Friday, April 18, 2014

Penny and Her Marble by Kevin Henkes

Penny and Her Marble by Kevin Henkes

Rating: 5 stars

On Wednesday, Lorelei told us that Kevin Henkes was her class's author of the month.  We've been fans of his for years--he is an author to remember on the days when you have exactly 3.4 minutes in the library.  He's written enough books to fill your library bag.  You'll be in and out of the library before your toddler throws his tantrum.  Promise.  (I know, I know, parents aren't supposed to throw out empty promises like that one, but…)

Penny and Her Marble is one of his newest books.  It is one of three sweet little beginner reader chapter books (the other two: Penny and Her Song and Penny and Her Doll) about a young mouse learning important moral lessons.  They are wonderful gems of books!

In Penny and Her Marble, Penny strolls along with her doll Rose and finds a beautiful, shiny, new, blue marble near Mrs. Goodwin's house.  She picks it up and appreciates its beauty in her little hand, telling her doll all about it.  She walks home with it, feeling like she's found buried treasure.

But then her conscience--that wonderful thing that is still forming in our kids' little brains--kicks in.  She starts to wonder if she did the right thing.  She wonders if she stole something valuable from Mrs. Goodwin, rather than innocently found a lost item.  Did Mrs. Goodwin miss it?  She feels guilty and concerned and worried, though Henkes never uses grown-up words such as guilty or concerned or worried (or stealing or thief or innocent).  Instead, he shows us her face and how her sleep and eating is interrupted because of her thoughts on what was right and what was wrong.

"Isn't it pretty, Rose?"
Penny decides to go and return the marble the next morning.  She strolls back over with Rose and plops it back in the grass where she found it.  But Mrs. Goodwin walks out and calls after her.  Penny's heart pounds.  Her cheeks are hot. She cannot speak.  Mrs. Goodwin says, "I found the marble yesterday.  It was in the back of m kitchen drawer.  I thought someone would love it.  That is why I put it in on the grass by the sidewalk.  I hoped someone would walk by and see it."

"I did see it, but I put it back," says Penny.  (She did the right thing!)  But Mrs. Goodwin puts it in her hand--she gives Penny permission to take the marble.  Penny is overjoyed!  Penny is relieved, and I tell you, Lorelei, Ben and Kiefer and I were all relieved, too.  (When you feel for a character, that's a mark of a good book for sure).  And she thinks it is smoother and shinier and bluer and more beautiful than ever (because her conscience is burden-free).

I love the discussion we had over dinner after this book.  Did she do the right thing?  What would we have done?  How did she feel in the beginning, and then at the end?  Kids realize sooner or later the hard reality: there are no totally right answers.  Just mostly right, and mostly wrong.  They've got to have the skills to think clearly and weigh options and choose wisely.  Books like this one give us parents the opportunity to have good discussions in a safe environment about what is right and what is wrong.  And how we love them even when they make a not-so-awesome choice...and how we cross our fingers and hope they don't make the same mistake over and over again.  "On to new mistakes!" we say in our house.

P.S.  The kids and I watched a short video about Kevin Henkes on his website (click HERE).  It was informative and fun to see him show us all the books we've read by him, but the kids were most impressed with how well he drew with just a few quick strokes of his paint brush.  They were really impressed.  Also on the website is his mailing address.  Guess who is getting three pieces of fan mail sometime soon?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

When the Beat Was Born by Laban Carrick Hill

When the Beat Was Born: DJ Cook Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Theodore Taylor, III

Rating: 4 stars

Ben is sure he can breakdance, so I figured this book was perfect for him.  I definitely stepped out of my comfort zone to grab it; I don't know anything about DJ Kool Herc and my favorite station is country, not hip-hop.  But that's one of the best things about books: you can easily read about and learn something totally and completely new.

Even a picture book!

DJ Kool Herc was born as plain old "Clive," and was living in Kingstown, Jamaica, when he realized he had a big, deep love for music.  "He loved the way the music made his feet go hip hip hop, hippity hop."  Right in his neighborhood there was someone else who loved music like Clive: a DJ nicknamed "King George."  Clive was too young to watch King George perform at parties, but Clive watched him set up and listened to the music from afar.

When he was 13, Clive moved to New York City with his family.  He didn't fit in anywhere except the basketball court, where he quickly got the nickname Hercules because of his tall frame.  Clive cut that name in half and added "Kool" and he was quickly called Kool Herc more often than Clive.  Around that same time, his father bought a stereo system with enormous speakers.  Clive thought the sound coming from them should be bigger, deeper, richer.  So he spent time rearranging the wires until the sound matched what he thought should come out of them.
DJ Kool Herc noticed that dancers danced crazy hard during
the breaks in the song when the lyrics ended and the music
bumped and thumped.

And then, he and his sister did what any teenagers would do in that era, with their moxie and new huge sound system (I guess!): they threw a big party, and Clive performed, for the first time, as DJ Kool Herc.  Not only did he give his dancers a "hip hip hop, hippity hop beat" to dance to, he also sang/rhymed out their names and what they were doing on the dance floor.  The coolest dancers--he called them break-dancers or b-boys--showed up to do what my kids call them "rad moves." People soon lined up around the block to get in.

With that first party and the others that followed, Kool Herc became a sensation as DJ Kool Herc.

Okay, confession time: I really am unclear about what a DJ does. I don't really know what a turntable is.  I still read this book to Lorelei and Ben and fielded their good, honest questions as best as I could.  I don't really know what a turntable is.  Sometimes I worry that they'll look back and roll their eyes and ask, "Mom, do you know anything?!" (Ben is asking me lots of sports questions these days and MAN I'm lucky to get one out of ten right!)  But I'd rather not be limited by my knowledge and limit them by my limited knowledge.

I'm not afraid to say, "I don't know!  Let's find out the answer together."

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Cecil, the Pet Glacier by Matthea Harvey

Cecil, the Pet Glacier by Matthea Harvey, illustrated by Giselle Potter

Rating: 3 stars

This is truly one of the most bizarre books I've ever picked up…

(Reviewed for Washington Family Magazine)

Ruby Small is a normal little girl.  If we zoom out from a close-up of Ruby, we quickly see a family and a world that is full of wacky eccentricities. 

Her parents are definitely not-so-normal.  Together, they own a little shop called “Topiary & Tiaras: Sprigs and Sparkles;” Mrs. Small designs fancy tiaras while Mr. Small is a topiary gardener.  In the evenings Mrs. Small dons the glittery headdresses she creates by day and they “tango cheek to cheek” amidst his leafy creations.

Wanting to be just a little closer to normal, Ruby wants a pet.  She voices this desire while seated on an airplane to Norway—her parents didn’t hear her grumpy “no way” when Mr. Small told his girls that he wanted to go to China to see a rhinoceros made out of rosemary.  Her father heard “Norway,” not “no way.”  Norway seemed fantastic and different to her parents, so…off they go. 

Back to the pet: Her mom suggests a glow-in-the-dark jellyfish, her dad suggests a flea circus.  These are pets with quirkiness that would clearly fit right in.  

Of course, Ruby just wants a dog.  While sight-seeing in Norway, the family visits a glacier that is too large, and as they watch, it undergoes a process called “calving”—small pieces break off and float down the river.  One of those little pieces floats itself right over to Ruby (and the three Jennifers).  The family’s new pet has found them.  

To read the rest of the review, please click HERE.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Don't Spill the Milk! by Stephen Davies and Christopher Corr

Don't Spill the Milk! by Stephen Davies and Christopher Corr

Rating: 5 stars

Of course Returned Peace Corps Volunteer me would love this book! A suspenseful, unique, sweet book set in Burkina Faso, with wild and creative illustrations of scenes you and your children will probably never see first-hand.  (Unless they join the Peace Corps.  One can only hope!)

And maybe you're already looking at the cover, wondering: does she spill the milk?

First, let's figure out who she is and I'll tell you the story that Davies tells and Corr illustrates.  Penda's father is up in the grasslands, tending sheep.  Penda's mother wants to take a bowl of milk to him.  Penda begs him--please, please--"let me take it!"  And, wonderfully, her mother grants her this responsibility.  She settles the bowl atop Penda's head, and off goes the young girl towards the grasslands.

"Let me take Daddy his milk. Please, please, please!"
Penda travels across the "uppy, downy dunes" (oh don't you love that description?!), through the mask-wearing "beasties" in a festival, on a stinky fishing boat, past a herd of giraffes, and up one looming mountain of a hill.  All the while, she balances the bowl of milk on her head.  All the while, she repeats to herself: "Come on, girl, you've got work to do" and other similar encouraging remarks--to herself.

Finally, she makes it to her daddy, who is resting under a big mango tree when she approaches.  She carefully and successfully takes takes the bowl off her head, and just as she's passing it to him, a big mango plops into it, and spills all the milk.  She's (of course!) upset, and my kids were heartbroken along with her.  "I don't believe it!" she wails.  Sitting so very far away from Penda but still magically close to her, Lorelei, Ben and Kiefer didn't believe it either.

Daddy points out: "There was more than milk in that bowl."  His daughter looks at him quizzically.  "Your love for me was in that bowl as well. This bowl is full of love, girl, and it still is.  You didn't spill a drop."

"Don't shiver, don't quiver, don't fall in the river, girl.
Keep it on your head, girl, milk don't float."
Together they cut a big mango in three pieces (Daddy confesses he likes mangoes more than milk anyway--I love that reassurance to his Penda): one for Penda, one for Daddy, and… "One for Mummy?" asks Penda.  Her dad nods.  And off she goes, with the piece of mango, the piece of love, on her head as she travels back home from the grasslands.

My kids were spellbound while reading this book.  They traveled with Penda, hoping right alongside her that she didn't spill her milk. By the time she got to her daddy, they were holding their breaths.  And, I was choking back tears at the end.  I was surprised--in a great way--at the small, subtle inclusion about the love between Daddy and Mummy in this children's book.

After I finished, there was a flood of questions that made me realize this is a great, great book. I could see their minds stretching as the book sunk into their heads.  How old is Penda? How could such a young girl take a trip by herself?  Would she really see giraffes like that?  Why does she carry it on her head?  Why don't they have a jug with a lid?

This is a must-buy.  I want it to be read over and over by American kids so their perspective on other cultures can be broadened just a little, and they can see one of many things that link all of us humans together: love.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi

Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi

Rating: 4 stars

Throwback Thursday!

Newsflash: Everybody poops!  (But I think you already knew that.)

This funny book is full of pictures of lots of animals (including humans) pooping.  That's all there really is to it.  Taro Gomi illustrates all the differences and the similarities that go along with our scatological preferences: some animals poop in the water, others in the air, most on the ground.  What do all these bowel movements look like?  Well, Taro Gomi is glad you're curious about that: he's drawn pebbles and logs, heaps and piles…of poop.

There's such a fine line between funny and gross, and I think some would argue that an illustration of poop falling from a giraffe's rump might be totally gross…and not picture book worthy.  But what child isn't a bit shocked when they realize what is happening when they squish up their face and push out some freakishly dark object from their own little body?!  Taro Gomi's sorta-gross, sorta-funny book reassures us in a way that we adults still want to be reassured: everybody does it.  So relax, laugh a little at yourself, and keep on doing it.
C'mon…that's funny!

(Not that we have a choice about that last part when it comes to pooping.)

Enjoy the book!  Feel free to take it to the bathroom with you…

P.S.  Taro Gomi's My Friends is one of my favorite board books for babies…it is very cute and sweet, and not gross at all, promise.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Locomotive by Brian Floca

Locomotive by Brian Floca

Rating: 4 stars

I checked this book out easily before it won the Caldecott; after the gold seal shone brightly on its cover, there was a long waiting list both at the library and at the bookstore.  Here's a tiny secret: When I first checked out Locomotive, I didn't read it.  I don't know if any of my kids did.  So we returned it without having read it.  It happens…what can I say?

But then the Caldecott team deemed it worthy of a win, and it became wildly wanted.  We were number 60 on the waiting list!

Finally, it's our turn with the library's copy of the book and we all understand easily why it is Caldecott-worthy.  The book is a huge lap size picture book, with illustrations that resemble a wide screen TV.  Somehow, Brian Floca created a hundred masterpieces in this big, long book--masterpieces of illustration, not just beautiful pictures, but pictures that tell a story of a long-ago way of life.

Slowly, slowly the engineer drives--
the train is so heavy,
the bridge is so narrow,
and rickety rickety rickety!
After a brief show of how the rails were built, we see the iron horse chug up to the station.  In familiar prose, where Floca writes directly to you ("She pulls her tender and train behind her, she rules up close, to where you wait, all heat and smoke and noise.")  That noise of the train jumps out from the page at you with larger and fancier font than the rest of the words.  We, the readers, follow along as one family (a mother and two children) travels from east to west; we also observe and learn all the different people required to run the train smoothly.  Because, of course, it takes a team.

There's a whole lot that works in this book for me and my trio: The illustrations are spell-binding.  Floca's research shines through on every page: from the close-up details of the gaskets or that coal car to the historical map of the United States that shows the path of the train.  (I am curious how many pictures he took of real-life trains to take back to his studio with him.  Surely thousands…)  The family we see travel on the train are excited throughout; we experience what they experience, including going to the bathroom, (which was definitely a highlight for Ben in the book) but not when the train stops!  For there is "no plumbing here, there is only a hole in the floor."

The facts taught in the book easily earn my approval: and not just the team members' roles and responsibilities…  That's important, but so are the little, anecdotal things: For example, the switchman's job is dangerous; the train cars lurch and slam up against each other quickly.  They say "You can tell he's new to the job if he still has all his fingers." Or the mighty Sierra Nevada that "rise like a wall on the edge of a basin" requires an extra engine to pull the train up and over them.

Through the night the engine runs.
Those up late hear her whistle,
her wild and lonesome cry.
The ending works for me, too.  I love it: the mother and two children arrive to their father, who came out west before them.  There's nothing like a homecoming to warm your heart at the end of a story!

What doesn't work for me are all the words.  Oh my gosh even I am thrown off by all the dozens of words on each page.  Lorelei sat and read the book quietly in one sitting but Ben couldn't sit through the whole thing, despite his normally curious mind and the gorgeous pictures that go along with it.  Even I found myself skimming it.  My eyes were more interested in the illustrations than the words.  Because of the number of words, this book is better for an older age group--first grade or older.  It would be great to read right after finishing a chapter book from the same time period, such as Little House on the Prairie or Sarah, Plain and Tall.

Still, it is a masterpiece despite my silly gripes.  If there's a locomotive enthusiast in your family--of any age, your son or your mother or your grandfather!--this is a book for him.  Or her!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Boy Who Drew Birds by Jacqueline Davies

The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon by Jacqueline Davies, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Rating: 5 stars

About a month ago Ben was playing with an airplane, complete with little pilot, that he had crafted from Legos.  As he zoomed the little thing through the air, he said, "I'm Amelia Earhart!  Here I go!"

I stopped what I was doing a few feet away in the kitchen (I'm there a whole lot), and asked him to repeat himself.  He did.  I asked him how he knew who Amelia Earhart was.

"Santa brought me a book about her for Christmas!" he stated.

Wow!  Go, Santa!  I patted myself on the back but was more surprised than proud at the fact that her name and a few facts about her sank into his bright, little brain.

I just wrote about Ben's interest in birds thanks to his pre-Kindergarten class's unit on birds (click here to read it), and the interest stayed alive throughout this quietly wonderful biography on John James Audubon. It's a beautifully illustrated, wordy book, best for age 5-ish and up, I think.  It tells this wonderful story:

To avoid fighting in Napoleon's war, his father ships his son, John James, to Pennsylvania.  The boy is talented at many things, but his natural instinct draws him to birds.  Soon after arriving to his new home and while spending most of his days outside wandering and observing, he finds a cave.  In it sits a small, empty nest.  Weeks later, he sees that the small pewee fly-catchers returned to the nest.

Right then, John James starts wondering the same thing that scientists and naturalists wondered around that time:  Are these the same pewees who built the nest last year? Where did they spend the winter? Will they return again next spring?  He quickly draws the birds and notes his observations in his notebook, which he kept in his musée, or museum, otherwise known as his bedroom.  Every inch of that room is covered with nests and eggs and tree brances and pebbles and lichen and feathers...

But where were last year's babies, now grown?
He began to search the woods and orchard nearby,
listening for their call.
At that time, some people thought small birds hibernated under water or in hollowed logs all winter.  Others thought the small birds transformed into another species, while one scientist claimed that birds fly to the moon during winter!  In case you're wondering, he thought that journey took 60 days (but I'm not sure if that's one-way or round-trip...).  John James is determined to figure out the mystery, so he begins to experiment with a tracking system.  After more errors than success in his trial-and-error process, he finally finds a light silver thread that fits snugly on one of the young pewee's legs.  At the end of fall, the bird flies off.

All winter John James waits, and also paints pictures of birds and collects little artifacts for his musée.  Finally, as the days grow longer, he sees a pewee bird fly into his cave.  But there is no string.  He begins to search the woods around the cave.  Sure enough, out in the meadow, he finds the now-mature baby with a silver thread around its leg.  In 1804, he is the first person in North America to band a bird.  And his simple experiment solved a complex theory.

I love that one boy's curiosity and respectful experiment with the birds he loved revealed so much.  What a wonderful lesson for girls and boys of today!

While Jacqueline Davies deserves applause for thinking up, researching, and writing the book (Bravo!), the book would not be complete without Caldecott-winning illustrator Melissa Sweet.  Her illustrations are spectacular, as always (my favorite book of hers is not the one for which she earned the Caldecott but for another nonfiction A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippen).  

Happy birding!

United Tweets of America: 50 State Birds by Hudson Talbott

United Tweets of America: 50 State Birds by Hudson Talbott

Rating: 4.5 stars

This (pretty random) book illustrates perfectly the truism: it pays to have a good relationship with one's librarian.  Once again, I have Ben to thank for this lesson.  Mr. Steven, his current favorite librarian, is oh-so-patient with Ben's imperfectly-spoken but always-earnest requests.  Of Ben's current current interests, sports is still at the top.  But, thanks to a long unit on birds in his pre-Kindergarten class, he's been looking for books on birds in between looking for birds out his window.  And, he's very interested in the United States.  In the past, Mr. Steven found him a DK Book on the United States and Texas, which Ben pored through quietly in one sitting.

Jonathan's home state is home to:
the Mardi Gras-partying Brown Pelican
One day about a month ago, Ben boldly walked up to the Circulation Desk with his "library list" in hand.  He asked Mr. Steven for a book on birds.  I think this was the beginning of the bird phase, the second time he asked Mr. Stephen about bird books.  So Mr. Steven strode off to the appropriate section, with Ben trotting happily behind him, dimples deep with joy.  (Who doesn't love joy in a library?  It's a good story already, methinks!) And Ben came back with this book, dimples impossibly deep with excitement.

"LOOK!" he said.  "It's a book about birds AND the United States!  Mr. Stephen found it for me!"

We've renewed it once already, and I think Ben might cry the day we actually have to return it.  We've read it cover to cover twice.  It's such a funny little book with funny little drawings--and that funniness is actually largely adult humor (for example, on the Tennessee page the bird is made to look like Elvis, and I had to explain why that was funny to Ben...although he knows what Elvis sounds like, he doesn't know what he looks like.  Well, until now!).  But Ben loves it.

Each page is dedicated to a state, and a big, usually silly illustration covers most of the page.  There are facts about the state--state anthem, state song, state capital, notable people from the state.  Also included are lots of little random things about the state that are fun to know.  For example:
  • Kool-Aid was invented in Nebraska.
  • Maine supplies 99% of the blueberries consumed and 90% of the toothpicks used in the U.S.
  • Illinois is home to the world's largest cookie producer, Nabisco.  In 1995 they made 16 billion Oreos!
  • Inspired by the view from Pike's Peak, CO, Katharine Lee Bates wrote "America the Beautiful."

Ben and Kiefer look for birds on a snowy morning...
Ben loves this book, and I have to say I've been really impressed with the big push about birds from his school.  Somehow it encapsulates all that I want for Ben that he doesn't naturally gravitate towards.  While he normally rushes through his day, expending endless amounts of his endless energy doing and chasing and running and laughing exuberantly, I think there's so much to be learned from quiet observation in nature.

I've written before about the huge effect the book Last Child in the Woods had on me eight years ago, but this unit on birds reminds me how great it is to:
  1. Be in a natural environment as much as possible (breathing in that fresh air)
  2. Be quiet and still in that environment (and, therefore, practicing quietness and stillness)
  3. Observe things happening in that environment with all of your senses (with birds, definitely sight and sound, but how can kids not also listen to the wind and feel it on their skin?)
  4. Note the uniqueness of each bird's markings and calls (what a lesson: within a group, each is different and special in their own way!)
Really, this blog post turned out to be a shout out of appreciation for those great people in our great community who are, luckily for us, having a wonderful affect on Ben's growth: a special librarian, and a special team of teachers.  Thank you!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

E-I-E-I-O: How Old MacDonald Got His Farm (With a Little Help from Hen) by Judy Sierra

E-I-E-I-O: How Old MacDonald Got His Farm (With a Little Help from Hen) by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Matthew Myers

Rating: 4 stars

Now, just in time for Spring planting, we get the real scoop on Old MacDonald and that farm of his.

It turns out, all he had at the beginning was a house.  With a pretty big yard.  That needed a lot of mowing.  It needed so much mowing that that MacDonald guy decided to retire his mower and get a goat.  But the goat clearly had obedience issues: he ate the bushes instead.  MacDonald got smart and got a chicken.  Turns out, the chicken was top-notch and had a lot of good ideas about this yard of his.

She suggested to him that they tear up the grass.  No more mowing?  MacDonald was IN!  Then add lots of stuff to that muddy pit--trash, his own clothes, what he was eating...anything and everything goes in.  Even poop!  And finally, a warm worm family to make something of the mess.
"I love my yard / But mowing grass is mighty hard."

During this smelly process, illustrator Matthew Myers shows us protestors and complainers and haters (just to use slang as if I'm cooler than I am) in the background.  They complain about whatever he is doing: they hate how he doesn't keep his yard nicely mowed, they write picket signs as the yard turns into a brown mess, and they hold those signs even higher when the hen directs MacDonald to add horse manure and mix well.

You've probably seen what's coming: With all the ingredients already added, the worms create compost from this muddy, stinky pit.  Because the next thing he adds is seeds.  All sorts of seeds.  Myers gives us readers a fantastic over-and-under the ground illustration of carrots, beets, potatoes, onions as they use that soil to grow bigger and richer.  MacDonald has too much of a good thing (vegetables), so he opens a farmer's market to sell and share the fruits of his labor.

The end result: an urban farm!
Who knew Old MacDonald was a hipster?!
And those haters put down their picket signs and dig in to the good stuff.

I think this is a great book to get kids excited about gardening and get them thinking about composting. And even if you know you'll never compost OR garden, it's still a good read with wild, vibrant illustrations to go along with the story.  Judy Sierra has written some of my favorite rhyming books, especially Wild About Books.  (Click here for complete list of my reviews on her books.)  I completely look to her to teach me how to do it the right way, but this book has a few non-rhyming hiccups that keep it in the good, not great category.

But Kiefer sure doesn't care about that.  I've read it to him twice in one night.  For some reason he loves lawn mowers, so he loves this book regardless of the hiccups his critical mama sees!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems by J. Patrick Lewis

Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Jeremy Holmes

Rating: 5 stars

Last month at the SCBWI Winter Conference we conference-goers got to choose two break-out sessions in which we'd learn, in a small group, some specific things about a specific topic.  I chose to attend a nonfiction picture book session and a poetry-writing session with the one and only Jane Yolen.

Me?  Poetry?  Honestly, in high school and college poetry was beyond me.  I felt stupid wading through stanzas trying to figure out the meaning.  I felt as if my whole class was staring at one of those pictures where a design pops out at you if you stare long and hard enough--and they, in unison, appreciated the neat thing that they could easily see through the patterns while I was left just staring.  I could either fake it or admit defeat.

But I love poetry in children's books.  Rhyming makes the books even better, I think.  My kids--and I, too--have always gravitated towards books with a rhythm and a rhyme.  So I thought it was high time to get over my bad self and dive into the world of poetry.  Among other things, Jane Yolen suggested to us scribbling note-takers, writing wanna-bes that we needed to read more poetry if we wanted to write more poetry.

J. Patrick Lewis was at the top of her list of poets to know about and read.  J. Patrick Lewis actually went to Lorelei's school last year, so she feels like she knows him.  We bought World Rat Day around that time, and both Lorelei and Ben have thoroughly enjoyed the silly holidays that he brings to light in short, clever, funny poems.  Honestly, they got into this poetry thing before I did--they'd read World Rat Day a bunch of times, laughing out loud as kids do so easily, before I wandered over and grabbed the book to read.

And holy smokes!  It was so good!  This was poetry I could get and enjoy--a great place for me to start, and I could start enjoying poetry along with my kids.  A win-win situation, for sure.

So I did what I usually do when I find an author I like and Jane Yolen tells me to: I check out every single book I can find by him/her.  I'm an all-or-nothing person, what can I say?  It was in this way that we stumbled across his latest book, Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems.  They are fantastic, and all three of my kids enjoy it in three very different ways:

Kiefer loves the illustrations by Jeremy Holmes.  There is so much to look at in each of these intricate, silly cars that J. Patrick Lewis has thought up and Homes has drawn up!  The kids fought over this book on the way home from our family trip to West Virginia last week; Kiefer, our youngest, easily won.  He pored over the illustrations slowly and carefully.  The grass taxi that requires mowing is his favorite, by far.
         Grass Taxi
I need to mow the glass,
I should Weedwack the visor,
I'm blanketed in grass.
My wax is fertilizer.
And when my gas tank's low,
I fill up on Weed-B-Gone.
My wormy engine's slow.
Check underneath my lawn.
Kiefer gets the first turn a lot of the time...
Ben does his best to read the poems and can read them literally but doesn't quite get the twists and turns of J. Patrick Lewis's wit.  He loves the wacky illustrations but the poems come alive when I read them to him (like how I patted myself on the back right there?).  By putting an emphasis on this word over that one, and by stopping and explaining what's so funny, he gets the joke and becomes a better reader.

Lorelei gets it all.  One of her fellow first grade classes just did a little performance/explanation of the word and literary concept of "inference."   She's happy for the challenge to infer, to read between the lines, to take the time and figure out the point and the joke.  She's a strong enough reader, curious enough girl, and funny enough kid that she eagerly looks for the jokes in poems like these. And even though cars are traditionally "boy toys," these poems are for either gender, trust me. This one cracks her up:
       Jurassic Park(ing)
You thought the dinosaurs were dead?!
The cars behind our school
Are big Tyrannosaurus wrecks
That run on fossil fuel.

I'm pretty sure that this book and other poetry collections by J. Patrick Lewis will be our gifts of choice at birthdays this year!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Have Fun, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell

Have Fun, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell, illustrated by David Catrow

Rating: 5 stars

Molly Lou Melon is inspired by her late grandmother to forego fancy dolls and action figures, store-bought dollhouses, and plastic race cars.  Instead, her grandmother used her imagination and the stuff on hand to create toys.  So Molly Lou Melon does just that.  She creates dolls out of the flowers and leaves and twigs in her backyard, she designs a dollhouse with the weeping willow in the yard, and she whips up a turbo race car with a garage full of boxes and paper and wheels and such.

Then one day, she gets a new neighbor, Gertie.  Though there's no mention of it in the text, in the illustrations the reader sees that Gertie always has a crutch by her side.  Quietly, the author and illustrator tell us that Gertie is physically disabled.  Right away after meeting, Gertie complains that she is "bored, bored, BORED!"  So Molly Lou Melon invites her over to play.

At first, Gertie brings over her fancy dolls and action figures, store-bought dollhouses, and plastic race cars.  She is quickly blown away by the hand-made stuff that Molly Lou Melon has dreamed up and created.  After inviting Molly Lou Melon over to watch some shows on her big-screen TV, only to be turned down by Molly Lou Melon because Molly Lou Melon is watching the clouds on her SKY-wide screen, Gertie ditches her electronic and store-bought stuff and joins Molly Lou in the land of imagination, creativity, and make believe.

A sweet story, illustrated by the fantastic David Catrow, about two people who don't seem very compatible but with time and openness and a constant, warm welcome to join them in their world (while respecting the world that the other lives in), a friendship blossoms.  I love how, on the second to last page, Gertie shows up on Molly Lou Melon's doorstep with her own handmade doll with hollyhock skirt and violets for hair.  Now it is Molly Lou Melon's turn to be blown away.

Three cheers for sweet friendships and fewer store-bought toys, and loads of time to create and imagine and just...PLAY with those friends.

P.S.  This is a sequel to Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon which is also really good.  Stand Tall is about how Molly Lou reacts when she gets teased for her small stature.  The two books are ones that are recommended for children with disabilities and/or used to teach empathy for children whose bodies or minds are slightly different from able-bodied kids.  These are definitely some good books to have around and talk about!