Category: Nonfiction

Fresh-Picked Poetry by Michelle Schaub

Fresh-Picked Poetry by Michelle Schaub

Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmer’s Market by Michelle Schaub, illustrated by Amy Huntington (9781580895477, Amazon)

Through a series of poems, take a visit to the farmer’s market. From the early work done by farmers long before their customers are awake to the market itself, this book celebrates one of the joys of summer. There are poems about how markets transform empty parking lots, the displays of heaped produce, the friendly sharing of samples, tempting baked goods, and the feeling of community that markets bring. It’s also a collection that celebrates the food too, the freshness of the produce and the bounty that people bring home.

Schaub very successfully has captured the summer joy of farmer’s markets across the country. One can hear the bustle and busyness of the market, captured in her poetry. Throughout there is a sense of humor and immense pleasure at what the market provides beyond the food itself. The poetry has a lightness that reflects the feel of summer and sunshine.

Huntington’s illustrations are equally bright and sunny. She incorporates people of a wide variety of backgrounds and cultures in her images, making sure to fully celebrate communities in her images. She also cleverly weaves a story in her images with a loose dog who adds to the energy of the day.

A fresh and vibrant look at farmer’s markets that is perfect zest to a summer day. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Out of Wonder by Kwame Alexander

Out of Wonder by Kwame Alexander

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (9780763680947, Amazon)

This book is an exploration of famous poets through poems in their honor. Each one captures a sense of that poet whether it is in format itself or subject matter or simply a frame of mind. Turning the pages, one encounters new poets but also old friends. It is with those poets that one knows well that the book truly shines, the homage is clear and the cleverness of the poetry is wonderful.

I read many shining reviews of this book and still was unprepared for how great it is. This is a book that should be part of poetry units in elementary school. It shows two sides of poetry, both paying respect to poets who have gone before but also creating in poetic form a real honor for their work. It’s smart, clever and so beautifully done. As I turned the pages to discover some of my favorite poets on the page, I found myself smiling with delight and amazement as that poet was revealed via poetry.

The illustrations by Holmes are also a way that the poets themselves are depicted on the page. They vary from a focus on a bowl of oatmeal for Billy Collins to zinging reds and oranges and yellows for Rumi to a natural focus for Mary Oliver and Neruda. The varied illustrations also imitate the focus on structure or free style that each poet uses; they are adept reflections of the poet and their poetry.

This book belongs in every elementary school collection and every public library. It is extraordinary. Appropriate for ages 7-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

The Hawk of the Castle by Danna Smith

The Hawk of the Castle by Danna Smith

The Hawk of the Castle by Danna Smith, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline (9780763679927, Amazon)

Journey back to medieval times in this nonfiction picture book about the skill of falconry. Told through the point of view of a young girl living in the castle, the text of the book is done in simple verse that hearkens back to traditional tales. Inset in each double-page spread is detailed information on falconry that shows the various parts of owning and caring for a hunting raptor. The book goes through all of the gear that is needed to own a falcon or hawk and then shows the hawk hunting for prey.

Smith has created a gorgeous two-layered book where her light hand with the verse and its traditional format clearly anchors the story in medieval times. That plays against the information shared about falconry which is clear and matter-of-fact. The text makes sure that readers never mistake the hawk for a traditional pet and never misunderstand that the hawk has emotions about their owner.

Ibatoulline’s illustrations are gorgeous. Bordered in a traditional black-and-white hawk theme, they have a lovely formality about them that suits the subject well. The paintings offer a feel of the majesty of the hawk. As the bird takes to the air so do the illustrations allowing a feel of freedom and joy.

This book truly soars, offering information for those wanting to know about falconry and a lovely poetic view as well. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

 

Balderdash by Michelle Markel

Balderdash by Michelle Markel

Balderdash!: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (9780811879224, Amazon)

This picture book biography is the story of John Newbery, the man who first created books for children in the 18th century. Books were popular in London at the time, but all of the fun books were for adults. Children had to read poems and fables that were dull and taught them about social niceties. John Newbery grew up to be a publisher and realized that children needed different books. He created a book that was filled with fantasy and games and then he made it very attractive and paired it with a toy. Next came a magazine for children and eventually a novel. The books were written anonymously but all were sold and printed by Newbery himself, the man who created children’s literature.

Markel has captured the feel of the creativity and wildness of someone who decided to make a major change in the world. The text here is celebratory of the new discoveries and new chances being taken in books. Markel points out all of the positives about Newbery’s book and avoids noting that his books don’t bear any resemblance to children’s books of today. Rather, the focus is on the invention, the cleverness of the marketing and the popularity of children’s books from the very beginning.

Carpenter’s illustrations are filled with pizzazz. They have a great energy about them, depicting the bustling streets of London, the desirability of the books, and even showing sad children with real humor. She uses slightly turned pages to show other images underneath along with speech bubbles. The text of the book is also playful, moving through different fonts and text sizes for emphasis.

A glimpse of the earliest children’s books, this historical picture book biography is a pleasure just as Newbery’s were. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Bravo! by Margarita Engle

Bravo by Margarita Engle

Bravo!: Poems about Amazing Hispanics by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez (9780805098761, Amazon)

Latino heroes and heroines are depicted in poetry in this nonfiction picture book. From countries around the world and a variety of backgrounds, these people are inspirational and influential. The poems celebrate their accomplishments with clarity and focus, offering a glimpse into their lives. Engle’s poetry is readable and interesting, inviting you to turn the page to discover yet another amazing person. Some of them readers will be familiar with and others will be new. Readers can find more information on each of the people at the end of the book.

Lopez’s illustrations are done in “a combination of acrylic on wood, pen and ink, watercolor, construction paper, and Adobe Photoshop.” The results are rich illustrations with a clever feel of being vintage in their textures. Each illustration speaks to the person themselves, clearly tying them to their passion and cause.

An important book for public libraries, this is a celebration of Latino impact on the world as a whole. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt & Co.

Lighter Than Air by Matthew Clark Smith

Lighter Than Air by Matthew Clark Smith

Lighter Than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot by Matthew Clark Smith, illustrated by Matt Tavares (9780763677329, Amazon)

This picture book biography tells the story of Sophie Blanchard, the first woman to fly on her own. In the 18th century, France was filled with “balloonmania.” Every balloonist was male and they were breaking records. Meanwhile, a girl was growing up by the seaside and dreaming of flight. When she met the famous balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard, the two realized they had a shared passion for flight. They were soon married and started flying together. After two shared flights, Sophie went up alone and became the first woman to fly a balloon solo. Her husband died from a heart attack and fall from a balloon and Sophie stopped flying for awhile. Eventually, she flew again and earned a living with her flight. Napoleon made her Aeronaut of the Official Festivals and Chief Air Minister of Ballooning.

Smith offers exactly the right amount of detail in this picture book. The dangers of ballooning are mentioned but not dwelled upon, just like the death of Jean-Pierre. Sophie’s own death in a balloon is only mentioned in the Author’s Note which also speaks to how little is actually known about her despite her accomplishments. Her childhood, in particular, is unknown and Smith created some of the details himself. Throughout the book, it is the wonder of human flight that is the focus and that unites Sophie’s adult life with her childhood dreams.

Tavares has illustrated this picture book with period details that capture the balloons and the fragility of the baskets. In other illustrations, he captures the sky and the expanse that Sophie is flying into. Two illustrations mirror one another with darker skies as Sophie dreams as a girl of flying and when she returns to flight after her husband’s death.

An important picture book about a brave and groundbreaking woman who refused to be limited by the rest of the world. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Rivers of Sunlight by Molly Bang

Rivers of Sunlight by Molly Bang

Rivers of Sunlight: How the Sun Moves Water around the Earth by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm (9780545805414, Amazon, GoodReads)

This is the fourth picture book collaboration between Bang and Chisholm. All of the picture books done by Bang as author and illustrator and Chisholm, professor of Ecology at MIT have focused on the sun. This picture book is all about how the sun works to move water through the water cycle on earth. The role of the sun as it evaporates water to vapor. The way the sun heats and cools water. The way that water moves around the earth via ocean currents. It’s a book about the power of the sun and the value of water on earth with an emphasis on conservation and care.

Bang and Chisholm have created a group of picture books that celebrate our earth and the wonder of the sun. This book includes water, looking at the small amount of fresh water that actually exists on earth, the way that water cycles through our world, and the power of the sun in all of these systems. The book is told in the voice of the sun, speaking as the source of winds, the power of evaporation, the source of ocean currents.

Bang’s illustrations are lit by the sun. She rims trees in yellow, lights mountains in gold, and swirls lemon through the oceans. She shows the water in the atmosphere as a river of its own, dappled and bright but also subtle against the bolder parts of the illustrations. There is a delicacy to it that emphasizes how humans can damage water on our planet.

Another winner from this collaboration of art and science, this picture book shines. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from The Blue Sky Press.