The Children's Book Garden

Reading and weeding through the best and worst of children's literature

The Charm of Poetry August 25, 2011

Filed under: Poetry,Read aloud — Maiaoming @ 2:10 pm
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poetry speaks to children book coverI was biased against poetry.

Mind you, I went to school for poetry; I got my MFA in writing poetry.

But maybe it’s this presumed expertise that’s fueled my ferocity of my critical ear: So many poems are lousy, I felt, including the ones aimed at kids. They either veer into sing-song land, don’t say anything, or rely upon confusing construction to appear complex.

I think I was in a post-grad daze of jadedness.

And in that daze I found myself avoiding reading poetry to my kids. Of course, I read Mother Goose rhymes and books written in rhyming stanzas, but I winced when I saw the books of collected poems.

I was sure my kids get bored if they didn’t understand the content, and I didn’t think I was tough enough to handle trying to explain metaphors and outdated phrases and soaring romps of the imagination without factual root.

But one day I found myself reading a particularly eclectic and inspired collection I’d found at a booksale  – Poetry Speaks to Children – and guess what? The kids love it. They ask for it again and again. The poems – from Billy Collins and Nikki Giovanni to Lewis Carroll and WB Yeats – are varied in type and length, subject and tone, but we haven’t come across one they don’t like.

And why is that? It’s because poems rock, that’s why! Didn’t I know that? Whether capturing a thought or a feeling, an image or sound, a poem delivers a moment of language in a new and pleasing way, and so of course, of course, whether they understand all the words or not, children – who play with language and sound all the time – who love repetition – eat it up.

And I love reading them.

My faith in poetry is happily restored.

That’s what kids do for you, right? Make you remember why you loved things, like beauty and poetry and sunsets and first days of school.

 

Quirky Counting Story Worth Searching For November 5, 2010

Filed under: Animal books,Beautiful Books,Favorites,Read aloud,Uncategorized — snowbrice @ 5:13 pm

I usually find counting and sequential stories cumbersome to read.  My tongue gets dry and twisted constantly repeating the same sentences over and over.  But, An Invitation to the Butterfly Ball: A Counting Rhyme, by Jane Yolen is actually fun to read.  This quirky book is about a little elf who goes to the homes of woodland animals with an invitation to a butterfly ball.  Each animal in turn is frantic about not finding the perfect outfit or accessory to wear.  The mouse needs a “floor length dress”, the rabbits are frantically searching for “baubles and laces”, and the skunks are looking for “one clean suit.”  I also appreciate the use of descriptive vocabulary.  There are plenty of opportunities to discuss the meaning of words such as “mournful”, “crimson”, and “silken.”

The watercolor illustrations pay homage to Beatrix Potter without being direct copies.  Each painting incorporates intricate details that deserve more than a dismissive glance.  They each tell a story within the story with characters and plot.  Parents and older children will delight at the irony of skunks fighting over a pinstripe suit and turtles that wish to wear party slippers.

Unfortunately, this story is out of print and it will cost you upwards of $50 to buy a copy.  Thankfully, we have public libraries.  Or if enough of us harass her, maybe we can get Jane Yolen to publish it again.


 

Red Sings from Treetops July 4, 2010

Filed under: Beautiful Books,Favorites,Read aloud — Maiaoming @ 10:27 am

Red Sings From TreetopsThis gorgeous book by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski sings,res are as the title suggests, with colorful lyricism. It is a pleasure to read aloud – to taste the words, with images that often surprise and delight – this is a real poem as much as it is a book for children, with the kind of rich density that makes poems re-readable, endlessly. The pictures are equally enchanting. And the way the colors move through the seasons keeps my four and two-year-old coming back for more.

The descriptions are accurate to the imagination:

In SUMMER,

White clinks in drinks.

Yellow melts

everything it touches…

smells like butter,

tastes like salt.

Brilliant.

Makes a great gift.

 

Love in The Secret Garden January 11, 2010

Regrettably, I never read The Secret Garden as a child and I missed out on one of the best books ever written for children.   Maybe if I had, I would have had a more positive outlook on life.  The author, Frances Hodgson Burnett, was a follower of New Thought, and believed that positive thinking could heal everything.  And while I do not subscribe wholly to the same beliefs, I do feel that a positive outlook makes for a much more enjoyable and fulfilling life.

The main character, Mary Lennox, is often described in book reviews as a spoiled child who learns to to be good and giving .  While I will agree that Mary is spoiled, I don’t believe that she “learns” to be a good girl.  I believe that she is as good as any child, but she has been neglected and needs to love and be loved to to bring out her own goodness.  In the first few pages of the book, I was gripped by my motherly desire, to reach down into the words and pages and pull Mary to me.

Mary has spent the first ten years of her life in India being tended to by her “ayah”.  She never sees her parents, who, although they live in the same household, are more concerned with their social engagements than their daughter.  Her mother is vain and never wanted a child.  She never interacts with Mary, who only gets to spy on her mother from afar.

When her parents and ayah die in a cholera outbreak, Mary is sent to live with her previously unknown uncle in England.  He lives in the austere Misslethwaite Manor in Yorkshire.  Mary is struck at once with the gray and dismal appearance of the Manor and the surrounding moor.

However, it is here that Mary experiences her first acts of love and kindness.  First from her chambermaid, Martha, who refuses to dress Mary but chatter away with stories about her family in her most “broad Yorkshire”.  It is Martha who is so concerned with the sad, skinny, sallow Mary that she gives her a skipping rope.  Martha tells Mary she must go outside and breathe the fresh air and get lots of excercise.

Then, it is Dickon, Martha’s brother who shows Mary kindness.  He helps her in the secret garden.  He shows her how to plant seeds and tend to growing things.  Dickon has an uncanny ability to befriend every bird and mammal he meets on the moor.  Mary believes him to be magical, and is enchanted by his magic.

When Mary learns of her cousin, Colin, the biggest secret of Misselthwaite Manor, she learns to love.  Colin, much like Mary, has been pampered and spoiled his whole life.  Because his mother died while giving birth to him, everyone believes that he is ill and will surely die before reaching adulthood.  Colin, who has heard this his whole life, believes it as well.  Mary does not, and does everything she can to convince him.  She shows her love for him by bringing him to the garden where he also gains health and strength from fresh air and exercise.

Through their love, Mary, Colin, and Dickon bring life and love to everyone at Misselthwaite Manor.  Love and happiness spread as quickly as the cholera that took Mary’s parents.  But this virus heals the deepest and oldest wounds.

I recommend this book as a read-aloud for seven years and up and as a read-alone for children eleven years and up.  The author uses Yorkshire dialect, which could be hard for some children to read and/or understand.

One warning about this book: Indian people are referred to as “blacks”.  I was thrown by this initially and contemplated not continuing to read it to my daughter.  However, I used this as a teaching moment instead.  My daughter and I discussed how the term is used and how people in the nineteenth century used it.  We also talked about prejudice and how to deal with people who think that one group of people is better than another.

Overall, I love The Secret Garden because it reminds us that this life that we have is a magical and wonderful gift that we should be thankful for every moment.