Apr 23, 2017

Earth Day Activists: Tony and his Elephants- a WAKA Picture Book

Crick hollow Books, 2017

TONY AND HIS ELEPHANTS is the third in a series of photo-documentary releases from journalist/author Cathleen Burnham. Her award-winning series features young people taking actions to rescue and protect endangered wild animals.

In this latest recent release, Tony's story unfolds in Thailand near the Mekong River. In this case young Tony's family actively rescues and protects elephants from inappropriate captivity, raising them and training them in a natural, protected jungle settling, free of chains. Humane techniques and sharing intimate daily life with the elephants (including sleeping quarters!)  lead to genuine partnerships and mutual respect.
Eight-year-old Tony is assigned the responsibility for two young elephants, launching him on his first steps to becoming a mahout, as his father and grandfather before him. He has been given two recently rescued elephants young Nam Cho and Baby Pumpuii, who still requires milk and is bottle-fed. The book details his responsibilities; include training, and reveals the habits, needs, temperament, and threats in lives of elephants. When fire presents an immediate danger to Tony’s and the other elephants, he must take charge while his parents are away fighting the fires. He handles the challenge bravely and successfully.

The astonishing aspect of these books is that photographer-author Burnham has communicated her personal encounters and interactions with the young people and their animals so effectively and compellingly.

This book would pair well with 2013 Newbery-Winner, The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate. In it, a baby elephant arrives in a "strip mall zoo" in the United States, and the inner lives of the animals are explored through fiction. In Tony's story readers will find outlets for their deep empathy and concern, recognizing ways that young people and their families are working to prevent such abuse.

Beyond the excitement of  Tony’s story, there’s the appeal of colorful photography, world travels, empowered young people, and authentic adventures. Burnham’s deft use of photo captions, labeled maps with keys, relevant cultural practices, and back matter make this and the other series books ideal content for STEM resources. Readers are invited to explore the author's nonprofit organization,
 www.WAKABooks.org,where they can discover ways of working together for the animals of the Earth, green living, and suggestions for stewardship of the land that can be carried out in their own communities.

Apr 21, 2017

Revisiting MYRA COHN LIVINGSTON, an Amazing Poet

Myra Cohn Livingston
If that's not a name you recognize, click on it and get a brief  introduction to a remarkable poet, teacher, and literary icon. Selections from her poems are featured on countless poetry websites, ranked alongside works by other timeless and amazing poets. The quality of poetry she produced in her lifetime is breathtaking. They stand up well over time and many titles become favorites of new readers.

One collaborator who produced memorable poetry picture books with Livingston is painter Leonard Everett Fischer. Together, they created themed titles, including the SONG series:
EARTH SONGS, SEA SONGS, SKY SONGS, and SPACE SONGS. All were published during the 1980s by Holiday House but are now out-of-print. Fortunately, copies of several titles are still offered online as used books and many remain on library shelves, so they can be accessed and explored. 
I hope many readers here will seek out these titles. With increased interest, perhaps a publisher would consider reissuing the collection. It would be a timely pursuit, since Livingston was decades ahead of the current trend in creating  picture book content for established readers that is based on content area subject matter. 

In the case of this series, the topics are evident in the titles. Fischer's paintings are deeply saturated double-page spreads with intense eye-appeal. They enhance the depth and scope of Livingston's free verse creations, which sometimes take specific forms and patterns (shape/concrete poems, limericks, etc.).

The books are designed to feature one poem per double spread, often using white text on the dark paintings. Each selection merits full attention, offering  a range of reflections within each broad topic. 
For example, in SKY SONGS, the poems progress as follows: Moon, Stars, The Planets, Shooting Stars, Noon, Clouds, Coming Storm, Storm, Tornado, Smog, Snow, Rain, and Sunset. 

Even those poem titles reveal that these provide a feet-in-the-sand perspective on the atmosphere in which we live. That approach yields a surprisingly emotional and personal response to the life above the crust in which we are all immersed.

Here's one example:


You must
be so angry
when you grumble and growl.
Even the wind breathes heavily

the ground
as you boil the
black clouds in steaming pots
to feed the skinny white creatures 

the earth, stretching
out their crooked legs to
touch the trees, hurling down sharp forks
of fire.

Livingston was a noted teacher and literary guide for those learning to write poetry. Her book, POEM-MAKING: Ways to Begin Writing Poetry, is a small but thoroughly detailed guide to the nuts and bolts of poetry forms, structures, and writing as well as offering exercises and examples for beginners to explore. Her collections offer countless examples of mentor text and quality that inspire both novice and expert writers.
Many others have followed in her poetic feet, directly or indirectly. This approach to creating compilations of superb poems on a particular subject can be found in  FRESH PICKED POETRY: A DAY AT THE FARMERS' MARKET, featured here, or FREEDOM OVER ME, featured here. Joyce Sidman's  work, like UBIQUITOUS and SWIRL BY SWIRL, and books by many other poets assure that Livingston's legacy lives on.

Apr 18, 2017

Sunny, Springy Selections: Fruits, Veggies, and Farmers' Markets

The sun is shining, temperatures are rising, and my in-box just announced that the local farmers market will open in two weeks. As it happens, this lovely selection happens to be on the top of my ever-growing stack of poetry to share. There's no better time to share it than this very moment! 

Charlesbridge, 2017

FRESH-PICKED POETRY: A Day at the Farmers' Market was written by Michelle Schaub and illustrated by Amy HuntingtonWith humor, delightful word choice, colorful  and diverse illustrations, and a variety of poetic forms, this day-at-a-Farmers' Market poetry collection unfolds with huge appeal. Forms vary, providing multiple mentor text samples, and each is an impressive poem of intricate rhythm, rhyme, and rationale. 

The poems are as rousing as the sun-rising start, romping kids and dogs, and the tempting fruits, veggies, and bakery on display. The ongoing visual narratives of multi-generational and diverse two- and -four-footed folks offer rich invitations to browse the action as thoroughly as shoppers peruse the produce. 

Beach Lane Books, 2011
Pair this with other treats for the tongue, rollicking romps celebrating healthy, natural foods that please the ear as well as the palette. I recommend April Pulley Sayre's poetry in all it's variations, but especially urge you to explore GO-GO-GRAPES: A Fruit Chant,  and RAH, RAH, RADISHES: A Vegetable Chant.  Her rhyming text is as crisp, patterned, rhythmic, and symmetrical as the fruit and veggies it celebrates.
Beach Lane Books, 2012

 Her photography combines color, shape, patterns, cultures, numbers, comparisons... and more in vibrant books that even include brief end matter, as does FRESH-PICKED POETRY.  

Bon Apetit!
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.