[review] Champion Chompers, Super Stinkers and Other Poems by Extraordinary Animals by Linda Ashman and Aparna Varma

When it comes to the animal kingdom, just who is the tops?

Who’s the fastest flyer, the smallest mammal, the best long-distance runner?

Readers of all ages will have fun guessing the best of the best in Champion Chompers, Super Stinkers and Other Poems by Extraordinary Animals (Kids Can Press, 2023). In Linda Ashman’s lively, cleverly crafted mask (persona) poems, 19 animal contestants compete for the top prize by hinting at their identities, proudly citing what makes them amazing in some way.


No dreary cave,
No teensy cup,
No rocky shore will do.

I want the best:
A spacious nest
And dazzling penthouse view.

Each poem appears on a righthand page with an illustration showing only part of its body (a tail, a wing, a neck, a trunk). Readers then flip to the next page for a full view of the animal, its claim to fame, and a paragraph of fascinating facts, including how the animal’s superlative features were measured.

Poems are playful, engaging, and brim with personality. Who can resist such a fun guessing game while learning about creatures from the land, sea, and air? There’s a nice mix of familiar animals (skunk, crocodile, giraffe) with less familiar ones (Pronghorn, Eurasian Hoopoe, Etruscan Shrew). I was especially happy to see two of my favorite animals included: elephants and sloths (that sloths are the slowest of mammals makes me love them even more; besides, we both really like just hanging around). 🙂

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[review] Tierra, Tierrita/Earth, Little Earth/Tal, Talchin by Jorge Argueta and Felipe Ugalde Alcántara

She is the oldest and most beautiful mother of all the elders. At once gentle and powerful, she is mountain, seed, cornfield, flower. Mother Earth. She is all and everything; she is life itself.

In Tierra, Tierrita/Earth, Little Earth (Piñata Books, 2023), Mother Earth introduces herself, detailing her expanse, majesty, and ongoing evolution. The fourth title in Argueta and Alcántara’s award-winning trilingual Madre Tierra/Mother Earth series about the natural world, it follows Agua, Agüita/Water, Little Water; Fuego/Fueguito/Fire, Little Fire; and Viento, Vientito/Wind, Little Wind. All four books illustrate the interconnectedness of all living things and express a deep reverence for our precious planet.

Mi nombre es Tierra
pero todos me conocen por Tierrita.

Yo soy la Madre Tierra
Ilena de todos los colores
y de todos los sabores.


My name is Earth
but people call me Little Earth.

I am Mother Earth
full of all the colors
and all the flavors.

Encompassing north, south, east and west, she is the Mother of Water, Fire, and Wind. Though others may call her “planet,” “nature,” or “creation,” she most likes “Mother Earth, Little Earth.” Spinning around the sun since time immemorial, she sings of flora and fauna, and is “the tiniest insect, the juiciest fruit, the most delicious greens you’ve ever tasted.”

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[poem + recipe] a taste of Aunt Margaret’s Pudding by Alison Brackenbury

Recently, by lucky happenstance, I ran across Aunt Margaret’s Pudding as I was browsing the online shop of – *wait for it*HappenStance Press, a small indie publisher based in Fife, Scotland.

Truth is, I simply cannot resist a charming title, especially when it contains ‘Margaret’ (my mother’s name), and the word ‘pudding,’ which usually makes me want to hug myself, it’s so dang adorable.

Aunt Margaret’s Pudding, by British poet Alison Brackenbury, is a collection of poems and recipes inspired by her paternal grandmother Dorothy Eliza Barnes (“Dot”). 

photo of Dorothy Eliza Barnes via Rylands Blog.

Dot (b. 1894) worked as a professional Edwardian cook in Nottingham before marrying a shepherd and living in various cottages around Lincolnshire. She recorded her family’s favorite recipes in a black notebook which Brackenbury later inherited along with Dot’s wooden desk.

The poems are not only a revealing bit of family history, but an interesting glimpse of early 20th century East Midlands farm and country life. This was a time when almost everything was homemade, people walked to work, and neighbors “saved” each other (when Dot was bedridden after the birth of her fourth child, one of her neighbors cooked and washed for Dot’s husband and children for weeks).

Dot herself used to feed itinerant farm workers and invited children waiting at the school bus stop near her gate in for sweets. Practical, frugal, hardworking, and generous, Dot lived a quiet, isolated life. It is interesting to see that her smudged notebook contains not only her small, neat penmanship, but the hands of other women, suggesting that Dot liked to collect recipes from friends and neighbors. Their shared lives were “rich with old knowledge and individual talent.”

Enjoy a little taste of Brackenbury’s book with two sample poems and a recipe. Many thanks to Alison for permission to share her poems and for providing the wonderful photos!


photo of Dot’s notebook via The Carcanet Blog.

But you were tiny. Not one toe
could stretch from sofa to the floor.
Unwise to marry a tall man? For
the fourth child left you bed-bound, so
kind neighbours cooked. Your eyes were weak,
yet blue as harebells. You would go
sleepless, to cram old trunks with cake
the men took to the Royal Show.

I have one picture, leather-bound:
you as a young, still-anxious cook,
flowered velvet in your collar's tuck.
Like food, you could make cash go round.
Only your hair grew wild. Its fine
strong waves defied your careful buns.
French marigolds by your washing line
met cabbage, hoed by husband, sons.

You never cut your springing hair.
Time washed past you like rain, your skin
so soft a child's lips would sink in.
My face, rough from hill wind, stays bare
of blusher, gloss. No powder tins
littered your rooms. I stay up, too,
cook, type, as horizons dim.
My father said I looked like you.



Carrots kept Christmas pudding plain.
No gold leaf flattered Nottingham.
Choclate -- you wrote, brisk, young.
What sweetness touched your tongue?

Your first friends were cornflour, ground rice.
Your middle age still sang with spice,
spooned, generous to a fault.
Cinnamon. Ginger. Salt?

Steam smudged your letters. Leather Cups?
I squint. The words are: Quaker Oats.
Your trust in brand names shone.
King, Country, only one.

You knew dessert. You wrote
the old name: cocoanut.
Through bright Treacle I see
the dark Imperial tree.

A married student, money short,
I spooned rough ground rice at the start --
strong, workaday, low-cost --
like all the tastes we lost.

Christmas Pudding and Mincemeat recipes from Dot’s notebook in different handwritings via The Carcanet Blog.


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enchanted by Sidney Wade’s “Blue”

“Reimagined Cormorant” by Martin Haake

Today, a little avian appreciation. Bask in the blueness!

“Cormorant at Dusk” by Tony Fisher
by Sidney Wade

The great blue
song of the earth
is sung in all
the best venues—
treetop, marsh,
desert, shore—
and on this spring
day in the wetlands
where, under
a late sun,
we stand alone
and in love
with each other
and the passing day
we watch a cormorant
whose eye is ringed
in blue diamonds,
a shimmering lure,
and we love this blue
and this dark bird
and this deepening sky
that pinks and hums
in the west, and then

the bird opens his beak
and flutters his throat
and the late
afternoon light
the inside tissue
of his mouth
which is as blue
as his ocular jewelry,
as blue as the bluest
ocean, as blue
as the sky in all
its depth, as blue
as the back of the small
and determined beetle
who struggles to roll
his enormous dung ball
in his own breeding bid
to enchant another
small blue miracle.

~ Copyright © 2016 by Sidney Wade. Originally published in Poem-a-Day, May 18, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.


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[review] Today I Am a River by Kate Coombs and Anna Emilia Laitinen

If you could choose to be any animal, plant, or aspect of nature, what would it be?

In Today I Am a River (Sounds True, 2023), Kate Coombs and Anna Emilia Laitinen invite readers to immerse themselves in the natural world by engaging in imaginative play. What could be more fun than pretending to be a spider, a tree, a cloud, or even the wind? In so doing, children gain new insight into Mother Nature’s beauty, power and magic.

This companion book to Breathe and Be: A Book of Mindfulness Poems, contains fourteen meditative, winsomely illustrated free verse poems that are life affirming and self empowering, reminding children that the imagination knows no bounds. The more we learn about the world around us, the more we realize there is simply no end to the wonder. This is how the collection begins:

I can be anything --
reaching high,
curling small,
leaping, whirling,
stopping to see --

I can be anything,

Kate’s beautifully crafted lyrical verses sing with spontaneity and gorgeous imagery. Children can’t help but respond to the unique first person voices and personalities in the poems, and will enjoy considering perspectives other than their own. As in “The River,” phrasing, movement, and rhythm have been polished to perfection.


Today I am a river.
Here I come!

I ride down a mountainside,
flow boldly
across a wide valley,
explore a canyon
written in cursive --

I reach rocks and stones,
stumble and rumble,
leap and bound,
tumble around.

But still I flow.
Fast or slow, I find my way.

Inside I know
where I want to go.

I head for the sea. The be of me.
The big blue heart and soul of me.

Today I am a river.
Here I come!
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