Monthly Archives: April 2016

Day 112 – This is Sadie

Sadie is a little girl with a big imagination whose days are never long enough for all her adventures, and “This is Sadie” by Sara O’Leary is her story. The book is clever and exuberant, and Ms. O’Leary’s characterization of the imaginative and playful little Sadie (named after her own grandmother) rang true for us. Julie Morstad’s brilliant illustrations are a perfect fit, enhancing the feeling of childlike, carefree joy that Sadie exudes.

For Sadie, a big cardboard box in her room is really a tall ship with which she ventures out on great journeys of exploration. Through the day she pretends to be the Mad Hatter hosting tea, a boy raised by wolves, a mermaid, or a hero in a fairy tale. She climbs trees to chat with birds, uses her wings (because “of course” she has wings) to fly high in the sky before coming back home. Sadie can create amazing things out of all kinds of pedestrian things … boats out of boxes, and castles out of cushions – she’s got that kind of an imagination. More than things, however, she likes stories “because you can make them from nothing at all.”sadie

This is another book that I have been looking forward to reading simply because of the cover – the picture of the little girl with a fox mask just looks too verdant and playful to pass up. (I did think it was interesting – as an aside – that when you pull the dust jacket off, the picture of Sadie on the cover loses her mask). We found a lot to enjoy in this darling book. Our oldest daughter liked the fact that Sadie chooses to be the hero in her fairy tale. I enjoyed the way in which Sadie “cleans” her room by shoving everything under the bed, or acknowledges that “old people need a lot of sleep”…while hammering and listening to records in her room early in the morning. In both cases, actually, the humor is played up because what she is really doing in the picture is not referenced in the text… This goes back to my comment above that Ms. O’Leary’s characterization of an imaginative little girl rings true; it feels as if the words on the page are exactly what Sadie is thinking in that picture. Our consensus favorite scene however, was when Sadie is playing in the pool, spending a “perfect day” with friends…some of whom live on her street and some of whom live in the pages of books.

I am very happy to have this book as part of our collection and look forward to reading it again (and again!). It’s the kind of book that makes me smile, because of the little precocious and creative girl Sadie is in the book, and because of the way in which facets of Sadie’s personality remind me of our own little (and not so little) girls.

Day 111 – Raindrops Roll

April showers may eventually bring May flowers, but around here over the past several days it seems like the showers just bring more showers. How appropriate, then, that today’s book was “Raindrops Roll” by April Pulley Sayre. The book is an extended poem about rain set against the lush, beautiful backdrop of Ms. Sayre’s photo illustrations. After your eyes have feasted on the colorful close-up pictures of water droplets on leaves, spider webs and flowers, you can also get a little science lesson about the water cycle (“a splash of science”) on the end pages.raindrops

This is the first photo-illustrated book we have read for many weeks – and the pictures are stunning. It’s a kind of book which we particularly love: entertainment and information about the real world! There are close-up pictures of bugs and slugs which add to the attraction of the book. Ahhhh, poetry and rain – what a great combination for April and National Poetry Month!

Day 110 – Book Speak

This evening we read another fabulous book of verse for National Poetry Month. “Book Speak” by Laura Purdie Salas is a compilation of poems about or inspired by books. Full of clever turns of phrase, insightful metaphors, and just the right mix of rhyming and free-verse compositions, “Book Speak” was an absolute joy to read aloud! The collage and watercolor illustrations by Josee Bisaillon added a playfully colorful touch of whimsy.bookspeak

After we finished reading the book together, we paused – as we frequently do – to discuss our impressions and to pick out what it was we liked best about the book. Overall, I think it’s fair to say that what we liked most about this book was: it’s a book about books (one of our favorite subjects)! Our favorite poem was “This is the Book” – in part because of the informative way it walks through the the individual roles that are played when a book is made (writer, editor, designer, illustrator, publisher, buyer, and reader), and in part because we loved the ending:

And she is the reader, who browses the shelf, and looks for new worlds, but finds herself

What a beautiful concept!

There are also lots of clever points of view in the book. I particularly liked “Index” where the voice of the book’s index sounds distinctly like a shady street vendor hocking “Rolex” watches from inside his raincoat: “psst!”, don’t bother with the rest of the book, kid – I’ve got everything you could possibly want right here in the back! I also enjoyed “The Middle’s Lament”, which is a “Poem in Three Voices” with the middle of the book having an existential crisis and being “talked off the ledge” by the front and back. What I liked about this one was that the three voices facilitated a collaborative read-aloud, like a play, for me and our oldest…(as a side note, I can’t wait until we can read some plays together as a family).

I could go on with examples, but suffice to say that this is a very entertaining, charming book. You can tell in reading it that Ms. Salas is a true book lover (why wouldn’t she be?). I think we also enjoyed it in part because we learned on a recent online author event that Ms. Salas’ first love is poetry. She mentioned that it can be difficult to get a poetry book picked up by a publisher. However difficult it may have been, we are very happy Ms. Salas was able to get “Book Speak” published.

Day 109 – Oh No!

This afternoon we were thrilled to be able to sit in on another live author event at Read Aloud Revival – this time with author Candace Fleming. In her honor this afternoon we read “Oh, No!”, an infectious, rhythmic read-aloud experience that has been a favorite with our youngest ever since we checked it out of the library several weeks ago. I was hooked on this one from the very first “Ribbit-oops” of the tree frog falling into a deep, deep hole. The jaunty cadence, the repetition, the rhyming, and Eric Rohmann’s rich and humorous illustrations make this an instant read-aloud classic – in my humble opinion.oh no

Following the tree frog into the deep, deep hole we meet a squeaky mouse (pippa-eek), a lethargic loris (sooo-slooow), a clever sunbear, and a merry monkey. Oh No! All the while they are being watched by a ravenous and patient tiger who has been waiting his turn to “help” the trapped animals out of their predicament. Oh No! However, there is one more animal coming that the tiger did not count on…turnabout is fair play, as they say…Oh No!

Just flipping through the book as I write this review, I wish we could all sit down and read it aloud again. It’s thoroughly addictive – both the words and the pictures. I’m honestly not sure which I like better. The repetition and the rhyming are also great for beginning readers. I highly recommend this Fleming-Rohmann collaboration. It’s an honest-to-goodness five-star read-aloud treat!

While we didn’t hear a lot from Ms. Fleming regarding “Oh, No!” on the recent online event, we did learn that the illustrator – Mr. Rohman – is Ms. Fleming’s husband. You wouldn’t know it from their brief bios on the inside of the dust jacket, although (curiously) they both live in Oak Park, Illinois…so I guess you could “do the math”. It seems like a pretty good deal as an author to have your own Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator right there in the same house…even if Mr. Rohman has only illustrated a few of Ms. Fleming’s books. Ms. Fleming provided what I thought were some fascinating insights on how she thinks about the author-illustrator dynamic. Ms. Fleming has been writing long enough that she does actually get some say in who will be chosen to do the artwork for her books, unlike most authors. However, she has also learned to get out of the illustrator’s way once he or she has been selected: she believes it is the illustrator’s job to decide how to tell the story in pictures, and she doesn’t even like to provide feedback to her husband when he is working on one of her books. It sounds like she is typically very happy with the results, too. I particularly enjoyed hearing her description of what it’s like to see the final version of her books for the first time; regardless how she might have imagined the characters when she was writing, she opens up the book to see the pictures and thinks (and I’m paraphrasing): Of course! THAT is what they look like! I thought that was a neat way to think about a process that might seem impersonal to some.

Day 108 – Zen Ties

In honor of Haiku Day on the 17th of April, we read a fantastic book: “Zen Ties” by John Muth. Sprinkled with clever plays on words, beautiful watercolor images, and some insightful and well-placed Haiku, “Zen Ties” is a sweet and gently humorous book about compassion and friendship.Zen ties

The story reintroduces giant-panda Zen master Stillwater and his three friends Addy, Michael and Karl, who originally appeared in Mr. Muth’s Caldecott Honor book “Zen Shorts”. “Zen Ties” also introduces us to Stillwater’s taciturn yet poetic nephew Koo, who arrives at the train station at the beginning of the book. “Hi, Koo” says Stillwater in greeting – foreshadowing the charming bits of poetry that Mr. Muth, through Koo, will insert periodically throughout the story.

It’s summer time in “Zen Ties”, the weather is spectacular, and there is fun to be had playing at the park with Stillwater, Koo, and the children. Michael, however, is troubled; he is nervous about an upcoming spelling bee, and he is afraid his nerves are going to keep him from doing well. Stillwater suggests that the children come with him to bring food for his ailing friend Miss Whitaker. The children are skeptical; to them Miss Whitaker is the angry old lady on their street who is always yelling at them to get out from in front of her house. However, despite Miss Whitaker’s initial gruffness and her blue mood (she appears to be lonely and tired), the visit goes rather well; the children clean around the house and spend time painting pictures for Miss Whitaker. Stillwater suggests that Michael might like to come back the next day. When they return on the morrow, Stillwater explains that Miss Whitaker used to teach English and might be able to help Michael prepare for his spelling bee – which she does, gladly.

Eventually, the children and Miss Whitaker become fast friends, visiting frequently and enjoying apple tea together. Oh, and about that spelling bee: Michael makes it through all the way to the end and has a ribbon to share with Miss Whitaker. When Stillwater walks Koo to the train station at the end of the book, offering to dispose of his tea cup for him, Koo shakes his head:

“Nearing my visit’s end,

summer now tastes of apple tea

I will keep my cup”

I adore this book. I’m not really even sure where to start. The book is very well written – as noted below, Mr. Muth takes care to say what he has to say in the most efficient manner possible – and he manages to work in some humor in the process: “What would you do if you were in a spelling bee?” Michael asks Stillwater…”I would spell words,” he answers. Stillwater’s quiet confidence is comforting as well; you know that if you stick with him, everything is going to work out just right. Mr. Muth’s illustrations are captivating – expressive and colorful – adding heart to the story. My favorite picture was of Miss Whitaker at home alone in the evening after the children’s first visit; she is sitting in the dark peering through a magnifying glass to get a better look at the paintings the children left behind. The connection between Miss Whitaker and the children by the end of the book is inspiring; it always makes me choke up a little when Karl tells Stillwater that Miss Whitaker had been yelling at them just that morning. Stillwater asks “Why are you smiling?” and Karl says, “She was telling us to get out of the street and play in her yard”. Most of all, however, I love the sense of caring and community that shines through in this story.

About the Haiku – I did notice that Koo’s poetic interjections are not truly Haiku in the way Americans know it – with three lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables. When I first read this book, I thought it was odd to see the obvious play on words with Koo’s name, but not see any true Haiku…as I knew it. In fact, if you read Mr. Muth’s author note (well worth the time, by the way), he makes that point that the rigid 5/7/5 structure is actually an attempt in English to “create an analog with the Japanese language”. Rather than adhering to those particular numbers of syllables, Mr. Muth tries to “have the discipline to say what (he wants) said in the fewest words. It doesn’t always work out to be seventeen syllables”, an interesting lesson in and of itself.

Day 107 – How Does My Garden Grow?

Today, in keeping with one of our monthly themes, we read another spectacular Gerda Muller book: “How Does My Garden Grow?” The book is crammed full of information about gardening, with language that is easily accessible to younger listeners. Ms. Muller (as she always does) decorates the pages with her wonderfully colorful, expressive, and comforting images. In this particular book we enjoyed the illustrations of a family working together to plant, tend, and harvest crops on the

Sophie is a city girl, but this summer she is going to stay with her grandparents on their farm in the French countryside, where she is looking forward to doing all kinds of fun things in the garden! Over the summer Sophie learns about planting seeds, mulching, composting, and caring for the vegetables in the garden.  She learns about the impact – both positive and negative – that birds, insects, worms, burrowing mammals, and even bats (!) can have for plants on the farm. Perhaps most importantly, she gains an appreciation for the mouth-watering flavors and amazing varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables that can be grown on the farm. Even when the summer ends and she must go back to school, Sophie keeps coming back through fall and winter to visit and help around the farm. At the end of the year, Sophie is sad to be packing up all the gardening equipment for the winter, but her grandfather has a surprise present for her to help her feel better when spring rolls around: a package full of herb and vegetable seeds to start a garden in the big city!

I have had my eye on this book ever since it was placed in our April basket because of the beautiful cover image of Sophie watering plants plants in the garden – surrounded by artichokes, carrots, beets, and a towering tomato plant. Ms. Muller does an excellent job, as we have seen her do in other books, of telling a compelling story that also happens to be a great learning experience. I love the emphasis on family, on spending time outdoors, and on enjoying fresh home-grown produce. The large format of the book really does Ms. Muller’s illustrations justice – it is a stunning overall production and a joy to flip through again and again.

Day 106 – Swatch

In a place where colors ran wild, there lived a girl who was wilder still…and “Swatch” by Julia Denos is her story. Swatch is a color tamer – and she LOVES color – from in-between gray to rumble-tumble pink. However, even Swatch must be reminded sometimes that no matter how docile they may seem, colors are wild animals at heart and they must be allowed to fly free if you truly want to create a masterpiece. 

“Swatch” is a joyful and wonderfully creative celebration of color. It is also an inspiring story and a fabulous showcase for Ms. Denos’ artwork.Swatch We first fell in love with her work in Margaret Cardillo’s “Just Being Audrey”, where the drawings conveyed a charm, grace and style that fit the subject perfectly. In “Swatch”, the exuberance, energy, and expressiveness of her illustrations are equally fitting. Swatch dances through the pages of the book with abandon, accompanied by brash strokes of color splashed across every page. The way the brush strokes flow, moving your eye across the pages and through the story with Swatch, is truly masterful! We have been looking forward to reading this book together ever since we saw a picture of the cover on Ms. Denos’ Web site several weeks back. We were not disappointed – the book is just as much fun on the inside as the cover implies it will be. I am delighted to have this one as part of our collection – the artwork alone makes this a book we will want to pick up and page through again and again. It’s eye candy with a charming story thrown in for good measure – a fantastic book that is a perfect fit for World Art Day.

P.S. you can read more about Ms. Denos and her work at her Web site, and you can download a Swatch coloring sheet by clicking here.

Day 105 – The Library

This evening we read another selection in honor of National Library Week, with a little bit of poetry (for National Poetry Month!) tossed in for good measure. “The Library” by Sarah Stewart and David Small is a breezy and poetic gem of a book produced by the same pair that brought us “The Gardener“. It tells the story of incurable bibliophile (or biblio-addict) Elizabeth Brown, how she eventually finds a way to share her obsession with her town, and how doing so makes everyone better off – including Elizabeth. The tale is told in flowing, rhyming verse that is a joy to read aloud, and Mr. Small’s illustrations – as they did in “The Gardner” – add undeniable heart and humor to what is already a great story.51SPXi4SiZL

“The Library” is another book which I think is fair to judge by its cover. Looking at the picture of a woman with her face buried in a book while pulling a wagon full of books down the street, I knew we were going to love this one; as a family, we have too much in common with Ms. Brown not to enjoy it! There is something so compelling and comforting to us about the thought of simply spending our lives reading as Ms. Brown does. There was also more than one scene in the book where I thought the story could have been based on our oldest daughter…and those illustrations! Whether you are celebrating libraries, looking for some playful rhyming verse, or just have a desire for a fun read aloud experience, you won’t go wrong with “The Library”.

Day 104 – Five O’Clock Charlie

Marguerite Henry was born on April 13, 1902 and in honor of what would have been her 114th birthday this week, we read one of her best loved stories, “Five O’Clock Charlie”.  It is an irresistible and soothing book about an old draught horse who is not entirely ready to be put out to pasture. Adding to the comforting feel of the story are Wesley Dennis’ familiar pencil and watercolor illustrations that signal to you from the cover that you are in for a treat. Still frisky as a colt despite his twenty-eight years, Charlie makes his own plans for retirement, and in acting on those plans he finds happiness and a brand new purpose in life.
For years, Charlie has worked for Mr. Spinks on his farm in Shropshire, UK. Mr. Spinks is a tough yet tender man, and when he decides that Charlie’s working days are over he sets Charlie loose in his own paddock – free to frolic or relax as he pleases. It must seem like a pretty good deal to Mr. Spinks, but Charlie is a social animal who misses the busyness of his working days; not only does he feel terribly bored on his own, he also feels completely useless. Perhaps most of all, he misses his daily trips to the Boar’s Head Tavern in town. Every afternoon promptly at five o’clock, the cook at the Boar’s Head – Birdie – rings her bell and people come swarming – on foot, or horseback, and in carriages – to gobble up her delicious apple tarts. While the farmers enter the pub by the front door, Charlie would always saunter around back to socialize with the other horses, and to wait for Birdie to bring him his own apple tart at the swing-in/swing-out window.

After months in his lonely paddock, with nothing ever changing, Charlie is jolted into action one afternoon by the sound of the five o’clock bell. He jumps the fence, breaking the top rail on the way out, and surprises Birdie at the window. She is delighted to see him! From that day forward, Charlie heads into town every afternoon at five…to the point where he becomes a sort of alarm clock for Birdie, reminding her to ring the bell. In fact, eventually Charlie even gets to ring the bell himself! Of course, Mr. Spinks is wise to Charlie’s antics, but with a wink and a nod he is more than happy to look the other way – telling his wife when she complains about the broken fence rail: “Quite right, my dear. One day I’ll fix it.”

We first happened on Ms. Henry’s “Misty of Chincoteague” several years ago, and fell in love with the story immediately. Ever since that discovery, we have been impressed to learn how many authors whose work we enjoy list Ms. Henry among their inspirations. What a legacy to leave.

Day 103 – Quiet! There’s a Canary in the Library

Keeping with our Library Week theme, today we read “Quiet! There’s a Canary in the Library” by Don Freeman, a book about a little girl whose imagination gets the better of her one Saturday on a weekly visit to the library. Published in 1969, the book tells a simple but endearing story, and it is filled with playful illustrations that add to the vintage storybook feel.canary

If you had the opportunity to run the library, would you make any changes? It seems to me like a pretty amazing place already, but little Cary knows one thing she would change if she were the librarian: she would set aside one day every week just for animals and birds to come in and browse. While sitting and reading a book about the zoo one afternoon, she begins to daydream about all the animals that would come visit on her special day. There would be a bear pawing through books about his kin, an elephant (who will need more than four chairs and his own table to be comfortable), a proud peacock, a quiet turtle reading under a table, an entire family of monkeys, and many more besides…including, of course, a canary. While this collection of animals may seem like a recipe for mayhem, in Cary’s library, they would all be quiet as mice…at least until…MICE!

This delightful book has been a favorite of our youngest ever since we purchased it; we have had our paperback copy for only a short time, and it is already looking worn-out & well-loved (because every time we leave the house she asks to bring it along in the car). I think there is something particularly compelling for little listeners about the idea of being able to invite all your animal friends to the library, and I loved how Cary imagines herself in the role of librarian. Don Freeman’s drawings are especially inviting. There is a certain kitschy charm to Mr. Freeman’s illustrations (the style of drawing and the color combinations) that is at once dated and comforting. Taken together, it’s an adorable combination that we are very happy to have as part of our collection.