Saturday, November 4, 2017

A River of Words

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos WilliamsA River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jennifer Fisher Bryant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When we think of doctors, we usually don’t think of poetry, and vice versa: poetry doesn’t typically conjure up images of doctors. We also don’t associate “ordinary” with poetry, and yet, that’s just William Carlos Williams’s style. A River of Words, a biographical picture book, aims to show how William Carlos Williams was able to combine poetry with his medical career, providing for his family and caring for his community while also taking care of his need for solitude and writing about the everyday.

Both author Jen Bryant and illustrator Melissa Sweet show readers how to find poetry everywhere by letting it inform the details of the book. Using poetic verse to combine fact with art, Bryant tells Williams’s story of discovering the power of words, and of the extraordinary poetry of the everyday. Sweet’s mixed media collage illustrations add to the charm of this book, combining newspaper, notebook writing, and simple drawings to create a poetic scrapbook echoing the words on each page. A timeline, bibliography, and notes at the end round out this informational title. Young writers and artists alike will enjoy seeing Williams’s life unfold and his writing and medical career progress as they read.


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Saturday, October 28, 2017

Verse: 10 Children's Poetry Collections

Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reverso PoemsMirror Mirror: A Book of Reverso Poems by Marilyn Singer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mirror Mirror was a fast favorite for me, combining fairy tale retellings with reversible verse. Not all of the poems work 100% in this format, but when they do, they really do. Marilyn Singer turns well known fairy tales “upside down,” telling two sides of the same story. The “About” page at the end of the collection explains how to read each poem, and clues the reader in to the puzzles on each page. I’m sure this is a book for children, but I enjoyed & reread it so I could show others. Since the format is rather strict, the language of the poems is simple - they are easily understood, yet the concept and actual syntax of the lines are complex. The illustrations enhance the poems, helping readers to visualize each side of the story.


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The poems featured in The Blacker the Berry “celebrate these many shades of black” with both lyrical words and vibrant illustrations. Joyce Carol Thomas is an expert in her field, and does the poems justice with rich imagery. The larger type, simple sentence structure, and full page illustrations make this collection accessible to younger readers, while adults (parents or teachers or storytellers) can also appreciate the deeper meanings of the poems as a whole. The scope of this collection is focused, and thrives in that focus. Each poem is written from the child’s point-of-view, and uses the imagery of berries and other breakfast-y items (coffee, biscuits) to strengthen the theme. Each illustration is unique to its accompanying poem, yet stays true to the style. The final illustration is powerful.


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dark Emperor is a poetry/nonfiction combination, where each poem’s subject is also explained scientifically on the opposite page, along with intricate relief prints. This is definitely a read aloud/together, and could be used in a classroom or for any child with an interest in woodland creatures - the illustrations, poems, and information give it several access points. Since the poems are “of the night,” they are written in dreamlike language, with lots of alliteration, repetition, and personification. The layered illustrations enrich the poetry, adding depth to the subjects.


My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Firefly July is a favorite poetry collection, for several reasons. First, its purpose: showing that all you need is a few short, yet intentional, lines to create a poem. Children are the intended audience based on the length of the poems, the simple concept of seasons, and the artwork, but the poems themselves weren’t necessarily written with children in mind, which makes them stand out even more, and highlights the fact that poetry can be accessible to all ages. The scope is wide in authors represented, but the seasonal theme keeps them focused and organized, so they connect to each other. I do wish there were author biographies beyond the acknowledgments. Because the poems have been collected, their language is varied, yet each one still fits neatly on the page. Finally, I also really enjoyed the illustrations and how they played with the poetry, drawing attention to certain details.


My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A year in poems, though focused in its perspective, is My Chinatown. This collection follows the year in the life of a child in a specific place, but could be appreciated by anyone in a new city or neighborhood. It’s scope is limited based on its subject and solo author. The poems have a conversational tone and are paired with beautiful realistic illustrations.


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Aiming to show the universality of childhood, the 34 poems of Bronzeville Boys and Girls each feature the experiences and emotions of a different neighborhood child. Children reading this collection will appreciate finding themselves in the characters, while adults can reminisce about their own childhoods. Gwendolyn Brooks creates entire worlds in just a few lines, and it’s easy to picture the events of the poems. Faith Ringgold’s bold lines and colors add to the overall feel of the collection.


My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Older children (ages 8-12) are the intended audience for The Flag of Childhood, and that is apparent before reading - the book is smaller, with no illustrations. This collection hopes to instill a sense of empathy in the reader, an understanding of the universality of childhood, and of the power of words. While it’s meant for children, clearly there are some adults who could learn a thing or two from the poems inside. With over 50 poets represented, the scope is quite large, and the poetry varies in length and style. I appreciated that the poems are not “baby” versions of adult poems - they are full-fledged poems, on the subject of childhood.


My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Yes! We are Latinos combines poetry from different representations of Latinos with historical and sociopolitical background information. This collection aims to show the diversity among Latinos and invites readers to think about their own histories. Distinctions are made to show that “Latino” is a very broad description, and this collection does a fine job of shifting from detailed poetry to general nonfiction information. Alma Flor Ada is an award-winning children’s author, and her notes and bibliographic information highlight her expertise. While some children and/or families might appreciate this collection on its own, I’d pair it with other literature (poetry or not), and could see this being used in a classroom or storytelling setting where one poem/nonfiction topic is explored in more depth. The organization of the poems by these topics lends itself to reading them independent of each other. Many people were sourced for the composite children featured in each poem. The poems themselves have a prose-like quality, as all are voiced from the first person point-of-view.


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shel Silverstein’s poems and drawings are humorous, and meant to entertain. These poems were written to be read aloud, and I remember hearing a few of them during storytime. While children are clearly the intended audience, adults can also appreciate the humor and playfulness of the poetry, and are most likely to be the ones actually reading. The poems in Where the Sidewalk Ends all share the same author, but their forms vary, from rhyming couplets and singsong verses to shape poetry and free verse - though most of the poems do rhyme. The poems are arranged so that each one is of varying length, while also taking into account the illustrations, which are sometimes decorative, but also add meaning or context to the poems.


My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was ready to love the found poems of The Arrow Finds Its Mark, since found poetry is my jam, and I believe in the poetry of the everyday. The introduction itself was enjoyable to read, and inspiring to any young poets. The poems, too, were fine. I had hoped the authors would show their work - a la Austin Kleon and his blackout poetry (https://austinkleon.com/newspaperblac...), or like Matthew James Kay’s literary collages (http://matthewjameskay.com/). The process of poetry is such an integral part of the enjoyment, much like source notes in traditional literature, and knowing how a poet goes from raw material to poem makes it even more meaningful. That being said, the organization of this collection was expert, with each poem linking to the next.


Thursday, October 26, 2017

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Five Collections of Traditional Tales

Trickster: Native American Tales, A Graphic CollectionTrickster: Native American Tales, A Graphic Collection by Matt Dembicki
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

At the end of Trickster, Dembicki’s note explains the why of this collection - to fill a void and create something completely new. Trickster tales as comics are different from how I’ve seen them presented, but the form lends itself well to the telling. While Dembicki himself is white, his "authority" comes as a comic book creator. He states that he worked to find Native American storytellers willing to share their stories, along with artists of their choosing. Each contributor has their own background notes, and general trickster information is given on the back cover copy. This book was written for children and adults, and could be enjoyed as a read aloud/read together as seeing the artwork is half the reading process. There are 21 tales, all varied in content and artistic style, which makes the organization seem more random. The illustrations themselves range from cartoonish to realistic, some enhancing their tale and others not as much.


My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I found The Juniper Tree and Other Tales to be a difficult collection to get into, though I did enjoy the stories I’m more familiar with. This collection, according to the book jacket, intends to restore the selected tales with faithful translations, and they definitely aren’t watered down. The tales are intense, and the narrative style fits the tradition of oral storytelling.Though only 27 out of 210 stories are represented in this collection, they are spread out between two volumes and range from well-known to often forgotten. It seems as though these stories are meant to be read independently of each other, and read aloud by an adult to a child (or just as an adult).There is one illustration for each story; they aren’t particularly integral, though they do set up the scene for the story.


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like many folktale collections, The People Could Fly was written to record and preserve oral tales. This is explained in the introduction, along with the way the book is organized (by theme). These four themes group together like stories (about six per theme, for a total of 24 stories) in a way that someone could request one about animals or a supernatural one for storytime. Hamilton also includes source notes in the introduction, going into more detail at the conclusion of each tale. She makes it clear she wants to keep the style, while also telling the tales in her own voice. The stories themselves are intended for the adult storyteller, with illustrations every few pages to enhance the stories.


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Both entertaining and educational, Tales Our Abuelitas Told is just as the title states - both authors share stories they grew up with, including source notes, background information, and their personal relationships to the tales. These stories are traditional, each originating from a different location, though some have been revised or are composite tales, mixing similar stories told in several countries. This collection was my favorite of the four I read for class, and the narrative style really lends itself to storytime. Though there are only 12 tales collected, their themes and content vary so that each one can be told independently. The illustrations are colorful, highlighting details of each story.


Mysterious Tales of JapanMysterious Tales of Japan by Rafe Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This collection, which I read in addition to the above, is meant to embrace the “fleeting yet haunting beauty we know from life,” and is filled with spiritual tales - ghostly, eerie, and refreshing. Martin invites readers to “walk in the moonlight of imagination” as they read stories from the Zen, Buddhist, and Shinto traditions. Most stories were originally collected in the early 1900s, though Martin infuses them with his own style, and each story concludes with a note on its origin. Jesus and I read one of these each night (or rather, I read to him) until we finished the collection, and experiencing the tales at that pace was perfect for cool fall nights.

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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Questioning Library Neutrality

Questioning Library Neutrality: Essays from Progressive LibrarianQuestioning Library Neutrality: Essays from Progressive Librarian by Alison Lewis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Are librarians neutral? Should they be?

Some essays in this collection were more useful/educational/entertaining than others. I wouldn't call it a cover-to-cover read, but I think many teachers and librarians could use certain essays to highlight issues in their own classrooms/libraries.

My conclusions after reading/skimming: neutrality is a myth, and even if libraries themselves could pull it off (they can't), librarians definitely aren't neutral. And that can be a good thing.

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Further thoughts on neutrality here, here, and here.

"Neutrality doesn’t encourage our critical thinking; it doesn’t ask us to question facts that are wrong, or behaviors that are prejudiced. By this measure, neutrality doesn’t necessarily reveal injustice but further entrenches it, which is ironic." - Stacie Williams


Saturday, October 7, 2017

Michael Rosen's Sad Book

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Not all parents have to deal with the grief of losing a child, but for those who do, the right book can serve as an outlet and reprieve for sadness. Likewise, children who have lost loved ones also need books to speak to their experiences. Adults and children who want a way to talk about grief will appreciate Michael Rosen’s Sad Book: autobiographical, yet universal, it follows Rosen’s journey to grieve his son and helps readers approach difficult subjects with understanding and tenderness.

Written in a conversational tone, this book punctuates descriptions of how grief feels with repeated questions: “Where is sad?” “When is sad” “Who is sad?” The reader is invited to empathize with Rosen, who is depicted in pen and watercolor illustrations on each page, navigating his sadness. Readers will recognize aspects of profound sadness in both the refrain of “Sometimes…” and in the rough lines and muted colors of the illustrations.

Michael Rosen’s Sad Book may not be a cherished bedtime story, or even one that every parent will want to share with their children, but it is a necessary story. It neither trivializes nor dramatizes depression, but instead shares honestly. Rosen’s telling creates a space for other parents to share their stories, and to feel less alone in their grief. It gives words to parents and children who may not know how to communicate what their sadness feels like, no matter what the cause of that sadness is.