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Archive for the ‘book reviews (all genres)’ Category

Just in time for growing season, here’s a brand new anthology that serves up a delectable cornucopia of poems celebrating the food we eat and where it comes from.

Edited by Canadian poet Carol-Ann Hoyte, Dear Tomato: An International Crop of Food and Agriculture Poems (CreateSpace, 2015), contains over fifty verses by thirty-four poets from seven countries, with fetching black-and-white photographs by Norie Wasserman. Along with praise for the hardworking farmer, the global menu offers much food for thought with topics such as composting, urban gardening, food activism, vegetarianism, honeybee collapse disorder, free-range vs. caged hens, food banks and fair trade.

Kids 8-12 will enjoy the tasty assortment of poetic forms, styles, points-of-view and flavors of emotion, from light-hearted to reverent to joyous to pensive. They will delight in J. Patrick Lewis’s dancing mushrooms, Ken Slesarik’s nude root veggies, and Cindy Breedlove’s and Conrad Burdekin’s diatribes against peas. They will likely find April Halprin Wayland’s personal narratives about picking figs or buying a frog at a farmers market fascinating, and thanks to Matt Forrest Esenwine, Buffy Silverman and Frances Hern, think about familiar foods like pumpkins, corn, squash, beans, and peaches in new ways.

I was happy to see nine Poetry Friday friends in the line-up and be introduced to many new poets, three of whom I’m featuring today. Philippa Rae rhapsodizes about her favorite vegetable, Helen Kemp Zax extols the wonders of the farmers market, and Matt Goodfellow’s lyrical farmer’s song exalts the agrarian lifestyle upon which we all depend. I think their poems will give you a nice taste of the delightfully different voices and styles included in this toothsome collection.

I thank Philippa, Helen and Matt for allowing me to post their poems, for providing a little backstory about writing them, and for sharing recipes and food notes. Grab your forks and enjoy the feast!

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“No modern poet, to my knowledge, has such a clear, child-like perception as E.E. Cummings — a way of coming smack against things with unaffected delight and wonder . . . This candor results in breathtakingly clear vision.” (S.I. Hayakawa)

When I first heard a few months ago that a new picture book biography of E. E. Cummings was being published by Enchanted Lion Books, my heart literally skipped a beat. Cummings is, after all, my all-time favorite poet. Then when I learned the book was being illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo, who did Take Away the A (one of my favorite alphabet books), it was all I could do to contain my excitement until the book finally hit shelves earlier this month.

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.

In Enormous Smallness: A Story of E. E. Cummings, debut picture book author, scholar, educator and poet Matthew Burgess recounts Cummings’s life from his magical childhood in Cambridge, through his days at Harvard, to when he finally settled in Greenwich Village, where he lived for nearly four decades.

Kids will enjoy seeing how Cummings loved playing with words from a very early age, received lots of encouragement along the way, and found the courage to remain true to himself, ultimately becoming one of the most innovative and inventive poets of the 20th century, a true champion of individuality whose lyrical experiments with grammar, syntax, and punctuation continue to baffle and delight.

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A Poem in Your Pocket by Margaret McNamara and G. Brian Karas (Schwartz & Wade, 2015) is the perfect Poetry Month book, as it will get kids excited about writing their own poems and reading them aloud. The story centers around Elinor, a conscientious model student who struggles with a major case of writer’s block when she tries too hard to write the perfect poem.

In this third book in the series about Mr. Tiffin’s class, Elinor and her classmates are very excited that Emmy Crane, “a great American poet,” will be visiting their school on Poem in Your Pocket Day. The plan is to learn as much as they can about poetry by reading and memorizing poems, and by writing poems in their journals. They will then select one of their poems to put in their pockets, which they will read aloud at the school assembly for Ms. Crane.

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Supremely confident, somewhat braggy Elinor plans to wear jeans with six pockets when Ms. Crane comes, with an original poem stashed in each one. She dives right into studying everything and anything about poetry a full month ahead of the class. When April rolls around, Mr. Tiffin teaches them about figures of speech (similes, metaphors), and different poetic forms (haiku, acrostic, concrete). Everyone has fun reading sample poems and writing their own, while strangely silent Elinor has nothing to share, reassuring the others that she will come up with something amazing for Ms. Crane’s visit.

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Mr. Tiffin takes the class outdoors so they can practice using their “poet’s eyes.” Another day, he gives them each a brown paper bag and asks them to write a poem about what’s inside. Everyone is eager to read their poems aloud for the others to guess, but Elinor’s journal remains blank.

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Bonjour! Êtes vous affamé? (Hello! Are you hungry?)

I don’t know about you, but after reading the yummy recipes in Kids Cook French (Quarry Books, 2015), I’m starving! At this very moment, I would love to feast on Claudine Pépin’s Spring Menu: Eggs Jeannette with a Salad, Chicken Breast with Garlic and Parsley, Sautéed Swiss Chard, Parsnip-Potato Purée, and Almond Cake. Mmmmmm!

You may know Claudine from any one or all three of the James Beard Award-winning PBS cooking series she appeared in with her father, legendary French chef Jacques Pépin. It is natural that Claudine (an accomplished home cook and wine educator who married a chef), should publish a cookbook for kids, since she grew up with fine cuisine and now cooks most nights for her 11-year-old daughter Shorey.

Art copyright © 2015 Jacques Pepin

True to Claudine’s guiding philosophy — that there’s no such thing as “kids food,” only “good food” — Kids Cook French doesn’t look or read like a children’s cookbook. You won’t find rebus-like directions in large print with little measuring spoons, or yet another “recipe” for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. This is not to say that the recipes are overly complicated, only that adult supervision is required for what are clearly family projects.

Claudine (center) with Shorey, Rollie, Jacques and Gloria (by Tom Hopkins).

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Fanciful, imaginative, cheery and charming — The Popcorn Astronauts: And Other Biteable Rhymes by Deborah Ruddell and Joan Rankin (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2015) is precisely my cup of tea. Add mouthwateringly irresistible to the mix and there’s no doubt this exuberant celebration of food has my name written all over it.

I love Ruddell’s fresh take on perennial kid favorites like watermelon, strawberries, raisins, milk shakes, apples, brownies, mac and cheese, cocoa and birthday cake. Grouped by season, the poems take us from spring’s Strawberry Queen in her elegant red beaded suit, to summer’s cool pinkness at a Watermelon Lake with its “pale green shore” (and little black seed boats!), to a toothsome autumnal stop at the Totally Toast Cafe (4 flavors of marmalade), and finally to marvel at “The World’s Biggest Birthday Cake,” the stuff of your wildest winter dreams. Yum!

With generous measures of humor, sensory detail, exaggeration, cheekiness, surprise and adventure, Ruddell’s rhyming verses explore mealtime scenarios kids can readily identify with: the yucky appearance but lip smacking tastiness of guacamole, the picky eater (ogre) who’ll only eat one kind of food, the universal love of mac and cheese with its superstar status, eating comfort foods on gray days, lusting after someone else’s dessert, and the all-important dilemma of whether to eat that last brownie (um, yes!). Of course we mustn’t forget the momentous “Arrival of the Popcorn Astronauts,” a prime example of child-like whimsy at its best:

The daring popcorn astronauts
are brave beyond compare —
they scramble into puffy suits
and hurtle through the air.

And when they land, we say hooray
and crowd around the spot
to salt the little astronauts
and eat them while they’re hot.

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