One-Minute Book Reviews

November 1, 2009

All the Words to the Baseball Poem ‘Casey at the Bat,’ Free and Online

Okay, parents, here’s my annual reminder: If you want to get the kids interested in poetry, turn off the TV during the seventh-inning stretch and read Ernest L. Thayer’s brief classic baseball poem, “Casey at the Bat.” You’ll find a good, free, legal and complete version on this page of the site for the Academy of American Poets. And you’ll find my review of several picture-book editions of the poem, suitable for children of different ages, here. My review includes Christopher Bing’s Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888, a Caldecott Honor Book.

October 23, 2009

Halloween Poems and Picture-Book Fun for Children

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:57 pm
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Looking for Halloween reading for children under the age of 9 or so? You might want to read these posts:

“Good Halloween Poems for Children”: Where to find short Halloween poems that rhyme, including Robert Graves’s “The Pumpkin,” which begins: “You may not believe it, for hardly could I: / I was cutting a pumpkin to put in a pie …”

“John Ciardi’s Halloween Limerick for Children”: Two books that have the poet’s witty limerick about a haunted house, “The Halloween House.” The first lines are: “I’m told there’s a Green Thing in there. / And the sign on the gate says BEWARE!”

“A Classic Halloween Poem and Jump-Rope Rhyme”: Jump-ropers, remember the one that goes, “Down in the desert / Where the purple grass dies / There sat a witch …”?

“James Stevenson’s ‘That Terrible Halloween Night,’ a Picture Book for Ages 3–8”: A grandfather tells a tale to children who try to scare him on Halloween.

No costume yet? You might enjoy “Literary Halloween Costumes for Children.”

September 11, 2009

Dennis Webster’s ‘Absolutely Wild’ – Good Poems About Animals for Young Children

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:47 pm
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A collection of 16 light-hearted poems, each about a bird, insect or animal

Absolutely Wild. Poems by Dennis Webster. Illustrations by Kim Webster Cunningham. Godine, 32 pp., $17.95. Ages 2 and up.

By Janice Harayda

Ogden Nash once delighted Americans with light verse — often about animals — such as, “If called by a panther / Don’t anther.” Something of his spirit lives in the 16 short, rhyming poems in Absolutely Wild.

Dennis Webster isn’t as playful as Nash – he doesn’t use wrenched rhymes like “panther” and “anther.” But he’s written the best collection of original children’s poems about animals I’ve seen since Jack Prelutsky’s Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant. And his daughter has enhanced the book with handsome hand-colored linoleum-block prints framed by decorative borders, some reminiscent of the Ghanaian cloth known as kente.

Each poem in Absolutely Wild has 4–12 lines, a strong rhyme and meter, and a focus on a colorful bird, insect or animal. The 8-line “The Yak” sets the tone:
A shaggy species is the yak
With hairy front and hairy back.
It isn’t very hard to spot him
With hairy top and hairy bottom.

Most poems are odes or odes-in-spirit that marvel at the qualities of a creature in couplet quatrains or another traditional form. In the 8-line “The Ostrich,” Webster celebrates the bird in hymn stanzas, arranged in their usual pattern of alternating lines of four and three iambic feet:
The ostrich is a splendid bird
Who’s taller than most men.
It seems a little bit absurd
To call his wife a hen.

Absolutely Wild also has poems about an ant, snail, moose, shrew, penguin, vulture, gnu, puffin, seagull, giraffe, porcupine, gibbon, platypus and ptarmigan. And it reflects David R. Godine’s attention to craftsmanship in its endpapers and elsewhere. It would make a fine gift for very young children and a good resource for slightly older ones who are learning in school about creatures you won’t usually find in the parking lot at Shop Rite.

Best line: Every child’s favorite is likely to be that “With hairy top and hairy bottom.”

Worst line: “The platypus is quite unique.”

Caveat lector: The second and fourth lines of “The Ostrich” should be indented, but the template for this blog won’t permit it.

Published: October 2008

Furthermore: Kim Webster Cunningham has posted the poem about a snail and the art for it on her Web site.

Children’s book reviews appear on this site on Saturdays.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

June 20, 2009

A Good Children’s Poem About the Fourth of July

John Updike celebrates the Fourth in the spirited children’s poem “July,” which begins: “Bang-bang! Ka-boom! / We celebrate / Our national / Independence date.” The poem is one of 12, one for each month, collected in A Child’s Calendar (Holiday House, 32 pages, $17.95 hardcover, $6.95 paperback, ages 4–8). Beautifully illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, this picture book won a Caldecott Honor for its images of four seasons in the life of members of an interracial New England family and their friends. Don’t miss Updike tending the barbecue grill in the full-page picture next to the poem.

May 16, 2009

Good Clean Limericks for Children – Poems for 1st, 2nd and 3rd Graders

There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, “It is just as I feared!—

From a classic nonsense limerick by Edward Lear

Anyone who wants to encourage a child to read poetry should memorize three good limericks — stopping just short of any that begin, “There was a young girl from Nantucket” — and recite them regularly. Limericks have five rhyming lines and a bouncy rhythm that makes them easy to remember. So children tend to absorb them effortlessly if they hear them often.

The question is: Where can you find the clean ones? True limericks are always bawdy, some critics say. When they aren’t scatological, they may include double-entendres or other risqué elements. Many limericks on the Web are also plagiarized — it’s generally illegal to quote an entire five-line poem by a living or not-long-dead poet even if you credit the author — and could cause trouble for children who quote them in school reports.

But the Academy of American Poets has posted several out-of-copyright classics by Edward Lear (1812––1888), author of “The Owl and the Pussy Cat,” at www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/16814, including:

There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, “It is just as I feared!–
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!”

The academy also offers facts about the rhyme and meter of limericks at www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5783. All 112 of the limericks in the 1861 edition of Lear’s A Book of Nonsense appear on a site that abounds with information about his work www.nonsenselit.org.

A good source of limericks for young children is The Hopeful Trout and Other Limericks (Houghton Mifflin, 1989), written by John Ciardi and illustrated by Susan Meddaugh, available in many libraries. This book is used in grades 2 and up in schools. But some of its limericks would also suit younger children. They include “Be Kind to Dumb Animals” (“There once was an ape in a zoo / Who looked out through the bars and saw – YOU!”), which consists only of simple one-syllable words, and “The Halloween House” (“I’m told there’s a Green Thing in there. / And the sign on the gate says BEWARE!”).

Many limericks are mini-morality tales about people who get an amusing, nonsensical comeuppance. The Hopeful Trout has several in this category. “The Poor Boy Was Wrong” describes the unlucky Sid, who “thought that a shark / Would turn tail if you bark,” then swam off to test the premise. Ciardi refers obliquely to Sid’s fate, but any child who isn’t sure what happened needs only look at the drawing grinning shark and a single flipper.

© 2009 Janice Harayda
www.janiceharayda.com

January 30, 2009

Good Valentine’s Day Poems for Children With All the Words Online

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:19 am
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More than a dozen poems appear in 'Valentine's Day'

Ages 4–8
At a certain age children love to know secrets, and Valentine’s Day lets them show it. An example: The following two out-of-copyright lines appear in “To a Baby Boy,” collected in Songs and Other Verse, by the American children’s poet Eugene Field (1850–1895):

Who I am I shall not say,
But I send you this bouquet

Children could attach the lines to a bouquet — or to a drawing (or sticker collage) of flowers — for an easy-to-make free card.

Ages 9–12
Tweens and older children may be embarrassed by overtly romantic sentiments, yet still want or need to send Valentine’s Day cards. The complete works of the Elizabethan poet Michael Drayton (1563–1631) include four out-of-copyright lines that might be sufficiently neutral:

Muse, bid the Morn awake!
Sad Winter now delines,
Each bird doth choose a mate;
This day’s Saint Valentine’s.

Teenagers
Teenagers who believe they are desperately in love can find many appropriate poems online. Among the best-known: Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s iambic pentameter sonnet “How Do I Love Thee?” (Sonnet 43), which begins:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.

This much-parodied poem has become a cliché to many adults but doesn’t sound trite to teenagers hearing it for the first time (and might inspire some to have fun writing their own parodies). The same goes for the lyrics to that Beatles’s toe-tapper, “When I’m Sixty-Four”:

When I get older losing my hair,
Many years from now.
Will you still be sending me a valentine
Birthday greetings bottle of wine.

You can hear Paul McCartney singing this one on YouTube by searching for “When I’m Sixty-Four” + “lyrics” (though I’m not linking to it because I’m not convinced that any versions of the song on YouTube are legal).

Other good poems and ways to celebrate the day appear in Ann Heinrich’s Valentine’s Day: Holidays, Festivals, & Celebrations (The Child’s World, 2006), illustrated by Sharon Holm, and other books.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

January 27, 2009

2009 Caldecott Medal Honors an Attractive But Derivative Book — ALA Judges Play It Safe by Choosing the Poetry of ‘The House in the Night’

Beth Krommes used scratchboard and watercolor for 'The House in the Night.'

The House in the Night. By Susan Marie Swanson. Illustrated by Beth Krommes. Houghton Mifflin, 40 pp., $17. Ages 2–5.

By Janice Harayda

This lovely and thoroughly inoffensive 2009 Caldecott award–winner should hearten anybody who sees the American Library Association as a hotbed of Communists who keep trying to sneak into kids’ hands books on dangerous topics like sex education and environmentalism. The House in the Night is pretty as can be but shows the ALA in full retreat from the days when it gave medals to trailblazing books like The Little House, Where the Wild Things Are and Jumanji.

There’s no doubt that as the financial maelstrom rages, many people will welcome this gentle story about the comforts of home in the darkness. As night falls, a young girl receives a key to a tidy house that has glowing lamp. She enters and finds on a bed a book about a dove-like bird that carries her on its wings toward the moon and back to a home “full of light.”

None of the action in this tale has a catalyst that is remotely upsetting or disturbing, such as Max’s getting sent to bed without his supper in Where the Wild Things Are. Susan Marie Swanson found the inspiration for this cumulative story in one of the nursery rhymes collected by the estimable Iona and Peter Opie (“This is the key of the kingdom: / In that kingdom is a city”). And although nursery rhymes can be sadistic, this book minds its manners. Swanson tells her story in short-lined poetry so low keyed, most critics seem to have missed it despite lines like “the house in the night / a home full of light.”

Beth Krommes’s illustrations have a minimalist color palette unusually sophisticated for a picture book. Krommes uses just three colors – black, white and yellow – and watercolor and scratchboard techniques that give the art the look of wood engravings. She also reduces her images to essentials: a cat, a doll, a brush, teddy bears, sweaters in a bedroom drawer. Her “house in the night” is a cottage — the roof appears thatched — that could have come from a benevolent fairy tale. Even the sun has a smiling face with long eyelashes. The girl soars on her bird’s wings over a pastoral landscape that, the cars suggest, belongs to the 1940s.

All of these scenes have a cozy familiarity – too much of it for a Caldecott winner. Everything in this derivative book reminds you of something else. That brush in the bedroom? Goodnight Moon. That color palette? Wanda Gág’s Millions of Cats. The structure of the story? “This Is the House That Jack Built.”

The borrowed elements in The House in the Night generally work well together and add up to a good book. But you expect more than good from the winner of the Caldecott Medal, awarded to “the most distinguished American picture book for children.” You expect greatness, or at least a higher level of originality – the boldness of winners like Virginia Lee Burton’s The Little House, which dealt with suburban sprawl decades before it became fashionable, or David Macaulay’s Black and White, which wove together multiple plots in way new to picture books.

The House in the Night leaves you wondering if the Caldecott judges wanted to find the best book, or just to administer a dose of bibliotherapy to a nation that needs it. You also wonder if the committee overreacted to recent criticisms that the ALA awards don’t honor enough poetry by honoring a book some may not recognize as poetry at all. And why are the organization’s judges such suckers for books about reading? This pattern goes back at least to the 1991 Newbery for Maniac Magee. But books about the power of reading aren’t inherently worthier of awards than those about plumbing or red-tailed hawks: Everything depends on the execution.

Certainly the Caldecott committee snubbed books as award-worthy as this one, including Pale Male and The Little Yellow Leaf. For all its virtues, The House in the Night has nothing so unusual about it that schools and libraries need to have it, the way they do need have the 2008 winner, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which has strong and unique merits. Oddly enough, if the Caldecott judges wanted to help a nation in financial turmoil, they did it, but not in the intended way: They selected a book that no one needs to rush out to buy.

Best line/picture: “the house in the night / a home full of light.”

Worst line/picture: This book depicts cars more than a half century old but a lamp that looks inspired by the latest Pottery Barn catalog.

Published: May 2008

About the authors: Swanson is an award-winning poet in St. Paul, Minnesota. Krommes is an illustrator in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

You may also want to read “American Library Association to Little Kids: Women Are Second Best,” a response to the medals gap between male and female Caldecott winners.

Janice Harayda is an award-winning journalist and former vice-president for Awards of the National Book Critics Circle.

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

January 23, 2009

A Good Children’s Poem About February

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:14 pm
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[This is the first of several posts about children's books that will appear this weekend. The others will deal with candidates for the Newbery and Caldecott medals to be announced Monday morning. One-Minute Book Reviews will also have a post about the awards on Monday.]

A lot of children’s poems about February are sentimental odes to Valentine’s Day that ignore the less commercial joys of the month. Not John Updike’s “February,” a 16-line rhyming poem collected in the A Child’s Calendar (Holiday House, 32 pp., $6.99, paperback, ages 4 and up), which won a Caldecott Honor citation.

Updike focuses in the poem on seasonal changes such as snow, icicles and chickadees at a feeder. But he refers indirectly to Valentine’s Day in the last of his four quatrains: “And snipping, snipping / Scissors run / To cut out hearts / For everyone.” And Trina Schart Hyman beautifully supports his words with a warm, full-page watercolor image of children making valentines from tape, glue, crayons and pink and red paper. Just beyond a nearby picture window, an adult shows another kind of love for living things by refilling a bird feeder.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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 28, 2008

Good Children’s Poems About January

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:24 pm
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Do poets have trouble finding rhymes for “hangover”? Or believe that all kids go to bed early on Dec. 31? For whatever reason, there are few good children’s New Year’s Day, compared with the many about Christmas, Thanksgiving and other major holidays.

But John Updike has written a lovely poem about January that appears in his A Child’s Calendar (Holiday House, 32 pp., ages 4-8), and in The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (Random House, 248 pp., $22.99, ages 12 and under), selected by Jack Prelutsky. “January” doesn’t mention the New Year and instead celebrates the charms of the month with rhyming iambic quatrains: “The days are short, / The sun a spark / Hung thin between / The dark and dark.” The Random House Book of Poetry for Children also includes Sara Coleridge’s poem “The Months,” which consists of 12 rhyming couplets, one for each month, that begin: “January brings the snow, / makes our feet and fingers glow.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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