Sunday, February 28, 2016

Unawakened Earth

Be through my lips to unawaken'd earth
The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

~from Ode to the West Wind by Percy Bysshe Shelley

We don't have any blooms yet, but the daffodils are starting to peek through the thawing ground. St. Louis weather is always unpredictable (which I like) -- we had a snow day on Wednesday, but this weekend has been warm and mild. Spring is close!

Happy Sunday!


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Writing in Rhyme

I've been reading a bit about writing in rhyme, and about how many publishers discourage authors from writing in verse. I can understand that -- I can only imagine how much BAD rhyming they come across in their slush pile.

But I just love a good picture book with a compelling plot told in successful verse. In particular, I'm thinking of Room on the Broom:

But how the witch wailed
and how the cat spat,
When the wind blew so wildly
it blew off the hat.
I just love Julia Donaldson's story of a kind-hearted witch (and Axel Scheffler's illustrations made this story even more endearing. And have you seen the film? Absolutely adorable.). I find Donaldson's use of verse to tell her sweet story inspiring.

Other wonderful rhyming picture books include Madeline, Jennifer's Rabbit, the Snowmen books (Snowmen at Night, Snowmen at Christmas, et al), Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Big Red Barn, Little Blue Truck, any Dr. Seuss... And I still remember spending hours with Shel Silverstein books as a child, laughing at his silly stories in rhyme. When done well, rhyme can be so captivating for a child.

Author Lane Fredrickson, whose book Monster Trouble I discussed here, runs a website dedicated to helping writers improve their rhyme and meter: Rhyme Weaver. I'm reading through her lessons and attempting to improve my own work in rhyme. Check it out!

Also importantly, author Laura Backes points out in her article "Writing in Rhyme for Children" how it is imperative that the plot -- not the rhyme -- drives the story. The rhyme and meter are tools -- charming, engaging tools, when done well -- that ultimately tell a compelling story.

Are there other picture books in verse that you would add to this list? Is there anything you've learned while attempting your own work in rhyme?


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Rest in peace, Harper Lee

"An' they chased him 'n' never could catch him 'cause they
didn't know what he looked like, an' Atticus, when they finally saw him,
why he hadn't done any of those things... Atticus, he was real nice..."
His hands were under my chin, pulling up the cover, tucking it around me.
"Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them."

~from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

We learned this week that Harper Lee -- author of the beloved To Kill a Mockingbird -- passed away. Her one and only published novel has held significant meaning for generations of readers. For me, the soothing descriptions of the streets of Maycomb, the hilarious exploits of Scout, Jem, and Dill, and the gentle, assured presence of Atticus -- at home and in defending Tom Robinson -- made a book worthy of rereading and emulating and appreciating with fresh eyes each time.

When my husband and I had been married six months, we got our first pet -- a reclusive, mysterious cat -- and named him Boo Radley. Boo is aging, but still as ornery as ever, and he continues to remind us of a favorite literary character. It's probably time I read this wonderful book again -- it's the best.

Happy Sunday...


Thursday, February 18, 2016

5 New Picture Books to Honor Black History Month

With February being Black History Month, I wanted to check out some of the newer picture books (all released in 2015) that feature diverse characters and life circumstances. Today's selections aren't historical stories, but stories set in our modern age. They are all wonderfully engaging, well-designed, and highly acclaimed.

1. Last Stop on Market Street

I was so excited to finally get my hands on this book. The buzz surrounding it has been incredible, so to finally bring it home was such a thrill. Winner of the Newbery Medal, a Caldecott Honor, and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor, Last Stop on Market Street tells the story of CJ and his grandma on a weekly routine after church. They ride the bus to serve at a soup kitchen, and CJ wonders why they have to wait in the rain, why they don't have a car, and why they always have to go to the soup kitchen. Grandma answers each question reassuringly (you will LOVE Nana!), and she teaches CJ what an honor it is to mix with the people that they do. Matt de la Pena's text is rich and moving ("The outside air smelled like freedom, but it also smelled like rain, which freckled CJ's shirt and dripped down his nose.") And Christian Robinson's illustrations show an urban landscape that is vibrant, varied, and beautiful. This book is truly a gem!

2. Lizard from the Park

Leonard decides to cut through the park on his way home from school one day, and he discovers a very unusual egg. He takes it home, and the next day a baby lizard pokes through. In time, as the lizard grows and grows, Leonard cannot make enough room for him, and the lizard seems sad. So Leonard devises a plan to return the lizard to its real home...and the reader is left wondering what exactly was real. Mark Pett's text is simple but engaging, and combined with his sweet and silly illustrations, make a book a young child will smile about.

3. Monster Trouble

This delightful story, written in verse, tells of Winifred Schnitzel and her trouble with monsters. She's not afraid of them -- quite the opposite: she finds them amusing! -- but they are really interrupting her sleep. She's rendered too tired for math, she studies up on how to make monsters go away. She sets traps....and nothing works. Until, quite by accident, she discovers what it is monsters hate most of all!

This is another great story with a strong, smart, female lead. I could see Winifred being made into a TV show. :)

4. One Word From Sophia

Oh I adore this book! I read this book before I read it to my kids, and I wondered if the language would be too "over their heads." wasn't! They loved it, too.

Sophia has one true desire: a pet giraffe. As her birthday approaches, she argues her case with each member of her family: her mother, a judge; her father, a businessman; her uncle, a politician; and her grandma, who was very strict. :) Each argument is very wordy and well-thought-out, with support for her cause. But each person tells her to be less wordy, until she is left with the most moving argument of all.

Yasmeen Ismail's illustrations in this book are soft and playful, and they depict a family of mixed races. Author Jim Averbeck said, "I was surprised by the multi-racial cast, because it wasn’t evident in the line sketches. But I was also completely delighted, since I actually believe that #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Plus, the multi-racial family in the book reflects my own family, to whom I’ve dedicated One Word from Sophia. I wondered how Yasmeen knew that." (Full interview here.)
Sophia is one smart little girl.

5. The Red Bicycle

The final book on today's list tells "the extraordinary story of one ordinary bicycle." Leo has saved and saved to buy a bicycle, and he names his bike Big Red. He rides it everywhere, until he outgrows it. He wants someone who will love his bike as much as he does to have it, and learns about an organization that sends used bikes to a faraway country to those who need transportation. Big Red lands in Africa, where it serves Alisetta and her family, and then serves as a bicycle ambulance. The final pages of the book outline "what you can do to help" and contain ideas for parents and teachers. This is a meaty book with a lot of heart that will hopefully inspire acts of service in those who read it. 

Have any of these books been meaningful to you? I'd love to hear about it!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

How to Be a Wildflower

Do you know artist Katie Daisy? Do you love her as much as I do? We have three of her prints in our house already, and I would love to add more. Her art captures the beauty of nature, with eye-pleasing images and color combinations, and is often accompanied by a quotation. This print and my favorite quote by author Henry David Thoreau hangs in Vivy's nursery:

More of Katie's art in our house:

Well today, her first book is being released! How to Be a Wildflower: a field guide (Chronicle Books) is filled with 200 full-color pages that inspire discovery of the beauty in the world through meditations, adventure prompts, recipes, identification charts, and quotes. Divided into sections to Wander, Gather, Savor, and Ponder, she encourages each of us to reflect on where we feel most alive.

Katie has a beautiful spirit that I'm just sure is captured in these pages. She is a nature lover through and through, and her use of color, lettering, and placement is something I adore. Her book looks so centering and inspirational.

This book would be a wonderful gift for a friend or loved one who seeks out the beauty of nature or who wants to reconnect with some lost simplicity. After all, "the more you search, the more you find."



Sunday, February 14, 2016

Under the Umbrella

"Ah! Thou gifest me such hope and courage, and I haf nothing
to gif back but a full heart and these empty hands,"
cried the Professor, quite overcome.
Jo never, never would learn to be proper; for when he said that
as they stood upon the steps, she just put both hands into his,
whispering tenderly, "Not empty now;" and, stooping down,
kissed her Friedrich under the umbrella.

~from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Sigh... Just wanted to share this lovey-dovey passage with you this Valentine's Day. :) This book is so heart-warming, and the movie (Winona Ryder, Christian Bale) is fabulous, too. Happy Sunday!


Friday, February 12, 2016

Valentine's Babylit Books

Before Vivy was born, I was in a bookstore with William. He was running an engine along a train table and my eyes were glancing over the shelves. And that's when I saw it: a Romeo & Juliet board book.

At the time, William was beyond board books, so I lamented that this gem wasn't available when my kids were tiny. Well, enter Vivy and an expansive line of Babylit books later, and we've now got ourselves quite a little collection going.

The Babylit series by Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver puts classic literature into the hands of toddlers. (Oh, how I wish these had been my brainchild! They are so fun.) With adorably contemporary artwork by Oliver, each book focuses on a theme of colors or opposites or numbers. And the selections pictured here are perfect for pulling out for Valentine's Day.

We own other non-romantic books from their line: The Wizard of Oz (colors), Alice in Wonderland (colors), and Frankenstein (body parts), to name a few. Babylit continues to put out new titles, and I NEED Vivy needs a copy of Les Mis. :) These also make fabulous baby shower or 1st/2nd birthday gifts.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole

I read a book with William last night. A book that had him laughing out loud. A book that had him yelling at the pages to tell the characters what to do. A book where the pictures truly tell half the story.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (Candlewick, 2014) is the creation of award-winning duo Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. It is the story of two boys who set out to dig a hole until they find something spectacular. While the words tell you of their decisions, the illustrations complete the story, showing a series of hilarious misses.

In the end, they are satisfied that they had a spectacular adventure. But where, exactly, did they end up?

Klassen's illustrations are more than delightful -- they also move the story forward in a completely lovable and captivating manner. The subtle differences between the opening and closing scenes will have you scratching your head. And the images of the boys' missteps -- and the seemingly knowing dog -- will make kids laugh out loud. It is so engaging and fun to read.

Go check it out! This pair also teamed up for the book Extra Yarn, which also won a Caldecott Honor, and you can check out a convo between them here.

Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A Vintage Goodie

A popular book in our household -- and one that my parents saved from my sister's and my childhood -- is The Spotted Dotted Puppy. Have you read it?

I just love that colorful, vintage cover! Published in 1961 by Whitman Pub. Co., our copy has seen better days; it is well-loved and has been patched many times. The inside even has my name written by my dad. :)

Written by Steffi Fletcher and illustrated by Art Seiden, The Spotted Dotted Puppy tells the story of four dogs. Three of the dogs believe they are big, fierce animals, and behave accordingly. Their bravado gets them into all kinds of scrapes and they are ultimately apprehended and placed in the zoo.

For years, our family has repeated the mantra of the puppy who thinks he is an elephant:

Such attitude. :)

The spotted, dotted puppy, however, does not think he is anything other than a puppy. He knows exactly what he wants. He looks for a house with a bicycle in front of it, and finds his family.

I really think this book was ahead of its time. It contains themes of self-acceptance, being yourself, and contentment. The ending is so very sweet and satisfying, and the messages in the book make it a joy to read with children. Add to that the sweet, playful illustrations of the dogs and their antics -- set in a time and place that evokes feelings of a simpler time -- and you can understand why this is a favorite.

One last thing: This book is still available for purchase on Amazon! (And maybe elsewhere??) I hope you get a chance to read it!


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Night's Dream

"I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite overcanopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet muskroses and with eglantine.
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lulled in these flowers with dances and delight."
~from A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare

Abby is in a little production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at school. That she is reading and performing Shakespeare has me all kinds of excited! Casting has yet to happen, but she is hoping for Puck or Hermia. :)

Happy Sunday!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Henry's Freedom Box

In 2007, Scholastic published Henry's Freedom Box: a True Story from the Underground Railroad by author/illustrator team Ellen Levine and Kadir Nelson. To sum up this book in one word, I would say:


Levine tells the incredibly moving true story of Henry "Box" Brown, who was born a slave and was torn from his family as "leaves are torn from the trees." When he marries and has children of his own, he one day witnesses them being carted away, sold at auction, and never to be seen again. He devises a dangerous and costly plan to mail himself in a shipping box to freedom in the North, and he succeeds.

This book is sharply different from some of the more light-hearted and whimsical stories we've discussed. It is a beautiful narrative of strength and hope, but also a heavy and heart-breaking story of a painful history. Levine's words are gentle but honest; you want the book to have a happy Hollywood ending, but she stays true to Brown's journey.

In tandem with Levine's text are Nelson's beautiful illustrations.

Nelson's full-page watercolor spreads capture the emotion that Brown and his loved ones were feeling, set against beautiful and colorful backdrops containing themes in the book. You can see in their eyes the sadness, grace, and determination in which they confronted their situation.

Together, Levine and Nelson created a powerful and important work of history and art. As a mother, it is not easy to read this imagine what Brown and his mother were feeling in the picture above when they learned he would be imagine the pain he later felt when his own children were taken from him. It is worth reading over and over and having a conversation with our kids.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this book...


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Taft in the Bath

Perhaps you've heard the story of our 27th president, William Howard Taft, and how he once got himself stuck in a bathtub. No one is quite certain that this story is true (though there are published news stories of Taft once overflowing a bathtub in a hotel, wherein the water then trickled down onto the diners in the dining hall). Well, true or not, consider adding President Taft Is Stuck in the Bath to your list of Presidents' Day picture books. :)

Published in 2014 (Candlewick) and written by Mac Barnett (highly talented author of Extra Yarn, Leo: a Ghost Story, The Terrible Two series, and more), President Taft Is Stuck in the Bath imagines what might have transpired the day that the Chief Executive found himself unable to get out of his bath. Taft calls in members of his cabinet to help find a solution: the vice president is ready to be sworn in as president, the secretary of agriculture suggests an enormous vat of butter to grease him out, and the secretary of war suggests dynamite. Ultimately, it is the First Lady who comes up with a solution.

This book is filled with humor, old-timey colloquialisms, and history. And beyond being simply a fun and playful tale, kids will also learn about the various members of the president's cabinet and what they do. Win-win.

I especially like the author's note at the end that details "Some Facts Pertaining to President Taft and Bathtubs." Apparently he really liked a good soak.