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:

November 23, 2015

The boy who never grew up

Lost Boy: the Story of the Man Who Created Peter Pan
by Jane Yolen
illustrated by Steve Adams

James Barrie wrote stories and plays when he was a child and never stopped. He was a well-known author as an adult, but didn't become truly famous until he met the Llewelyn Davies boys. He based the character of Peter Pan on all five boys, and later became their guardian.

Yolen's depiction of Barrie reveals a man who loved pirates, fairies, and make-believe. Her story includes quotes from Barrie's works, which appropriately mark the key moments of his life. The pictures, both sorrowful and playful, also mirror the sadness and joy that Barrie experienced.

A very charming book.

November 20, 2015

Poems of inspiration

Poetry for Young People: Maya Angelou
edited by Edwin Graves Wilson, PhD
illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue

Twenty-five of Angelou's best-known poems are presented in this anthology for young readers. Her poems reflect a range of emotions and experiences both serious and light-hearted. Each poem is prefaced with a short introduction about its theme and significance. Some include reflective questions for analysis and a glossary of terms for context. A four-page introduction provides a biography of Angelou. Illustrated with Lagarrigue's luminous paintings, this is a very attractive and inviting book.

November 18, 2015

Brother and sister poems

Brothers & Sisters: Family Poems
by Eloise Greenfield
illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist

Brothers and brothers, sisters and sisters, brothers and sisters - the sibling bond can be a special one. Eloise Greenfield celebrates this specialness with rhyming and free verse poems that span the generations. She says it best in the following excerpt:

Helpful, funny, and good one day,
next day, they get in my way.
Still, I think no matter what,
I'd rather have them
than not.

November 16, 2015

Peripatetic poems

Poems In the Attic
by Nikki Grimes
illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon

In her grandmother's attic, a young girl discovers a box full of poems written by her mother. Her mother's poems tell of her life as a military brat moving from place to place. In poems of her own, the girl tries to mirror her mother's experiences.

Nikki Grimes' seemingly simple free verse and tanka poems effectively capture the nature of memories.

November 13, 2015

Poems of hope

When the Horses Ride By: Children in the Times of War
by Eloise Greenfield
illustrations by Jan Spivey Gilchrist

In seventeen free verse poems, Greenfield simply and eloquently expresses the hopes and dreams of children living with war. Each poem is illustrated with pictures corresponding to historical wars around the world.

Poignant and powerful.

November 11, 2015

For adults and teens

Let the Celebrations Begin!
by Margaret Wild
illustrated by Julie Vivas

This is not a picture book for young children. 

Based on a true story, it's about the women in a concentration camp who made toys for a children's party to celebrate their impending liberation. The pictures are of women and children with thin legs, shorn heads, and ragged clothes, but with faces and eyes that often shine with hope. Their expressions, combined with the pastel colours, are very nearly cheerful. It makes me wonder if the deeper meaning of the story will be lost on readers.

As the end notes state, the publisher [Omnibus (Australia) and Candlewick (U.S.)] wanted to emphasize the positive aspects of the story. This means that except for the title page, there's no sign of soldiers or barbed wire. Not surprisingly, the book has been controversial; the author herself thought it would be rejected. That it wasn't means that it at least deserves a look. 

November 9, 2015

A bear named Teddy

A Bear in War
by Stephanie Innes & Harry Endrulat
illustrated by Brian Deines

Teddy was a bear that once belonged to ten-year-old Aileen Rogers who lived on a farm in Quebec. When Aileen's father, Lawrence Rogers, went to war in 1915, she sent Teddy to him as a Christmas present. Teddy was in his pocket when Lawrence was killed at Passchendaele.

Told in Teddy's voice, this is a gentle, true story that commemorates a family's sacrifice.

Bear on the Homefront
by Stephanie Innes & Harry Endrulat
illustrated by Brian Deines

Aileen, now an adult and working as a nurse, gives Teddy to two child war evacuees from England to ease their arrival in Canada. Once again told through Teddy's eyes, his story tenderly captures a wartime's loneliness.

Both picture books are softly illustrated by Brian Deines, who depicts the small bear with loving tenderness. 

This is the real Teddy, who now lives in the Canadian War Museum.