Archives for posts with tag: poetry

The problems I’m having with this blog aren’t about lack of things to say, or even books to talk about, but time. So many good books out lately and I’m really excited about a few that will be released this summer. In the mean time, these past few weeks have been filled with BEA, post-BEA, trying to write the store newsletter (late), moving, and any number of other things that all just sound like excuses. I don’t know if these are signs of summer or if things will calm down a bit in a few days. So today’s post is about stopping, going outside, and enjoying the slow.


In Bug Patrol, by Denise Dowling Mortensen and illustrated by Cece Bell (Clarion Books, $16.99), Captain Bob, is a police officer:

9 am
Behind the wheel
riding in
my Bug Mobile.

Coffee, cruller
cruise control.
I’m Captain Bob,
Bug Patrol.

The story is narrated in these short rhyming verses, making this book a great read-aloud for younger children. They’ll also enjoy the repetition of the phrase “Wee-o! Wee-o! Wee-o! Woo! Bug Mobile coming through!” It won’t take long for them to pick up on this phrase and say it with you. Captain Bob responds to speeding spiders, picket lines at the roach hotel, and crickets that are partying too late. He keeps the peace, offers wise solutions, and heads home at the end of the day to the bugs he loves best. This book is recommended for kids who like vehicles, admirers of the insect world, and anyone who appreciates a good siren sound. You can read this story together and then head out to the back yard to make up silly stories about the insect communities that live next to you.

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The Seven Silly Eaters, by Mary Ann Hoberman and illustrated by Caldecott winner Marla Frazee, is one of my all-time favorite read alouds (HMH, $7.00). This book shouldn’t be read in any way but aloud.

Not so long ago, they say,

A mother lived—just like today.

Mrs. Peters was her name;

Her little boy was named the same.

Now Peter was a perfect son.

In every way—except for one.

Sure, sure. You get it. It rhymes. But, assuming you’re not going to make a tool of yourself in public, go back and read it out loud. Do you hear it? Can you feel the words tumbling off your tongue? The entire story is written in this alternating trochaic trimeter (reminiscent of Blake’s “The Tiger”) alternating with iambic tetrameter. The meter loops back and forth driving the narrative forward.

9780152024406

So what is Peter’s problem? He’s a picky eater. As are his subsequent siblings. Peter likes warm milk; his sister Lucy prefers pink lemonade, hand-squeezed. By the time Mrs. Peters makes applesauce for Jack, oatmeal for Mac, bread for Mary Lou, and eggs (poached and fried) for the twins Flo and Fran, she is exhausted. For her birthday, the group of persnickety foodies decide to make their own individual dishes of choice for their lovely mother. The results are a catastrophe. Until, they discover something very peculiar about their collective eating habits.

9780544022089The Candy Smash is Jacqueline Davies most recent addition to the Lemonade War series (HMH, $15.99). Like Davies’s previous books (The Lemonade War, The Lemonade Crime, and The Bell Bandit), The Candy Smash contains a central theme around which the plot and chapters are organized. This time it’s writing. As usual, Davies does an excellent job showcasing different perspectives about the theme. Jessie, always pragmatic, is working on writing a newspaper. She approaches her self-assigned editorial job with structured design, following the rules of journalism to the letter. Evan, on the other hand, enjoys the emotions that envelop him during the class’s morning poetry reading. He plays with words, letting them swirl and play freely. This story takes place in February so the looming prospect of Valentine’s Day is wrecking a bit of havoc on their fourth grade classroom. When Jessie decides to investigate class crushes, she dances dangerously close to exposing too much and unwittingly embarrassing her classmates. Evan does intercede — thankfully because I was really starting to get worried. Although he protects his classmates, his own dabbling in poetry teaches him to take a few emotional risks of his own. Another incredibly satisfying book by Davies. Kids and 4th grade teachers will eat this one up.

9781442408920I’m slowly working my way through the recent ALA Youth Media Award winners. I’m moderately embarrassed at how many winners had completely escaped my notice. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (Simon & Schuster, $17.99) received both a Prinz honor and the Stonewall prize so it immediately went to the top of my list of must reads. Of course, as any bookseller knows, it becomes difficult to get your hands on winning books (unless you already have them in stock) after the award show since all the *other* booksellers are all scrambling to get the books in their store. Insider info: booksellers totally watch the awards with the order window open so that they can put in requests as the winners are announced. Seriously. One minute late and you don’t get any of the books : ) Anyway, I put in a request for Aristotle and Dante with our store owner and waited for the book to arrive. This past weekend I was pulling books for our annual sale, and the book was on our sale list! What!?!?! Not only had the book arrived and I hadn’t noticed, but it accidentally made it on the sale list! My special order! I was shocked. SHOCKED. And thrilled because now I could finally read the book. All’s well, so they say.

As for the book. YES! yes, yes, yes. So good. Narrated by Aristotle, the story chronicles the friendship of two boys who meet at the pool in El Paso during the summer of 1987. Aristotle, who can’t swim, is floating around thinking about how most high-school guys are tools. My word, not his; it is 1987. Dante offers to teach him how to swim. Naturally, if your name is Aristotle and you meet a kid whose name is Dante, you are going to have to be friends with him. Fortunately, Dante isn’t a tool. He’s smart, well-read, funny, thoughtful, artistic. I want to be friends with him myself. Aristotle and Dante debate what it means to be a real Mexican. Dante teaches Aristotle about literature. Aristotle saves Dante’s life. Dante’s family moves away for a year.

Aristotle struggles with the silence surrounding his brother’s absence, that his parents refuse to discuss. He struggles with understanding his father, back from Vietnam, who can’t seem to talk about anything. He struggles with his own nightmares. He has a great relationship with his mother, which is one of the things I really loved about this book. Parents in YA novels are often absent or horrible, and that sort of makes sense from a teen’s perspective. But in this book, both Dante’s and Aristotle’s parents are lovely. Not perfect. Not idealized. But lovely, supportive, and smart. Smart enough to know their sons even better than their sons do. I respected both sets of parents in this story and appreciated that Sáenz gave all four of their characters so much depth without distracting from the two boys.

Although Dante is more confident and outgoing than Aristotle, he has his own struggles, namely his feelings for Aristotle. I’m a fan of narratives that rotate between different characters and in some ways I would have loved this story to move between Dante and Aristotle so I could have heard more of Dante’s thoughts. But of the two, it’s Aristotle who struggles with expressing himself. We need him to narrate because otherwise he’d be as much of a mystery to us as he is to Dante. Besides, he has a biting outlook on life that I really liked: “Reading my own words embarrassed the hell out of me. I mean, what a pendejo. I had to be the world’s biggest loser, writing about hair, and stuff about my body. No wonder I stopped keeping a journal. It was like keeping a record of my own stupidity. Why would I want to do that? Why would I want to remind myself what an asshole I was?” He has a soft side though: “My mother and father held hands. I wondered what that was like, to hold someone’s hand. I bet you could sometimes find all of the mysteries of the universe in someone’s hand”. I bet you could, too, especially when your best friend is Dante.

Traditionally Lisa Schroeder writes YA novels in free verse. I wasn’t familiar with her work, but a customer approached me a few months ago to say that Schroeder was publishing a new book and ask whether the store would be interested in having a display. That display has ballooned into a poetry contest (starting next week) and hopefully will generate other possibilities. I love the idea of a customer being so passionate about an author’s work that she would be willing to help the local bookstore coordinate an event.

9781442443990Falling for You (Simon Pulse, $16.99) is an issues book with a happy ending. Rae lives with her mother and a controlling, abusive step-father. He demands she take care of the house, cook his dinner, and eventually turn over her paychecks from the Flower Shop where she works after school. Rae’s solace is her poetry. She writes through her pain and, because she is afraid to tell  even her closest friends about her home life, poetry is her only outlet of expression. When Rae meets Nathan, she is surprised at how much he seems to like her. Rae is even more surprised to slowly discover that Nathan’s feelings towards her are less about love than they are about his need to control her. Leo is the “good-guy next door” and appears poised to rescue Rae from both of these destructive relationships, but fortunately Schroeder emphasizes Rae’s poetry as the catalyst for growth, self-awareness, and motivation. When the high school English teacher solicits poetry for the school newspaper, Rae asks for permission to submit her poetry anonymously. Other students follow suit, and the paper begins to showcase the pain and struggles of her classmates. Rae wonders, however, whether anonymity allows for more honest expression or inadvertently conveys that pain should be hidden. She eventually decides that writing anonymously is keeping her peers, and herself, from getting the support and help that they so desperately need. She attaches her name to one of her poems, and once again her peers follow her lead. She, according to the English teacher, has started a poetry revolution, one that spreads and inspires people in ways Rae could not have imagined.

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