Short poems + illustrations by Melissa Sweet? Even before cracking open my brand new library copy, I knew this was gold. Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems is an anthology by the prolific poet Paul B. Janeczko whose name I recognize from my long-ago days in a secondary education English course of study. The “very short poems” bit of the subtitle is important: the brevity of these little poems make them very accessible to children and perfect for Poetry Tea Time, which is something I prize. The poets whose works are anthologized in this generously-sized picture book include some commonly anthologized in American literature textbooks like Frost, Dickinson, and Sandburg, as well as poets known for their children’s poetry like Charlotte Zolotow and Eve Merriam. Also included are quite a few new-to-me poets. One thing I really like about this collection is that often even the well-known poets have lesser-known works in this book. For example, this little gem, “Dust of Snow” by Robert Frost, shines brightly in the “Winter” section of the book:
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.
Melissa Sweet’s illustrations are classic–collagey, hand-drawn, colorful, and in a word (or two), super kid-friendly. It’s no secret ’round these parts how much I love her work. This is a book to pore over. As for how this one stacks up against the other Cybils poetry nominees, I have no idea. Stacks of new poetry books are not exactly easy to come by, but I’m seriously thinking of adding this one to our collection. Highly, Highly Recommended. (Candlewick, 2014)
What a busy month of reading aloud we’ve had! We’ve settled into a nice routine of reading aloud most weekdays at lunchtime, and then again from a different chapter book at bedtime. The lunchtime book is usually related to history (mostly from Sonlight Core D) and the bedtime book is one I’ve picked. I’ll be honest in stating that the lunchtime read-alouds haven’t been favorites of mine. I’m realizing how much I value freedom of choice in what we do in our homeschool. I don’t always like our history read-alouds. Well, that’s not true. I do think each one of them would make a perfectly fine okay book to read independently, but they’re not exactly ideal, at least to me, as read-alouds. The two books I have in mind as I compose this blog post are two of the ones we’ve finished since last month’s Read Aloud Thursday: Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen and Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare.
I’m no stranger to Gary Paulsen’s stories, having at least read Hatchet in the nebulous past of my pre-blogging days. Lawn Boy is nothing like Hatchet, at least plot-wise. It’s the story of a boy who starts a lawn care business and by the end of the summer ends up very rich as a result of one of his customer’s investments on his behalf. It’s a story about economics–each chapter has as its title an economic term. The novel isn’t without its excitement, too, because he also manages to attract the attention of some thugs as well as a protective professional boxer. What I found difficult about reading this story aloud, aside from the fact that I read this one only once a week (and hence would often forget myself what exactly was happening in the story) is that it is chock-full of dialogue. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, though I am noticing that stories that rely on dialogue and not much else tend to be more recent stories, and that’s probably one reason I’m not so crazy about them. My main problem with dialogue is that I don’t do voices, so I always think the storyline gets sort of muddled because of that. The Sign of the Beaver is a 1984 Newbery honor book, but again, it’s chock-full of dialogue. It’s not quite as dialogue dependent as Lawn Boy, but the kicker for it is that the Native American characters speak in that terrible, stilted, stereotypical way that we associated with bad Westerns. I’m usually not bothered much by stereotypes and being politically correct, but I found this one almost painful to read and actually found myself correcting the grammar of the Indians’ speeches. Also, in my opinion it’s not a very complex story, and I really appreciate a story with a little more nuance as a read-aloud. All of this actually surprises me because Elizabeth George Speare is a favorite author of mine from childhood–I loved The Witch of Blackbird Pond and read it multiple times, and then when I read The Bronze Bow as a young adult, she rose even higher in my estimation. It is interesting to note that both of those title won Newbery Medals in 1958 and 1961 respectively, while The Sign of the Beaver came about twenty-five years later. That makes me wonder if it’s just the “dumbing down” effect that we’ve seen over time. At any rate, I mostly wished that I had just handed both of those books to my girls to read alone and had picked up something else. We’ve now moved on to The Witch of Blackbird Pond as our lunchtime read, so we’ll see if my good opinion of it remains untarnished. For our bedtime story, we’ve come back around to the Little Britches series by Ralph Moody after finishing the Melendy Quartet with its last book, Spiderweb for Two. We were sad to see it end but so happy to have spent so much time with the Melendys this year. Highly Recommended!
As for picture books, well, I always think to myself, “Oh, this is a good one to share for RAT,” but then I run out of time before the books are due (usually after being rechecked at least once) at the library. A couple of books stand out in my mind from the past month that have been favorites of the DLM. The first one is Lightship by Brian Floca. Although it isn’t quite as detailed as his 2014 Caldecott Medal-winning Locomotive, it’s still not exactly a book I would expect a four year old to love. The DLM does love books about vehicles of almost any kind, and this one has the thing the DLM loves the most: a list! He loves lists of information. In this case it’s a list of people who work on a lightship, and the DLM loved to point at the worker’s picture and say his title. Whatever the reason he loved it, he did–enough to make it a nightly read-aloud for a couple of weeks. The other winning title for the toddler and preschool crowd here at the House of Hope is the newest Kate and Jim McMullan title, I’m Brave! I’ve written before (& here) how much we’ve enjoyed their books over the years, so when I saw this one in the new books bin in the library, I almost gave an audible gasp of delight! I knew it would be a winner, and it was is. I read it to the DLM’s class at co-op first before reading it to him. They’re a pretty hard crowd, and even they got caught up in it! It has not one but two pages of equipment listed to identify (oh, joy!), so it’s perfect for my detail and list-loving little fellow. We’ve read it at least a half dozen times since Saturday. It’s humorous and full of bravery, swagger, and onomatopoeia, so it’s just perfect for brash and blustery preschool crowd. I’m considering this one for a Christmas present for the DLM. Highly, Highly Recommended.
Other picture books I’ve reviewed since last month’s RAT are
I apologize for the length of this post. This should’ve been more than one post, but as always, time escaped me and I had to just cobble it all together. Thank you for reading and participating in RAT! It’s truly a monthly high point for me!
We’re Lois Ehlert fans here at the House of Hope. (Want proof? See here, here, and especially here. We have even made Lois Ehlert-inspired art!) When I saw her newest book, an autobiography of sorts entitled The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life, on the list of nominated titles for the 2014 Cybils in the category of elementary and middle grade nonfiction, I added to my book-request list at the library. I’m so glad I did! If I could choose one vocation that seems to me to be almost perfect, it is being a children’s book illustrator. I think it would be so much fun and so very rewarding to spend my life making art to inspire and educate children! (Too bad I have very little talent and no training, right? ) It follows, then, that I am absolutely taken in by artists’ stories. I long to see their studios and peek into their processes. This book gives its reader just that, along with a healthy dose of Ehlert’s enthusiasm and encouragement for young artists. The first spread of the book after the title page announces in large, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom letters:
(unless you love books and art)
And really, that just about sums it up. Ehlert includes photographs and hand-lettered captions which are interspersed with her trademark collage-style illustrations taken right from the pages of her own books to tell the story of her artistic life. It provides a great introduction to the collage medium as well as her own creative process. My favorite parts of the book are the photographs of the actual flowers she used as her models in her book Waiting for Wings and the copies of the leaves (which she collected and others gave her) that she used in making Leaf Man. We see her sketches which eventually became her books. I love that! This whole book–from cover to cover–are a celebration of Ehlert’s passion for art. The endpapers are even collages of pictures of her own folk art collection. This is a not-to-be-missed title for both Lois Ehlert fans and budding artists. I think Ehlert herself, through this book, is encouraging wanna-be artists (like me!) to Just Do It. Highly Recommended. (Beach Lane Books, 2014)
It was with a happy and satisfied, though wistful, sigh that we finished Spiderweb for Two: A Melendy Maze by Elizabeth Enright as our bedtime read-aloud last week. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I don’t know when we’ve enjoyed a series as much as this one. The saying is trite but true: all good things must come to an end; after all, it’s much better to end a series a bit too soon than too late (because we can all think of a series or two that went on a tad bit longer than it should’ve, right?) I guess you could say that Enright pushed this one a bit past that point by taking the older kids–Mona, Rush, and newcomer Mark–out of their home, the Four-Story Mistake, for their schooling. However, while absent in body, they were somewhat present in spirit thanks to the “maze” that some anonymous person has left the younger Melendys, Randy and Oliver, to complete in the other kids’ absence. It’s a long-running scavenger hunt, and the clues take Randy and Oliver to various locales, from a cemetery to their father’s home office to a neighbor’s home. Randy and Oliver puzzle over the maze’s author(s), naturally assuming it to be Mona, Rush, Mark, or all three. Beyond the fun of reading the clues and trying to deciper them along with the younger Melendys, there are the entertaining and engrossing vignettes that the Melendy’s meanderings bring them to. For example, Father relates a story from his childhood as it relates to one of the clues. There is an interlude in the middle of the book in which all of the Melendys are at home under the Four-Story Mistake’s sheltering roof at Christmas time, and it is the high point in the story as far as I’m concerned. (Not that the story is bad at all, mind you, but it just reminded me of how much I love all the other books because the children are all together. I’m so glad Enright brought them all back together for Christmas!) The story ends happily, with the mystery solved and all the Melendys once again together for the summer.
So, we’re officially through with the Melendys. . .except. . . my girls have made off with the books for their own private enjoyment! In fact, I had some quotes (of course!) from this book that I really, really want to share, but I cannot find the book to save my life. (I already shared one quote here.) Ah, well. It will turn up eventually.
We give The Melendy Quartet a Highly, Highly Recommended. If you haven’t read them, what are you waiting for?
We’re Bear and Mouse fans at the House of Hope. We read the first in the collection, A Visitor for Bear, and followed up with all the others: A Birthday for Bear, Sniffles for Bear, and Bedtime for Bear. We love Bear, with all his blustering bravado, and Mouse, “small and grey and bright-eyed.” Bonny Becker’s newest offering, A Library Book for Bear, continues the adventures of Bear and Mouse. This story has Mouse introducing the very skeptical Bear to the library. It opens like this:
Bear had never been to the library.
He had seven very nice books at home:
three about kings and queens, three about honeybees,
and one about pickles.
Bear was quite sure he had
all the books he would ever need.
Mouse, as always, knows what’s best for Bear, and Bear warms up to the idea of leaving his home to visit the library after only a few gaffes, including being shushed by a mother squirrel and an old raccoon. Like all the Bear and Mouse books, this one makes a terrific read-aloud because of Bear’s huffing and puffing and Mouse’s dignified and loving demeanor. Kady Macdonald Denton’s illustrations are perfectly lovely–classic is the word that comes to mind when I study them. The bottom line is this: what’s not to love about a book with the words Library Book in the title? A Library Book for Bear makes a welcome addition to the series. It has been nominated for a 2014 Cybils Award in the picture fiction category. It’s too early to say how I feel about that, though I’m almost always wary of ranking a book from a series high up on the list for an award because it’s often hard to distinguish one from its predecessors. Still, this is a very fun book that shouldn’t be overlooked. Highly Recommended. (Candlewick, 2914)
Have you ever seen a cuter cover? Oh my goodness! When I saw Flight Schoolby Lita Judge in the new books bin at the library, of course I couldn’t leave it there! It’s the story of Penguin, the positively adorable bird on the cover, and this is how it opens:
“I was hatched to fly,” said Penguin.
“When do classes start?”
“But you, dear, are a penguin,” Teacher replied.
“Undeniable,” said Penguin, “but I have the soul of an eagle.”
Penguin does learn to fly, with a little help from Teacher and his friends. The story is about optimism and friendship, and it’s just delightful. The ending is funny, too, which is a definitely bonus if you’re reading this one to older children. The sweet story, couple with Lita Judge‘s adorable bird illustrations, make this a winning package. Highly, Highly Recommended. (Atheneum, 2014)
***This book has not yet been nominated for the Cybils, but it should be! If you haven’t used your picture book nomination, this would be a great one to nominate. Pretty please? Nominations close October 15.***