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Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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:

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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:

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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…

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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…

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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:

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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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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:

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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.

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

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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:
me.
Who dares say he drained the treasury
on
nothing?
Ha!
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! —
nothing
on!
Who dares say he drained the treasury?
Me.
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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So many women are told their dreams “simply can’t be done.” Today, meet a drummer, a mathematician, a primatologist and others, who persisted and realized their dreams.

Plus a tribute to mothers: In our heart of hearts, we often feel overwhelmed at this epic task — nurturing healthy human beings for our world. Women’s History Month would not be complete without celebrating motherhood.

drum dream girl cover imageDrum Dream Girl:How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López
published in 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Hot pepper oranges and Caribbean blues saturate the pages of this poetic celebration of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, the first female drummer in Cuba. As a young girl, the varied drums’ beats tantalized her, but it was taboo for women to play them.

drum dream girl illustration rafael lopez

Winner of the 2016 Pura Belpré Illustration Award, the gorgeous artwork in this book explodes with color and Cuban culture, while the text dances along lithely. Superb introduction to Millo, who became a world-famous drummer, and another example of the odd restrictions women have had to overcome with the help of a key insider. Ages 3 and up.

ada byron lovelace and the thinking machine cover imageAda Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by April Chu
published in 2015 by Creston Books

Ada, daughter of the poet Lord Byron, was a brilliant mathematician. From childhood she was mesmerized by numbers and the inventions made possible by their calculations. Ada was a child of privilege, yet had to overcome family dysfunction, a crippling illness, and her society’s conviction that math was no place for a woman.

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Wallmark’s introduction is intriguing and accessible, and Chu’s handsome artwork immerses us in Ada’s world. Read about the woman who wrote the first computer program with ages 5 and up.

paiute princess cover imagePaiute Princess: The Story of Sarah Winnemucca, written and illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray
published in 2012 by Frances Foster Books, Farrar Straus Giroux

Sarah Winnemucca was not a princess. And her name was not really Sarah. Yet by assuming an identity the White world invented, she was able to wield her strengths for the good of her Paiute people.

This lengthy, fascinating account by award-winning author and illustrator Deborah Kogan Ray introduced me to an amazing person I had never heard of, who worked tirelessly for justice for the Paiute.

paiute princess illustration deborah kogan ray

She was a controversial figure, accepted fully by neither white culture nor her own people. I think that is often the case for peacemakers caught in the middle, searching for the best compromise this world offers. A beautiful, thought-provoking read for ages 8 and up.

irena's jars of secrets cover imageIrena’s Jars of Secrets, by Marcia Vaughan, illustrated by Ron Mazellan
published in 2011 by Lee & Low Books

Irena was a young Polish Catholic woman when World War II broke out and with horror she witnessed the beginnings of the Holocaust. As a social worker, she gained access to the Warsaw ghettos, smuggling in aid for two years until it became clear that Treblinka was in store for all who remained.

irena's jars of secrets illustration ron mazellan

Read the story of how this intrepid woman risked her life to smuggle 2500 children out to safety, and find out what role was played by two glass jars hidden under an apple tree. A riveting account with rich, atmospheric paintings, for ages 5 or 6 and up. Obviously, extermination camps are a part of this narrative, so use your judgement as to the appropriateness for young children.

florence nightingale cover imageFlorence Nightingale, written and illustrated by Demi
published in 2014 by Henry Holt and Company

Demi’s characteristically elegant treatment of her subjects turns here to Florence Nightingale, another child of privilege who used her life to benefit the poor and broken in the world.

florence nightingale interior by demi

Demi traces her life from her birth in Florence, Italy, (I never knew that is how she got her name!) through her calling as a young woman into nursing — an objectionable life for a proper lady, careful study of the care of patients, and blossoming as a leader and innovator in nursing care. It’s a brilliant account, never bogging down yet covering a vast amount of information, accompanied by intricate, appealing illustrations. An inspiration for ages 5 and up.

me...jane cove imageMe…Jane, written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell
published in 2011 by Little, Brown and Company

This tender story tells of Jane Goodall’s childhood love of the great outdoors and all the wondrous natural world around her. The entire, sparkling account spins out just a few thoughts, like candy floss, magically endearing us to this dear girl, until with one turn of the last page, she is all grown up, living out her dream in Africa.

me...jane illustration patrick mcdonnell

Charming and engaging for children ages 2 and up, the story is followed by a bio written for ages 8 and up, and a wonderful, the watcher cover imagepersonal message from Jane about the opportunity for each of us to make a difference in our world. If you want to learn more about her, follow this up with another excellent account focusing more on her long work in Tanzania:

The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps, written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter, also published in 2011 by Schwartz & Wade and ideal for ages 3 and up.

lullaby for a black mother cover imageLullaby (for a Black Mother), by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Sean Qualls
published in 2013 by Harcourt Children’s Books

Langston’s dark-cherry sweet lullaby, a mother singing to her little dark baby, her little earth-thing, her little love-one, is marvelously illustrated in Sean Quall’s rhythmic, contemporary styling. Twilight purples and midnight blues infuse  the pages, anchored in strong shapes, textures, and inky blacks.

lullaby for a black mother illustration sean qualls

A note about Langston Hughes informs us about his sweet connection with words during a childhood of fractured relationships. Qualls conjectures about the comfort Hughes believed a mother’s lullaby could bring to a lonely boy. Read this with children ages 2 and up, and invent your own lullaby to speak your love.

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