Showing posts from April, 2011

Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie, written by Julie Sternberg, illustrations by Matthew Cordell, 120 pp

I resisted the lure  of  Julie Sternberg's   Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie for a few weeks. But it kept staring out at me from the top shelf of the bookstore where I work. People would walk by it and read the title out loud and laugh. Then I would remember how much I loved illustrator Matthew Cordell's picture book, Trouble Gum for both its humor and humanity and how much the pigs in the story reminded me of the truly brilliant author and illustrator William Steig . I even read about the  Evolution of a Cover over at Mishaps and Adventures , the blog of the art director for the publisher, Amulet/Abrams . What was holding me back? I just didn't want to read another book about a little girl. Ridiculous, I know, since the job I have given myself with this blog is to do that very thing. But, sometimes I just get so tired of real life and the stories of real kids. And I was tired. But not too tired, fortunately.   Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie  is an absolute gem and a

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, 227 pp, RL 5

Out of the Dust , Karen Hesse's 1998 Newbery award winning book, is narrated in verse by fourteen-year old Billie Jo Kelby. From the Winter of 1934 to Autumn 1935, Hesse follows a painful and difficult time in the narrator's life that mirrors the hardship, destruction and decimation brought on by the worst ecological disaster in American history. Although beautifully written, Billie Jo's personal losses and the brutal, grinding facts of life in the Dust Bowl are almost too much to grasp. Two things I have found myself wondering as I read verse novels is, "Why tell this story in the form of poetry?" and, "Why do most verse novels seem to tell such sad stories?" When I read a verse novel I feel like I am looking at a photo album and each poem inside is a snapshot capturing a moment in time. Distilling a person's story down to 50 or 75 moments makes it more intense and more vivid for the reader, perhaps even easier to process when the story is fill

The Storm in the Barn, written and illustrated by Matt Phelan, 201 pp, RL 4

Matt Phelan's powerful graphic novel from 2009, The Storm in the Barn , is as intense and an ultimately as hopeful as Karen Hesse's verse novel set during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, Out of the Dust . Where Hesse's novel creates a snapshot with the words in her poems, Phelan's book is filled with images, leaving us to imagine the words that go with the pictures. While the text in  The Storm in the Barn  is sparse, when employed it makes an impact. Although the story that he is telling has moments that are cruel and harsh, Phelan's artistic style is gentle, his color palette soft and washed out like the land. And, although the eyes of his characters are most often just black dots, Phelan manages to portray a wide range of emotions on their faces over the course of the story.  Jack Clark was seven the last time he saw rain. Eleven now, his family's farm, livelihood and health is being torn under by the unending, relentless dust storms sweeping the prairi

Talking Like the Rain, selected by XJ and Dorothy Kennedy, illustrated by Jane Dyer

Talking Like the Rain: A Read-to-me Book of Poems , newly in paperback, is selected by longtime poets and anthologists of poetry, XJ and Dorothy M Kennedy and illustrated by the heir to Tasha Tudor and Beatrix Potter's delicate watercolor tradition, Jane Dyer . If you can only buy (or make room on your shelves for) three poetry books for children, this should be the first one you buy as soon as your baby is born. (The other two are anything by Shel Silverstein and A Children's Anthology of Poetry , to be purchased and read in that order.) Jane Dyer's illustrations make this collection infinitely irresistible to little eyes and the poems make it irresistible to little ears. The poems are divided into sections that include subjects such as, Play, Families, Just for Fun, Birds, Bugs and Beasts, Rhymes and Songs, Magic and Wonder, Wind and Weather, Calendars and Clocks and Day and Night. Contributing poets include Jack Prelutsky, Edward Lear, Langston Hughes, Robert Lou

Aleutian Sparrow by Karen Hesse, illustrations by Evon Zerbetz, 156 pp, RL 5

Aleutian Sparrow is Karen Hesse's second verse novel, coming five years after Out of the Dust , which won the Newbery in 1998. Hesse's book is narrated by Vera, an Aleutian girl who has moved from the town of Kashega to the town of Unalaska on Unalaska Island so that she can continue her schooling. The book begins in May of 1942 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and month before the Japanese invade Kiska and Attu, the westernmost of the Aleutian Islands. Within days of the first Japanese attack, most of the inhabitants west of Unimak are evacuated and sent to an internment camp, first in Wrangell, Alaska, and then further south to Ketchikan.  Aleutian Sparrow  follows Vera, her friends and family and the other evacuees as they struggle to adapt and survive their years of internment which are filled with prejudice and neglect from the government that has taken over their land and their homes. Vera's story and the story of her people is a moving one, one that I knew nothing


This is the poem in my pocket today! What did you have in yours? Substantial Planes it doesn't matter to me if poems mean nothing there's no floor to the universe and yet one walks the floor. A.R. Ammons Included in the book:  Poem in Your Pocket for Young Poets: 100 Poems to Rip Out and Read

heartbeat by Sharon Creech, 180 pp, RL 4

heartbeat by Sharon Creech is her second verse novel, coming after Love That Dog and before  Hate That Cat . Whereas Creech's other verse novels are about an exploration of the self through poetry,  heartbeat  is a book about the exploration of the self written in poetic form. Creech tells the story of Annie's transitional twelfth year of life over the course of fifty-two poems. Her mother is pregnant and her grandfather, who lives with her family, is slowly losing his memory. Annie worries for her mother and the baby growing inside her - she calls it an alien baby and dreams that when  it is finally born they will find a rabbit, mouse or small horse instead of a human. She also worries about her ailing grandfather, looking up to him and taking care of him at the same time. Outside of her home, Annie struggles to maintain a friendship with Max, whom she has known all her life.  Max is determined and often angry, thinking that Annie is "spoiled" for having tw

Love That Dog by Sharon Creech, 86 pp, RL 4

A love letter to the importance of poetry and how creative expression can help one cope with overwhelming emotions, Love That Dog by Sharon Creech is just perfect. And brilliant. And, for certain adult readers, probably the impetus for a good cry. I was intrigued by this book, which is about a boy who, with the help of a remarkable teacher, deals with the loss of his dog through poetry and finds a whole new world of words opens up to him, when it was released in 2001. The only other verse novel for kids I was familiar with at the time was Karen Hesse's Newbery winning Out of the Dust which I had read and loved. In 2004 we got our first dog and after that I knew there was almost no way I would ever read  Love That Dog . I don't deal well with loss. In fact, I even get pretty upset if I think I have lost a book, so reading a book about losing a beloved dog was definitely very low on my list no matter what I felt about Sharon Creech and verse novels. But, things change and Nat

Hate that Cat by Sharon Creech, 125 pp, RL 4

Published in 2008, Hate That Cat finds Jack a year older and Miss Stretchberry teaching a new grade - his! I didn't think that   Sharon Creech  could add to or improve upon Love That Dog , but she does, and how. Adding layers to Jack's story, Creech includes more poetry, poetic terminology, verse novels and, once again,  Mr. Walter Dean Myers ! As Jack, committed cat hater, writes after learning that Mr Myers owns a cat and that his grown son, Christopher Myers has written a book called Black Cat ,                                           I felt like                                         Mr Walter Dean Myers'                                         whole family                                         must be in my brain. Creech also introduces the character of Uncle Bill, a college professor who, besides being allergic to cats, has opinions about poetry and William Carlos Williams, specifically.                                         Uncle Bill says Mr WCW