Monday, March 31, 2008

A Hungarian Folk Tale

Long Ago in a far off kingdom an enormous tree grows, it's top hidden in the clouds. It is sooo tall that nobody has ever been able to climb to the top. Rosa's stepmother and stepsister, Irma are very mean to her. They make her sleep out on the roof and and call her a monkey because she can climb anything.....from drainpipes to trees. So when the King announces that whoever brings down seeds from the top of the tree will marry his son, Rosa rises to the challenge. Irma grabs on to Rosa and follows her up the tree and when Rosa picks the seed pod at the top, Irma snatches it! Rosa falls out of the tree, lands on the prince and seeds fly out of her long hair. In the End, she marries the Prince and Irma is still stuck up in the tree! Shelly Fowles is the author and illustrator of this funny adaptation of a traditional Hungarian folktale. She is originally from South Africa and has studied Graphic design in England where she now resides. I chose this book today because of it's wonderful cover and perfect title, Climbing Rosa. Not only is it fun to read but the illustrations are so enchanting, whimsical, and full of vibrant, moving color.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Rain Jumping

Poem by Maria Fischinger


Cloudy skies,
flashing lights at far zig zagging,
loud sounds,thunderstorms,
puddles, muddy soil.
Drip, drip, drip, drop
drip, drip, drip, drop

Dancing drops on my umbrella.
Dancing drops on the sidewalk.
Dancing drops are everywhere.
Drip, drip, drip, drop.
Drip, drip, drip, drop,
is the sound the drops make.

Water on my hair and lashes.
Water on my face and neck.
Water running down my body.
Water soaking all my clothes.
Swish, swash,swish, swash,
water squirts out of my shoes
shivers, and a...a... a... choooo!

Friday, March 28, 2008


Fox by Kate Banks and illustrated by Georg Hallensleben is a picture book I've come to love. Some books I know I want to own after the first read and some like Fox, I fall in love with after the third or fourth reading. It's like a favorite pair of jeans or that wine label you've come to trust.

Fox is a book to linger over, the narrative is quite lyrical and try reading it slowly or even whisper. The story is basically about the year in the life of a woodland fox. And yet the text is filled with beautiful metaphors. You can't help but think of your own children experiencing the seasons, learning what you teach them so they will grow into healthy, intelligent, kind, and self-sufficient adults.

"She shelters them in the shade of a tree.
Overhead, the branches sigh
like a lullaby setting the world at ease.

And the birds come and go.
And the saplings grow into tall, stately trees."

Georg Hallensleben's paintings are dreamy. His palette is rich with emerald green, burnt-orange, aqua blue and the colors of nature we see in our memories of that perfect hike. His impressionist style paintings are to be studied in the slow, lingering way the story is told. The mama, papa and baby fox move together to find food, shelter and avoid danger.

"And as the orange sun
leaves the sky, like a big goodbye,
the little fox goes.
And the mama fox knows
and the papa fox too
that he will be fine."

There has been a lot of talk with friends about schools with my eldest baby entering kindergarten age. And a lot of anxiety over which schools are best suited for their child's social development and intellectual stimulation. Some friends will move into better districts, take on extra jobs to pay for expensive private schools, attend the neighborhood school or homeschool. I was reminded of this questioning when reading a post at Her Bad Mother about Montessori. And then I realized that much of the anxiety has to do with our own separation anxiety. Kindergarten is the first step in sending that little fox off into the world to survive on its own.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

I'll read anything by this author! Jon Scieszka makes me laugh out loud. Just click on his website to see his face and laugh.......what's with the facial-hair experiment Jon?!!!
Cowboy and Octopus is a group of seven little stories about an unlikely friendship. Each story has a little lesson about true friendship. It's super fun to read for both kids and parents. Picture an octopus in a tooth fairy costume.....see what I mean?!!
Jon is also the author of the popular Stinky Cheese Man and a really great kids art book created for the MOMA called Seen Art? It's the story of a kid who is looking for his friend Art and gets led into the MOMA. He sees Art for the first time ; Van Gogh, Picasso, Warhol, Dali, Matisse, Miro and 54 other artists. I forgot about the awesome collection of works the MOMA has and this book makes me want to visit again, asap.
Speaking of art and artists, Lane Smith is the artist who has collaborated with Jon on several books. They make a perfect team. Lane somehow captures true human expressions in his odd character creations. His art is so unique and indescribable that you must visit his site to see.

Monday, March 24, 2008


This series of 4 books written by Simone Lindner, illustrated by Christa Unzner and translated by Kathryn Bishop belongs in every fairy aficionado's collection. Originally published in German, the books were licensed by Margarete Steiff, with rights arranged with minedition and published by Penguin Young Readers Group. All of that background is really to give you the link to minedition because at the very back of these books is an envelope that holds a letter written by each fairy to the child who reads the book. Supposedly you can meet your fairy online and play games with her. (We haven't been able to try this out yet as they're still working on the site.) Nevertheless, it's an intriguing concept.

I was foremost drawn to the wonderful illustrations, but found the stories teach respect and appreciation for nature, which I find important. The color scheme follows through for each element: water is blue, fire is red-orange, earth is green and air is lavender. Each fairy has a challenge which she solves using her element. For example, Aelin the water fairy must remove a beaver dam because the lake downstream is drying up and changing the habitat of the animals who live there. She chants, "Heart of a fairy brave and true. Show me now what I must do...." And with the help of her animal friends she removes the dam, water flows and she is rewarded with an appearance by Bereth the Fairy Queen who gives her a gold ring and sends her to the world of human children. She then becomes friend and protector of the child who is reading the story. My four-year-old was mystified. The ring in the story sparkles like a Rainbow Fish scale, only in the color of the fairy's element. And then the child opens the letter which not only tells about the natural element, but includes a glossary of the fairy language, Sindarin. I think we're prepping for Tolkien here. Boys are not left out because Amar, the Earth Fairy is a boy. And who is my favorite fairy? Legolas of course. Or is he an elf?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Precious Water

It has been a busy holiday weekend! I did some late night blog reading and found a link for bzzzpeek over at educating alice. What is bzzzpeek? Have you ever talked with someone from another country and found out their roosters crow or dogs bark differently? Well this site is a database with sound. People from all over the world can record and upload how their cats meow or cows moo.

And here is an awesome resource. Anastasia Suen, author, teacher and consultant of children's literature, has compiled an amazing database of children's and YA book reviewers in the blogosphere. Here it is and definitely bookmark this page!

I was going to review a bunny book but I changed my mind- enough chicks and bunnies for the weekend. Precious Water A Book of Thanks by Brigitte Weninger and illustrated by Anne Moller has a rather profound message for few words. Looking at a glass of clear, clean water a little girl tells us how water drops are precious like jewels, and that "The whole world would be dead if there were no water." She shows the changing forms of water like snow and rain and tells us where water can be found: the sky, ocean, beneath the ground. "I give my cat a little water so she won't be thirsty. And I drink some water too. How good it tastes!"

"I hope we will always have enough water for the plants and animals and people on earth. I am so thankful for this precious water." It's ecology and gratitude in a pretty picture book. The illustrations are painted with torn paper collage. If you would like to find other picture books with the theme of gratitude, here is a link. I am grateful for many things but at this moment I am grateful for quiet, and rest.

Happy Easter!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Chocolate Bunnies

Bing ......reminds me of all the chocolate bunnies I've been eating. Thank you family, friends and neighbors for all the great Easter baskets! Yes! Now it's officially Spring.

If you don't know this series of Bing books by Ted Dewan, Bing and Flop are characters that interact together like a toddler (Bing) and a parent(Flop).

They are bright and colorful as well as easy and fun to read.... over and over again. The Bing series are: Bedtime, Get Dressed, Go Picnic, Paint Day and my favorite, Make Music. It's a short story about Bing and Flop making music with instruments found at home...... a rice tub, spoon and pan, keys, paper towel tube, bell and radio. Of course Bing gets a little wild with his banging and accidentally breaks the cute little radio who wears a frown and cracked head. The two then mend him with scotch tape and everyone is happy and smiling again.

Author Ted Dewan is an American high school physics teacher/ electronic musician from Boston who moved to London. He started illustrating in 1988 mostly for newspapers and then in the 90's for children's books. He has created musical soundtracks for most of his books and he's also involved in creating works from discards for the community he lives in, like a bicycle tree and a painted car. You must visit his website for more!

Oh, and by the way Ingeborg's makes the BEST chocolate bunnies ever!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Calef Brown

Calef Brown is the illustrator and poet of Flamingos on the Roof a 65 page anthology of goofy read-aloud poetry and fantastic art. His self-portait includes an elephant nose. Goofy is good!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Here is an NPR review and podcast of Flamingos on the Roof with Daniel Pinkwater and Scott Simon.

Published in 2006, this book just made the New York Times Bestsellers List for Picture Books in February 2008. And here are some great reviews.
Parents' Choice
Poetry for Children
Seven Impossible Things

If you love Calef Brown's art like I do, you can find original pieces from Flamingos and his other poetry collections for sale at Storyopolis. Now....if only I had a million dollars...

Banjo Granny

"The river was fast. The river was deep. Owen's Granny could not cross. Then she thought of Owen, and her heart was set to see him."

Banjo Granny is the sweetest story about a Granny who sets out to see her grandbaby with a strong determination, a magical banjo case and the charm of a bluegrass song. Granny's heart is set to see her new grandbaby, but she must ford a fast river, climb a steep mountain and cross a wide desert. how does she do it? You must read the book!

It all starts off with a little bluegrass song. The first verse and stanza are printed with music notes in the book and if you visit the author Jacqueling Briggs Martin's website, you can find the rest of the song on her home page (so you can pull out your banjo and start a-twangin.')

Jacqueline Briggs Martin is the author of many picture books, including Snowflake Bentley, winner of the Caldecott Medal in 1999. If you don't know this one, it has gorgeous woodcuts. Sarah Martin Busse is the co-author as well as Jacqueline's daughter and the mother of Owen. She is a poet, songwriter and mother of 2.

Barry Root is the talented illustrator of Banjo Granny and many other books. He's also a musician and father of 3 children. The art in this book blends perfectly with the words. It's all so golden, light and airy with a sense of humor. My son especially loves the page where Owen pulls off his socks and " when the birds who flew in from the east told him his granny was past the mountain, he tossed his socks out the window." In Barry Root's illustration, one of the striped socks lands on a bird's head outside the window and my son always laughs out loud!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Wild Kingdom

I may be dating myself but when Sunday night rolled around I really looked forward to Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom with Marlin Perkins followed by The Wonderful World of Disney. My lucky parents had a couple of quiet hours with the three of us kids glued to the TV.

Of course children have soooooo many TV programming options now which makes me even more nostalgic for the simplicity of limited choices. Do kids really want to be responsible for all the banal choices they're asked to make? The routine was that we had to go to bed straight after Disney, but it didn't matter because we were satisfied with our week's worth of viewing pleasure.

Well, good news! A new version of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom is back on Animal Planet. It previewed Sunday March 2nd at 7:00 pm. Here is a guide to this season's shows.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Snail Garden

I have memories of snails. There are no snails where I live, at least not those big, round, brown ones you can collect in your plastic pail as a kid- or stick your big toe inside their shell to give them a little squish (as my best friend April used to, when we were 6)! Who would have thought that a kid's book would bring me to miss those garden snails?

There are four gardens at the end of Blackberry Lane and each one has something remarkable about has giant pumpkins, the other has watermelons, another has tall sunflowers and "Mr. Carey has plants that are full of holes." Each neighbor has a suggestion on how to get rid of his snails but Mr. Carey isn't interested as he says, "I see it in a different light."

Then one bright moonlit night, the sleepless neighbors wander into Mr. Carey's garden and see the snails with "glistening trails that shine like silver ribbons in the moonlight." The gnawed leaves in his garden cast "lacy shadows on the ground" and his garden is transformed into a magical place.

The somewhat isolated individuals on Blackberry lane all come to sit with Mr. Carey on his porch to watch the snails glide in the moonlight "whenever the night is warm and still and the moon is high and full." Their once casual friendship has blossomed into a ritualistic, communal one...becoming a real community. "Now they see the garden in a different light."

Mr. Carey"s Garden by Jane Cutler is a story for all ages and it is full of lessons for both young and old. I found Jane's website profile inspiring. An author who graduated with a Master's in Creative writing from San Francisco State in 1982.... and it wasn't until 1993 that she published her first children's book. She went off to raise a family with 3 children in between. Now she is the author of several wonderful books that I will definitely read more of.

G. Brian Karas is the illustrator who's work is described best in a review by the NY Times as "depicted in a childlike style that belies the sophistication of the drawings. Exquisite and moving in its subtlety." He has an amazing website and I never knew he wrote and illustrated soooo many books!

Thursday, March 13, 2008


The United States Board on Books for young People serves as the national section of the International Board on Books for Young People which is a non-profit organization that promotes children's books created around the world. Their mission is to foster "international understanding and goodwill through books for young people." I thought you might like to see their 2008 list of recommended books for young children.

Amado, Elisa Tricycle Ill. by Alfonso Ruano
Groundwood (Canada) REVIEW

Bae,Hyun-Joo New Clothes for New Year’s Day
Kane/Miller (Korea) REVIEW

Beake, Lesley Home Now Ill. by Karin Littlewood
Charlesbridge (UK) REVIEW

Cali, Davide Piano Piano Ill by √Čric HeliotTr. by
Randi Rivers Charlesbridge (France) REVIEW

Daly, Niki Pretty Salma: A Little Red Riding Hood
Story from Africa
Clarion (UK) REVIEW

Gravett, Emily Meerkat Mail Simon & Schuster (UK)

Kwon,Yoon-duck My Cat Copies Me Kane/Miller (Korea) REVIEW

Lacombe, Benjamin Cherry and Olive Walker (France) REVIEW

Steffensmeier,Alexander Millie Waits for the Mail REVIEW
Walker (Germany)

Van der Heide, Iris A Strange Day Ill. by Marijke
tenCate Lemniscaat/Boyds Mills. (The Netherlands)REVIEW

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Buzzz.... Mommy and Daddy are snoring.
Buzzzzzzzzz- there goes the alarm clock. It's time to start a busy, buzzy day.
Buzzz "Daddy's silver razor smoothes his rough face."
Buzzz.... Mommy grinds coffee- ok, the best coffee in the world comes from this little place in the East Village on 2nd Ave. and St. Marks called Porto Rico Importing Co. This coffee is a Must Have in our house!

Buzz is a book by Janet S. Wong that perfectly depicts my life in the morning:
"And Mommy runs to catch my cup and the apple juice spills and her toast pops up and the clothes go tumbling round and round until-
Buzzzzz She runs to the dryer and drops clothes on the floor and hops on one leg to put her right sock on and hops on her other leg to put her left sock on and blows her hair dry
until it stands straight up."

Being a printmaker, my eyes connected with this book immediately and Margaret Chodos-Irvine is a Master of linocut printing. You must check out her site and see her other book illustrations. Absolutely Gorgeous!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Two eggs, please.

Two eggs, please. by Sarah Weeks and illustrated by Betsy Lewin is great fun because it can be read on multiple levels and displays a fine amount of wry humor. The characters include animals of different habitats. You have your woodland creatures alongside jungle animals, seated next to your common dog and barnyard ram. And what's more, they are wearing clothes that define their varied occupations: the dogs are policemen, the stork a doctor, the mouse a musician, the rhino a cab driver among others.

The animals arrive early morning at the neighborhood diner for breakfast. What do they order? Eggs! sunny-side up, over-easy, scrambled, soft-boiled, hard-boiled, fried, poached, raw. As the bear cook prepares the eggs (note: he cracks open white eggs and brown eggs) he thinks, "Different. The Same." Then we see the animals eating their eggs at the counter and read the words again. "Different... but the same." It's such a wonderful picture book because we can count the animals as the enter one by one, describe what they are, what we think they do for work and why they are different. We can also acknowledge that they are all enjoying the same eggs for breakfast, yet they have different preferences for how they like them prepared. And aren't the white eggs and the brown eggs the same inside?

There are two full pages where the animals think the same thought, which is indicated by a speech bubble and one word, Different. Yes they are different from one another and that is the beauty of diversity. "Different... but the same." Very young children may not grasp this concept, but that's OK because there are many teaching opportunities with this book.

Different... but the same, reminds me of an email I received from my friend Maria Calais Pedro asking for one minute to sign an online petition
. "I'm taking action with ONE to let you know that Congress is on track to cut poverty-fighting funding in the 2009 budget, putting the lives of millions of people who depend on our help at risk." You can sign the petition to restore 4.1 billion in funding for those living in extreme poverty here.
Thank you Maria- this is truly an important issue. Have you seen Girl in the Cafe yet?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

My Little Car

Gary Soto is coming to Cunha Middle School here in Half Moon Bay for author's night. We live in a coast side town of about 12,000. I wonder if those middle schoolers know what a gift it is to hear Gary Soto speak about poetry, writing and Latino culture. If you're not familiar with his work read his poem Oranges . Sometimes he writes in the slang of a Mexican American Lowrider, like in Chato and the Party Animals. And one of my most favorite Christmastime books is Too Many Tamales. His middle grade fiction novels include Baseball in April, Living Up The Street, Petty Crimes and Buried Onions.

My Little Car, Mi Carrito, illustrated by Pam Paparone is a fun ride, I mean read. This book shows children the importance of taking care of what they have and who they love. Teresa's Abuelito Benito sends her a carrito for her birthday. "Look at the Flames!" She says about her lowrider pedal car. Everyone in the neighborhood admires her car and she wins first place in the school car show. She polishes the chrome with her dad and won't let her little sister touch it. Then one night she leaves her car out in the rain, birds poop on it, the flames start to peel off, and her dad backs over it in the driveway. When grandpa Benny comes to visit he hardly recognizes the carrito. "Pues, it looks older than me. ... Ready for the scrapheap." But, he tells her, "I still look prety sharp when I'm fixed up." So they work together on the car until it looks sharp again and Teresa tells her grandpa, "Mi Carrito is better than ever, just like you." (I didn't give away the exciting part about the dog.)

Pam Paparone
captures cultural details of this story such as the Lady of Guadalupe hanging from the rear view mirror of her neighbor's sparkling lowrider, the iron scroll work gates, or the painted windows of the neighborhood's Carniceria Gonzales. Her depiction of Teresa driving her carrito is reminiscent of a home movie- well, maybe an animated home movie.

The multi-purpose room at the local middle school should be full tomorrow evening. I wonder what Gary Soto will read? What will he tell our youth?

Monday, March 3, 2008

Thank You Bear

The next time I have to choose interior paint colors I'm taking Thank You Bear by Greg Foley with me to the paint shop. The colors behind the spare yet expressive illustrations and text are gorgeous- soft and earthy, peach, sage, lavender, lemon, chocolate, gray-blue. And this is likely because designer/author Greg Foley is the creative director of Visionaire and V Magazine.

The story itself is rather deep for few words. Bear is delighted to find a perfect gift for mouse. When he shows the other animals the little box, they don't think it's so great and bear doubts himself. Then mouse comes along to show bear that yes! it is perfect.

“Who knew that philosophy starts at such an early age?-I guess it does. A lovely lesson in tolerance and creativity-one man's garbage is another's treasure.”
—David Byrne

“I have an army of god-daughters and each one is going to get Thank You Bear this year. Because it's a story about why you love what you do and I want all of them to have it.”
—Michael Stipe

Thank You Bear
won the 2008 Charlotte Zolotow Award
for outstanding writing in a picture book published in the United States in the preceding year. One-Minute Book Reviews has a review of of an earlier large size edition of Thank You Bear. And 7-imps has a short list of some of the best picture books of 2007 with Thank You Bear reviewed here. Take note: Greg Foley's Don't Worry Bear is scheduled for release in April and I can't wait to read it in the car on the way to the paint department. Only kidding! Not really.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Shoe Baby

My baby will not wear shoes. It can be 20 degrees outside and she will pull them off along with her socks and winter hat. She owns six pairs of shoes which is still not enough. I am constantly searching for that lost mate .... under the sofa, in the car and backtracking through the grocery aisles. I love shoes and am always shopping. I found this cute handmade pair of Poppy MaryJanes on etsy. Wonder how long they will stay on?!
Shoe Baby is a picture book by Joyce Dunbar (the author of more than 70 books!), illustrated by her daughter Polly Dunbar. On the back dust cover Joyce tells how it took 6 years for her to finish this story written especially for her daughter. She was stuck halfway through and then "One gray day in November, the rest of it just plopped onto the page. It had been there all this time." A great book "cannot be forced."
I picked up this one (the title struck close to home!) and immediately fell for it. It's a sweet rhyming, rhythmic story about a baby who hid in a shoe. A super fun read especially for those sleepyheads aged 4 and under and the illustration/collage is amazing, colorful and modern.
In the story the baby falls asleep in the shoe "so dozy, cozy, so tickety-boo!" ......tickety-boo?!!! This is so non-sensical, silly, imaginative and wonderful. It definately gets 5 stars!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Mother, what was war?

“I dream of giving birth to a child who will ask, "Mother, what was war?"”
- Eve Merriam

The war in Iraq feels removed as I suppose it might for many American families. Yet certainly war hits home for many families both here and overseas. What prompted this post was a movie I watched last night.
The Secret Life of Words with Tim Robbins and Sarah Polley. It's an indie drama love story that's somewhat uncomfortably quiet and slow but in the end political and worth watching.

Because I have young children and often work with children, I think about the refugees and the high infant mortality rate in Iraq. I think about how to talk about war with children, or perhaps they don't need the responsibility of knowing. But the kids in Iraq? They know. The kids in the States who miss their moms, dads, sisters and brothers? They know. And given the history of human civilization, is it completely naive to wish my children will only know war as a historical reference?