Thursday, May 14, 2009

Review: The Cuckoo's Haiku

Did you know that cardinals mate for life and return to the same nesting ground every year? Or that a roost of crows can number up to two million individual birds with complex family units that could include up to fifteen family members? Those are just a few of the many facts about common North American birds found in this lovely book authored by Michael J. Rosen and illustrated by Stan Fellows.

Haiku seems to be enjoying something of a renaissance with dozens and dozens of poets sharing traditional and new haiku on blogs. One of the most striking things about this book is that the watercolors contribute to the impression that we're just catching a quick glimpse of the bird's busy life.

The illustrations are masterful as they emphasize one or two physical characteristics of each bird and place them in a typical setting so that the reader gets a real sense of what they look like and where to find them. The book is organized into four sections that represent birds you would see during the four seasons. The color palette for each of the seasons also contributes to the impressionistic effect.

There is quite a community of Canada Geese in my neighborhood and Rosen's haiku describes them perfectly.

the pond's still airstrip
far-off trumpets grow louder -
one splash! two...hushed...glides...
And here is one for the dark-eyed junco:

phased like tilted moons
half shadow, half reflection
juncos cross the snow

There are many wonderful facts about the birds scattered throughout the book in lovely script. My only complaint about the book is that these are very small and difficult to read. I had to pull out the magnifying glass and my eyes are not that bad. there is an appendix in the back of the book that gives more information about the birds, their habits and their songs.

It is a beautiful book that can be shared many times throughout the year as the seasons change.It's a wonderful place to start a young birdwatcher.

For more reviews about the book, check these out:
The Wrung Sponge
Haiku by Two
Book Ideas

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Review: The Curious Garden

When I ordered this book, I intended to write about it in time for Earth Day, but that obviously didn't happen so in honor of Children's Book Week, here we go.

I love this book. I can look at it over and over again. Illustrator/author Peter Brown has developed a distinctive style of telling a story through both words and pictures where the pictures carry as much or more of the story than does the text.

The Curious Garden is a story of a boy named Liam who discovers a small, neglected garden high over the dreary city in some abandoned train tracks. With a little bit of encouragement from Liam, the garden begins to expand with the mosses and the weeds leading the way. After faithfully tending to his garden through the spring, summer and fall, Liam is stopped by winter. He spends the winter studying gardening so that when the winter is over, he and the garden are both ready to begin the new spring together.

The evolution of the garden as it moves across the elevated train tracks throughout the city and enlists more gardeners and changes the interactions of the people living in the city, is primarily conveyed through the lovely detailed illustrations. The story culminates in a revisit to the opening illustration of the city which has now been totally transformed by its abundant green space. The health and well-being we derive from our green space is gently reinforced through this little fable.

This garden is definitely worth repeat visits. Perhaps I'll see you there.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Historic Fact and Fiction

When I was a teenager, I loved reading historical fiction. Books that took me to another place in time. I particularly remember the books of Anya Seton and Taylor Caldwell and their depictions of women characters during earlier historical periods. So I readily agreed to participate in author Jane Kirkpatrick's "Duet" blog tour scheduled for this week.

A Flickering Light is a fascinating story of Jessie Anne Gaebele who is determined to become a photographer in a small Minnesota town at the turn of the century. When we first meet Jessie, she is in her mid-teens and both she and her older sister have been sent out to work to help support their close-knit family.

Jessie is a determined young woman and willing to work hard for what she wants. Fascinated by the images she sees in the landscape around her, she finds a job as an assistant to a portrait photographer. Joined by her friend Voe, Jessie spends the next several years learning everything she can about portrait photography. At several points during these years, Jessie's boss, F.J. Bauer, becomes deathly ill from mercury poisoning as a result of handling too many photo chemicals. During these times, Jessie and Voe run the photography studio giving Jessie the opportunity to actively make portraits herself. She also learns valuable skills in supervising the administrative tasks of the business as well.

The primary sub-plot is the growing attraction between Jessie and her very married older boss F.J. While this part of the plot is predictable, Kirkpatrick's writing keeps it as fresh and new as these unwelcome feelings are to Jessie. As Jessie matures throughout the story from ages 15-18, her development as a young woman is both believable and poignant. Although Winona, Minnesota is an established town, the story has a bit of the frontier freshness when our towns were more open than they are now.

This coming-of-age story is well worth reading to learn about what life was like for one family in this time and place of our history and also to admire one girl's determination to break free from established conventions and "acceptable" behavior for young ladies.

Paired with A Flickering Light in this "duet" blog tour is another book by Jane Kirkpatrick that is a historical recounting of a real frontier community in Aurora, Oregon in the mid-1850s. Some of the most fascinating chapters of our country's history revolve around the various religious groups who pulled away from society to establish utopian communities, sharing a life together that was built around particular sets of religious beliefs and hard work.

Aurora, An American Experience in Quilt, Community, and Craft benefits immensely from plentiful primary sources as many of the documents, photos, crafts, tools, and stories of the Aurora community have been preserved over time. Kirkpatrick pulls all of things together to write an engaging biography of the founding and history of the Aurora community.

It is a beautifully printed hard-bound book that is chock full of period photographs, contemporary photographs of still-existing buildings, quilts, and tools. Many letters, journals, and other historical documents have been preserved and Kirkpatrick brings these people and their stories to life.

As with many of these communities, the founder William Keil was charismatic and had a strong vision for what the community could be. Kirkpatrick tells the Aurora story with compassionate insight and with great respect. The Aurora colony was more successful than most, but eventually it began to disintegrate. The fact that their story has been preserved for more than 150 years is a testament to their success and their influence on the community in which they lived.

Anyone interested in history and particularly utopian communities would find Aurora an interesting read.