Reading poems out loud is a great way for children to learn the auditory aspects of English, such as rhyme, meter, assonance and alliteration. These colorful books for children add visual enrichment to poetry and are great picks for this year’s National Poetry Month.
Guess Who, Haiku by Deanna Caswell and Bob Shea is filled with animal-themed haikus and brightly illustrated pictures. Each haiku is from a different animal with simple clues as to what that animal might be. The first animal comes from a farm and uses “muffled mooing” to announce a “fresh pail of milk.” Turn the page and you find that the haiku does in fact come from a cow! The book continues in this pattern, with haiku clues on one page and the animal answer on the next, making a fun guessing game for kids reading the book. The book has a note from the author explaining that traditional Japanese haikus have an element of play, making this guessing game a lesson in cultural context as well as poetic style.
Betsy Franco and Michael Wertz’s A Spectacular Selection of Sea Critters is another book of poems about animals, but these animals are exclusively from the sea. This book also features a different animal on each page, but makes use of typography and a catchy blue, orange and white ocean-themed color scheme to capture the reader’s attention. The rhyming patterns vary depending on the animal. Sea turtles get a regal ode, words to describe a jellyfish curve around the page and a pair of needlefish intersect at the letter “e” for a crossword puzzle-style word cloud of adjectives. There are well-known styles of poems utilized as well, from a lion-fish haiku to a coral-reef acrostic. The end of the book includes further resources about sea creatures and aquatic wildlife, making this book a colorful compendium of science, art and literature.
We have been celebrating Earth Day since 1970. Many things have changed in the past 46 years, but the message remains the same: Take care of the Earth, it’s the only one we have. Diane Z. Shore and Jessica Alexander’s new picture book This Is the Earth is unique because its message is not only how to take care of the Earth, but why it is so important to do so.
This Is the Earth is written in rhythmic, rhyming verse that becomes soothing and engaging as you read. Vibrant, full-page color illustrations by Wendell Minor take the reader through the vast and varying landscapes of Earth — from an African safari to a bustling river to the endless blue sky “speckled with birds.” As the book continues, the reader travels both geographically across Earth and over spans of time. The illustrations smoothly transition from Native Americans harvesting crops to homesteading pioneers, from the Industrial Revolution up to the present day.
At first, the story is positive: We are slowly learning to make the most of our land and resources over time, which helps us raise our standard of living. However, the book quickly takes a darker turn as the illustrations venture beyond shiny cities and productive workers. The once-lush green farmland is now an overflowing landfill, and the bustling river of fish is now a dumping ground for bright orange toxic waste. The book looks at our treatment of the Earth almost as too much of a good thing. Our lives and industrialization may be improving, but at the dire cost of our natural resources and habitat. If we take away from the Earth, we must also give back.
The book gives simple suggestions at the end, such as recycling or using less water. The overall takeaway message, though, is much more resonant and memorable: We share this Earth with other people and living things, and we should keep that in mind with the decisions we make.
April is National Poetry month! Here are some suggestions for the young poets in your life.
Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph is an ambitious project by Roxane Orgill, who decided to commemorate an event in jazz history and wound up telling the story through poems by accident. In 1958, Art Kane orchestrated this historic photograph for Esquire magazine, which documented some of the legendary jazz musicians living in New York at the time. Using poetic forms allows Orgill to shift perspectives, so that she can tell the different thoughts and experiences of the photographic subjects — from Thelonious Monk to the kids on the street — and even fit in a few stories of those noticeably absent from the photograph. Francis Vallejo’s accompanying mixed-media drawings beautifully illustrate the imagery described in the poems. It is obvious that Jazz Day is an ode from a true devotee of the music, but it is also an engaging entry point for those unfamiliar with the genre who might like to explore more.
When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons is a collection of poems by Julie Fogliano that starts with the spring equinox, March 20th, and documents different days through the rest of the year. Filled with sensual imagery, the poems capture brief personal, meditative moments that signify the changing of seasons and belie a close connection with nature. While reading, it is easy to conjure up the smell of lilacs, the taste of strawberries and the sound of the ocean. Acclaimed artist Julie Morstad’s accompanying illustrations are a perfect fit for depicting these lighthearted and intimate moments.
Younger readers who are still figuring out how poetry works will appreciate the picture book Daniel Finds a Poem by Micha Archer. Follow Daniel as he consults the birds, bugs, squirrels and other animals, asking them “What is poetry?” Readers will see how he incorporates their responses in a grand finale, when he unveils his poem at Poetry in the Park on Sunday. The book’s pages are vibrantly illustrated with cut paper drawings and paintings that rival those of Eric Carle and Lois Ehlert.
Life is Far from Fair for Odette Zyskowski in Elana K. Arnold’s new novel. If it had been put to a vote, Odette would not have elected to sell her family home, move into an ugly RV and share one cell phone with her quarreling parents and volatile younger brother. But her father didn’t ask for Odette’s opinion before quitting his job and uprooting the family, and the list of unfair occurrences in her life has begun to pile up at a rapid pace as they travel to Grandma Sissy’s home. However, none of the problems and predicaments along the way compares to the unfairness Odette discovers when they arrive.
When Odette and Grandma Sissy are discussing how powerless Odette feels during this time of upheaval, Grandma Sissy reveals what Odette calls a “grownup truth” — those things grownups know to be true, but don’t typically share: Sometimes you are powerless. Sometimes, bad things happen and we can't stop them. This book contains many such grownup truths, but Arnold does not preach to or talk down to her readers. Hard subjects are confronted gently but directly.
The settings, all the way from suburban California to Washington’s Orcas Island, as well as the difficulties of living in an RV, are so superbly described it may leave you wondering if the author herself ever embarked on such a road trip. The book does indeed have true life beginnings: After Arnold’s husband was laid off, they sold their home and belongings and hit the open road. Meanwhile, Arnold pursued her dream of being a writer. Far from Fair is her sixth novel for teen and young readers.
For more well-written children’s fiction that confronts issues of family life and illness, check out So B. It by Sarah Weeks and Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata.
Was Ramona Quimby one of your best friends? Did you want a mouse on a motorcycle? Then you enjoyed the imaginative and timeless worlds created by Beverly Cleary. Cleary’s wonderful books have impacted generations of readers and, today, as she celebrates her 100th birthday, we pay homage to a standard bearer of children’s literature.
Cleary noted that when she a child in the 1920s and as a young librarian, almost all of the children’s books she came across were about kids in England. Determined to offer children something more relatable, she put pen to paper with a simple writing style infused with humor and a story based on common human experiences. Her first book, Henry Huggins, published in 1950, was about a boy, his dog and their friends, all of whom lived on Klickitat Street in Portland, a street in Cleary’s childhood neighborhood. According to Cleary, Henry Huggins and the other child characters in the book were based on children she grew up with and those who attended story time at her library. She would go on to write several more books about Henry Huggins and his friends, including the Quimby sisters, who would be featured in their own books, the first of which, Beezus and Ramona, was published in 1955.
Popular with children, she was also a favorite with critics who recognized her skill and talent with numerous awards, including the National Book Award, the Newbery Medal and the National Medal of Arts. Cleary's books have been published in 20 different languages, and 91 million copies of her books have been sold worldwide since 1950. Indeed, her popularity is just as strong in Baltimore County with all of her titles in all formats circulating almost 4,000 times this year alone! A few weeks ago, Cleary sat with The Today Show for an interview where she was asked about this milestone and her career and she said she’s proudest of the simple fact that "children love my books."
A rhythmically written biography with read-to-me value, Dr. Seuss: The Great Doodler by Kate Klimo is a fantastic little journey that will help parents and children explore the inspiration and the legend of the iconic man known as Dr. Seuss. The book imitates the format that so many of his own did with large easy-to-read words and lush illustrations on every page. This playful format makes it a wonderful introduction to Ted Geisel’s journey, narrating his growth from whimsically doodling child to an advertising illustrator for hire to his first, then second, then eventually 44 published books for children.
Dr. Seuss: The Great Doodler is quick to read but easy to linger on every page thanks to the detailed illustration and wonderfully inspirational story. It would be an ideal read-to-me story time book for younger children, or a good starting point for school-age children to use as a base for further research into Seuss, his process, his life’s history or bookmaking and creating children’s literature in general. Stories like The Cat in the Hat and How the Grinch Stole Christmas are not only iconic pieces of modern pop culture but they were, at their inception, a transformative force that created a new movement of teaching children how to read in the United States. Celebrate a creative man’s life and learn a new thing or two with your children, and most importantly, have fun! It’s what Dr. Seuss would want you to do.
Chances are you've never heard of the Punk Skunks. Despite their unique sound and emphasis on positive themes such as friendship, they remain largely ignored by the music industry, perhaps because they are skunks. But all of that’s about to change thanks to the new picture book Punk Skunks by the husband and wife team of Trisha Speed Shaskan and Stephen Shaskan.
Kit and Buzz were two BSFs (best skunks forever) who loved skateboarding, riding bikes, spray painting (literally spraying smelly pictures with their tails) and hanging out at their favorite club, ABCDs. But what they liked to do most of all was rock out. They bonded over their love of great punk bands such as the Ratmoans, the DescendAnts and Shrewsie Shrew, and gained a cult following thanks to their catchy songs “We’re Buzz and Kit” and “BSF.” But all of that was about to change.
One day while jamming at their practice space, the two musical geniuses clashed. Kit wanted to sing a song about skating and Buzz wanted to sing a song about painting. The creative differences were irreconcilable, and the Punk Skunks were no more. But was this really the end? Will this dynamic duo go the way of Lennon and McCartney, Jones and Strummer, Adam and his Ants? You’ll have to read to find out!
Even if you aren’t familiar with the Punk Skunks, this playful homage to the days of Chuck Taylors and safety pins has enough charm to make superfans of even the most jaded punks. And you can get to know these creative critters even better through this article at The Little Crooked Cottage where they were recently interviewed by a pig.
Pax, a new book by award-winning author Sara Pennypacker, will linger with readers long after they finish the final page. The story is told alternately by a young orphaned fox named Pax, and Peter, the boy who saved him. Peter found Pax shortly after his own mother died, and his father grudgingly let him keep the fox “for now.”
“For now” turned into five years. Pax becomes Peter’s family since his father is usually gone and is emotionally distant even when he is home. Now war threatens their home, and Peter’s father announces he is leaving to join the fight. Peter must stay with his formidable grandfather, a man who doesn’t approve of tame foxes. Peter is forced to abandon the now-domesticated Pax who lives off kibble, in the wilderness. The moment the boy leaves his fox behind, he knows he has made a terrible mistake.
While stories about lost pets are familiar to us, this one is unique. The journey that Pax and Peter take in order to find each other tests both, and they meet new characters who change them and us forever. As they come to understand difficult truths about the world, so do readers.
Pennypacker doesn’t offer a specific setting, just a land being destroyed by war. The conflict, which is never really clearly explained to readers either, affects not only the people, but also the land and the creatures. The story isn’t a simple protest against war, but a plea for people to be honest about the real price of conflict.
Pennypacker’s writing is beautiful. With clarity and compassion one doesn’t often find in children’s books, she addresses complicated themes like loneliness, love and the cost of war.
The art for this book is created by Caldecott award-winning illustrator Jon Klassen and perfectly matches the story in its simple, poignant style.
Pax is great for readers who enjoyed Sheila Burnford’s classic The Incredible Journey. Fans of these great animal stories will also enjoy Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt.
Simon Thorn is dreading the beginning of school. Each passing year, his enemies grow in number while his friends and fellow outcasts shrink from a few, to one, to finally zero. His loving uncle supports him as much as he can while he’s home, but outside of their little New York City apartment he feels alone and exposed.
You see, Simon, the titular character of Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den by Aimée Carter, can talk to animals, and they can talk to him. Birds, mostly, although he’s on good terms with many of the neighborhood rats, raccoons, squirrels and Felix, a mouse that lives in his bedroom. His habit of talking to nonhuman species has separated him from his peers until he has none left. On the first day back at school, attempting to face the new challenges awaiting him, he meets a strangely high number of new faces, starting with a gold eagle outside his window that insists catastrophe is around the corner, to a new classmate, Winter Rivera, who is more than she seems. Before Simon can even begin to deal with the difficulty of school itself and just being a kid under pressure, his mother suddenly returns, and secrets that have been kept from him his whole life start to unravel — a secret society of animal shapeshifters that have existed since the dawn of humanity, an academy of the animals hidden beneath the Central Park Zoo and the untold depths of his own family history and future.
Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den is a delight for animal and fantasy lovers alike, something for the young reader who can’t get enough of classic fantasy. Be sure to supplement your reading with research into the animal kingdoms and the multitudes of species explored in the book!
Edward Carey’s Iremonger trilogy is a rare children’s fantasy that, like the His Dark Materials trilogy or The Chronicles of Narnia series, can transport adults as well. The books take place in an alternate 1875, where Clod Iremonger lives with his family in a borough of London called Foulsham amongst a sea of discarded items called the Heaps. The strange and prosperous Iremonger family have a mysterious relationship with the trash surrounding them, and each family member carries a “birth object” that must never leave their side. Meanwhile, an illness is spreading, the poor are disappearing and a new servant girl named Lucy Pennant seems to be “upsetting” objects in the house. Clod, who has the unnatural ability to hear certain objects speak, begins to learn that the members of his family are more sinister than they appear.
Without spoiling too much, the narrative switches between Clod and Lucy as they discover that the Iremongers have managed to secure their status by literally objectifying the poor. But how? And can it be reversed? Learning the rules of this world is half the fun, and each revelation suggests exciting possibilities.
Each book in the trilogy focuses on a different location, beginning with Heap House, the Iremongers’ secluded mansion, then moving outward into the surrounding borough of Foulsham and concluding in the greater city of Lungdon. As the locations expand, the excitement builds.
Fans of Edward Gorey and Lemony Snicket will enjoy the trilogy’s playfully gothic tone, which leavens even its darkest moments with quirky turns of phrase, and the author’s detailed and ink-heavy illustrations will set you firmly in a world so strange and specific you’ll never want to leave.