Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Julie Morstad
This is a poetic and radiant look at the life of Anna Pavlova, prima ballerina. It begins with her childhood where she grew up poor, the daughter of a laundress in Russia. Then her mother takes her to the ballet one night and Anna’s life is transformed by a desire to dance. She auditioned twice for the Imperial Ballet School, turned down the first time because she was too young. At age 10, she was admitted and studied dance. Her body was considered all wrong for ballet, since she was so thin and not athletically built. She became the most famous ballerina of all time, helped by her tireless work to bring dance and music to those who had never experienced it. The book goes all the way through to her death, where she still longed to perform and dance until the very end.
Snyder’s poetry is just as delicate and strong as Pavlova herself. Through the words you can feel the tremble of desire, the longing for a different life and then the drive to learn and perform. As Pavlova’s story continues, Snyder captures the way that she created a home for herself when Russia changed and the importance of her performing around the world. Her performance as the swan is particularly beautifully captured in words, allowing her grace and particular style to be understood by young readers.
Morstad’s illustrations help with this as well. They highlight her beauty and grace, allow her to shine on the page and dance across it. Her pale beauty and black hair captivate on the page. Other pages show how hard she worked both in learning to dance and then again in a repeating format how hard she worked as a prima ballerina as well.
Beautifully written and illustrated, this picture book in poetry offers a glimpse at the wonder that was Anna Pavlova. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings by Margarita Engle (InfoSoup)
Released August 4, 2015.
In this verse memoir, Engle tells the story of her childhood during the Cold War. With half of her family coming from Cuba and a grandmother who still lived there, Engle had a strong connection to Cuba. It was there that as a child she found herself, connected to the island culture and lifestyle, ran wild in nature, and discovered a quieter life. It contrasted with her life in Los Angeles, filled with bustle and crowded with people. Through both of these distinct worlds, she has a constant, her love of books and words. As the Bay of Pigs escalates, Engle fears for her island family and has to deal with the increased hatred of Cuba and Cubans in America. Cut off from family with the Cuban embargo, Engle can do little to help and again turns to her words to express herself.
Engle is one of the best verse novelists working today. While all of her previous books are splendid, this one is personal in a new way, one that offers up her heart. She shows her love of Cuba so vividly and so profoundly that her connection there runs through the entire novel. At the same time, she also shares the loneliness of a girl who likes books and words and who struggles to make friends at times. Add to that the political turmoil that has continued for decades and you have a book that could have been a tragedy but instead rises beyond that and straight into hope.
As always, Engle’s verse is exceptional. She captures emotions with a clarity in her verse that makes it immensely compelling to read. There are poems that show a pig being slaughtered on the farm in Cuba that makes it sound both brutal and delicious, the perfect mix of tempting and revolting. There are poems that capture the night sounds of Cuba and the longing for a horse of her own. They show the beauty of milking cows, the strength of a hard-working hand, the joy of connecting with a horse as you ride it. It all melts together into a picture of Cuba that is both personal and universal.
Give this to children who loved Brown Girl Dreaming for another verse memoir that is sure to inspire young readers to see the world in a more diverse and brilliant way. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.
Changes: A Child’s First Poetry Collection by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke (InfoSoup)
Celebrate the changing of the seasons with this collection of poetry from master children’s poet, Charlotte Zolotow. The 28 poems move from the joy of the change from one season to the next and then start with a focus on spring. The poems speak of the joy of spring breezes, snow melting, rainfall, violets, and green grass. Summer poems shine with sun, seaside sand, lights at night, and the buzz of insects. Autumn comes next with the joy of fallen leaves, classrooms, firelight, and Halloween. The book finishes with winter and its snow and ice that dazzle in their own way.
The poems here create a whole, a deep look not only at the seasons but also in the power of connecting with nature throughout the year. Zolotow’s mastery shows in each one, her ability to look closely at a small thing, find the immense beauty in it, speak to that and then create a universal experience in words on the page. Everyone will respond to these poems, as they capture those moments in time where we can all connect with nature and with one another.
The illustrations frame each poem, and capture the natural hues of each season. Spring is filled with the brightness of the flowers and grass. Summer is yellow and bright with the sun. Autumn turns golden and orange while winter is blues and whites. There are just enough details to invite readers into the poems and allow the words to really be the focus of the book.
A gorgeous addition to children’s poetry collections, this is one to get into teacher’s hands so they can start using it immediately. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Over the Hills and Far Away: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes by Elizabeth Hammill and various illustrators (InfoSoup)
Nursery rhyme treasuries have to be something special to gain attention and this one certainly is. In this treasury, nursery rhymes from around the world nestle together into one full and playful view of the world and children. There are rhymes from England and the United States, and then there are wonderful additions from Africa, China, South America, France and other areas. Adding to the variety are the illustrations from some of the greatest children’s book illustrators working today, including popular favorites like Lucy Cousins, Shirley Hughes, Jon Klassen, Jerry Pinkney and Shaun Tan.
Opening this book invites the youngest readers into a journey of the imagination and the joy of rhymes from around the world. Anchored by familiar favorites for western readers, the book branches merrily out into less familiar rhymes. Rhymes carefully chosen to become new favorites and ones that reflect the places and regions they come from clearly.
The illustrations are gorgeous and varied. It makes each turn of the page thrilling and filled with wonder. Each one is unique and marvelous, a great example of that master illustrator’s work.
Add this nursery rhyme treasury to your library collection to add an important amount of diversity to your shelves. Appropriate for ages 1-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
The shortlist for the 2015 CLiPPA has been announced. The UK award is given by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education. It is the only book award that celebrates poetry for children specifically. The award winner will be announced in July. Here is the shortlist:
Blue Balloons and Rabbit Ears by Hilda Offen
Give the Ball to the Poet: A New Anthology of Caribbean Poetry edited by Georgie Horrell, Aisha Spencer and Morag Styles
Let in the Stars edited by Mandy Coe
My Life as a Goldfish and Other Poems by Rachel Rooney, illustrated by Ellie Jenkins
Werewolf Club Rules by Joseph Coelho
Audacity by Melanie Crowder
Told in masterful verse, this is the story of real-life heroine Clara Lemlich who led the largest strike by women in the history of the United States. Born in Russia, Clara was forbidden any education because her devout Jewish father did not approve. When her family emigrated to the United States at the turn of the twentieth century, Clara was required to go to work to support her family while her father and brothers dedicated their lives to prayer. Clara got work in the garment industry, discovering horrific working conditions and refusing to just accept them. Clara worked to get women workers taken seriously by the male-driven unions and for their plight to be incorporated into union strikes and negotiations. Along the way, she also used the public library and free classes to teach herself English. Anyone wondering if one person can truly make a difference in a larger world has only to read this book to be inspired to action.
Crowder’s poetry here is completely amazing. From one page to the next, she captures the incredible spirit of this young woman and her desire to educate herself. When she finds something to fight for, she is unstoppable, fearless and unbeatable. Crowder also ties Clara to nature, even in among the tenement buildings of New York City. She is a small hawk, a flower in the concrete, she herself is the force of nature in the city.
Just the descriptions of the horrific beatings that Clara withstood on the streets and the picket lines would make most people quit. But Crowder makes sure to depict Clara as a person first and a hero second. It makes what she did so much more amazing but also encourages everyone to realize that they too have this within them if they are willing to take on the fight. This woman was a heroine in such a profound way, unsupported by her family and willing to use all of her free time to make a difference, she is exactly what the modern world needs to have us make change now.
Strong, beautiful and wonderfully defiant, this book is an incredible testament to the power of one woman to change the world. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from ARC received from Philomel.
Here are my picks for the best nonfiction titles for children from this past year. The list includes books of poetry and nursery rhymes along with more factual forms of nonfiction. Enjoy!
All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
Born in the Wild: Baby Mammals and Their Parents by Lita Judge
A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Colors of the Wind: The Story of Blind Artist and Champion Runner George Mendoza by J. L. Powers
The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra: The Sounds of Joy Is Enlightening by Chris Raschka
Dare the Wind: The Record-breaking Voyage of Eleanor Prentiss and the Flying Cloud by Tracey E. Fern, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully
Edward Hopper Paints His World by Robert Burleigh
Eye to Eye: How Animals See the World by Steve Jenkins
Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart
Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems by Paul B. Janeczko
Goodnight Songs by Margaret Wise Brown
Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk
Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons By Jon J. Muth
A Home for Mr. Emerson by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham
How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson
The Iridescence of Birds: A Book about Henri Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan
Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Frank Morrison
Little Poems for Tiny Ears by Lin Oliver, illustrated by Tomie dePaola
Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis, illustrated by Gilbert Ford
The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary GrandPre
Not My Girl by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems by J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian, illustrated by Jeremy Holmes
The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jennifer Fisher Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life by Lois Ehlert
Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America by Tonya Bolden
Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh
Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything by Maira Kalman
Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman and Rick Allen
Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman and Rick Allen
Master nature poet, Sidman, takes readers on a journey through the wonders of nature during winter in this new book. Each poem focuses on a specific animal, showing the amazing adaptations they have made in order to survive the cold temperatures. Done in a variety of poetic formats and styles, all of the poems have a lush beauty to them. Each poem is paired with a paragraph of information that further explains the animal and their lives during the winter months. The animals include tundra swans, voles, fox, moose, birds, insects and of course bees.
Sidman’s poems are exceptional. She clearly has designed them for children, but they stretch vocabulary and concepts. Even better, they reveal things below the surface, inviting further exploration and investigation of the concepts. The nonfiction paragraphs are equally welcoming. They are filled with fascinating facts and will have nature-loving children fully engaged.
Allen’s illustrations are linoleum prints. They have such depth and texture, with details of feathers and fur clear on the page. Done in vibrant colors, the illustrations show the color of the world despite its layer of white snow. Rich and detailed, these illustrations are luminous on the page.
An amazing book of nature poetry, get this into the hands of teachers doing nature units, units on winter, and share the poems merrily with children at any time. Simply gorgeous. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
What Forest Knows by George Ella Lyon, illustrated by August Hall
This poetic exploration of the seasons invites young readers into the forest to see what happens to the animals and plants as the seasons change. It begins with snow, which is something the forest knows well. It also knows about waiting, so it waits as the animals in the forest sleep and rest during the cold. Then buds come and creeks run and birds fly and it’s spring. All of the animals and insects awaken and come out into the growing grass. Fruit arrives with fall, nuts ready for squirrels to harvest. Animals eat to survive the next winter. Finally, there is snow again in the forest and an invitation to make the forest yours too.
Lyon’s poem is glorious. She winds through the forest along with the breezes, touching down and pointing out exactly the right things. It’s a poem that is organic and natural, celebrating everything in the woods, the ongoing changes, and allowing us to see ourselves reflected in the woods as well. This book is an invitation to explore during all seasons, to look for birds and bugs and mammals as we walk.
Hall’s illustrations add to that immense appeal of nature and the forest. His paintings play with the light as it changes through the seasons as well as the colors of the trees and the grass as the time passes. They are dappled and lush, filled with the movement of the wind and the movement of the leaves.
A great addition to the crowded shelves about seasons, this picture book combines poetry with gorgeous illustrations. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.