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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmer's Market. Written by Michelle Schaub and illustrated by Amy Huntington. Charlesbridge, Random House. 2017. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"We'll buy a pint;
we'll buy a quart;
we'll buy them by the case.

To make some jam
and bake a pie
with crust of lattice lace.

They won't last long;
they'll soon be gone;
that's why we need to race."

If you love gooseberries, you will understand why this family is on a wild-goose chase to get some! They know the berries won't be there for long, and they are eager to benefit from the bounty to be found at a stand in the farmer's market. Of course, that is not the only thing they will find as they peruse the transformed parking lot housing the market this fine day. Farmers have worked hard to prepare their fresh-picked produce, their baked goods, their eggs, their lemonade, their sharpening skills, their honey - all for this day's sale.

"Early  Risers

While you sleep
snuggled tight,
farmers toll
by silver light.
Harvest, sort,
wash, and load.
Hop in trucks.
Hit the road.
Just as dawn
pinks the sky,
they arrive,
stretch and sigh.
Set up tables,
tents, and bins.
By the time
your day begins,
the farmer's day
is in full-swing -
enjoy the bounty
that they bring."

From the beginning of the day until the end, buyers arrive to purchase the wares. Is there no end to what a person might find during a visit?

Amy Huntington uses watercolors, graphite, ink and Photoshop to create her appealing and telling look at the warm and friendly market. We follow a boy and his dog, a girl and her dog as they enjoy the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes and explore the many booths with interest. It is a celebration in rhyme for the wonders of such a special place.  Always energetic and most enjoyable to share, this book only makes me long for summer and the riches that come to us from our farmers and growers.

Come on, sunshine and warm spring and summer breezes!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

If You Were the Moon, written by Laura Purdie Salas and illustrated by Jaime Kim. Millbrook, Thomas Allen & Son. 2017. $29.99 ages 4 and up

"Play dodgeball with space rocks.

{The moon would not be good at dodgeball, because it doesn't get out of the way of the meteorites crashing into it! All those collisions have pounded the top layer of the moon's crust into gray, powdery dust ... "

There is no need to remind you I admire everything Laura Purdie Salas writes! Check out her website at to see each of her books and her many resources for children, their teachers, and other writers. It is full of terrific ideas and information, a link to her blog and much, much more ...

So, it comes as no surprise to me that her new book is a lively blend of poetry and nonfiction, sure to inform readers with all she has to share about the moon and the role it plays in our lives.  The little girl who calls to the moon with a wish to do nothing, expresses the opinion that she would then be just like the moon itself. The moon is quick to let her know what, in fact, she would do if she really were the moon!

"Hover near your mother.

{Scientists believe the moon formed 4.5 billion
years ago when a meteorite the size of Mars
collided with the newly formed Earth. Rock
from Earth and the meteorite splashed into
space, and the moon was born.}"

The rest of the book is a series of benefits and mysteries provided by the moon and little known to many of us. The nonfiction text is provided in a different font, giving full meaning to its many attributes. There is so much here to learn, even addressing the many inspirations the moon provides for artists and the people of the world. Jaime Kim has created dazzling, moonlight-filled artwork using acrylic paints and digital techniques. The moon's phases, with its smiling face and the Earth's look of surprise, is one of my favorites. Young readers will quickly find their own in this vibrant and informative introduction to something so familiar in the night sky.

Backmatter includes a glossary for unfamiliar terms, and well as a list for further reading.

I wonder what Ms. Salas will next consider. Can't wait to see.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Bird, Balloon, Bear, story and pictures by Il Sung Na. Alfrerd A Knopf, Random House. 2017. $23.99 ages 2 and up

"But Bird was too
shy to say hello.

When he finally felt
brave enough ...

... it was too late!
Bear already had a friend."

Any child who has ever stood on the sidelines wanting to speak to someone new will know exactly how Bird feels. He has just moved into the neighborhood, and is looking for a friend. When he spots Bear, he is interested. But, Bird is shy and hangs back watching rather than reaching out.

Neither has much to do but watch ants crawling, sit silently on a rock, lean against a nearby tree. Just when Bird is ready to say hello, a red balloon captures Bear's attention. Bear and Balloon fashion a happy friendship, liking each other's company despite a lack of conversation. They spend their days together and watch the sun go down in the evenings. Poor Bird!

When a wind catches hold of Balloon and carries it away, it's Bird to the rescue! Up he flies, and does his level best to catch Balloon before he POPS! Too late ... Bear's new friend is a puddle of pieces. Only then does Bear notice Bird, and he's quick to say hello. Bird's patience and Bear's friendly spirit ensure that a new friendship is born.

I love the round edges - Bear's big belly, Bird's rounded red head, Balloon's soft shape. The colorful images are painted with a light touch, with lots of white space. This allows young readers to focus their attention on what is most important on each spread. The peaceful sunset, the strong movement of the wind as it blows the balloon away are perfect. Kids are going to love it, and will surely want to read it again. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Bee: A Peek-Through Picture Book, text by Patricia Hegarty and illustrations by Britta Teckentrup. Doubleday Books for Young Readers, Penguin. 2017. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"Gathering nectar as she goes,
From every foxglove, every rose,
Dusty with pollen, the little bee
Buzzes, buzzes, busily.

Bee travels on from bloom to bloom,
Drawn in by their sweet perfume.

Harvesting flowers one by one,
Her compass is the midday sun."

I know that I have earlier posted my admiration for Britta Teckentrup's joyous, detailed artwork. In this book, a companion to last year's Tree (Doubleday, 2016), she matches her images to the rhythmic text created by Patricia Hegarty. Together, they show young readers the important role that bees play in our world.

The hexagonal window on the front cover is a delightful invitation to children to open to the book's pages and see what is going on inside. Cut paper collage explodes in brilliant color on every spread, and mixed media scenes beg attention for the many details included. The fields are alive with movement, light and texture. The tiny honeybee described in lyrical, carefully chosen words invites readers to share the many places and spaces that share the benefits of its flight.

"In the treetops, birds start to sing.
The little bee beats her wings.
As she travels here and there,
A gentle humming fills the air."

Outstanding care has been given to the production of this book. The cover begs a lingering touch, the die-cuts are much appreciated by young readers, and their senses are piqued by the attention given to the true beauty of nature. The role of honeybees cannot be downplayed. This is a perfect introduction for young children to their importance.

"As the bees fly on through buds and burs,
A tiny miracle occurs:

So many plants and flowers you see
Were given life by one small bee."

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Happy Dreamer, by Peter H. Reynolds. Orchard Books, Scholastic. 2017. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"Sometimes I'm a
quiet dreamer
when I make time
to stay still and
hear myself think -
to let go and see
what takes shape.


Peter Reynolds has written some of my favorite books about children finding out who they are in those things they love to do. I hope that you have seen The Dot (Candlewick, 2003), ish (Candlewick, 2004) and other books he has published to encourage children and teachers to find their best selves in this world. He wants us never to let go of our dreams.

After attending a learning difference conference at Harvard where many of the attendees were highly successful people who shared some of their own challenging learning differences while they were in school, Peter found himself thinking of a poem. He called it Amazing, Delightful, Happy Dreamer, the initials spelling out ADHD. That poem became his new book. I want to share my thoughts about it with you tonight.

It is signature work from a man who knows what struggling with paying attention in school was like.
He wrote it for those kids in every school who may be labelled ADHD, and wants them to know it is 'a gift, not a label'. Truly, their dreaming can lead to many wonderful places. He recognizes their creative spirits, and the fact that many people would rather that they move quietly through life and give focus and attention to learning what must be learned.

The dreamer in this book in jubilant in his love for the dreaming that he cannot help but do. Full of energy and joy, he moves through his days expressing himself in sound, color, surprise, and chaos.

"I have so many dreams it can get messy.
Cleaning up hides my treasures.
If you MAKE me,
I will put my things away.
But then there is
less ME to show."

He is not always happy. Mostly, he is able to find his way back to joy!

The author has a wish for everyone who shares his book:

"May it reassure you that good things are ahead for all us dreamers. And in fact, I do believe that if we are to solve some of the planet's biggest problems—we can't keep trying the same solutions. We must invite inventive, flexible minds to the table. World problem solving aside—if this book encourages my readers to simply be happy with themselves, then I'll sleep—and dream— better at night."

Pages filled with color, movement, and hand-lettered text pull readers along in celebration of dreaming. The final gatefold opens to show many children as happy dreamers  - nature happy, space dreamer, alone happy, daydreamer, and on it goes. It's such a pleasure to take the time to really look at each one. And, it offers opportunity for discussion and perhaps even an answer to the question the author leaves with his audience:

"(What kind of dreamer are you?)

 Don't miss the endpapers! If you are interested in hearing more from Peter Reynolds, please have a listen.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Hattie Peck: The Journey Home, written and illustrated by Emma Levey. Sky Pony Press, Thomas Allen and Son. 2016. $25.99 ages 3 and up

"Hattie had braved
the elements rescuing
abandoned eggs around
the world.

Big ones,
small ones,

no matter what their size.
she loved each hatchling
just the same."

Hattie Peck proves herself a very special mother in this new book. I will have to find Hattie Peck (Sky Pony Press, 2016) to learn her whole story. Seems she is meant to be a mother, but unable to lay eggs of her own. So, she has gathered as many motherless eggs as she could find in the wide world and her home is now full of a menagerie of exuberant and demanding hatchlings.

Everywhere they go, and everything they do, is chaotic. Imagine trying to keep an eye on such a motley crew. Kids will have great fun identifying the many creatures hatched from eggs, and will concentrate fully on the details that Ms. Levey adds to each of her playful and full-of-love pages.

Their days are full of wonder, and celebrated together. Every single birthday is highlighted with a handmade gift from their hen mother. Their many happy memories intact, the time has come for each of her babies to make a life for themselves. Hattie is determined to help them find their way back to their place in the world. Together, they 'fly the coop'!

Their shared journey is fraught with danger, and adventure. As the family gets smaller, the journey becomes more arduous. No matter, soon they are all where they are meant to be and Hattie is home alone, working at new projects. A surprise visit results in an equally happy surprise for a very special mother.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Freedom Over Me, by Ashley Bryan. Athenenum Books for Young Readers, Simon and Schuster. 2016. $23.99 ages 6 and up

“No matter what work I do
on the estate -
even learning carpentry
from Stephen -
I think of drawing.
I plan one day
to draw freely
from free Negro people.
I will create
loving portraits
of their strength  ..."

In an author's note following the text, Ashley Bryan explains how this beautiful and necessary book came to be written:

"A name. An age. A price.
    People like you. Like me.
    For sale!
    Many years ago I acquired a collection of slave-related documents.
They date from the 1820s to the 1860s.
    I was deeply moved by these documents and have long wished to
work from them. Finally, I chose the Fairchilds Appraisement of the
Estate document from July 5, 1828 to tell this story. Eleven slaves are
listed for sale with the cows, hogs, cotton; only the names and prices of
the slaves are noted (no age is indicated)."

He goes on to say he wanted to give these names a voice and a dream. He chooses an age and the work they are assigned to help tell their story. It is a deeply moving and necessary accounting of the time of slavery in the United States when 'Negro people were not considered human beings'. They were merely property to be bought and sold at an owner's behest.

There are 11 slaves here named, and Mr. Bryan does exactly what he set out to do: he gives them an identity, a purpose in life, and a dream for the future. As we read about them, we hear their voices, their personal history and their description of the work they do on the plantation.

Jane is the seamstress:

"I'm seamstress to Mrs. Fairchilds.
for my skills with cloth,
I design and sew
all of Mrs. Fairchilds's dresses,
tailor shirts and trousers
for Mr. Fairchilds as well.

I enjoy matching colored cloths,
creating unusual patterns.
This has brought many compliments
to the wearer.
Some deep remembrance
of woven African cloths
lives on in me."

And her dream:

"I have grown in artistry
through the clothes I create.
The praise I receive,
I offer as a tribute
to my ancestors.

Stephen and I
treat the young slave John
as our son.
We never lose hope
that we will one day
live free."

The gorgeous and boldly colored pen, ink and watercolor portraits are mesmerizing. You cannot help but be drawn to their faces, their demeanor, their hard work and their dreams; and the price they are expected to bring. They make a meaningful contribution to the success of the plantation. Their world is captured in their telling words. Ashley Bryan shows he cares about the people and their stories, and he makes us care, too. This is a powerful book, and it should be shared.