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A Tanka for Spring

March 6, 2015

Worm Moon whispers sighs,

frowns, blows down through her pursed lips.

But frost-cold snow clouds–

unwelcomed winter cousins–

stay. No dirt will stir tonight.

© Damon Dean 2015

I am participating this month in a challenge hosted by Michelle Heidenrich Barnes at TodaysLittleDitty.com . The challenge issued from her guest author Margarita Engle is to write a tanka on any topic.

But specifically Engle asks us to “Seek the resonance that enters a poem only when it is touched by the stillness of nature.”

14:14 PB ELEMENTS – Frog Song – WORD PLAY

February 27, 2015

My last book for the 14:14 Challenge is not your ordinary ‘ribbit.’

Frog Song 1Frog Song
author Brenda Guiberson
illustrator Gennady Spirin

(c) Henry Holt & Co. LLC

(1,375 words, AR Reading Level 4.5)

Lush in the color and detail of Spirin’s illustration, this picture book is also rich in language with Guiberson’s lyrical approach to the lives of frogs.  Like most good non-fiction works, the focus is narrowed to a particular aspect, in this case, frog song.

First, what kid–any age between 2 and 62–wouldn’t grab a book with a cover like this off the shelf and hop to the first cozy lily-pad to read about a big red frog? I did.

Furthermore, consider the opening page, full of word play:

Frogs have a song for trees, bogs, burrows, and logs. When frogs have enough moisture to keep gooey eggs, squirmy tadpoles, and hoppity adults from drying out, they can sing almost anywhere. Croak! Ribbit! Bzzzt! Plonk! Brack! Thrum-rum!

Frog Song 2Every spread shares interesting facts from the lives of normal to unusual frogs. Some I’ve never heard of. Some I know well.

Their songs are printed in various fonts, splayed across colorful habitat backgrounds.

Word play features such as onomatopoeia, assonance, metaphor, alliteration, consonance…all are in place in this book. After all, it’s a book about swamp music. Sound is the main character.

Kids will love the uncommon behavior of some of these amphibians, but will also have fun ‘performing’ the various calls that appear on every page. I did.

This book is an exemplary model of how story elements such as word play can be used to elevate non-fiction above the simplicity of bare facts.  If you find this book, I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

(See a list of other reviewers’ posts in Christi’s latest post at Write Wild.)

14:14 PB ELEMENTS – The Beatles Were Fab – CHARACTER

February 26, 2015

I remember the day, coming home from church. Dad turned on the radio in our red Ford Galaxy 500. We sat there in our skinny black ties, hearing music we’d never heard before. “Who’s that?” we asked. “Just a bunch of long haired hippies the communists are sending over to ruin our country,” Dad said. It was our first exposure to “The Fab Four.”

The Beatles Were FabThe Beatles Were Fab
authors Kathleen Krull
& Paul Brewer
illustrator Stacy Innerst

(c) 2012,
Harcourt Children’s Books

(1,924 words, AR Reading Level 4.8)

This is a fun book between jelly-bean end pages. Rich illustration by Stacy Innerst accompanies the story of the Fab Four, those famous boys from Liverpool who changed the sound of modern music with not only their tunes, but their characters.

After reading this story, I wonder if they’d had to depend only on music, whether they would have had the impact they are famous for. Television and radio, through the the power of airwaves, revealed so much of their individual character as their popularity spread.  Character is what made them ‘fabulous’ as much, if not more, than their music.

Krull and Brewer reveal who they were in this delightful account, with a focus on their humor and their ability to make people laugh.

“From the time they got together as lads until they became superstars, the Fab Four made music, made history, and made people laugh.”

The story shows their determination, their hard work, their confidence.  Always, it seems, flavored by humor. When they first performed for the Royal Family,

“John invited the main-floor audience to clap along. Then he peered up at the dignified royal family in the box seats. ‘And the rest of you, if you just rattle your jewelry.”  Everyone giggled–even the Queen Mother.”

Two spreads offer questions reporters would often ask, a page each for John, Paul, Ringo, and George. Their quick answers show their wit:

Q: How did you find America?
Ringo: We went to Greenland and made a left turn.

Certainly the ‘fab’ in fabulous describes much about the Beatles, but it’s more than just the music, and this books makes that clear for a generation of children who have no idea who they really were, and what they meant to my generation and musical history.

Only a few years after listening to my first Beatles song on the car radio, I had full-sized posters of those long-haired hippies on my bedroom walls, and I was strumming their tunes on my own guitar.

And, of course, I was smiling.

(See a list of other reviewers’ posts in Christi’s latest post at Write Wild.)

14:14 PB ELEMENTS – You Are the First Kid on Mars – DIALOGUE

February 25, 2015

Space–the final frontier.

You Are The First Kid on MarsFirst Kid on Mars
author & illustrator
Patrick O’Brien

(c) 2009, G. P. Putnam’s Sons

(1,944 words, AR Reading Level 5.0)

One thing that launched some thought when I opened this book was the jacket-flap description of this Patrick O’Brien book as one of his ‘factual’ books.  Having determined to focus my participation in this year’s 14:14 Challenge on non-fiction, I pulled this book out immediately.  (Besides.  I’m a Trekkie, I loved Star Wars, and I’ve been a science fiction fan for half a century.)

I opened this book to look for story elements. The first element that’s noticeable in both title and text is the point of view.

YOU.  This book is second person point of view, and the whole adventure is directed at imagination, engaging the reader from the first sentence. I supposed then the element, by broad definition, is DIALOGUE.

While one book might tell a story from the third person point of view as an outsider, another might tell it from a first person point of view.

I think O’Brien matches the topic here (an imaginary, but fact-full future journey) by using second person point-of-view.  YOU. The writer (or should I say the book?) is speaking to the reader, and explaining to reader just what an experience would be like.

“This book will tell you what would happen, and what you would do, if you were the first kid on Mars.”

(Emphasis mine.) Great pacing ensues, with the young astronaut leaving earth, boarding a spaceship from a space station, seeing Earth shrink and Mars grow larger, and landing on the red planet. But throughout, the reader is engaged in the experience:

You feel the ship shaking and jerking, and you see flames shooting past the window.  The Martian air is slowing you down. Then the flames stop and you are plummeting toward the surface.”

There’s much to learn and experience, from high mountains to deep canyons that exceed anything on earth. Each embedded picture shares facts about the trip, the Mars environment, the ways people adapt to live on the planet.

But dialogue is the key element here, and effectively takes the reader on a journey to “boldly explore where no kid has gone before.”

(Meanwhile…how do you define “factual?”  Is it a fact-based presentation based on an imagined experience? Should it be totally void of imagination, purely non-fiction? What is factual, and is it distinguishable from non-fiction in terminology?)

(See a list of other reviewers’ posts in Christi’s latest post at Write Wild.)

14:14 PB ELEMENTS – Child of the Civil Rights Movement – THEME

February 24, 2015

Child of Civil Rights MvmtA front row seat in a theatre is fine, but the best view of the play is on the stage.  Paula Young Shelton, daughter of civil rights leader Andrew Young, shares her view in this first person point-of-view story.

A Child of the Civil Rights Movement
author Paula Young Shelton
illustrator Raul Colon

(c) 2013, Schwartz & Wade Books,
a division of Random House

(1,796 words, AR Reading Level 4.8 )

It was a long-distance view of the turmoil in the south–black and white television images of burning buses, arrests and beatings–that drew Paula’s parents Andrew Young  and Jean Childs Young back home to help fight violence and prejudice. They took Paula and her sisters onto the stage with them.

The element of THEME in Paula’s story is evident. There is a pursuit of equality and freedom. But supporting themes are just as important and critical in this story. From the first spread, the theme of family is strong. It becomes an immediate vehicle for the action, the emotion, the character development that takes place in this wonderful history.

“Mama was from Alabama.
Daddy was from Louisiana–
the Deep South.
They had been called bad names, treated badly, told, “You can’t do that!”
just because of the color of their skin.”

In subsequent ‘chapters’ (well designed sections the story) we follow Paula’s journey with her family to her account of “My First Protest,” which happened in a Holiday Inn restaurant when she was younger than four.  She sat on the floor and cried loudly as her family was denied service.

In “Uncle Martin” we learn of the ‘extended’ family relationships that were such a driving force in the movement for equality.   “The Civil Rights Family” shows us that this theme of family was full of emotion, sometimes disagreement, sometimes celebration, and good food.

“No matter how many people came to dinner, there was always enough to go around, enough to strengthen, enough to comfort the family of the civil rights movement.”

In “Selma to Montgomery” the pivotal event is remembered, as the Young’s entire family goes to Alabama to participate. Paula’s memory of this event is rich with the bonds of family as they share the passion for freedom with a world-wide family:

“I looked around and saw so many different kinds of people. Black and white. Young and old. Rich and poor. There were Jewish rabbis, Catholic priests, and lots and lots of Baptist ministers. There was even a man with one leg who everybody called Sunshine.

Like so many good books, the story cycles around to another scene with a television screen. Here again, in black and white flickering images, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson.  Faces keenly familiar to Paula and her sisters appear on the screen beside him.

I found that the theme of family that Mrs. Shelton uses in her story adds so much validity to the overall theme of freedom and equality.  What might be somewhat abstract concepts to young children are perhaps defined, clarified, and validated by the underlying theme of family that most children know.

I think this book is masterfully done, and should be out in every library and bookstore, not just in February but all year long. And if you haven’t seen the movie Selma yet, check this book out first–and read it to your kids.

(See a list of other reviewers’ posts in Christi’s latest post at Write Wild.)

14:14 PB ELEMENTS – The Extraordinary Music of Mr. Ives – CHARACTER

February 23, 2015

I myself wasn’t aware of this man’s story, or this author, until I pulled this book from the shelf and discovered this gold nugget of history and characterCharles Ives was not famous in his lifetime, but he is now considered a great American composer.  The music inside him finally has finally been heard.

The Extraordinary Music of Mr. Ives
author & illustratorMusic of Mr Ives
Joanne Stanbridge

(c) 2012,
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children

(1,260 words, AR Reading Level 3.0)

Centered around a huge tragedy many children will not be aware of, this story chronicles the emotional journey of a quiet insurance salesman in the early 1900’s.  The story of Charles Ives reveals something else that many children may not be aware of: that the passions inside of us are valid and worthwhile elements of our character.

This is revealed in a subtle fashion, as we first find Mr. Ives hearing music around him in busy New York city:

The ocean liner Lusitania is sailing from Pier 54. The whistle is so loud, it shakes the ground. A few people cover their ears–but not Mr. Ives. He grabs that sound with both hands and shapes it into a song.

He writes music that is as busy as a city street.  There are train whistles in it, and football games, and rowdy picnics and cars rushing past.

The click click click of adding machines and the murmur of good morning are so beautiful that he forgets to say good morning back.

Mr. Ives deals with numbers all day, but lets the music out at breaks. The music “lives inside him, like a friend.” We get the sense that our main character is lonely, except for his music, which many people don’t accept because it is different, “as bold as a city or as noisy as a traffic jam.”

I hope young readers will learn from this story that character is internal. It is not just how we react and interact with others and our circumstances, but why. Character arises from within people…from passion, sensitivity, emotion, devotion. Mr. Ives, his views unappreciated and his skills unrecognized, “writes his music down anyway.”

When the Lusitania is sunk by an enemy torpedo, Mr. Ives sadness overwhelms the music within him. The book beautifully reflects this silence with five wordless spreads illustrating the tragedy. The hush of the city is solid, and dampens his spirit. But then he hears a hurdy-gurdy player (organ grinder) slowly playing the music of a hymn:

“In the sweet bye and bye, we shall meet on that beautiful shore”

The music is “like a promise” and the crowd around him begins to sing.  The music returns, and he “mingles the old tune with street sounds.” The new music is titled From Hanover Square north, at the End of a Tragic Day, the Voice of the People Again Arose.

A sadness remains. It is almost 50 years before his music is recognized and appreciated.  But his passion, recorded over years in his loneliness, is eventually heard, loved, and accepted. The determination, deep emotion, and gifted sensitivity of a quiet man’s character stand the test of time.

(See a list of other reviewers’ posts in Christi’s latest post at Write Wild.)

14:14 PB ELEMENTS – Henry’s Freedom Box – PLOT

February 22, 2015

This book is a visual and historical treasure, relating the story of Henry ‘Box’ Brown, a famous slave who mailed himself to freedom in 1849.  It is a Caldecott Honor Book, and it’s easy to see why the minute you look at the cover.

Henrys Box 1Henry’s Freedom Box
author, Ellen Levine
illustrator, Kadir Nelson
(c) 2007, Scholastic Press

(1,260 words, AR Reading Level 3.0)

A child’s dark deep eyes strike you with a stare of determination and courage, seeming to carry a hidden sorrow.  In the background a string of geese fly in a soft blue sky of freedom.

There are several elements used in this fine story, but I think the one most prominent to me is PLOT.  There is rising action and falling action from page one, where uncertainty leads the reader to the next point on a line full of crises:

“Henry Brown wasn’t sure how old he was. Henry was a slave. And slaves weren’t allowed to know their birthdays.”

In the next spread, he feels his mother’s uncertainty. She says,

“Do you see those leaves blowing in the wind? They are torn from the trees like slave children are torn from their families.”

Then Henry’s sick master gives him to the master’s brother. The new master takes him to a city for factory work. The boss at the factory is harsh. Henry is lonely.  Then he finds a young lady, and with approval of each of their masters, they marry. Life is good, a moment of hope, until his new wife Nancy tells that her master lost a lot of money, and she is afraid he will sell their children.

After days of worry and again, uncertainty, he gets news that his children and wife have been sold. Despair, but then another hope. With the help of a friend and a white doctor who was anti-slavery, he places himself in a box to be mailed north to freedom.

Despite his fears, worries about what could go wrong, as the plot follows his box through alternate moments of danger and safety on a long journey, Henry arrives in Pennsylvania.  Dr. Smith’s friends open the crate. He comes out of his box, and claims the ‘birthday’ he never knew as his first day of freedom, March 30, 1849.

I like how the alternate uncertainties of both Henry’s emotions and his circumstances run parallel throughout the story line.  The best plot is never about just circumstances, but also about feelings, and mental state, and about the growth in a character that we all long to see.

Watching this character move from uncertainty, to hope, to courage, to freedom, was a journey worth learning.

(See a list of other reviewers’ posts in Christi’s latest post at Write Wild.)

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