Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible VerseMIRROR, MIRROR:  A BOOK OF REVERSIBLE VERSE by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josée Masse (Dutton, 2010)

It may be such
a fairy-tale secret,
this much I know:
The road leads
you need to go.


You need to go
the road leads---
I know
this much.
A fairy tale secret?
It may be such.

Nursery Tales Around the WorldAccording to our inventive author, a reverso is a poem that can be read from top to bottom or bottom to top, the only changes allowed in punctuation and capitalization.  They can be about any topic, but here, they shift the point of view backwards and forwards in familiar fairy tales:  Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Goldilocks, Rapunzel, the Ugly Duckling, Snow White, Jack and the Beanstalk, Beauty and the Beast and more get the up-and-down treatment to good effect.   Folksy paintings with clear brushstrokes that seem done against enchanted wood are very reminiscent of the style of Stefano Vitale, and cleverly take on the half-and-half theme, with one side of the painting telling part of the story, and the other, representing the other side.  In many ways, this book is perfect, and a definite must-have for elementary classrooms across grade levels (and a nice end-of-year teacher gift, too); fresh, inventive and provocative, besides allowing us to look at familiar plots with the upside-down reflection of a moon on the lake or a cloud in a puddle, who could read these poems and not want to try their own hand?  This book is bound to turn the world of children's poetry on its head!  One more to get you in the mood, from the story of...well, can you guess?:

Do you know my name?
Think of straw turned to gold.
In this story
I am
but not
I am
by greed,
a girl,
my foolish self.


My foolish self---
a girl
by greed betrayed.
I am liked,
but not
I am
in this story.
Think of straw turned to gold.
Do you know my name?

(7 and up)  And if new poetry formats float your boat, make sure you check out the quite fabulous "spine poems" at 100 Scope Notes, in which books are piled up to create verse!  So many great new ideas all around us!

Also of interest:
One good book of verse deserves another!

Spot the Plot: A Riddle Book of Book RiddlesSPOT THE PLOT:  A RIDDLE BOOK OF BOOK RIDDLES by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger (Chronicle, 2009)  What could make a  poem even more delightful?  How about turning it into a guessing game that features our favorites from the shelves of children's lit?  Emergent booklovers will fare very well when it comes to the detective work:

A magical telling,
a pig for the selling,
a spider is spelling
out words that amaze.

Do you know this spider,
this spiderweb writer?
The pig will delight her
the rest of her days. 

Guess who!  Follow the nicely metered clues to see if you can recognize friends from Ferdinand, Madeline, Click Clack Moo and the whole baker's dozen of literary children's book favorites past and present.  Teachers and librarians, take special note: what a great read-aloud for the end of the year (how about dividing the class into teams and giving bookworms a chance to show their stuff?) or a marvelous anticipatory set for summer reading adventures. (6 and up)

Everybody Was a Baby Once: and Other Poems
EVERYBODY WAS A BABY ONCE AND OTHER POEMS by Allan Ahlberg, illustrated by Bruce Ingman (Candlewick, 2010) Some say the price of a cookbook is worth it if you find a recipe that you can use for the rest of your life.  I think, likewise,  the price of a poetry book is worth it if you can find a poem that you can love for the rest of your life.  For me, that poem in this collection is  "The Good Old Dolls:" "We are the old dolls/ Losing our hair / Hats and dresses / The worse for wear. / We are the old dolls / Noses worn / By little girls' kisses/  before you were born. / We are the old dolls / We sit or flop /  In the Old Dolls' Home / Or the second-hand shop. / We are the old dolls / Fingers broken/ Old food still in our mouths / Last words spoken..."  Admittedly, this collection by one of the authors of the great JOLLY POSTMAN can be a little old-fashioned at times, a la Robert Louis Stevenson's A CHILD'S GARDEN OF VERSES ("When I was just a little child / The world seemed wide to me / My Mom was like a featherbed / My bath was like the sea...") which certainly has its charm, while the style of other poems make me feel certain I had already read them in a collection of Shel Silverstein ("I'm Dirty Bill from Vinegar Hill, / Never had a bath and never will") and other times felt heavily the presence of the ghost of the great David McCord ("Down the wing, down the wing / Down the wing, with a ping... / Pong ball.  And that's all.")  Derivative?  Uneven?  Maybe, but more likely:  enthusiastic.  The reason I must still recommend it is because it ultimately feels like a jubilant homage to many successful poetic styles, and this is still a very charismatic collection, with wildly loose, appealing, and downright darling sketch illustrations and enough gems ("If You Meet a Witch," "Summer Snowmen") that each young reader and each old teacher will find a new favorite, whatever style they like best.  (6 and up)

More poetry fun here!

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support your local bookseller.
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Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Turtle, Turtle, Watch Out!NONFICTION
Oh, the peril of being a small, small thing in a big, big world!  From the moment the endangered sea turtle is planted in its egg into the damp sand, it takes a combination of good luck and good friends to bring the life cycle full-circle.  Pursued by sharks and caught in nets, the journey is both harrowing and beautiful, with the refrain "Turtle, turtle, watch out!" lending itself to be shared with a group.  Paintings capture the milky moonlit crawl across the sand to the skimming across tides of dappled turquoise seas, and straightforward language underscores and never intrudes upon the exciting real-life story.  Thorough endnotes offer ways in which humans help sea turtles, additional resources, and descriptions of sea-turtle species.  This non-fiction book is a solid example of the best of its genre, creating interest and empathy in the natural world, while telling a compelling tale, and what a pleasure to find non-fiction that reads aloud so smoothly!   This is a superb preface to the novella by the great Roald Dahl, ESIO TROT, or for a springboard into conversation about the current environmental threats to sea life.  (5 and up)

Also of interest: 
A toast!  To life on Earth!  And books about it!
Hip-Pocket PapaHIP POCKET PAPA by Sandra Markle, illustrated by Alan Marks (Charlesbridge)  "A male hip-pocket frog ducks beneath a button-sized mushroom cap.  It's a tiny space, but since he's no bigger than a thumbnail, he fits with room to spare. " Such etailed descriptions and immediate present-tense narrative take us into the rainforest, where we follow the gestation period of this teeny amphibian, carrying the eggs of his young in pouches under his skin.  It's always nice to read about the male role of childcare and protection in the animal world (also check out Martin Jenkins' THE EMPEROR'S EGG for a chillier variation on this theme), and the washy bleeds of the paintings taken from many perspectives really bring to life the drama under the's not easy being green, or mottled brown, for that matter!  An animal glossary and many exotic references in context make this book one wild and wonderful read.  (5 and up)

The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound: A Birder's Journal
THE ROBIN MAKES A LAUGHING SOUND by Sallie Wolf (Charlesbridge, 2010)  

Not a circle, but round.
Blue, white or green--
Some are speckled brown.
Once they are peck-peck-peckled,
I find two pieces on the ground.

The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon (Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12 (Awards))Nest, Nook, and CrannyWe enter into this very intimate book with a description of how the author's seventh grade teacher shared her own passion for bird-watching, and how the author brought in a stuffed owl to class with results that reverberated years later into the pages that follow.  This book is a rare bird:  a combination of rhyme and free verse so soundly executed that the reader comes to trust the author for that alone, but no, so much more is conveyed:  a scribbly, collaged journal, full of observations, sketches, corrections, drawings and discovery.  In fact, this is as much a book about process as it is about poetry or birds, and the author takes the reader to her shoulder and in so many words and pictures, says, "look, look!" until, like a bike rider with training wheels, who discovers a new and independent balance, the reader discovers the ability to look at the natural world on his or her own. That seventh grade teacher's passion is paid forward here.  (8 and up) Pair or preface with Susan Blackaby's poetic exploration of animal habitat, NEST, NOOK AND CRANNY (illustrated by Jamie Hogan, Charlesbridge, 2010) and the picture-book biography THE BOY WHO DREW BIRDS:  THE STORY OF JOHN JAMES AUDUBON (by Jacqueline Davies, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, Houghton Mifflin, 2004).

by Jim Arnosky (Putnam, 2010)  A gentle "sea cow" is minding its own business when it gets the bad end of a boat's propeller blades.  This sets off a series of well-meaning events to rescue the animal that humans have harmed.  Meanwhile, the manatee has a secret: she is going to be a mama.  Which world awaits her and her child: the aquarium, or the open ocean waters? Jim Arnosky is a master of nature stories for young children with a diverse body of work worthy of exploration.  Here, characteristically, his story line is realistic but not discouraging.  While not overly exacting in visual detail, his illustrations have unusual, sensitive touches: the crane hauling up the manatee while an iguana looks on ponderously, for example; a bat capturing a moth in full flight over the manatee's head raised over the concentric circles of a midnight pool; the peculiar perspective enjoyed by a manatee looking up at a crowd while confined to a tank; the gentle, shadowy first nursing in the moonlight.  In this book, people are present, but peripheral; as supporting characters in nature's plan, we can be of help, or harm, and the newly informed young reader is left to decide his or her own role once the binding closes.  (5 and up)
The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe (Scientists in the Field Series)THE HIVE DETECTIVES:  CHRONICLE OF A HONEY BEE CATASTROPHE (Scientists in the Field Series) by Loree Griffin Burnes,  photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz (Houghton Mifflin, 2010)  Few natural events could have a greater widespread environmental consequences than the mysterious recent onset on colony collapse disorder, a plague that decimated honeybee populations and threatened the pollination of crops.  In this book, young readers with good vocabularies can join the forensic team on their quest to discover the cause, and to try to stop further bee death.  While the cause is never fully determined (it is non-fiction, after all), this book and this series are an invitation to see scientific investigation applied in the real world, in a writing style that never talks down to the audience (in fact, makes readers step up).  The photographs throughout allow the subject to breathe---or buzz--on every page.  An excellent appendix, glossary, links, index and references make this book a good pick for serious science students or projects, or as a source for readable background knowledge for educators. Current, relevant and challenging.  (12 and up)

Here Comes the Garbage Barge!
The Smash! Smash! TruckAnd while we're on the subject of life on our planet, check out HERE COMES THE GARBAGE BARGE by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Red Nose Studios, based on the real-life story of the unfortunate tugboat captain with the charge of unloading 3,168 stinking tons of garbage.  He somehow couldn't find a taker or a port, thus having to return it to sender after lugging the reeking mess for over 160 days. Though there are several wearying uses of stereotypes and spelled-out dialects (could do without the Italian-American "Joey had a little accident" and "dere's dis guy" clichés, and so could the kids...sorry, librarians are generally pretty good at creating characterization as they read without such explicit and contrived directives), the photographs of stop-action scenes give this book an extraordinary cinematic quality (pull off the book's slip-cover for a cool explanation of how the book was made!), and have us looking forward to more illustration work by the studio.  This story is too unfortunate to be true, but it is...and too compelling to miss.  (6 and up)  You really shouldn't read this without Aidan Pott's THE SMASH! SMASH! TRUCK (David Fickling, 2010), a wonderful breakdown of recycling from the atomic level, with a comparison of how the earth naturally recycles within itself and how our own recycling is a natural extension.  How I love Aidan Potts, and his marvelously unique way of looking at things (see his multi-colored dinosaurs in the shamefully out of print UNEVERSAURUS, for example, or listen to real smash-smashing on his website). Great fun for the earth-conscious, or just for kids who like trucks and noise! (6 and up)

How the World Works: A Hands-On Guide to Our Amazing PlanetAlso offbeat is the pop-up for older kids,  HOW THE WORLD WORKS:  A HANDS-ON GUIDE TO OUR AMAZING PLANET by Christian Dorion, illustrated by Beverly Young (Templar, 2010) offering a "spin-the-wheel" for when life began, a recipe for life (primordial soup, anyone?), a fabulous explanation of moving tectonic plates that makes swell use of pull-tabs, nifty explanations of the water cycle, photosynthesis, carbon, the food, it's books like these that make me think, why don't we just have a pop-up book instead of a text book?  Wouldn't kids like it and learn from it a whole lot more?   (8 and up)

The Magic School Bus And The Climate ChallengeGlobal WarmingFinally, for those polar bears who believe climate change is real, two classic series have new offerings:  Miss Frizzle is back and donning global warming garb in THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS AND THE CLIMATE CHALLENGE by Joanna Cole, illustrated by Bruce Degen (Scholastic 2010), introducing relevant vocabulary like "greenhouse," "biofuel" and "atmosphere" to second graders with the usual panache and in adventurous context as the bus flies from the Arctic to the equator (think of the permission slips needed!) (7 and up), and the award-winning nonfiction author Seymour Simon in conjunction with The Smithsonian has added GLOBAL WARMING to his catalog (Collins, 2010), and can always be counted on for large, striking photographs (compare a living and dead coral reef) and equally striking expository writing that is a staple for library collections and grade-school research. 

Hope these books help to make every day Earth Day!

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.
More Esmé stuff at


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