Tag Archives: poetry

Day 175 – A Stick is an Excellent Thing

Today we read a perfect book for summertime – a playful and breezy book of poems about outdoor play called “A Stick is an Excellent Thing” by Marylin Singer and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. With jaunty, rhyming text and joyful depictions of children enjoying the outdoors to the fullest, it had us ready to drop everything and head outside to play!stick

Ms. Singer’s poems pay tribute to all the fantastic fun that can be had outdoors with the simplest of toys – a sprinkler, bubbles, jacks, a red rubber ball, a jump rope, some sidewalk chalk, and (yes) excellent sticks! It’s a great reminder that having fun on a hot summer day doesn’t necessarily require any planning or expensive toys, just a few simple props and some space to move (of course, around these parts you also often need some Off repellant – which I noticed was not mentioned in any of Ms. Singer’s poems!)

The rhyming text is fun to read aloud, and the fast-paced format is perfect for short attention spans (whether it’s the reader or the listener with the short attention span). I’m not sure which poem was my favorite, but my favorite illustration accompanied the poem “Upside Down” about looking at the world from another angle while hanging from a swing. I agree wholeheartedly with Ms. Singer: a stick is an excellent thing. I have seen it many times with my own eyes – which is why just reading the title of this book makes me smile. Ding-ding! Another winner.


Day 119 – Swing Around the Sun

So…it’s April and you’re looking for a book about seasons that also has poetry – you know, for National Poetry Month? Well, have we got the book for you! “Swing Around the Sun” is a charming collection of seasonal poems by Barbara Juster Esbensen about the colors, events, and feelings that we typically identify with each of the seasons. It’s a book that is a joy to read aloud, and with seasonally appropriate illustrations blanketing every page in color, it’s also an engaging work of art.swing

We were originally alerted to “Swing Around the Sun” by author Laura Purdie Salas – who mentioned that book as one of her inspirations during an online author event several weeks back at Read Aloud Revival. Ms. Esbensen has written five short and engaging poems for each season, with our favorite being “The Wind Woman”…in part because of the dramatic illustration that seems to show the face of the Wind Woman flying over the shadows of trees in the evergreen forest of winter.

Originally published in 1965, “Swing Around the Sun” was reissued in 2003 with an all-star cast of four illustrators – each one applying a unique style and creating a particular feeling around each of the seasons. As a side note, I did think it was interesting that each of the four illustrators currently lives in the Twin Cities in Minnesota. While I thought each artist’s style was appropriate for the chosen season, our favorite illustrations in their own right were Janice Lee Porter’s for Summer.swing 2

This was a very entertaining picture book, and one which I am glad to have added to our collection (poetry books are particularly nice to be able to pick up and read again and again). I will admit that I had to order a copy of the original 1965 edition as well, if only because I love the old-school look of the orange and yellow sun illustration on the front cover. Hey – having two copies can’t hurt…can it? We’re not entirely buried in books yet!


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 99 – How to Paint the Portrait of a Bird

Did you know that April 8th was “Draw a Bird Day”? Neither did we until just recently – but it sounded like a neat unofficial holiday with a sweet story behind it, and we always enjoy fitting another special day into our Storybook Year reading list. So, in honor of DaB Day 2016 and in further celebration of National Poetry Month, we read “How to Paint the Portrait of a Bird” by Caldecott Medal winner Mordecai Gerstein. Full of playful and colorful illustrations, the book is a humorous and joyful interpretation of a poem by French surrealist Jacques Prévert.DABDAY

How do you paint the portrait of a bird? Well, apparently it’s not so much about painting the bird itself. A truly great painting of a bird requires you to first draw a cage on your canvas that is attractive enough to entice a bird to land. Then you must erase the cage and replace it with a scene that is beautiful enough to inspire the bird to sing. Sometimes you must wait a very long time for the bird to arrive – perhaps years – and even if you eventually attract a bird, it may not ever sing. If it doesn’t sing, no worries – you will still know that you did your best. HOWEVER, if it does sing, it is a sign that you have a painting which is worthy of your signature. Either way, tomorrow you can always paint another one.

The poem itself, which is apparently very well known in French-speaking parts of the world, is wonderfully inventive and entertaining and there were several things about it that we enjoyed. We appreciated the instruction that you must immediately erase the cage once you have “captured” your bird. It is perhaps a metaphor for opening your mind, but on a more literal level, we loved the idea that the bird must be free; once you have his attention, it is up to the artist to create a scene beautiful enough to inspire the bird to stay and sing. I liked the reminder in the poem that sometimes it takes a very long time, a lot of patience, and perseverance to create a great work of art – it’s a universal lesson that is applicable not only to painting but to other artistic pursuits, like writing. The comment at the end – that tomorrow you can paint another one – is a charmingly optimistic post-script, reminding us that a new day brings another chance to make the bird sing (if you didn’t succeed today) or to create a picture with a completely different song (if you did succeed)…the possibilities are endless.

Mr. Gerstein’s artwork adds further humor and life to Mr. Prévert’s composition – particularly in the expressions and body language of the young artist in the poem. His looks of concentration or anticipation are amusing, but my favorite picture by far was the unbridled explosion of joy when the bird does sing. Overall, this is a beautiful production, small enough to be attractive for little hands with a bold picture of a bluebird on the cover that immediately caught my attention. This book will leave you with a big smile on your face; it’s a great choice for National Poetry Month, Draw a Bird Day, or any day, really.


Day 93 – When Green Becomes Tomatoes

As you will know if you follow this blog, we thoroughly enjoyed reading Julie Fogliano’s “and then it’s spring” on Day 80 of our storybook year. Imagine our delight when we discovered “When Green Becomes Tomatoes”, a book of verse about the seasons by Ms. Fogliano, which was released on March 1, 2016. The timing was just right for us to put it on the list for April…National Poetry Month…and boy, are we glad we did!

GreenThis charming book is a compilation of short, free verse poetry presented as a series of journal entries. The journal begins and ends on March 20, the vernal equinox, and there are poems scattered intermittently on days throughout the year in between (I hesitate to say that they are scattered randomly…that may be the case, but the author may have some intentional pattern that I haven’t noticed yet). The delightfully evocative prose captures how I imagine a child would view, and experience, the changing of the seasons – conveying a sense of wonder in the process. Ms. Fogliano finds ways, with short clauses and carefully chosen words, to present ideas in a creative and intriguing way which really appealed to us. I paused periodically while reading to ponder what she was saying, and thought to myself, “I wouldn’t have thought to describe it that way…but it absolutely makes sense.”  We appreciated the way that each season is welcomed in it’s time – the writer is clearly ready for each transition to take place.

Ms. Morstad’s  illustrations are a perfect complement to Ms. Fogliano’s poetry – presenting playful and colorful images of children interacting with the changing seasons. We love Ms. Morstad’s artwork, in “When Green Becomes Tomatoes” as well as in “How To” and “This Is Sadie” – two other books which we own and will be reading and reviewing here later this year.

There wasn’t a poem in this book that we didn’t enjoy. We had a lot of fun taking turns reading aloud and presenting different vocal interpretations of each poem, followed by extensive discussion in some cases. It was a truly interactive and fulfilling read-aloud experience!


Day 81 – World Poetry Day

Today, in honor of World Poetry Day and the changing of the seasons, we read a book of  poems by renowned Children’s author Margaret Wise Brown: “A Celebration of the Seasons”. Although I am by no means a poetry aficionado (I lean toward Shel Silverstein, “The Raven”, and silly limericks), I think that this book of posthumously published nature poems inspired by Ms. Brown’s childhood on Long Island is a very attractive piece of work. It is a delightful combination of lilting prose and beautiful artwork, even if I didn’t absolutely love all the poems.celebration

Published in late 2015, “A Celebration of the Seasons” is actually the second collection of previously unpublished poems by Ms. Brown. As in the first volume, “Goodnight Songs,” each of the twelve poems in “A Celebration of the Seasons” is illustrated by a different artist, and the results are impressive. We had a hard time picking favorites from this collection. I was particularly fond of “the song of tiny cat” about a diminutive banjo-playing feline who is so small that he uses a ladybug for a pillow. I thought Blanca Gomez’s “handmade collage” fit the mood of the poem perfectly, and her little cat made me smile. Our oldest singled out “Fall of the Year” – mostly because of Leo Espinosa’s joyful picture of a little girl dancing among the falling leaves on an autumn day in New England. In truth, however, nearly every one of the two-page spreads in the book is a treat for the eyes.

I recommend taking time to read the introduction and end notes of the book. The introduction provides a brief biography of Ms. Brown and sheds some light not only on her love of nature, but her love of poetry and music. One observation from the introduction that really struck me was her belief that if she could sing the words to a story or poem she wrote, then she knew it had the right tempo (the book actually comes with a CD of songs to go with the poems, but I have not listened to it in detail). The end notes include blurbs about each of the artists, along with brief descriptions from each of how they went about creating their illustrations. It’s fascinating stuff that makes me appreciate the book that much more – and it’s the kind of thing I probably would not have taken the time to read before embarking on our storybook year.