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Saturday, November 14, 2015

Poetry Meets Photographs

The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry has been my companion as I eat my morning oatmeal and drink my after school tea. I knew I'd love this book. A companion to the National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry, it is filled with beautiful images captured from around the world by obviously talented photographers and perfectly paired with exceptional poems by the world's best poets. I looked many times to the photo credits to see if by chance the photographer might also have been the poet! I knew, of course, that Robert Louis Stevenson did not take the photo of the blue origami boat that floats alongside his poem "Where Go the Boats?" and that neither Robert Frost nor Henry David Thoreau captured the image of Lopez Island in Washington State. But Joyce Sidman has stood upon a Moeraki Boulder in New Zealand, so it is possible her own photograph might be the backdrop for her words (in concrete form), and Naomi Shihab Nye must have visited the Badlands to write "Fossil Beds at the Badlands." No matter. All the pairings are engagingly beautiful.

Grouped into ten sections, the old and new poems reflect nature's wonders in the sky and sea, on the land and in action, in brightness and shade, in distress and through the seasons. J. Patrick Lewis's curation of this volume must have provided him and the many who helped organize it with delight and gratitude. Both his introduction and his closing words (in a thoughtful and encouraging piece entitled "Who is Mother Nature?") frame the choices included in the book. His photograph on the dust jacket shows him with a stack of books from which he selected poems. 

This book is a gem. I hate to return it to the library!

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Sun

There is something glorious about strong sunshine on a chilly autumn day. Stepping outside at lunch for a quick walk, I savored the clear sky and the bright light. Energy filled me. A sense of calm did, too.

When I got to the public library after school, I was delighted to find Bob Graham's new book waiting on the interlibrary loan shelf for me. The sun was almost on the horizon, setting for the night, when I brought the book home. Ahh. How the Sun Got to Coco's House was the perfect book for me today.

The sun stars as the main character, lightly buttering the pages as it touches random objects on its way to Coco's window. "It had to start somewhere," begins the text. From the Arctic to a fisherman's cap, the sun touched places large and small, created shadows, balances, waits patiently when window coverings are closed, crosses streets, and woke creatures along the way. It "took passing glances at itself in office towers" (one of my favorite lines) and eventually "had time on its hands" to spend with Coco and her friends. 

Graham's text is lovely, surprising at times, and filled with active language. It makes me want to personify something I love. The watercolor artwork is soft, brushed with gentle yellow rays, patches, and lines. This will be the perfect book for sharing aloud when the winter snow and chillier air is warmed by sunshine.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Emu Dads

Two facts surface when I consider emus: they are the second largest birds after ostriches and they cannot fly. I also know the word emu is used often in crossword puzzles, perhaps because the unusual letter combination fits with others. And so I have learned a lot from reading Claire Saxby's book simply titled Emu. Emu dads raise the chicks. When the first chick starts to cheep in the egg, the other chicks development is hastened so they will all arrive within a few days of each other. They sprint in zigzag formations to confuse their predators, like eagles, that would not relish the severe pecking of the dad's beak or the tearing from his sharp claws.

The book is a perfect combination of narrative nonfiction and facts. The former are displayed in Adobe Garamond Pro type, and the latter are in in Providence Sans, making it easy for the reader to notice the difference. A note after the index, in fact, encourages readers to look at both types of fonts to discover all there is to know in the text. The author's use of wonderful word sequences most definitely encourages appreciation for sounds and images. Here are a few of my favorites:

"honey-pale sunshine"
"eight granite-green eggs"
"blink-eyed chicks crack their way into their new world"
"the breeze bustles, green and sweet"

The word images are complemented by digital artwork (by Graham Byrne) that shows the adult emus' feathers and the striped feathers that camouflage the young birds. Not until they are 18 months old do the young birds live away from their dads. My favorite fact about them is that they are very inquisitive!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Ask Me

Ask me why I like Glacier National Park.

Why do you like Glacier National Park?

I like Glacier National Park because it has cerulean colored mountain lakes, a multitude of mountain goats, reflections unmatched, and layers of peaks. 

Ask me why else I like Glacier National Park.

Why else do you like Glacier National Park?

I like Glacier because of its hundreds of miles of trails, its many wildflowers, its unique chalets and lodges, and its incredible geologic and human history. I like it because I can hike on trails and hardly see other people all day.

I could elaborate about my favorite park. Suffice it to say, I love this place. I also love Ask Me, a book written by Bernard Waber and illustrated by Suzy Lee. Bernard Waber was an author who never failed to see things from a child's perspective, and this book, published post-humously, is another example of his understanding of young minds, 

The book is a dialogue between a girl and her dad. She asks him to ask her what she likes and loves as they move through an autumn day of strolling, eating ice cream (which she loves, loves, loves), remembering, kicking leaves, wondering, and getting ready for bed. Her passion for the things she loves and her convictions bring to mind the many children I love and their enthusiasm for life. Her dad's model of genuine interest, patience, and complete absorption of her endearing personality is stellar (making me wish I had been that good as a mom). 

Readers will, no doubt, think about the things they love, recognize the unique way the book is structured, and comprehend the concept of voice easier with this book. It is a gem. Suzy Lee's pencil illustrations are the perfect accompaniment. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Curious World

When a sequel seamlessly takes the reader to the character's wiser and more thoughtful world, it is a pleasure to read. All the while bringing bits of past events and people to the story (sometimes with help from carefully placed reminders), Jacqueline Kelly did this so well with The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate. Calpurnia remains a plucky, inquisitive young girl, perhaps, as the book's title suggests, even more curious than she was in the Newbery Honor Book The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. Her connection to her often cantankerous ("Enter if you must") grandfather continues to bring her opportunities for scientific discovery. His gift to her of Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle provides fodder for her observations of the natural world, and his willingness to guide her in making objects to measure (a barometer) and notice (a navigator's astrolabe) solidifies his role as the most trusted adult in her life. Each chapter begins with a relevant quote from Darwin's book.

What I admire most about Calpurnia is her determination. As her younger brother Travis acquires unlikely and inappropriate pets, she seeks information about the creatures in an effort to dissuade him or make it easier to keep the animals. When her cousin Aggie comes to live in her room after the Galveston flood of 1900, she makes the best of it and even acquires a new skill that allows her to make some money. Most important, she realizes the injustices of her world, specifically the discrimination against females, and finds ways to learn, to save, to seek the future she wants. 

As I choose books for the readers at our school, I must ask myself who might read certain titles. Some are easy to place in the right reader's hands. Others, like this book, will appeal to certain readers who would love Calpurnia's curiosity and resolve. I know the names and preferences of those readers. They, in turn, will recommend it to friends, getting the book to a wider audience. I am willing to bet some of those readers will want to make their own barometers or astrolabes, inspired by Calpurnia.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


Many friends have posted photos of the nests and eggs in the planters on their porches, and I am in awe of the beauty in their colors and patterns. It was good timing, then, that Egg: Nature's Perfect Package by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page arrived on my library reserve list. I like being the first person to check out a new book, and this one is beautiful and filled with incredible facts. Organized by topics, the text can be savored fact-by-fact or read in its entirety (and then reread, as I have done). It is perfect for reading aloud to cause astonishment or to foster further reading. I learned so many fascinating things that I could list almost the whole book! The illustrations, of course, make the book shine even brighter. As with all his work, I am awestruck that the art is made from cut paper. Steve Jenkins is a master of that medium.

On another note, I offer thanks to the fan club member who presented me with How to Bake a Book by Ella Burfoot. Perhaps someday I will be able to do just that!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Voicing Blame

For dinner tonight I made one of our favorite sandwich recipes: prosciutto, medjool date, & arugula (with Gruyere on sourdough). The recipe comes from Scott Graden's NEW SCENIC CAFE COOKBOOK. If I were to choose favorite places to eat, the Scenic Cafe would be in the top five. Though I only get to eat there one or two times a year (it is located on Lake Superior's shore north of Duluth), I get to reminisce about meals by cooking recipes at home. If there were fiddlehead ferns in my yard, I would try to replicate a tomato soup we enjoyed there a few years ago. But sandwiches have been on my mind this week.

We are reading aloud Julia Sarcone Roach's new book THE BEAR ATE YOUR SANDWICH to all classes during library time. Reading the same book to all students provides me the opportunity to hear the range of comments and observations from children ages 6-11. They immediately notice the (unseen) narrator's voice, telling the sandwich owner how the bear ended up in the San Francisco park where it then smelled and devoured her delicious and excellent sandwich, leaving only a bit of lettuce. That narrator, however, somehow does not sound trustworthy; suspicions swirl as the bear's story unfurls. I will not give away the ending by telling why.

Readers ask me to turn back to the Golden Gate Bridge page, noting that the author/illustrator was smart to make the red truck the only red vehicle on the road. They like the shift in perspective as the bear makes his way from the Marin Headlands to the cliffs (city buildings). They appreciate how the bear uses things in the city (a telephone pole for scratching it's back, for instance) like he would in the forest. They find it interesting that the bear seems to take on the appearance of another creature as the story progresses. But most of all, they appreciate that narrator's voice - and its change in voice and language - at the end of the book. Oh...and they love the end papers, filled with sandwiches at the front and crumbs at the back. 

This book is a gem. The acrylic artwork is varied and beautiful. The children even noticed how the artwork tells stories apart from the text, telling me that made the book even better. I completely agree. It is my favorite picture book of the year (so far).