Review: How to Read a Book by Kwame Alexander

How to Read a Book by Kwame Alexander

How to Read a Book by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (9780062307811)

What a treat to have a picture book from a Newbery Medalist and a Caldecott Honoree! This is a picture book about how to read a book told through poetry and imagery. The book begins with finding the right place to read, like under a tree or on a stoop. The book should be peeled open like a bright orange clementine. The scent will be of morning air and butterfly kisses. Read it page by page, plump orange section by section. Inside you will find new friends, places to wander, drops of magic created by the words. No need to rush, just let it create new dreams and hopes that you may never reach.

Alexander doesn’t shy away from writing a real poem for young readers. It’s one that will stretch them, using a lot more imagery than they may be used to. He plays with colors, turning moons purple and zinging orange throughout. He also speaks to what books can do to us and for us in our lives without getting narrative or preachy about it. Instead his own book embodies this, taking us on a new journey of exploration.

Sweet’s illustrations are incredible. She works Alexander’s words into her art, forming them out of zinging bright neon colors, or quiet steady blues. She creates smaller pages at times, pages that are special and make you slow down and really feel the words and the illustrations.

An incredible work of poetry and art, this one should win awards. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Predator and Prey by Susannah Buhrman-Deever

Predator and Prey by Susannah Buhrman-Deever

Predator and Prey by Susannah Buhrman-Deever, illustrated by Bert Kitchen (9780763695330)

In poems for two voices, this book shows the cunning, evolution and beauty of predators and their prey. From bats to frogs to snakes to hawks to spiders, the poems feature all sorts of animals. Engagingly, often it is sometimes the obvious predator who is actually going to be the prey. That is certainly true in the example of the spider at the center of her web who is being preyed upon by the assassin bug. After each of the poems, there is a section about the animals in nonfiction prose that illuminates the relationship of the two species more clearly.

I was amazed to discover that this is biologist Buhrman-Deever’s first book for children. Her two-voice poems are very effective and could easily be used in classroom activities to be shared aloud by pairs of children who will enjoy being predators and prey since so many of the animals featured are very fascinating. She gives voice to the animals in her poems and then allows scientific information to be shared as well. The end of the book has a lengthy bibliography which is greatly appreciated.

The illustrations by Kitchen are exceptional as well, showing the reader the relationship between the two animals being discussed. They are realistic and dramatic as the animals stand off on the page. Several of the pages also have large gated pages that open to reveal the poem beneath them, allowing Kitchen’s full imagery to be appreciated without words blocking it.

A very successful mix of poetry and science, this one is sure to be preyed upon by hungry readers in classrooms and activities. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Trees by Verlie Hutchens

Trees by Verlie Hutchens

Trees by Verlie Hutchens, illustrated by Jing Jing Tsong (9781481447072)

Celebrate trees in this book of verse with each poem focused on one type of tree. There are willows, oaks, birch, aspen and more. A total of fourteen trees are highlighted here in free verse, each one embracing the unique nature of that tree with clarity and brevity. The poems are only a few lines long, yet the capture the tree perfectly. The poems are more about the inherent nature of the tree than really describing them physically. There are trees that pride themselves on their straight arrow-like height, others that are filled with giggles in spring. Each poem suits the tree its about, changing in tone to match.

The art by Tsong is exceptional. Some of the taller trees are done so that the book must be turned to read the words and see the tree upright. Others are shown in a full landscape whether budding in spring or standing against a snowstorm. The illustrations are done using digital collage with hand-done elements. They are filled with lines that swirl and move, creating breezes on the page and rings on the branches and trunks of the trees.

A beautiful book of poetry about the trees in our world. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy provided by Beach Lane Books.

Review: Climbing Shadows by Shannon Bramer

Climbing Shadows by Shannon Bramer

Climbing Shadows: Poems for Children by Shannon Bramer, illustrated by Cindy Derby (9781773060958)

Poetry books for children can be some of the worst books on the market. There are some poets who do it extraordinarily well without being saccharine or sing-songy, and now there is a new name to add to that list. Open this book of poetry and you are suddenly in an unknown land. There are no rhymes, the words are evocative, and the thoughts and ideas fresh and amazing. My immediate response to reading the first poem was, “Is this for children?” I read it again. Yes, yes they certainly are. But they are poems that are complicated and deep, but well worth swimming in.

Bramer takes widely varied ideas like drawing pictures, spiders, skeletons, octopi, polka dots, birthday parties and owls and turns them into poems. The poems look beyond the obvious and turn into something far more than that original theme. The birthday poem is about storms and friendship. The one about an octopus is also about climbing trees. The poem about drawing is about roads, stars and lines. Each of them is a journey of discovery, one that makes sense by the end but is gorgeously surprising along the way.

The illustrations by Derby add so much to this book. They too are not what one might expect for a book of poetry for young children. The first poem is accompanied by a dark image of a glowing fox climbing the tree line drawn by a child. Her watercolor images range from gentle and achingly lovely to others that are dramatic and haunting.

One of the most original and surprising books of poetry for children, this one is worth exploring. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Groundwood Books.

Review: Snowman – Cold = Puddle: Spring Equations by Laura Purdie Salas

Snowman - Cold = Puddle Spring Equations by Laura Purdie Salas

Snowman – Cold = Puddle: Spring Equations by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Micha Archer (9781580897983)

As winter turns to spring, changes happen all around. Refreshingly, this book looks at those changes through a mix of poetry and science. In the first pages, the differences between poetry and science are pointed out in a way that makes perfect sense. Subjects like hibernation, streams, wildlife, maple syrup, flowers, wind, bees, and clouds are all explored. The poetry is entirely in equation form like the title, swiftly capturing the essence of something rather like a haiku but in an even briefer format. Readers are encouraged to see poetry and science all around them.

Salas plays with the poetic form here, creating a mathematical poetry style that is entirely joyous to read. Because of the brevity of the form, the narrative is particularly necessary for some of the poems to make sense for readers. The narrative is also brief and focused, explaining the science behind what we see in nature.

The illustrations by Archer are done in oils and collage. They are filled with deep colors of spring sky, blooming flowers, pond water and other parts of nature. Layered and filled with textures too, the illustrations are rich and saturated.

A winning mix of poetry and science, this is a book that captures the wonder of spring. Appropriate for ages 4-8.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Charlesbridge.

Review: Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan

Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan

Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan (9781547600083)

Even though they attend a high school focused on social justice, best friends Chelsea and Jasmine are sick and tired of the way that women are treated there. The two decide to start a Women’s Rights Club that focuses on girls, race, and speaking out. They convince a teacher to be their advisor and are given a school club blog to post to. They post all sorts of things online. Chelsea is a poet who loves to perform in front of audiences. Jasmine writes essays and short pieces on intersectionality and being a black girl of size. Their club starts getting attention both in and outside of their school. But the principal has some issues with their approach and the response of other students to their message. When the club is shut down, the two friends continue to raise their voices together.

Watson and Hagan have created an incredible feminist book for teens. They have incorporated the names and stories of feminists whose writing is worth checking out too, so young people inspired by this book can look further and learn more. The writing is exceptional, particularly the poetry and essays attributed to the two main characters. They cry out for justice on so many fronts that it is entirely inspiring to read.

The authors created two inspiring young women. There is Jasmine, who is grappling with being a large black girl and the constant microaggressions she faces for both her race and size. Her father is dying of cancer while she may be falling for her best male friend. Chelsea is a white girl who stands up for others, calls out for justice, but also makes big mistakes along the way. She is struggling with being a feminist but also being attracted to a boy who is paying attention to her while dating another girl officially. The two grapple with the ideals they hold dear and not being able to attain them, allowing readers to see two human teens doing their best.

Powerful and engaging, this feminist read is written with strength and conviction. Appropriate for ages 12-18.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.

Review: How Do I Love Thee? by Jennifer Adams

how do i love thee by jennifer adams

How Do I Love Thee? by Jennifer Adams, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal (9780062394446)

Based on the famous poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, this picture book takes the iconic first lines of that poem and creates something new. “How do I love thee, let me count the ways…” The book shows three friends experiencing each of the ways that love can feel. It can be deep as the ocean, soft like sunlight. It can be quiet or loud, daylight or night time. It can happen in all of the seasons or any time of day.

The text here has a rich echo of the poem it is inspired by, “Sonnet 43.” That poem is also shared at the end of the book, so young readers can hear the original in all of its beauty. This look at love is rich and varied, showing that love can be between friends or family and doesn’t have to be romantic. The illustrations are filled with whimsy, moving from bright light to deep night. The friends in them play together merrily, connect quietly and simply enjoy time with one another.

A lovely book of love. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Sometimes Rain by Meg Fleming

Sometimes Rain by Meg Fleming

Sometimes Rain by Meg Fleming, illustrated by Diana Sudyka (9781481459181)

Told in rhyming couplets, this picture book explores the wonders of each of the four seasons in turn. The book begins at the end of fall with a rained-upon picnic that is met with smiles. The weather then turns colder and soon there is snow enough for sledding. Snow eventually melts into mud that then turns into sunny hillsides of flowers. Summer is filled with visits to the beach and exploring nature. Autumn brings apples and piles of crunchy leaves to play in. The book ends as winter returns once more and everyone is snug and warm at home.

Fleming’s verse is so controlled and concise. She writes in just a few words an entire feeling or moment in time. The fact that she can do this and still create rhyming couplets that don’t feel stilted at all is near magic. Children may not realize they are reading poetry, but the adults sharing the book with them with marvel at the skill and the delight of such a well written book in verse. The illustrations are done in watercolors that are evocative and completely capture each season. The characters are always happy and enjoying that time of year even with rain, wind, or snow.

A charming picture book written and illustrated for pure joy. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera

Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera

Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (9780763690526)

Poet Laureate of the United States, Herrera here writes a poem that is filled with wonder and possibilities. He invites young readers into his own childhood, filled with tadpoles in creeks, sleeping outside, and feeding chickens. Though his childhood also had goodbyes to people when he moved away and fetching water through the forest. Herrera shares moving to the United States and learning English. Filling pages with words and ink, creating poems and songs. The book ends with him speaking on the steps of the Library of Congress and then asks readers to imagine what they could do.

Herrera’s poem is exquisitely crafted for young readers. He takes them on a full journey of his childhood, showing them the beautiful side, the hard work and the difficulties of learning a new language and moving to a new country. It is a powerful work just right for small children about immigration and the impact the immigrant voices have on our country in so many ways.

Castillo’s art is filled with a sense of memory and longing. She lights her pages with bright sunlight and then haunting moonlight appears. There is a sense of being a witness to Herrera’s life in her work, of watching things happen right at his shoulder. It’s a beautiful way to view someone’s life.

Rich, memorable and timely, this picture book is something special. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.