Afternoon on a Hill by Edna St Vincent Millay

Afternoon on a Hill

I will be the gladdest thing
Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
and not pick one.

I will look at cliffs and clouds
with quiet eyes,
Watch the wind blow down the grass,
and the grass rise.

And when the lights begin to show
up from the town,
I will mark which must be mine,
and then start down!

-Edna St Vincent Millay

(Imagine your own view from a hill!)


African Acrostics: A Word in Edgeways poems by Avis Harley, photographs by Deborah Noyes

African Acrostics: A Word in Edgeways, poems by Avis Harley and photgraphs by Deborah Noyes, is more than just a book of poems, it's a puzzle, too. Not only are there acrostics, there are double acrostics (the first AND last letter of each line), the cross acrostic, which you find by reading diagonally, and the multiple acrostic! For a great interview with Avis Harley, visit The Miss Rumphius Effect, a blog discussing poetry, children's literature and issues related to teaching children and their future teachers.

To start things off right, Harley begins with this poem:


Welcome all
poets - both new
Or well versed. Non-rhymers or
Rhymers! Come,
Dive in headfirst!

Inviting all writers -
Now you're just the right age.

Explore the acrostic that rides
Down the page.
Get at word you
Enjoy and would like to define.
Write it down vertically
And fill in each line.
Your name is a very good way to begin.
Surprise yourself. Find that poem within!

Did you see the acrostic? WORD IN EDGEWAYS! Very clever, the last line especially. Acrostic poems are a great way to get kids writing and get the creative juices flowing. Here are a few more inspire you!


Bat-eared fox and wind
In the stalks are
Given to conversation.

Ears such
As these can
Read any breeze, even
Sound out punctuation!


Now Listen to Me, Son

First, my fowl,
Avoid all humans, who only come
To gawk and giggle. They
Hanker for our ostrich plumes and
Envy how our swan necks wiggle.
Really! Have you seen those people-toes?
Little tiny things in rows! How they
Yearn for ones we've got: so down-to-earth,

And second, esteem your lot.
Drink in the
View! Wear lofty airs!
Implant upon your brow a scowl.
Colored feathers? Well, who cares-
Enjoy the gifts you've got, my fowl.


Eye to Eye

Ear sails flap in a breeze.
Leather limbs in rhythm
Evenly swaying in step
Plod slowly over Africa.
Huge as a dinosaur, yet
A tender soul from such
Noble mammoth alumni.
There is wonder abuzz
Staring into eyes so wise.

(I'll leave this one for you to figure out, but here's a hint - there's more than meets the eye!)



Save the Earth Science Experiments by Elizabeth Snoke Harris: Book CoverA Kid's Guide to Global Warming by Glenn Murphy: Book CoverEarth Day Crafts by Carol Gnojewski: Book Cover
There are plenty on non-fiction books for children on the market these days covering everything earth related from recycling to global warming, getting the point across with facts, crafts and mazes. Any bookstore or library you walk into this month should have a display of some or all of these books.
EcoMazes by Roxie Munro: Book CoverDown-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming by David: Book CoverMichael Recycle by Ellie Bethel: Book Cover
Having a literary focus on my blog, I will leave the reading of these books up to you. I want to take this day to feature some books that I have loved for a long time, before I even knew I needed to save the earth (when I was a kid, environmentalism was called "ecology" and the only public expression of a drive for consciousness in this area was a commercial with a Native America standing in a landfill with a tear rolling down his face...)
50 Ways to Get Your CartOn by Ellen Warwick: Book CoverHow We Know What We Know about Our Changing Climate by Lynne Cherry: Book CoverEarth Book for Kids by Linda Schwartz: Book Cover
Some are based in reality, some are fantasy. I also want to feature some new books along the same lines that I have had the pleasure of reading and reviewing over the past two years.
Our Choice by Al Gore: Book CoverAn Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore: Book Cover365 Ways to Live Green for Kids by Sheri Amsel: Book Cover

April being National Poetry Month, I have to start with The Tree That Time Built, a poetic celebration of nature, science and imagination, selected by Mary Ann Hoberman and Linda Winston with illustrations by Barbara Fortin. To inspire a fascination with, love of and respect for nature in your children from a young age, this book is the place to start. It comes with a CD of the many of poets reading their work.

My first exposure to being environmentally conscious as a child was through the picture books of Bill Peet, winner of the Caldecott Honor Award in 1990 for Bill Peet: An Autobiography. Animals, circuses and trains almost always played the starring roles in the books by this former employee of Walt Disney Studios. A man of many talents, Peet was most often the story editor on many of the animated movies that make up the foundation of classic Disney films. His name can be seen in the opening credits for Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty, Fantasia, and 101 Dalmations and there is something Disney-esque in his story telling and illustration style. Peet's books are always rich with both story and character and he often gets a message across in the most subtle of ways. In these two books, he employs realistic and fantastical settings to tell his stories. Written in 1966, Farewell to Shady Glade is the story
of animals who find their homes being plowed under and hop a train to a better place. The dedication in the book reads, "TO RACHEL CARSON with the hope that the new generationwill carry on her all-important work toward preserving what is left of our natural world." The Wump World, which was published in 1970, a year before Dr Seuss' environmentally themed book, The Lorax, has a plot line that is echoed in the Pixar movie WALL-E. The peaceful Wumps inhabit a naturally pristine world until the Pollutians from another planet invade in search of new natural resources to consume. The Wumps find an underground cavern to hide in as the Pollutians wreak their havoc, paving over their world. Finally, when there is nothing left to consume and the air is too polluted to breathe, they leave. The Wumps break through the crust of asphalt and walk for days until they find nature emerging again.

Author and illustrator Lynne Cherry" has been been an advocate for the earth since this book was published in 1990. About to chop down a kapok, a worker stops to take a rest under the shade of the tree. While he sleeps, the animals of the rain forest come to him, each with a different reason why he should not chop down the tree and destroy their habitats. Told simply and illustrated beautifully with a naturalist's eye, The Great Kapok Tree is the perfect example of a children's book that manages to engage, teach and entertain at the same time.

Also written in 1990, Chris Van Allsburg's Just a Dream is less subtle in it's message, but every bit as effective. Walter is a litter bug who cannot understand why the girl next door would want to plant a tree for her birthday and cannot be bothered to sort the recycling from the garbage when he takes the trash out. When he falls asleep, a dream takes him from one scene of devastation and waste to the next, each one depicted over a two page spread. From a forest of trees being chopped down to make toothpicks to a garish hotel on the top of Mt Everest to an overfished ocean, Walter wakes up with a new understanding of the world. As usual, Van Allsburg's illustrations are magical and

And, last but not least, one reality based and two fantasy based YA novels from the last year that have environmental themes and are great reads!

Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French was also the winner of the 2010 Green Earth Book Award for Chidlren's Fiction. French tells the story of Julian Carter-Li, a San Francisco native who stumbles into an adventure that includes trying to save a stand of old grove redwood trees north of the city. French's characters, Julian especially, are so well written and human that you almost forget to worry about the trees. I look forward to many more books from this debut author, environmentally themed or otherwise.

Fern Verdant & the Silver Rose by debut author Diana Leszczynski, a Green Earth Honor Book as well as a Smithsonian Notable Children's Book for 2008. Daughter of botanists, Fern Verdant is a young girl who, after her mother disappears, discovers that the ability to talk to plants runs in her family, sending her on a journey to rescue her mother from a nefarious baddie and his thugs. The fantastical and funny details that Leszczynski packs into this book make it hard to put down. Kids may not get a laugh out of the name of Fern's new school, Joan Baez Middle School, but they will be laughing at other details like the boat load of orphans and NITPIC, the Nedlaw Institute for the Prevention of Insanity in Children. This book comes out in paperback in May of 2010.

Of the three chapter books listed her, Toby Alone by Timothée de Fombelle, translated by Sarah Ardizzione, is perhaps the most subtle in its story and message. A planned trilogy, Toby Alone sets the story of the life and possible death of the Tree in motion. Toby and the race of people he is part of are all less than 2 millimeters tall, smaller than some bugs that also inhabit the Tree. Toby and his mother and father, scientist and inventor Sim Lolness, are banished to the lower branches of the Tree after his father uncovers information that shows that the Tree's resources are not limitless and also refuses to share the details of an invention (an engine, but never stated outright as such) he has made that could revolutionize the way work is done in the Tree. From exile, it is a short step to prison for the family, a fate which Toby manages to escape in this first book. By far, one of the most suspenseful, well crafted books I have read and definitely on my Top 10 list of best books read ever. Toby Alone is available in paperback and book two, The Secrets of the Tree, is due out in August of 2010.


Mary Ann Hoberman Day!

As first ever National Children's Poet Laureate, Jack Prelutsky may seem like a hard act to follow. But, Mary Ann Hoberman has a wealth of poems and poetic picture books on her literary resume, as well as her first young adult novel, which I read and and adored, Strawberry Hill. And, in 2010 Hoberman, along with Linda Winston, selected (and contributed to) poems to The Tree of Life: A Celebration of Nature, Science and Imagination, a book that marks the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin with a range of poems that honor both nature and animals. But, more than writing and editing books of poetry, being the National Poet Laureate, for children or adults, is about getting out in the world and sparking a love of poetry and words in everyone., and Hoberman is definitely doing that. When I was planning to celebrate National Poetry Month, I emailed Ms Hoberman and asked if she had any thoughts on poetry she could share with me and my readers. This is the pearl of wisdom she passed on to me:

"Above all poetry is pleasure. I dislike it when a four-line poem of mine is in a teachers' manual and there are three pages on how to use it across the curriculum and it's analyzed to death. That's not what poetry is for. It's for joy!"

I couldn't agree more. I think, that for most children, analyzing a four line poem in school is the extent of their exposure to poetry, and not a very exuberant one. Mary Ann Hoberman's poetry exemplifies this exuberance and joy and reading it can be like eating a ripe raspberry or a delicious piece of candy. If you would like to hear Ms Hoberman reading her own poetry, in a very exuberant way, click here: Mary Ann Hoberman Reads Her Poems.

Mary Ann Hoberman's newest picture book of poetry, All Kinds of Families, sounds like a feels good homage to the blended families that make up our social structure these days, and, to a certain degree, it is, but it is so much more -

A knife and a fork and a spoon are a family
The stars and the sun and the moon are a family
The socks in the drawer
And the rocks on the shore
And the blocks on the floor
They can all be families

Bottle caps, gingersnaps, buttons or rings,
You can make families from all sorts of things!

If you can only buy one book of Mary Ann Hoberman's poems, The Llama Who Had No Pajama, a collection of 100 of her favorite poems she has written with artwork by her longtime illustrator, Betty Fraser, is the one to buy. And, at $8.00 for the paperback, it's a steal. As the blurb on the back says, "There is a poem for every mood, every interest, every day in this filled-to-the-brim collection." Here is a sample:


I'd like to be
A kangaroo
And have a pocket
Made of me.

And, if you can only buy two of Mary Ann Hoberman's poem picture books, these are the two to get - both available in paperback.

A House is a House for Me, illustrated by Betty Fraser and winner of a National Book Award when it was published in 1978, is a classic. Hoberman is brilliant at stringing together rhyming lists, and in this book she examines and imagines all the different houses one could inhabit, be you human or animal.

One of my all time, top ten favorite picture books, The Seven Silly Eaters, illustrated by the amazing double Caldecott honor winning Marla Frazee is an absolute joy to read out loud, no matter how many times. In rhyme, Hoberman tells the story of the Peters family as it grows to include seven children, each one with a unique favorite food that Mrs. Peters prides herself on making from scratch. Whether it's applesauce, pink lemonade, oatmeal, eggs or fresh bread, she makes it, all the while growing more weary and frazzled. For her birthday, the children decide to each make her their favorite food but give up half way through, throwing the ingredients in a pan and shoving it in the (warm) oven to hide it. What results from this near disaster is a life saver for Mrs Peters! Frazee's depictions of family life in the little bungalow are cozy, sweet, messy and realistic down to the pacifiers in the baby's mouths... I LOVE THIS BOOK TO BITS!!!

Ok - I just have to add on this really amazing email I received from Mary Ann herself the day this review went up - it made my day, week and year! What an amazing person!

Dear Tanya,
What a beautiful tribute - I couldn't have done better if I'd written it myself -
and you are free to print this comment! Keep writing about children's books
and bringing new readers into the fold!
Best Wishes,
Mary Ann Hoberman


The Disappearing Alphabet by Richard Wilbur, illustrated by David Diaz

Richard Wilbur, poet and writer, has twice won the Pulitzer Prize and served as National Poet Laureate. In 1998 a series of poems he wrote for The Atlantic Monthly was paired with the magnificent artwork of Caldecott winning illustrator David Diaz. Diaz is also a gifted graphic designer, which shows in his work, especially his illustrations for Newbery winner Sharon Creech's book The Castle Corona, which has the feel of an illuminated manuscript from the middle ages.

The Disappearing Alphabet, available in paperback and hardcover, is the work of these two gifted minds. The book begins with this poem:

If the alphabet began to disappear,

Some words would soon look raggedy and queer


While other would entirely fade away;

And since it is by words that we construe

The world, the world would start to vanish, too!

Good Heavens! It would be and awful mess

If everything dissolved to nothingness!

Be careful, then, my friends, and do not let

Anything happen to the alphabet.

26 poems follow, each one imagining a world without the corresponding letter. All are thoughtful and playful, as are Diaz's illustrations. Definitely a book worth having on the shelf and surely one that will inspire minds to imagine the world in a new and different way.

You can read the poem for Q by clicking here. These are also two of my favorites in the book:

Hail, letter F! If it were not for you,
Our raincoats would be merely "WATERPROO,"
And that is such a stupid word, I doubt
That it would help to keep the water out.

What if there were no letter W?
The WEREWOLF would no longer trouble you,
And you'd be free of many evils
But then there'd be (alas!) no sweet
WATERMELONS for you to eat.*

*What's more, I guess there'd have to be a
Different shape in CASSIOPEIA.