Total Pageviews

Showing posts with label wordplay. Show all posts
Showing posts with label wordplay. Show all posts

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Snicker of Magic, written by Natalie Lloyd. Scholastic, 2014. $18.99 ages 8 and up

"Oliver's story of the Threadbare curse had stuck with me. I'd written the words in my blue book, but I might as well have written them inside my head and inside my heart and in the air all around me. Because I couldn't stop thinking about them. And I didn't know why. The Brothers Threadbare were dead and gone."

My brain can hardly get itself around the fact that this wonderful, inspired, and truly lovely novel is a DEBUT for Natalie Lloyd. My, she has written it brilliantly, and she's given me a host of memorable characters that I long to meet again!

So much has been written about it that you might not even need to read this recommendation. I just can't help telling you about it. It put a smile on my face that is sure to last for hours and days, and return whenever I think about Felicity Juniper Pickle, her family, her best friend Jonah and the beautiful people of Midnight Gulch.

When Felicity and family arrive there, just another stop in their life of wandering. her artistic Mama explains that it used to be 'a magical place to call home'. As they drive past the town's welcome sign, they note that it now says that Midnight Gulch is 'a proper place to call home'. Felicity is not so sure:

"I didn't say another word to Mama that night, but I could feel something good even then: the YES in my heart, the swirling-around in my belly, the prickly tingling all the way from the freckle on my finger to the tip of my pinky toe. That much wonderful could only mean one thing:
There was still magic in Midnight Gulch.
This is how I turned it loose..."

And turn it loose she does, thanks to the support, love and assistance of the special people she meets there. It is, after all, where Mama grew up. Perhaps it will soothe her wandering heart. While the setting has great warmth and appeal, it is the characters who become our friends that up the ante for the pleasure of reading all about them. They are many and varied, and worthy of our attention and love. Their stories are endless; magical, mysterious, and entertaining.

Felicity loves words, and sees them everywhere. She then collects them in her blue book. As she meets the people, hears their stories, learns about the connections to the old timers, including the Threadbare brothers whose curse has impacted all that happens in their town, the magic of her word collecting works some magic of its own.

You will want to meet them all, to know their stories, and to know that Felicity makes some very important discoveries for herself:

"I still missed Roger Pickle. I was still hurt that he hadn't come back to us. But I didn't feel like my family was in pieces anymore. We might never look like a normal family, but I didn't mind. Normal was never one of my favorite words anyway. I glanced up at the painted faces of all the people I'd come to know, and wanted to know. Home isn't just a house or a city or a place; home is what happens when you're brave enough to love people."


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Just So Stories for Little Children, Volume 1. Written by Rudyard Kipling and illustrated by Ian Wallace. Groundwood Books, 2013. $19.95 ages 6 and up

"But just as he was going to eat it there came down to the beach from the Altogether Uninhabited Interior one Rhinoceros with a horn on his nose, two piggy eyes, and few manners. In those days the Rhinoceros's skin fitted him quite tight. There were no wrinkles in it anywhere. He looked exactly like a Noah's Ark Rhinoceros, but of course much bigger."

The stories are old, and their appeal is just as strong as it has always been. The difference can be found in the brand new illustrations. Of them, Ian Wallace has this to say:

"When I sat down to read them as an adult, I understood why she held them in such high regard. They are simply remarkable - magical and mythic, replete with stunning word play, vocabulary, wit, poetry and prose; global in their reach; and, as important for an artist, ripe with visual images. I was hooked. I couldn't wait to put my mark on Kipling's fertile imagination, which opened up a treasure trove of possibilities."

Ian Wallace's invitation to us to share these classic tales comes on the remarkably designed cover. It wraps around the book and, in the beauty of the sunset and its transformation to the dark of night, gives us a visual hint at the stories to be shared in this first volume. I love that the reflections reveal the animals' transformations. If you are as observant as young children tend to be, you will take note that there are six tales to be told.

For each of the six stories, the artist has created four full-color, full page illustrations, using watercolour, pencil crayon, pastel pencil and chalk. Each scene is full of detail and light. The palette for each story is impeccably matched to the setting. The colors are bold when needed, and softened when the story calls for it. (Interesting to see what the whale has swallowed from trash-laden waters, and I love that the toys are in keeping with the times the stories were originally told!) In every case, one of the four is accompanied by a text selection. Don't miss reading the illustrator's note that follows the final tale. It is very enlightening concerning the process used for creating this luminous work.

There is little to be said about the stories themselves. They are have been honored over the past more than one hundred years. It is wonderful to have a newly illustrated and very impressive collection of some of the tales. It is my understanding that Volume 2 will be on bookshelves in the spring of 2014. I will look forward to that with high regard for Mr. Wallace's work and anticipation of reading those marvelous stories one more time! 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Once Upon a Memory, written by Nina Laden and illustrated by Renata Liwska. Little Brown and Company, Hachette. 2013. $19.00 all ages

"Does a book remember
it once was...
...a word?

Does a chair remember
it once was...
...a tree?

Does a garden remember
it once was...
...a pea?"

I have a friend who leads workshops in writing for all ages. Borrowing ideas from the brilliant Lynda Barry and her equally brilliant What It Is (Drawn & Quarterly, 2008), Don encourages those who attend to mine the details of a memory for writing workshop, or for their own purpose.  I have been at three of those workshops, and I even surprise myself with the topics I can walk around to find a memory for writing.

Nina Laden uses the concept of memory to create this lovely, quiet poem that is sure to trigger deep thoughts for many. She encourages us to think about familiar objects in our environment and to consider what their memories might be. I found myself thinking imaginatively about the origins of a number of  objects once I had read this beautiful book. What a concept!

Renata Liwska's art is described in front matter: 'The art was initially sketched by hand in the artist's journal. It was then scanned and colored in Adobe Photoshop. The animal characters were inspired
by the artist's experiences with nature, from her worldwide travels to her own backyard." Each image created is a perfect accompaniment to the warmth and charm of the questions themselves. As the small boy asks the question, the artist provides a tiny scene showing familiar gentle animals that perfectly depict the notion he has expressed.

Take perfect words, add exceptional illustrations and you have the recipe for a book to love and cherish. I LOVE this little treasure.  

Also, I wanted to share with you a talk given by Lynda Barry. It may give you pause!                                                                       

Saturday, November 23, 2013

follow follow: a Book of Reverso Poems, written by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Josee Masse. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin. 2013. $18.00 ages 8 and up

"That ridiculous loser!
I am not
a slowpoke.
Though I may be
the smallest bit distracted.
I can't be
I've got rabbit feet to
take me to the finish line."

In a note About Reversos in the back matter of this jaw-dropping new book of poetry, Marilyn Singer tells her audience: "Trust me -it's not easy,". My immediate thought was: 'now there's an understatement if I ever heard one!'

In a poetic form that she created for her outstanding book Mirror Mirror (Dutton, 2010), Ms.Singer has done it again. She uses familiar (I hope), traditional tales and designs poems that present opposing points of view. The kicker is that the two poems face each other on a single page spread. The one on the left side reads from top to bottom; the poem on the facing side of the midline uses the exact same words but reverses them, taking the last line and putting it at the top and writing it again with subtle changes in punctuation.

 I wish I could just post one of them to have you wrap your brain around how truly inventive and 'not easy' it really is! Look at the poem at the top of this post, write it down from bottom to top, or just read it that way and you get some small idea of the magic that is in the words, and the form. Two different characters with entirely opposite points of view concerning the race, and they use the SAME WORDS! Mind-boggling!

There are twelve tales and each one has an appended note:

Three pigs versus one big, bad wolf. The first pig builds a house of straw, the second a house of sticks. The wolf blows down the houses and eats the pigs. The last pig builds his house of sturdy bricks. When the wolf decides to come down the chimney, his goose is cooked."

Each is a delight to read, and will enchant and tease the reader's brain. Most of the stories will be very familiar. Readers will benefit from the short descriptions of each in the back matter. They might even want to follow-up with a thorough reading of the original tale. What a celebration of the written word and the power of poetry to tell a story in a unique and intriguing new way!

I love the jewel-tone colors in Josee Maase's acrylic on bristol sheet artwork. Each piece faces the mirrored poems and provides a two-sided image that is divided by a midline, just as the poems are shown on their page. Tiny spot paintings add detail to the poetry page, totally in keeping with the tale being shared. Textured and detailed, they add the perfect touch!

The introductory and closing poems provide a perfect support for the collection. Clever, and oh, so inspiring for those wanting to try their hand at a new form of poetry.

Imagine                   Upended
fairy tales                fairy tales?
upended.                  Imagine!



Monday, November 11, 2013

The Pet Project, written by Lisa Wheeler and illustrated by Zachariah Ohora. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster. 2013. $19.99 ages 6 and up

"From the side of the road
she looked so serene,
happily chewing her cud.

Upon closer inspection
she seemed sort of mean,
nudging me into the mud.

From the side of the road
I breathed the fresh air,
the grass and the rye smelled so sweet."

Ah, this may be the answer to the perpetual begging from young children for a pet. In this case, the parents propose a scientific query and a plan to persuade them that a pet is an appropriate request at this time:

"They urged me to learn all I can.
"Devise a scientific plan."

They added to this conversation.
"Write down every observation."

Then they handed me a pen.
"When you're through, we'll talk again." "

And so the study begins at the farm. Meeting first a cow, then a chicken is no incentive for a farm pet. When she meets a pony, she feels her search is over. Alas, three weeks later, the pony proves to be unreliable: a stomper, a kicker and a biter! The doves and sheep are no more amenable. It's off to the zoo!

This expedition leads to a study of the monkey, tiger, penguin, hippopotamus, and finally a polar bear. Each has it's own idiosyncrasies that prove insurmountable. Perhaps, closer to home holds the answer to the dilemma. She checks in the woods. Skunks, squirrels and bunnies are unable to meet her criteria for an appealing pet.

The solution may be found in a home study. The test subjects are varied. Not a goldfish, or an ant farm. A puppy and a kitten both prove problematic:

"When a kitten is your pet,
you never know what you will get.
One minute it's as sweet as pie,
the next, it's swatting at your eye.
Its personality is split.
I think I best get rid of it."

At the pet store, things don't get better.

Finally, her scientific observation results in these conclusions:

"My research gave me food for
I know what kind of kid I'm not.
I'm not the kind for mucking stalls
or brushing fur
or throwing balls
or cleaning bowls
or clipping nails
or watching out
for wagging tails.

I am the sort who soon forgets,
and that's not good when you've got


What do you think? Might it work? I say, give it a try!!!

Kids are going to love this...therefore, it may not be the answer to your pet dilemma. The poems are great fun, the artwork ensures that readers are in on the jokes. Enjoy!


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Little Red Writing, written by Joan Holub and illustrrated by Melissa Sweet. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2013. $19.99 ages 8 and up

"Description adds pizzazz to any story, but Little Red was bogged down, hindered, lost! She reached into her word basket for help.

Aha! Scissors!
I need to cut through
all this description
and stick to
the story path."

I love fractured fairy tales -old traditional stories made new again. I have a number of them on my 'keepers' shelf; but, I have never encountered a version of Red Riding Hood that comes close to this fresh and funny telling.

This Red Riding Hood is always en pointe! She is, after all, a pencil...a pencil with a special assignment. She is tasked with writing a story, and it can be daunting and dangerous. A plan is provided...a story path with four steps. When Red decides to write a story that matches her color, which stands for bravery, her teacher has further advice:

"Ms. 2 gave Little Red a basket of 15 red words to use in case she ran into trouble."

Red is confident. Opening her notebook, she gets 'write' to work. Not content to use 'walked' as her motion word, she attends gym and finds many action words that might be used instead. Out the door and into a 'deep, dark, descriptive forest' where adjectives abound and can become a distraction from the path. She uses one of her basket words to move the story along. Her meeting with Conjunctive Glue leads to another dilemma and mayhem takes over:

"Little Red squeezed the bottle...
Too many glue words came out!
So that is how she found herself
writing a sentence that would not
end but just kept going and going
and running on and on although
it had no purpose yet it would not
get out of her story or say anything
important so she was glad when a
helpful word arrived - "

When she runs into real trouble, she uses the 'red' words from her basket with wild abandon in order to escape the danger. Now, she is on her own and makes the decision to follow the danger, as all brave pencils would do. Is she brave enough to finish her story?

Joan Holub creates an alternate version of a familiar story in a totally unique manner. And, it works! Melissa Sweet adds an extra dose of charm with her familiar mixed media creations. There is so much to attract attention and keep readers involved in the story's arc. The colors are bright, the action lively and the many humorous details offer certain engagement in the story's plot. The lessons will be learned without any hoopla...rather fine storytelling magic.

It is a book worth celebrating!


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Crankee Doodle, written by Tom Angleberger and illustrated by Cece Bell. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Thomas Allen & Son, 2013. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"Shopping? I hate shopping.
I have too much stuff already.
It's all junk. They don't make
stuff like they used to. It falls
apart as soon as you get it home.
And the prices!
I might as well throw my money
in the outhouse hole.
Why would I want to go

Be sure that your students and your own kids at home know the song before you share this silly book! They will thoroughly enjoy the humor, once they know what lies behind the author's telling.

Turns out that Yankee Doodle had been suffering from debilitating boredom. Only wanting to help, his pony suggests a trip to town for shopping. It's enough to set Yankee off on a tirade about the many downfalls of shopping. Each new suggestion is met with further derision. It seems the last straw is calling the hat 'macaroni'.

"First of all, why would I want to call my hat macaroni? I don't want to call my hat anything! It's just a hat! Second of all, why would putting a feather in my hat turn it into macaroni?"

You get the picture...and so will kids. Such silliness is bound to result in giggles and much enjoyment. I am sure it will garner the 'please, read it again!' chant as soon as the final page is turned. Because it is a just-right read aloud, I am sure you will surrender to those pleas.

When the horse suggests lasagna as an alternative, Yankee has had it. Into the dump the hat goes, leaving the pony to bravely suggest a new hat. Just as the pony has wanted all along, the two end up going to town...and they have a surprise in store for their listeners!

Perfect fare for a wild and wacky read aloud, and for allowing the reader a chance to practice worthy outrage and voice, this is sure to be a huge hit. The illustrations are done in gouache, boldly outlined in black and ensure that all who sit to listen will be able to see them. It would make a lively reader's theater performance!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Do You Know Chameleons? Written by Alain M. Bergeron, Michel Quintin and Sampar, with illustrations by Sampar. Fitzhenry & Whtieside, 2013. $9.95 ages 8 and up

"The chameleon's tongue,
which resembles a long
tube, is very extendable.
it is longer that the
chameleon's head and
body combined."

The cartoon drawing that accompanies this page of text shows a bearded, bespectacled, white-haired doctor asking innocently: 'How long have you been suffering from this cramp', while the chameleon's tongue sticks straight out in front of him, across the width of the doctor's office. It made me laugh out loud! Further on is a graphic comic layout showing a giraffe munching on the leaves at the top of a nearby tree. Suddenly, his eyes open wide and he spits out two chameleons with the admonition that they 'stop hiding in my food!' They are contrite and offer to find another place to hide.

The text for that encounter reads:

"The spikes, horns and other protuberances that adorn a chameleon's body help it blend into the foliage." 

Too funny!

There is useful information here for young scientist wanting to know more about these strange and intriguing creatures. A glossary and index are helpful. The artwork is so much fun it will have readers returning again and again to see how Sampar adds depth and interest to the information shared. Totally engaging, this book is sure to have your children or students looking for more of the same. Luckily, you can offer the following:

Friday, July 5, 2013

OY FEH SO? Written by Cary Fagan and illustrated by Gary Clement. Groundwood Books, 2013. $17.95 ages 5 and up

"Aunt Essy sat down in the big armchair with a sigh. Aunt Chanah groaned as she lowered herself onto one end of the sofa. Uncle Sam winced as he dropped onto the other end. "Oy," said Aunt Essy. "Feh," said Aunt Chanah. "So?" said Uncle Sam. That was all they ever said!"

Telling family stories can be so much fun, or not! Cory Fagan proves that with this story of visiting relatives. They are old, and set in their ways. Their Sunday visits are filled with same old, same old...snarky responses to every conversation starter and always SO negative.

This week the kids are determined to change it up! They don masks, hoist swords, and execute the perfect robbery:

"Oy," said Aunt Essy. "Crime these days."
"Feh," said Aunt Chanah. "People are animals."
"So?" said Uncle Sam. "Did you expect anything different?"

When the robbery ploy fails, a dragon appears hungry for human legs. He's followed by an alien attack. Nothing seems to have an impact. It's enough to send our narrator into a frenzy:

"I was angry. More than angry. I stamped my foot.
"I can't take it anymore," I said.
I grabbed a handful of wool from my mother's knitting
basket. I put it on my head.
"Oy," I said. "Oy, oy, oy!"

And on they go! Mom and Dad are not impressed, but it certainly gets a response from their visitors. What a great family read this is! Cary Fagan brings his saucy sense of humor to this family story that will be enjoyed by those who have a chance to listen to it, or to read it themselves.

Gary Clement ups the humor quotient with his depictions of Essy, Chanah and Sam. He matches the tone of Fagan's story with the perspective changes, the expressive faces, and the single room setting. Our focus is constantly shifting and we feel we are party to their weekly exchange. The responses are blocked and large, allowing for repetition with a sense of purpose. I like that we see them coming and going, and are privy to the way in which the children respond to both. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Nelly May Has Her Say, written by Cynthia DeFelice and illustrated by Henry Cole. Margaret Ferguson Books, Farrar Straus Giroux. Raincoast Books, 2013. $18.99 ages 5 and up

"And what is this creature that has been following us around?"
"That's nothing but a mangy old hound dog."
"Certainly not! He is my fur-faced fluffenbarker."
Nelly May sighed. "Your fur-faced Fluffenbarker. Why didn't I guess that?" "Oh, and this thing on the end of the fur-faced fluffenbarker, that goes back and forth..."

I had never heard of the English folktale Master of All Masters. But, I do know it now! In this retelling, Nelly May is in need of a job. She finds one with a wealthy, if eccentric, older man. In accepting the position she must agree to use the language set out for her by her employer. We soon find that Lord Ignasius Pinkwinkle has a particular penchant for elaborate, and often nonsensical, descriptive language:

"It's your bed, which I expect I'll be making up for you."
"Not at all," said Lord Pinkwinkle. "That is not a bed. It is my restful slumberific."
"Your restful slumberific?" asked Nelly May doubtfully. "I never heard of such as that."
"Well, now you have," said Lord Pinkwinkle."

That is just the beginning for poor Nelly May!

As the tale progresses and the language becomes always more cumbersome, it is sure to draw laughter from listeners and some degree of difficulty for the reader. With each new demand for ridiculous language, Nelly May becomes more irreverent. Lord Pinkwinkle continues to ask for her version of the item being discussed and then discounts her description with one of his own:

"Well, most folks would call it a bucket, or maybe a pail," ventured Nelly May. "But there's no telling what you'll be calling it."
"I call it a wet scooperooty, and so must you."
"If I must," said Nelly May."

After all the introductions, Nelly May is finally encouraged to get to the work she was hired to do. Only when a fire threatens the Most Excellent of All Master's roof-topped castleorum does Nelly May take the high road...and quit!

Turns out that is just what is needed for Pinky to see the error of his ways.

Henry Cole's artwork is warm and engaging and adds to the overall appeal of this decidedly humorous tale. Readers will enjoy trying to get their tongues around the silly language concocted by Pinky, before he gets his comeuppance from a slight, but savvy young woman. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

That Is NOT a Good Idea! Written and illustrated by Mo Willems. Balzer & Bray, Harper. 2013. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"Would you care
to continue our walk
into the deep,
dark woods?"

"Sounds fun!"

a good idea!"

A close look at the cover will have readers making assumptions about the fate of the naive goose who, in all innocence, is enamored of the attentions of a smooth and dapper fox flashing pearly white teeth and offering up a lovely daisy. The tiny goslings watching the show have an admonition for the two: That is NOT a Good Idea!

If you know Mo Willems' work, you will anticipate with great pleasure the chance to share his humor and storytelling ability. Opening the cover allows readers a look at the players who have a role in this parody of the silent film genre. The fox is hungry, the goose is plump and the geese are tiny. I guess that is all we need to know.

When the fox and goose lay eyes on each other, there is an instant connection. Turn the page and full black backgrounds offer the only words needed to begin the tale. On one page: What luck! On the facing page: Dinner! So, when the fox offers a companionable stroll, we are not surprised that the sweet cheeked goose is delighted to accept. One tiny gosling proffers advice: That is NOT a good idea!

Each suggestion made by the fox becomes more alarming. The Goose accepts without question, and the tiny geese become ever more frantic with their admonitions. The warning is issued many times, the advice not taken and in the end, readers will feel great satisfaction in the outcome. Oh, and a modicum of hilarity as well!

Mo Willems never disappoints! I am constantly asked to share his books, and it's always such a treat. Be on the lookout for Pigeon who has a minor cameo role.

Bravo, Mr. Willems...another winning production!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Exclamation Point! By Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld. Scholastic, 2013. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"He stood out here.

He stood out there.

It seemed like the only
time he didn't stand out
was when he was asleep."

Poor exclamation point! He just wants to be like everyone else. He doesn't like being different, and then he meets question mark. All her questions make him crazy until he finally tells her to STOP! His outburst does nothing to deter the question mark, thankfully. We need her, don't we?

Now that he's found his calling, the possibilities are endless! Now that he knows what he is cut out for, he makes his presence known.  It can be a lot of fun, and he takes great joy in practicing his art.

As is the case with other books by this witty and accomplished pair of artists, much of the joy in sharing comes from the punny language and cheerful art. It's a wonderful way for new writers and learners to SEE the effect of the exclamation point, all while having fun with the learning. Never is it heavy-handed in its presentation; it is, in fact, quite charming. It is a terrific way to help those young writers who LOVE to use them get the real scoop on emotional punctuation.

There will be some giggling and many cheers as this book is shared again and again. I love the familiar, lined printing book pages. They help show the power to be found in writing, and offer a spirited lesson on the use of punctuation in early writing. The punctuation mark has an expressive face, evoking his feelings as he doubts, mourns, and is finally deflated by attempts to fit in with everyone else.

Once freed from concern for his lot in life, he is off to share his excitement with others. With this much fun, who knew there was also powerful learning involved? The exceptional design, using changing colors and fonts for emphasis simply adds to that power.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Where Do You Look? By Marthe Jocelyn & Nell Jocelyn. Tundra Books, Random House. 2013. $17.99 ages 3 and up


"Where do you look
for a button?

On a shirt?

Or on a telephone?

Where do you look
for a tongue?

Kids seem to love books that make them think. Those books appear  to be trying to trick them. That's the real bonus when you look at this new book by Marthe Jocelyn and her daughter Nell.

The concept is simple; and the book will surely help them come to grips with the concept we call homonyms. In this case, they are all words that are spelled the same, but mean something different. You can see that from the opening quote.

The endpapers are great fun at a time when glasses are very much an accessory to the outfit being worn. Fashionistas will pore over the varied collection looking for something that they would like to wear. The add color, and context for what's ahead.

As the questions are asked, the authors share ideas to consider before moving on to the next word. Are there other words that might suit? It's worth thinking about and discussing. What can you add to the conversation?

The collage artwork is colorful, detailed and familiar for young readers. I like the cutout letters that are used to ask each new question, and the fact that the homonym is created in bold red letters. This gives emergent readers a clear look at the word, and helps them sort through visual information. The words chosen boost understanding for little language learners. The collages will encourage them to look carefully and talk about what they see on each page.

Books such as this make learning to read fun; that's just as it should be!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Stella! A Treasury. Written and illustrated by Marie-Lousie Gay. Groundwood, 2012. $24.95 ages 3 and up

"Listen!" cried Sam. "Was that a wolf?' "Wolves don't croak, Sam. That was a tree frog." "Is a tree frog as big as a wolf?" asked Sam. "It's so tiny you can put it in your pocket." "There's no room in my pocket," said Sam. "It's full of cookies." "Tree frogs love cookies," said Stella."

The definition of treasury is: A collection of literary or artistic treasures. The definition of treasure is:  One considered especially precious or valuable.

That being said, STELLA! is a treasury of treasures. Oh, yes! I definitely think it is!

It's been a while since I shared these incredible stories. There was a time when I read one or all, every single day, and we were mesmerized by the relationship between Stella and her younger brother Sam. Stella, the older and certain-that-she-was-wiser sibling who was determined to school Sam in the ways of the world. Sam, the naive-yet-articulate-and-perceptive younger sibling who asked exasperating questions that his older sister could not always fathom, or answer. Oh, I love them both. Now, some of their stories have been anthologized, along with Stella's own story of being very, very small, into one amazing storybook!

We begin at the beginning with When Stella Was Very, Very Small (Groundwood, 2009) and learn much that we had not previously known about the girl wonder:

"Every night before going to bed, Stella listened
to the trees talking.
They told stories about holding up the sky with their
branches and tickling the bellies of the smallest clouds."

It is Stella's imagination that I love so much, and Marie-Louise Gay's carefully chosen language that brings her to such glorious life. Having not read these books often in the past few years, I found myself laughing out loud and delighting in reading them all over again. Stella never ceases to amaze me with her endless energy, her exuberant lease on life in all its various forms and her innate ability to find the best in every experience.

As I read through this treasure, I found myself remembering some of my favorite conversations of all time. Sam is a perfect foil for Stella's know-it-all personality and despite his obvious adoration for his big sister, he is not just going to sit back and follow her lead without checking out a few things first or expressing his disquiet. 

On his first visit to the sea, Sam is apprehensive. Stella, who has been there once before and thinks she knows its many wonders, does her best to convince him to let go of his concerns and ENJOY it!

"Is the water cold?" asked Sam. "Is it deep?
Are there any sea monsters?"
"The water is lovely," said Stella.
"And not a sea monster in sight.
Come on in, Sam!"
"Not right now, " said Sam."

He has many other questions to be answered before he is ready to take the plunge.

It's the same with the sky, the forest and his first snowstorm. He is never prepared just to take Stella's word for it. She has to do some formidable convincing. Each time she does what she needs to do, Sam is cajoled, and together they enjoy their shared experiences.

Satisfying, endearing and charming...every page, every piece of artwork and each encounter between siblings.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Skippyjon Jones: Cirque de Ole, written and illustrated by Judy Schachner. Dial, Penguin. 2012. $19.00 ages 4 and up

"Up Up Up
they climbed until they
formed a perfecto tower
of tiny, trembling
And beneath
the tower stood
the power, tough
and shaky as five-
day-old Jell-0."

Ardent Skippyjon Jones fans are sure to be delighted with this thrilling escapade. He remains the same stalwart pretender that he has always been...believing himself to be a chihuahua rather than a little kitty when embarking on each new adventure.

Is it a dream of most children to be part of a circus? Well, Skippyjon certainly dreams of being a high-wire walker and his Mama is concerned. In six previous tales, he has always managed to do what others think is ridiculous, or dangerous, or impossible. He gets a lot of practice on the telephone wire above them; his sisters are in awe of his talent. Mama is not so enamored of his recklessness. She thinks he needs the talk:

"What did you think you were doing up there?
You and those squirrels
on a wire in midair?
What if you tripped
and fell on your head?
You'd have to spend months
in a hospital bed!"

She fears her son believes the nonsense that cats have nine lives. She shuts him in his will know what that means if you are a fan! Into his closet he goes, dons a new disguise and is off to perform with los chimichangos. Muscles pumped up with a bike pump and set to be the base for a Chihuahua tower, the chihuahuas are ready. The dog whose costume they borrowed takes umbrage. Biting Skippyjon on his ballooned backside, Putzi sets off a string of events that has Skippyjon sailing up to the rafters, catching hold of el trapecio, doing a twist onto the tightrope, falling straight into the cannon which catapults him right back to his closet, and out into his room. Luckily, Mama is there to provide a soft landing, a yummy dessert and a flea collar, thanks to his latest caper.

The illustrations are as full of life and spirit as Skippyjon himself. The pages are filled with action, expression, imagination and great fun that allows young readers a chance to experience vicariously what they might otherwise miss. Skippyjon fears nothing. He remains an appealing 'kitty boy' whose stories are filled with the Spanish language of his alter ego, Skippito Friskito. Giving full attention to each turn of the page, while listening to the witty wordplay makes this a great readaloud. I love that the author reads the story on the accompanying CD and allows me a chance to practice my muy malo Spanish.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Boot and Shoe, written and illustrated by Marla Frazee. Beach Lane Books, Simon & Schuster. 2012. $18.99 ages 3 and up

"Boot decided to station himself on the front porch and wait there until Shoe found his way back. And Shoe decided to station himself on the back porch and wait there until Boot found his way back. It was a long, lonely afternoon. When it was dinnertime, Boot's stomach rumbled. But he didn't want to eat dinner without Shoe. Shoe's stomach rumbled, too."

Here are two terriers you are sure to love...they certainly love each other, despite their differences. They each love the lives they lead, and are happy to spend time together as well. In fact, they share their food dish, a particular tree and their blue bed. What they don't share is the direction  they choose to face. Boot finds comfort on the back porch, whole Shoe gravitates to the front one. It's a perfect life.

That is, until an errant squirrel shows up in their yard one day:

"It chattered at Boot.
It chattered at Shoe.
It threw stuff at Boot.
It threw stuff at Shoe.
And then
it got all up
in Boot's business.
And it got
all up in
Shoe's business,
Something had
to be done."

Not ones to be pestered by an ornery, bothersome denizen of a nearby tree, Boot and Shoe give chase. They chase that varmint until he tires of the fun, and walks away!

When the smoke clears, the two dogs find themselves in unfamiliar territory. In the midst of the mayhem, they have traded porch places. Boot cannot find Shoe where Shoe should be. Alternately, Shoe cannot find Boot where Boot should be. The search is on, with no resulting luck. Both are blue. They guard each other's porch in hopes that the errant resident will find his way home. That waiting is endless.

They miss dinner, forego bedtime, wait out a rainstorm and simultaneously stage an around-the-outer-perimeter search for the other. Their luck remains bad. Their night is endless. At daybreak, with no sign of the other's return, they set to sobbing. Luckily, nature calls and both make their way to their favorite tree to relieve themselves where they also make an amazing discovery!

I would share this sure-to-be-a-favorite tale with students while also reading Homer (Elisha Cooper, 2012, Harper). Both are books made special by the storytelling ability of their respective authors. Marla Frazee hand-letters the type to create a picture book that sparkles with friendship and loyalty. The pencil and gouache artwork gives it a softness and poignancy that will appeal to her young audience, and to anyone who has ever been faced with an abrupt change in lifestyle. The repetitive text will have them reading along, and always wanting more, more, more. I think she does a remarkable job with ever-changing perspectives and, although I was determined to find a favorite illustration, I just could not do it. So much to see and savor....

P.S. If you are not sure which brother is which...look more carefully!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Lester's Dreadful Sweaters, written and illustrated by K. G. Campbell. Kids Can Press, 2012. $ 18.95 ages 5 and up

"No one knew exactly whose cousin Cousin Clara was, so she came to stay with Lester's family. She was little and frilly and came with a basket of knitting. "I added crocodiles to the list," Lester assured her. At first, everything went well enough. Clara didn't make unsavory noises or rearrange Lester's Lost and Found collection."

In point of fact, Clara is a knitter and that is how she spends her days.
She is a whiz with knitting needles, while not too adept at creating wearable sweaters. Well, they are wearable. But truly, they are also dreadful. There are no others like them, and they draw attention, to say the least!

The first one she creates for Lester is 'less-than-pleasant yellow and smothered with purple pom-poms.' His teacher is so flustered with Lester's appearance, he forgets to make mention of Lester's 'carefully combed hair' and a certain classmate is quick to make disparaging remarks about whar he's wearing. By a strange coincidence, that sweater meets its untimely end in a washing episode gone bad. Not to worry, Clara is quick and she whips another sweater in time for the next school day. This one is worse, if that' even possible.

As each new sweater meets its end, a  new one takes its place:

"The next sweater was
repulsively pumpkin,
uncommonly crooked and
had a hideous hood.
IT unraveled in the
rain and got washed
down a drain.

The next was an awful
olive and had alarmingly
large buttons. IT was
pecked to pieces by several
outraged ostriches." 

It's harmless fun, and plays on a child's nightmarish worry for wearing the wrong thing. With each new sweater, Lester becomes adept at finding ways to destroy them. Kids will love the fun, and the silliness of the telling. I love the language. It is the kind of book that I would share with students when wanting to talk about some of the strategies that authors use when creating their stories...descriptive language, alliteration, wordplay and using capital letters to underscore the importance of certain words.  Clever and entertaining, and we haven't talked yet about the droll, dark humor that is explored in the accompanying artwork.

Spot pictures, plenty of white space, varying perspectives, expressive faces, and a humorous struggle between Cousin Clara and Lester will have kids hooting at the very funny scenes. When the clowns show up with a shared vision of the way their world should look, they are happy to take Cousin Clara with them as their resident wardrobe maven. It's happy ending for all.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

What Can A Crane Pick Up? Written by Rebecca Kai Dotlich and illustrated by Mike Lowery. Alfred A Knopf., Random House. 2012. $19.99 ages 2 and up

"Can a crane
pick up a
A wooden wheel
and a load
of steel.
A load of steel,
A wheel,
A tree...
And a submarine from
beneath the sea."

If you were glued to the television coverage of Hurricane Sandy bearing down on the east coast, you would have seen the dangling crane in downtown Manhattan and, if you were like me, been awed by its sheer size. Of course, the threat of it falling was what was uppermost in people's minds at the time.
It was, just the same, really quite incredible to see....and terrifying.

Little ones who love machines will be intrigued by the many things that a crane can pick up. Rebecca Kai Dotlich has created an homage to the work it can do, and to the inquisitiveness of the young. If it can do this, can it do that? You know those kids and their questions.

The cranes seem delighted with the work they do. Witness their smiling faces, no matter the scope of the job at hand. They find worthwhile work in many venues...with rail cars, at mills, on construction sites, and even at the county fair. Always busy, and apparently thrilled to be needed, the crane does the work of many and all tasks are met with enthusiastic acceptance of the work to be done.

The rhyme will help young readers join in, and the rhythm of the text will have them slapping their thighs in time to the sharing. The author did her research in a most unique way:

"Rebecca spent some time in a crane while it picked up thousands of Christmas tree lights to string atop tall buildings."

How much fun would that be...and won't her readers be impressed with the lengths she went to in order to create a new book full of information for them to share? It's a most enjoyable game to play, trying to decide what else a crane might pick up! I can just hear the questions that are sure to follow each successive reading.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Laugh-Out-Loud Baby, written by Tony Johnston and illustrated by Stephen Gammell. A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster. 2012. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"That small spill of happiness
went rippling through the house
a dazzle, a jazzle, a shine.
We all knew it was the sound
of joy.
So we laughed out our joy too.
We picked up our jolly baby
and  we passed him around.
Each one of us kissed him,
soft as a butterfly."

I think that you will love this new book by Tony Johnston. She is adept at descriptive language and is able to capture the unending joy of a baby's first laugh. It's a perfect gift to celebrate the birth of a baby.  

That first genuine laugh is reason to celebrate, and this baby's entire family comes to share the event. It is reminiscent of Cynthia Rylant's The Relatives Came (Atheneum, 2001), also illustrated by the inventive Stephen Gammell. Need a reason to smile...share this book!

Tony Johnston adds a note on the dedication page:

"For the Navajo, a child's first laugh has always been a precious moment. They celebrate the event with a First Laugh Ceremony. The baby - with the help of grown-ups - gives  small, sweet gifts to each guest, so that he will become generous; he gives nuggets of rock salt to keep him from being stingy. Then, to bring good luck, the baby is passed from guest to guest."

It is a joyful time for this particular baby, and the family announces a party! The line-up of party guests is long and varied:

"Aunts and uncles and cousins of all ages.
And crinkly grandmas and wrinkly grandpas.
And a throng of neighbors.
And our twinkly great-grandma,
who was old, old, old.
Then she GUFFAWED."

The house fills up, the guests do their best to make the baby laugh 'until the walls of the house throbbed with HAPPINESS.' The baby doesn't pick up on the clues, or the cajoling. The party takes a different food, and conversation and finally blessed and sated silence.

That's the baby's cue:

"And into that quiet rang a little mirthful sound."

Everyone goes home happy, after gentle kisses that evoke a sweet smile and a promise of renewed laughter...tomorrow!

Stephen Gammell's unmistakable illustrations, done in watercolor, colored pencil and pastels, people the pages with a quirky cast of family, friends and neighbors. They are full of anticipation as they arrive, eager to hear that baby's laugh, and wise to the ways of celebration.

Nighttime Ninja, written by Barbara DaCosta and illustrated by Ed Young. Little Brown and Company, Hachette. 2012. $18.50 ages 3 and up

"Hand over hand,
the ninja climbed
and clambered.
Step by step,
he balanced
and leapt.
The house
was silent.
was asleep."

I can just see all the ninja warriors skulking around the house in the dark, while everyone else in the house sleeps, after reading this debut illustrated book. I promise that you will be asked to read it again and again...and you will want to do just that!

Oh, I love the language chosen for this telling! It is precise and brief, using only those words needed to create an imaginative middle-of-the-night adventure. This ninja climbs and clambers, balances and leaps, creeps and kneels, always listening for an unfamiliar sound.  As he does, he is stealth and intent on his destination. He avoids all pitfalls, gets out the tools needed to complete his mission. Suddenly, and to his great surprise, he is caught (spoon and ice cream container in hand) by his thundering mother who wonders what he's doing. His mission incomplete, he is disappointed. His mother has a totally different mission in mind....good night, Nighttime Ninja!

The tension builds with every move the ninja makes. Ed Young creates remarkable collage artwork using cut paper, textured cloth, string and colored pencil to keep the suspense building on each and every page. He borders his images to show readers the furtive moves the ninja makes, using all of his skills and avoiding the many obstacles in his path. The cover is a most persuasive invitation, and the tactile feel of the bamboo leaves add to the allure. The endpapers show a ninja in a hand-to-hand struggle with a grappling line and the vertical turn of the title page make all who share this book a part of  the upcoming action. Wonderful! Don't miss the final image of spoon and melting chocolate ice cream beside a child-like drawing of a ninja hero.