December 18, 2015

Lullabies for Christmas Eve

Holiday Songs And Lullabies
Shawn Colvin
album art by Maurice Sendak

As Christmas draws near and excitement grows, small children find it hard to sleep. Settle them down with this lovely holiday album that quiets, soothes, and alleviates stress.

Especially perfect for all new babies at any time of year.

A heartfelt recommendation.

N.B. This is my last post of the season. New entries begin January 4, 2016.

December 16, 2015

Traditional holiday music

A Midwinter Night's Dream
Loreena McKennitt

McKennitt's classical, medieval winter carols are the perfect antidote to the usual interminable Christmas songs that plague us every year. Her dreamy, ethereal vocals are perfect for haunting, melancholy tunes such as The Holly and the Ivy, The Seven Rejoices of Mary, Good King Wencelas, and Coventry Carol. Her voice also lends a lightness to the romantic Seeds of Love, while the robust Gloucestershire Wassail perks things up. 

An excellent album that won't wear out its welcome.

December 14, 2015

Holly jolly retro Christmas

Have a Holly Jolly Christmas
sung by Burl Ives

Burl Ives is the singing snowman who narrates the perennial television classic Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. One of the show's songs, A Holly Jolly Christmas, is a well-known earworm. Ives sings it and other Christmas staples  - Santa Claus is Coming to Town, White Christmas, The LIttle Drummer Boy, Winter Wonderland, Silver Bells -  in his folksy, old-time style. 

Good for a little nostalgic feeling.

December 11, 2015

Food for thought

Foodprints: The Story of What We Eat
by Paula Ayer

When it comes to food, we have more choices than we ever had before. But it can still be confusing. Which foods will keep us healthy? Where did the food come from? How was it made? Why did I eat that?

Foodprints takes a close look at the food on your plate and helps you make sense of the often conflicting messages you hear about food. It explores:

  • how the modern food system evolved, from hunting and gathering to self-serving supermarkets
  • how factory farms became the norm and its effects on health and environment
  • how to navigate conflicting nutritional advice, like superfoods and fad diets 
  • how science has transformed food, from food additives to altered genes
  • how food advertisers grab your attention
  • what steps are being done to ensure food safety
  • what people are doing to improve food security and access healthier food

Author Paula Ayer's clear explanations and research-based writing makes for understandable, informed reading that is pertinent and timely. Her book is also visually appealing, with photos, drawings, and eye-catching infographics.


December 9, 2015

A taste for salt

The Story of Salt
by Mark Kurlansky and S.D. Schindler

Common and ubiquitous, salt is the only rock eaten by humans. Yet do you ever wonder why we like salt? Turns out we need salt for our bodies to function, as do many animals. In fact, humans discovered salt by following animals to salt licks, which is why our roads meander so much. Salt was used as a food preservative, became the basis for world trade, fueled the canning and frozen food industries, and led us to oil and natural gas deposits. Salt even spawned the word "salary" (from the Roman word sal) because soldiers were paid in salt, and originated the expression "worth his salt."

With its entertaining drawings, maps, timeline, and surprising "I never knew that" information, this fascinating book will ensure that you'll never look at salt the same way again!

Highly recommended.

December 7, 2015

What's for lunch?

How Did That Get in My Lunchbox? The Story of Food
by Chris Butterworth
illustrated by Lucia Gaggiotti

Kids who only see food in grocery stores may not realize where the food actually comes from. Once they finish reading this book, they'll have a much better idea. A large double-page spread reveals the contents of a typical lunch - a cheese sandwich, tomatoes and carrot sticks, clementine oranges, apple juice, and a chocolate-chip cookie. Subsequent pages show how wheat is harvested and turned into bread, how cheese is made, where tomatoes, carrots, and clementines come from, how apple juice is made, and how a cocoa bean turns into a chocolate chip. The origin of lettuce is overlooked, but that's a minor quibble, as is the book's processed food focus.

Kid-friendly and in a sturdy, rounded-corner format, Butterworth's book is entertaining and educational.

What's for Lunch? How Schoolchildren Eat Around the World
by Andrea Curtis
photography by Yvonne Duivenvoorden

Everywhere around the world, schoolchildren eat lunch together. In What's For Lunch, take a trip around the world to see what kids are eating in Afghanistan, Canada, Brazil, India, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Russia, and five other countries. Some of the meals are healthy and well-balanced, while others barely meet nutritional needs and are heavy on junk food.

The colourful lunch photos are accompanied by descriptions of each item, with sidebars discussing the impacts that inequality, poverty, and climate change have on health and food production. Other pages highlight how students are taking charge of their school lunches, from growing gardens to demanding processed-free foods.

An informative, enlightening book.

December 4, 2015

A walk in Harlem

a poem by Walter Dean Myers
pictures by Christopher Myers

Myers usually writes novels, so it's interesting to see a poem written by him. In free verse, he describes the sights and sounds of a vibrant neighborhood and the people who make it their home. He celebrates Harlem's streets, historic places, and notable African Americans like Joe Louis, Du Bois, and Lady Day. There is joy, bitterness, and despair, but overall the poem has a sense of pride. 

The oversized format is perfect for showcasing the art of Christopher Myers (Walter's son) whose gouache and collage pictures earned him a Caldecott Honor.  Visually striking, his pictures will draw children in even more than the text. The subtleties and cultural references within the poem are sure to be missed unless readers are aware of African American history. Nonetheless, this is a very handsome book.

December 2, 2015

Sweet and sour poems

Langston Hughes has written poems for children and adults of all ages. His subject matter encompasses hopes, dreams, life and love, whether with sorrow, like the blues, or pride, like his people. These are poems that are remembered long after they are read.

The Sweet and Sour Animal Book
by Langston Hughes
illustrations by students from the Harlem School of the Arts

From A to Z, these are light-hearted animal poems with a somber touch. A bee looks for honey in papier-mâché flowers, a goose can't quackle, and a quail meets an untimely end; however, the monkey, newt, and turtle are content.

The lower-case alphabet letters may puzzle children who are unfamiliar with cursive, but the animal sculptures are a delight.

The Dream Keeper and Other Poems
by Langston Hughes
illustrated by Brian Pinkney

This is an excellent collection of Hughes' best poems deemed especially suitable for children aged nine and up. Some are very melancholy, some are inspirational, and some have a touch of sweetness.

an excerpt:

Reasons Why

Just because I loves you--
That's de reason why
Ma soul is full of color
Like de wings of a butterfly.

Just because I loves you
That's de reason why
Ma heart's a fluttering aspen leaf
When you pass by.

November 30, 2015

Performance poems

Jump Back, Honey: The Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar
with art by Ashley Bryan, Carole Byard, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Brian Pinkney, Jerry Pinkney, and Faith Ringgold

Paul Laurence Dunbar was an American poet with a knack for rhythm and dialogue that is pleasing to the ear. His poems are well-suited for reading aloud. He wrote some of his poems in Black dialect, which may prove a challenge to readers, but the emotions evoked are easily discernible. The artwork is bright and happy or dark and soft accordingly, adding to the book's joyfulness.

A brief biography of Dunbar opens the book, while in the endnotes, each artist shares memories of first encountering Dunbar's poetry. An excellent book to augment multicultural libraries.

November 27, 2015

The unhappy Brontës

The Brontë Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne
by Catherine Reef

Fans of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Agnes Grey will delight in how each book mirrors the lives and experiences of its respective author. The Brontë sisters suffered much misfortune, leavened by their closeness to each other and a scattering of romance. The book also details the life of their only brother, Branwell, whose failures are even more depressing. That Charlotte, Emily, and Anne managed to achieve so much in so little time is a testament to their talents.

Catherine Reef's biography draws readers right into the girls' story, allowing you to see events as if you are standing right beside them. Well-researched and noted, with excerpts of poetry, childhood stories, letters, and reviews, this captivating novel is an excellent introduction to a trio of remarkable women.

November 25, 2015

Three beloved authors

Margaret, Frank, and Andy: Three Writers' Stories
by Cynthia Rylant

Margaret is Margaret Wise Brown, Frank is L. Frank Baum, and Andy is E.B. (Elwyn Brooks) White. In gentle, unembellished prose, Cynthia Rylant, an excellent writer herself, recounts the key moments of each author's life and how they came to write their memorable books. The book's small size and short length makes it particularly attractive.

Highly recommended.

Margaret Wise Brown was extremely prolific. These are just a few of her books:

L. Frank Baum only wrote about a magical land called Oz.

E.B. White wrote three books:

Cynthia Rylant has written numerous books. Here are a few: