February 22, 2018

Forest World by Margarita Engle

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 10:37 pm by suebe2

Forest World
by Margarita Engle
Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Hurt and confused, Edver doesn’t know what to expect when his mother ships him off to Cuba.  He knows that the two of them fled the island when he was just a baby and he knows that this is where his father lives, but what is the surprise about which his mother hints?

Before Edver gets on the airplane, his mother loads him down with gifts and warnings.  Don’t boast. Don’t flash around your money. Don’t ask for food. The people in Cuba have very little and she wants to help him fit in and connect with those around him.

But Edver doesn’t understand how he can hope to connect.  Not without the phone that his mother took away.  Sure, he was skateboarding while playing a game but if that biker had been paying more attention the guy wouldn’t have gotten hurt.

In Cuba, Edver discovers that his phone wouldn’t have worked anyway and that no one knows anything about the games he loves.  His grandfather, abuelo, teases Edver about the games but the most clueless of all is the one who was meant to be a pleasant surprise.  His sister.  Edver is only a year younger than Luza, a girl who loves art, magic realism and the forest on the family mountain.  She is proud of the work that their father does to keep the animals safe from poachers.

Not surprisingly, she resents Edver and the relationship he has with their mother.  Edver doesn’t understand her anger but he too wants to lure Mama to Cuba.  But she’s off looking for rare animals in a Southeast Asian jungle.  So the siblings invent a butterfly, never before seen, to lure Mama back to Cuba.  What they don’t expect is that before she arrives they will come face-to-face with someone much more dangerous.

If your young reader has never sampled Engle’s work, this book would make an excellent introduction to the Young People’s Poet Laureate as named by the Poetry Foundation. This book is a novel in verse, fast-paced and accessible.  Poems alternate between the point-of-view of Edver and Luza.  Readers learn about the sibling’s unusual names, how Cuban families were split, and the damage done by poachers who lure people into helping them.

For anyone interested in poetry, Cuba, human rights, or the environment.


May 23, 2017

Rah, Rah, Radishes! A Vegetable Chant by April Pulley Sayre

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 9:14 pm by suebe2

Rah, Rah, Radishes! A Vegetable Chant
by April Pulley Sayre
Beach Lane Books

“Rah, rah, radishes!
Red and white!”

“Carrots are calling.
Take a bite.”

From radishes and carrots to squash and asparagus, the produce aisle gets treated to a rollicking fast paced rhyme in this picture book by nonfiction author and poet April Pulley Sayre.

Although most of the text is devoted to the vegies in question, Sayre also covers the importance of bees and sun.  An author’s note at the back of the book also discusses the definition of a “vegetable” in dietary terms, the importance of color to nutrition and veggies that didn’t make their way into the book.

Whether the topic is poetry, diet or colors, this book is an excellent choice.  Short enough to read aloud it is sure to engage young readers in discussion whether or not they are trying to figure out what is a radish or if carrots can be a color other than orange.

Young learners would have fun listing the many vegetables in the book, grouping them by color or shape or even in alphabetical order and coming up with ways they can be eaten.  A simple vegetable soup or salad would be an excellent classroom project as would a graph of what vegies each student has eaten within the last 24 hours.

Invite young learners to create their own vegetable poems with that poem is a chant like the one written by Sayre, list poem, or an acronym.  Another possibility would be to create a vegetable still life and have the students draw, paint or create collages based on what they see.

This book presents an almost endless array of possible activities.  Share it with your young learners and let them get creative!



May 17, 2016

Slickety Quick: Poems about Sharks by Skila Brown, illustrated by Bob Kolar

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 4:44 pm by suebe2

Slickety Quick:
Poems about Sharks
by Skila Brown
illustrated by Bob Kolar

Mention sharks and it is usually the Great White shark that comes to mind.  That’s no wonder since it is big and dramatic and oh so very deadly to the seals that it hunts.  But there are 400 different types of sharks on the planet and this book contains a series of poems about fourteen of them.

I was happy to see that some of my favorites were there including the hammerhead and the whale shark.  But there were also sharks that I had never heard of including the wobbegong and the blue shark.

Each shark gets a spread (two facing pages) and a poem.  The poems include a poem for two voices (hammerhead and angelfish), a concrete poem (great white shark and again for the cookie cookie-cutter shark) and more.  I do wish that there had been an author’s note about the types of poems but maybe that’s something that Brown will add to her author’s site.

Her site does include a teaching guide.  It coaches young readers to think about the poems and how word play gives information that isn’t explicitly stated in the poem.  There is also some discussion about the types of poems.  There are also activities for young readers to do including writing poems of their own.

The artwork for this book was created digitally.  I’m seldom a fan of digital art work because it so often look flat but that is far from the case with Kolar’s work.  Here the crisp lines work to add to the sharpness and danger of the topic. There is also a richness of color that I very much appreciated.

This book would be great on the classroom bookshelf whether you are discussing poetry, sharks or the ocean.  Although it wouldn’t make a great bed time book, it would be an excellent choice for one-on-one reading with the shark-nut in your life.


June 30, 2014

Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons by Jon J. Muth

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 1:32 am by suebe2

Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons
by Jon J. Muth
Scholastic Press

An adorable panda, Koo, leads readers through the alphabet and the seasons in this light, fast flowing alphabet book.

But don’t think you’ve seen it before.  This isn’t a flashy book but it quietly, gently sidesteps expectations.  Where most books about the seasons start with spring or summer, this one begins with fall.

That’s not all.  A is for autum and B is for Broom but Muth shakes things up a bit.  Although he follows the alphabet A-Z, the featured word isn’t always the first word in the poem.  This results in a more fluid sound when the book is read aloud and also gives the young reader a bit of a challenge in finding the featured word.

This book would make a good bed time or cuddle time book.  It holds up well to being read aloud, it is poetry after all, but this isn’t your loud, raucous read aloud.

When you hear the word haiku, you probably think 5-7-5.  The first thing that Jon J. Muth does in this fun alphabet book is flip that notion head over heals.  In Japanese, haiku consist of 17 sound units, called on.  I’m not sure I understand these units myself but one article I read explained that the word on  consists of one English syllable and 2 Japanese on.  

Muth’s watercolor and ink illustrations are a strong compliment for the forms emphasis on nature, creating images with strong colors that are still gentle in that they don’t hae hard-edged borders.

Share this book with your young poet and have fun writing haiku that deviate from the American norm.


April 10, 2014

October Mourning by Leslea Newman

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , at 1:31 am by suebe2

October Mourning:
A Song for Matthew Shepard
by Leslea Newman
Candlewick Press

Oh my goodness.  Read this book.

I could begin and end my review right there.  It is simply that powerful, but I sense that some of you may need a bit of convincing.

I chose this one because April is National Poetry Month and this is a story told through poetry.  No, it isn’t a novel in verse because this is a true story. Or as true as it can be.  When Matthew Shepard was beated to death, Newman, like many people, mourned that he had died so alone.  How would anyone ever know the truth of what had happened?

Then, thinking like a poet and a writer, Newman noodled.  The fence held Matthew throughout the night.  A doe may have lingered by his side.  Stars, moon and the convicted.  All had been there and could tell the story.

Each poem in this book is told from a different perspective — that of the fence, a deer, one of the police officers, the judge. Bit by bit we learn about what happened and how Matthew’s life, and death, shaped his community and his world.

The poems take many different forms including:

  • “Every Mother’s Plea” is a deceptively simple haiku.  I say deceptively simple because it goes beyond simple syllable counting (5-7-5) to end with a realization, much like the traditional form.
  • “Signs of Trouble” is a found poem created by road signs that were never meant to speak to us through such a poem.
  • “Class Photo: Me in the Middle” is an alphabet poem combining youthful alphabet play (A to Z) with chilling reality.

This book will give you some idea of the range of what can be accomplished through various poetic forms as well as how a story can be told through poetry.

A daring teacher could use this book in the classroom — I saw daring because there would almost certainly be a parent that would complain.  I would love to think that the complaint would be about the heartless violence Matthew suffered but, sadly, it would most likly focus on his sexuality.  Sad, but true.

Frankly, I think it is a book everyone should read.  Why?  Astonishingly brief, its effect will echo through your mind for days.



March 4, 2013

Ekaterinoslav: One Family’s Passage to America, A Memoir in Verse by Jane Yolen

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:48 am by suebe2

One Family’s Passage to America,
A Memoir in Verse
by Jane Yolen
Holy Cow! Press

Jane Yolen grew up believing that her father had been born in the United States,  in New Haven.  It wasn’t until Yolen herself was in her 70s that she saw his “Declaration of Intent,” a piece of paperwork that he had been required to sign as a 7 year-old when passing into the United States through Ellis Island.  He had, in fact, been born in Ekaterinoslav, a small Jewish town in the Russian Ukraine. Thus began Yolen’s quest to find out a bit more about her family and how they came to New England.

She learned about Ekaterinoslav where her grandfather made a living for his family selling bottled kerosene and her grandmother looked more like a Ukrainian peasant than a Jew.  She learned about Cossack raids and soldiers and families simply trying to live their lives in spite of the turmoil being whipped up all around them.

These same families faced hard choices.  Should they venture to the United States and maybe find a land of hope?  Or should they stay in the Ukraine where, if not easy, life was at least predictable?  Some would stay and some would go but the decision was never simple.

Yolen didn’t have a juvenile audience in mind when she wrote this book as evidenced by one poem, Furrows, in which she speculates what the teenage girls may have been thinking whenever they encountered handsome Russian soldiers.  That said, the single reference is much less explicit than what is found in many young adult novels.

Teens who are preparing to leave one home to make another would make an excellent audience for this story of a family doing much the same thing.  Young poets will find the work especially intriguing as Yolen uses various poetic forms to tell a larger story.  A slim 53 pages, the book gives the reader food for thought on many different levels.


May 13, 2011

Birds of a Feather poems by Jane Yolen, Photographys by Jason Stemple

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 6:59 pm by suebe2

Birds of a Feather
poems by Jane Yolen
photographs by Jason Stemple

The world of our feathered friends comes alive in this poetry collection by the mother and son team of Jane Yolen and Jason Stemple.  Yolen’s poetry introduces young readers to a variety of birds ranging from the regal bald eagle to the diminutive chickadee and from  the solitary Great Horned Owl to the group loving Oystercatcher.

Each two page spread is dedicated to an individual bird.  Yolen’s poem is complimented by a sidebar of additional information on the bird.  But pulling it all together are Stemple’s stand out photos.

As much as I adore Yolen’s poems, I have to admit that I order each book the pair does for the photos.  Even the everyday chickadee is a masterpiece when it is brought into focus by Stemple’s lens.

Pick up a copy of this book to share with the poetry lovers and the nature lovers in your life.  Younger readers can focus on the poems and return later to learn a bit more from the sidebars.

A must for anyone who loves nature photography or our feathered friends.


April 2, 2009

Honeybee by Naomi Shihab Nye

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 3:11 am by suebe2

honeybeeApril is Poetry Month:  Pick up a book of poetry today!


by Naomi Shihab Nye

Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins

Award winner this may be, but I picked it up on impulse.  I love Naomi Shihab Nye’s poetry and have been studying personal essays as well as prose poems.  When I saw this book face out at my library, I pounced on the opportunity to enjoy prose and poetry from one of my favorites.

As with any really good poetry collection, there are poems and prose to play on your every emotion.  “Museum” had me laughing aloud and looking for someone to read it to.  I smiled in appreciation at “Lion Park.”  After reading “Letters My Prez is Not Sending,” I had to go find my son and give him a huge hug.  I grimaced at the justice in “Cat Plate.”

But the piece that spoke most deeply to me?  You simply must read “Before I Read The Kite Runner.”  It sums up what I love most about books and why I write as well. 

That said, “Gate 4-A” left me with hope in the goodness of my fellows, people of compassion.

Don’t let the cartoony, child-like design fool you, this is a book for teens and adults.  There are poems about love and war and hate and loss and sexuality in our society.  They have a mature sensibility with which younger readers would not connect.

This one is going on my “must buy” list.


February 23, 2009

The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 7:54 pm by suebe2

surrenderThe Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom (AR 6 . 4 )

by Margarita Engle

Henry Holt

With this book winning the Pura Belpre Author Award and a Newbery Honor, I expected great things.  It exceeded my expectations.

Poet and author Margarita Engle gives young readers a glimpse of the fight for Cuban independence from Spain.  She starts with Cuba solidly under Spanish rule and then moves to the actual rebellion, from the freeing of slaves by Cuban planters to Spanish soldiers who are little more than boys and U.S. involvement.  While there are four point-of-view characters, the main character is Rosa who enters the story as a young slave learning to heal.  Rosa’s life mirrors the story of Cuba as she hides from those who would harm her, helps those who need her whether they are ex-slaves or Spanish soldiers, and struggles to keep all alive with little but hope.

Holt markets the book for ages 12 and up and my library shelves it in the teen section.   The talk of war, battles and concentration camps is straight forward without being graphic.

Although I studied Latin American history in college, I learned a great deal from this book.  For example, I had never heard of concentration camps in Cuba.  Engle includes a list of references and I intend to add several, perhaps even one or two in Spanish, to my shelves.


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