Friday, July 8, 2022

How Can We Be Kind?


We tell children to be kind, but do they know what that means? Janet Halfmann's new picture book for ages 3-7 and released by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books/Quarto this week, shows the way! A hint is in the subtitle "Wisdom from the Animal Kingdom." As she has in other books, Janet turns to nature to find the answer to her title question. She says, "I was inspired to write this story to add positive ways to look at the world. Since nature can be so calming and restoring, I spotlighted the positive ways animals react to one another as examples for all of us to follow."

The book features caring European badgers, welcoming capybaras, sharing jackdaws, teamworking ants and bees, patient African elephants, selfless prairie dogs, laughing orangutans, encouraging blue manakins, and other animals and their traits. interspersed with the refrain, "How can we be kind?". Through the words and friendly, accurate animal drawings by Darla Okada, children will see the many ways they, too, can be kind. 

Readers of all ages can learn more about the animals in this book, some of which are not usually found in books for the very young.  Okada bookends the text with spot drawings of diverse humans showing kindness. Backmatter uses text and animal photographs to give more information.

Janet's approach is fun and effective.  I can imagine sharing it with children and referring to it with them later, reminding them to be like a zebra and stick up for their friends, for instance. Thank you, Janet, for showing us that being like an animal can be a good thing!

Monday, May 30, 2022

American Ace: Joe Foss: Military Appreciation Month

(photo by Mike Huber)

To wrap up Military Appreciation Month, I want to feature the new book American Ace: Joe Foss written and illustrated by Hector Curriel, published by the South Dakota State Historical Society Press

South Dakotans should know who Joe Foss is, but many people pass his statue at the Sioux Falls airport without recognizing him. The statue made Hector curious, so he researched to find out more. He discovered a story so compelling that he itched to tell it, and he set out to do so. 

He went to the library, spending time in the special collections room where books by and about Foss were held. He scoured the internet and watched videos of his new hero. To Hector, Foss' story was so inspiring that he wanted to tell it in a way that would engage and inspire young people. 

That was the beginning of his graphic biography for middle graders and up, which shows Foss' boyhood desire to fly become reality and tells how he became a World War II flying ace through hard work and determination. The story focuses on Foss’ time on Guadalcanal and its air battle. The impeccably detailed drawings work perfectly with the text to tell this hero’s story. Hector shows Foss' setbacks and mistakes and their consequences, which included learning from his mistakes. Hector presents the difficult facts of war, including dangerous conditions and the loss of Foss’ friends and fellow pilots. The graphic approach makes this biography exciting for young readers, who will immediately see the emotion and suspense of Foss’ life in and out of a plane cockpit. The story ends with Foss receiving his Congressional Medal of Honor from President Roosevelt. An epilogue gives an overview and summarizes the rest of Foss’ life. A bibliography gives the many sources Hector used to research. The url is given for the ones available online, including videos of Foss himself, which will aid readers in their own quest to know more about this famous South Dakotan, who went on to be Governor and the first Commissioner of the American Football League.

Hector's labor of love is a tribute to Foss and to South Dakota, his adopted home after emigrating from Peru. His training as an architect shows in his book's precise drawings. Hector is also known as a watercolor artist, a children's book illustrator, and art teacher to young people in a variety of settings.

Enjoy this SD Public Broadcasting interview by Lori Walsh

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Chasing Words with Joy Harjo and Eric Ode: National Poetry Month


What is writing but chasing words, after all? And poets may do this more than other writers, for as Mark Twain said, "The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—'tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning." Choosing the right word matters for meaning, understanding, and relating to readers.

Who are these word-chasers? Joy Harjo, Poet Laureate of the United States, has written two memoirs in which she expresses the importance of words in her life. In Crazy Brave, she talks about enjoying words, rolling them around in her mouth to feel the shape of them, and reading to escape and to learn. The book begins with her birth and goes through her early adulthood, a difficult and confusing time. She could have gone in many different directions, some of them destructive, but she ends the book with, "I followed poetry."

Poet Warrior is more non-linear and mystical, remembering her ancestors' stories and dreaming those stories to grow with her in poetry from Girl Warrior to Poet Warrior. About the first poem she learned ("The Lamb" by William Blake), she says, "It was more than the words. It was how the words locked into a pleasing rhythm and we would move to them, and how like a lamb frolicking in spring, the words danced across the tongue" (p. 26). Her love of words stayed with her, and in her school years she "kept a dictionary to look up words. One summer, I spent learning words in the dictionary and practicing them" (p. 39). As in her first memoir, she claims the path of poetry: "I would never have become a poet if I hadn't listened to that small, inner voice that told me that poetry was the path, even when I had different plans" (p. 44). 

Eric Ode is another word-chaser--a poet, author, song writer, and performer for children. His latest picture book, Stop That Poem!, is literally about chasing words! And in an unusual twist, the idea came from an image in his mind, not from words. He told me, "It started with that first scene of someone stacking words, one on top of the other, and someone else coming along wondering what in the world they are doing." The words take flight and hike and float, with a diverse group of children chasing them, until the poem is finally set free to find a home with readers. He quickly sketched it out and then worked on the words. Here's what he started with: 

As you can tell from the cover at the top of this blog, the book looks very little like this. Even though Eric is an artist, the publisher, Kane Miller, hired artist Jieting Chen to illustrate. 

Watch her tell about how meaningful this book is to her and see what the book looks like inside:
"There are beautiful things happening in the world," Chen says. Here's to the illustrators and word-chasers among us who help us see it.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

If This Bird Had Pockets, and Other National Poetry Month Fun


It's National Poetry Month! And Earth Day! AND--April 28 is Poem in Your Pocket Day!

So--here to help you enjoy all three is a brand new book by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, illustrated by Emma J. Virjan, which I was fortunate to win in an online drawing! (Thank you, Amy.)

In this cheery book, poet Amy Ludwig VanDerwater teams up with illustrator Emma J. Virjan to imagine the poems that a variety of animals would write. The book begins with a poem by "me," a child who wonders about nature "If this bird had pockets...," which sets in motion a series of mask poems written in several forms "by" an ant, dolphin, alligator, butterfly, and other animals. It closes with a final poem by "me," in which the child acknowledges her animal self and ponders "Each creature/lives a poem/without ever/writing a line." This book is fresh as spring, full of relatable animal facts, fun, and wonder.

Listen to poet Amy's musical voice, as she introduces her book and reads the opening poem:

I encourage you to wear clothes with pockets on April 28 and stuff the pockets with poems to give away to all you meet. Sounds weird? I have been surprised at the smiles and excitement I've received when I have given someone a poem. Try it! If you need help finding the right poem, go to the Poem in Your Pocket Day page:  or look around the Academy of American Poets site: I haven't decided what poem(s) I will be gifting people this year. Maybe "Tail of Red, Tip of White" by "Red Fox" from If This Bird Had Pockets.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Alzheimer's, Dementia, and A DOLL FOR GRANDMA

With more than 6 million Americans living with Alzheimer's or dementia (2021 Alzheimer's Facts and Figures), you may know someone affected. The enormous changes in family dynamics are hard to handle and hard to explain to children. That's why I really like the book I won from author Paulette Boching Sharkey, illustrated by Samatha Woo, and published by Beaming Books

A Doll for Grandma: A Story about Alzheimer's Disease shows a close, fun relationship between young Kiera and her Grandma. Kiera notices changes in Grandma that she doesn't understand. Mom explains that there's something wrong with Grandma's brain. When Grandma is moved to a memory care home, Kiera tries to think of ways to reconnect with the Grandma she knew. With her mom's help, Kiera's idea of getting Grandma a doll did the trick. They were able to enjoy their dolls together and establish a different, but still special relationship. The book includes a page for grownups by Judy Cornish, "Helping Children Understand Alzheimer's Disease." While real life may differ, this book gives adults a way to help children understand, with encouraging ideas of how to connect and engage the person with dementia.

Sometimes the process of living with Alzheimer's or dementia is called "the long goodbye." This is well described by my friend Carmen Graber, who graciously allowed me to post her poem here. 


Dear Papa
I know, I know
I never called you papa
While I was growing up.
It was always “dad”
I called out
When I needed help
When I needed advice
Or when I just needed to know I was loved.
You were always there
Sometimes even before I called.
You taught me how to love,
How to serve,
How to talk to anyone and everyone,
How to have faith in God and myself.
You guided me into the person I am today
You were my hero, my dad.
And then came a disease called Alzheimer’s.
It began to take pieces of you
And hide them from view:
Slowly at first
Then faster and faster
Until all of my dad was hidden,
Blocked from view.
This is when you became papa.
You no longer responded to dad,
And you no longer responded to me as your daughter.
My heart was broken
And I was devastated.
But a new relationship was needed
Because you needed my help, my guidance and my love.
I was now a new person to you
And you were a new person to me
And that is how you became papa.
Together we journeyed this uncharted territory
Through your anger and fear,
Through your stories of the past
Both real and created in your clouded mind.
I grieved for the man I had lost
While you struggled to find your way back.
Sometimes, when I took your hand
And looked deep into your eyes,
I could catch a glimpse of my dad,
But just as quickly, he was gone
And you became papa again.
This went on for years
Until your mind betrayed your body
And it too began to fail.
Only then did dad began to return.
But dad was too weak to speak
Too weak to open his eyes
Too weak to hold my hand.
Then one cold night
You slipped away
Joining dad and papa
Making you whole once again
When you returned to your heavenly home.
Now after all these years,
I am telling our story.
I am saying my farewell to you
My father, my dad and my papa.
I will love you forever
And miss you for always
Till I see you again.
~Carmen Graber, Copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved

Research continues, and we hope for the day when we will have solid answers for prevention and treatment. Find help and support at the Alzheimer's Association.

Monday, February 7, 2022

Read the Storm!

Storms of all sorts are part of life, but the books I'm featuring in this post are about those caused by extreme weather. 

Storm Warning, a middle grade novel based on real events by Elizabeth Raum. Raum lived the setting of this book--1997 Red River Valley flooding in North Dakota. Her main character, 12-year-old North, is put to the test when he and his 6-year-old sister, Wild Rose (dad didn't like ordinary names) are left alone at home as flood waters rise and freeze. They rely on everything they've ever learned and their own creativity to rescue their great-grandmother and keep everyone safe. Subplots involve family dynamics, especially North's desire to earn his dad's approval and his relationship with his sister. An exciting read for young people! This book is published by Reycraft Books and available in hardback or paperback. 

I Am the Storm, a picture book written by Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple and illustrated by Kristen Howdeshell, is the perfect book about storms for young people. It doesn't flinch from describing the storm, but offers comfort and empowerment to endure and overcome fear. Tornadoes, blizzards, wildfires, and hurricanes put people in danger, but after the description of each,we read that storms always end ("When the forests cooled, as wildfires always do") and what to do after. Illustrations show diverse families dealing with the various storms during and after, and back matter gives information about each of these storms written for a child's understanding.

Here's hoping these books give you and the kids in your life encouragement for facing storms. For now, I hope you enjoy a "bright, bright sunshiny day."