3.31.2013

NATIONAL POETRY MONTH STARTS TOMORROW!


Yes, it's that time of year again... The fourth annual books4yourkids.com celebration of poetry! Today I am reposting an article I wrote in 2010 that was mostly to convince myself of the importance of poetry in our lives, but will hopefully convince you too, if you need it. But, if you do nothing else poetic this year, I hope you and your kids will celebrate National Poem-in-Your-Pocket Day which is THURSDAY APRIL 18! Almost every day this month I will feature a poem or review of a book of poetry for kids (including a book created specifically for Poem-in-Your-Pocket Day with tear-out, pocket size poems to share) that I hope you and yours will take a minute to read, to yourself or out loud, and enjoy. Poetry can force us to slow down and pause, to look around and notice things, to laugh out loud.

If poetry just isn't your thing, stick around anyway. I will be posting a few book reviews this month, including RUMP: The True Story of Rumplestiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff.










Why Poetry Matters

I wrote this in 2010 for my first ever celebration of National Poetry Month, as much to convince myself of the importance of poetry in our lives as to convince you, my readers. If I convince you or you don't need convincing, scroll down for links to some really great resources for poetry - for kids and adults - and ways to play with it.


Why Poetry Matters is actually the name of a very thorough, academic book by Jay Parini that I started reading a month or so ago when I got the idea to hop on board the National Poetry Month train and feature poetry on my blog for the whole month of April. I wanted to challenge myself and read the kind of texts I read in college so that I could give my readers a really solid reason for why they should read poetry to their children and for themselves. After becoming an art school drop-out, I went on to study literature, poetry specifically. I even wrote a 100 page thesis on the last book of poetry written by a famous American poet who shall remain nameless (I'm sure you can guess who - I was a middle class, white college student who loved popular culture and was too timid to study the likes of Adrienne Rich or Elizabeth Bishop.)

But, the book starts off with Plato and Aristotle. From there it becomes pretty dense. Which was intimidating to me and also reminded me of why people don't read poetry. I think that poetry is intimidating to most people and useless to the rest. Yes, music lyrics can be considered poetic, but rarely do they generate the imagery of a poem alone on a page. I wanted to be able to come up with a really good, convincing reason for you all to read poetry to your children and encourage them to read and write their own. Writing poetry is like drawing for little kids - they do it with zeal and lack of self-consciousness for years until someone or something suppresses those forms of expression for them. The problem was, by the time I graduated from college I had read, written about and written so much poetry, unpacked so many metaphors and decoded so many stanzas that I was sick, sick sick of poetry. However, I still listen with one ear every evening when The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor comes on the radio and he reads a poem. And sometimes I am even inspired to pick up and old book and read a few lines. And, of course, I read poetry to my kids now and then. But how can I convince the non-reader of poetry why it's important if I myself have ambivalent feelings about it?

I thought about this often while I waked my dogs and this is what I came up with:

Above all else, poetry can inspire a love of words and language and connection with others. Poems are meant to be shared, some out loud, some in silence. Poems connect us or make us feel connected. But, a poem can also be like eating a bag of potato chips or watching a commercial on TV - not necessarily nourishing or inspiring, but sometimes tasty and entertaining. Not all poetry has to be a complex gourmet meal, a Russian novel or a foreign film. It can be short and sweet and funny. Most kid's poetry is. Think of the great Shel Silverstein, who, admittedly, has a very nice subversive streak. And Jack Prelutsky, another children's poet with a long shelf life, and also served as the first Children's Poet Laureate. Then there is the wonderful Mary Ann Hoberman, also with a very long writing life and also the second Children's Poet Laureate (look for a review of current Children's Poet Laureate J Patrick Lewis'sWorld Rat Day: Poems About Real Holidays You've Never Heard Of on April 4th - which happens to be World Rat Day) who recently expressed this thought in an interview and passed it on to share here,

"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 readers are intimidated by poetry because it can be mysterious and complex and benefits from analyzing. But I also think that we shouldn't shy away from those more profound poems either. These poems can be windows and doors to new thoughts and ideas. Much of the poetry written for children is bright, cheerful and shiny. Happily read and easily digested. However, there is also a lot of poetry for children that does give more pause for thought. There is poetry that is like a warm, ripe raspberry bursting in your mouth. There are poems that, after reading, leave you feeling like you have lifted a curtain and glimpsed another world. There are poems that MAKE YOU THINK. But in a good way, not the intimidating, "what does this really mean?"way. Hopefully, I have picked some of those to share with you over the course of this month. And, I know I have picked some of the bright, shiny poems that we all love to read as well. As Elizabeth Hague Sword, editor of A Child's Anthology of Poetry writes at the end of her introduction, "I hope this book opens "magic casements" for everyone who reads these poems. Whether a child's interest lies in a poem's words, story, rhythm or rhyme, poetry can foster a lifelong love of the language. This is a gift beyond measure." I couldn't agree more!

Below is a chunk from am essay at POETS.org that I hope you will find inspiring if you feel like you need more signposts on the poetry path. I have also included a link to another great piece from their site titled, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Poetry by Bill Zavatsky. I hope you will read and write poems with your children this month and maybe even share them with us at books4yourkids.com! I've left some spots open at the end of our poem-a-day month in case anyone wants to share. Accompanying artwork and photos welcome!!

Serious Play: Reading Poetry with Children

"Play is what we want to do. Work is what we have to do." said W. H. Auden

It is a simple fact that some children are more drawn to words and literature than others. Sometimes all it takes is the influence of the right person or book at the right moment, to tap something that is set to blossom inside--a love of language, of the sound or meaning of words, of their look on the page. But it is critically important for all children that the right opportunities, the right people, be there when the moment is at hand.The trick is how to translate this energy, once aroused and captured, into the desire to read poetry seriously, to do the intellectual work necessary to gain a basic mastery of the literary art, just as one does, say, with math, biology, or Spanish. There are several crucial components which apply equally to many fields of knowledge: natural affinity, family, school, and community.
Often the first of these opportunities is the influence of family. How many of us can't remember a song that our parents sung, a book or a poem that was read to us countless times, or a favorite bedtime story? At that intersection of love and language is poetry. Naomi Shihab Nye urges us to "remember the dignity of daily affirmation, whatever one does--the mother speaking to the child is also a poem."

After the home comes the classroom, a frequent stumbling block for poetry. Any subject--even school itself--can be characterized as "liver and onions" by a student who isn't turned on to the excitement of learning. Although many teachers were raised to believe that poetry was an obscure, inaccessible, and unpalatable art, just as many understand its intrinsic value, but want guidance on how to approach it in class: recipes for poetry.

Finally, there is the world around us. Adrienne Rich noted: "Poetry reflects on the quality of life, on us as we are in process on this earth, in our lives, in our relationships, in our communities." It's hard to overestimate the importance of community to poetry. Once a love for poetry has been established, and some understanding has been acquired of the art, we need to have the opportunity to read and share and respond to poetry in new ways.

The above image was created for National Poetry Month, 2013 and is sponsored by The Academy of American Poets. Their website, POETS.org, is a tremendous resource for anyone interested in dipping a toe into the poetry stream or jumping in and getting very wet. They also have a wonderful section For Educators which has essays on teaching, a resource center and and an excerpt from the master Jim Trelease's Read Aloud Handbook, What's Right or Wrong with Poetry. You might also want to visit Poetry Foundation. Both sites has collections of poetry for children (and adults) that you can browse, as well as audio and video clips.



Write 
about your sorrows, 
your wishes, 
your passing thoughts, 
your belief in anything beautiful.

Rainer Maria Rilke
From: Letters to a Young Poet



If you read all the way to the bottom of this piece, THANKS! And thanks for loving words!

3.30.2013

The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook, by Joanne Rocklin, 240 pp, RL 4

The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook 
is NOW IN PAPERBACK!!!

 

Joanne Rocklin surprised and wowed me with her last book, One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street and goes above and beyond with her new book, The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook. Both books are illustrated by the marvelous Chris Buzelli, and I wish there was more of his art inside the books as well. I'll be honest. I usually do not enjoy reading real-life-family-trouble type stories. You know, the kind that usually win the Newbery, like The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron. I read to escape, so I find myself making a concerted effort to stick with a book in which a child struggles with what life has dealt her or him. Also, as main characters, these children often take on layers of personality that sometimes feel disingenuous or not quite real. Perhaps because of my prejudice going in, I find myself (more and more) pleasantly and often enthusiastically surprised by this type of book when I do choose to read it. Joanne Rocklin is one of those authors who inspires a string of laudatory adjectives when I write about her books. As a cat person who deals very badly with the death of my pets, I cringed when I saw the cover for The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook. But, Rocklin was so skilled with her handling of the sometimes heartbreaking events of her last book that I trusted her and began reading with only a bit of trepidation. 
While there are many lives and plot threads that make up One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street, Rocklin streamlines her story in The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook. Nonetheless, as with  One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street, this book is instilled with a deep sense of community and connections between seemingly disparate people. Set in Oakland, CA, The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook is populated by people like Mario and Maria, the Italian and Mexican owners of the improbably named O'Leary's Pizzeria, a family of Swedish and Indian descent, a taffy making Grandma and a "nice old African-American man with young eyes and an oxygen tank." Rocklin takes the seemingly simple event of a sick stray cat and tells the story of the many lives touched by him, weaving them into a beautiful, moving book. Besides the village of loving adults watching out for the main character and her brother, what makes The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook so readable (and tolerable during the sad parts) is the strong voice of the narrator. Telling us about herself, Oona Armstrong says that she's a ten-year-old who likes to "dip my french fries in vinegar. I love when the sun shines through spiderwebs. My best friend is Riya. I love my little brother so much my heart hurts. I like music and dancing." And, she is also an inventor and a good noticer. When Oona learns that Mario is an autodidact (and what an autodidact is) she says, 

I would like to be an autodidact, too - shorten my hours at school, learn whatever I like, whenever and from whomever I like. Kind of like a school furlough . . . I will stay in my room and learn everything I need online by myself. And I'm sure I can convince Gramma Dee to sneak in tons of books, too, along with my meals. Gramma Dee loves sharing books and discussing them.

Oona is also a good story teller, something she inherited from her father, The Great Rebus-Maker and Whopper-Teller. Since her dad died two years earlier, Oona has made it her job to teach her little brother Fred to read using rebus skills learned from her dad, to comfort him by telling him stories and to always wear her dad's Oakland Raiders sweatshirt. Every single day. Like most kids, Oona wants to make sense of her world and she has quite a few theories to help her along. My favorite is her "Rainbow Whopper Theory," which is a color-coded system of ranking stories or, as Oona says, "lies, plain and simple." As the plot of The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook unfolds, Oona's stories and lies begin to overlap and she struggles to cope with Zook's failing health and the secret she has been keeping for the last two years. 

Oona has her reasons for keeping Zook's origins secret. When she found him (behind O'Leary's, which is also famous for fried zucchinni, thus his name) he was wearing a collar with a tag on it that had his name, address and a diamond on it. He was starving, dirty and ragged and had a BB lodged under his fur. And he was named Mud, which Oona insists is a dumb name for a cat when she is making her case for the reasons why she kept his origins secret. Convinced that Zook/Mud's former owner is a villain who shoots cats and gives them dumb names, she sometimes stakes out his house and glares at him, bolstering her decision. Also, Zook arrived at a time when Oona's father was dying of cancer. The one specific memory Oona shares of her father and this time is the day that she and her mother tucked Zook into a picnic basket and snuck him into the hospital for a visit. That was also the day that Oona's dad died. When Zook's kidneys begin to fail and he has to stay at the vet's Oona soothes the sensitive Fred (and herself) by telling him that cats have nine lives and Zook will be fine. Fred wants to know how many lives Zook has used up and, because five is Fred's favorite number, Oona tells him that Zook is on his fifth life and then begins telling him the magical, fantastical, suspenseful stories of his four other lives before he came to them.

Rocklin adds another layer to The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook with Dylan, the Villain, Terri's new boyfriend. The two meet at a party at Riya's and Oona is stricken to see the Villain at her best friend's house and talking to her mother. As their relationship progresses, Oona is convinced that she has to put and end to it and force Dylan to admit that his is the cruel, former owner of Zook. Things don't go as Oona planned and get progressively worse. Dylan earns Oona's trust by using his nursing skills to allow Zook to live at home and seemingly thrive, promising Zook will get better. Of this, Oona says, 

Happy-ending times happen all the time, but you have to be a good noticer, or they'll just pass you by. You can look back on your life and think, 'Hey, that was one of them. I think.' But it's so much better to catch them like a fastball, AT THE EXACT MOMENT they're happening. I've been catching more and more happy-ending times lately.

However, when it becomes clear that Zook is suffering and cannot go on. Knowing that Zook will have to go back to the vet, she says, "I wish I could invent a happy-ending room spray or something. I wish I had the power to make happy endings happen whenever I want to in real life, not just in stories." Oona feels betrayed by Dylan for promising Zook would get better and Terri feels betrayed by him when he suggests she let Oona be there when Zook is put down. In the end, though, Oona is there holding Zook, observing, "it wasn't like putting Zook 'down,' I'm thinking. It was like sending Zook up and away. Up and away and out of that tired old body filled with pain, which smells so familiar when I kiss it one last time. It smells like our house and my sweatshirt, and because of that, a little bit like my dad." When the time comes to tell Fred that Zook died, Oona has to also explain why he doesn't get to live out his last four lives, telling him that everyone, even cats, only has one life to live. Then she cries. Oona cries for Zook, for her father and for "all those extra lives nobody gets to live."

When Fred disappears and is found hours later in the spot where Oona found Zook, waiting for him to come back and live his other four lives, Oona tries to help him make sense of things, telling him that Zook will come back, just not in the exact same place. She thinks, 

there must be a special color for a whopper you really, really want to believe, and sometimes you do. You imagine that if you tell it, even to yourself, maybe it will come true. A whopper about living things having lots of lives, for instance. Or a whopper about someone being a villain so you can keep his sweet, singing cat. Or a promise like the one Dylan made, that Zook would get well. It's the color of a wish, if a wish had a color. Maybe it's a color that's only seen in outer space. Or maybe it's multicolored, wrapped up like a birthday gift.

Rocklin ends The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook with everyone, except Dylan, who has not been part of their lives since the scene at the vet, at O'Leary's eating pizza. Mario and Maria have been teaching Oona and Fred how to make pizza and everyone is sampling their pies. Dylan arrives carrying a wicker basket with a kitten inside and she is orange and white, just maybe the color of a wish.

Best of all, Rocklin ends the book with a chapter titled, "The Theory of Story-Making From Oona and the Great Rebus-Maker and Whopper-Teller," which has eight different points that will help young writers weave a tale.

3.29.2013

Again! by Emily Gravett


Again! is the newest book from Emily Gravett. I fell in love with Gravett's picture books when I read her first, Orange Pear Apple Bear, which came out in 2007 an makes a fantastic board book! Made up of only five words and gentle pencil lines and water color washes, Orange Pear Apple Bear is a stellar example of a seemingly simple picture book that makes a lasting impression. Gravett's books range from the seemingly simple (Orange Pear Apple Bear, Blue Chameleon, Monkey and Me) to picture books with long narratives and detailed manipulatives like flaps, folds, postcards, die cuts and more (Meerkat Mail, Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears, Spells). And, of course, there is The Rabbit Problem, which I reviewed back in 2011. Every book is beautifully drawn and illustrated with a a palette that somehow manages to be vibrant and gentle at the same time.

With Again! and her story of a little dragon who loves his bedtime book, Gravett delivers something in between - a seemingly simple story with a lot going on. Mama dragon reads little dragon (no assigned gender for this little dragon, thanks Emily!) a bedtime story. Little dragon wants it AGAIN! The text of the bedtime story is printed in Again! (see illustrations below) and it changes as Mama dragon gets sleepier and less able to read and little dragon gets more and more frustrated. As this plays out, the text of the bedtime story changes also (see below again) until little dragon does what dragons do. The end results can be seen on the back over of the book, which is a bit charred and has a clever little hole in it... Which is one other thing that I love about Emily Gravett's books - the production value. I always take of the dust jacket to see if there are any extras and Gravett never disappoints. If you remove the dust jacket of Again! you will find a beautiful hardcover that looks exactly like the cover of little dragon's book!
  




More books by Emily Gravett! I always intend to only share the covers of her other books, but I love her illustrations so much I tend to get carried away. Sadly, Cave Baby, written by the amazing Julia Donaldson, and Matilda's Cat are not available in the US - yet.















 
The Rabbit ProblemSpells


Source: Review Copy

Benjamin Bear in Bright Ideas!, by Philippe Coudray, RL 1.5




When Philippe Courdray's Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking was released in August of 2011, it was a big hit in my home, one of the first books my son took to bed with him and actually READ instead of just looking at the pictures. Besides being yet another superb book from TOON Books, and a great beginning to read book, Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking is a smart, funny book that I have since heard described as The Far Side for kids. If Mo Willems's Elephant & Piggie can be described as driven by a sort of manic, slapstick humor, then Benjamin Bear and his smaller forest friends are more philosophical and thoughtfully serious-minded in their silliness. And, in the end, their silliness (or fuzzy thinking) usually makes some kind of sense. Philippe Coudray makes readers laugh, but he also makes them think about why they are laughing.

As I said in my review of Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking, succinctly describing the antics of Benjamin and his friends in writing is tough. It's better to let them speak for themselves. In that spirit, I share with you two pages from Benjamin Bear in Bright Ideas! .


Source: Review Copy

Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking, written and illustrated by Philippe Coudray, 31 pp, RL 1.5

BENJAMIN BEAR in Fuzzy Thinking 
is NOW IN PAPERBACK!!!


Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking

TOON BOOKS hits another home run with their latest offering, Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking by Philippe Coudray. This book had me and my son in stitches when read it together. If you can imagine a little bit of the zaniness of Elephant & Piggie rubbing off on the bear from I Want My Hat Back who has chosen to befriend rabbits, not eat them, then you can begin to get a feel for Benjamin and how he operates. The book is made up of thirty-one single page adventures that range from subtle to deadpan to silly to sweet. I think that Benjamin really speaks for himself, so please check out the images below. Although this review is brief, do not consider this a reflection of my feelings for the book, which will always be special to me. The night after we first read Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking my son took it to bed with him and actually READ the words and not just the pictures as he is wont to do. It made my heart sing a little to wake him up the next morning and find the book tangled amongst his sheets!

The TOON BOOKS website has a great selection of things to do and use and is really worth taking a look. I was drawn to the TOON Into Reading Kit that gives you a printable spread of scenes from the book that need to be cut out and placed in sequential order. There is also a two panel spread that is blank for readers to create their own comics! This is one of a really amazing selection of resources to go with every book they publish. There is also the CarTOON Maker, which lets you make your own cartoon online using characters and scenes from TOON books. Finally, there is an Online Reader which lets you read three of the TOON books in Chinese, Russian, French, Spanish and, of course, English.


All images copyright (c) 2011 RAW Junior,LLC/TOON Books®. All rights reserved.

Barry's Best Buddy by Renée French




Something I especially love about TOON Books is the exposure I get to the works of acclaimed cartoonists from all over the world and the slightly left of center sensibility they bring to the beginning reader graphic novels they create for this publisher that is now five years old! Bringing these author-artists who have thriving careers creating works for adult into the children's book world has added (a much needed) breath of fresh air - especially when it comes to beginning readers. Eisner Award nominee Renée French is yet another of these creators bringing her style and sensibility to TOON Books.

Barry's Best Buddy (Level 1) is a classic odd couple story which makes for some of the best beginning reader books. And I have to say, Barry's best buddy has to be one of the BEST creations I have seen in  long time. Barry's best buddy is Polarhog, a lumpy, toothy, kindhearted fellow who is good at planning surprises and keeping a secret.

Polarhog arrives at Barry's house one morning telling him to get up because he has a surprise for him. Polarhog also notes the dreary appearance of Barry's house, saying, "Your HOUSE puts me to sleep. What color is it? Snooze?"



Polarhog leads Barry, who is a little bit blasé, maybe even a little bit grumpy, on a walk through the woods. Passing a hat store, Polarhog convinces Barry he will look SO GOOD in a hat, like the King of France. The two friends make a few more stops, including a visit to the ice cream store and the appearance of a mysterious meatball. Along the way they keep passing a line of ants who are clearly up to something. But what? That is the surprise that Polarhog has for Barry when they make their way back to his (no longer Snooze colored) house, making Barry's Best Buddy a new favorite among favorites for me.




Just in case this wasn't enough, check out this perfectly scored (and narrated) book trailer. It will definitely pique your child's interest!




Source: Review Copy

3.26.2013

Modern Cartooning: Essential Techniques for Drawing Today's Popular Cartoons by Christopher Hart



Modern Cartooning: Essential Techniques for Drawing Today's Popular Cartoons by Christopher Hart is technically an adult book. But it is SO easy to use you don't even have to know how to read to follow Hart's step-bystep instructions. However, readers will definitely benefit from Hart's extensive knowledge and straightforward style. Hart is the author of over 150 how to draw books for kids and adults and he has a series of "how to" videos on YouTube for the serious illustrator. I got this book with my eight-year-old in mind. He loves to draw and he loves to watch cartoons. And, if he's anything like his older brother, his interest in drawing will taper off in a few years and I want to do whatever I can to prevent that from happening. The word "modern" in the title means that the characters in Hart's book look like those your kids are seeing on shows like Phineas and Ferb and Fairly Odd Parents.



Hart breaks his book into nine sections, beginning with the basic head shape, above, moving on to facial features. My son needed a picture of his family for school and, rather than force me to scrounge up a photograph of all five of us, I suggested he draw us as cartoons. He had a blast flipping through Modern Cartooning: Essential Techniques for Drawing Today's Popular Cartoons and finding and drawing the characters that look most like his siblings and parents. Hart goes on to cover facial expressions and "Moving Beyond the Basic Head Shape" with sections that cover "Small Changes - Big Results," and "Adding Extreme Visual Effects," which are really fun to explore.


Hart covers body types (including the elusive "rubbery torso" and "dorky dad") and details like shoes, stances and using clothing to define body shape. A final chapter takes artists to the next level, showing how to create a scene as well as how to draw in a style that has an edge to it, making things look stylish. Modern Cartooning: Essential Techniques for Drawing Today's Popular Cartoons is definitely a book you can give to a seven or eight-year-old and know that it will be used for years to come. Or, maybe you really do have a budding artist on your hands and Christopher Hart's books will be the first step down the road to a job with Pixar!

Source: Review Copy





3.25.2013

The Popularity Papers: The Awesomely Awful Melodies of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang by Amy Ignatow, 208 pp, RL 5



The Popularity Papers: The Awesomely Awful Melodies of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang by Amy Ignatow marks the fifth book in the series since it started in August of 2010. On the off chance that you are not familiar with this series, please read my review of the first book in the series, Research for the Social Improvement and General Betterment of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham Chang in which I go on at length about all the wonderful, inspirational, thoughtful, creative things that Amy is doing with this series. And please note that books #1, #2 and #3 are now in paperback! If you are familiar with the series, The Popularity Papers: The Awesomely Awful Melodies of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang begins three days after the end of book 4, The Popularity Papers: The Rocky Road Trip of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang. This is one of the few series that I have continued to read and review on my blog because I love it so much and want to keep you all up to date on the latest addition to the series and hopefully expose more people to these amazing books.

Sadly, I couldn't find any images from The Popularity Papers: The Awesomely Awful Melodies of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang to share with you here, so I'll just jump right in. The Popularity Papers: The Awesomely Awful Melodies of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang takes off with plans to celebrate Lydia and Julie's birthdays, both at the end of August, and the countdown to the first day of seventh grade. The girls decide to forgo birthday parties since every one is usually out of town anyway, and cash in by asking for expensive gifts. Julie wants a laptop of her own so she can learn computer graphics and make her own comic books. Lydia wants a guitar and music lessons so she can start a band. And she wants Julie to ask for a a drum kit. Lydia proves persuasive, convincing Julie that a having a band just might make them popular. It seems like the girls finally might have a recipe for success. Roland joins the band playing his hardingfele and things seem to be looking up. Of course, there are going to be bumps along the road, though. Lydia's guitar teacher, a crusty older man who insists on being called Maestro Merritt, makes her life difficult. As does Jane. When Jane and Chuck started dating, Jane, Gretchen and Lisa stopped talking to Lydia and Julie because Jane was insanely jealous of Chuck's friendship with Lydia. When Chuck and Jane break up after school starts, Chuck wants to be friends with Lydia again and she is not too sure she wants to reciprocate. Then Jane starts talking to Lydia again also! (Man, Ignatow has a way with middle school machinations, making me so happy I survived it...) When word of the girls' band leaks out, Lisa and Gretchen BEG Lydia and Julie to invite her to join so that she will STOP talking about Chuck incessantly and they grudgingly agree, especially when they learn that her mother built s soundproof room and recording studio in the basement to send demos of Jane to producers.

Jane and her drama adds a layer of crazy to Julie and Lydia's lives that almost spins out of control several times, from their first gig at a six-year-old's princess birthday party to the Macramé Owls's  official debut at a party at Julie's house that gets out of control. On top of it all, Lydia's mom is blissfully happy and her sister Melody returns from building homes in Guatemala a completely different person - one who is disturbingly kind, grateful and loving... Oh yeah, and Julie gets her first kiss!

As always, Lydia and Julie are confused, misguided, occasionally mistaken and thoughtful, kind and generous under pressure. These are two really great kids and I enjoy watching them grow up. Hopefully Amy Ignatow will take these friends through the end of eighth grade and maybe even into the summer before freshman year!

Source: Review Copy





Sneaky Art: Crafty Surprises to Hide in Plain Sight, by Marthe Jocelyn, RL : ALL AGES




First, I fell in love with SNEAKY ART: Crafty Surprises to Hide in Plain Sight by Marthe Jocelyn. Then, when I sat down to write this review, I realized (dramatic gasp) that Marthe Jocelyn is the author of one of my favorite books, Mabel Riley: A Reliable Record of Humdrum, Peril and Romance, which, to use a completely reductionist shorthand, a historical companion to Anne of Green Gables, being set in Canada in 1901. Mabel is every bit as expressive, intelligent, brave and boisterous as Anne Shirley and, coming of age in the era of great societal shifts around women's rights, very interesting. 

SNEAKY ART: Crafty Surprises to Hide in Plain Sight is not your average craft book in more ways than one. The subtitle, Crafty Surprises to Hide in Plain Sight refers to temporary art for public places. The spirit of the projects in this book, most of which call for things you probably already have around the house, from sticky notes to magazines to pennies, pipe cleaners and empty juice boxes, is to leave these little creations in public places for people to find and hopefully get a smile from. But, because of the nature of the crafts and the supplies they call for, this is the PERFECT rainy day book and many of the projects can be completed by kids as young as three or four. Marthe introduces her book and the concept of sneaky art by saying, "We all like surprises, don't we? Getting and giving them. This book is a how-to manual for making art projects from easily found materials. The surprise comes from where you put your creation." She goes on to remind the reader that sneaky art is NOT, "mean, defacing, ugly, hurtful, messy or permanent. Sneaky art is NOT marking up someone else's property." It is, "funny, clever, thoughtful, temporary, subversive, playful and surprising." After flipping through a few pages, I was already envisioning a craft-session followed by a trip to the park or the beach to plant our sneaky art, sit back and watch people react to it.


I had a tough time finding images from the book to share with you. There is a downloadable PDF of Sample Projects on the Candlewick Press website, but my favorite craft isn't among them. So, you are going to have to bear with me while I describe it. FORTUNE COOKIES is such a brilliant, easy, quick craft I can't wait to make. You take cupcake papers, the more colorful the better, and fold them in half then put a tuck in the middle to make it look like a fortune cookie, insert the fortune and glue the edges. 

I have always loved tiny things, and there are quite a few crafts in SNEAKY ART: Crafty Surprises to Hide in Plain Sight to make me happy! Cork Critters and Sink Boats and matchboxes turned into tiny little beds are a few fun things I can't wait to try. There is also a craft for making tiny little pennant garlands to tuck away in funny places like lunch boxes, picnic baskets, the refrigerator, using wrapping paper and dental floss or, even little images of clothing cut out of magazines for a tiny clothes line. 

But, I haven't even touched on the silly, funny surprise crafts. Paper Plate Peekers are funny faces cut from magazines and recreated on plates that you hide in surprising places. POST A POEM uses sticky notes, stamps and magazine clippings to make a poem using several notes that can be mixed and matched and left in various places. LIBRARY SHOUTS are another great idea, but if I go on like this then you won't have much reason to buy this book, which you REALLY REALLY SHOULD! It's only $12.99 (or less) and is PERFECT for play dates and parties and anytime you want to do something fun with your kids or just keep them busy!

Source: Review Copy