Book Buzz Blog
In the far-off days when the Picts and the Scots were dividing the ancient land of Scotland and fighting amongst themselves to decide who could get hold of the most of it, there came good men from over the seas to settle the land.
--“The Drowned Bells of the Abbey”
Firelight and drumbeat were the original backdrop for these tales, true and added to and some imagined altogether, that are retold in Sorche Nic Leodhas’ award-winning book, Thistle and Thyme.
When my son was in kindergarten, he was diagnosed with a "lazy eye." I do not know if that is still the appropriate term to use, but the result was that he had to wear a patch over one eye (the stronger one) to force the other eye to work harder and to strengthen. In the book The Pirate of Kindergarten, by George Ella Lyon, the main character, Ginny, receives a similar diagnosis when she does not pass a routine vision screening at school. Ginny has difficulty seeing. She runs into things in the classroom, and some of her classmates laugh at her. Ginny loves reading but when she reads she has trouble seeing the letters, and she has to get very close to the page. The imagery of the letters hopping "around like popcorn" and the number 2 looking more like a swan help bring the reader into Ginny's world.
If only I had read I'd Really Like to Eat a Child when I was small, life would have been so much easier.
This is not because I fell victim to some carnivorous beastie that could only be satisfied with devouring yours truly--though once I was surrounded by a ferocious herd of petting-zoo goats. Rather, I might have understood the importance of eating whatever my parents told me to.
I am a former picky eater. Fruits and vegetables were not my bag, and hot dogs reigned supreme. One time I even threw a stuffed pepper out the window. Fortunately, time has passed, and I began to appreciate the foods that I once avoided. But I know how the little crocodile Achilles feels when he rejects his parents' meal of freshly-picked bananas. "Today, I'd really like to eat a child."
Chloe and the Lion is not about a young girl facing off with a ferocious feline, no matter what the title says. Sure, Chloe's present, saving up her nickels and dimes to ride the merry-go-round. She does, in fact, spin around that ride so many times that she gets dizzy and lost in the nearby woods. It is at that very point that Chloe should meet a lion. Instead, a large, ferocious, winged, burgundy dragon steps out.
Writing a picture book is hard work. You must have a solid story, likable characters, and the right choice of words. What's more, this delicate balance can be completely thrown out of whack by a maverick illustrator who thinks that "a dragon would be cooler."
Over in the ocean
Far away from the sun
Lived a mother octopus
And her octopus one
In Over in the Ocean: In a Coral Reef, Marianne Berkes adapts the classic song, “Over in the Meadow,” to life in a coral reef. This counting rhyme explores ocean life from stingrays to puffer fish to seahorses. This engaging picture book invites interaction on many levels. The fun counting song includes many factual details about the coral reef habitat and the animals that live there with their babies. Whether they are squirting, puffing, jumping or skittering, the actions of each creature accurately reflects their real-life behavior.
In Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, by Eleanor Coerr, Sadako is a sixth-grade girl who loves to run in school races and spend time with her friends and family. One day she begins to have dizzy spells, which worsen until she ends up in the hospital. She is diagnosed with leukemia, or the “atom bomb sickness.” Sadako grew up in the aftermath of the atom bomb, dropped on her hometown of Hiroshima when she was just a baby in 1945. Many people got sick in the years after the bomb from its radiation.
Some of my fondest memories from holidays in my childhood are of watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on television. The magic of the parade with its wonderful balloons signaled the beginning of one of my favorite times of year. But I never gave much thought to the history of the parade and its famous balloons. When I saw the book Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade, by Melissa Sweet, I couldn’t resist the chance to meet the man behind the magic.
In A Life Like Mine: How Children Live Around the World, we are introduced to 18 children from different continents, such as Mahasin and her family, nomadic cattle herders in Sudan. Mahasin is nine years old and attends a traveling school for children. When she’s not learning lessons, she likes to weave baskets and help her mother and sisters cook their staple meal, asida, a dish of vegetables and grains mixed with spices. We also meet Isa, age 10, who lives in Sierra Leone and was taken by fighters in the country’s civil war for two years. Now he is back with his family, attending school, planting a few crops, and playing checkers with his friends. The stories and photographs of these children’s lives are fascinating and will appeal to any child who wonders how the world’s children are alike and different.
So, we all know the fairy tale of the Princess and the Pea, right? She shows up at a castle late one night in the middle of a snowstorm. The prince falls in love with her beauty (evident even under the wet, bedraggled appearance), but the king and queen want to make sure she is a real princess. So, they put a single pea under a pile of 20 feather mattresses and wait to see if she notices. And, sure enough, the real princess emerges in the morning bruised and sore from the tiny pea. The prince and princess get married and live happily ever after. Except...well, did you ever think what it would be like to live with someone like that? Someone who couldn’t even stand a pea under her mattress? What about when she was hot? Disappointed? Challenged by some problem?
The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas, by Tony Wilson, takes the traditional Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale and stands it on its head. Prince Henrik doesn’t like the idea of marrying a princess who is sensitive. His brother is married to a very real, very high-maintenance princess who complains day and night about things that don’t suit her. Frankly, it’s a drag being around her, let alone married to her.
When I was in school, we often had to memorize and recite a poem to the class. Some of these poems have stuck with me even as an adult, and I always feel a sense of accomplishment when I can remember one. Memorizing poetry is like a game - you challenge yourself to master the poet’s words and rhythm. Once you do, you are likely to remember it for a long time. One of my kids memorized this short poem from the collection and recited it at dinner the other night when we were having peas:
I eat my peas with honey
I eat my peas with honey
I’ve done it all my life.
It makes the peas taste funny
But it keeps them on the knife.
Yes, we all tried our peas with honey after this...and they do taste funny.
Mary Ann Hoberman, Children’s Poet Laureate from 2008-2010, chose 123 poems to make up Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart because they are “memorable,” which she points out, has two meanings: “easy to remember” and “worth remembering.” Some are short, like the pea poem above, and some are longer challenges, like Edward Lear’s The Jumblies. There are poems about beasts, families, food, nature, and more. There are poems from famous writers (Roald Dahl), favorite poets (Shel Silverstein), and some I had never heard of. Emberley’s pictures are lively and colorful and make the entire book a pleasure to browse.