above the French countryside. What a dreamy entryway to this fascinating story of the first woman pilot.

Sophie Blanchard lived in France in the 18th century when balloonomania had swept the nation. Having married a famous balloonist, Sophie thrilled to accompany him into the air, to watch villages turn miniature below her. Ascending alone, however, without a male pilot — that was unacceptable in her society. Did Sophie let that stop her? No, ma’am.

Matthew Clark Smith tells Blanchard’s compelling life story while Matt Tavares’ stunning illustrations evoke French elegance, ethereal thrills, and the brooding storms of Blanchard’s life. A fascinating foray into the world of ballooning and a woman I’d never heard of, for ages 5 and up. The author’s and illustrator’s notes are gems as well!

Lesser Spotted Animals: The Coolest Creatures You’ve Never Heard Of, written and illustrated by Martin Brown
first published in the UK in 2016; U.S. edition in 2017 by Scholastic by arrangement with David Fickling Books

If you’re a bit bored with bears, zzz-ed by zebras, deluged with dogs; if you seek a bit more exotic fare…well, look no further!

This catalog of uncommon creatures is just the ticket. It’ll wow you with splendidly-diverse populations that humbly inhabit Earth, yet never made it into a children’s picture book…until now.

Say hello to the Numbat, the Zorilla, and that darling, pink, Lesser Fairy Armadillo. No, these aren’s Seussian inventions — they are real animals. Martin Brown’s upbeat, folksy descriptions of these guys make for great reading, with a nice touch of humor and swell illustration work to boot. Even the glossary is a delight! Ramp up wonder with ages 5 and up.

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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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dear-dragon-cover-imageDear Dragon, written by Josh Funk, illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo
published in 2016 by Viking

It’s time for a poetry-writing unit in young George Slair’s classroom. Thanks to George’s oh-so-clever teacher, though, there’s nothing wearisome about that. She’s found pen pals for each of her charges. Their letters to one another will be written in rhyme. Awesome sauce.

George has been assigned a pen pal named Blaise. And presto-pronto, these two begin an enthusiastic correspondence telling about their adventures and outings, likes and dislikes, hobbies and pets and families. Before long they’re hitting it off like old friends! No wonder they can hardly wait to meet one another at the pen pal picnic.

dear-dragon-interior2-funk-and-montalvo

But what on earth?! When these two kids meet up, they discover something crazy: Blaise is a dragon! George is a human boy! They never imagined it this way. Can dragons and humans be pals?!?!  But of course.

This is a smart book on so many levels, sneaking in all sorts of good things under the radar. There’s the whole incentive to write letters, maybe even to a pen pal! The delights of poetry. A cunning how-to lesson on conversing with a new friend.

dear-dragon-interior-funk-and-montalvo

Then, courtesy of Rodolfo Montalvo’s brilliant illustrations, there’s a marvelous display of alternate perspectives, the way our life experience leads us to interpret another’s words. Absolutely fantastic.

And, wrapped in and under and around the whole story is the lovely idea that such very different people can be so very much alike. That these folks who seem so other-ish, can be our friends.

dear-dragon-interior3-funk-and-montalvo

It’s all packed in without losing a morsel of friendly warmth or being encumbered by an atom of moralizing. Enjoy this with kids ages 4 and up, taking your time over the illustrations.  And while you’re at it — just give the names of the two main characters a ponder. Some excellent punning and allusion going on there!

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Today I’m celebrating my daughter and the four years of strenuous studies she’s completed to earn her English Literature degree! Huzzah!

12644922_10208658263281851_4874906015764804054_n (1) Ingrid is one of the most caring human beings on the planet. She’s a sunny, strong, deeply-thoughtful, peacemaker, with more organizational savvy in her pinky finger than Leslie Knope! Yup.

And Ingrid is that person who, when you see the little quizzes to find out how many of the Top 100 Novels of All Time you’ve read — she clicks off nearly all of them. She’s amazingly well-read. Yet when she comes home to my stacks of picture books, she happily settles in to enjoy them.

So, I thought it fitting to post, in her honor, a list of children’s books written by folks known for being “adult” authors. I’ll start with one of the most recently published…

twenty yawns cover image

Twenty Yawns, by Jane Smiley, illustrated by Lauren Castillo
published in 2016 by Two Lions

Pulitzer-prize winning Jane Smiley has written a rare gem for little ones ages Just-One and up. It’s one of those deceptively-simple stories, gorgeously crafted, which speaks intuitively to a child’s experience of the world, intelligently, without condescension. Timeless, warm, satisfying, it burrows right into your heart.

twenty yawns interior smiley and castillo

Lucy and her parents spend a happy day at the beach, thoroughly wearing themselves out by the time the sun is setting.

twenty yawns interior2 smiley and castilloYet when it’s time for bed, Lucy has a wee bit of trouble falling asleep. Several distractions and concerns niggle at her.

Only when they are properly attended to can Lucy relax into sweet slumber. Lauren Castillo’s monumentally-comforting artwork is the perfect match. Her chalky textures, shaggy lines, toasty-warm color palette, and amiable human figures welcome us into the story like…like what?…a friendly dog, a favorite quilt, a genuine smile. Castillo exudes warmth in every story she touches.

twenty yawns interior3 smiley and castillo

Sprinkled in the story and pictures are twenty yawns to discover and count — such a delightful added spritz of happiness. Don’t miss this one. It’s been on shelves for just about a month.

Moving on to another bedtime story, this time with quite a different flavor:

the bed book cover image

The Bed Book, by Sylvia Plath, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully
first American edition published in 1976 by Harper & Row

Dark and broody, Sylvia Plath is not the name I’d expect to find on this utterly delightful, imaginative poem, but there it is!

I don’t know just when she wrote this. It was published after her death. In Britain, it was published with Quentin Blake’s maniac line drawings…

the bed book interior plath and blake

while in the U.S. it appears with Emily Arnold McCully’s watercolors. It’s all about the fantastical sorts of beds one might have which would definitely make going to bed a much more exciting prospect. For example, this submarine bed:

the bed book illustration emily arnold mccully

or this elephant bed:

the bed book interior2 plath and blake

You might not be able to locate the McCully edition, 40 years old and out of print. But you can purchase a collection of the three children’s stories Plath wrote in one volume, The It Doesn’t Matter Suit and Other Stories and…why would you not want her other two stories as well? Ages 2 and up.

Sharing a similar flavor of rambunctious playfulness is:

peeny butter fudge cover image

Peeny Butter Fudge, by Toni Morrison and Slade Morrison, illustrated by Joe Cepeda
published in 2009; a Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

All the rule-breaking benefits of being a grandmother, firecracker out in this happy account by the great novelist Toni Morrison.

peeny butter fudge illustration joe cepeda

As our story opens, Nana is left with three grandchildren while Mom exits for the day, having left detailed instructions for just what the children should do and eat at strictly-assigned hours. So organized. So responsible. So…not going to be adhered to by Nana.

peeny butter fudge interior morrison and cepeda

Nana’s not got time for television. She’s too busy careening along in potato sack races and swing dancing with her grands. She’s got an entirely different menu in mind for lunch. And to top it off, she declares they ought to stir up a batch of an old family recipe — Peeny Butter Fudge. All this means the house is rather a disaster when Mom comes home, but oh, are they ever happy!

Illustrated in pulsing, neon colors and rambunctious line. The fudge recipe is included! A gallon of fun for ages 2 and up.

A longer, but heavily-illustrated story is next up…

the 13 clocks cover image

The 13 Clocks, by James Thurber, illustrated by Marc Simont
published originally in 1950; published by The New York Review Children’s Collection in 2008

In his Introduction to the NYRCC edition of this book, Neil Gaiman calls this “probably the best book in the world.” So…fairly high praise from a guy who knows.

13 Clocks is quite a story! It’s a fantasy like you’ve never read before. It contains all the usual fairy tale tropes, but they’re given a huge licorice twist — somewhat of a Princess Bride, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy flavor.

the 13 clocks illustration marc simont

There’s a princess and an evil duke and a gallant prince and a quest. There are magic spells and creepy spies and cascades of precious jewels. So — yes, it’s a fairy tale. But there’s a leapfrogging, shot-out-of-the-blue quality to the narrative that zings us around like a tilt-a-whirl. Mightily eccentric.

the 13 clocks illustration2 marc simont

Besides the storyline shenanigans, the most obvious delights of this story are Thurber’s uncanny use of words. Made-up words. Crazily strung-together words. Mesmerizing, tantalizing, sparkly words! All of which make this a Read-Aloud confection.

Marc Simont, one of the most beloved illustrators, supplies fantastic characters and aura. What a team. A rollicking read-aloud for ages 6 and up. 124 pages.

Another, longer fantasy, plum-perfect for reading aloud is…

haroun and the sea of stories cover image

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
published in 1990 by Penguin Books

Haroun is the son of the famous storyteller Rashid Khalifa. They live in the saddest city in the world, “a city so ruinously sad that it had forgotten its name. It stood by a mournful sea full of glumfish” and its factories manufacture sadness for export. Rashid’s stories are the only source of laughter in Haroun’s world.

But one day, the stories dry up.

And that’s not just a quirk of fate nor an accident. A really-really bad guy named Khattam-Shud, the Arch-Enemy of Stories, has ordered Iff the Water Genie to turn off the story spigot in the Sea of Stories. Haroun and Rashid and a growing band of fantastical allies are determined to put an end to that villain and his gloomy vision for a cold and storyless existence.

haroun and the sea of stories illustration marika chew

It’s an Alice-in-Wonderland world filled with extraordinary characters and plot twists. Rushdie is a wizard of a storyteller himself, of course, and his marvelous words magically, effortlessly, gather us into this adventurous tale.

In fact, this is also an allegorical tale, one in which it’s hard not to see elements of Rushdie’s own life and the fatwa which threatened to cut off his storytelling days. Young children reading or listening will enjoy the tale at its lively surface level, while older readers may make many interesting connections or observations to their own world, to the silencing of some voices, to the power of stories, or to various forms of governance.

It's been produced as an opera.

It’s been produced as an opera.

My library shelves this as adult fiction. It is certainly fiction that adults will thoroughly enjoy, but it is written as a children’s story, so don’t be afraid of checking this out for reading together. Ages 8 and up can listen; independent readers will need a stout vocabulary. 200 pages.

Finally, a turn towards poetry:

old possum's book of practical cats cover image

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, by T.S. Eliot, illustrated by Edward Gorey
poems copyright 1939; this edition with Gorey’s illustrations published in 1982 by Harcourt Brace & Co.

Cascading with playful verses and with peculiar, industrious, marauding, persnickety, comedic cats, this is a volume of verse guaranteed to tickle the fancies of young and old.

practical cats illustration2 edward gorey

If you or your children think, for instance, that poetry’s a bore, please make the acquaintance of the Rum Tum Tugger, Skimbleshanks, or Macavity the Mystery Cat. Marvelously entertaining stuff.

This is the basis for the Broadway musical "Cats" ( Marlene Danielle -- Photo by Thomas Monaster/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

This is the basis for the Broadway musical “Cats” ( Marlene Danielle — Photo by Thomas Monaster/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

Delicious wordsmithing, frolicksome rhythms, idiosyncratic personalities — all served up abundantly in the collection of more than a dozen poems. Edward Gorey’s genius, droll, Victorian, line-drawings are a fantastic pairing. Share these with ages 2 to Adult.

Over the years, I’ve posted quite a few other titles that would fit in this category. Here are a few of them, with links to their reviews:

Angela and the Baby Jesus, by Frank McCourt
Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor — Mervyn Peake
The Crows of Pearblossom — Aldous Huxley
Many Moons — James Thurber
The Wedding Procession of the Rag Doll and the Broom Handle and Who Was In It — Carl Sandburg
Whitefoot — Wendell Berry
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang — Ian Fleming
Sigurd and His Brave Companions — Sigrid Undset
The Negro Speaks of Rivers — Langston Hughes
A Child’s Calendar — John Updike

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