New York Times best-selling authorDavid Elliott’s latest picture book feels like a classic.In the Woodsspotlights fourteen woodland animals, capturing their essence in verse. I appreciate the inclusion of favorites such as the bear, fox, and raccoon but even more so the animals we may not know much about. My favorite of these outliers was the fisher cat: “Does not like fish. / Is not a cat. / I don’t know what / to make of that. / But when you are / as fierce as she, / there’s no need for /consistency.” This seeming puzzle is explained in the back matter where relevant and interesting facts elaborate on the poems. For example, it takes five to six sprays to deplete a skunk’s scent, then about ten days to produce a new batch.
The poems are easy to approach for young readers, using simple ideas plus humor. Kids may be surprised a poem can be two words. “The Moose”: “Ungainly, / mainly.” Or that the words in poems can be manipulated, adding to their depth. The millipede poem has a blank space running down the middle; some words are broken to create effect. As kids in this book’s age range are beginning to learn about verse in school and tasked with writing some themselves, Elliott’s poems introduce poetry in a fun, playful manner.
Rob Dunlavey’saccompanying art, done in watercolor and mixed media, adds another level to each glimpse. Echoing the woodland theme, the pictures speak of nature yet cleverly placed highlights or splashes of color guide your eye to what’s important: the flight of the scarlet tanager, the inquisitive muzzle of a raccoon, or the dangerous headlights that will just miss the porcupine crossing the road. The illustrations are big, memorable, and beautiful.
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“I like the idea that anything is possible, don’t you?” (Stella to her teacher, p. 7)
In Stella Endicott and the Anything-Is-Possible Poem, Stella Suzanne Endicott, is one of those glorious young children who finds the whole world and all of life absolutely amazing. A wonderfully engaged, curious and imaginative child, she lives in the same neighborhood as that awesome pig, Mercy Watson, and other characters on Deckawoo Drive. On the first day of school, she meets her new teacher, Tamar Calliope Liliana, and thinks the teacher’s name “… sounded like the name of a good fairy in a deeply satisfying story … “ Her “arch nemesis” is Horace Broom, a big know-it-all, whom she finds most annoying.
When Miss Liliana asks the students to write a poem using a metaphor, “Stella had a feeling that she was going to be very, very good at coming up with metaphors.” Unable to work at home, due to her brother’s hovering (he sometimes reminds her of Horace), she goes to visit Mercy Watson and curls up beside her on the couch. As everyone knows it is
“… a very comforting thing to lean up against a warm pig.” e
e The next day she and Horace have a disagreement over Mercy Watson. Horace, a literal type, refuses to believe a pig could live in a house and sleep on the couch! Stella angrily assures him that Mercy Watson does! Miss Liliana sends the arguing pair to Principal Tinwiddie’s office (“the toughest sheriff in town”). Horace, greatly frightened of the principal and of a blemish on his academic record, flees from the office and hides in the janitor’s storage closet. Stella races after him and, as she steps inside the closet, the door closes and the two are locked in. Did I mention that poor Horace is also claustrophobic? While they wait to be rescued, Stella comforts him. A glow in the dark map of the solar system gives Horace the opportunity to help Stella learn the names of the planets, and keeps his mind off of his fears. They share the things they love best: Horace, who wants to be an astronaut, loves telescopes, Stella loves metaphors. By the time they are rescued, both are fast friends.
With an almost lyrical narrative, a gently humorous, but thoughtful story, and delightfully quirky characters, this early chapter book is pure DiCamillo. Van Dusen’s gouache illustrations humorously enhance the narrative. DiCamillo helps children see the value of imagination and creativity and that trying to understand that annoying person could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. As Stella always says: “anything can happen …”
It may be the last day of April, but I hope that won’t stop anyone from bringing poetry into the lives of children. Here’s a roundup of some recommended reads not just for National Poetry Month, but for every day of the year. Let the joy of a wonderful poem inspire kids. I know many people, myself included, who still can recall poems from their childhood. What a testament to the power of a great poem!
I chose Home Run, Touchdown, Basket, Goal! because the title was just so good, plus the idea of poetry for young athletes also seemed like a clever concept. The twelve poems, all rhyming, range from baseball to tennis and include others about biking, gymnastics, karate, ice skating, soccer and swimming and feel appropriate for the recommended age group. There are some super, energetic lines that kids will relate to, in this example, about football: Go long! I shout. You get the hint. You’re headed for the end zone—sprint! The sports selected are as diverse as the children participating. Every illustration shows both girls and boys, children of color and I even spotted one bald child although no child with a visible disability was depicted. Landry uses a pale palate of watercolors in simple spreads that each bleed off the page and convey movement and emotion. My favorite illustration is of three girls, mouths wide open, as you’d imagine, arms linked in friendship and for fun, cannonballing into a pool. Score!
I remember when my children were into all things ‘train.’ That meant playing with toy trains, reading train stories and traveling on trains too. Clackety Track is an ideal pick for youngsters already loco for locomotives or eager to learn more about them. A variety of Brown’s poems, rhyming and not, cleverly cover interesting types of this transportation mode. “Steam Engine” for example, pays homage to the powerful granddaddy: Biggest beast you’ve ever seen. Gobbling up a coal cuisine. One hundred tons of steel machine. Belching out a steam smoke screen. Other poems tell of snow plows, zoo trains, underground trains, sleeper trains and more. Handy train facts at the end add to the book’s appeal and I like how they’re presented in the body of train. Christoph’s engaging, retro-style illustrations bring a cool look to the book. I especially liked the Swiss electric train spread because it reminded me of the ones I used to travel on when I lived in Europe. Kids are going to want to study every detail included in the artwork just like my children used to and then compare them to the real deal when they next travel by rail.
New and old poems by powerhouse poets from Kwame Alexander to Allan Wolf, all selected by the late Paul B. Janeczko, fill this fabulous collection that will inspire young readers. Have your child or student write their own How To poem and see where it takes them. You may laugh, cry and be surprised just like the emotions the poems in this anthology evoke. Kids’ imaginations will be fed by this feast of words and subjects. This 48-page picture book opens with “How to Build a Poem” by Charles Ghinga, Let’s build a poem made of rhyme with words like ladders we can climb, … Then 32 more follow including the humorous “Rules” by Karla Kuskin, “How to Bird-Watch,” a Tanka by Margarita Engle, “On the Fourth of July” by Marilyn Singer and proof how so few words can say so much, the book ends with April Halprin Wayland’s “How to Pay Attention.” Close this book. Look.
I absolutely adored the artwork by Richard Jones, too, and find it hard to pick a favorite because like the myriad poems, there are just too many great illustrations to note. But I’ll try: the expansive shades of orange image with a solo astronaut suited up in white that accompanies Irene Latham’s “Walking on Mars” is one I keep revisiting; the tail end of a dog in the scene of two friends making snow angels complements “How to Make a Snow Angel” by Ralph Fletcher; and Pat Mora’s “How to Say a Little Prayer” features a girl and her cat asleep on her bed that could be in a forest or her bedroom and reflect’s the poet’s lines, Think about a sight you like—yellow flowers, your mom’s face, a favorite tree, a hawk in flight—breathing slowly in and out. Pick your faves to read-aloud before bedtime or devour The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog in its entirety. A Junior Library Guild Selection
Leslie Bulion’s Superlative Birds succeeds by having that re-readability factor because of its poems, its subject matter, its facts and its artwork. While it’s not a grammar book, the superlative refers to the trait or characteristic that a certain bird has demonstrating “the highest or a very high degree of a quality (e.g. bravest, most fiercely ). Headings give a clue. For example the “Most Numerous” would have to be the queleas bird whose adult population is an estimated 1.5 billion! The bird with the widest wingspan is the albatross and the jacana, with its long, long toes can actually walk on a lily pad and not sink! And which bird has the keenest sense of smell? Why it’s the turkey vulture. A charming chickadee leads readers on the journey with informative speech bubbles and science notes for each bird helps us get the inside scoop on what makes the bird tick, or sing or scavenge. The gorgeous illustrations introduce us to the bird and there’s always something extra like an action or a funny expression to note in each image whether that be a mouse in a rowboat, a fleeing lizard or frightened rodent. Kids will LOL at the skunk covering his nose from the repulsive stink of the hoatzin, the smelliest bird. I noticed as I read that Bulion incorporated many different forms of poetry into the book and in the poetry notes in the back matter she describes what form of poem she used. There’s also a glossary, resource info and acknowledgements. And if you’re like me, you’ll check out the end papers because the ones in the beginning of the book are slightly different in one particular way than the ones at the end. If you’re keen on finding a new way to foster a love of birds and poetry coupled with crisp art and tons of detail, this may be the best book out there. ★Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.
As I read the first poem in The Day The Universe Exploded My Head, a humorous and enlightening picture book, ideal for middle graders, I thought of the Rolling Stones’ classic “Sympathy for the Devil” and the line Please allow me to introduce myself because that’s exactly what the character of Sun does in the first poem called “The Sun: A Solar Sunnet, er, Sonnet.” In this 14 line poem Sun introduces itself to readers in a more serious tone than its title and illustration, yet manages to convey the “gravity” of its existence. Wolf’s 29 poems always educate but entertain too so they are sure to grab and hold the attention of even the most reluctant of tween readers. Raff’s whimsical artwork that accompanies each poem gets it right by often anthropomorphizing planets, moons and stars who rock accoutrements and accessories from sunglasses and skirts to bow ties and baseball caps. It also includes cartoon-like images of astronauts, children and even Galileo.
Kids will learn while getting a kick out of poems that range from concrete “Black Hole”; sonnet, “Mars”; and rap, “Going The Distance” and many more that guarantee enthusiastic read-aloud participation. Wolf’s poems cover the universe and space exploration and share facts in such a fun and rewarding way. I think if I had to memorize facts about space, using poetry would be an excellent way. “Jupiter”: I’m Jupiter the giant. The solar system’s mayor: I’m gas and wind and clouds wedged into thick lasagna layers. Other poems pay tribute to “The Children of Astronomy,” those who died throughout the history of spaceflight, the moon, and eclipses. Four pages of back matter round out this explosively enjoyable book that’s truly out of this world.