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Monday, November 10, 2014

Santa Clauses

It looks like winter today in Minnesota. Half the buses were late at the end of the day (translating to 350 kids in the gym waiting to go home). Coats, snowpants, and boots spilled from the coat hooks onto the floor. A thick layer of ice coated my vehicle. My neighbor kids are still playing in the semi-darkness, savoring this first snowfall.

Perhaps it is fitting, then, to share Bob Raczka's new book today. Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole is a collection of haiku, written by Santa. One poem expresses his thoughts or activities for each day from December 1 to December 25, beginning with an onslaught of letters (what he calls "December's first storm"). The poet likens sprinkled sand to nutmeg, the elves's work to a holiday symphony, heavy workshop sawdust to snow accumulation. With images both beautiful and witty, the poems tell the story of preparation for a sleigh flight over "a toy train layout," with plenty of moments in between to indulge in winter pleasures. Chuck Groenink's artwork is the perfect accompaniment to the  haiku. Full-page spreads in wintry hues dominate the illustrations, and spot art focuses the reader's eye on Santa's skinny shadow or the wolf carolers on a hill. 

Many of my friends buy a holiday book each year for their families. This is the one for us. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Winter Bees

Winter is coming. Soon, it seems. A winter storm watch is in effect for the early part of the week with lows in the single digits. Lover of winter that I am, I keep quiet about my glee while others lament the start of this long season in Minnesota. Thankfully, I have a few hardy friends who also like the chilly season!

My friend and teaching partner spent the afternoon at the Red Balloon Bookshop celebrating winter  - and Joyce Sidman's Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold - with me. Numerous starred reviews preceded today's book event. In Winter Bees, Joyce captures winter's images through the actions of creatures who must prepare for and endure winter by migrating, preparing shelter, gathering food, keeping warm, and hibernating. Accompanying each poem is text explaining each creature's habits and adaptations. Rick Allen's detailed and gorgeous illustrations "were made through the unlikely marriage of some very old and very new art mediums." Some of the linoleum blocks carved for the artwork are in the above photograph. After listening to Joyce talk about the inspiration for "Dream of the Tundra Swan" (hearing them fly above her at about this same time of year) and read two other poems, members of the audience shared their favorite winter poems and songs. 

It was a lovely inspiration for us to plan a winter poem event with our staff, a quiet way to celebrate a season of frigid temperatures and ways to be warm.

Saturday, October 25, 2014


When entering a museum, visitors decide which galleries to visit first. Opening this large (11" x 14.75") book, readers are faced with similar choices. Should they go to the galleries in numerical or evolutionary class? Should they look for the most unique animals or their favorites? In Katie Scott's and Jenny Broom's new book Animalium, a Welcome to Animalium message invites readers to "wander through the pages of the see the story of life on Earth unfold." A double-page evolutionary family tree follows that invitation, making clear the categories: invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals.

In the museum's pages, readers find a habitat diorama for each animal class, an ecosystem of the inhabitants, some examples of related animals, and sometimes a dissection of skeletons. "This is the only museum to house animals ancient and modern, enormous and tiny, vicious and vulnerable, between two covers." (p. 1) The book feels like what the creators/curators attempted to assemble: a museum within a book. Its hefty size makes it easy to imagine being a museum as one takes in the creatures and descriptions. 

Familiar creatures like Luna moths, red-eyed tree frogs, and emperor penguins are displayed next to animals new to my vocabulary, like the blue button jelly (not really a jelly but a zooid, another word new to me), the stoplight parrotfish, and the secretary bird. Fascinated is the best word to describe my reaction! Enchanted is how my 14-month-old neighbor might describe her reaction to it. She loved the cover, pointing to birds when asked and quickly pulling her finger away when she touched the snake! 

Though it might not fit in a backpack, readers will long to take this book home for an in-depth visit.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Making Their Way

Living in Stalin's Soviet Union is almost unfathomable for me. I cannot imagine how people could treat neighbors and colleagues with vicious cruelty, seemingly unconcerned for the hurt caused by their actions or words. But I was there last night with Arcady, a young boy who loves soccer, and a man called Ivan Ivanych who comes to the children's home to adopt him. Arcady's life would be unbearable for most children: rationed food (dispensed by a rotund guard nicknamed Butterball), horrible conditions, and no affection. Underlying the horrors of the home is the knowledge that he and the other children living there are children of enemies of the state. Still, Arcady notes, "Ask what our parents have done, and each one of us would say our mom and dad were good." (p. 17)

Despite the awful circumstances, Eugene Yelchin's book is filled with love and understanding, and his artwork adds strong emotion to the powerful text. Arcady yearns for a chance to belong. Ivan Ivanych exudes patience and compassion. These two come together in an unlikely manner, each with his own expectations and hopes. In time, each begins to understand their lives and options differently, accepting how they can fit into each other's lives.  Arcady observed this after just a short while with Ivan: "I never looked at a bird longer than it took to aim a rock at it. But now with my belly more than full I'm thinking what's the harm in birds? I bet it's good to be one. To know someone is making you a home." (p. 70)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Gallery du Fridge

"I love art! It's my imagination on the outside." So says Louise, the red-bespectacled narrator of Kelly Light's first picture book, Louise Loves Art. Louise's love of art is evident on the first spread where she, with an adoring smile, lies atop many or her masterpieces, arms wide across them. Her little brother, appropriately named Art, gazes at her in fondness, as does their cat, a model for her best work. Art clearly longs to emulate his sister, but she is so consumed with displaying her work that she misses some important action. 

Though the cat tries to get her attention, Louise focuses on the Gallery du Fridge, the best place for hanging her piece de resistance, oblivious to how that piece is being transformed by Art. She is crushed, disappointed, crestfallen. What can a young artiste do to make things better? The Gallery du Fridge helps the reader understand the resolution and the title perfectly. 

I love this art book for its art advice, for how it models quiet forgiveness and alternative thinking, and for the art itself, made from black Prismacolor pencils and Photoshop. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Back on Deckawoo Drive

The neighbor kids wanted to read the Mercy Watson books this summer. Sitting in our sunny library, we traveled to Deckawoo Drive, revisiting Mr. and Mrs. Watson, Baby and Eugenia Lincoln, their neighbors Stella and Frank, and of course, Leroy Ninker, that popcorn-selling former night-time visitor to the Watson's home. Kate DiCamillo set her latest book - Leroy Ninker Saddles Up - back on Deckawoo Drive. I was glad to travel back to that friendly street, and my young reader friends will be delighted when they open this book.

Leroy Ninker longed for a horse. He shared his wish to be a cowboy with Beatrice Leapaleoni, ticket seller at th Bijo Drive-In Theater where he sold soda and buttered popcorn (and where Mercy and her parents went in Something Wonky This Way Comes). Wise Beatrice pointed out that in order to be a cowboy, Leroy would need - besides a cowboy hat, boots, and a lasso - a horse. And so, with a "Yippie-I-oh!" he begins the search. "Take fate in your hands," Beatrice tells him. He does. He acquires Maybelline. Not quite the horse he dreamed about, but just the right horse for him. All he has to do is remember the three items Maybelline's former owner told him: talk sweet to her, feed her A Lot Of Grub, and keep her company. 

Filled with humorous lines, more than a few interesting words, and quite an adventure, the book brought me back to that street I enjoy visiting. This time, Chris Van Dusen's illustrations are in monochrome, but they still perfectly capture the tone of the story. A story that ends with hot buttered toast on Deckawoo Drive is bound to be good.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Unexpected Friendship

In Jennifer K. Mann's book Two Speckled Eggs, Ginger is a girl looking forward to her birthday party. "But Ginger's mom said she had a to invite all of the girls in her class - or none of them." A party with no one did not seem like a good idea, so Ginger is forced to invite the girl everyone thinks is weird: Lyla Browning. While the other girls wreck the games and behave inappropriately, Lyla wanders around, enjoys Ginger's favorite silver-and-gold cake (coconut and pineapple), and laughs at the ladybug that lands on Ginger's nose. And, she brings the most amazing gift: a handmade bird nest with two malted milk eggs nestled in it. She becomes the friend Ginger did not expect, the one she most loved. It is one of my favorite picture books about friendship.

Though top-ten lists are popular, I choose only five others as my favorites:

Enemy Pie by Derek Munson
Farfallina and Marcel by Holly Keller
Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel
Toot & Puddle by Holly Hobbie
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox

"My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me." - Henry Ford