Oct 28, 2017

The Poetry Plunge Begins: Cybils Nominees

After numerous trips to the library, I am now facing an enormous stack of 2017 books nominated for the CYBILS Poetry category. Some of which, (many, in fact),  I've read previously, but they will get close second reads. Also included are many that lingered on my "wanna read" list but hadn't yet reached the surface. Among the stack are a few that had flown under my radar until now, which is always exciting. With a deadline looming, I look forward to deep reads on each and every title.

If you care to read along, you can find all the nominated titles at the Cybils site, here.

I'll be keeping a record of my reading on my Goodreads account, which you're invited to follow. Some are NOT picture books, so they won't appear in posts here. Without indicating comparisons or preferences, I do plan to share brief notes about many of the picture books on this blog. Before I begin that process, though, I encountered this poem, shared on the WRITERS ALMANAC on 10/28/2017:

The POEM OF THE FUTURE, by J. R. Solonche
The poem of the future will be smaller.
It will fit in the palm of your hand,
on your wrist, in your ear.
The poem of the future will not need
bulky batteries or cumbersome wires.
It will be powered by moonlight and weed.
The poem of the future will be automatic.
It will go for months without routine maintenance.
It will be faster, smoother, with a digital tick.
The poem of the future will be lighter.
It will be made of plastics and exotic metals.
It will be available in hundreds of shapes and colors.
The poem of the future will make our lives true.
It will perform in a second what it takes
the poem of the present a day to do.
The poem of the future will talk to us.
It will say things like “Buy IBM,” and “Be my friend,”
and “Pulvis et umbra sumus.”
“The Poem of the Future” by J.R. Solonche from Invisible. © Five Oaks Press, 2017. 
That last quote, by the way, "Pulvis et umbra sumus", translates to "We are dust and shadow". 

I appreciate the wry irony of this poem. It takes little effort to bump into whiny complaints about kid-sized, digitally-dependent humans losing any capacity to sustain attention. The hyped pitch in the poem above implies the same, and yet ends with a nod to the truth: poetry may use fewer words, but they are the BEST words, the RIGHT words, the words that allow each reader to savor the delicious bits on the tongue while consuming and digesting dust, shadows, and insights. Poetry leaves room for second helpings, prompting recommendations and requests for more.
This, too, is the nature of picture books, so my task is a welcome one.
WORDSONG, September, 2017

For now, I'll close here and plunge into the stacks of books. First, though, I'll copy my Goodreads comments about one of the picture books, Read! Read! Read!, with poems by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater and illustrated by Ryan O'Rourke:  
"This has been in my TBR pile for more than a month, and now I'm kicking myself for not reading it sooner. 
The collection of poems represents a range of structures, topics, rhymed and unrhymed verse, reflective and immediate concepts. Within its pages there are poems about Googling guinea pigs, dealing with grief in stories to be prepared for real-life grieving, stoking imaginations, exploring the past and the future, among many other recognizable moments in life. This is a must-have for every library and classroom and makes an ideal gift book as well."

With that, I'll close and "face the music" of poetry!

Oct 13, 2017

Art Appreciation: Wyeths, Monet, and Oscar

I continue to gather the nominated titles for the CYBILS POETRY category (nominations close 10/15/17). When the list is complete I'll begin commenting on some outstanding titles in these posts, so I'm going to offer a mash-up of picture books in other categories before turning my full attention to poetry. 

What better topic should I start with than ART? In particular, the three titles featured in this post include fiction and nonfiction, representational art and impressionist, expository text and storytelling. In other words, something for everyone. 
Chronicle Books, 2014
Let's begin with a book for older readers that includes reproductions, quotations, sources, and an index:  EVERYBODY PAINTS! The Lives and Art of the Wyeth Family. Written by Susan Goldman Rubin, this multi-generational biographic profile of the Wyeth family is a stunning book, in narrative, in visual content and in design. Widely recognized as the preeminent American family of painters, the abundance of art and anecdotes from which to choose must have been daunting. In fact, though, biographer Rubin has achieved her own masterpiece of storytelling and placement of selected pieces within each chapter. 
Just as the art of each individual (N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, and Jamie Wyeth) portrays specific images yet resonates with hidden stories and emotions, so too does the story of this incredible family. 
Rubin acknowledges that the women in the family were comparably talented, dedicated, and distinctive, but the focus in this book is on the legacy passing from grandfather to father to grandson.
Sprinkled throughout with concise nuggets of wisdom ("Study nature, not books.") and intricately woven aspects of real lives with images on canvas, even the most iconic illustrations or individual pieces take on new depth and significance in this reading.

Charlesbridge, 2012
Moving from a century-long triple-biographic profile of artists to a day-in-the-life approach can be a bit disorienting, and yet each works perfectly for its subject(s). 
MONET PAINTS A DAY is written by Julie Danneberg and illustrated by Caitlin Heimerl. My comments about the book must begin with a disclaimer: I'm a full-bore Monet fan. 
That said, I love the multiple text forms used in this book (first person voice, letter excerpts, and expository side bars). 
I particularly enjoy the insights to Monet's personality, the interactions he had with the local children, and the impressionist style used by the illustrator. The author's note at the back extends biographical content as well as addressing the narrative approach used and the reasons for it. 
The Wyeth biography requires an older reading audience, perhaps one with some background in modern American art, or at least a virtual field trip to examine works by this iconic family of painters. The Monet biography could serve a wide range of audiences, with an accessible voice and images for the youngest while providing text features for advanced readers, including an author's note, bibliography, and descriptions of art tools and techniques in the back matter as well as those concise side bar notes on each page.

Charlesbridge, 2012
Finally there is a charming little book, THE ART COLLECTOR, written by Jan Wahl and illustrated by Rosalinde Bonnet. Young Oscar knows what he likes. He likes art: watching it emerge from the media, attempting to make his own art, and appreciating specific aspects of art when he sees it. 
His appreciation is expansive, noting the figures, the colors, the patterns, the movement, and the aesthetics of various visual art pieces. There is a role for collectors in the art world, particularly when he shares his work with the public. 
The character/narrative art is consistently 2-dimensional and simplistic throughout, while the framed images reveal a wide array of art periods, styles, and techniques. One strength of the narrative is that everyone can collect art that they enjoy, if they shop wisely, save their pennies, and are willing to pull lots of weeds to make the extra cash. The thought that art collection is not limited to the rich is a powerful message.
There are a few cautions to note in this work, though. First is how easily Oscar's early interest in creating his own art succumbed to discouragement (despite his family's effort to admire and encourage his attempts). Next is the universally white population of the street fair, the frame shop, and even the final museum visitors. The message that art is for white people may be inadvertent but is a miserably clear one from a young child's perspective. If this is addressed directly when used with young audiences it still has much to offer. 

While we're talking something special to offer...
 I'm excited to report that an exhibit of WENDELL MINOR's art that I wrote about HERE ,(including an interview),has been traveling and will open at HERITAGE MUSEUMS in Sandwich, MA on April 14, 2018.There's a remarkable hour-long video interview of Wendell Minor via Youtube, HERE.

So, while fall colors, a changing landscape, or anything else is tickling the artistic impulses of your kids- or your own!- start with these and express yourself!

Oct 8, 2017

A Trifecta of Fun: Fairytales, Fractions, and TWINS!

As noted in the previous post, I'm excited and honored to be participating as a ROUND ONE panelist for the CYBILS Awards again. This year I'm reading in the POETRY category. If you haven't yet checked out the current nominees for all categories, get over to those lists and make sure your favorites are represented (HERE). The deadline for open nominations is just a week away, October 15. 
Meanwhile, I've been updating availability lists for books already nominated, placing holds at the library, and even hauling home some of the amazing poetry books from 2017. This is gong to be a tough decision, I can tell!

For the coming weeks, though, while reading, rereading, and evaluating the ultimate list of poetry nominees, I want to shine a spotlight on picture books that may show up in other categories. 
One worthy read is TWINDERELLA: A Fractioned Fairy Tale, written  by Corey Rosen Schwartz and illustrated by Deborah Marcero. It's  a winner on several counts. 
The premise is that Cinderella actually had a twin, Tinderella. Cin and Tin suffered the same mistreatment as in the original story, but they shared the tasks equally, halvsies, and offered each other the comfort of sisterly love and a many-hands approach to drudge work.
With numerous examples illustrated simply and embedded in rhymed text, the two personalities emerge as highly compatible but distinctly different. Cin has the more traditional romantic bent to her interests but Tin is an analytic and mathematical problem solver. It seems that may account for her having been overlooked in prior tellings of the tale. 
Each page contains more examples of fraction-able examples that you can imagine, and attentive kids will find many more than are mentioned explicitly. Typical "half" exercises are pictured as slices or symmetrical folds, but these are halves of sets of various items. As their families expand the opportunity to consider related fraction families is an open-ended challenge. The end papers and a bonus removable fraction chart in a casing pocket make this book especially suited to kids who jump on board the fraction frenzy enthusiastically. 
Schwartz has written other versions of various traditional tales. This one, released in September, will find fans among readers, parents, and teachers. The likable pair add an engaging twist to a familiar story, and the fraction challenges add to its "read-it-again" appeal.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.