One-Minute Book Reviews

January 16, 2009

Children’s Poems About Rainforests and Their Creatures

Un-acid the rain.
Tell polluters: Refrain!
Help the rain forests gain, not grow smaller.

From “Prayer of the Good Green Boy” in Sad Underwear and Other Complications

By Janice Harayda

Children’s books about rainforests are too much with us. Trees are dying for these books at an alarming rate, creating a literary Robin Hood effect.

But children’s poems about rainforests are harder to find, perhaps because poets of yesteryear wrote about “jungles” instead. One the few I’ve found that would suit grades 3 and up is “Rainforest,” by the late Australian poet and conservationist Judith Wright, which appears in Classic Poems to Read Aloud (Kingfisher, 256 pp., $8.95, paperback, ages 8–12), an excellent anthology compiled by James Berry.

“Rainforest” consists of 12 lines of iambic tetrameter that celebrate the interdependence of the creatures in natural world. Wright makes an implicit plea for biodiversity in the poem, which begins: “The forest drips and glows with green. / The tree frog croaks his far-off song. / His voice is stillness, moss and rain / drunk from the forest ages long.” The most unusual aspect of this poem is that Wright has arranged its lines in the shape of a tree trunk. This is a subtle example of what’s known as a pattern poem, a poem in which the words or letters form a typographical picture that relates to the subject.

Apart from that device, “Rainforest” works better as an environmental manifesto than as art. Judith Viorst has more success with “Prayer of the Good Green Boy,” found in Sad Underwear and Other Complications: More Poems for Children and Their Parents (Aladdin, 80 pp., $6.99, paperback, ages 7 and up). This witty and ironic poem puts a child’s love for the environment in the context of his other concerns, using spirited anapestic lines: “Un-acid the rain. / Tell polluters: Refrain! / Help the rain forests gain, not grow smaller.” The poem ends: “And — oh yes — one more thing. / Could you please make me four inches taller?”

Many good poems, if not specifically about rainforests, deal with creatures who may inhabit them. Classic Poems to Read Aloud also has a section of poems about fish, birds, animals, or insects, including some found in jungles. Among them: William Blake’s “”The Tiger,” Ted Hughes’s “The Jaguar” and Randall Jarrell’s “Bats.” Then there George Macbeth’s “Insects,” which laments the perils of sharing a household with flies, mosquitoes and other winged creatures. Any rainforest explorer might identify with lines like: “I swat at my forehead, I scratch at my ankles, / Mole and wart, and a rash that rankles.”

You may also want to look at a picture book for slightly younger children, Over in the Jungle: A Rainforest Rhyme (Dawn, 32 pp., $8.95, paperback), by Marianne Berkes and by Jeanette Canyon, which I haven’t seen it. It begins: “Over in the jungle / Where the trees greet the sun / Lived a mother marmoset / And her marmoset one.”

You can also follow Janice Harayda (@janiceharayda) on Twitter, where she often writes about books for children or teenagers.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

December 27, 2008

A Book That Makes It Fun to Learn to Read – ‘I Saw You in the Bathtub: And Other Folk Rhymes’

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:53 pm
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I saw you in the street,
I saw you in a tree,
I saw you in the bathtub –
Whoops! Pardon me!

I Saw You in the Bathtub: And Other Folk Rhymes (An I Can Read Book 1) By Alvin Schwartz. Illustrated by Syd Hoff. HarperTrophy, 64 pp., $3.99, paperback. Ages 5–8 (for independent reading), ages 2 and up (for reading aloud).

By Janice Harayda

A couple of months ago, I mentioned I Saw You in the Bathtub in the context of a couple of its poems that relate to Halloween. But this book is so much fun, it has a year-round appeal.

Alvin Schwartz has collected 40 ageless folk rhymes that consist mainly of words of one or two syllables: “I scream, / You scream, / We all scream / For ice cream!” So this book is a good choice for many kindergarten-though-third-graders who are starting to read and need short words and strongly patterned text.

But children as young as age 2 also love rhymes like: “Teacher, teacher made a mistake — / She sat down in a chocolate cake!” and “Three little chickadees / Looking at you, / One flew away / And then there were two.” And because variations on most of the rhymes seem to have existed since Cain, the book has an intergenerational appeal: It gives parents and grandparents a chance to share the versions they know. Am I the only one who learned the title rhyme as: “I saw you in the river, / I saw you in the sea, / I saw you in the bathtub — / Oops! Pardon me!”?

Best line: The title rhyme. But “Mary, Mary, strong and able, / Keep your elbow off the table” may be better known.

Worst line: A few rhymes are taunts that some adults may want to skip when reading the book aloud, such as the deathless: “Kindergarten baby, / Stick your head in gravy!” Speaking just for myself: I’d rather hear those lines than some words that arepopular among 3-year-olds, such as “dickhead.”

Recommendation? High value for the dollar as holiday gift for a family with children ages 2 and up. This $3.99 paperback is much more entertaining than most $16.99 hardcover picture books.

Published: March 1989 (first edition), 1991 (HarperTrophy paperback) www.harpercollins.com/books/9780064441513/I_Saw_You_in_the_Bathtub/index.aspx

Reviews of books for children or teenagers appear every Saturday on this site, which will also post a list of suggested gift books for children and teenagers during the holiday season. Please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed to avoid missing these posts.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

November 15, 2008

A Poem That Teaches You the Names of All 50 States

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:03 pm
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California, Mississippi,
North and South Dakota.
New York, Jersey, Mexico, and
Hampshire. Minnesota.

— From “Someday Someone Will Bet That You Can’t Name All Fifty States”

Alas, poor Jeopardy! losers! Judith Viorst has written a book that could have helped you name that fourth state beginning with “I” that was all that stood between you and early retirement. Her Sad Underwear and Other Complications: More Poems for Children and Their Parents (Aladdin, 80 pp., $6.99, paperback) has dozens of short poems that find the humor everyday hazards like lost sneakers, mosquito bites and broken dishes. But none of those (mostly) rhyming verses may have earned her more gratitude than the list poem “Someday Someone Will Bet That You Can’t Name All Fifty States,” which teaches you how to win the dare in its title. Is Sad Underwear a book for the 7-to-10-year-olds that its packaging suggests? Or a cleverly subversive exercise in remedial reading for adults? Jeopardy! losers, you be the judge.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

January 11, 2008

Will the ALA Honor a Book About a Self-Declared ‘Chronic Masturbator’?

Is a phallic trend developing at the American Library Association?

By Janice Harayda

Will the American Library Association give an award to a book about a self-described “cronic masturbator”? Why not? The ALA gave the 2007 Newbery Medal to Susan Patron’s The Higher Power of Lucky, which has the word “scrotum” on the first page www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/02/19/. And Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian recently won the National Book Award for young people’s literature in November (“I Belong to the ‘Tribe of Chronic Masturbators,’ One-Minute Book Reviews, Nov. 16, 2007 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/11/16/).

Alexie’s novel is the front runner for the ALA’s Michael L. Printz Award, which honors “excellence in literature written for young adults,” so a phallic trend may be developing at the ALA. (Don’t ask how many times Alexie’s book uses the word “boner.”) The ALA www.ala.org will announce the winner on Monday, when it will also award the better-known Newbery Medal (for “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children”) and Caldecott Medal (for “the most distinguished American picture book for children”).

Other questions to be resolved on Monday: Will the ALA give the Caldecott Medal to Jack Prelutsky’s picture book Good Sports, a collection of poems about sports, some of which the American Pediatrics Association doesn’t recommend for preschoolers, the usual readers of picture books www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/o5/12/? Or will ALA honor Prelutsky’s nakedly commercial The Wizard, maybe his worst book? The librarians didn’t give a medal to Prelutsky’s excellent 2006 book Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant and may try to make up for it by rewarding a less worthy book at its meeting in Philadelphia next week.

Check back Monday for the names of the winners and, possibly, commentary on them.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

November 10, 2007

‘Hey, You!’ — A Picture Book Collection of Recent and Classic Poems for Children Ages 6 and Up

Tell me, O Octopus, I begs,
Is those things arms, or is they legs?

— From Ogden Nash’s light verse classic, “The Octopus”

Hey, You! Poems to Skyscrapers, Mosquitoes, and Other Fun Things. Selected by Paul B. Janeczko and Robert Rayevsky. HarperCollins, 40 pp., $16.89. Ages 6 and up.

By Janice Harayda

The thirty short poems in this picture book all speak to somebody or something — a shell, a horse, an astronaut – or use the literary device known as apostrophe.

Editor Paul Janeczko has chosen a mix of rhymed and unrhymed and comic and serious verse by living and dead poets, including Ogden Nash, X.J. Kennedy and Karla Kushkin. And some of the entries have an unexpected timeliness, such as Emily Dickinson’s “Bee, I’m Expecting You!,” which begins: “Bee, I’m expecting you! / Was saying yesterday / To somebody you know / That you were overdue.” (Could there be a better bedtime poem for a first or second grader who loved Bee Movie?) But the dark and heavy-handed illustrations – which hang over some pages like thunderclouds — are no match for the high quality of the poems. So this is a book to use selectively: Instead of reading straight through it, look for the pages most likely to appeal to a particular child. And just try to keep a straight face if they include Nash’s classic, “The Octopus,” which begins: “Tell me, O Octopus, I begs, / Is those things arms, or is they legs?”

Links: www.harpercollinschildrens.com, www.pauljaneczko.com, www.rayevsky.com

Furthermore: Janeczko is a Maine poet who also edited Dirty Laundry Pile: Poems in Different Voices, a companion to Hey, You!. Rayevsky lives in Parksville, NY, and illustrated Caroline Stutson’s Pirate Pup and other books for children.

Reviews of children’s books appear every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews. They often deal with poetry for ages 2 and up. You can find other reviews of children’s poetry books by clicking on the “Children’s Books” category at right (below the “Recent Posts” and “Top Posts” listings).

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

November 8, 2007

A Poetry Collection for Children Ages 6 and Up — Coming Saturday

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:53 pm
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Reviews of books for children and teenagers appear on Saturdays on One-Minute Book Reviews. Coming this weekend: A review of Hey, You! Poems to Skyscrapers, Mosquitoes, and Other Fun Things www.harpercollinschildrens.com, a picture book of recent and classic poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated Robert Rayevsky.

(c) Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 12, 2007

Jack Prelutsky’s Rhyming Sports Poems for Young Children

The new “Children’s Poet Laureate” serves up rhymes about karate, skateboarding, gymnastics and other sports

Good Sports: Rhymes About Running, Jumping, Throwing, and More. By Jack Prelutsky. Illustrations by Chris Raschka. Knopf, 40 pp., $16.99. Ages: See below.

By Janice Harayda

This book of sports rhymes has a gold medal on the cover identifying its author as the “Children’s Poet Laureate” of the U.S. But don’t confuse that honor with that the one bestowed by Library of Congress, most recently on the Donald Hall. The title of “Children’s Poet Laureate” was created by the Poetry Foundation, a nonprofit organization that awarded it for the first time last year. And while the foundation may have had admirable goals in creating the post, you wish that Good Sports had been worthier of that medal on its dust jacket.

Jack Prelutsky is best known for The New Kid on the Block and other collections, including Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young. And it’s easy to see why the Poetry Foundation wanted to honor him: At his best, he’s a hilarious, and he’s probably done more to foster an interest in poetry than any living children’s author.

But Good Sports seems designed more to fill a market niche than to delight children. There’s an obvious need for more good children’s books about sports – their publication hasn’t kept pace with the rise in participation. And many of the children’s sports books that do exist are cheesy celebrity biographies that promote hero-worship instead of a love of reading or a real understanding of sports.

Prelutsky sprinkles a few drops of water this parched landscape with a picture book of 17 rhyming poems about girls’ and boys’ individual and team sports – soccer, baseball, basketball, football, gymnastics, swimming, figure skating, skateboarding, karate and Frisbee. Some of the poems are mildly amusing, such as a ballplayer’s lament: “I had to slide into the plate, / It was my only chance. / Though if I hadn’t slid, then I / Would not have lost my pants.” But most lack the zest of Prelutsky’s best work and sometimes descend into the breathless clichés of the broadcasting booth.

A larger problem is that the audience for Good Sports is unclear. School Library Journal recommends the book for grades kindergarten through five, and, on one level, that makes sense. Some poems show children getting clobbered in football or taking part in other competitive team sports that the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t recommend for children under age 6.

But Good Sports has the form of a typical picture book for 4-to-8-year-olds. It’s the size and shape of the hardcover edition of Where the Wild Things Are, which appeals to many 2-year-olds. The book has just one or two poems per spread and large watercolor and pen-and-ink drawings by Chris Raschka, who illustrated the 2006 Caldecott Medal winner, The Hello, Goodbye Window. And the pictures, though spirited, resemble finger-paintings more likely to appeal to preschoolers than children at the upper end of the K–5 range. The poems might have had much more appeal for children beyond kindergarten or first grade if they had been packaged as a chapter book and illustrated by an artist who really knows how to reach that audience, such as Quentin Blake, the genius behind the art for such Roald Dahl books as The B.F.G. and The Twits.

As it is, Good Sports is another book, like Greg Foley’s recent Thank You Bear, that panders to library story hours with large fonts and pictures (and a price tag driven by that format) instead of serving parents who want to read their children poetry without paying $16.99 for mostly so-so rhymes. It’s sad to see the Poetry Foundation lending its imprimatur to this racket instead of bringing attention to gifted children’s poets who have had less attention than Prelutsky, a writer whose latest book would no doubt have sold well without a medal on its cover.

A much better choice for ages 8 and up is Ernest L. Thayer’s classic sports poem “Casey at the Bat,” available in many editions, including the Caldecott Honor book Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888 (Handprint, 2000), illustrated by Christopher Bing. Children may soon forget Prelutsky’s trendy poems about karate and skateboarding. But who can ever forget Thayer’s tragicomic tale of the day there was “no joy in Mudville” because “Mighty Casey has struck out”?

Best line: Quoted above: “ … would not have lost my pants.”

Worst line: Sports clichés like, “The competition’s tough” and “I’ve saved the day.”

Published: March 2007

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 8, 2007

Robert Service’s ‘The Cremation of Sam McGee’

Filed under: Classics,Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:33 am
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A classic ballad of the Klondike gold rush retains its appeal for people who like strong rhymes, a dramatic story and a mordant wit

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
And the Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold …

Oh, what thrills those words gave those of us who first heard them, say, around a campfire! The opening lines of ‘The Cremation of Sam McGee” were among the most popular of the 20th century and may be among the few lines of poetry that many American adults still know by heart. And because the poem is out of copyright in the U.S., you can download it for free at sites that include Poetry Out Loud www.poetryoutloud.org/poems/, a project of the Poetry Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts, which also has Service’s “The Shooting of Dan McGrew.”

Why seek out a poem that first appeared a century ago in The Spell of the Yukon (Dodd, Mead, 1907)? Its masculine themes and folksy diction are out of fashion in a liberated age that values detached sophistication. But this frontier ballad still has charms for anyone who likes strong rhymes, a dramatic story and a mordant wit.

Robert Service (1874–1958) found the inspiration for “The Cremation of Sam McGee” after the Canadian Bank of Commerce sent him to the Yukon Territory in the early 1900s. The poem both celebrates and sends up Klondike gold rush. The speaker is a parka-clad dog-musher fighting the cold on Christmas Day with a hapless adventurer who underestimated the perils of his quest:

Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows.
Why he left his home in the South to roam ’round the Pole, God only knows.
He was always cold but the land of gold seemed to hold him like a spell
Though he’d often say in his homely way that “he’d sooner live in hell.”

Sam believes he that he will perish from the cold but insists that he isn’t afraid of dying – only of an “icy grave” – and begs to be cremated after he dies. When the narrator tries to oblige, Service throws in a twist suggested by the last lines:

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

Like many of Service’s poems, “The Cremation of Sam McGee” begs to be read aloud. Each line has an internal and end rhyme that create a distinctive rhythm that listeners quickly begin to anticipate. And Service creates a brisk pace through his use of anapestic meter — resembling the gallop of a horse – that also drives “Paul Revere’s Ride.”

The dust jacket of an early edition of The Spell of the Yukon says that Service “has caught the spirit of wanderlust latent in every one of us.” Words like those are often fool’s gold. But the boom in Alaskan cruises and wildness vacations suggests that if the Klondike gold rush is as dead as Dan McGrew, people will always want to know if those Northern Lights “have seen queer sights.”

“The Cremation of Sam McGee” appears in many books, such as Best Tales of the Yukon: Including the Classic “Shooting of Dan McGrew” and “The Cremation of Sam McGee. By Robert W. Service. Running Press, 160 pp. $12.95, paperback.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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