[furry review] If You Go Down to the Woods Today by Rachel Piercey and Freya Hartas

Brush your fur, wash your paws, and spiff up your whiskers — it’s time to join Bear as he shows us around his magical woodland home with cheery poems to read and wondrous things to find.

If You Go Down to the Woods Today by Rachel Piercey and Freya Hartas (Magic Cat Publishing, 2021), is, as Kirkus called it, “a tour de force of interactive two-dimensional nature.” And when they say “tour de force” they really mean it.

I read many poetry picture books throughout the year, and this is one of the few that literally had me squealing with delight and disbelief when I first saw the art. Wow!

“Bunny’s Birthday”

Before reading any of the poems, I joyously pored over the incredible pictures, my eyes getting wider and wider because there was just so much to see!

Continue reading

Maud Lewis: Painting Joy

The happy childlike paintings of Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis belie the many adversities and challenges she faced throughout her life.

Maud Lewis in her Marshalltown home.

Looking at her peaceful scenes of winding country lanes, sleepy boat harbors, and charming cats amongst tulips and blossom-laden branches, it’s hard to imagine she lived most of her life in a cramped one-room house with no running water or electricity, barely able to hold a paint brush with her gnarly, arthritic hands.

Born in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia in 1901, Maud Dowley was a solitary child, uncomfortable around others because of her differences. She was smaller than most, and because of birth defects, had hunched shoulders, almost no chin, and painfully deformed hands. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis further reduced her mobility. Teased mercilessly by the other kids, she dropped out of school at age 14.

Continue reading

[lipsmacking review] Delicious!: Poems Celebrating Street Food Around the World by Julie Larios and Julie Paschkis

What’s your pleasure? Polishing off piroshki in Saint Petersburg, sipping a quick cup of saffron tea at a Mumbai train station, or nibbling on crunchy deep-fried scorpions in Beijing?

In Delicious!: Poems Celebrating Street Food Around the World (Beach Lane Books, 2021), my two favorite Julies — Julie Larios and Julie Paschkis — tempt readers with sweet and savory treats sure to rouse appetites and stir wanderlust.

There’s always something special about grabbing a quick bite al fresco, whether you’re wandering a city street or byway, browsing a busy outdoor market, or sitting in a stadium cheering on your favorite team. Few can resist the tantalizing aromas emanating from a well appointed food truck and ordering something cooked right on the spot by a friendly vendor. 

The fourteen short, 4-6 line poems feature an appealingly diverse mix of familiar as well as exotic eats. Our culinary journey begins right here in the USA, with a nod to the immigrants whose various foods, cultures and traditions have informed our palate and enriched American society. 

CARTS IN THE PARK
New York, New York, USA

Syrian shawarma wrapped in a pita?
Biryani? Pork carnitas?
Maybe I’ll get a hot falafel.
Schnitzel? Pretzel? Sesame noodles?
Cajun? Lebanese? Cuban? Thai?
So many choices! What should I try?

Julie L. serves up a savory mouthful with delectable words — food names are fun to read aloud and a nice reminder that while it may be wonderful to visit faraway places, we can enjoy so many mouthwatering vittles without ever leaving the country.

Continue reading

nine cool things on a tuesday

1. Happy May! April showers bring May flowers, so here’s a pretty bouquet just for you, compliments of UK artist Louise Pigott. 🙂

Can’t think of a better way to celebrate the new month than with Louise’s cheery, colorful pictures. 

Louise lives in Cambridge and has been working as a freelance illustrator for about a decade. She’s done children’s books and has created art for the greeting card and stationery industries.

She’s inspired by nature, animals and all things magical, and likes countryside walks, making crystal jewelry, meditating and playing guitar. She also practices astrology and reads Tarot cards.

Also cool: she’s a “self-controlled” chocoholic with “occasional, willing relapses.” My kind of girl! You can’t help but feel happy when looking at her art. 

For more info and to purchase prints, check out her Official Website and Etsy Shop.

*

2. New Book Alert!! Officially out today: Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle by Cathy Ballou Mealey and Kelly Collier (Kids Can Press, 2021):

A speedy squirrel and a sleepy sloth try to get the job done in this funny, heartwarming tale of two lovable, but unlikely, friends. Though Sloth and Squirrel are good friends, they have different ways of doing things — and different speeds of doing them.

So, when Squirrel gets them jobs as pickle packers to earn money for a new bike, things don’t go according to plan. It seems that the contrasting skill sets of a fast-as-lightning squirrel and a slow-as-molasses sloth can make for a mess of an outcome, and before long, the friends are shown the pickle factory’s door, along with the 677 1/2 jars of pickles they packed incorrectly! Now the pair are bicycle-less, with only pickles to show for themselves. Or so they think — until the resourceful pair come up with an ingenious plan!

This delightful story from Cathy Ballou Mealey is a celebration of friendships of all kinds and a testament to ingenuity and hard work. Packed with funny details that aren’t in the text, Kelly Collier’s engaging illustrations are full of personality and silly, emotionally expressive humor. Together they create a hilarious picture book that’s perfect for a fun and lively read-aloud. At the same time, the positive themes in the book highlight a growth mindset and character education lessons on teamwork, perseverance and initiative.

I’ve read the PDF of this one and it’s rollicking good fun. 677 1/2 jars of pickles ain’t nothing to sneeze at! Have I mentioned that I have a thing for sloths? Just like Sloth in this story, I am s-l-o-w (but still adorable). Love the alliteration in the plucky text and the fun illustrations. Only one pickly problem: My mouth keeps watering and my lips won’t stop puckering. But I love this book. Whether you go fast or slow, score your own copy pronto. Just curious: dill, sweet, or bread-and-butter for you?

Congratulations, Cathy and Kelly!!

*

Continue reading

Three Poems from Nikki Giovanni’s Make Me Rain

It’s always a good day when poet, activist, and professor Nikki Giovanni showers us with the power and wisdom of her words.

I love her latest book, Make Me Rain: Poems and Prose (William Morrow, 2020), which is by turns celebratory, conversational, tender, soul nourishing, and ablaze with fierce conviction. Her heart and refreshing honesty are on display whether the subject is deeply personal or politically controversial. She begins with this lyrical restorative gem:

MAKE ME RAIN

make me rain
turn me into a snowflake

let me rest
on your tongue

make me a piece of ice
so I can cool you

let me be the cloud
that embraces you

or the quilt
that gets you dry

snuggle close
listen to me sing

on the windowsill

make me rain
on you

What a beautiful way to invite us into this collection! As a poet and person, she is wholeheartedly in service of language and its critical role in the healing and nurturing of humanity. Water, which sustains every living thing, is a recurring theme in the book.

The book’s cover is an homage to Marvin Gaye’s 1971 album, recently ranked #1 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

There are other joyous and life affirming poems about family, friends, mentors, and dreams to soothe the spirit. She often uses the quilt metaphor not only as a symbol of comfort and safety, but as a way of stitching together precious memories and illuminating the uncommon strength that comes from unifying diverse elements.

“Pictorial Quilt” by Harriet Powers (1898)
(From Nikki's poem, “Quilts”):

Some folk think
a quilt is leftover
clothes
but we know
it is made up
of loved pieces
we have saved
then sewn
together . . . 

America is a quilt
made up of different
folk
we came together to build
something warm
and good

Continue reading