Archive for the ‘Reading Aloud’ Category

Poetry Friday/Week-end Book Review: Water Sings Blue by Kate Coombs, illustrated by Meilo So

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

I’m posting my week-end book review a day early to clock in with Poetry Friday as a couple of days ago I received a review copy of Kate Coombs and Meilo So‘s new book Water Sings Blue, which Kate gave us a glimpse of back in January when her first copies arrived (and if you don’t know Kate’s blog, Book Aunt, it’s well worth a read).  It arrived just in time to squeeze it into our Water in Multicultural Children’s Books theme…

Poetry Friday this week is hosted by Dori at Dori Reads…

Kate Coombs, illustrated by Meilo So,
Water Sings Blue: Ocean Poems
Chronicle Books, 2012.

Ages 4-11

The finely tuned observation in both the poetry and illustrations of Water Sings Blue draws young readers into that world of the shoreline where time just seems to disappear and exploration offers up endless possibilities for discovery.  Kate Coombs’ poems are satisfyingly memorable, with their cohesive patterns of meter and rhyme that, nevertheless, contain plenty of surprises – like, for example, the alliteration and internal rhyming at the end of “Sand’s Story”, in which mighty rocks have turned to sand:

Now we grind and we grumble,
humbled and grave,
at the touch of our breaker
and maker, the wave.

… Not to mention the witty pun on “breaker”: and the gentle wit of Coomb’s verse also lights the imagination throughout this collection.

Turning the pages, readers encounter a vast array of sea characters, starting in the air with the seagull; then listening to “What the Waves Say” before diving down to meet the creatures of the deep: like the shy octopus author (think ink…), or the beautiful but self-absorbed fish whose tail and fins act as brushes, and who concludes his/her soliloquy with the wonderfully evocative: “I’m a water artist. / You wouldn’t understand.”  As well as creatures like sharks and jellyfish, there are poems about fascinating, less well-known fish – “Oarfish”, “Gulper Eel” and “Nudibranch”: they could become a follow-up project by themselves!  There’s also a deep-sea shipwreck, and back on the sea shore, a gnarled “Old Driftwood” telling stories “to all the attentive / astonished twigs”, and a property agent hermit crab with a salesman’s patter.

Bringing all the poems together in a visual feast are Meilo So’s gorgeous watercolors.  As well as her depiction of jewel-colored corals and waves in every shade of blue imaginable, her illustrations are clearly also influenced by direct observation of the shoreline around her Shetland Isle home, from fishermen’s cottages to diving gannets.

Just like in real beachcombing, young readers will lose track of time as they pore over So’s seashores for what they can find.

Water Sings Blue would be the perfect picture book to bring on a trip to the beach, wherever in the world that happened to be; and if young readers can’t wait for that, it will take them there immediately in their imaginations.

And just a reminder that the count-down to World Read Aloud Day on 7th March has more than begun.  LitWorld are aiming for 1,000,000 participants this year, so do register with them and tell all your friends about it too.  It’s a win-win-win situation – somebody gets to read, somebody gets to enjoy being read to, and everyone raises their voices together to support global literacy goals of every child’s right to education…  And if you’re spreading the word on Twitter, the hashtag is #readaloud – use it to link in to the ever-widening community of WRAD supporters, and connect with LitWorld at @litworldsays.

Books at Bedtime: The Gift

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Right now we are into the Christian season of Lent, and during this time, I often look for children’s books with spiritual content to supplement our usual bedtime reading fare.  On one of my favorite spirituality websites, Spirituality & Practice, I read a review of The Gift by the British poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy (illustrated by Rob Ryan, Barefoot Books, 2010) and was intrigued and so, got a copy of the book.

The Gift is a very simple story of a young girl’s journey through life.  Beautifully illustrated with the paper-cut art of Rob Ryan (I’m quite partial to this art form as my uncle does this kind of art — kiri-e — in Japan), the story follows a young girl into the woods one day in early summer.  There, while making a buttercup necklace, she has a mystical encounter with an old woman who offers the girl her deepest desire — the wish to be buried in this very spot of her reverie in the woods — in exchange for the necklace.  Thereafter, the girl goes on living her life, fulfilling all her life’s desires, until she becomes an old woman herself, and recalls her encounter of the faraway past.   Of course, now the girl has become that old woman and the story comes full circle.  Throughout the girl’s life, the spot in the woods where she has had her encounter remains sacred to her.  She plants seeds there and takes her children and grandchildren there; they leave small tokens of their visit like stones or pebbles there as she had done when she was a child.  In a way, this girl has been preparing for her death long before it arrives because she knows and quietly celebrates the fact that she will be buried in this deeply local place for her.  This spot in the woods is her soul-home, and she will return there when she dies.

The Gift is a deceptively simple tale and yet it is one of those books worth re-reading to children to make them think about life’s small mysteries from the perspective of  a lifetime.   A contemplative book with beautiful artwork, The Gift is a good read for Lent.

Books at Bedtime: My Hiroshima

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Around New Year’s, there was a book table set up at our local Japanese Canadian cultural centre.  On it was a bilingual book I’d never seen before but had heard of called My Hiroshima by Junko Morimoto (Picture Puffin Book, 1992).  After flipping through it, I quickly bought it with the intention of giving it to a friend whose mother was a Hiroshima survivor.  I hadn’t really intended to read it to my daughter, but as it was now in the house I decided one evening to give it a go.  My daughter is ten; she already knows about Hiroshima.  We visited the Hiroshima Peace Museum in Japan when she was six — actually on her birthday — of which I wrote about in a piece called “Atomic Birthday” published in an anthology of writing called Northern Lights.   Understandably, my daughter was none too pleased with my choice of book that night and she protested somewhat mildly, complaining that she would have nightmares,  but then we talked a bit and recalled together our long ago Hiroshima visit in some arresting detail. As far as bedtime reading adventures went, I didn’t consider this one a particular success.

Several weeks passed when all of a sudden, I got a phone call one morning.  It was my daughter, requesting that I bring My Hiroshima to school right away so she could do a spontaneous oral report on it for her class.  Never one to resist an opportunity to promote a good book, I hurried over to the school with my copy.   At lunch, my daughter came home and told me her report was a success.  I told them Japan started the war, and America ended it with the bomb, and then I read the book to them.   That was a succinct little report in and of itself!   Although this wasn’t the first time my daughter had been inspired to recommend one of our night time reads to our classroom, I was glad she had found this particular book worth sharing.   Of course, My Hiroshima deals with a tragic story — but it is written and illustrated by a survivor who remembers not only a terrible historical event but also the delights of her childhood in the city before its demise.

Making choices for bedtime reads can be a difficult business for parents, but sometimes the results can be surprisingly positive in ways you might not expect!  Do you  have any such experiences to relate?  Do tell.

Books at Bedtime: two watery Australian titles illustrated by Bronwyn Bancroft – plus an extra!

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

For me, it was a case of love at first sight, the first time I came across Bronwyn Bancroft‘s artwork. So in this Books at Bedtime post I’m going to highlight three titles all by different authors but illustrated by Bronwyn. The first two fit neatly into our current Water in Multicultural Children’s Books theme; and the third provides an accent to it with its Alice Springs desert setting – no, not a lot of water there…

First up is Big Rain Coming, written by Katrina Germein (Clarion Books, 1999). The text is snappy and there’s plenty of expansive detail in the illustrations to pore over with a child. Everyone, but everyone is waiting for the rain to come, from Old Stephen, to the kids; from the dogs to the frogs. The clouds gather, and still they wait, right through each day of the week, until finally, on Saturday, it rains. It won’t be long till the child you share this book with knows the words by heart and is jubilantly shouting out the last couple of pages before you get a look in! My favorite illustration: the children swimming in the blue/green billabong, surrounded by tall pink flowers – gorgeous!

Next is Malu Kangaroo: How the First Children Learnt to Surf written by Judith Morecroft (Little Hare, 2007), which again is a finely tuned synthesis of word and image. Malu the Kangaroo boldly tells the people, “I will show you how to play with the ocean.” And then he shapes and polishes a piece of wood into a surf-board. As he tells them how it will feel to surf, Bronwyn’s illustrations underscore the joyous lyricism of Malu Kangaroo’s words, with birds soaring and dipping into the surf, fish flying, and dolphins leaping. The patterns and swirls that have their roots in aboriginal art, coupled with Bronwyn’s characteristic bright pallette are simply (yes I am going to use that words agian!) gorgeous. My favorite illustration: the birds that ‘sweep and fly’, breaking up the horizontal bands of sand, surf and sky.

And lastly, Ready to Dream written by Donna Jo Napoli and Elena Furrow (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2009). Young artist Ally’s Mamma is taking her to Australia for the first time. At Alice Springs, Ally meets Pauline, an artist who, with just a few gentle words each time, teaches Ally to get closer in her art to the animals and nature she sees and experiences on her excursions. In their last meeting they draw together in the sandy earth, and Ally’s reaction shows that, in Pauline’s culminating words, she is “ready to dream”. There is much for young people to ponder in this gentle story that will appeal especially to budding artists – and there’s no doubt that they could be trying their hand at something in Bronwyn’s style as a result. My favourite illustration: Ally throwing high the stone on which she has painted a kangaroo, so that it can hop free.

Books at Bedtime: David’s Trip to Paraguay

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

David’s Trip to Paraguay: The Land of Amazing Colours by Miriam Rudolph (CMU Press, 2011) is a recently published children’s book that tells the story of young David who recounts a long and arduous journey from a small southern Manitoba farm to the Chaco region of Paraguay in 1927.   A bilingual book — text is in German and in English —  the book is also colorfully illustrated with Rudolph’s vibrant images, cleverly ‘stitched’ as it were, by all the various modes of transport David takes to get to his final destination.  My daughter enjoyed connecting each illustrated page to the previous one by finding the travel image — whether railroad, or boat — unique to both.  In the front of the book, the entire set of travel images are united in a long band showing the journey.

How did David come to take this trip?  In 1927, a group of Mennonites in southern Manitoba, disheartened by the province’s ruling against the presence of German schools in certain immigrant communities like theirs, left Canada for the remote Chaco area in Paraguay.  David’s parents were of these Mennonites.  This long trip left a deep impression on a young boy, and later David would recount his memories of this trip to his grandchildren, one of them, being the author and illustrator of this book, Miriam Rudolph.

My daughter and I enjoyed reading this colorful book together, and maybe, some day she can read it with her Oma in German!

Books at Bedtime: Three Monks, No Water

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Author Ting-Xing Ye’s mother used to say, “It’s typical! Three Monks, no water!”  whenever she or her brothers and sisters tried to get out of doing something.  Three Monks, No Water (Annick Press, 1997) is the story behind that enigmatic expression – and since reading it, I can see it becoming a useful phrase in our home!

A young Buddhist monk lived alone at the top of a mountain.  Every day he had to fetch water from the foot of the mountain, using a yoke and two buckets.  That provided him with enough water for his personal needs and to water his small vegetable garden.  One day, he was joined by an older monk.  Their attempts to bring water up the mountain together, stringing a single bucket on a pole carried between them, were not very successful; and each felt it was the other’s task to fetch more water, so neither went.  The vegetables in the garden began to die.  Then a third monk arrived, and the situation worsened.  As each monk refused to give way, or compromise his stance in any way, the outlook became bleaker, and certainly none of them was composed enough to meditate or pray.  Then one day, disaster struck… Would they be able to let go of their antagonism and work together to put things right?

Three Monks, No Water is just the kind of fable that will appeal to young children with a strong sense of right and wrong.  The narrative certainly makes no excuses for the monks’ unreasonable behaviour, but leaves plenty of scope for young listeners to react.  Illustrator Harvey Chan’s background of acrylic on gessoed board gives the illustrations an interesting texture for the colored pencil drawings in soft, muted colors; and I love the monks’ facial expressions.  And on every page, like a heavy watermark, a line of calligraphy conveys the expression of the title.  Plus there’s a specially designed seal inside the front and back cover, with a short explanatory note, and together these add a nice extra touch.

This is a great story for conveying the importance of dialogue and reciprocity, giving as well as expecting and taking – and it can be applied to a directly parallel scenario of three individuals, or on a global level, or anywhere in between…

Books at Bedtime: The Mouse and His Child

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Late 2011 marked the passing of writer, Russell Hoban.  I was familiar with Hoban’s childrens’ books, mostly the Frances ones, but when I read his obituary I discovered he’d written a novel for children called The Mouse and His Child (text, 1967, illustrations by David Small, 2001, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2001.)  Curious about this book, I went to the library and got it out.  The novel is about a wind-up mouse and his child bought from a shop, enjoyed for a few Christmas’ and then abandoned.  It is at the point of the toys’ abandonment that the story really begins — the toys’ must fend for themselves in a rather cruel and forbidding environment outdoors.

The Mouse and His Child  (previously reviewed by Marjorie a few years ago) is one of those novels that operates on several levels at once.  For my daughter, listening to the story as I read it aloud on our long drive westwards for our Christmas holidays, the story was essentially about a toy mouse and his child, trying to reunite with the original ‘family’ of their toy shop days and evading the devious trickery of one particularly villainous rat.  This basic plot kept my daughter engaged in listening even as other tempting devices like the IPad and the portable DVD player vied for her attention.  For my husband and I, the story was so much more.   Irresistibly existential in its peregrinations, unpredictable in its outcome, brilliant in its characterization, The Mouse and His Child was a deeply satisfying read-aloud for us.  It’s one of those books ostensibly for children, but also very much for adults.  It’s a book well worth re-reading perhaps at different stages in a child’s life.  I’d certainly be willing to revisit its pages again.   The book was made into a movie in 1977 but I’d try the novel first before going to its film version.  The Mouse and His Child is a true children’s literature classic and I highly recommend it.


Poetry Friday: Bee-Bim Bop!

Friday, January 13th, 2012

This past Christmas holiday, I visited family and ate a lot of food!  One of the dishes prepared by my sister-in-law was the Korean Bibimbap, or Bee-Bim Bop — a rather musical sounding dish to be  sure.   A couple nights later, I found myself reading Linda Sue Park‘s Bee-Bim Bop (illustrated by Ho Baek Lee, Clarion, 2006) to my four year old niece.  Bee-Bim Bop is about a young girl who helps prepare Bibimbap with her mother.  Written rather appropriately in verse and making full use of that Bee-Bim Bop alliteration and words that rhyme with ‘bop’ like ‘shop’ and ‘flip flop’ — the girl helps her mother shop, prepare and serve the meal.   It was fun to read this book to my niece after we had dined on the dish so recently!  I since discovered that bibimbap is often served as a lunar calendar New Year dish, so our eating it just after Christmas before the New Year was  somewhat timely.  But bibimpap any time of the year is delicious.

What festival foods did you and your family consume over the holidays?  Are there kids books about those foods?  Do drop us a line and let us know the title.  Reading is a kind of feasting, after all!

Poetry Friday this week is hosted by Tara at A Teaching Life.

Books at Bedtime: Winnie the Bear

Monday, December 12th, 2011

This past week, our bedtime read has been of a local author, M. A. Appleby‘s recently published book, Winnie the Bear (Dominion Street Publishing, 2011).  Many of you are probably  familiar with the Winnie the Pooh books by A. A. Milne, but did you know that the original inspiration behind Milne’s creation was an actual bear called Winnie who lived in the London Zoo?  Winnie, moreover, was named after the city of Winnipeg, home of the Canadian veterinary officer Harry Colebourn, who bought the bear cub from a trapper at a train station in White River, Ontario in 1914.

In Winnie the Bear, Appleby recounts the story of Colebourn’s encounter with the bear and how he came to bring this cub over to England at the advent of the first world war.  Eventually, Winnie was donated to the London Zoo where she became the inspiration for A.A. Milne and E.H. Shephard’s Winnie the Pooh stories.  Meticulously researched and illustrated with vintage style drawings by P.R. Hayes, Winnie the Bear is a wonderful book.  Appleby has worked on this book for over six years but the germ of the story goes back even further in Appleby’s own life; her father was a good friend of Harry Colebourn’s son, Fred.   My daughter and I are enjoying this book very much and we hope this wonderfully local story (for us!) might find readers all over the world as Milne’s books certainly have.

Poetry Friday: Oh, Grow Up!

Friday, December 9th, 2011

Sometimes poetry can feel like such a grown-up subject — too hard for children to understand and enjoy.  My efforts in getting my children to like poetry have had mixed results.  However, a children’s poetry book by the recently deceased Florence Parry Heide and daughter Roxanne Heide Pierce entitled Oh, Grow Up: Poems to Help You Survive Parents, Chores, School and Other Afflictions (Orchard Books, 1996) was a real hit with my daughter.  Illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott, this funny book explores what it’s like to be a child and have to ‘grow up.’    There’s poems about having to share with or being outnumbered by siblings; there are poems about braces and hand-me-downs.   My daughter was particularly fixated with the ‘braces’ poem:

My braces have been on for years.
They’re coming off next week
I can hardly wait to see
if there are teeth beneath.

I wonder if her fascination has to do with her brother’s braces which, rather coincidentally, came off this week!  As is our usual custom, we read the poems alternately — she reading one poem and I reading the other — and it was an enjoyable poetry reading experience for both of us.   The illustrations by Westcott were as down-to-earth as the poems and my daughter quite liked the pictures.

Poetry Friday this week is hosted by Robyn at Read Write Howl.