You in the Volvo!
Get back there.
Think you're so safe.
All the nerdy Swedes in the world won't save you,
You insist on edging out into traffic like that.
I saw three different cars jump the curb in the parking lot today.
Nobody knows where they are.
But everyone's sleepy.
Spilled my coffee trying not to hit
A van nosing out of a side street.
Would have been a slo-mo crash,
Both of us creeping so cautious.
Should have hit him.
Could have gotten our front end fixed.
If you are a Baltimorean like me, I hope to see you at the Living Poetry Flash Mob at noon on Saturday on the City Lit Stage! Poets Virginia Crawford and Laura Shovan are hosting a spontaneous poetry composition that you’ll want to try on for size. Attendees wearing Living Poetry Flash tee-shirts will “be arranged” into written on-the-spot, living poems. Tee-shirts can be made at home (instructions at www.authoramok.com) or picked up Friday and Saturday at the CityLit Stage.
What god of publishing comes up with these illustrator pairings for Joyce Sidman's books? It's extraordinary. I honestly thought nothing could match the pair-up of Joyce's precise word choice and Beckie Prange's precise art in Ubiquitous. The work of both women managed to be scientifically accurate and lyrically lovely at the same time.
But in Dark Emperor, Rick Allen uses an old-fashioned medium - linoleum-block printing - to illustrate the mystery and fascinating life of the world at night, and the synergy between the images and the poems is just as perfect.
There's something about a woodcut. The organic texture of the printed ink and the shape of the gouged lines will always invoke early illustrated books. Compositionally, because the block of wood already has a shape, woodcuts almost always have their own frame, even if it is only implied, and even if that frame is broken, as it is in many of the prints in this book. This formal quality tends to lend the images a little extra authority.
Anyway, all that gallery talk jibber-jabber aside, these illustrations are just gorgeous. I can only guess how many layers of printing Rick Allen piled up to make such sophisticated color blends and juxtapositions. Each picture is a world one could sink into.
Isn't that amazing?
And the poetry, shouldn't I talk about the poetry? About the mushrooms:
they spread their damp
and loose their spores
with silent pops.
"Silent pops." Can't you just see it? And smell the musty damp earth? Aren't you just a kid, scrunched down close to the ground, examining the miraculous weird perfection of a mushroom?
Well I am.
And I always love Joyce Sidman for providing a paragraph or two of prose information about the subject of each poem.
Rick Allen has this to say, in part, about the process of making the illustrations for this book:
The prints for Dark Emperor were each printed from at least three blocks (and in some cases as many as six) and then hand-colored with a strongly pigmented watercolor called gouache. There are definitely faster methods of making a picture, but few more enjoyable in a backwards sort of way.
Hail. Hail to the artist/craftsman. And to the poet/scientist.
Since we've been on a singing, storytiming kick lately, I thought I'd offer this Bizarro World Christmas carol my husband Bob made up once:
Christmas is going, the goose forgot his hat,
Please throw a penny at the old man's cat.
If he hasn't got a cat, then throw it at his head -
If you throw it at his head then he might be dead.
You got that? Have we set the tone, as it were, for this review?
ZOMG! Check it:
What is moister
Than an oyster?
Can be damper.
And that's not the worst of it! In three stories and a bunch of poems, Simpsons writer Mike Reiss deploys gleefully subversive wit to merrily bash the stuffin' out of cute fuzzy animals, exposing them for the gluttonous freeloading nonconformists that they really are. Hee-YEAAAH!!
Think http://www.fupenguin.com/ for the grade-school set, kind of.
I LOVE THIS. I mean, I do not mind funny middle-grade books that rely on farts and pratfalls, dumb insults and dumber adults - but it is a special kind of joy to find someone writing real wit for kids.
Johnny Yanok is a great choice to illustrate this festival of irreverence, adding detail and furbelows to already well-described scenes, pumping the page full of pattern and hot midtone colors. His style, a kind of modified mid-century geometric thing, will be familiar to Cartoon Network viewers and the kind of kid who watches the Pixar shorts that come as bonus features on the DVDs.
That's going to help get this book into the right hands - even though it's shaped like a picture book, this thing is clearly for middle grade readers, who sometimes balk at picking up anything that looks like it's for younger kids. So art that scans older is a plus.
Hipster aunties and uncles, take note. This is just the kind of thing you're going to really enjoy watching the nieces and nephews unwrap come holiday time. Thank me later.
NOT just for New Yorkers, this swingy rhyming book follows a daddy and his two little kids on a subway adventure on a rainy day. They take the A train from jazzy Harlem all the way to sleepy Far Rockaway. They savor the view as the Q crosses over the East River. They have fun with the map - why take the 1 straight from the southern tip of Manhattan to the southern end of Central Park... when you could take the 3 to the 5 to the N to the B to the C to the 7 to the 6 to the E to the D and end up at the same point?
When she was a kid, a woman I used to know wrote a song about a lizard for a science report. I haven't seen this woman in 25 years, but that song sticks with me:
I don't wanna (clap clap) Be an iguana (clap clap)
They have long nails
And spiny tails.
I don't wanna (clap clap)
Be an iguana (clap clap).
I don't wanna be an iguana, by Amanda Bailey, submitted in partial fulfilment of the elementary science requirement at Little Red School House, Greenwich Village, NYC, sometime in the 1970's.
Amanda, wherever you are, I hope you get your hands on this new book of poetry by Joyce Sidman. You'll like it: there's a gecko on the cover, his tail curling around the spine of the book, crunching on some unfortunate winged insect. If you're like me, and you were in 1985, you approve of poetry with a body count. And check this out:
There is no reason any school or public library should be without these two books. Yeah, I said it. The beautifully textured and colored illustrations are of the highest quality, made in paint and pencil by artists who invest their work with detail and thought. The selected folktales and nursery rhymes - some new, some traditional - are interesting and unusual and have a lyrical quality in both languages, good for reading aloud. My hat is off to Harper Collins for putting this kind of investment into bilingual picture books this year.
Posted on Thursday, April 22, 2010 in age: Grade 1 and up, animals, cultures around the world, diversity: race, religion, ability, gender, folk and fairytales, funny, picture books, poetry, Review copy supplied by publisher, storytime, superstar books | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
| | | | |
Yes it's poetry. I don't like poetry as a rule, but by god I say yes to this:
the words grace me with their presence,
they don't always choose to step
delicately into the world, pink shoes
treading softly over the white horizon.
usually poetry slops lazily over the couch
of a page and dangles while I remove its muddy
shoes and rearrange the pillows, all the while
muttering something about Frost and how maybe
his comments against free verse were right
all along (poetry in rhyme always cleans up
after itself) although honestly, you haven't lived
until the homeless free-verse poem on your couch
decides to stay for a cup of tea and, if you're
lucky, lets you take notes on everything he says.
from "invitation" by Mackenzie Connellee, in Time You Let Me In
There's a butt-ton more of that where this comes from - meditations on the last photons from a dying star, the burning feeling of hiding and making out, joyrides and wine coolers, fitting in, learning, rebelling, parents, grandparents, and oh my god breathless love. Something about the sparkling grittiness of late youth - it's all coming at them so fast, no wonder all they have time for is poetry, little phrases of clarity captured on a car ride or lying in bed, strung together and looped across a window.
Here's another little bit:
as far back as I can remember
we've been pissed off,
the whole bloodline, just really pissed.
from "as far back as I can remember" by Jonah Ogles, in Time You Let Me In
If you could say "Good job!" in that delighted voice with the big smile in it that you give a three-year-old who zipped her own coat to a teenage or just-past-teenage poet (which you can't, not unless you want to hideously damage him or her), I would say "Good job!" to Lauren Eriks, who wrote:
I have bed knobs in my hands, portals,
doorways. I can leap over
buildings, baby, bouncing
through walls. I'm free as a
racing rubber ball. When I get lit
on the trail of your Camel cigarette,
you know I can break
every bottle, butt, bombshell around.
from "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" by Lauren Eriks, in Time You Let Me In.
As I write this, on this Spring night full of wind, there are teenagers vaulting from the parking garage to the roof of our library, trying doors and evading the cops. We are startled by their sudden presence, by the thump of their feet on our roof. Those kids will go home and write poetry. Or eat a Hot Pocket and play Rock Band and crack each other up re-telling what they just did. That's poetry too.
Poetry Friday is hosted today at The Drift Record.
I admit, it can be easy to not read Doug Florian. I buy his books, I put them on the shelf, I pull them out when we're doing something birdy, beasty, spacey, swimmy, and I am always happy to have them. But, as with other items that I trust and rely upon (), I don't always pick them up to read and enjoy them.
We are weevils.
We are evil.
Since time primeval.
(excerpt from "The Weevils" by Douglas Florian)
That is funny. They are all funny! Clearly, I should open these books more often. And the paintings are prime too - collaged, sometimes gloopy, accessible. A kid could mimic Florian's technique and get pretty good results, and I like that.
Do you have a journal? A place to make lists, sketch things, glue in a clipping or a feather or a scrap of cloth? This is a book that asks, "If not, why not?"
This extremely first-person book of poetry, prose and sketches is ostensibly about birds. But, like many books that are ostensibly about birds, it is really about being alive to the world around you. Sallie Wolf watches the birds around her house for a year, making lists of species, doing little sketches, making poems. And - I don't mean this the wrong way - Sallie Wolf, a talented artist, includes many sketches here that are not intimidatingly well-executed. Gestural, instinctive little drawings. Her poetry is also notable for its humility: grounded in the everyday, she refers to sewing machines and middle school in her imagery. Drafts are included, complete with crossed-out lines. Nothing in this book is overthought or overworked.
I adore this. If you want to show a kid that anyone can make a poem, don't ask them to read Song of Hiawatha. I shared this book with an older friend last week, a hospice patient who peacefully spends a lot of time looking out the window. She's never drawn before, and to my knowledge has never written poetry, but I took her a little stash of art supplies and a sketchbook.
Modest in size, with a design palette as muted as a winter day, with glowing accents like holly berries, this accessible little book will inspire readers to look around and listen, and to record the small events they witness.
Guess Again! by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex
He steals carrots from the neighbor's yard.
His hair is soft, his teeth are hard.
His floppy ears are long and funny.
Can you guess who? That's right! My
[turn the page]
This book will KILL at a kindergarten storytime. That's a fact, Jack. Take it to the bank, Frank. Goofy is as goofy does.
And speaking of what goofy does, let me address something. There are a batch of reviews on Amazon written by parents of two-year-olds, and in those reviews, those parents are a bit up in arms about the way that this book misled their children. "It seems somewhat odd that we parents spend so much time teaching our kids to think logically, do puzzles, problem solve, etc. out comes this book that sort of throws them off by giving them the completely unexpected," reads one.
YES. Humor is what separates bigger kids from little kids, and subversion of expectations is one of the fundaments of humor. You ever notice how little kids can't make up jokes? Until small children develop a basic vocabulary of expectations and consequences, they don't really understand humor. Although - don't email me - they are certainly funny people. And laugh at funny things. It's just that they're busy populating their cause-and-effect encyclopedia, and when you get in the way of that, they don't. like it. I remember being extremely pissed off at Pippi Longstocking (and ooh, that's a nice edition of Pippi, illustrated by Lauren Child? Match made in heaven!) when I was very small, because what Pippi did just DIDN'T MAKE SENSE.
But once they are well on their way to getting a firm grasp on what you can expect from the universe, you get a little leeway. Bark, Georgeis my favorite example of a funny book for a three-year-old. It's the first book of subverted expectations that a little kid will "get". The vet asks puppy George to bark, and George says "Quack." And the three year old's face goes "OH MY GOD. YOU GUYS! Did you see that? That's MESSED. UP! Dogs don't say 'quack,' they're supposed to say 'woof'! And he says 'quack' because there's a duck down his throat! How did that duck get down there! HUMOR!!! Wow my mind is totally blown right now. Read it again."
I paraphrase, of course. But little kids are like Mork, I swear. Mork would NOT GET Guess Again!. But a six-year old, and certainly a seven year old? Will. Should. And what's more, I think it's good for 'em. I think that the unexpected is good exercise for the brain.
I was talking this out with my husband and our friend Rebecca the other night, and Rebecca remembered this article in the New York Times, "How Nonsense Sharpens the Intellect", about studies that have shown that exposure to the unexpected triggers heightened brain activity, in particular, better pattern recognition. Look at that! See, I was pretty much just coasting along, developing a theory out of thin air, and professional research psychologists back me right up! Woo!
(Oh crap did I forget to compliment the art? I love the art. It's Adam Rex, people. Composition, color, watercolor technique, expression... Adam Rex can paint an argyle sweater and give it personality and depth.)
(Oh crap did I forget to compliment the art? I love the art. It's Adam Rex, people. Composition, color, watercolor technique, expression... Adam Rex can paint an argyle sweater and give it personality and depth.)
And this is why I can read four lines like "Undies" without my throat closing up and my eyes crossing.
There are lots of holes in Andy Bundy's undies.
His mom should get some thread and try to stitch 'em.
When Andy's at the beach, he's always cranky and upset,
'Cause Andy Bundy's sandy undies itch him.
I heard my 2nd grader reading this book aloud to his kindergarten brother, and they were beside themselves giggling. Later, in the car, they tried making up their own tongue twisters. I'd call Orangutan Tongs a must-have for the school library on that basis alone.
My Uncle Emily by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
Now how about that? A picture book about an American poet. An imagined anecdote from her life, about one of her nephews, who lived next door. Heck, I'd buy it just to have a non-run-of-the-mill opening to talk about poetry... but as it turns out, My Uncle Emily is also a sparkling little story in its own right. The Talented Jane Yolen has incorporated much of the high drama of a small boy's day, from the dread he feels when he knows he has to do something that might get him laughed at, to the exhilarated relief of having thrown a punch. You're in trouble now, boy, might as well enjoy it.
Our Ned picks a flower for his eccentric Uncle Emily, spends some time in a dunce cap (because of that punch), eats cake with the family, and thinks about flies. It's a fine, keenly observed, neatly worded story. It is atmospherically Emily Dickinson.
As are Nancy Carpenter's pen and ink illustrations. I have observed before that Nancy Carpenter (17 Things I'm Not Allowed to Do Anymore, Apples to Oregon) combines an old-fashioned, E.H. Shepard-y technical prowess with a talent for lively expression. And it may be an old-fashioned thing to compliment, but Nancy Carpenter's draftsmanship - her skill with perspective and composition - gives each of her illustrations an unusually precise spatial feel. I like it.
Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Boston Weatherford
‘Becoming Billie Holiday’ begins with a quote by Tony Bennett: “When you listen to her, it’s almost like an audio tape of her biography.”
This book could be that biography. Nearly one hundred first-person narrative poems detail Holiday’s life from birth until age 25, the age at which she debuted her signature song “Strange Fruit.” The poems borrow their titles from Holiday’s songs, a brilliant device that provides the reader with a haunting built-in soundtrack.
As in her previous book, ‘Birmingham, 1963,’ Weatherford’s language is straightforward and accessible – almost conversational. She captures Holiday’s jazzy, candid voice so adroitly that at times the poems seem like they could have been lifted wholesale from Holiday’s autobiography, ‘Lady Sings the Blues.’
Floyd Cooper’s sepia-toned, nostalgic mixed-media illustrations provide an emotional counterpoint to the text. Resembling old photographs seen through a lens of aching hindsight, they make explicit the pain that Weatherford studiously avoids giving full voice to in her poems. For, although Holiday’s early life was one of relentless rejection, discrimination, and poverty, the author stays true to her subject, and maintains a resolute and defiant tone, albeit one tinged with regret.
Prostitution, rape, jail time, violence, and minor drug use are described in the book, but it ends on the proverbial high note, before the singer’s drug use, alcoholism, and early death. This captivating book places the reader solidly into Holiday’s world, and is suitable for independent reading as well as a variety of classroom uses.
A few things pleased me mightily:
WOLFSNAIL! The little non-fiction book that could (win a Geisel Honor, that is). When I plucked it more or less at random off a cart, I was surprised and amused at the idea of a predatory snail. After I read it, I was SO impressed that the book was based on direct observation instead of being rehashed from an encyclopedia entry. And indeed, the photos are beautiful and the prose is effective. But come on, a predatory garden snail? That is just funny.
Becoming Billie Holiday got a Coretta Scott King Honor. This was the first book I reviewed for School Library Journal. I was so honored to have been sent such a special book, especially the first time out. I sweated blood over that review, conscious that it was going to be in the running for awards this year. What I wrote is on Amazon.
A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever. Oh do I love this book! Maybe I've mentioned it before. Ah, yes, it appears I have. I like Marla Frazee quite a lot - she has a rare ability to crack up grownups and still be appealing to children. She's like Sesame Street in book form.
Garmann's Summer got that prize for a book in translation. I think it is more notable for the illustrations than the text, but I'm just pleased it got the recognition. It's a weird book but it addresses fear - in a fearless way - which I think is something we need to see more of.
Stinky got a Geisel Honor, and I'm going to agree with that. I think Eleanor Davis has a fresh approach to color and knows what kids like.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian got an Odyssey Award. What's an Odyssey Award, you ask? And why is this spectacular book so far down the list? Well, Odyssey is an audiobook award, and Our Sherm got it for reading his own book. Hmph. He should have gotten the Printz for it, and he didn't. Not this year, and not last year. And the audio version is out of print already according to Amazon.
I'm extremely happy, though, to see Stephen Briggs recognized for his narration of Terry Pratchett's Nation. Briggs is a frickin' NUT when it comes to reading this stuff - his character voices actually cause me pain. I tried reading A Hat Full of Sky out loud to my kids after we had heard the audiobook of The Wee Free Men, and when I tried to imitate the way he did the Nac Mac Feegle (the wee free men), I think I herniated my larynx. And Nation is a terrific book, even if it dwells a little heavily on matters of faith and dogma.
A few things displeased me:
Where is Adam Rex when these things come around? The guy can paint, he can draw. He can cartoon. He can write doggerel poetry worthy of Punch. He's funny as can be. Kids of all ages like his stuff. And he showed, with The True Meaning of Smekday, that he can write long-form fiction too. So what's it going to take for him to get a little recognition? Sheesh.
The House in the Night? FTW? Over the similarly-themed and much more kid-friendly (hint: kids like color) In a Blue Room? I don't know. It didn't do anything for me, although I agree that the art is very nice. I just... I think that the art in this book is for grownups. I much preferred Susan Marie Swanson's previous To Be Like the Sun.
The Newbery titles, with the possible exception of the Big Winnah Mistah Gaiman's Book, are ALL GIRL BOOKS. UH.GAIN. AM I TIRED of trying to find books for boys who are told "Read an award-winning book". They've already READ Hatchet, ok? (Ooh, nice new cover on Hatchet, BTW) Throw my guys a bone, willya? Hold your nose and give Diary of a Wimpy Kid an award. It's not so bad!
Well, that's all. Tune in next year when I get to grouse about awards again. Better yet, keep your eye on the Cybils Awards - I actually participated in those, so I will have no room to complain!
Ladies and gentlemen, Frankenstein Takes the Cake.
Frankenstein's first book, Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich, I foist upon anyone I find wandering in the 811s. I met a 8th grader the other night whose assignment was to find a poem that expressed something about himself. I shoved Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich into his mitts and said, "Seriously. You're a monster. A hungry, hungry monster." His ma looked at me in respect as he opened randomly, read a poem, and giggled. 8th grade lacrosse-playing BOY. Reading and enjoying poetry.
I'm good, sure, but I'm only as good as the material - and Adam Rex gives us the best. I had the good fortune to get my hands on an advance copy of Frankenstein Takes the Cake, but I have to give it back. Yeah, come and get it - if you think you're hard enough.
On the Farm by David Elliott, illustrated by Holly Meade
Simple, observation-based poems complement the large, bold woodcut-and-watercolor illustrations in this book of animal poems for the very young.
The Pig Her tail? As coy as a ringlet. In her eye there's a delicate sheen. Some look at her and see a sow; I see a beauty queen.I don't ask much from poetry written for little kids - if it's got a good beat and you can read it out loud without tripping over your tongue, then I am all for it. But David Elliott, the author of the Evangeline Mudd books, which I quite liked, manages to create tone and atmosphere, and shoehorn unexpected observations into his extremely short poems. Nicely done.
... and I want to thank you guys for that extremely long cut-line. Man! I didn't even put in the subtitle, "Camouflaged creatures concealed... and revealed."
Given all that up-front verbage, you know I wouldn't even bother to review this book if it weren't really neat. So, I guess you can infer... that... it is. Hm. Not setting this up too well, am I.
Ok. Each two-page spread is really a three-page spread, with a page-size fold-out. On the left we have a sweet (though, if I may, not terribly inspired) poem, and on the right there is a beautiful full-bleed nature photo. If you look closely, you will find the naturally camouflaged animal that is hiding in plain sight. If you can't see the animal, the page lifts away to reveal the same photo with everything but the animal greyed-out. The fold-out also reveals text about the animal, written at about a third-grade level.
Realistically, these fold-outs are too fragile for our school library, and I don't know how long it'll last at the public library. Our copy hasn't circulated even once, and there are already unintentional creases where it has been closed hurriedly. But Where in the Wild? would make a terrific gift for any kid who likes animals or puzzles.
Tap dancing on the roof by Linda Sue Park, pictures by Istvan Banyai
Linda Sue Park here does for the Korean poetic style sijo what Andrew Clements recently did for haiku with his book Dogku - her clear, funny examples of this short poetic form in effect show kids how it's done. After reading poems like:
Pockets...it's almost impossible to not want to try it yourself. And Istvan Banyai? Do I really have to say it? The Goran Visnjic of illustrators. You just want to sit and stare.
What's in your pockets right now? I hope they're not empty:
Empty pockets, unread books, lunches left on the bus - all a waste
In mine: One horse chestnut. One gum wrapper. One dime. One hamster.