Friday, April 21, 2017

Poetry Friday

I’m delighted to share Poetry for Kids: Emily Dickinson by Susan Snively, PhD.

Snively, who regularly leads discussions at the Emily Dickinson Museum,has collected 35 of Dickinson’s loveliest poems to introduce the poet’s artful work to a new generation of upper grade readers. The verses are organized by season and point up Dickinson’s interest in nature. Many of her works are inspired by the large garden where she preferred to spend time caring for the plants and observing the creatures who made a home there. Subjects range from butterfly and bee to death and eternity in this sweeping tribute to her remarkable talent.

The text is enriched by brief definitions that are strategically tucked beside or below the illustrations. A section titled, “What Emily Was Thinking,” provides a discussion of the works. A brief biography introduces the poet and creates a frame for her work.

The lovely pen and watercolor illustrations capture the varied subjects, reflect the shifting tones that range from playful to thoughtful, and provide hints to some of the subtler meanings embodied in Dickinson’s choice of words. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Writers Wednesday

When Mountain Lions AreNeighbors by Beth Pratt Bergstrom, California Director for The National Wildlife Federation, is a thoughtful and well-written collection of stories that highlight the challenges and opportunities that are inherent when people and wildlife coexist. 

The book focuses on the ways in which individuals – from biologists and other natural scientists to homeowners and freeway commuters – are finding ways to support and even encourage California’s amazing biodiversity. A pair of deer venturing across the Golden Gate Bridge, the amazing presence of P22, Griffith Park’s resident cougar, a peregrine falcon in San Jose City, and harbor porpoises returning to San Francisco Bay are only a few of the remarkable stories.

Bergstrom covers a lot of territory as she recounts the work undertaken to study and conserve a wide variety of creatures across California’s geographically diverse landscape. Each of the five photo-illustrated chapters open with a specific case and its significance in the overall conservation picture then enlarges on the theme to include associated topics before closing with a look at other related animals and situations in a series of one-page essays at the end of each chapter.

The writing is compelling and varied in its approach to the subjects. Chapter Three, Keeping Bears Wild: How Staff and Visitors in Yosemite National Park Help Wildlife, opens with forty-eight hours in the life of Yosemite black bear, based on the recorded travels of one of the bears tracked for research in 2014. This approach provides readers with an in-depth look at motivations, behaviors, and the impact of human habitation on the natural activity of this wild inhabitant of Yosemite. Additional discussions focus on Yosemite’s environment, the work of staff to intervene and develop humane strategies to reduce human/bear interactions that led to property damage and bear deaths. The chapter concludes with a look at the bighorn sheep, the fisher, the pika, Great Gray Owls, and the Yosemite Toad among other subjects.

The final chapter, Good Neighbors: What Californians Are Doing For Wildlife In Their Own Backyards details the ways in which communities, schools, organizations, and individuals are finding ways to support local wildlife.

The tone of the book is honest, realistic, and cautiously hopeful. The current challenges facing out natural environments are daunting, but this book is a reminder that successes are possible. Whether you’re a dedicated conservationist or simply someone who values the opportunity to enjoy a walk in nature, you’ll find inspiration and a new appreciation of the wild world just outside your door.

I enthusiastically recommend When Mountain Lions Are Neighbors.


Friday, April 7, 2017

Picture Book Friday

Kingly College Knight Classes and the Dainty Damsel University of Distress: A Royal Mess by Jessica Parsons endeavors to turn the fairy tale world upside down in this tongue-in-cheek rhyming story. Dainty princesses and brave knights may make for an entertaining story, but they aren’t much use in real world situations – a fact all to evident when the Queen endeavors to turn all her subjects into paragons of fictional virtue and creates havoc instead. 

All too soon, the populace is in revolt and the queen soon discovers there’s more to personal success then rescuing fainting damsels in distress. Her princely sons won’t fight dragons and the ladies abhor glass slippers. But all comes right in the end when her majesty institutes a new policy the insures everyone can pursue their own dreams of success without bending to stereotypical roles. 

It's an entertaining story with a valuable subtext. The lengthy title gives a hint that the story is a bit longer than it needed to be. Never-the-less, youngsters who enjoy princely fairy tales will find fun in the pages which are designed to be colored by the reader.

The book identifies its audience as ages 6-12, but younger readers may require some assistance with the vocabulary and syntax. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Nonfiction Monday

Curious Critters by David FitzSimmons shines a spotlight on twenty-one unique creatures from the animal kingdom: fish, insects, reptiles, mammals, and birds. Many of the names will be familiar goldfish, bullfrog, blue jay, opossum, and monarch, but there’s a twist in the up-close and personal portraits and first-person narratives. 

Monarch means butterfly to most people, but here the monarch is actually the beautifully striped yellow and black caterpillar. Details about the life of the Spotted Salamander are shared in a short pair of verses. The Eastern Box Turtle treats readers to the secret of its long life.

Crisp, colorful photographs provide stunning close-ups of the cotton-candy pink Bush Katydid, a perfectly coiled fox snake, a bright-eyed Eastern Screech Owl, and the green brilliance of a Gray Treefrog among the many spectacular images.

Thumbnail portraits are paired with additional animal details in a section titled Natural History. A double-page spread featuring life-size silhouettes challenges readers to make identifications and a Glossary provides definitions of important terms.

A wonderful addition to home or school library!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Writers Wednesday

Women in Blue: 16 Brave Officers, ForensicsExperts, Police Chiefs, and More by Cheryl Mullenbach chronicles remarkable lives and contributions of women in law enforcement from Sadie Likens, Denver’s first Jail Matron in the late 1800s, to Cristina Pinto, a modern day Forensic Specialist, in this well-written and carefully researched collection of biographies. 

There’s an impressive number of “firsts” – Isabella Goodwin: first female Undercover Detective, Grace Wilson: Chicago’s first African American Policewoman, Eva Blackman: first woman to become a Police Commissioner, and Penny Harrington: Portland’s first female Police Detective and first female Police Chief as the author traces the history of women in law enforcement. The accounts point out both the ridicule and discrimination women faced and the determination and successes they achieved, often under the most difficult of circumstances.

Comprehensive interviews provide readers with thoughtful accounts of the professional and personal challenges inherent in their various fields such as FBI special agent, Forensic Artist, and Forensic Specialist and the individual stories behind their success.  Julia Grimes account of her life as an Alaska State Trooper Pilot begins on a whim by Julia’s father when he agrees to let her take an introductory ride in a Cessna because he’s sure she’ll become airsick and give up her interest in flying. But the 14-year-old discovers a passion that leads her to a career that includes aerial surveillance, working with a K-9 drug dog, and undercover work.

The stories are both educational and entertaining, rich with anecdotes that run the gamut from horrendous to humorous. The content, which provides an historical perspective on topics ranging from prostitution to police brutality as well as discussions of modern-day drugs, and violent crime, is handled with honesty and sensitivity. Never-the-less, parents of younger teens might be advised to peruse the book and be prepared to discuss the contents.

The book contains side bars to direct the reader’s attention to related topics. Black and white photographs, a list of resources for learning more about career opportunities in law enforcement, source notes, and a bibliography complete the book.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Nonfiction Monday

Curious Critters: Marine by David Fitzsimmons highlights twenty unique marine creatures ranging from the Roseate Spoonbill, Tufted Puffin, Double-crested Cormorant, and the Loggerhead Turtle to a fascinating collection of fish, crabs, crustaceans, and other denizens of our oceans.

The carefully researched and informative text alternates voices between first-person narratives and well-crafted poems that focus on details of how and where these individual species live, eat, and grow.  Readers will find unusual facts about a variety of behaviors: the migration of Black Sea Bass, the search by a Hawaiian Reef Hermit Crab for a new home and the carnivorous garden grown within the body of the upside-down jellyfish.

Crisp, colorful photographs provide stunning close-ups of candy stripe shrimp, the one-in-two-million Blue American Lobster, the extraordinary Atlantic Horseshoe Crab whose relatives shared the planet with dinosaurs, and the Giant Pacific Octopus whose intelligence is proving to comparable to many vertebrates – to name only a few of the remarkable animals to be discovered.

Animal lovers of any age will find this book to be entertaining and educational at the same time. A recommended addition to school and home libraries.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Nonfiction Monday

Here's some fun: Baby Animals, a new book from Animal Planet by Dorothea DePrisco.

Young readers are treated to a fascinating assortment of creatures from Monarch butterflies to penguins to humpback whales. Follow the development of a Spotted Owlet from hatching to fledgling to adult. Discover how some animals are born ready to live on their own like Spotted Eagle Rays and Green Anacondas, while others remain dependent on their parents for weeks, months and even years. Bear cubs remain with their mom for three years, Orangutan mothers and babies may stay together for up to ten years.

With every turn of the page, readers will be treated to facts about a host of unique animals. Male African Bullfrogs guard their tadpoles. Baby Orcas are 8 1/2 feet long and weigh up to 350 lbs at birth.
Like the other books in the series, the animal sections are interspersed with thematic units with specific tabs: How They Grow, How they Live, Where They Live, Vista (showing animals in their environment), Big Data (facts and figures), Animal Gallery (highlighting similarities and differences) and living/working (ways people interact with animals and habitats). Stunning action-filled photographs, informative notes, colorful maps and charts make for easy access to information and will delight both youngsters and adults as they explore the amazing diversity of life around the globe.
A must have for home, classroom, or school library. 

The Gingerbread Cowboy Book Trailer