Stella Endicott and the Anything-Is-Possible Poem by Kate DiCamillo

Stella Endicott and the Anything-Is-Possible Poem: Tales from Deckawoo Drive #5

Kate DiCamillo, Author

Chris Van Dusen, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Jun. 9, 2020

Suitable for ages: 6 – 9

Themes: School, Poetry, Metaphors, Arguement, Friendship

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Stella Endicott loves her teacher, Miss Liliana, and she is thrilled when the class is assigned to write a poem. Stella crafts a beautiful poem about Mercy Watson, the pig who lives next door — a poem complete with a metaphor and full of curiosity and courage.

But Horace Broom, Stella’s irritating classmate, insists that Stella’s poem is full of lies and that pigs do not live in houses. And when Stella and Horace get into a shouting match in the classroom, Miss Liliana banishes them to the principal’s office. Will the two of them find a way to turn this opposite-of-a-poem day around?

Why I like this book:

Kate DiCamillo’s sweetly satisfying chapter book speaks to children about everyday struggles that are inherhent with school and friendships. As the title eludes to, the theme in this story is anything is possible — even a pig that sleeps on a couch and a friendship with a boy, who metaphorically speaking, is an overblown balloon.

Stella is a spirited, imaginative and determined. She looks for the good in situations. Horace is smug and a know-it-all. When Stella and Horace are sent to principal’s office, Horace buckles in fear. Not Stella. She remembers that “in good stories, the characters face their fate with curiosity and courage” and leads the way. And throughout the story Stella reminds herself that surprises are everywhere and that anything is possible.

The story introduces children to writing poetry and using a metaphor in their poem. It becomes a game for Stella as she begins to see metaphors in everything around her.  The story is also peppered with a few large words like, absconder. The book has seven chapters with 85 pages, perfect for elementary students learning to read longer books.

Chris Van Dusen’s pen and ink illustrations are lively, expressive and entertaining. They are perfect for text.

Make sure you check out the first four books in the Deckawoo Drive series: Leroy Ninker Saddles Up,  Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon, Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln?, Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package.

Kate DiCamillo is the beloved author of many books for young readers, including the Mercy Watson and Tales from Deckawoo Drive series. Her books Flora & Ulysses, and The Tale of Despereaux both received Newbery Medals. Her first published middle grade novel, Because of Winn-Dixie, snapped up a Newbery Honor. The Tiger Rising, her second novel, also went on to become a National Book Award finalist.  She has almost 30 million books in print worldwide. She is a former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the MMGM link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy from the publisher in exchange for a review.

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper

The Shortest Day of the Year

Susan Cooper, Author

Carson Ellis, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Poetry, Oct. 22, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 4 and up

Themes: Winter Solstice, Shortest Day, Seasonal Light, Legends, Holiday, Celebrations

Opening: “So the shortest day came, / and the year died…”

Publisher Synopsis:

As the sun set on the shortest day of the year, early people would gather to prepare for the long night ahead. They built fires and lit candles. They played music, bringing their own light to the darkness, while wondering if the sun would ever rise again.

Written for a theatrical production that has become a ritual in itself, Susan Cooper’s poem “The Shortest Day” captures the magic behind the returning of the light, the yearning for traditions that connect us with generations that have gone before — and the hope for peace that we carry into the future.

Richly illustrated by Carson Ellis with a universality that spans the centuries, this beautiful book evokes the joy and community found in the ongoing mystery of life when we celebrate light, thankfulness, and festivity at a time of rebirth. Welcome Yule!

In this seasonal treasure, Newbery Medalist Susan Cooper’s beloved poem heralds the winter solstice, illuminated by Caldecott Honoree Carson Ellis’s strikingly resonant illustrations.
Why I like this book:
This breathtaking and contemplative book begins in silence with Ellis’s gorgeous gouache illustrations imagining how early humans began preparing for the longer nights. There is a pause. On page 5, Cooper’s poem begins, “So the shortest day came…” and draws readers into the seasonal cycles of light and the continuity of life, culminating in the joy of the Yule.
Cooper’s poetic book is for everyone (young and old) and is a non-Christian view of the joyful arrival of the winter solstice worldwide. People of all cultures will  celebrate with song, dance, lights, decorations, and feasts with families and friends. And they will hold a hope for peace in their hearts.
Resource:  Make sure you read the author’s information about the deeper meaning of winter solstice at the end of the story.
The Winter Solstice is Saturday, December 21. You may be interested in participating in the the Global Silent Minute for peace and unity. The time on the East Coast of the US is 4 p.m., 1 p.m. on the West Coast. You can got to the Unity of Silence website to learn more. You don’t need to join anything to participate.
Susan Cooper wrote The Shortest Day for John Langstaff’s Christmas Revels, where it is performed annually accross the country. She is the author of the classic fantasy sequence The Dark Is Rising (which includes the Newbery Medal winner The Grey King) and many other books for children and adults.
Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.
*Review copy provided by the publisher.

Being You by Alexs Pate

Being You

Alexs Pate, Author

Soud, Illustrator

Capstone Editions, Fiction, Oct. 1, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 3-9

Themes: Individuality, Self-discovery, Interpersonal relationships, Hope, Diversity

Opening: This story is about you and / the way your eyes will shower light / to open a path through the noisy night. 

Synopsis:

When you are a kid, it can be hard to be who you really are. In Being You, two kids learn that they have a choice about how the world sees them. They can accept the labels that others try to put on them, or they let their inner selves shine. Are they powerful, smart, strong, capable, talented? Together these kids find people who see their value and help them face the world on their own terms.

But in this world, there are whispers

that move through the air

like paper planes or falling leaves

They swirl around you

Sometimes they tell you

who you are

But only you and love decide

Why I like this book:

Being You is a celebration about what makes children unique individuals and how they can use their voices to communicate who they are to others. It is a contemplative book that gently nudges kids to find their own inner greatness, with the support from the adults and friends in their lives.

The book is poetic with occasional punctuation and open-ended expressions. The spare text is lyrical and packs a powerful punch. It questions, probes, and encourages readers to look at their own lives. This is a beautiful story that encourages self-discovery and builds self-esteem.

Soud’s illustrations are breathtaking and add to the depth of Pate’s theme of individuality. They are colorful and expressive and shine a light on diversity.

Resources: This is a beautiful discussion book belongs in elementary classrooms. Make sure you read the comments from the author at the end of the book. Ask children if they had a sign on their chest what would it say? And then ask them to list five things. Then encourage each child share.

Alex Pape grew up in Philadelphia. He is the author of several books, including Losing Absalom, named Best First Novel by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and winner of the Minnesota Book Award. He has been a corporate executive, small-business owner, and college professor. In 2012 he launched Innocent Classroom, a program that seeks to end educational disparaities by closing the relationship gap between educators and students of color. You may also want to visit his personal website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Finding Langston

Lesa Cline-Ransome, Author

Holiday House, Fiction, Aug. 14, 2018

Pages: 108

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Loss, Single-parent families, Moving, Bullying, Poetry, the Great Migration, Chicago, History

Opening: “Never really thought much about Alabama’s red dirt roads, but now, all I can think about is kicking up their dust.”

Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Langston is a long way from Alabama. After his mother dies in 1946, and he and his father move to Chicago’s Bronzeville. Langston must leave behind everything that he cherishes — his family, friends, Grandma’s Sunday suppers, the red clay and the magnolia trees his mama loved so much. He misses the slow pace of life at home and how he could take his time walking home before he starts his chores.

Bronzeville is noisy. Their kitchenette apartment is just a lonely room with two beds, a table and chairs and a hot plate. Dinner is what daddy brings home and throws into a pot. At night, the sounds are loud. People talk loudly on stoops, music blares from radios, and huge rats run down the hallways. At school, Langston is teased for being too country and three boys bully him after school. But his new home has something his old home didn’t have: the George Cleveland Hall Library that welcomes the community, black and white.

The library becomes a refuge from the bullies and a place where Langston joyfully discovers another Langston, a poet whose words are powerful and speak to him of home. With the help of a kind librarian, he reads all of Langston Hughes’ poetry, discovers the power of words and is transported.  A neighbor, who is a teacher, also introduces Langston to other black poets. Through poetry Langston begins to understand his mother, uncovers one of her secrets and finds healing through his namesake.

Why I like this book:

There is so much beauty in Lesa Cline-Ransome’s coming of age novel. Langston will melt your heart as he deals with loss and loneliness, and struggles to find his voice through words and poetry. It is an inspiring story that is relevant today.

The story also gives readers insight into the Great Migration of black families in search of better jobs in larger cities, like Chicago and New York. They leave behind a slower-paced life and close family relationships, to live in sub-standard housing in noisy, concrete cities.

The chapters are short, the narrative is strong and the writing is lyrical. The plot is compelling and there are themes that will spark important discussions among teens and adults.  This is an important book to add to any classroom curriculum.

Favorite lines: Langston’s first visit to a public library.

I trace the letters on the covers of each and stop. One has my name. I pull it out and open to the first page.

I pick up my life

And take it with me

And I put it down in 

Chicago, Detroit,

Buffalo, Scranton.

Feels like reading words from my heart. (Pg. 21-22)

Lesa Cline-Ransome is best known for her award-winning picture books. Her most recent book, Before She Was Harriet, is illustrated by her husband, James Ransome, received six starred reviews, a Christopher Award, a Coretta Scott King Honor Award for illustration, and a nomination for a NAACP Image Award. Finding Langston is her first novel. Visit the author at her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from library copy.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy by Tony Medina and 13 Artists

Thirteen ways of Looking at a Black Boy

Tony Medina & 13 Artists

Penny Candy Books, Poetry, Feb. 13, 2018

Pages: 40

Suitable for Ages: 6-11

Themes: Poetry, Black boys, Everyday life, Emotions, Creativity, Potential

Opening: Anacostia Angel

Fly bow tie like wings

   Brown eyes of a brown angel

His Kool-Aid smile sings

   Mama’s little butterfly

Daddy’s dimple grin so wide

Synopsis:

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy by Tony Medina offers a fresh perspective of young men of color by depicting thirteen views of everyday life: young boys dressed in their Sunday best, running to catch a bus, going to school, sitting on stoops on hot summer days, flirting with girls, participating in athletics, and growing up to be a teacher who gives back to the community who raised him. Each of Tony Medina’s tanka poems is matched with a different artist―including recent Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Award recipients.

Why I like this book:

Tony Medina has penned a stunning collection of 13 poems that celebrate the lives of black males, from birth to adulthood, who are brimming with potential. He focuses on the beauty found in the everyday lives of Black boys, who Medina considers “an endangered species.”

Medina’s has collaborated with 13 award-winning artists who show off their splendid skills through oil, watercolor,  pen and ink sketches, collage, and mixed media. I wanted to name all of the artists so readers will understand the powerful art that bring each poem to life. They include Floyd Cooper, Cozbi A. Cabrera, Skip Hill, Tiffany McKnight, Robert Liu-Trujillo, Keith Mallett, Shawn K. Alexander, Kesha Bruce, Brianna McCarthy, R. Gregory Christie, Ekua Holmes, Javaka Steptoe, and Chandra Cox.

The poems are written in tanka form, a Japanese syllabic, verse form, much like haiku.  It consists of 31 syllables distributed along five lines. Each poem is short, passionate and timely and introduces young people to reading and writing poetry.

This collection is a treasure for parents to read and reread to their children. There many creative ways to use this book at home and in the classroom.

Resources: There is a beautiful poetic Introduction by Medina. The backmatter includes information on the artists, and Notes that address the title, the poetic style (tanka), and the history of the Anacostia area in Washington D.C. This would be an excellent opportunity to encourage children to try write a poem using tanka or haiku. Or use the art in the book as inspiration to create their own drawing using a variety of mediums.

Tony Medina is a two-time winner of the Paterson Prize for Books for Young People (DeShawn Days and I and I, Bob Marley), is the author/editor of nineteen books for adults and young readers. A Professor of Creative Writing at Howard University, Medina has received the Langston Hughes Society Award, the first African Voices Literary Award, and has been nominated for Pushcart Prizes for his poems. Jacar Press recently published his anthology Resisting Arrest: Poems to Stretch the Sky, on police violence and brutalities perpetrated on people of color. Tu Books published Medina’s debut graphic novel I Am Alfonso Jones in 2017. He lives in Washington D.C.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Reviewed from library copy.