Friday, December 24, 2010

December 24th: Seussville

Well then, I would be nothing short of a Grinch if this site were not the grand finale, door #24 on my Advent calendar. Are you ready for it?

At, you can learn all about Theodor Seuss Geisel, follow a timeline of his life and publications, watch classic video clips from 70s and 80s adaptations of his books, play numerous games and engage in a wide range of activities. Heck, you can even plan a Seuss-themed birthday party complete with a Seussian cake. The site is fun, child-focussed and deep. Keep digging because there is always more to discover. Because today is Christmas Eve, might I recommend starting your tour of the site with a game of How the Grinch Saved Christmas? Please make sure you help the Grinch get my present into his sack. Thanking you in advance.


There you have it: 24 great book-based, children's websites in 24 days. I hope you all have fun exploring them well into the New Year and beyond, and, no matter how you celebrate the holidays, my wish for you is that your time be peaceful and your days and nights be jammed full of quality books.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

December 23rd: Aaron Shepard

Picture book, picture book, poetry, fiction. Picture book, picture book, poetry, fiction...

Sometimes I sound like a broken record. What's missing from this list? Let me see. How about folktales, storytelling and theatre? At Aaron's World of Stories, you will find all three. Aaron Shepard is a long-time American storyteller whose adaptations of several folktales have been published in picture-book format. On his website, you will find the full-text for numerous folktales, fairy tales, myths, legends and personally authored stories. Each story comes with comprehensive metadata to make your inner librarian happy, or, rather, to help you search the site and determine if a story is appropriate for your needs before you read it. In addition to providing the full-text of the stories, Shepard has also adapted many as reader's theatre scripts, which makes them ideal for staging with children. And did I mention that each story makes a great read aloud? The folktales aren't just Grimm either. They come from many traditions and are global in scope.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

December 22nd: Reading is Fundamental

Because the library is as dead as the grave right now, my 5-year-old daughter is coming to visit me at work today. We will mound up stacks of Christmas books, cuddle up in a chair and do what comes naturally.

"Naturally?" OK, reading is not natural. It is the product of learning and dedication. If you have a toddler, pre-schooler or a child who is just learning to read, visit this website created and maintained by an organization called Reading is Fundamental. Although the site's main characters, Riffy and Rita, are, ahem, quite annoying for an adult audience, there is a lot of wisdom and fun scattered across the site. Make sure you work your way to the Read page where your child can have a number of fine books read to them in an interactive manner. My favourite is This is the Tree by Miriam Moss.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

December 21st: Ed Emberley

In lieu of a mug or gift card, this year my daughter and I gave a book to the classroom for her holiday teacher's gift. The book was The Little Red Hen as adapted by Ed and Rebecca Emberley. The fact that Ed Emberly is still publishing fantastic children's books almost 50 years after he first started out--43 years after winning the Caldecott Medal for Drummer Hoff--is astonishing, really, given how transient fads in children's literature have become. The added fact that he now publishes with his equally talented daughter makes me reflect on the importance of tradition and family--because, you know, it is a time to reflect on those very things.

What could be more traditional and seasonal than a child-focused website? Ha! At, you can have no end of drawing and crafty fun. Emberley is a master of teaching the basic principles of drawing (shapes, line, colour) by breaking them down into their fundamental components. And when I say "fundamental," I really mean "FUNdamental." Try doing some thumbprint drawings, for example, or maybe make a garden scene using only 3 identical circles. Be diverted by the Holiday Activities section of the website. In short, enjoy. According to the home page, the site is currently being revised so make sure you come back again in the new year to see what other goodies might be in store.

And if you still have a little holiday shopping to do yourself, let me recommend The Little Red Hen or last year's Chicken Little.

Monday, December 20, 2010

December 20th: Jack Prelutsky

Jack Prelutsky: so much fun
Poking fun at everyone
Baked a pizza the size of the sun
Hotgogs fly in unflappable buns
Read his poems? Go read one.

And while you're there, please, please pretty please delve into the "Letters to Jack" section of his website. Here is just a sample of the hilarity in store for you there:

"Dear Mr. Prelutsky,
I'm not the funniest person but I like your poems. They make me laugh. Every body in my family is serious. Because we're vegetarian.
Your Reader, Annsley."

Sincerely yours,
The vegetarian librarian who eats no carrion and is sometimes a contrarian, even an authoritarian disciplinarian but is she serious? Never.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

December 19th: Tra-la-la!

I know a lot of people who poo-poo Captain Underpants. Frankly, those people deserve a good wedgie administered by Miss Anthrope. While Dav Pilkey's comic-inspired chapter books starring 4rth graders, George Beard and Harold Hutchins, may not be high literature, they are funny as hell and offer any kid a clinic in punning and word play. Go to Scholastic's Captain Underpants website where you can have lots of laffs and play a few rounds of click-o-rama. Tra-la-la!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

December 18th: Beverly Cleary

Thank heavens for the recent film, Ramona and Beezus. Unlike so many children's book adaptations, this one is well-written, well-acted, and, more or less, remains true to the spirit if not the letter of the original books. What's more, it has put the marvellous books of Beverly Cleary back into the hands of a whole new generation of children. I hope.

Who can help but fall in love with Ramona Quimby or Ralph and his motorcycle? In a world where so much fiction for 6-10 year olds has devolved into poorly written, formulaic, series tripe, Beverly Cleary's books still shine. That's not to say there aren't great recent titles for that age group. There are. Beverly Cleary's books, however, still carry a unique magic.

On the Beverly Cleary website, kids can hang out in the neighbourhood of Klickitat Street and see where Cleary's key characters live and go to school. There's also a handful of fun and educational games to play with names like "Spelling Beezus" and "Retrieving Risby." If you play well enough, your name can be added to the online leader board. The film is mentioned on the website but it hasn't taken over in the way that so many other film adaptations eventually efface the textual history that gave them roots--which is good, because for me, Ramona will always look just like this:

Friday, December 17, 2010

December 17th: 10 Minutes 'Til Bedtime

When my daughter was 3 years old, she fell head-over-heels in love with Peggy Rathmann's 10 Minutes Till Bedtime. Truth be told both of us have lost our hearts time and again to Rathmann. We think she is the bees knees and we really, really, really wish she would publish another book. It's been far too long since The Day the Babies Crawled Away (2003) landed on my desk.

But getting back to 10 Minutes Till Bedtime--I recently stumbled upon the website for the book and I fell in love with Rathmann's wit and charm all over again. On the site you can play shockwave games, learn how to make a hamsterscope, and (my favourite) make yourself a snack fit for a hamster. I would really like it if someone were to make me this snack right now and deliver it to my office door. Thank you.

Once you're done on the 10 Minutes Till Bedtime site, you can pop on over to Peggy Rathmann's author website to learn more about her and her books. Accompanying her biography is her photograph, a picture that solidifies my desire to one day be her friend.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

December 16th: You Read Like Betty White

Lately it seems as if Betty White is the new black. She premiers Superbowl commercials, co-stars with People's sexiest man alive and hosts Saturday Night Live. Golly gee, that naive Sue Ann Nivens certainly has come a long way. Have you ever wondered, though, what it would be like to have Betty White as a Grandma at story time? Or maybe you'd like give a listen to Frodo or Sam Gamgee reading from a contemporary picture book classic? How about Darth Vadar reading a moving, poetic account of African American history?

Thanks to the Screen Actors' Guild Foundation, you can do all of this and more. At Storyline Online, you will find video clips of prominent Hollywood actors reading stories for children. Betty White takes on Gene Zion's classic, Harry the Dirty Dog, Sean Astin reads one of his daughter's favourites, David Shannon's A Bad Case of Stripes, Elijah Wood tackles Satoshi Kitamura's Me and My Cat?, and just in time for the holidays, Lou Diamond Phillips gives an excellent rendition of Chris Van Allsburg's The Polar Express. It's James Earl Jones' reading of To Be a Drum by Evelyn Coleman that impressed me most. Go, have a listen. It's definitely worth the trip.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

December 15th: Canadian History

Sometimes literacy feels a bit like the toy ailse at Toys'r'us: girl's books to the right, guy's books to the left and never shall the two meet in the middle. This gender divide is prevalent and it definitely makes me uncomfortable. And for some baffling reason, this great divide seems to have heightened in the last few years instead of receding. That's not to say there aren't worthy and sometimes even great books written specifically with a female or male audience in mind. But, but, but... I do get frustrated sometimes. I digress. It's just that yesterday's post along with today's has put this issue at the front of my mind.

In the last decade, three excellent historical fiction series have emerged in Canada: Our Canadian Girl (Penguin), Dear Canada (Scholastic) and I am Canada (Scholastic). Penguin and Scholastic were smart in that they recruited some of the nation's best writers for children to pen these books which means the final product is definitely worth it. The websites for each, chock full of recipies, crafts and other activities, aren't too shabby either. Check them out and then promise me you'll encourage cross-gender reading as much as you can.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

December 14th: Guys Read

I can't really remember when I first heard about Jon Scieszka's project Guys Read but I think it was in 2003. The project itself got started in 2001 and over the last near-decade, Scieszka, his friends and colleagues have done considerable work towards lessening the early literacy gap for boys and teens. Command centre for Guys Read is the website, but there's also 2 anthologies (with 4 more in the works) and a (not-often-updated) Twitter feed. On the website, you will find all manner of great titles for guys recommended by guys. There are also reading lists provided by author guys as well as a guys news blog. Guys, guys, guys. You get the point.

Monday, December 13, 2010

December 13th: Book Wink

So many of the links so far on this advent calendar have been for younger children. Perhaps there's something about picture books that lend themselves to web extension. I'm not sure what that might be, though, because for me, picture books are all about the luxury of slow reading while the web is all about excitable, frenetic clicking.

Today's link, however, is pitched to slightly older children. Book Wink is a child-focussed book talk and book review site. Here you can listen to informative video podcasts, each of which showcases one or several contemporary children's books for children in Grades 3-8. Follow the links from these video pages to get lists of read alikes, or simply access the long list of authors, titles, or subjects from the home page. Enjoy.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

December 12th: Little Critter

Note to self: in future be wary of commitments to post 7 days a week during the month of December. Phew. Now onwards.

Today's link is to the Little Critter World-Wide Network. Here you will find all sorts of games and activities centred around Mercer Meyer's beloved books. There's colouring pages, dot-to-dots, interactive games, story-time movies, sing-a-long song sheets and Shockwave-enabled read-to-learn pages. If you have a little critter yourself, he or she will be kept well-occupied on this website.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

December 11th: The Magic School Bus

I think we've likely all spent enough money on Scholastic books and merchandise to have earned a few fun rewards. Today's is The Magic School Bus website where you can play games, download printables and just hang out with the Fritz and her gang. There's lots of learning to be had when you ride on the Magic School Bus--which is all fine and dandy if learnin's your thing, but, me, I'm in it for the bad puns.

Friday, December 10, 2010

December 10th: Story Woods

I was all set to use a different, book-based entry for the Advent calendar today when my librarian friend, Heidi, shared this link with me on Facebook. The site combines almost all of my passions: photography, blogging, and visual narratives. Story Woods may not be book based, but it is a 2.0 treat: the picture book as adapted for the web. I love it and I am sure you will too.

Here are a few of my favourite posts:
Hank makes a friend
Hank finds an egg
Hank's dream
The Box

Thursday, December 9, 2010

December 9th: Mrs P

Now, here's a marvelous, fulsome, odd and at times perplexing website. On it, Mrs P, a kindly Irish grandmother figure played by actress Kathy Kinney, offers up her own storytelling wrapped around the reading of such public domain stories for children as Alice in Wonderland, Aladdin, and Cinderella. You may remember Kathy Kinney as a character actor on numerous television shows. Most notably, she played the over-the-top yet often subtly complex Mimi on The Drew Carey Show. In 2008, Kinney moved on to this internet-based experiment in storytelling. When you visit Mrs P's library, you will find books, stories and poems all classified according to age. Click on a link and the video will zoom you into Mrs P sitting in her rocking chair. She then recounts a humorous anecdote from her life before opening the book to read. Kinney is a very talented woman and her delivery is compelling but, let's just say that, well, the romantic polar bears who turn up at the end of Carroll's The Walrus and the Carpenter, are a tad baffling given the context of the site. Please do go check it out and tell me what you think.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

December 8th: Jan Brett

I don't think there's an author-illustrator out there who more comprehensively captures the holidays and the richness of winter better than Jan Brett. With 37 titles to her credit including classic illustrated adaptations of The Mitten and The Night Before Christmas, Brett has been a significant figure on the picture book landscape for just over 30 years. We're fans of the Gingerbread Boy and Gingerbread Friends in our house. Reading those books always makes me hungry.

Brett's also got one the best and most generous websites going. Are you thinking of giving a 2011 wall calendar to your child for Christmas? Why not make a free one that features Brett's intricate artwork from her latest book, The Three Dassies. Alternatively, you could put on a pageant with your kids using Brett's stage adaptation of the same book. There's even a link to masks that children can print out and colour before donning them for the show. The Hedgie's Holiday Workbench link features 60 additional colouring pages, Christmas card pdfs, recipes, board games, computer games, iron-on transfers, and even a cross-stitch pattern. Whew. And that's not all. If you're not keen on getting your hands sticky, why not decorate Brett's interactive gingerbread house? Or maybe you'd like to make bookmarks for all your friends. See what I mean about this being a generous website? Please make sure that you and all the children you know have fun with it over the holidays.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

December 7th: The Children's Poetry Archive

Those of you who know me realize that I simply could not get through 24 days of children's book sites without focussing on poetry for at least one (or more) of those days. Today's link is to The Children's Poetry Archive, a site that was established by former British Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion. It was his wish to record and make publically available the voices of living poets reading their own work. The site features samples from many noted children's poets including Michael Rosen, Margaret Atwood and Andrew Fusek Peters. There's also recordings of 19th and 20th Century poems but the likes of Robert Browning, William Butler Yeats, and Langston Hughes whose own voices have been lost to history. In all, the work of 48 poets can be heard alongside brief textual biographies of the poets themselves. For those of you whose interests extend beyond children's poetry, you can delve deeper into Motion's broader project at

Monday, December 6, 2010

December 6th: how to turn hungry tissue paper into a butterfly

So tell me, did you get a case of the warm fuzzies last year when Google changed its home page design for a day to honour the 40th birthday of Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar? I sure did. In an instant, I was transported back to Mrs. Smith's Grade 1 class, when Mrs Kite, the librarian, came in to read it to us for the first time. Have you ever wanted to make art just like Carle's? I've tried but the best I've been able to muster is tissue paper collage using lots of glue. It was a sticky mess of a business (especially when done with a 5-year-old), and no matter how hard I tried my creations never looked right. They never looked--dare I coin an adjective?--Carlesque. Which is why I was thrilled a few weeks ago when I discovered Eric Carle's website. Here, he offers up a slideshow that details exactly how he gets the fantastic results he does. Now my art (and my daughter's) will still not look like Carle's, because we clearly do not have his talent, but it will be a lot better than it was. You and yours should give it a try too. The site also offers other up other helpful slideshows that detail his creative process further. Just check the Photo and Video Gallery to access them.

And if you ever find yourself in western Massachusetts, make sure you visit The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. It's a dream of mine to get there.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

December 5th: Chris Van Allsburg

Oh, you all know The Polar Express and Jumanji, and I'm sure that many of you have pored over the beauty of author-illustrator Chris Van Allsburg's other works as well, but have you ever been to his website? Here you will find interactive games, such as simple puzzles, more challenging block puzzles and memory games. There' s also online colouring pages--as opposed to the more common printables that you find at most sites. While you're there, send someone you love a postcard, print out a bookmark, or download one of Allsburg's stunning illustrations as computer wallpaper. This website will satisfy a range of ages. Me? I just like to look at the pictures.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

December 4th: Choosing a good book

Whether you're a parent or loved one looking to select a classic book as a Christmas gift or whether you're a child just wanting to learn more about great books you can read, School Library Journal's Fuse #8 countdown lists are for you. In 2009 Betsy Bird, a librarian at the New York Public Library, conducted a web poll to determine the top 100 picture books of all time. Over the course of several weeks, she unveiled the results along with a detailed discussion of each book. This past winter, she did the same for novels for the 8-12 set. The lists can be found here: picture books and novels. If you click on any individual title, you will find her write-up for that particular book.

Last spring, I got quite caught up in this countdown, agreeing with many titles but flying off the handle whenever I felt her readers got it all wrong. By the time I discovered the countdown, I had missed the deadline to vote. I'm pretty sure she's going to be taking on YA Lit after Christmas, so if'n you have strong opinions on the best books ever for 12-18 year-olds, keep your eyes peeled to the Fuse #8 blog following the New Year.

Oh, and if it's brand new books you're looking for, you can check out the blog's list of 100 Magnificent Children's Books from 2010.

Friday, December 3, 2010

December 3rd: Barbara Reid

Barbara Reid is one of Canada's preeminent author illustrators with nearly 20 books to her credit. Her medium is plasticine and I don't think any other illustrator working in that meduim today matches her craft, humour, or level of detail.

On her home page, you can learn all about her and her books while catching up on the history of plasticine. It's the Portfolio and Students and Teachers links, though, that will provide hours of entertainment. Why? Because not only does Reid encourage kids to tell stories themselves with plasticine, she actually encourages them to plagiarize her work in the process. OK, not really, but she does offer up samples of her art as models to learn by. There's a good deal of student art showcased on the site which means that kids can explore and learn from the styles of other kids. I know that I plan to put a plasticine starter's kit in someone's stocking this year. You're never too young to start your artistic career, right?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

December 2nd: The ICDL

"Children and their families deserve to have access to the books of their culture, as well as the majority culture."

This is just one sentence from one of the most eloquent, progressive and noble mission statements on the Internet. It comes from the International Children's Digital Library; the full text of the mission statement can be read here. The library itself contains roughly 4,500 books in 54 languages. There are plenty of English language titles represented in the collection, from picture books through to more complex chapter books. Finding books could not be more simple, as the ICDL has one of the best, most child- and adult-user friendly search interfaces out there.

The mission statement for the ICDL places much emphasis on the primacy of language and one's mother tongue when it comes both to learning in a new culture and to discovering the depth of one's own cultural heritage. While this is certainly true, I would also argue that the works represented in the ICDL go a long way toward teaching cultural diversity through visual literacy. For example, I have no knowledge of Persian or Farsi but just looking at the illustrations in this book gives me a strong sense of Iranian cultural history and the art of visual representation.

So, go now. Read some books or just browse the pictures. Compare a Finnish picture book to one from Serbia. Get lost--in all the right ways. The main search page can be found here.

By the way, Kyla mentioned Tumblebooks and The Capstone Library in the comments section yesterday. These are both excellent eBook resources, but they are licensed databases. If your public or school library does not subscribe to them, you cannot access them. FYI, the New Brunswick Public Library System recently acquired TumbleBooks so if you live where I do, then you and your child can read Tumblebooks from the library's home page. With this advent calendar, I am trying to showcase web resources that are freely available to all. It amazes me that the ICDL remains a free resource and I hope it always will remain so. Should you be looking for a good cause to support this holiday season, I notice the ICDL has a home-page listing of ways that you can contribute whether it be with expertise or money.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Countdown Is On!

Last year at this time I offered up an advent calendar of sorts: 24 links to quality animated picture books available on YouTube. That calendar was a huge hit and so I've decided to do something similar again this year. Rather than sharing YouTube links, over the next 24 days I plan to take you to some of the best child-focused book sites on the web. You can visit one each day between now and Christmas, find an activity or two, and learn more about the wealth and breadth of children's literature in the process. Alternatively, you can come back on some dull January afternoon and work your way through the links. There's hours of enjoyment to be had.

December 1: Peter Rabbit

At peterrabbit. com you can create your own personalized puppet show, complete with a photograph of your child if you choose to upload one. You can also make old fashioned crafts such as a pom-pom mouse or a spinner. There are colouring pages to download and interactive games to play. Make sure you try your hand at A Winter's Tale Game in order to receive a free background and screensaver. You may think screensaver downloads are so 1998, but trust me this one will make you feel calm while you smile a broad smile.

Don't forget to come back to open tomorrow's calendar door. I can't promise chocolate, but I will feed your soul.

Monday, November 8, 2010


If you're looking for excellent Canadian non-fiction to share with elementary-aged children this Remembrance Day, please seek out the works of Linda Granfield. In numerous books over a 15 year span, Granfield has brought forward lives and losses from the First and Second World Wars and has provided historical insight into two key war poems that were penned by young men serving Canada.

In In Flanders Fields: The Story of the Poem by John McCrae (1995), Granfield intersperses biography, historical account and archival photographs/artifacts with a picturebook retelling of McCrae's famous WWI poem (illustrated by Janet Wilson). Despite its heavy subject matter, the book is suitable for younger children, ages 7-11.

High Flight (1999) is an illustrated biography of John Gillespie Magee, Jr., a pilot for the RCAF who died in a training exercise in World War II when he was just 19 years old. Few know about the teen who wrote the poem, but most have heard "High Flight's" opening lines: "Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth/ And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings." The poem is not about war but about the joy of flight. That its author died in a fiery crash to earth at such a young age is one of the bleak ironies of war. The book is illustrated by Michael Martchenko and is also suited to an elementary-aged audience, 8-12.

Where Poppies Grow (2001) provides an overarching background to WWI from the Canadian perspective. Rather than going into the details of individual battles, the book focuses more on the day-to-day lives of the soldiers and many of the socio-cultural experiences of war, such as the role of propaganda and the child's experience of war. Once again, Granfield makes excellent use of archival photographs and artifacts from the time period.

The Unknown Soldier (2008) looks at circumstances in individual 20th Century conflicts that lead to the burial of unidentified soldiers on the battlefield. The book then outlines the efforts of many different countries to repatriate these soldiers either literally, symbolically or both.

In Remembering John McCrae: Soldier, Doctor, Poet (2009), Granfield uses her now familiar visual archival retelling to take a more in-depth look at the biography of the man who penned "In Flanders Field," from his childhood in Guelph, Ontario, to his death from pneumonia while serving as a military doctor overseas in 1918.

While not specific to the war experience, Granfield's Pier 21 (2000) tells the story of Canadian immigration as it flowed through Halifax's Pier 21 from 1928-1971. The historical scope of this book extends beyond 20th-century conflicts, but much of the material does focus on people who have fled international wars to make a home in Canada.

Granfield also has a work of non-fiction for the adult reader entitled Brass Buttons and Silver Horseshoes: Stories from Canada's British War Brides (2002)--you know, if you simply need to read more for yourself.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Book trailers

I've stumbled upon a couple of book trailers recently for children's books that have an Atlantic Canadian connection.

The first is for the evocative and whimsical A Flock of Shoes by Sarah Tsiang, illustrated by Qin Leng, and published by Annick Press. Tsiang lived the better part of the last decade in Fredericton before moving to Ontario to study creative writing and to pursue her career as a poet and writer of children's fiction. Her fantastical tale of a young girl whose sandals fly south for the winter has been charming both me and my daughter for the last few weeks.

"She wondered if they were making little white hearts in the sand. She thought about how the warm wind liked to tickle the open spots. She hoped they were getting enough exercise."

The second trailer is for The Queen of Paradise's Garden, a Newfoundland folk tale adapted by actor-comedian Andy Jones, illustrated by Darka Erdelji, and published by Running the Goat Books and Broadsides of St Johns. I had the book in my hands on the weekend and was delighted by its image-laden Newfoundland vernacular:

" Once upon a time, and a very good time it was, not in your time, indeed not in my time, but in olden times when quart bottles held half a gallon, houses were papered with pancakes, and pigs ran about with forks stuck in their backs seeing who wanted to have a slice of ham..."

In my mind's eye, I could just imagine Andy Jones reading it aloud. Erdelji's illustrations bring to mind Marc Chagall; there's a dream-scape magic to them that never lets the tale feel too grounded in reality.

But the point of this post is not these two fine books; the point of this post is book trailers. As a librarian, I get a kick out of them here and there, but I must admit I never use them as a selection tool either in my personal or professional life--which got me to wondering just how many people do rely on them. If you are a reader, teacher or a librarian, do you use book trailers, and, if so, in what capacity? If you are an author, illustrator or publisher, do you have book trailers made for your products? How costly are they to make? How well are they received? Are they created simply to leverage social media advertising channels? Are book trailers becoming a must-do in the publishing industry?

My interest is partly sparked by my role as a special collections' librarian. Increasingly, there is so much video ephemera accumulating on the Internet. Do people see book trailers as an art in and of themselves? (Because many are.) Do they seem them as an archival record for posterity? (Think of all the added information about the tale provided by Andy Jones in The Queen of Paradise's Garden trailer.) If they are all these things, what kind of preservation measures should be put in place to ensure they survive as an artifact to accompany the book itself?

And now, I leave you with this: it's a book ... trailer.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The livin' is easy

Good golly, Miss Molly, it's been a while since I posted. That's what happens when summer comes: the mind and body slow to appreciate the length of days, the stillness of the heat.

Summer is also a time of reading, and I have been gnawing my way through that big stack of books by my bed: Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me, Shaun Tan's The Arrival, Arthur Slade's The Hunchback Chronicles, Megan Whalen Turner's The Thief, R. L. LaFevers' Theodosia novels, Tamora Pierce's Protector of the Small Quartet, and Jennifer Donnelly's A Northern Light. There hasn't been a dud in the pack. My daughter is currently, lovingly lost in Ann Martin's Doll People books, but our reading was slow going for a bit because she was spending most evenings at her dad's production of Macbeth in Odell Park. Last night, she loudly proclaimed: "A drum. A drum. Macbeth dot com." When you're 5, comprehension of Shakespeare can be a tad limited.

I haven't much to say other than to let you all know that I am still here and to show you through two short quotations from Jennifer Donnelly's A Northern Light that great writing is great writing no matter what audience it's aimed at.

First off a simple metaphor used to describe the shy, reserved sister, Abby:

"Our Abby is a sprigged dress that's been washed and turned wrong side out to dry, with all its color hidden."

And this, on the single mother of seven in the plank house up the road:

"Emmie Hubbard certainly was crazy, and I was pretty sure the county would take her one day. They'd almost done so on one or two occasions. But I couldn't say that to Tommy. He was only twelve years old. As I tried to figure out what I could say--to find words that weren't a lie but weren't quite the truth either--I thought that madness isn't like they tell it in books. It isn't Miss Havisham sitting in the ruins of her mansion, all vicious and majestic. And it isn't like in Jane Eyre either, with Rochester's wife banging around in the attic, shrieking and carrying on and frightening the help. When your mind goes, it's not castles and cobwebs and silver candelabra. It's dirty sheets and sour milk and dog shit on the floor. It's Emmie cowering under her bed, crying and singing while her kids try to make soup from seed potatoes."

Or as Lady Macbeth puts it, "hell is murky."


So you tell me, how is your summer? More to the point, what are you reading? And whatever it is, does it have passages that make you stop to reread because you simply cannot help yourself?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Twilight, Breaking Dawn A Fine Day for a Good Book

A while ago I wrote up a list of alternative titles for teen and tween girls who got stuck in the Myers' mire. Elaine, one of my readers, has asked me to repost it here. I've updated it a bit too with even more great reads.

Books for older teens (i.e. they feature sex, sexual assault, pregnancy or drugs or they're simply sophisticated from a narrative standpoint)

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith: let's start with first principles, here, folks. Published in 1948, this book pretty much invented the YA genre. It's still crackles with sexual energy and naive despair after all these years. The 2003 film version wasn't bad either.

Before Wings by Beth Goobie: A 15-yr-old girl who has an aneurysm in her heart goes to summer camp where she engages with spirits who haunt the lake at night. Goobie is one of the most insightful and lyrical YA writers out there. She should be giving writing lessons to every aspiring novelist.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson: Melinda is raped at a party during the summer before high school and spends her freshman year as a social outcast. What might otherwise be yet-another-problem-novel is made rich by the depth of Melinda's character and the cutting authenticity of the high school environment.

Seven for a Secret by Mary C. Sheppard: Set in a Newfoundland outport in 1960, this book tells the stories of three teen cousins as they unearth the secrets of their pasts and face the sometimes harsh realities of their futures. The narrative voice of 15-yr-old Melinda is spot on with the warmth of the Newfoundland dialect. The book is part of an ongoing series based on the "One for Sorrow" nursery counting rhyme.

The Corner Garden by Lesley Krueger. I reviewed this novel a few years back and loved it. Toronto author, Krueger, stitches together the life of a troubled teen with that of her aged neighbour who has not yet come to terms with her own teen regrets as a Nazi sympathizer in 1940s Holland. This novel is a YA/Adult cross-over.

Feed by M.T. Andersen: A YA dystopia that actually has the courage to be a dystopia rather than carrying a saccharine message of hope. The characters in the novel receive everything they need through the feed that is implanted in their brains. They can order and buy any kind of experience they want. The only problem is the "they" gets lost in the "want."

Sights by Susanna Vance: How's this for a first sentence: "I was in the womb eleven and one half months, came out fat, durable and gorgeous." Baby Girl was born with the Sight but it doesn't let her see her own future. She and her Momma have fled her dad and now she's starting high school all sore-thumbish in a new town. Reading this book is ticklish, like drinking icy ginger ale on a hot day.

Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty: Jessica spends a year missing her best friend Hope. No, it's not quite an allegory. It is, however, a smart, sassy look at high school written by a writer for Cosmo Girl. Like the Twilight series, it also includes an irrational attraction to a bad boy, but this love interest is sorta-kinda ok in the end and, most importantly, he doesn't want to eat anybody or read their thoughts. Some may lump Sloppy Firsts with other teen fluff like L.B.D: It's a Girl Thing or Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging but I found it to be a cut above. So did ole Whatzernamenow, the Harvard freshman who infamously plagiarized it a few years ago. Second Helpings, the sequel isn't so bad either.

True Confessions of a Heartless Girl by Martha Brooks: This, from the epigraph attributed to John Gardner: "There are really only two plot lines: a stranger rides into town and a stranger rides out of town." In the book, a community nurtures a pregnant teen who lands in their midst. Sometimes the setting feels like a throw back to, uh, I dunno, a combination of Leacock's Mariposa and a the estrogen-laden bear-hug novels of Carol Shields. In the end, it proves twice over that it takes a village to raise a child ... and that it takes a child to bind a village unto itself.

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly: This historical murder mystery won the Printz Prize in 2004. It's engaging and literary and I am not quite done it yet, so I can't say more.

Saving Grace and Rules for Life are two exceptional YA titles written by Fredericton author, Darlene Ryan. Both are gritty works of realism and feature heroines struggling with major life events that have fractured their identity and have limited their choices.

Books for your 11 and 12 year old girls who are reading Twilight despite your admonishments
Before Wings by Beth Goobie: See above. I love this book so much I accidentally gave it to my niece two Christmases in a row.

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt: It's short, simple and, oh-so, profound.

Everything on a Waffle, The Canning Season or just about anything written by Polly Horvath: Do you know the novels of Horvath? She's crackles with dark humour and creates some of the most memorable supporting characters out there.

The Emily Series by L.M. Montgomery (need I say more?)

Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie Tolan: A pro-(quirky) family, pro-creativity, pro-happiness book for emerging teens. Imagine. It's also great, whacky reading for the home-schoolers out there.

Howl's Moving Castle or Witch Week or just about anything by Diana Wynne Jones. Diana Wynne Jones is round about one of the best fantasy writers for children ever but let's not get into that now, shall we? We could alway save fantasy and sci-fi for another list, another day.

Stravaganza: City of Masks by Mary Hoffman. OK, so I have a thing for fantasy when it comes to my late, middle readers. I put this one on the list because of the love interest in it--you know, in order to appeal to the Twilight readers.

Speaking of fantasy, the novels of Tamora Pierce are fantastic reading for tween girls. I've read the Protector of Small quartet, but I have a young friend who can recommend all her novels. Another author of girl-centred fantasy is New Brunswick writer K.V. Johansen. Her Torrie Quests series will initiate the tween reader into her richly developed other world.


That's it for now. Care to share any Twilight tonics? That's what the comment box is for.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The newest chapter in my life

In addition to being the Curator of the Wallace Children's Literature Collection, I am also the mother of a 5-year-old girl. This past winter, the two of us made the leap from Potter, Milne and Lobel to add chapter books to our nightly reading ritual. He's a sampling of what we've read together so far.

My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
This book won the Newbery Medal in 1949 and remains a perfect first chapter book to read aloud with a child, boy or girl. The chapters are short, there are frequent illustrations, and the story is sharp and engaging.

Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry
The Gooney Bird Greene books (there's four of them now) are a delightful alternative to the more pedestrian Junie B (First Grader) series. Gooney Bird is a born storyteller who never, ever lies. Not only will she entertain both parent and child, she may even teach both a little something about the craft of writing.

Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little by E.B. White
I like the cut of Stuart's jib, but my daughter (well both of us, really) preferred Charlotte's Web by a long shot even though I feared it would be too mature for her. She loved it to pieces despite her attention wandering a bit in some of the descriptive bits. I, of course, bawled like a baby when Charlotte died (the chapter in which she dies is some of the best writing ever in a children’s book). My daughter wasn’t affected by Charlotte’s death per se, but she became frantic when Charlotte’s babies fly away and leave Wilbur.

Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows
The seventh book in this series of best-friend adventures will be out this fall. My daughter and I have read the first two together and, while we both like them a lot, I would prefer to have her wait until she is comfortably reading chapter books on her own to finish the series. In my opinion, their humour is more suited to the child as solitary reader than in the read-aloud context.

Daisy Meadows' Fairy books
There's what, a million of these books? My daughter got one for her 5th birthday which we read together. She has since insisted on reading three more with me. She loves them and I am all for her devouring them, but I will, however, happily consign the rest of the series to her independence as a reader. Life's too short for predictable, gender-typed series fiction that gives nothing back whatsoever to the adult reader.

Iggy and Me by Jenny Valentine
There's two books in this series about sisters, Iggy and Flo; a third one will be available this fall. Unlike the previous two series I mentioned, Valentine's books make excellent read-alouds. They're also wry, British and as funny as all get out. My daughter loved LOVED them. So did I.

Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart-Lovelace
These books were written in the 30s and are the historical precursors to best-friend books like Ivy and Bean. The first one begins at Betsy’s 5th birthday party when she meets her new neighbour, Tacy. By the time the series is done Betsy is married off and Tacy is starting a career. My daughter and I have read the first 2 books, Betsy-Tacy and Betsy-Tacy and Tib. We love them. They are smart and gentle and perfectly paced for 5-7 yr-olds.

Twig by Elizabeth Orton Jones
Another chapter book from the 30s. Twig is a little girl who befriends a little boy Elf in the garden of her tenement house. My daughter and I both liked it but not as much as we liked the Betsy-Tacy books.

My Naughty Little Sister Stories by Dorothy Edwards
Just as Ivy and Bean owes a debt to Betsy-Tacy, Iggy and Me is a modern retelling of the My Naughty Little Sister stories from the 1950s. The short-story format of these books makes them easy to read with a young child because you can easily pick them up and put them down: there is no need to sustain narrative continuity from one story to the next. They are definitely a hit in my house despite the sometimes stilted voice of the narrator. And you won't even believe what happens in "The Naughtiest Story of All." Suffice to say, my daughter let out an audible gasp that woke the neighbours when she learned the awful truth.

The End Of the Beginning: Being the Adventures Of a Small Snail (And an Even Smaller Ant) by Avi
Avi is a master of puns and wordplay and the humour that comes from multiple, unintended layers of meaning. While I acknowledge the craft of this book, its simple sophistication was beyond my daughter even if the plot-line wasn't. She found it a dull slog and I kept wishing it were just me reading it by myself.

What's in the pile by the bed?
The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
The Hundred Dresses and The Witch Family by Eleanor Estes
The Borrowers by Mary Norton
The Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson
The Clementine books and Stuart Goes to School by Sara Pennypacker
The Doll People books by Ann Martin
All those wonderful Ramona and Henry books by Beverly Cleary
...and, of course, stacks and stacks of picture books because one format does not give way to another.

Anyone care to add to our reading list? What chapter books have you shared with your not-quite-reading-yet or recently-learned-to-read child?

Friday, May 14, 2010

30 Days of Poetry: your library/book store cheat sheet

As promised, here is the complete list of the poetry collections I featured in April with an extra one added in for good measure. I split the list into single-author collections and edited compilations. For each category I ordered them roughly according to age-appropriateness--with the books for younger children near the start of each list and those for older children/teens near the end of each list. Doing so is not a precise science, but i hope it aids you in finding books for a particular age group, such that you can do a closer evaluation for your particular context.

Single-Author Collections
Alligator Pie, poems by Dennis Lee; pictures by Frank Newfeld. Key Porter Books, 1974.

The Llama Who Had No Pajama: 100 Favorite Poems by Mary Ann Hoberman; illustrated by Betty Fraser. Harcourt, 1998, published in paperback in 2006.

Raining Cats and Dogs, written by Jane Yolen; illustrated by Jane Street. Harcourt, 1993.

Beneath a Blue Umbrella, rhymes by Jack Prelutsky; pictures by Garth Williams. Greenwillow, 1990.

If I Had a Million Onions by Sheree Fitch; illustrated by Yayo. Tradewind, 2005.

A Book of Nonsense by Edward Lear. originally published in 1846.

When We Were Very Young, by A. A. Milne, (illustrations by Ernest Shepard). I have a reprint of the first Canadian edition, McClelland and Stewart, 1925.

Now We Are Six, by A. A. Milne with decorations by Ernest H. Shepard. I have the first Canadian edition, McClelland and Stewart, 1927.

Something I Remember: Selected Poems for Young Children by Eleanor Farjeon. Edited by Anne Harvey. Blackie, 1987.

See Saw Saskatchewan: More Playful Poems from Coast to Coast, written by Robert Heidbreder; illustrated by Scot Ritchie. Kids Can Press, 2003.

Twimericks: The Book of Tongue-Twisting Limericks by Lou Brooks. Workman Publishing, 2009.

Where the Sidewalk Ends, poems and drawings by Shel Silverstein. Evil Eye Music, 1974.

The Sweet and Sour Animal Book, alphabet animal poems by Langston Hughes; illustrated by the students of the Harlem School of the Arts. Oxford UP: 1994.

There's an Awful Lot of Weirdos in Our Neighborhood & Other Wickedly Funny Verse, by Colin McNaughton. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1987.

Making Friends With Frankenstein: A Book of Monstrous Poems and Pictures (Candlewick, 1994)

Bing Bang Boing, poems and drawings by Douglas Florian. Harcourt, 1994.

Talking Turkeys by Benjamin Zephaniah. Puffin Books, 1994.

Carver: a life in poems by Marilyn Nelson. Front Street: 2001.

Preposterous: Poems of Youth, selected by Paul Janeczko. Orchard Books, 1991.

This Delicious Day: 65 Poems, selected by Paul Janeczko. Orchard Books, 1987.

19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East by Naomi Shihab Nye. Greenwillow, 2002.

Edited Compilations
Here's a Little Poem: A Very First Book of Poetry, selected by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters; illustrated by Polly Dunbar. Candlewick, 2007.

Lavender's Blue
, compiled by Kathleen Lines; illustrated by Harold Jones. Oxford UP, 1954.

The Bill Martin Jr. Big Book of Poetry, edited by Bill Martin Jr. with Michael Sampson. Foreword by Eric Carle; Afterword by Steven Kellogg. Illustrated by Ashley Bryan, Lois Ehlert, Steven Kellogg, Chris Raschka, Dan Yaccarino, Nancy Tafuri, and Derek Anderson. Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2008.

Canadian Poems for Canadian Kids, edited by Jen Hamilton; Illustrated by Merrill Fearon. With a foreword by P.K. Page. Subway Books, 2005.

The Wind Has Wings: Poems From Canada, compiled by Mary Alice Downie and Barbara Robertson; Illustrated by Elizabeth Cleaver, Oxford UP, 1968.

The New Wind Has Wings: Poems from Canada, compiled by Mary Alice Downie and Barbara Robertson; Illustrated by Elizabeth Cleaver, Oxford UP, 1984.

Monster Poems, edited by Daisy Wallace; illustrated by Kay Chorao. Holiday House: 1976.

Sing a Song of Popcorn: Every Child's Book of Poems, selected by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers, Eva Moore, Mary Michaels White and Jan Carr. Illustrated by nine Caldecott Medal artisits: Marcia Brown, Leo and Diane Dillon, Richard Egielski, Trina Schart Hyman, Arnold Lobel, Maurice Sendak, Marc Simont and Margot Zemach. Scholastic, 1988.

No Hickory, No Dickory, No Dock: Caribbean Nursery Rhymes, written and remembered by John Agard and Grace Nichols; illustrated by Cynthia Jabar. Candlewick: 1995.

Under the Moon and Over the Sea: A Collection of Caribbean Poems, edited by John Agard and Grace Nichols; various illustrators. Candlewick: 2002.

A Child's Treasury of Animal Verse, compiled by Mark Daniel. Dial Books for Young Readers, 1989.

Poetry By Heart: A Child's Book of Poems to Remember, compiled by Liz Attenborough. Chicken House: 2001.

The 20th Century Children's Poetry Treasury, selected by Jack Prelutsky; illustrated by Meilo So. Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.

The Random House Book of Poetry for Children, selected by Jack Prelutsky; illustrated by Arnold Lobel, 1983.

The Kingfisher Book of Children's Poetry, selected by Michael Rosen, 1985.

The Oxford Book of Poetry for Children, edited by Edward Blishen; illustrated by Brian Wildsmith, Oxford UP, 1963 (reissued in paperback format as late as 1996).

The Oxford Book of Story Poems, edited by Michael Harrison and Christopher Stuart-Clark. Oxford University Press, 1990, republished in paperback, 2006.


Happy reading!

Friday, April 30, 2010

When the cane gave way to cane sugar

Poetry Month, Day 30. When it comes to general poetry collections for children, I can't help but wonder when the sanitization of children's poetry began in earnest. Sure, we all expect to be shocked by the violence of Hoffman's Struwwelpeter (1845)
from "Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb"

and stunned by the colonial mindset and racism that constitute the weeds in Stevenson's otherwise fragrant, A Child's Garden of Verses (1885). The nursery rhyme collection, Lavender's Blue, was published in the 1950s and is pretty tame, all things considered. Sure there's the odd "don't walk on thin ice" or "don't play in the cinders" verse, but, by and large, the cautionary tone of the verses is minimal.

As I was diving through edited collections of children's poetry to create this 30 day, 30 title feast, I was intrigued by just how much stamina verses involving corporal punishment had with editors. While you'd be hard pressed to find a recent collection of poetry that references corporal punishment or that reprints some of the more gruesome cautionary verses of old (such poems are increasingly relegated to academic tomes for the study of children's literature), just 20 years ago such poems were commonplace in edited editions.

The 1963 Oxford Book of Poetry for Children (Edward Blishen, editor; Brian Wildsmith illustrator) that was reissued in paperback format as late as 1996, includes a short chapter of cautionary verses including Hilaire Belloc's "Matilda (Who told Lies, and was Burned to Death)" and this gem from Lewis Carroll:

Speak roughly to your little boy,
And beat him when he sneezes;
He only does it to annoy,
Because he knows it teases.
Wow! Wow! Wow!

I speak severely to my boy,
I beat him when he sneezes;
For he can thoroughly enjoy
The pepper when he pleases!
Wow! Wow! Wow!

Similarly, The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (selected by Jack Prelutsky; illustrated by Arnold Lobel) first published in 1983 includes Hoffmann's "The Story of Augustus Who Would Not Have Any Soup" and this tribute to spanking from Charles Henry Ross:

That's Jack;
Lay a stick on his back!
What's he done? I cannot say.
We'll find out tomorrow,
And beat him today.

The Kingfisher Book of Children's Poetry, selected by Michael Rosen (1985) includes Hoffmann's "Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb," albeit with a slightly less sinsiter illustration than the original. It also includes this more contemporary poem by Britain's Allan Ahlberg (of Peepo and Jolly Postman fame), which I find intriguing and refreshing, for there is a perverse pleasure in wondering about the unknown, isn't there?

The Cane

The teacher
had some thin springy sticks
for making kites.

Reminds me
of the old days, he said;
and swished one.

The children
near his desk laughed nervously,
and pushed closer.

A cheeky girl
held out her cheeky hand.
Go on, Sir!

said her friends.
Give her the stick, she’s always
playing up!

The teacher
paused, then did as he was told.
Just a tap.

Oh, Sir!
We’re going to tell on you,
the children said.

Other children
left their seats and crowded round
the teacher’s desk.

Other hands
went out. Making kites was soon

My turn next!
He’s had one go already!
That’s not fair!

Soon the teacher,
to save himself from the crush,
called a halt.

(It was
either that or use the cane
for real.)

the children did as they were told
and sat down.

If you behave
yourselves, the teacher said,
I’ll cane you later.

--Allan Ahlberg

(Note: when quoting poems online, always include a full citation for the collection from which the poem originated. If the poem is not in the public domain (i.e. is still in copyright) abide by the principle of Fair Dealing in your use of the work.)


Well, there you have it: 30 days of poetry collections all wrapped up. Ta-da! If any of you would like me to post all the collections I mentioned in a single post, let me know in the comments and I will put it up early in May. It never hurts to have a wallet-sized list to take to the library or to the book store.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

As comfortable as a cotton dress

Poetry month, Day 29: I love Eleanor Farjeon's poetry and I bet you will too--that is if a little cat hasn't already whispered its worth into your ear.

A Morning Song
For the First Day of Spring

Morning has broken
like the first morning,
Blackbird has spoken
   Like the first bird.
Praise for the singing!
Praise for the morning!
Praise for them, springing
   From the first Word.

Sweet the rain's new fall
Sunlit from heaven,
Like the first dewfall
   In the first hour.
Praise for the sweetness
Of the wet garden,
Sprung in completeness
   From the first shower.

Mine is the sunlight!
Mine is the morning
Born of the one light
   Eden saw play.
Praise with elation,
Praise every morning
Spring's re-creation
   Of the First Day!

Pencil and Paint
Winter has a pencil
For pictures clear and neat,
She traces the black tree-tops
Upon a snowy sheet.
But autumn has a palette
And a painting brush instead,
And daubs the leaves for pleasure
With yellow, brown, and red.

My wedding-gown's cotton,
My wedding-gown's cheap,
It's crisper than sea foam
And whiter than sheep,
Printed with daisies
In yellow and green,
A prettier wedding-gown
Never was seen!
Light-heart and light-foot
I'll walk into church
As straight and as slim
As a silvery birch,
And after my wedding
I never will lay
Like ladies my wedding-gown
Lightly away.

I'll wash it in soapsuds
As fresh as when new,
And rinse it in rainwater
Softer than dew,
And peg it on Saturdays
High on the line,
And wear it on Sundays
Full of sunshine.
My wedding-gown's cotton,
It cost me a crown,
Was ever girl wed in
A commoner gown?--
As birds on the branches,
As flowers on the green,
The commonest wedding-gown
Ever was seen!

--Eleanor Farjeon

from Something I Remember: Selected Poems for Young Children by Eleanor Farjeon. Edited byAnne Harvey. Blackie, 1987.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

How can you be a poet when your last name rhymes with historian?

Poetry Month; Day 28: Douglas Florian is one of several poet/artist combinations I've featured this month. To see his artwork, you can go to his artist's website; alternatively, you can check out his poetry books, Beast Feast and Dinothesaurus, the next time you're at the library. The poem I'm featuring today comes from a different collection altogether:

Do commas have mommas
Who teach them to pause,
Who comfort and calm them,
And clean their sharp claws?
Who tell them short stories
Of uncommon commas
And send them to bed
In their comma pajamas?

--Douglas Florian

from Bing Bang Boing, poems and drawings by Douglas Florian. Harcourt, 1994.

(Note: when quoting poems online, always include a full citation for the collection from which the poem originated. If the poem is not in the public domain (i.e. is still in copyright) abide by the principle of Fair Dealing in your use of the work.)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I love it when the words 'big' and 'poetry' appear together in a title

Poetry Month: Day 27: When this month ends, I do sincerely hope that none of you come back asking for a recommendation for a general purpose poetry anthology, 'cause I think I've now sent a stack of 'em your way. Today's entry was compiled by Bill Martin Jr before his death in 2004 and was brought to fruition by his collaborator, Michael Sampson.

To My Valentine
If apples were pears,
And peaches were plums,
And the rose had a different name,
If tigers were bears,
And fingers were thumbs,
I'd love you just the same!


April Rain Song
Let the rain kiss you.
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops,
Let the rain sing you a lullaby.

The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk.
The rain makes running pools in the gutter.
The rain plays a little sleep-song on our roof at night--

And I love the rain.

--Langston Hughes

from The Bill Martin Jr. Big Book of Poetry, edited by Bill Martin Jr. with Michael Sampson. Foreword by Eric Carle; Afterword by Steven Kellogg. Illustrated by Ashley Bryan, Lois Ehlert, Steven Kellogg, Chris Raschka, Dan Yaccarino, Nancy Tafuri, and Derek Anderson. Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2008.

(Note: when quoting poems online, always include a full citation for the collection from which the poem originated. If the poem is not in the public domain (i.e. is still in copyright) abide by the principle of Fair Dealing in your use of the work.)

Monday, April 26, 2010

What rhymes with Shel? Swell.

Poetry Month, Day 26: One mustn't ignore Shel Silverstein, must one? Not if one likes humour and whimsy.

Teddy said is was a hat,
So I put it on.
Now Dad is saying,
"Where the heck's
the toilet plunger gone?

Recipe for a Hippopotamus Sandwich
A hippo sandwich is easy to make.
All you do is simply take
One slice of bread,
One slice of cake,
Some mayonnaise,
One onion ring,
One hippopotamus,
One piece of string,
A dash of pepper--
That out to do it,
And now comes the problem . . .
Biting into it!

--Shel Silverstein

from Where the Sidewalk Ends, poems and drawings by Shel Silverstein. Evil Eye Music, 1974.

(Note: when quoting poems online, always include a full citation for the collection from which the poem originated. If the poem is not in the public domain (i.e. is still in copyright) abide by the principle of Fair Dealing in your use of the work.)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

He's a funny, lefty, enviro, poet-guy

Poetry month, Day 25: British poet, Benjamin Zephaniah, is all that and a whole lot more besides.

An army of militant greens
In bio-degradable genes
Shout 'Give peas a chance
And lettuce all dance

In unity wid butter beans.'

Who's Who
I used to think nurses
Were women,

I used to think police
Were men,

I used to think poets
Were boring,
Until I became one of them.

--Benjamin Zephaniah

from Talking Turkeys by Benjamin Zephaniah. Puffin Books, 1994.

(Note: when quoting poems online, always include a full citation for the collection from which the poem originated. If the poem is not in the public domain (i.e. is still in copyright) abide by the principle of Fair Dealing in your use of the work.)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Poetry Month, Day 24: Personal ... Political

I love this collection. It carries in its pages the beauty of fig trees and lemons, as well as the indigestible truth of olive pits.

Red Brocade
The Arabs used to say
When a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking who he is,
where he's come from,
where he's headed.
That way, he'll have strength
enough to answer.
Or, by then you'll be
such good friends
you don't care.

Let's go back to that.
Rice? Pine nuts?
Here, take the red brocade pillow.
My child will serve water
to your horse.

No, I was not busy when you came!
I was not preparing to be busy.
That's the armor everyone put on
to pretend they had a purpose
in the world.

I refuse to be claimed.
Your plate is waiting.
We will snip fresh mint
into your tea.

All Things Not Considered
You cannot stitch the breath
back into this boy.

A brother and sister were playing with toys
when their room exploded.

In what language
is this holy?

The Jewish boys in the cave
were skipping school, having an adventure.

Asel Asleh, Palestinian, age 17, believed in the field
beyond right and wrong where people come together

to talk. He kneeled to help someone else
stand up before he was shot.

If this is holy,
could we have some new religions please?

Mohammed al-Durra huddled against his father
in the street, terrified. The whole world saw him die.

An Arab father on crutches burying his 4 month girl weeps,
"I spit in the face of this ugly world."


Most of us would take our children over land.
We would walk the fields forever homeless
with our children,
huddle under cliffs, eat crumbs and berries,
to keep our children.
This is what we say from a distance
because we can say whatever we want.


No one was right.
Everyone was wrong.
What if they'd get together
and say that?
At a certain point
the flawed narrator wins.

People made mistakes for decades.
Everyone hurts in similar ways
at different times.
Some picked up guns because guns were given.

If they were holy it was okay to use guns.
Some picked up stones because they had them.
They had millions of them.
They might have picked up turnip roots
or olive pits.
Picking up things to throw and shoot:
at the same time people were studying history,
going to school.


The curl of a baby's graceful ear.

The calm of a bucket
waiting for water.

Orchards of the old Arab men
who knew each tree.

Jewish and Arab women
standing silently together.

Generations of black.

Are people the only holy land?

--Naomi Shihab Nye

from 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East by Naomi Shihab Nye. Greenwillow, 2002.

(Note: when quoting poems online, always include a full citation for the collection from which the poem originated. If the poem is not in the public domain (i.e. is still in copyright) abide by the principle of Fair Dealing in your use of the work.)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Who doesn't like popcorn?

Poetry month, Day 23: Today's collection day dates back to 1988 and is dedicated to the memory of the great Arnold Lobel.

Knitted Things
There was a witch who knitted things:
Elephants and playground swings.
She knitted rain,
She knitted night,
But nothing really came out right.
The elephants had just one tusk
And night looked more
Like dawn or dusk.

--Karla Kuskin

I think mice
Are rather nice.
   Their tails are long,
   Their faces small,
   They haven't any
   chins at all.
   Their ears are pink,
   Their teeth are white,
   They run about
   The house at night.
   They nibble things
   They shouldn't touch
   And no one seems
   To like them much.
But I think mice
Are nice.

--Rose Fyleman

from Sing a Song of Popcorn: Every Child's Book of Poems, selected by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers, Eva Moore, Mary Michaels White and Jan Carr. Illustrated by nine Caldecott Medal artisits: Marcia Brown, Leo and Diane Dillon, Richard Egielski, Trina Schart Hyman, Arnold Lobel, Maurice Sendak, Marc Simont and Margot Zemach. Scholastic, 1988.

(Note: when quoting poems online, always include a full citation for the collection from which the poem originated. If the poem is not in the public domain (i.e. is still in copyright) abide by the principle of Fair Dealing in your use of the work.)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

On the cusp of adulthood: Poetry Month, Day 22

Paul Janeczko is committed to bringing poetry to children and young adults. I'm going to feature poems from a couple of his earlier, edited collections, poems that speak to a young adult audience. Please make sure you check out some of his more recent work. I'll list a few additional titles at the bottom of this post. You might also be interested in this clever, short biography from his website.

Teresa's Red Adidas
(for T. G.)
I think that I shall never view
Shoes as nice as those on you.
They're red and soft with stripes of white.
One goes left, the other right.
I hope they let you run quick fast;
I also hope they last and last.
Shoes are made for feet like those,
And I just love the ones you chose.

--Paul B. Janeczko

Small, Smaller
I thought that I knew all there was to know
Of being small, until I saw once, black against the snow,
A shrew, trapped in my footprint, jump and fall
And jump again and fall, the hole too deep,
   the walls too tall.

--Russell Hoban

and here is one in the form of a riddle

Hard bu you can polish it.
Precious, it has eyes. Can wound.
Would dance upon water. Sinks.
Stays put. Crushed, becomes a road.

--Donald Justice

from This Delicious Day: 65 Poems, selected by Paul Janeczko. Orchard Books, 1987.

Younger than they,
and not the same.
Girl growing amid
a grove of brothers.
They took my dolls
one day into their
forbidden circle
in the woods,
drove sticks
into the cleared dirt,
and burned them at the stake.

--H. R. Coursen

If you are weak of heart or stomach, don't read this next one. If you do and find it disturbing, don't say I didn't warn you.

Boy, Fifteen, Killed by Hummingbird
Bent low over the handlebars,
Arms arced and legs pumping
As his father had taught him
When he was five,
The boy struggled to pedal
Up Camelback Hill,
But he didn't mind
Because he knew that,
Once there, he could relax
And coast the rest of the way home.

He didn't see it hanging there
Dead ahead in the air,
Its tiny wings whirring invisibly,
Until it was too late.
The hummingbird poised iteself
So that when the boy,
Speeding downhill,
Met the bird,
Its greedy bill
Exploded his right eye
Like a ripe cherry tomato
Skewered at a barbeque
And sent the liquid
Streaming down his cheek.

People said the father
Refused to accept the coroner's report
That the bird,
Seeking nectar,
Had pierced the boy's brain,
Abloom with youth,
And lodged there,
Draining it dry.
But a week later,
A neighbor watched the father
In his backyard
Hover over the hollyhocks
And, wielding a long knife,
Sever their heads.

--Linda Linssen

from Preposterous: Poems of Youth, selected by Paul Janeczko. Orchard Books, 1991.

More Janeckzo books:

For a delightful foray into concrete poetry, check out A Poke in the I: A Collection of Concrete Poems, edited by Paul Janeczko and illustrated by Chris Rashka, Candlewick, 2001.

Janeczko and Rashka have two more children's poetry collections that, if I had had them to hand, I would have included as one or more of my days of poetry. They are A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms (Candlewick, 2005) and A Foot in the Mouth: Poems to Speak, Sing and Shout (Candlewick, 2009).

Do you know an aspiring young poet? Why not pass along Janeczko's Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets (Candlewick 2002)?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Two different ways to fly

Poetry Month, Day 21: This seminal work of collected Canadian poetry was first published in 1968, in the golden afterglow of Expo '67. It reads like a who's who of Canadian poetry: A. M. Klein, Milton Acorn, Charles G. D. Roberts, Bliss Carmen, James Reaney, Isabella V. Crawford, P. K. Page, Al Purdy, Achibald Lampman... You get the idea. I'm using the expanded 1984 edition for today's poems.


a s
big as
ball as round
as sun . . . I tug
and pull you when
you run and when
wind blows I
say polite

--Colleen Thibaudeau

I, Icarus
There was a time when I could fly. I swear it.
Perhaps, if I think hard for a moment, I can even tell you the year.
My room was on the ground floor at the rear of the house.
My bed faced a window.
Night after night I lay on my bed and willed myself to fly.
It was hard work I can tell you.
Sometimes I lay perfectly still for an hour before I felt my body rising from the bed.
I rose slowly, slowly until I floated three or four feet above the floor.
Then, with a kind of swimming motion, I propelled myself toward the window.
Outside I rose higher and higher, above the pasture fence,
     above the clothesline, above the dark, haunted trees,
     beyond the pasture.
And, all the time, I heard the music of flutes.
It seemed the wind made this music.
And sometimes there were voices singing.

--Alden Nowlan

from The New Wind Has Wings: Poems from Canada, compiled by Mary Alice Downie and Barbara Robertson; Illustrated by Elizabeth Cleaver, Oxford UP, 1984.

The original edition had the more simple name, The Wind Has Wings: Poems From Canada (1968).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fredericton's finest

Poetry month: Day 20

There's no way I could showcase a month's worth of poetry collections and not feature Fredericton's own Sheree Fitch. It's not the first time I've mentioned her on this blog and I'm certain it won't be the last. She's among the best poets for children in Canada and beyond. I've had the great pleasure of working with Sheree and her colleague, Anne Hunt, this past year as they conduct research for a collection of Atlantic Canadian poems for children they plan to edit. The spirit of poetry emanates from her. I've taken this poem from a recent collection, but make sure you dig deeper because you will find much gold.

Is a tenor in the chorus
In an opera that is playing on a stage inside his head.
He's the biggest dinosaurus
He's humongous!
He's enormous!
And his voice is such a roarus he could scare awake the dead!
Figaro! Figaroo!
I am not a kangaroo!
Figaree! Figurah!
Sol la ti do re mi fa!

Shakes the cities and the forests
Every time he takes a step and sings a score
He is bowing to the tourists who bring flowers from the florists.
And his dinosaurus chorus is so glorious! Encore!
Figaro! Figaree!
Would you take a look at me!
Figaro! Figara!
Prehistoric opera!

--Sheree Fitch
from If I Had a Million Onions by Sheree Fitch; illustrated by Yayo. Tradewind, 2005.

Psst: If you don't have a copy of the 20th anniversary edition of Fitch's poetic picture book, Sleeping Dragons All Around (Nimbus, 2009), you should.

(Note: when quoting poems online, always include a full citation for the collection from which the poem originated. If the poem is not in the public domain (i.e. is still in copyright) abide by the principle of Fair Dealing in your use of the work.)