Guess Who, Haiku

GuessWhoHaiku

Image Credit: Abrams Appleseed (Abrams), Deanna Caswell/Bob Shea

I’m always up for a fun animal book and this one combines haiku with an animal guessing game. How clever is that?

It’s never too early to share the beauty of poetry with children and this book is a great introduction to the awesome that is haiku. The format of Guess Who, Haiku is very simple; it begins with a haiku and a picture-clue and readers are encouraged to guess the animal. Can you guess who leaves a fresh pail of milk in the morning…moo moo! Children turn the page to see the answer and then onto the next haiku! The final haiku is clever and readers will enjoy. Caswell includes, at the end of the book, a clear and playful explanation of haiku and syllables. Her haikus are very creative and pretty.

Bob Shea’s art is always great and really POPS. Like his many adoring kid fans, I’m drawn to his work. He’s a master of “simple but complex” and little ones will enjoy the bright colors and cute animals in this book.

Snuggle up in a chair and explore Guess Who, Haiku. It’s great for multiple reads because though the surprise aspect might be gone, haiku are very visual and can spark great discussions about nature. Make haiku together and get creative!

  bright, cute animals

read the haiku to find them

a delightful read

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Poetry, Haiku, Animals, Discussion, Imagination, Vocabulary
Book Info: Guess Who, Haiku by Deanna Caswell/Illustrated by Bob Shea, 2016 Abrams Appleseed (Abrams), ISBN: 9781419718892

Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet

EtchedinClay

Image Credit: Lee & Low Books, Andrea Cheng

I never had the chance to meet Andrea Cheng but I handled her books, I sold them. I was in the same space as them. A Cincinnati author, talented and kind are some of the things people told me about her. Interestingly enough, I’ve been connected to her for quite some time though; I went to school with one of her daughters, Ann. Recently I was able to reconnect with Ann and spend time with two of Andrea’s close writer friends. Here’s what I can say about Andrea Cheng, now that I’ve read her words for myself and can reflect on her people; her voice is strong and she’s left a legacy of goodness.

Etched in Clay is poetry inspired by the historical record of an amazing man named Dave (David Drake). Dave was a skilled potter/poet who happened to be enslaved. Cheng speaks for him but doesn’t say too much. It’s just enough. We follow Dave from his teenage years fresh off the auction block to his life as a free man in his seventies. He’s sold and re-sold several times within the Landrum family to work their pottery works. His first owner, Harvey Drake, notices his talent and teaches him how to create pottery. Drake’s religious wife Sarah gives Dave a powerful tool too, a spelling book from which he learns to read and write. In his long life, he is split apart from the women and children he loves, he struggles with his lack of agency as an enslaved man and he REBELS with words and poetry. Words spill out of his head and onto his pottery. Dave finds a way to assert his worth as a human being through the liberatory act of black creativity.

DavethePotterWoodCuts

Image Credit: Lee & Low Books, Andrea Cheng

Harvey Drake (like most whites at the time) is conscious of the danger in nurturing the intelligence of a slave. He’s comfortable in his power and is protective of the system that keeps his whiteness above blackness. Though Dave knows he can be lashed for knowing how to read (and showing it), he does it anyway. Even signing his name on a pot is dangerous yet he does it…and by doing so, he reflects on his legacy (his pots are made to last) and asserts HIS power. His defiance is through words.

Andrea Cheng doesn’t romanticize or soften slavery; she gives us a glimpse of Dave’s reality. I appreciate her honest characterizations of the slave masters and their disregard for Dave’s (and the other slaves’) humanity. The entire book is full of excellent characterization! A masterful storyteller has the ability to make you bubble and boil with frustration yet eagerly reach to turn the page. I wanted to keep going and see what would happen to Dave, a man who, like my ancestors, was remarkable.

The woodcuts in this book are also done by Andrea Cheng and just like the writing, they are just enough (and so much). They give us a glimpse into Dave’s life with blocky shapes, black and white lines and outlines that suggest more than tell. Not only do I recommend Etched in Clay for casual reading, I think it’s perfect for the classroom. There are so many lessons to take away and to discuss and Dave should be more well known. I hope you’ll pick up this book and enjoy.

 

 

Recommended for: Ages 11 and up
Great for: Inner Strength, Rebellion, Courage, Determination, Defiance, African American, Slavery, History, Pottery, Creativity, Poetry, Relationships, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books, History-Inspired, Discussion, Classroom
Book Info: Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet by Andrea Cheng, 2013 Lee & Low Books Inc., ISBN: 9781600604515

My Seneca Village

MySenecaVillage

Image Credit: Namelos, Marilyn Nelson

 

My Seneca Village is a mighty work. Marilyn Nelson, as she describes in the introduction, connected to the people of Seneca Village while spending years researching the community and this is very evident in how heartfelt and moving this collection of poems is. Seneca Village was a community in New York City located where Central Park now is. It was a community of mostly African American families, with Irish, German, Jewish and some Native Amerian residents. It existed from 1825 to 1857; in 1857 all residents were forced to move out by the city in order to build the park. With this forced removal came the end of a rich, vibrant and thriving community.

What My Seneca Village does so beautifully is bring Seneca Village back to life. Through original poems, Nelson honors and creates a voice for its residents. We learn their stories, we see young dreamers, young love, life, death, gossips, mischievous children, racism and strength. Some of the residents we meet are real people who lived in Seneca Village, others are fiction and we also meet huge historical figures, like Frederick Douglass, who stop through the village to give moving speeches. It’s hard to narrow this book into one category because it does so much. Nelson’s poetry is powerful. One of my favorite stanzas is from the village’s Reverend Rush during an anti-abolition riot:

 

                                      “I asked everyone to bow their heads and pray.

                                        Pray for this nation’s struggle to be free

                                        for ALL Americans. Equality

                                        must be bitter, if you’ve always been on top,

                                        and you’re slapped awake out of a lifelong sleep.

                                        Pray we’ll pull together toward a common hope.”

 

Over a hundred years later and we’re still struggling for the same thing. I’m glad for this story. I’m glad to know about Seneca Village, I’m glad that this novel is being read nationwide and I encourage you to read this book and travel to Seneca Village.

 

P.S. Just wanted to note how nice this book is. Namelos is a small publisher and I can’t remember the last time I picked up a book with such nicely inked letters.

Also, here’s an interesting NPR article about the play The People Before the Park.

 

Recommended for: 12 and up
Great for: Poetry, Everyday Life, Community, History, Seneca Village, American History, African American, Diversity, Cultural Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Racism, Family, Love, Friendship, Relationships, New York, Eminent Domain, Injustice, Central Park
Book Info: My Seneca Village by Marilyn Nelson, 2015 Namelos, ISBN: 9781608981960

A Chat with Daniel Miyares

I first discovered Float sitting on the new books table of my bookstore. You see, I had a ritual of familiarizing myself with the new crop every Tuesday; excited to find a new favorite. I picked up the small gray book, took some time to flip through the pages…and kept the story with me.

When I started my blog, I knew I had to review it. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know Daniel Miyares a bit and he was kind enough to let me interview him. Really, it turned into a great conversation. Hope you enjoy our chat.

 

Alia: Q1. What are three words to describe yourself?

Daniel: Ummmm…introvert, unorganized (or as I like to say intuitive), heartfelt.

Alia: I’m introverted too! Yay for introverts! 🙂

Daniel: Yay! Let’s get together and feel anxious.

Alia: Q2. I know you’re married with kids. Has your family given you any ideas/inspiration for projects?

Daniel: YES, absolutely my family gives me inspiration everyday. I am married. My wife’s name is Lisa and we have two little children together. I always like to say my best story ideas come from some sort of anxiety or character flaw that I have. Couple that with the fact that children and marriage can be some of the most honest mirrors you’ll ever come across and you’ve got a free flowing fount of possible story fodder.

I do see a lot of my children’s way of looking at and experiencing the world make it into my stories. Not just the innocence, but the honesty of their emotions. I see the ups and downs of Float almost everyday in my house in one way or another. It’s true and sweet.

AliaQ3. My dad was an artist, so I grew up surrounded by art. Do you have artists in your family? Have you noticed your children taking a strong interest in art?

Daniel: My dad took a few art classes in college I believe, but he never pursued it. My daughter really loves art. She’s always got a project going. I can count on her to sit with me if I need a painting buddy. It’s fun to talk art and design with her. It’s like I have some inside track on all the stuff that hasn’t been “taught” out of her. She frequently schools me on color. My colors are never sparkly enough for her. 🙂

Alia: Cool! Yeah I agree with her. I love sparkly but then there has to be balance. I’ve also noticed that children often have insight that we are too old and too “trained” to have.

Daniel: So right! That’s why I feel like I’m continuing to learn about my own books. The more I share them with children the more insight I walk away with.

Alia: Kids are pretty sweet. I learned a lot from my students when I was a teacher.

Daniel: I bet you did! What did you teach?

Alia: I taught Elementary school English in Korea for four years.

Daniel: That’s so wonderful. I’m sure you’ve got stories. I should interview you about that!

Alia: Haha. Oh yeah I have a lot. It’s all kinda a blur of dirty noses, screaming kids and lots of laughs.

Q4. I love the paintings you post on Instagram and Facebook. Are you a paper margin doodler?

Daniel: I am a margin doodler, an over the important information doodler, an on my desk and chair doodler. It’s kind of an obsession. Thank God someone invented Instagram. Now I have a place to put all those random scribbles. Actually it’s been freeing to post things without much editing. I can get pretty calculated when it comes to making art and I need to be reminded to loosen up and not worry about it so much.

Alia: It must be nice to just make art for arts sake when it’s your JOB to make art. Just put it out there and go!

Daniel: It is nice to just make art without a big agenda. It also reminds me of the things I love about making pictures.

AliaQ5. Okay big question. Why do you make picture books? What do YOU get out of it?

Daniel: Okay this is a biggie. Picture books kind of found me. I had always loved drawing and painting, as well as secretly writing poetry, but I never dreamed of making picture books. A friend introduced me to my artist rep and through working with them I realized that the things I love about making illustrations and telling stories could be really meaningful in picture books. I suppose what I get out of it is the sense that I’m using more of the whole of my creative self on a project. For me there is an emotional cycle to the process of making a book- the passion and uncertainty of conceiving an idea, the anxiety of pitching/selling it, the craft and focus of making it, all ending with the joy of sharing it with so many people. It’s a roller coaster and I feel in love with it.

Alia: Ah what a great answer. I love it! 🙂

Daniel: Great question!

Alia: Thanks!

Q6. What kind of jelly do you like on your PB&J? lol

Daniel: Grape. Absolutely, Grape. Smuckers if it’s on the shelf, but the generic store brand works too. Every now and again I do make a monster PB&J. You know the one with the extra piece of bread in the middle?

Alia: Classic. Good choice. But I’m more about Welch’s Grape. I’ve never done a monster PB&J and now I’m wondering why I haven’t. Haha

Daniel: Me too!

Alia: I guess I have to try it now!

FloatDounpour

Image Credit: Simon & Schuster, Daniel Miyares

Q7. Where did Float‘s story grow out of? The book-making process can be quite long. Can you remember any big or tough edits you made to the story or design of Float?

Daniel: I was on a plane flying home from my Aunt’s funeral. It had been raining so I did a drawing of a little boy floating a paper boat in a puddle. I wondered what happened before that moment and drew that. Then I wondered what happened after that moment and drew that. I went on like this until I found the beginning and end of the story. The book making process is quite long and requires you to stay focused on what’s best for the story throughout. That’s how I know I’m working with good collaborators- if they honestly critique with that lens. Hurdle one for me with Float was should it have words or not. It seemed like a strong visual narrative that took you to all the emotional places necessary without words, but I wasn’t sure. I tried a whole string of variations on the manuscript, but none of it seemed to say anything that the pictures weren’t. My editor Kristin Ostby at S&S was great about helping to weigh and measure that. At one point I wrote a sound poem for the story. I’d still like to do something with it someday. I’m actually thinking of trying to do some readings of Float in the music rooms of elementary schools instead of a regular class. I figured the children could help tell the story with the instruments. Kind of a rainy day orchestra! Another hurdle or edit was how to get all the emotional beats into the story in an interesting way. Panels seemed like a logical way to pace things out and reveal information as the reader needed it. It was just another layer of design that became really important once I got into building the book.

Alia: Doing readings of Float in music rooms sounds awesome! I can see kids really getting into that.

Daniel: Yeah I’d like to give the instruments a try.

AliaQ8. I read Float as a story about imagination and delight in play. What were your favorite imagination activities or games as a child?

Daniel: My favorites were drawing, building forts or hideouts, exploring the woods, playing in the creek near my house. The spaces weren’t that big, but they seemed like whole different worlds. I don’t know how many makeshift boats and action figures met their end in that creek.

Alia: Me too. I grew up in the city but I loved making forts out of sheets in my room. Crawl inside and…read books.

Daniel: Those little hiding spots were the best.

Alia: Yup!

Q9. Do you like origami? Origami used to be MY THING so I enjoyed the paper-folding element of Float very much.

Daniel: I do. I’ve worked at Hallmark Cards as an artist for the past twelve years. I’ve gotten to make a lot of things out of paper in that time. It has always amazed me how just a blank piece of paper can take on a life of its own.

Alia: Well that’s pretty cool. I always wonder about card artists. There are so many well designed and unique cards out there.

PardonMe

Image Credit: Simon & Schuster, Daniel Miyares

Q10. While preparing for this discussion, I realized that Pardon Me is your book and I got really happy because I think that book is a little dark and very hilarious. Can you share some background on that book?

Daniel: Absolutely, remember what I said about starting with an anxiety or character flaw for a story idea? That’s how Pardon Me! started. I’m introverted so I like to have my alone time and think space. With a family I’m often scheming of ways to find those quiet moments. So I imagined the little bird as me. I can try to cling to what I think is right, fair and deserved even to my detriment. In short, I just took a look at what was making my blood boil and I wrote it down. I just had to substitute interruptions with animals.

Alia:  Ohhh, I see and I totally understand! Very cool. I’m imagining the animals as your family now!

Q11. What are you thoughts about efforts like We Need Diverse Books and the general push for diversity in publishing and literature?

Daniel: It’s so critical that children have access to books that celebrate a wide range of cultures and experiences. I see it either challenging and expanding what they know about the world or affirming who they are. I feel like I as an individual can choose to invest in projects that help to do that, but I have to tell stories that lean into my point of view. I have very specific memories from growing up where I read a book or a poem and it churned something up inside of me. It widened my gaze in a way that I never would have on my own. That gives me hope that if talented authors and artists from all different ethnicities, ages, genders, and sexual orientations continue to lean into their experiences to craft meaningful stories, then there will be those kinds of transformative intersections. Of course it’s important for that focus on diversity to be present at all points of the book making process-all the way to a child having the book in hand. Over the past few years I’ve gotten to meet so many wonderful book champions who strive to do just that.

Alia: When I think back to books that shaped me growing up, they’re all kinds of books but I definitely connected to seeing little girls who looked like me.

Daniel: Sure, we all want to feel like we belong and are understood.

Alia: Q12. I think I read that you’re from South Carolina? Serious question…Do you like grits?

Daniel: Oh my, yes I do love grits. I was raised on them and biscuits. One of my favorite breakfast foods.

Alia: Yes! Okay, even more important question. How do you like them? Butter? Salt? Cheese? I love biscuits too. My grandma made great ones.

Daniel: I used to take a serving of grits and put scrambled eggs, butter and bacon in them then cover it with cheese.

Alia: OMG…

Daniel: I know…gross.

Alia: Hahaha. We cook ours with butter in the water, add a little salt and I like a side of scrambled eggs too. Sometimes I add cheese.

Daniel: This is all making me really hungry. I would’ve eaten just fine at your house.

Alia: Haha. Yes. My family is from Alabama and Mississippi so I grew up with good Southern Cooking.

Q13. Do you mind sharing a little bit about your next two books Surf’s Up and Bring Me a Rock!?

Daniel: I don’t mind at all. Surf’s Up is a collaboration with the amazing Kwame Alexander. He wrote it and I illustrated. It’s the story of two frog friends, Bro and Dude. Bro just wants to read his book and Dude just wants to get to the beach. It’s really a celebration of the power of reading and imagination. Kwame’s dialogue is fantastic. It is releasing Feb. 1st. Bring Me A Rock! is my next book with Simon & Schuster. I’m the author and illustrator on this one. In it a megalomaniac insect king demands that all of his loyal subjects bring him a rock. He’s going to build a majestic pedestal fit for a king. It’s about how his kingly plans don’t go as expected and how the day is ultimately saved by the most unexpected hero. It’s out June 7th.

Alia: They both sound really cool. I’m looking forward to both! I love the names Bro and Dude haha. That’s awesome.

Daniel: I know! When I read it with my kids we crack up so hard. They call each other Bro and Dude for the rest of the night.

Alia: I feel like teachers are going to enjoy reading that one aloud with their students!

Q14. ALA Midwinter Conference is underway and the Caldecott Medal winner will be announced on Monday. You already know I’m rooting for you…How do you feel about all the love you’re getting for Float?

Daniel: Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine so much love being poured out on Float. You know when you’re making a book you do your best to craft the best story experience you can, but once it’s released it takes on a life of it’s own. I’ve been overwhelmed by all the kind and generous people I’ve gotten to meet along the way such as yourself! It’s given me a more well rounded view of the book community. I’m in awe.

Alia: I honestly think that when a book gets love like Float is getting, it’s partially a reflection of the author’s spirit because you put so much of yourself into every aspect of the book. Float has kinda flown under the radar and into people’s hearts because it’s that good. 🙂

So thank you for sharing stories.

Daniel: Alia, I appreciate all the support you’ve given to me and Float. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to share them.

Alia: Of course! Okay final question!

Q15. Are you a fan of BBQ and if so, what’s your favorite place in Kansas City?

Daniel: I’m required to be a fan of BBQ if I live in KC. It’s in the contract. There are so many places to go if you’re coming this way, but by far my favorite is a place called Joe’s KC. It used to be called Oklahoma Joe’s. It’s in a gas station and it’s worth the wait every time.

 

I want to thank Daniel Miyares once again for taking time to talk with me. It was a fun chat and I wish you and Float THE BEST on Monday for the ALA Youth Media Awards!

Be sure to check out his:

Website, http://www.danielmiyares.com/ and Instagram, https://www.instagram.com/danielmiyaresdoodles/

Thanks for reading! ❤

Drum Dream Girl

DrumDreamGirl

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Margarita Engle/Rafael López

Do you feel the beat? Have a desire to make music and feel rhythm in everything around you? Cuban-American poet Margarita Engle’s new picture book is about the Cuban drummer Millo Castro Zaldarriaga who dared to drum when it was taboo for a girl to do so.

Drum Dream Girl dreams of drums; she can’t help it because the music is a part of her but on her island of Cuba in the 30s, only boys can drum and even her father discourages her drumming. She continues to dream in drumbeats and every sound is a rhythm. Despite what everyone thinks, she drums and drums and even joins an all girl dance band formed by her sisters. Though he tells her once again that she shouldn’t play the drums, her father finally comes around and takes her to a teacher who nurtures her talent and helps her grow into a gifted drummer. Millo Castro Zaldarriaga would go on to be a world famous musician and her music, her defiance and passion, would inspire female musicians in her home and no doubt, around the world.

DrumDreamGirl

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Margarita Engle/Rafael López

Passion, color, music and hope fill the pages through Raphael López’s glowing illustrations. He uses acrylic paint to create warm brown skin, large hands, wide expressive eyes, colorful flowers and birds and these details bring the island of Cuba to life. There’s often a smiling sun or moon shining down on Millo as she drum-dreams. Similar to Raul Colón’s illustrations in Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century, López draws a whirling strand of colorful ribbons to depict music. Engle’s poetry is beautifully descriptive and great for reading aloud. Drum Dream Girl will inspire you to learn more about Millo and it will make you feel like you’re in Cuba, sitting in a café on a hot summer night, sipping a drink and enjoying the sound of drums.

P.S. If you’re looking for more info about Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, check out the book Anacaona: The Amazing Adventures of Cuba’s First All-Girl Dance Band by Alicia Castro, published by Atlantic Books, London, 2007. Thanks for the info Margarita Engle and Tony Koehler!  🙂

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Defiance, Non-Fiction, Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Read-Aloud, Rhythm, Family, Poetry, Gender Non Conformity, Girl Power, Music, Music History, Cuba, Dreams, Drums, Biography, Jazz, Girls in Music, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books
Book Info: Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle/Illustrated by Rafael López, 2015 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN: 9780544102293