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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Six from the 6 yo (that vaulted into our Wish List)

Of all the books that came our way in October, selecting just six of the books the six year old and I liked best sure was tough. Only restriction was that the six short-listed ones must be picture books (we will do a separate chapter books list) and something Ana enjoyed reading more than once and would love to share with her friends.

Why six and only six books? Well, for no reason other than that I like the sound of "Six from the Six Year Old" to go with "Three from the Three Year Old" posted earlier.

And, we did find more than six books we liked that I want to share here. At another time. In a separate post. Mostly non-fiction, plus a few delightful chapter books.

It wasn't a surprise to note that four of the six books showcased poetry - Cat Poems, Poetrees, Mirror, Mirror, and Around the World on Eighty Legs.

However, Hooray for Inventors! was a surprise for me. Something about the format and the presentation of tidbits of facts about famous inventors and their inventions seems to have impressed the six yo.

A Horse in the House is one of those books that makes one wonder about the animals and question our assumption that they are just dumb beasts (or that we humans are intellectually well-endowed).

Sometimes we hit a dry patch for weeks and none of the books we randomly bring home from the library stirs us even remotely. Sometimes even the books I placed on hold having read rave reviews about fail to resonate with us. And of course, sometimes there are those books that I love absolutely and want the kids to like them but they were totally unimpressed.

I think we got lucky that many of these wonderful books landed in our house at the same time, somehow cosmically arranged, to help us share it here.

I would've loved to dedicate individual posts to each of these. Maybe I will at Saffron Tree.

Here they are, in no particular order, the six books that not only caught the six year old's attention over the last month's reads, but impressed me tremendously!

by Douglas Florian

This book is ripe with poetrees,
They're grown to educate and please.
You'll see a cedar,
Oak tree too.
Birch and banyan,
Pine and yew,
Palm and gum
And willow tree,
Plus more you'll love tree-mendously!

And true to its promise, Poetrees offers seed-sized lessons about the mighty trees. The font spacing and arrangement of text on some of the poems like The Seed, Tree Rings and Roots - reminded me of the concrete poems we've read (Janeczko's A Poke in the I comes to mind).

Some of the words have been spelled creatively to rhyme and I had fun discovering it with Ana. For example in Tree Rings, "his-tree" at first baffled her but as we replaced it with "history" it made sense. Plus, we learnt about Heartwood and Sapwood. Two things we didn't know before we read this particular poem.

Imagine a background zoomed in on the tree rings, with the text going around in a circle along one of the rings depicted.

Tree Rings:
Tree rings show how trees grow. Wide rings: fast growth. Narrow rings: slow. Heartwood: dead wood. Sapwood: living. A tree's true his-tree free for the giving.

The large format book has huge double-page illustrations for each poem, in portrait orientation (rather than the usual landscape) so that we open the page and hold it up vertically to read and appreciate it in full.

And when I read, "Each poem is printed on a vertical double-page spread illustrated with mixed-media artwork in gouache, watercolor, colored pencil, rubber stamps, oil pastels, and collage on brown paper bags", I was doubly awed by what an interesting canvas the brown paper bag made.

Glossatree (Glossary) at the back of the book provides more information on each tree.

Around the World on Eighty Legs: Animal Poems
by Amy Gibson
illustrated by Daniel Salmieri

From Far Far North to Down Under and Out Back, we travel the world and discover the various animals, some thriving, some extinct. All in charming lilting rhyming verse.

Some are short little verses, some are multi-stanza poems, but they all bring out a distinguishing feature about the animal in an unforgettable way.

Although Anaconda is fond of a hug,
to my liking, his hug is a little too snug —
And a little too strong, and a little too long,
and that's why when I see him, I hurry along.

The illustration for this poem shows a fairly devious-looking anaconda wrapped tightly around a sign that reads "Free Hugs".

We learn about Auk (extinct), Skua, Guillemot (and its wedge-shaped eggs), Proboscis Monkey, Pangolin, Slow Loris, Takin (something she had learnt about thanks to D's Bhutan trip a few years ago), Goanna (thanks to Steve Lattanzi's Goanna Joanna), and even tiny Krill, among other regulars, of course.

When moved to talk,
the awkward auk
lets out an awful,
raucous squawk—

No dainty squeak,
no piercing shriek,
no chilling screech
slips past his beak...

(and a couple more verses that reiterate the squawk of the auk)

The illustrations by Daniel Salmieri, combining watercolor, gouache and colored-pencil, complement the text well and are laced with humor and lightness.

The "Menagerie of Facts" located at the back of the book lists the animals alphabetically with brief notes about them. [Amy Gibson's site has resources for teachers]

Much like Polar Bear, Arctic Hare by Eileen Spinelli, this is a book I'd love to have on my bookshelf. It is delightful and informative, with simple colorful illustrations that lean on the funny side. There's something in the book each for the budding writer, the curious young zoologist, the quirky goofball, and the seasoned adult.

Mirror, Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verses
by Marilyn Singer
illustrated by Josée Masse

Fairy Tales. There is always something new to discover - a new perspective, an interesting what-if, a hidden agenda... We never tire of them.

Mirror, Mirror takes some of the classic fairy tales and turns them upside down. Literally. In breathtakingly refreshing, clever, and unique reversible verses.

a fairy tale?
A fairy tale

Write a short verse. Read it in reverse, line-by-line, with perhaps change in punctuation. Does it make sense? If so, does it convey the same idea from a different perspective, an opposite perspective? Then you have a reverso poem.

Sleeping Beauty, Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Cinderella, Princess and the Frog, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel... there are two sides to every story.

Picture a larger than life wolf camouflaged among the trees in the woods in the background. Now imagine him wearing a snazzy suit coat and a hat, lumbering on all fours. Slavering jaw. Front paw raised in motion. Glaring... glaring at the little girl in the foreground. A little girl wearing a red hooded cape. Popping berries into her mouth. One leg kicked high behind her suggesting skipping motion while the basket in her hand swings jauntily. All in bright colors of teal and green and brown and red and yellow, a brilliant blend of warm and cool colors.

In the Hood

In my hood,
skipping through the wood,
carrying a basket,
picking berries to eat —
juicy and sweet
what a treat!
But a girl
musn't dawdle.
After all, Grandma's waiting.

After all, Grandma's waiting,
mustn't dawdle...
but a girl!
What a treat —
juicy and sweet,
picking berries to eat,
carrying a basket,
skipping through the wood
in my 'hood.

Illustrations by Josée Masse are bold, bright and gorgeous, cleverly bringing out the two perspectives of the reverso poems.

The six year old read it over and over. To hear the "yeah, I get it, mama!" after every poem that clicked was divine music to my ears. We read it together, discovering the perspectives. I loved reading this aloud to her as I could make dramatic pauses to bring out the differences that the same lines in reverse order presents.

This has become one of my all-time favorite books! (Nana, if you are reading this, we would like to add this to the Wish List)!

[Here's an interview with author Marilyn Singer about her creative process for this book].

Cat Poems
by Dave Crawley
illustrated by Tamara Petrosino

The two cats we adopted as tiny kittens nearly a decade ago are quite a source of entertainment and education for the kids at home.

Plus, of course, an assorted bunch of neighborhood cats stop by as often as they can as I am a soft-touch - I end up feeding them. Not just leftovers or cold milk that the kids didn't finish, but toasty warm milk - warmed up just for them now that it is winter - as soon as I spot them pawing the back door.

Which is all to say that we love cats. Cats are right up there with Horses, Ana's first favorite in the mammalia. So, this book of cat poems easily amused her.

The illustrations are funny and charming, complementing the poems well. Front and back inside covers have illustrations of the various popular variety of cats from Persian to Manx, Ragdoll to Siamese, Himalayan to American Shorthair (which is what our two kitties are, I think).

However, when she got past poring over the inside front cover, she still took her time over every poem, presented one per page - some short, some long, some in cartoon style panels and some as a sweet little story. The book seems like fitting kid-size tribute to these much misunderstood creatures.

Don't ever try to wash a cat.
It simply doesn't work.
If you should put her in the tub,
the cat will go berserk.

So true. And yet, until Ana actually tried to get one of our kitties in her bath, she did not know this. And since she has done it, she laughed out loud at this poem and and accompanying illustration.

Non-cat-lovers might be inclined to give this book a miss, but, the poems beautifully showcase the idiosyncrasies of cats, the fiercely proud and selfish yet cuddly and affectionate nature they choose to exhibit, and yet always manage to bring warmth into the people they live with.

Hooray for Inventors!
by Marcia Williams

From Gutenberg's Movable Type to Marconi's Radio, from Wright Borthers' Flying Machine to Thomas Edison's Light Bulb, the book is packed with information presented in a child-friendly cartoon format with colorful panels. The illustrations with conversations lean towards the comical, but each panel has the facts progressing along like a story.

Thanks to My Brother's Flying Machine we had read nearly a year ago, Ana enjoyed Wilbur and Orville Wright and their Fabulous Flying Machine section very much.

I found the Owl conversations around the edges on the borders of each page to be quite distracting, but Ana found them silly and entertaining. [Author's website is laid out much like the pages of her book - busy border, lots of color, conversational asides]

Back of the book has a page dedicated to Women Inventors, many of whom I am ashamed to admit, I had not heard of before. And finally in My Favorite Inventors Take A Bow section we learn about the author's favorite inventors.

This is not a book that can be read in a hurry. And not just once. It has to be consumed in small doses, maybe focusing on one invention/inventor at a time. A nice book to have handy for the curious mind.

A Horse in the House
and Other Strange But True Animal Stories
by Gail Ablow
illustrated by Kathy Osborn

Gail Ablow, an award-winning broadcast journalist shifted gears to present this collection of news stories about Animals (and Humans) Behaving Atypically. Facts from the news are spun into short one-page stories that are both amusing and outlandish.

The Donkey Wedding apparently took place in Magadi, a village near Bangalore, India, to invite the Water God Varuna to shower down rains to their drought-stricken place.

Eye-glasses for the near-sighted greyhound, an antenna implanted in a Secret Agent Acoustic Kitty's tail to transmit sounds as soft whispers, the now-famous relationship between Owen the baby hippo and Mzee ("old man" in Swahili) an old tortoise...

Each story is crisply told, peppered with just enough humor and drama to fascinate a six year old.

The illustrations by Kathy Osborn are vivid yet rather surreal, bold yet humorous.

Author's note at the back also lists the references to the news stories in the various publications that inspired this book.

A quirky book for the young reader who loves the bizarre as much as sugar and spice and everything nice.

[image source:, and where possible from author/illustrator websites]

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