If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson

I am very embarrassed to say that this is the first book by  Kadir Nelson I have reviewed here. Nelson is an award winning artist who's work can be seen on postage stamps and New Yorker covers. Nelson has also won many awards for the children's books he has illustrated and written. His authorial debut, We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball won the Seibert Award, the Coretta Scott King Award for Authors and the Coretta Scott King Honor for Illustrators.  Nelson has illustrated books about Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, Nelson Mandela, Joe Lewis, Duke Ellington, Harriet Tubman and Michael Jordan. He has illustrated picture books written by Will Smith and Spike Lee. And, while the message of Nelson's newest picture book, If You Plant a Seed, is as serious as any other he has covered, it is also beautifully simple in its presentation. On top of it all, If You Plant a Seed is one of those rare picture books with a message that not overtly didactic.

Using gardening as a metaphor, Nelson's sparse text, complimented by rich oil paintings, powerfully illustrates the idiom, "You reap what you sow." The first few pages of If You Plant a Seed show a rabbit and a mouse planting seeds and tending to their garden, through rain and shine, night and day.

When they are about to enjoy the fruits of their labor, a flock of birds descends, tentatively, wordlessly sending a message. I have read this book out loud to several classes, across all grades, and I love watching my students's faces as I show them these pages. Nelson's animals, while slightly anthropomorphized, communicate with body language and are incredibly expressive. My favorite page in the book is a close-up of the flock of birds making their inquiry. If You Plant a Seed goes on to show what happens when you plant a seed of selfishness and how sweet the fruits of kindness can be, ending on the perfect note. If You Plant a Seed is one of those books that you will find yourself reading over and over, marveling at the wisdom of the story and the stunning illustrations. 

 A few of the amazing books illustrated - and written and illustrated - by Kadir Nelson

Source: Review Copy

Keep a Poem in Your Pocket by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers


(print, clip,pocket and share!)
Keep A Poem in Your Pocket
 by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers

Keep a poem in your pocket
And a picture in your head
And you'll never feel lonely
At night when you're in bed.
The little poem will sing to you
 A dozen dreams to dance to you
At night when you're in bed.
Keep a picture in your pocket
And a poem in your head
And you'll never feel lonely
At night when you're in bed.

thanks to reader jennybell for suggesting this poem!


The Maine Coon's Haiku and Other Poems for Cat Lovers by Mihcael J. Rosen, illustrated by Lee White

I love cats and I love haiku, so it makes sense that I find The Maine Coon's Haiku and Other Poems for Cat Lovers by Michael J. Rosen and illustrated by Lee White absolutely charming and fascinating. The Maine Coon's Haiku and Other Poems for Cat Lovers consists of 20 poems, one each for a different breed of cat, divided into four sections that any cat owner will immediately recognize: Inside, Outside, Inside and Outside. If you are a cat owner and know anything about haiku, then you know that felines are the perfect subject for this style of poetry.

Rosen begins The Maine Coon's Haiku and Other Poems for Cat Lovers with the Maine Coon. As the owner of a cat that is part Maine Coon, a cat who has survived a coyote attack and regularly brings his catch to eat at my bedside, this haiku resonated with me:

Maine Coon
crouched before the couch,
suddenly, cat has all night
for just one sound: mouse

However, my favorite poem for its pure expression of "cattitude" and the spirit of haiku is this one:

curled up on your book
cat won't care what happens next
now's the only page

Rosen captures other moments of perfect catness like the, "pink-petal toes" and the "spring's dew-heavy grass / prints" that quiet paws leave behind as well as the way the Norwegian Forest cat is like descending fog.

Happily, Rosen includes a wonderful addition of a glossary of sorts that gives a paragraph of information about each breed, including personality types. Rosen includes fascinating information for each of these cats, like the fact that Maine Coons love "frolicking in water" and the way that Siamese princesses used the tails of their cats to store their rings, causing royal breeders to attempt to breed kinks and corkscrews into the tails to keep the rings fro slipping off!

The Maine Coon's Haiku and Other Poems for Cat Lovers is a highly enjoyable, highly readable book that, naturally, makes a great gift for cat and haiku lovers alike. It's also a wonderful way to introduce young readers to this beautiful form of poetry.

More books by Michael Rosen:

Source: Review Copy

Edgar Allan Poe's Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Michael Slack

J. Patrick Lewis, former U.S. Children's Poet Laureate and author of Take Two! A Celebration of Twins and World Rat Day: Poems About Real Holidays You've Never Heard Of, among many others, had written Edgar Allan Poe's Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems, illustrated by Michael Slack. In Edgar Allan Poe's Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems, not only does Lewis parody poems by greats like Poe, Whitman, Edward Lear, William Carlos Williams, Langston Hughes and Shel Silverstein, but he weaves in math problems! There is even a Who's Who of the poets parodied with brief biographies.

Lewis does a great job of following the rhyme and structure of the original poems, Silverstein's being a perfect example. Written in the style of, Boa Constrictor, a girl is being eaten by a hippopotamus. Eating 4% of the narrator at a time, the math problem asks how many bites will it take?

Fractions, percentages, decimals, money and area, along with addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, are skills needed to solve the problems, for which the answers are printed upside down on the page. Michael Slack's illustrations are colorful and humorous and make a great addition to Lewis's poems.

Source: Review Copy

More books by J. Patrick Lewis:

Take Two! A Celebration of Twins

World Rat Day: Poems About Real Holidays You've Never Heard Of


The Unbelievable Top Secret Diary of Pig by Emer Stamp, 177 pp, RL 3

The Unbelievable Top Secret Diary of Pig 

The farmyard humor in The Unbelievable Top Secret Diary of Pig by Emer Stamp made me laugh out loud the way that watching any episode of Shuan the Sheep does and the potty humor made me laugh out loud the way any kind of fart in general does. While I am definitely embarrassed to admit that farts and fart jokes still crack me up, I think that I am not alone in this. I also think that there is a right way and a wrong way to employ (deploy?) fart humor and, among many other fantastic things, Emer Stamp uses her fart humor in just the right way in her debut novel, The Unbelievable Top Secret Diary of Pig. When Pig finds a "little book and a chewed old pen" in the garbage heap, he begins keeping a diary, written in Pig and the smelly story begins!

http://librarymice.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/pig1.pngOne aspect of The Unbelievable Top Secret Diary of Pig that, like laughing at fart jokes, is a bit embarrassing for me to admit I find funny, is the faux bad grammar that is a result of Pig writing in Pig language. It's comparable to the LOLcats/I Can Has Cheezeburger internet phenomena, if that means anything to you. If it doesn't, don't worry, young readers will not be ruined by exposure to Pig. Pig uses a handful of incorrect verb tenses, adds an "s" in the wrong place and spells words wrong on occasion. His best friend on the farm is Duck, who, like Pig, is also an orphan. Pig's nemeses are the EVIL CHICKENS, lead by the SUPER EVIL CHICKEN. Why are they so evil? They have nasty, evil little eyes that are black, "like little dark holes that is made of pure evil" and they steal Pig's slop and peck him on the head when Pig shouts at them to stop. They also steal Duck's special food and hop one cow's back when she lies down to sleep and poop all over her. In retaliation, Pig regularly backs up to the door of the chicken house and lays some "big fat farts" right next to it.

Besides being used as a weapon, farts and manure are used as fuel in The Unbelievable Top Secret Diary of Pig. Turns out the chickens aren't only evil, they are competitive evil geniuses and are building a "trocket." A trocket is a tractor-rocket combo and the chickens across the valley built one and sent it to Mars. As The Unbelievable Top Secret Diary of Pig unfolds, happy-go-lucky Pig, who likes nothing more than slops and scratches on the back from Farmer and spending time with his pal Duck, discovers two horrors. How Pig deals with this and the choices he makes are hilarious, but basically everything about The Unbelievable Top Secret Diary of Pig is hilarious and I found myself reading many passages out loud to my family over breakfast.

But Stamp's humor is more than fart (and poop) jokes. When the EVIL CHICKENS approach Pig to pilot their trocket, Pig notes that they speak Pig "very slowly and very loudly with a silly posh-sounding accent" that makes him want to giggle. My favorite part of The Unbelievable Top Secret Diary of Pig comes when Pig is given a taste of Cow's milk by Farmer. It is so delicious he says, "if I could milk Cow myself, I would be in heaven. In fact, even betters, I would be a cow and then I would be able to milk myself all day long. Only I would have to be a cow with very bendy lags, so as they could bend around and touch my udders."

Stamp grew up on a farm in Devon, England and her first ambition was to be a vet, although she couldn't score good enough grades in biology. Next, she pursued a degree in designing record covers - just as records were giving way to CDs. While she ended up with a career in advertising, I think that her writing debut reflects both her interest in animals and graphic design. While the book design itself is by Ellen Duda, Stamp's illustrations are perfectly matched to the personality of Pig, the narrator/star/diary author and add so much to the book and make for a really excellent website, The Top-Secret Website of Pig where there are some great activities, including the challenge of translating Pig.

Be sure to check out the book trailer and farm visit with Emer Stamp below!

Source: Review Copy


The Dark Gravity Sequence: The Arctic Code by Matthew J. Kirby, 324 pp, RL 4

Matthew J. Kirby is the author of Icefall, a tense mystery set in the Viking Age on an isolated, barren fjord in a small shelter that sits beneath a looming glacier. Danger comes from within and without, but the narrator Solveig, the middle child of the king, is a believable hero with a compelling voice.  I loved Icefall so much I couldn't wait to read a new book from Kirby that revisited a frozen world. The Arctic Code, the first book in the Dark Gravity Sequence, is set in a future world that was plunged into a new Ice Age some ten years earlier. An an ice sheet, miles thick, has been moving south from the Arctic at a rate of 2.7 feet a day in the United States. A mass migration south has resulted in overcrowding in cities like Phoenix, once arid, now experiencing sub-zero days. I especially appreciated the irony of refugee Canadians and Americans hoping for a chance to cross the border into Mexico, where their president promises billions in aid to America. On top of this, G.E.T., the Global Energy Trust, is profiting off an almost monopolistic control of the earth's dwindling energy resources and the study of where to find more. There is even a conspiracy theory that the UN has a plan called the "Preservation Protocol" that will determine which countries get saved in the event of mass-ice-sheet destruction.

However, this is a kid's book and there are more moments of excitement and danger than irony, as there should be. Eleanor Perry is the twelve-year old risk-taking daughter of Dr. Samantha Perry. Hating the politics of G.E.T., Dr. Perry works for one of the few, smaller companies researching energy resources and has been in the Arctic for months. A single parent, (whenever Eleanor does something seemingly crazy, Dr. Perry attributes this quality to the Donor, a person they know nothing about, but one who I suspect might be part of later books in this sequence...) Dr. Perry's brother Jack is taking care of Eleanor as best he can. But, when Dr. Perry is reported lost on an ice sheet and Eleanor gets a series of cryptic messages and files from Dr. Perry on her Sync, a prototype communication device that the two share, with instructions to show this to NO ONE, Eleanor makes a snap decision to head north.

Making one seemingly bad, dangerous choice after another, Eleanor makes her way to Barrow, Alaska, where her mother's team of scientists has joined forces with G.E.T. Kirby is a gifted writer when it comes to capturing the suffocating, frigid feeling of being in an Arctic environment and, even though I read The Arctic Code while sitting on the beach, I was shivering. The mysteries and betrayals deepen in the Arctic and Eleanor finds herself in one amazing situation after another, with Aaron Skinner, the climatologist who initially proved that the Ice Age was approaching, and much quicker than anticipated, now the C.E.O. of G.E.T., gunning for her. Kirby brings two amazing elements into the plot once Eleanor makes it to Alaska, one of which is too good to divulge here. With the help of Finn and Julian, sons of Dr. Powers, Dr, Perry's colleague, Eleanor discovers that a rogue planet has entered our solar system and thrown off Earth's orbit, resulting in the drastic weather. Somehow, this has been kept secret from most of humanity, but that's not the worst discovery Eleanor makes. In the heart of an ice cavern, Eleanor finds the Concentrator, a massive device that is sapping the "telluric current" from Earth's ley lines and sending it to the rogue planet. Who built the Concentrator and where are they now? That is a question for the next book in the sequence...

More books by Matthew J. Kirby:



The Trees by Philip Larkin

The Trees

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread, 
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

- Philip Larkin


Snowball by Shel Silverstein


I made myself a snowball
As perfect as could be.
I thought I'd keep it as a pet
And let it sleep with me.
I made it some pajamas
And a pillow for its head.
Then last night it ran away
But first - it wet the bed.

- Shel Silverstein

(suggested by zoey)


The Clouds by Rosemary Wells

The Clouds

Some clouds fill with sunshine
Some are dark with sorrow.
Some are left from yesterday
And some are for tomorrow.

The clouds go proudly sailing by.
I love their proper names.

Stratus, Nimbus, Cirrus,
Cumulus and James.

Inside this Book (are three books). by Barney Saltzberg

Inside this Book (are three books). is yet another   book with brilliant paper engineering from the master of picture books that playfully inspire creativity, Barney Saltzberg. When I was a kid there wasn't much more exciting than blank pages folded in half and stapled to make a book, and I have students in the library doing this every day. In fact, there is a really neat way to fold a single piece of paper to make an 8 page book and I've included a video at the very bottom of this review. 

Inside this Book (are three books). is narrated by Seymour, the oldest of three siblings. His mother has made three blank books and the siblings have created and illustrated stories in them. As the title indicates, all three of these books are included between the covers, each one a bit smaller than the first, so that it feels like you are reading the actual book each child wrote. But watch Saltzberg's fantastic book trailer below to get a real feel for just how beautifully this concept works.

As if this book-within-a-book concept was not enough, Saltzberg is very thoughtful with what is actually in each book that the siblings write and illustrate giving readers the idea that the blank pages of a book are the perfect place for any idea and accepting of all abilities. Seymour writes about his his feelings, his observations and finishes with a comic strip about a hungry monster.

Fiona's book is next and she is a creative dynamo. An artist and a poet, she fills her pages with rhymes, including a poem about her dog Fleabee. She finishes by telling us that she could write poems from "here to the moon"  but she has run out of room.

The final, smallest book is by Wilbur, who can't read or write yet, so he tells Seymour to write. Wilbur's book is very funny and kids really get that, even though he can't read or write yet, he can tell a story in his own way. I have read Inside this Book (are three books). over and over, across all grades and it is universally loved, like all of Saltzberg's books.

Inside this Book (are three books). should be in every library, every classroom, every child's hands!

More books by Barney Saltzberg:

Source: Review Copy