Cast Away: Poems for Our Time by Naomi Shihab Nye 

Cast Away Poems for Our Time by Naomi Shihab Nye 

Cast Away: Poems for Our Time by Naomi Shihab Nye (9780062907691)

By the Young People’s Poet Laureate, this collection of poems shines a fierce light on the garbage and litter we create and toss away. The poems tie litter to larger environmental concerns as well as American politics in the time of anti-truth and fake news. Some poems question whether technology is helping us or not too. This is a collection that is thought provoking and insistent that we begin to pay attention to the large and small choices we are making each day and figure out how we too can make a difference and start picking up our own litter, both physical and figurative.

Nye has written a collection of poems with a strong political viewpoint that demands attention. Yet she never veers into lecturing readers, rather using the power of her words to make us all think differently about our privilege on this planet, how we abuse it, and how to restore balance to the world, our lives and our politics. The poems move from one to the next with a force of nature, almost like wandering your own garbage-strewn path and engaging with it. Sometimes you may lack the equipment, but the hope is that your own fingers start twitching to pick things up too. 

A strong collection that is provocative and tenacious. Appropriate for ages 10-14.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greenwillow Books.

Review: Crab Cake by Andrea Tsurumi

Crab Cake by Andrea Tsurumi

Crab Cake by Andrea Tsurumi (9780544959002)

Crab loves to bake cakes. He makes them every day as all of the fish and ocean creatures do what they usually do too. Pufferfish puffs, Parrotfish eats coral, Dolphin blows bubbles. But when one night a disaster happens and a load of trash is dumped on their part of the ocean bed, no one knows what to do. Everyone else freezes, just staring at the mess. Crab though doesn’t freeze and makes a big cake for everyone to share. As the animals come together, they form a plan. It’s all thanks to one crab who just kept on doing what he does best.

Tsurumi’s picture book is filled with lots of small touches that bring this underwater world fully to life. The book reads aloud beautifully with quiet moments at first, the loveliness of crab making cakes for everyone, and then the disaster and its aftermath. It is a picture book that celebrates the creation of a community and the power of food to bring everyone together. It is also a book that looks at our oceans, caring for them and a love of the creatures who live there. The illustrations have a great cartoon look and feel to them that works well, creating moments of humor and drama very effectively.

A winning read for storytimes about fish, crabs or the environment. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: Super Manny Cleans Up! by Kelly DiPucchio

Super Manny Cleans Up by Kelly DiPucchio

Super Manny Cleans Up! by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin (9781481459624)

Manny and Gertie love to pretend to be superheroes in this second Manny picture book. Every weekend they save the planet from danger. It might be stampeding dinosaurs at the museum, lions in the library, or veggie monsters at the farmer’s market. But when they are battling giant turtles from outer space in the park, Manny notices something. The entire park is covered in garbage and litter and it’s hurting the turtles in the pond. The park is swarming with litterbugs! The two decide to do something about it. All afternoon they tidy up the park, joined by their imaginary foes and then by real people who are using the park. Soon everyone realized that they could be heroes too, just like Manny and Gertie.

As with the first in the series, there is a strong example shown here that children can make a difference in their worlds, that they can be heroes too. In this book, the focus is on being a superhero and then that element is brought into the real world through hard work. Manny and Gertie make a daunting task seem doable through their enthusiasm and example. Even better, the book avoids being didactic by continuing to be playful and light in its approach.

The art by Graegin is cleverly done, clearly making the imaginary foes that Manny and Gertie battle different from reality. Done in different bright single colors, the foes are playfully drawn complete with appropriate costumes for their roles. Finely detailed, the illustrations are bright and friendly.

A great second win for Manny and Gertie! Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

 

3 New Picture Books Bringing History to Life

All That Trash The Story of the 1987 Garbage Barge and Our Problem with Stuff by Meghan McCarthy

All That Trash: The Story of the 1987 Garbage Barge and Our Problem with Stuff by Meghan McCarthy (9781481477529)

In 1987, when a New York landfill was almost out of room, Lowell Harrelson decided to take the trash and move it far away using a barge. His plan was to use the garbage to create methane gas that would be turned into electricity in North Carolina. But the garbage barge never made it to North Carolina, when the state got a court order to stop the barge. The barge was also not welcome in Alabama or Louisiana. It eventually made its way into the Gulf of Mexico and tried to enter Mexico, but that country refused it entry as well. Eventually, the barge returned to waters near New York, prepared to return the garbage to where it had come from. But even that was not simple. Finally, after five months at sea and traveling over 6,000 miles, the garbage was incinerated on order by a judge.

McCarthy nicely plays up two aspects of the story of the garbage barge, the ludicrous nature of the barge being stuck at sea for months and the environmental impact of the trash that humans create. She uses a light tone and light touch in her writing, making it accessible for children who will not have heard of the barge before. She also offers more details at the end of the book, explaining how the crew survived on the barge for so long and offering facts about the barge. She also has recycling facts, garbage facts, and information on ocean garbage in particular. A bibliography is also attached.

Part of the light tone of the book are the illustrations which feature McCarthy’s signature bug-eyed characters. She incorporates speech bubbles and larger images to effectively break up the text into readable chunks.

A funny and amazing true story of the garbage barge that captured the attention of everyone in 1987. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.)

Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail by Jennifer Thermes

Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail by Jennifer Thermes (9781419728396)

At the age of 67, Emma Gatewood became the first woman to hike all 2160 miles of the Appalachian Trail alone. She was also the first person to complete the trail three times. In this picture book, readers follow her along on her historic trek. With accompanying maps, the journey is filled with nature, rocks and streams. There are encounters with bears, plenty of rain, and many pairs of ruined shoes.

The book takes a warm look at her accomplishments, showing exactly why she was drawn to walk the trail, the beauty she found there and the peace she discovered along the way. The illustrations are playful and bright, focusing on the landscape and the journey often with Gatewood a small figure amongst nature and other times showing her right at the center. A wonderful book about an inspiring figure who journeyed through life in her own unique way. Appropriate for ages 5-9. (Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams.)

Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson

Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson, illustrated by Frank Morrison (9780544704527)

Told from the point of view of a child participating in the Birmingham Children’s Crusade in 1963, this picture book uses verse to take children back in history. Starting with Dr. Martin Luther King speaking to their congregation, the book shows why it was necessary for children to march, since adults would lose their jobs. The picture book shows how frightened the children were to march but also how very brave they were to overcome those fears and continue. As children were jailed for their actions, the protests continued. When the rest of America saw children being knocked down by fire hoses, even the President took notice and soon change came and children brought that change!

This is a powerful look at the importance of standing up and protesting when things are wrong in our society. While it is about an event in the Civil Rights struggle, it resonates with today’s marches for Black Lives Matter and other causes such as immigration rights. The importance of the Children’s Crusade is explored in the afterword as well. The verse of the book has a quiet but firm tone, telling the tale and letting the courage of the children stand. The illustrations focus both on the crowd of children but also on the faces of individuals and their willingness to stand strong and march together.

An important read about a protest that must never be forgotten. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Rain Fish by Lois Ehlert

Rain Fish by Lois Ehlert

Rain Fish by Lois Ehlert (InfoSoup)

Rain fish only appear when it rains, coming out of the debris in the gutters. Formed of lost receipts, bottle caps, feathers, socks, leaves and more. They swim down the streets, along the gutters and on the sidewalks. You have to look fast, because they disappear quickly. These are fish who swim off to different seas, unable to be caught by fishermen.

This picture book encourages children to look at debris and discarded items in a different way, seeing forms in them and wonder as well. The book’s text is simple, single lines of text on double page spreads which create rain fish that are larger than life. The end pages feature the various objects not made into fish with the objects labeled at the end of the book. This is a gorgeous book, playful and filled with artistic fun.

As always, the illustrations in Ehlert’s books are the treat. Here she captures the fluidity of fish, their forms and fins with a series of objects. The youngest of children may want to name the objects the fish are made of, making this art very accessible and an opportunity to talk about the illustrations. It is also a great introduction to collages and classes or groups could do their own fish or other animals.

Another solid and striking book from a masterful book maker, this picture book is another winner for Ehlert. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.

 

Review: Marvelous Cornelius by Phil Bildner

Marvelous Cornelius by Phil Bildner

Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Bildner, illustrated by John Parra

Cornelius worked in the French Quarter of New Orleans. He was a garbage man who loved his job. He greeted everyone in the neighborhoods and made sure that the streets were clean of even a single wrapper. He had amazing calls he used with his driver, shouting “Woo! Woo!” when it was time to stop and “Rat-a-tat-tat!” when it was time to drive on. He didn’t just carry bags from the curve, he tossed and juggled them, adding dance steps to his routine job. He could launch bags through the air one after another and they landed in a perfect pyramid on the truck. But then Hurricane Katrina came to New Orleans and the city streets filled with mud and muck and piles of garbage. At first Cornelius was overwhelmed by the work to be done, but he started the same way he did every day and soon others started helping too.

This picture book is based on the true story of Cornelius Washington who was a sanitation worker in New Orleans. The Author’s Note speaks to his connection with Cornelius’ family and a reporter who had gotten to know him before the storm. In this book, Cornelius’ story is told in folklore style, offering him and his amazing spirit that he displayed every day a space to be honored and appreciated.

Parra’s illustrations play to the heroic feeling of the book, Often showing Cornelius with stars behind his head or rays of the sun. The painted illustrations have a gorgeous roughness to them in texture that also connects the subject to history and makes the entire book feel timeless and sturdy.

An homage to a man who did a humble job with style and energy, this book is also about survival and what it takes to be an everyday hero. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Review: One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul

one plastic bag

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

Used to just dropping their baskets when they wore out, people in Njau, Gambia did the same thing with their plastic bags, but the plastic bags decayed like the baskets would. They also didn’t last nearly as long. Torn bags can’t be mended or used at all, so one by one, then ten by ten, and thousands by thousands they were thrown to the side of the road. They accumulated in heaps, poisoning the goats that tried to eat the garbage around them. Water pooled in them and brought more mosquitoes and diseases. Burying and burning them weren’t the solution either. Then Isatou Ceesay found a way to recycle the plastic bags and get jobs for her community by transforming them into something new.

This book speaks to the power that one person can have to change things, both for themselves and their entire community. The prose here is straight-forward but also has moments of poetry thrown in, showing the devastation the plastic bags were creating in the Gambia. The book also shows the way that an idea is born, comes to fruition, passes through being scorned and is finally embraced.

The illustrations by Zunon are remarkable. Using collage, they bring together the textures of the weaving and baskets as well as the plastic bags from photographs. The textiles of the Gambia are also incorporated and vibrate on the page. They are combined with painting and other more playful textures to create the natural setting and the people.

Strong writing and superb illustrations combine to tell the true story of how one woman transformed pollution. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Junkyard by Mike Austin

junkyard

Junkyard by Mike Austin

Two huge robots are in a junkyard where there is garbage that goes on for miles.  Then the robots start munching, eating cards, buses, planes and more.  They devour trains, chains, tires, and bicycles.  They drink paste, goo and toxic waste.  Then the story changes and the robots clean up the few things that are left behind, just one little stack.  And it’s time for something new.  The robots dig holes in the ground and plant trees and flowers.  They build a playground and dig out a lake.  They have gardens and dirt piles.  And now what once was a junkyard is a place just for you!

Done in a romping rhyme, this picture book has the appeal of huge robots and destruction.  I must admit that I was completely disarmed by the change of tone in the book when the robots changed from destruction to creation.  It was a striking choice to make in the book and one that will increase its appeal.

Austin’s art is vibrant and colorful.  He uses deep colors that are rich and pop against the white background.  The robots are friendly even as they devour planes and buses.  With the rhyme, the entire book has a playful feel that makes it work well.

A celebration of robots, destruction and making something of nothing, this is a bright and fun joy of a book.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.

Here Comes the Garbage Barge!

Here Comes the Garbage Barge! by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Red Nose Studio

This is the true story of what happened in 1987 when the town of Islip had 3,168 tons of garbage that they had no room for.  So it was placed on a barge to be taken to North Carolina.  Captain Duffy St. Pierre used his small tugboat to pull the barge down to North Carolina, but it wasn’t that simple.  North Carolina refused to take the garbage!  Captain Duffy was then sent to New Orleans.  Nope, they didn’t want it either.  Mexico?  No.  Belize?  No.  Texas?  No.  Florida? No.  The garbage was getting older, smellier and more horrid by the day.  Finally Brooklyn agreed to take the garbage and incinerate it.  It was 162 days after the barge first set out. 

This book could have been a dry look at recycling, garbage and waste, but it definitely is not.  Instead Winter and Red Nose Studio have created a book filled with humor and character that tells the garbage story with more style than the facts could have offered.  Winter’s writing is ideal for reading aloud.  There are plenty of accents, lots of exclamations that fill the book with energy and fun.  Red Nose Studio’s art is three-dimensional, witty and filled with found objects.  His art is humorous, detailed and a delight to look at.  It is a testament to Winters’ writing that it is a great match to this art. 

A perfect book for Earth Day or any eco-friendly event, this book will get children thinking about how many pounds of garbage they create and exactly what happens to it.  Even if it’s not headed for a garbage barge.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Check out the video below of the making of the art for the book:

Reviewed from copy received from Random House.