46 posts categorized "Poetry" Feed

The Pomegranate Witch: Denise Doyen and Eliza Wheeler

Book: The Pomegranate Witch
Author: Denise Doyen
Illustrator: Eliza Wheeler
Pages: 40
Age Range: 5-10

PomegranateWitchI wasn't sure what to make of The Pomegranate Witch when I first saw it. It's a slightly undersized picture book, with a dark, old-fashioned-looking cover. Inside the story has an advanced vocabulary and is written entirely in poetry (real poetry, not just upbeat rhymes). But after reading The Pomegranate Witch aloud to my daughter, I've concluded that it is fabulous.

The Pomegranate Witch is about a creepy farmhouse on the outskirts of a small town. In the yard of the farmhouse is an enormous pomegranate tree. The local children covet the fruit of this tree. However, the tree is protected by the Pomegranate Witch. We never see her clearly, but we see her actions as she battles the local children in an effort to guard her fruit. It's unclear for a time whether the witch is real or a sort of group hallucination, but someone blasts the children with water cannons. The mood lightens late in the book, around Halloween night. There's an ambiguity to the ending, though my seven-year-old has not doubts about her interpretation. The ending and the quality of the poetry both make The Pomegranate Witch special. 

Here's an example of Denise Doyen's writing:

"And before its sagging porch, amid a weedy foxtail sea,
Found the scary, legendary, haunted pomegranate tree.

The gnarled tree loomed high and wide; its branches scraped the ground.
Beneath there was a fort, of sorts, with leafed walls all around.
Its unpruned limbs were jungle-like, dirt ripplesnaked with roots,
But glorious were the big, red, round, ripe pomegranate fruits."

Don't you love the word choices? (Amid. Ripplesnaked. Gnarled.) I also like the adjective repetition in the last line of each stanza. You wouldn't write "big, red, round, ripe pomegranate fruit" in a regular sentence. But it works here. Last there's this:

"Some clever gangster-pranksters dug a foxhole in the field.
When they peered below the leaves? Witchy work boots were revealed!
Next, they scavenged broken racquets, rusty rakes, a dead tree limb;
What better tools to yank a pomegranate from its stem?"

The rhyme between limb and stem does work, if you read it aloud. It made me stop and give a little nod. The previous page also has a reference to how "forbidden fruit is tempting." Nice subtle biblical reference. This is clearly a book to reward repeated reads. The story itself is suspenseful (Is the witch real? Will the kids get any fruit?), atmospheric, and occasionally humorous. 

Eliza Wheeler's illustrations add to the ambiguity surrounding the witch, shown lurking beneath the tree, in shadow, with her broom most visible. They also lend humor, particularly when the Pomegranate Gang is formed, wielding weapons such as rakes and tennis racquets. There's a timeless quality to the images, with girls in dresses and boys in suspenders and bow ties, but the Gang also displays diversity in ethnicities and sizes. Nothing is shown as red in the somewhat muted illustrations, except for the glowing red pomegranates. 

Thought-provoking, surprising, entertaining, and gorgeously written and illustrated. The Pomegranate Witch is not to be missed. The advanced vocabulary makes it more of a book for elementary schoolers than preschool kids. It would make a lengthy but wonderful classroom read-aloud for Halloween. Here in my house, the Pomegranate Witch is going on our "keep" shelf. Highly recommended! 

Publisher: Chronicle Books (@ChronicleKids
Publication Date: August 1, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Things to Do: Elaine Magliaro & Catia Chien

Book: Things to Do
Author: Elaine Magliaro
Illustrator: Catia Chien
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

ThingsToDoThings to Do, written by Elaine Magliaro and illustrated by Catia Chen, is a book of short poems, each focused on something a child might encounter as she makes her way through the day. Topics begin with "Things to do if you are dawn" and move on through nature (acorns, spiders, the sun, the moon) and school (erasers and scissors) and on to nighttime. 

Elaine Magliaro's poems are joyful and read-aloud friendly. Some are quite brief, like this: 

"Things to do if you are BOOTS
Splish in puddle.
Splash on the walk.
Make the fallen
raindrops talk."

While others are longer, particularly those later in the book. While the poems technically speak to the item in question (e.g. the sky), they often offer advice useful to the reader, too. For example, "Things to do if you are a snail" concludes:

"The wonders of your world are small.
Don't hurry by.
Enjoy them all." 

Good advice for snails and kids, even as addressing the advice to the snail keeps the book from feeling didactic for kids. Nicely done! 

The poems are presented using varied fonts, with important words shown larger for emphasis (splish and splash above, for example). The word "stretch" is shown stretched out on another page, while the letters in "bumpy" bump up and down. This is definitely a book to look at while reading it, not just one to listen to. 

This visual display of the words is set against Catia Chen's luminous acrylic illustrations. The blurred edges of the pictures contrast with the crispness of the fonts, allowing words to stand out, even against full-page illustrations. The (somewhat androgynous) child seen on the cover makes an appearance in most, but not all, of the pages, interacting joyfully with her surroundings. The image surrounding the last poem, about the moon, brings Peter Pan's London to mind. 

If you are looking to introduce a young reader in your household to the beauty of poetry and the wonders of nature, Things to Do would be a great place to start. I could also see this as a classroom read-aloud for second or third graders, though I think it's a bit long for library storytime. Recommended, and a book that brightened my day.  

Publisher: Chronicle Kids (@ChronicleKids
Publication Date: February 7, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Shel Silverstein Books for National Poetry Month

I remember one of my nieces having a huge Shel Silverstein phase a few years back. They were the first books that she was excited to share with us, and I appreciated them for that. My grandmother also developed a strong enjoyment of Silverstein's poems late in her life. I still have her copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends. That is the beauty of Silverstein's work - his poems are timeless and appeal to people of all ages. 

This year, Harper Collins has released 40th and 50th anniversary editions of a number of Silverstein's books, including a special edition of Where the Sidewalk Ends that contains 12 extra poems. You might consider any of these for your National Poetry Month commemoration. Though I don't think there are very significant differences from earlier editions, these new editions are very crisp and shiny. I'm happy to have them for my daughter (with thanks to HarperCollins). 

1. Don't Bump the Glump! and Other Fantasies: 50th anniversary edition. These are particularly quirky, featuring short, illustrated pieces like this:

Long-Necked Preposterous

This is Arnold,
A Long-Necked Preposterous,
Looking around for a female
Long-Necked Preposterous.
But there aren't any

2. Where the Sidewalk Ends: 40th anniversary edition with 12 extra poems. This book contains lots of classic, kid-friendly Silverstein, including the Boa Constrictor song. I remember listening to Peter, Paul, and Mary's version of this when I was young (on a record player). The 12 extra poems were not in the original edition, but were apparently added as part of the 30th anniversary edition, and included here. And of course this:

"... Yes, we''ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we'll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends."

3. Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back: 50th anniversary edition. This one is an illustrated story (told in chapters), and not a collection of poems. Though Silverstein does certainly play with language. Here's the start:

"And now, children, your Uncle Shelby is going to tell you a story about a very strange lion--in fact, the strangest lion I have ever met. Now, where shall I start this lion tail? I mean this lion tale. I suppose I should begin at the moment when I first met this lion." 

4. A Giraffe and a Half: 50th anniversary edition. This is an illustrated, cumulative nonsense-filled story, suited to younger listeners. Here's a snippet from mid-way through:

"If he put on a shoe
and then stepped in some glue...

you would have a giraffe and a half
with a rat in his hat
looking cute in a suit
with a rose on his nose
and a bee on his knee
and some glue on his shoe."

5. The Giving Tree: 50th anniversary edition. While this story of continuing self-sacrifice is not my personal favorite, there are certainly people who like it. 

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you). These books were received from HarperCollins. 

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook


The 14 Fibs of Gregory K: Greg Pincus

Book: The 14 Fibs of Gregory K.
Author: Greg Pincus (@GregPincus)
Pages: 240
Age Range: 8-12

The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. is a middle grade novel about math and poetry. But what it's really about is finding a way to do what you love. In a sneaky, humorous sort of way, by which you are surprised to be a tiny bit teary-eyed by the end of the book. I think that it's wonderful, and hope that it's going to do well. It releases this coming Tuesday. 

I should tell you that I'm not completely objective about The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. The book's author, Greg Pincus, is a friend of mine (a blog friend, sure, but we've enjoyed face-to-face time at various Kidlitcons, and share certain views about the kidlitosphere). I remember quite clearly when Greg came up with six-line, Fibonacci-series-based poems, called them Fibs, and launched a poetry craze (there are 400+ comments on the original post). I remember when Greg shared the news that he was writing a book featuring Fibs, and that Arthur Levine would be publishing it. And now here it is!

As a person who was always pretty good at math, and who studied engineering in college, but whose true love is words, the concept of the Fib has always appealed to me. I would love to see a huge craze of elementary school kids all writing Fibs, and thus integrating math and poetry. I think that the book will help. But I'm not completely objective, so you should take my words in that context. 

The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. is about a sixth grader who is a secret poet stuck smack dab in the middle of a family of math geniuses. When Gregory looks to be in danger of failing math, his parents are baffled and concerned. It's only with the help of a truly great math teacher that Gregory K. is able to fit things together. But not without a lot of chaos along the way. Realistic middle grade chaos, with the faintest flavor of Gary Paulsen's Liar, Liar series. 

Gregory's travails with math are set against a backdrop of his relationship with his life-long best friend, Kelly. And no, this isn't one of those books about the boy-girl friendship getting weird in sixth grade. This is a book about a true friendship based on two people who "get" each other, though not without a few bumps along the way. And it's about pie. A lot of pie. (Kelly's mom owns a pie shop, and there is pie in pretty much every chapter.)

In truth, I found parts of the first couple of chapters, in which Gregory's quirky family is wallowing in math, a bit cringe-inducing. Like this:

"I'd be the best superhero ever," his nine-year-old sister, Kay, said as Gregory entered the dining room, "because I'd use the power of the hypotenuse! By taking the correct angle, I'd always be a step or two ahead of the bad guy." (Chapter 1)

I'm guessing this was intentional - Gregory was finding it cringe-worthy, too. But once Gregory's teacher, Mr. Davis, set him to writing about math, instead of doing math, I was hooked, and didn't stop reading until I had finished. I loved the Fibs at the start of every chapter (though the average reader won't know that they are Fibs until mid-way through the book). I adored Gregory's friendship with Kelly. And I liked Greg's mildly snarky voice. Like this:

"The next day at school, the test met all of Gregory's expectations. Unfortunately, that was the only positive about it." (Chapter 3)


"... Fibonacci's not just a sequence but a real person..."

"So is there like a Bob Algebra or a Joe Multiplication?" (Chapter 8)

And here's an example of a Fib, from the start of Chapter 6:

Other times,
The problems find me.
The latter is always far worse."

Fun, but with a core of truth. And that pretty much sums up the book. Gregory is a regular kid, who struggles to pay attention to things that he can't connect with, but dives headlong into the pursuits that he loves. He feels alien in his family, but at home with his best friend. In short, while uniquely himself, he is someone any kid can relate to. Which is why his eventual growth has such emotional impact. 

Teachers and librarians will want to scoop this one up. It has nice Common Core opportunities, too. There's also a theme song for the book, a trailer, and a positive review from Kirkus. I'm expecting big things from The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. Don't miss it!

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (@Scholastic
Publication Date: September 24, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Seeds, Bees, Butterflies, and More!: Poems for Two Voices

Book: Seeds, Bees, Butterflies, and More!: Poems for Two Voices
Author: Carole Gerber
Illustrator: Eugene Yelchin
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8 

Seeds, Bees, Butterflies, and More!: Poems for Two Voices is a picture book designed to be read aloud by two people, alternating portions of each poem. Written by Carole Gerber and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin (Breaking Stalin's Nose), Seeds, Bees seems tailor-made for classroom use. It gives kids the chance to perform poetry out loud, in pairs, while also containing quite a bit of informational content about plants and insects. 

Each poem is told from the perspective of two plants or creatures, using different colored text for each part. Lines meant to be read by both participants use both colors, switching letter by letter, including the titles. Indentation is also used to make it clear which lines belong to which reader. 

There is often a bit of humor incorporated into the poems. For instance, a new green shoot asks a bunny to stop blocking its sunlight, and the bunny says "Relax. That doesn't matter. / You'll be gone in just one bite." Two plants lament the feel of snails leaving "icky, sticky trails." I do think that this humor will work well for kids reading the poems aloud in class. 

The nature of the informational content necessitates the occasional use of relatively difficult vocabulary words, though Gerber clearly tries to keep this to a minimum. But we still get stanzas like this:

"We'll gather all their nectar
and also pollinate,
with little tongues and little feet.
            Want me to demonstrate?" 

(the last line is recited by the second person).  

Yelchin's graphite and gouache illustrations are a riot of colors and textures. He often repeats a key texture from the plant or creature of interest as part of the background. So, for example, the texture of the sky reflects back the pattern of the bunny's fur. His insects and flowers tend to be large-scale on each page, really bringing the subject matter to life. 

In truth, information poetry isn't really my personal cup of tea. But I think that Seeds, Bees, Butterflies, and More! could be very useful in first through third grade classrooms, due to its combination of perform-ability, bright, realistic illustrations, and informational content. Many kids are fascinated by plants and bugs, making Seeds, Bees, Butterflies, and More! a great companion book for units on nature, gardening, spring, etc. This would be a good choice to gift to your child's classroom, or for library purchase. 

Publisher: Henry Holt (@MacKidsBooks)
Publication Date: February 5, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the author

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook


May B.: Caroline Starr Rose

Book: May B.
Author: Caroline Starr Rose (blog)
Pages: 240
Age Range: 9 and up 


May B., by Caroline Starr Rose, was my third book read for the 2012 48 Hour Book Challenge. May B. is a verse novel set in the late 19th century, on the Kansas frontier. May lives with her parents and older brother in a homestead "soddy". Her parents send her away to help a new bride at another homestead, 15 miles away (a large distance in those days). When the unhappy bride runs away, and her husband follows her, May is left completely alone, apparently forgotten. And when the winter blizzards start, she finds herself trapped and running out of food. Written off at school because she struggles with reading and makes mistakes, May has only herself to rely on to survive. 

May B. packs a lot into a very quick read. May experiences a range of emotions, from shame at her reading disability to depression caused by loneliness to a root core of determination. The dangers she encounters range from getting lost on the prairie and freezing to death to starvation to the threat of wolves.

Her physical struggles are intermingled with her mental struggles. An afterword explains that the author, a longtime fan of the Little House books, wondered how children with learning disabilities would have been treated, before such disabilities were understood. May's self-esteem is diminished, but not extinguished completely, by the treatment of an unsympathetic teacher. 

This mix of physical and mental challenges gives the book a certain balance. And though it's certainly not an upbeat story, May's occasional bursts of impetuousness lighten the tone. The spare verse format also helps in this manner. Troubles are alluded to, rather than described in detail. 

Rose chooses every word carefully, rewarding readers who take their time. Like this:

"I find myself inside the rhythm
of hoof
and wheel
and join this going forward,
but I am behind, still." (Page 17)

I like the double meaning of still. And here she conveys May's fear at being alone at night, in just a few words:

A mouse,
a footstep,
I tell myself.
I would have heard
the wagon
and the welcome sound
of voices.

Gooseflesh ripples
up my arms.
I squeeze my knees tighter.
will morning
come?" (Page 68)

Give May B. to young fans of frontier novels, novels in verse, or survival stories. It would make a great companion read to the Little House books, or Caddie Woodlawn, or even a stepping stone for younger readers not quite ready for the challenge of Hattie Big Sky

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: January 10, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Kaleidoscope Eyes: Jen Bryant

Book: Kaleidoscope Eyes
Author: Jen Bryant
Pages: 272
Age Range: 10-14

Bk_kaleid_120Jen Bryant's Kaleidoscope Eyes is a verse novel about a broken family and a hunt for buried treasure, set against a backdrop of the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement. That's a lot to pack into a middle grade novel (which I personally think is a better fit for middle school). But Bryant does an excellent job.

In 1968, Lyza lives with her father and her Janis Joplin-obsessed 19-year-old sister in a small town near the Jersey Shore. Lyza's mother left the family several earlier, leaving no forwarding address, and her father, a professor, works all the time. Lyza plans on spending a quiet summer before starting high school with her two best friends, Malcolm and Carolann. Their plans change, however, when Lyza's grandfather dies, leaving behind three maps, a mysterious key, and a letter asking Lyza to complete a project for him. Before they know it, the three friends find themselves on the trail of pirate treasure.

The thing that first struck me about Kaleidoscope Eyes was how strongly everything about the book feels like the late 60's. I mean, I was only a toddler then, so I can't really say. But as far as I can tell Bryant and her publisher spared no detail in channeling the summer of 1968. There are quotes from sixties music at the start of each section of the book. There are numerous music references within the text (the title is itself a musical reference, of course). The very fonts of the chapter titles have a psychedelic sixties look. And the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement, as experienced by ordinary young teens in the US, permeate the book, which is written like a diary in verse.

Lyza's friend Malcolm is black. She explains matter-of-factly why they are friends out of school, but can't spend time together in school. Like this:

"We sure didn't make the rules
about who can be friends with whom,
and we don't like the rules the way they are...
but we are also not fools.

There are three hundred other kids in our school
and as far as I can tell, not one of them has
a best friend
who's a different color." (Page 12, paperback edition)

Malcolm also can't eat at the local diner, because the owner is bigoted. When Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated, Malcolm's mom "cried for two days straight". There are rumors that black soldiers are sent to the most dangerous places in Vietnam. And so on.

Lyza notes various Vietnam War protests, and attends the funerals of three local boys killed in the war. There's a scene in which she and another character clear weeds around the boys' graves. When someone she knows is drafted, she is speechless with grief. Letters from Vietnam are included after the boy goes overseas, and fear for his fate shadows the rest of the book.

But I think that what really makes Kaleidoscope Eyes feel like it was written in the sixties is that all of these things are facts of life. Lyza isn't casting the kind of moral judgments that you sometimes see in historical fiction, where today's retrospective sensibilities color her views. She likes people who are nice to Malcolm better than people aren't, and she's sad and baffled about the war and what it's doing to kids she knows. But there's an immediacy to her reactions that feels real, and is, I think, hard to pull off. 

Bryant's writing itself is lovely. I expected Kaleidoscope Eyes to be a quick read, because there's a lot of white space. But I found myself reading slowly, listening inside my head to how the words would sound if said aloud. Bryant uses a number of different styles of verse, conveying pace and mood by the length of the lines and visual density of the text. She uses white space to add additional levels of meaning. Like this:

"I turn the cylinders
   around and
      around and
         around until I find a brand-new pattern,

in hopes that my brain
might catch on and do the same.
I put the kaleidoscope
aside,                     look at the maps again. (Page 54, paperback)

The text is a visual kaleidoscope, with words coming together in different patterns on every page.

So, the writing in Kaleidoscope Eyes is beautiful, the plot is entertaining, and the backdrop is fully textured and authentic. I quite enjoyed Kaleidoscope Eyes, and can imagine re-reading it in the future. My only question with this book is that I'm not sure exactly who the audience is. Amazon says that it's middle grade, and there's nothing objectionable about it, but the characters are about to start high school, and the war theme is fairly adult, so I would put it more as a middle school book. It's also a verse novel about a hunt for pirate loot, which is not your typical combination. So, librarians, if you know any kids who like mysteries and quests, and won't be scared off by the idea a novel in verse, hand them this book. Tell them it's about pirates in New Jersey. And for anyone else looking for a window into 19668 America, Kaleidoscope Eyes is the book for you.

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: May 12, 2009
Source of Book: Copy from the author

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Mister Lemur's Train of Thought: Mister Lemur

Book: Mister Lemur's Train of Thought
Author: Mister Lemur (Hans and Jen Hartvickson)
Pages: 151
Age Range: 7-10

Train_of_thought Mister Lemur's Train of Thought is a bit hard to classify. It's a self-published book of poems for kids, one that sneaks in a fair bit of education (particularly vocabulary and science). It's not the sort of book that I generally review, but something about it (probably the authors' passion for engaging kids through literacy) caught my eye.

Mister Lemur creators Hans and Jen Hartvickson fell in love with playful, curious lemurs while on a trip to Madagascar, and decided to use lemurs (with poetry) as the basis for engaging kids in learning. They visit schools (classrooms and assemblies), doing presentations to "educates students about the process of creating a book, the importance of planning and goal setting, and the basics of rhyme, meter and poetry". More details can be found here. They also publish an enewsletter, and offer free coloring pages, audio downloads, puzzles, etc. on their website. The book is just one component in an enthusiastic, curiosity-promoting enterprise. (I'll bet that Hans and Jen would get along with Kim and Jason Kotecki from Escape Adulthood).

But back to the book. Mister Lemur's Train of Thought is a 150 page book consisting of 66 lightly illustrated poems/stories. The poems range in length from just a few lines to several pages each. A little sketch of a caboose indicates the end of each story. The authors were clearly inspired by the work of Shel Silverstein - Mister Lemur's Train of Thought bears a visual similarity to Silverstein's books. The writing is not at Silverstein's level, of course, but I think that kids will enjoy it. The rhythm and rhymes are consistent, and there are flashes of wit sprinkled throughout.

Mister Lemur's Train of Thought probably isn't a book that you'll want to sit down and read straight through. There's not enough variation in the meter or creativity in the rhyme selections for that. Some of the lines didn't quite scan for me. But it's nice for dipping into, and reading a poem or three at a time. I think that kids who like poetry will enjoy it, and that it may inspire them to write some poems of their own.

The Hartvicksons do a nice job of integrating educational elements into the poems without being heavy-handed. They use advanced vocabulary words ("asylum"), or scientific or historical terms ("phylum"), and then define them in a small footnote. Parents reading aloud to kids can ask the kids to guess at the definition, based on the context of the poem, before reading the official definition. Some of the poems are clearly written to illustrate a particular concept (e.g., symbiosis), while others are just there for fun. Overall, I would say that the fun wins out over the education (necessary if kids are to accept the book). Here are a few examples of the concepts behind the poems:

  • A petting zoo in which the animals come to pet the kids.
  • A ghoul's school in which the game involves grabbing people's eyes.
  • A kangaroo with a damaged knee that can't hop (until he gets a pogo stick crutch).
  • Use of the continental plates as huge dinner plates (and the resulting earthquakes).
  • The difference between crocodiles and gators.

And here are a couple of samples (each the first part of a longer entry):

"Bounding through the vast outback
a kangaroo felt his knee crack.
He landed funny on a hop,
his twisted knee went "crackle-pop."

A joey with an injured knee
does not have much mobility.
They put a brace on nice and tight
and gave him heaps of Vegemite."


"Young Judy hated clean up duty.
The playroom was a mess.
So nicks and nacks and jacks and tacks
would always coalesce

around the places people walk
and General Jack, her dad,
preferred that things be neat and tight.
Her messes made him mad."

While Mister Lemur himself has an engaging grin, the black and white sketched illustrations are not of professional illustrator quality. This is probably the biggest shortcoming of the book, and may turn off some readers, though they do add visual interest to the poems. (Hard to read about the benefits of duck dentistry without seeing a sketch of a duck with a big toothy smile.) The book itself is well-constructed, with a sturdy binding and thick, bright-white paper. A table of contents at the front will help families refer back to favorites later, and launches the train motif by being called "Daily Departures".

All in all, I enjoyed Mister Lemur's Train of Thought. I'll keep it around to try out on Baby Bookworm in five years or so. And in the meantime, I'll look forward to hearing (via Team Lemur) more about Hans and Jen Hartvickson's adventures in using poetry and lemurs to get kids excited about learning.

Publisher: Ringtail Learning
Publication Date: 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the authors

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

A Dazzling Display of Dogs: Concrete Poems by Betsy Franco

Book: A Dazzling Display of Dogs: Concrete Poems
Author: Betsy Franco
Illustrator: Michael Wertz
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4 to 8

Dazzling I must admit that I wasn't familiar with "concrete poetry" when I first opened Betsy Franco's A Dazzling Display of Dogs. But the meaning of concrete poems (" in which the typographical arrangement of words is as important in conveying the intended effect as the conventional elements of the poem" - Wikipedia) was apparent from the first page. A Dazzling Display of Dogs features dozens of poems about dogs. All of them are displayed on the page in some fashion that reflects and enhances the topic of the poem. For example, a poem about a retired greyhound is written inside an oval band, like a racetrack. One about white medical collars fills the shape of the collar. One about lost dogs encompasses the text of a "missing" poster. And so on.

This style makes the poems a bit harder to read than conventional poems, of course. You have to figure out where the poem starts, and sometimes tilt your head, or turn the book, to continue. But one thing that I found impressive about Franco's poems is that I never had difficulty figuring out where to pause in reading the poems aloud, even in cases without obvious visual queues (like the poem about a circling dog written in a continuous spiral). Her cadences are strong and sure.

And the poems themselves are a lot of fun. I can imagine preschoolers and early elementary school kids, dog-lovers or not, laughing aloud at poems like "Pug Appeal", "Letting Gwen In and Out", and "Bedtime with Brownie". I hesitate to give quotes, since I can't convey the imagery that's part of the poems, but picture an entire poem about the only words that a dog hears (squirrel, walk, etc.). Or a haiku about a puppy piddling on the newspaper. I think that kids who are familiar with common dog behaviors will be particularly charmed.

A Dazzling Display of Dogs is educational, too. There's are examples of haiku and cinquain, and illustrations of a variety of types of dogs. One could spend considerable time with this book without becoming bored.

Michael Wertz's illustrations (started in pencil and finished using monoprints and Adobe Photoshop) are linked together by a common palette (lots of slate blue and soft orange) and graphical style, even though the shapes of the individual poems vary considerably. The dogs are all quite distinct from one another, and many of their personalities come across.

I found A Dazzling Display of Dogs to be clever and enjoyable. The same team published A Curious Collection of Cats in 2009, and I'm sure that it's a fun read, too. This pair of books would make a great gift for any young animal-lover, and would also be a wonderful introduction to poetry for kids of all ages. Recommended!

PoetryFridayButton I'm posting this review today in honor of Poetry Friday, a Kidlitosphere-wide weekly celebration of poetry. This week's Poetry Friday roundup is at Rasco from RIF. Check out Carol's post for lots of other poetry links.

Publisher: Tricycle Press (@CrownPublishing)
Publication Date: January 25, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).

Carnival of Children's Literature and Poetry Friday

Carnivalbutton2 Sally Apokedak is hosting the new Carnival of Children's Literature at Whispers of Dawn. The carnival is a monthly celebration of children's books, authors, and literacy. Sally says: "I found bunches of new and interesting blogs this month and a shelfful of books that look really good. (Yikes! Shelfful is a funny looking word!)  No matter what you’re looking for, if it involves children’s books, from author interviews to marketing tips for authors, or from edgy YA novels to nonfiction books for youngsters, you’re bound to find something of interest in this carnival."

She's done a beautiful job of laying out detailed categories, and formatting to make the carnival easy to read. The new carnival is well worth your time, and the perfect way to start the weekend.

Also today, Jone MacCulloch is hosting Poetry Friday at Check It Out. She starts with her own "Ode to Poetry Friday", and closes with an announcement about her annual Poetry Postcard project, with lots of poetry links from around the blogosphere in between.

Happy Friday!

Stampede! Laura Purdie Salas & Steven Salerno

Book: Stampede! Poems to Celebrate the Wild Side of School
Author: Laura Purdie Salas
Illustrator: Steven Salerno
Pages: 32
Age Range: 5-9

Stampede!Stampede! Poems to Celebrate the Wild Side of School, written by Laura Salas and illustrated by Steven Salerno, is a series of poems that use animal themes to highlight aspects of school. These poems are delightful on several levels. The analogies are fun in and of themselves, and then enhanced by Salas' playful language. For example:

We crowd the empty schoolyard,
a flood of bumblebees.
We buzz and flitter-tumble,
trade gossip on the breeze."

I love the idea of kids as a swarm of bees, and I also love the phrase "flitter-tumble". A bit e.e. cummings-like, wouldn't you say"? One more quote:

When I'm feeling
I get nasty,
I get whiny.

Stay away or
I might stick you.
My sharp words are
quills to prick you."

Insightful, I thought. Words as quills to prick, and thus protect the defensive student. Plus I like the word "porcupine-y". Who doesn't feel porcupine-y, sometimes? Salas captures many other school-house worries, being embarrassed by a rumor, wanting to hide to not be called on in class, or just feeling sleepy. There is a poem here for every kid. The book would make, I think, an excellent classroom read-aloud.

Salerno's digitally enhanced gouache illustrations add to the fun. He's a master of sketching kids who resemble animals, but are still fully recognizable as kids. He also uses colors and shapes to capture the tone of the different poems. The Swarm kids flit visually around the page. However, a poem likening school to being trapped in a maze offers more subdued, linear images. I especially liked the bright yellow background of a poem with kids as ducklings, and the swooping tunnels inhabited by some young "prairie dogs". 

In short, Stampede! is a treat. It's fun to look at, and fun to read aloud, while tackling the universal trials and tribulations of elementary school life. Highly recommended, especially for K-3 kids.   

Publisher: Clarion 
Publication Date: April 6, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Poetry for Children 
Author Interviews: Celebrate Story, Wordswimmer, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Two Recent Honors

I've been kept pretty busy this week with preparing the Carnival, and I neglected to write about two tremendous honors that I received.

  • First, Elaine Magliaro dedicated her Poem of the Day #18 at Wild Rose Reader to me! She mentioned especially liking my Sunday Visits and Literacy Roundup posts, which are among my own favorites. The poem is funny a nursery rhyme parody in which Mary conquers a casino.
  • Also, as regular visitors to this blog may know, I've been a volunteer for the Foundation and Friends of the Santa Clara City Library for a a couple of years now. I was just named to the Board of Directors of the Foundation and Friends. It's a wonderfully diverse and active organization, and I'm so pleased to have been asked to be part of it. Some of my efforts with the Board will probably be focused on marketing, which I have some experience in through my paying job.

Thanks Elaine! And thanks to the Library Board members, for being so welcoming.