Thursday, August 28, 2008

Review: What the Moon Saw

Earlier this summer I found myself in Denver for a meeting. It is impossible for a book person to visit Denver without making a pilgrimage to one of the greatest independent bookstores in the country, The Tattered Cover. What made the trip even better was that I was in the company of three other book lovers. Once we walked into the store together, we dispersed to the four corners of the store and met up again two hours later.

The reason I share this is that before I ever opened the cover of What the Moon Saw by Laura Resau which I purchased there, I already had warm and positive feelings about this book written for young teens. And I was not disappointed.

Clara Luna's name means "clear moon" in Spanish, but other than learning to speak Spanish from her father, there is not much connection between her life in suburban Walnut Hill and the life her father left behind in the rural hills of Mexico. One day a letter arrives out of the blue from Clara's Mexican grandparents inviting her to spend two months of the summer with them. Even though she has never met them or heard from them before, it is decided that she will go. Struggling with curiosity, fear of the unknown, reluctance to leave her life in Walnut Hill and her friends for the summer, Clara also feels a compulsion to go. Dreams and feelings she cannot even articulate are pulling her there.

The story of what Clara finds in Mexico is one of the most beautifully written stories I've read in a long time. The language is rich, luscious, and evocative. Prose written by a poet. Among other things, it presents a picture of rural Mexico caught between the traditional lives of the people and their connection to the land and each other with the reality of uprooted lives as men have left the region and their families behind to make a life for themselves in the United States. What they leave behind and the sacrifices their families make is a poignant commentary on the "other" side of the immigration debate.

What Clara learns and the connections she makes with her grandparents and the people of the mountain village of Yucuyoo is not to be missed. I cannot recommend this story highly enough. It is wonderful.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Poetry Friday: This is Just to Say - Poems of Apology and Forgiveness

It's been many moons since I've shared a poem for Poetry Friday, so I've been saving this book. Written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, this book holds delights on every single page.

It has the two characteristics that the best of children's literature always exemplifies - compelling text that can be understood on many levels with charming illustrations that amplify the text and entertain over multiple readings.

Inspired by the poem of the same name by William Carolos Williams, Mrs. Mertz has her sixth graders write poems of apology as part of their poetry unit.

The book is divided into two parts. First come the poems of apology. They are then followed by the responses. Each pair of poems reveal a relationship between one of the student's and someone else.

Stolen jelly doughnuts, unrequited love, and failing in the spelling bee are just a few of the topics that are turned into lovely and delicious poems. The apology and its response echo together much like traditional call and response songs. The effect is both bittersweet and affirming as we delve below the surface of Mrs. Mertz's sixth graders and their emerging selves.

I highly recommend this book. It's charming, sweet and invites the reader to linger and savor the emotional landscape. Before I share sample poem, Poetry Friday is being hosted at Read, Imagine, Talk today. Head on over to find more terrific poems to celebrate Poetry Friday. Here's your poem!

To my Mom:

Brownies - Oops!

I smelled them from my room

a wafting wave of chocolate-ness.

I listened for movement,

ears pricked like a bat's.

I crept down, stepped

over the sleeping dog.

I felt the cold linoleum

on my bare toes.

I saw the warm, thick,

brick of brownies.

I slashed a huge chunk right out of the middle.

The gooey hunks of chocolate

winked at me as I gobbled them.

Afterward, the pan gaped

like an acusing eye.

My head said, Oops!

But my stomach said, Heavenly!

by Maria

Monday, August 18, 2008

A World of Words

I found this delightful book at the library last week. It's a wonderful example of how books have staying power long past their copyright dates. A World of Words by Tobi Tobias and illustrated by Peter Malone uses the ABCs as a device to spotlight quotes from famous poets and writers. Originally published in 1998, it is still fresh today.
Although this book is not the basic ABC primer that one would use to teach the ABCs, it is a rich and luscious journey through the variety and uses of language. It is important for children to hear the patterns and cadence of language even if they don't understand entirely what is being said.
The magical realism of the illustrations are inventive and complement the texts that range from Native American sayings to poets such as Langston Hughes, William Blake, and Emily Dickinson. Here is a sample:
P is for Pocket - You love me so much, you want to put me in your pocket." - D.H. Lawrence
This is a lovely book that will provide hours and years of enjoyment for children and adults alike.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Boy Who Wouldn't Share

Anyone who spends any amount of time around young children knows that the concept of "sharing" can be difficult to convey. One of the first words most children learn is "mine".

Edward is such a child in The Boy Who Wouldn't Share written by Mike Reiss and illustrated by David Catrow. The opening verse sets the tone of the story:
Edward was a frightful boy who wouldn't share a single toy
Edward didn't allow his sister Claire to play with any of his toys. Then one day, he gets stuck under a giant pile of toys. He is so stuck that his mother who brings in a plate of fudge doesn't seem him at all and gives all of the fudge to Claire.

Fortunately for Edward, his little sister is the bigger person and offers to share the fudge with him and this leads to one of the best lines in the story:

Edward knew that he'd been crabby,

grouchy, grumbly, greedy, grabby.

Edward apologizes nicely to his sister and the rest of the day "turned out fine". In the end, this is a little morality tale with comic illustrations sure to amuse youngsters while making an important point.