Book Review: Egg, Kevin Henkes

Book Review: Egg, Kevin Henkes

Board Book: Egg, Kevin Henkes

Kevin Henkes, award winning Caldecott artist, created a book with a perfect story structure. The Egg has 15 words used in repetition to enhance story tension and warm watercolor panels in a graphic novel layout for toddlers and preschoolers. This book has it all: a surprise twist, building emotional drama, and a happy ending. Also, the book includes an epilogue with a one word cliffhanger ending worthy of a marching lemming.

Readers are immediately drawn into the story of a single egg before, during and after hatching a _____ (spoiler alert)!

Egg packs a lot of punch in a small space.  The words range from onomatopoeia “crack” to a vocabulary building 4 syllable “miserable.” Since repeat readings will be in demand by discerning audiences, vary the cadence and tone when reading the pages that use the same word over and over again. For example, try reading the “waiting” page by increasing volume and speed with each repetition. In the same way, read the “peck” page in a 3/4 or waltz rhythm.

The title and soft pastels of this book may lead a few into pigeon-holing this selection into spring only read-alouds, along with the obligatory bunnies and flowers.  However, the enduring theme of friendship in the book will make it a favorite for repeat re-readings. In addition, the sturdy board book edition makes the Egg accessible to the youngest page turners.

The Egg is sure to be a family favorite and seasonal children’s classic for spring and all year round.

Book Review: Egg, Kevin Henkes

Also see

Booklist: Spring Books for Shared Reading with Children

Booklist: Bunny Books for Shared Reading with Children

Book Review: A Thousand Mornings, Mary Oliver

Book Review: A Thousand Mornings, Mary Oliver

Poetry: A Thousand Mornings, Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver was best known for her elegiac, almost spiritual poems about nature and common things. In this collection she focuses on those very things, writing poems about her dog Percy, about thrushes and jays and foxes, mists and mountains. The result is a new appreciation of these things we might see every day, but seen instead through the eyes of an uncommon observer.

 

Oliver’s view of nature is both intimate and impersonal. The first poem in this collection says, “I go down to the shore in the morning…and I say, oh, I am miserable,/what shall–/what should I do? And the sea says/in its lovely voice;/Excuse me, I have work to do.” She feels close enough to talk to the sea personally. “I am miserable.” “What should I do.” And not to say the sea doesn’t listen or doesn’t care. The sea responds. But the response is simply, “I have work to do.” It isn’t rude, it isn’t demeaning. The sea is the sea, and it has its sea things to do.

 

In another poem, “Good-Bye Fox,” the fox tells her very matter-of-factly, “You fuss over life with your clever words, mulling and chewing on its meaning, while we just live it.” Again, intimate, a conversation with a fox. And impersonal, “You fuss over life…we just live it.” To make the point more firmly, the fox later repeats, “You fuss, we live.” Not a diss on the poet, simply an impersonal statement of fact. Nature does its thing, and our fussing does not much matter to it.

 

Mary Oliver’s poems are lovely. They speak to the heart, to the spirit, reminding us of what is around us all the time. Appreciating nature may seem simple conceptually. If we actually did more of it, we might find that it is not simple at all. A Thousand Mornings was published only a few years ago, but it speaks with the timeless elegance of nature itself.

Book Review: A Thousand Mornings, Mary Oliver

Book Review: this and that, hülya n. yilmaz

Book Review: this and that: a hodge podge of hülya’s…poetry, hülya n. yilmaz

Poetry: this and that: a hodge podge of hülya’s…poetry, hülya n. yilmaz

I had the privilege of attending the launch party for hülya n. yilmaz’s book this and that and listen to her read some of her poems aloud. Poetry should be read aloud, and her smooth and strong voice captured the room full of friends and supporters (and maybe a few strangers who saw there was free food and wine!). This is a lovely book of very personal and intimate poems, poems about family, about her travels, about love and faith and some of the burdens of history.

 

yilmaz is originally from Turkey but has made her home in State College, PA, for many years now. Recently retired from Penn State University, this is her third book of poetry. this and that is mostly in English, but some of the poems are translated on the same page into both German and Turkish.

 

Some of the most painful and personal works talk about family. Some of them deal with a father losing his memory to dementia, with a mother’s early absence from her life, with separation from family and living abroad away from them. Some of these are so raw that they brought tears to my eyes.

 

yilmaz is a fun writer, with poems about her friends the bunnies and birds that visit her backyard. She raises the question whether it is indeed “her” backyard, since the animals have been there long before humans dropped houses into the middle of “their” forest. Her poems dance and sing, traveling from her US home to various cities around the world where she has visited or lived.

 

Although the book has mature themes, individual poems would be excellent choices for middle and high school students. The poems that are written in three languages would be particularly valuable to high school German students (and if there are students taking Turkish), since they could see how translation differs from simply converting words from one language to another, ala Google Translate. The fact that this is done by an expert who is also the author gives this added levels of authority and authenticity.

 

this and that is a poignant and sometimes emotionally raw work, but also fun and beautiful with joy and humor relieving the tension between the more personal poems. I can definitely recommend hülya’s poems to anyone who appreciates honesty and passion, qualities made all the more powerful by the scholarship and intellect of their author.

Book Review: this and that: a hodge podge of hülya’s…poetry, hülya n. yilmaz

Book Review: The Leaf and the Cloud, Mary Oliver

Book Review: The Leaf and the Cloud, Mary Oliver

Image result for the leaf and the cloud

Poetry: The Leaf and the Cloud, Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver passed away January 17, 2019. Winner of both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, her poetry both appealed to a wide audience and sometimes frustrated critics who favor poems that could perhaps be considered less accessible. Oliver’s work uses basic and universal themes: nature, life, death, eternity, God. Her book-length poem The Leaf and the Cloud is an excellent example of how her work is both easy to apprehend and appreciate while at the same time taking the reader deeper into thought and feeling.

 

The title comes from a John Ruskin quote: “Between the earth and man arose the leaf. Between the heaven and man came the cloud.” What follows is seven chapters of a single poem, each chapter itself broken up into smaller pieces, all working around this theme that nature both illuminates and obscures eternity. Whatever your idea of God (if you have one at all), a god that created both nature and humanity is going to be revealed through those creations–and is going to be hidden by those same creations. One can see glimpses, one can discern concepts and ideas, but no one can see the totality of the creator through the creation. I was reminded of various biblical passages as I read this poem: “The heavens declare the glory of God,” “Now, we see through a glass darkly.” Oliver does not quote from the Bible, but her work definitely gives an air of familiarity with many of the Psalms. That may be an actual echo, or it may just be from dealing with similar concepts. Either way, for this lapsed churchman, it was full of nostalgia and longing.

 

Oliver is not preachy, nor does she assume everyone believes as she does. What she does is share her faith in nature, in life, in eternity (unnamed), and in the universe. Whether you choose to walk with her is up to you as the reader. She is going to go outside, to connect with the leaves and the clouds and the beetles and the hills and the rest of nature. You should come with her, though. You will see things in new ways, hear nature speak, experience life in its many expressions, and find a different perspective within yourself.

 

The Leaf and the Cloud is romantic, especially in the sense of poets from previous times, but it does not lose its footing in the modern technological era. Instead, it reminds us that regardless of the march of time, we are creatures, part of nature, evolved to live within the universe with other creatures. We remind ourselves of this to our benefit and we forget it at our peril. Mary Oliver’s voice may be silent in death, but her poetry continues to speak as eloquently as ever.

 

When death

carts me off to the bottomlands

when I begin

the long work of rising —

Death, whoever and whatever you are, tallest king of

tall kinds, grant me these wishes: unstring my bones;

let me not be one thing but all things, and wondrously

scattered; shake me free from my name….

 

 

Image result for the leaf and the cloud

Book Review: The Leaf and the Cloud, Mary Oliver

Definition: Smeuse

smeuse: “A gap in the base of a hedge made by the regular passage of a small animal.”

 

smeuse
Photo by @angelt on Twitter @RobGMacfarlane

Smeuse

Driving slowly near my home,

I surprised a woodchuck standing in the road.

It was in no danger from me

But I suspect the poor beastie did not

Share my confidence

In its security.

With speed defying its corpulent shape

It dove in a bound to the grass

Then through the smeuse I had never noticed before

But can no longer unsee.

Like the word itself, “smeuse,”

“A gap in the base of a hedge

Made by the regular passage of a

Small animal.”

The woodchuck is gone

Though its trail remains open,

And in my mind

A gap is now filled

By a perfect word.

— David Marvin

 

For the book that inspired the poem above see the link to:

Book Review: Landmarks, Robert Macfarlane

Book Review: Landmarks, Robert MacFarlane

Book Review: Landmarks, Robert MacFarlane

Nonfiction: Landmarks, Robert MacFarlane

 

I have read books that deeply affected me, books that I believe changed the way I saw the world, that gave me insight into myself or society, that taught me new words and concepts and facts. Landmarks by Robert MacFarlane did all of that for me, but also did something that no other book has inspired me to do.

 

I wrote poems.

 

I have written poetry for awhile, though I don’t flatter myself that publishing houses are waiting breathlessly for my submissions. But I have never read a book that made me put it down and write out a poem inspired by the thoughts and images of the book. Landmarks did this to me, twice.

 

Landmarks is a unique, special book that is a love letter to Britain, to the land, to the English (and related) languages, and to the people of the land. It is a review of books, a celebration of authors, a review of landscapes, a celebration of life. It is a collection of words, a “word-hoard,” a series of glossaries, and a resurrection of dead and dying words. MacFarlane has worked with authors and others around the country to gather words that describe places and (yes) landmarks, words that are falling into disuse in our increasingly urban and indoor culture. Even children’s books and dictionaries are dropping words like “dandelion” and “kingfisher” in favor of words reflecting online and networked realities. This loss of language comes with other, more ineffable losses.

 

My city condo backs up to a park which has some wildlife, including woodchucks (large rodents also called groundhogs). One wandered into our road when I was driving home, but decided upon seeing my car that it wanted to go back to the park. I had never noticed the small gap in the shrubbery, but the woodchuck dove through it with alacrity and familiarity. A few days later, reading Landmarks, MacFarlane introduced the word “smeuse,” which is defined as a small gap in a hedge or wall used by animals. Now, I cannot drive along that section of road without looking at the smeuse and thinking of my visitor. I did not know that word was missing from my life; now I am thrilled to have it and the accompanying memories.

 

Each chapter introduces one or more authors who wrote elegiacally about the land and its inhabitants, flora, fauna, and features. Some of the authors are deceased, some are living, some are (or were) friends of MacFarlane, others are known to him only through their words. Each chapter also includes a lengthy glossary of terms related to the chapter, words relating to moors, to highlands, to water, etc.

 

Landmarks is a beautiful book that dances lyrically with language and with the landscapes. It is one that is inspiring, lovely, and one that I hope to return to again and again when I am looking for new ways to see familiar things.

Book Review: Landmarks, Robert MacFarlane

Book Review: Summer Hours at the Robbers Library, Sue Halpern

Book Review: Summer Hours at the Robbers Library, Sue Halpern

Fiction: Summer Hours at the Robbers Library, Sue Halpern

Summer Hours at the Robbers Library is an unexpectedly sweet and poignant story of a family of friends drawn together by accident and need. Kit is the reference librarian at the Robinton, NH public library. Sunny is a teenage girl caught and convicted of stealing a dictionary from a local bookstore. And Rusty is an unemployed Wall Streeter from New York trying to start over. When Sunny is sentenced to community service for her crime, she is assigned to be Kit’s assistant. Then Rusty begins spending long hours at the library, researching his own past in hopes of finding a path to his future. Over the course of the summer, the three of them find in each other the support they need to heal their own pasts, come to grips with their present, and possibly open a door to the future.

 

We at Scintilla are HUGE fans of libraries, and we are especially blessed to live in the same town as Schlow Centre Region Library (https://www.schlowlibrary.org/). It is easy to see from this book that author Sue Halpern shares our love for the local public library. Public libraries are one of the last remaining free gathering places for communities. Our local library provides help for job seekers, daytime shelter from the elements for anyone who needs it, tax forms, computer access, board games and book clubs and children’s workshops and author talks and the local writer’s network. Oh, and books and magazines and periodicals and ereaders and on and on. All of it free to the user. When we visit, we see people who are studying, who are learning, who are playing, who are reading, who have come together with the amazing staff to create one of the best places to be in State College. I am writing this in preparation for National Library Week, and it’s fair to say that www.Scintilla.Info would be an impossible project without the help of Schlow. Words may be our stock in trade, but there simply are not words to express our love and gratitude to Schlow Library and every other library out there, serving their communities with love and faithfulness.

 

The staff and patrons of the fictional library at the heart of this book are fun and funny, but they are fleshed out and real characters. We learn early on that Kit is fleeing the wreckage of a previous life, one that involved a marriage that ended badly, but we only learn the details gradually through the course of the book. Sunny is a homeschooled/no-schooled teen whose parents live as much off-the-grid as they can, and their reasons get fleshed out through the course of the book. “The Four,” a group of elderly men who gather every morning at the library to read the paper and gossip with each other, also figure prominently in the story. Nicknamed by Kit after the T.S. Eliot book “The Four Quartets,” these men take both Rusty and Sunny under their wings. Rusty’s own past as a stockbroker is more straightforward, but even he feels regrets about choices he made putting profits ahead of people. In its own way, the library becomes a place of healing just by bringing these people together and involving them in each other’s lives.

 

The name “Robbers Library” is part of a joke by “The Four,” based on the original name of the library. It was named after its founding patron, a “Mr. Robers,” but as he was quite unpopular the name changed soon after his death. With Sunny’s petty larceny and Rusty’s background as a “robber baron,” the joke comes to include them as well in a friendly and affectionate way. The library was their library, belonging to all of them. Whoever had need, whoever had desire, the Robinton Public Library existed for them.

 

That’s what libraries do. That’s what libraries are. Summer Hours at the Robbers Library is a sweet book, not specifically about libraries, but more about the family and community that a library can create amongst those who love them. Kit and Sunny and Rusty become friends and then could almost be called a family of choice. As they fill holes life has opened in their lives, a story of love and healing takes place in the shadow of an institution that represents that opportunity as much as any place in a community. Regardless of creed, color, age, gender, or any other division, a library exists to pull us together.

Book Review: Summer Hours at the Robbers Library, Sue Halpern

Book Review: When My Brother Was an Aztec, Natalie Diaz

Book Review: When My Brother Was an Aztec, Natalie Diaz

Poetry: When My Brother Was an Aztec, Natalie Diaz

The first line to the titular poem says, “he lived in our basement and sacrificed my parents / every morning. It was awful. Unforgivable. But they kept coming / back for more. They loved him, was all they could say.”

 

So opens the brutally personal and painful collection of poems by Natalie Diaz. When My Brother Was an Aztec is brilliant. I have a solid vocabulary, but Diaz’s dancing from English to Spanish to other languages, her use of English (I had to look up “oubliette,” among other words), her references to stories and myths and religions and historical events sometimes left me gasping for air and reaching for Google. It was challenging intellectually, which is always something I welcome.

 

More than that, it was challenging emotionally. Diaz’s brother has a meth addiction. And many of the poems in this collection deal very frankly with the emotions she feels when dealing with him. Her description of him as an Aztec talks about him draining her parents’ blood, about them offering themselves to him day after day. Somehow they are physically restored, then the addiction in her brother’s body requires that her parents sacrifice themselves again and again. She dreams of his death. She tries to take her brother out for dinner, knowing that there is a beginning, middle, and end to dinner and she will not be trapped. He takes all of the lightbulbs in her parents’ house to use as homemade meth bowls, forcing them to live in the dark. She compares her father to Sisyphus, driving to the jail at 2 a.m. knowing that it won’t matter, that he will push his heart to the jail again and again and again and again.

 

This is not to say that she hates her brother. Or rather, that hate is the only emotion. She loves him. She hates him. She is disgusted by him. She pities him. She wants him to get better. She wants him to die. She wants him to live. I cannot imagine the grief and despair and anger and longing that one might feel when faced with a loved one who is in these circumstances. Thanks to the power of Natalie Diaz’s poetry, though, I may have had a glimpse.

 

Mixed in with the poems about her family’s struggles are poems about lust and longing, about being Native American in a hostile world, and about her family at different (if not better) times. Even if those poems are not any easier to read emotionally or intellectually, they are a welcome respite from the despair engendered by her brother’s choices and addictions.

 

I am not trying to condemn or excuse her brother. Addiction is a disease, and for far too many it becomes incurable. But with any disease there are choices that people make. My sister has cancer. She chose to treat it. She will be on chemotherapy the rest of her (hopefully long) life. I have mental illness. Sometimes I get treatment. However, sometimes I convince myself that I am fine and don’t need any medicine (ironically enough, I usually make that decision when I am on the medicine, which is of course why I am “fine”). Those times inevitably result in pain and suffering for my loved ones, let alone the confusion and disorder they create in my own mind and circumstances. Diaz’s poetry helps me see things from the other side, the side where the sick person is loved and desired and wanted–and yet that same person has created through their choices and refusals a climate of pain and hurt for those who love them the most. I may have more in common with her brother than I want to admit.

 

Natalie Diaz grew up on the Mojave Reservation in Needles, CA. She played professional basketball overseas for many years before getting her MFA from Old Dominion in 2007. When My Brother Was an Aztec was her first book, published in 2012. I first heard her speak at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC in 2018. She is an amazing person and an amazing poet, and someone I hope we hear much more from in the years to come.

Book Review: When My Brother Was an Aztec, Natalie Diaz

Book Review: The Library Book, Susan Orlean

Book Review: The Library Book, Susan Orlean

The Library Book

Nonfiction: The Library Book, Susan Orlean

I read The Library Book without knowing a lot about it. For instance, I had no idea that author Susan Orlean was such a wonderful observer of humanity. She describes a patron in “one of the carrels in history, a man in a pin-striped suit who had books on his desk but wasn’t reading held a bag of Doritos under the lip of the table. He pretended to muffle a cough each time he ate a chip.”

 

I did not realize how passionate she was for libraries in general. She describes them as “a gathering pool of narratives and of the people who come to find them. It is where we can glimpse immortality, in the library, we can live forever.”

 

The Library Book focuses on a singular event in the life of one library. The 1986 fire in the main branch of the Los Angeles Public Library destroyed literally millions of books, microfiche, photographs, magazines, and other documents and records. Much of the damage was irreplaceable. The event itself did not get the national publicity warranted for a simple reason: it occurred on the same day as the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Still, it was the largest library fire in US history.

 

Orlean spends a lot of time looking at the possible cause of the fire, the effects, the aftermath, and the person ultimately blamed for starting the fire (he was never formally charged due to a lack of evidence). But she also looks at the history of the library and of libraries in general, and brings the story to the present and the future of libraries.

 

I cannot tell you how much I love this book. I am a sucker for libraries, and the library branch she mentions early in the book, Studio City, is very few miles from the North Hollywood branch we patronized during our brief sojourn in Los Angeles. Even though we lived in LA while they were rebuilding the main branch after the fire, I do not recall being fully aware of the devastation of the fire, so this book taught me a lot about a library in a town I lived in during the time frame when I lived there.

 

More than libraries, though, I am a sucker for a great book. This is a wonderful, amazing book. Susan Orlean’s choice of characters, her spot-on descriptions, and her engaging storytelling style makes this read more like a novel than a nonfiction narrative. I could read this book again and again, and probably get more out of it each time I started.

 

Some of the characters are the leaders of the LA Public Library. One of the leaders literally walked to Los Angeles from Ohio! After becoming the head of the library, he became known for his passionate advocacy for the library, his zeal in expanding the library’s collection and services…and his messy affairs which led to his divorce. In the early 1900s, this made news headlines, even in LA. A future librarian was so keen on reading that she advised people to fib their way out of social engagements so they could instead stay home and read a novel in a single gulp “like a boa constrictor.”

 

Apparently in Senegal the polite way to refer to someone’s passing is to say, “his or her library has burned.” Their stories have ended, their chapters are closed. What a beautiful and appropriate metaphor! The Library Book is full of bon mots like that. Not many nonfiction books can make you laugh and cry and sigh and feel better about life after reading them. Susan Orlean has accomplished all of that and more.

 

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We of www.scintilla.info LOVE libraries, especially our local library, www.schlowlibrary.org. Almost every book we’ve reviewed has been borrowed from Schlow and is part of their collection. Like every library we’ve ever visited, they have helpful friendly people, they know almost everything, and they can put their hands on any book you would ever need or want.

 

Celebrate National Library Week with us (April 7-13, 2019) by checking out our other reviews of books featuring libraries:

 

The Invisible Library Series

The Mortal Word (Book 5 of The Invisible Library Series)

Booklist of Children’s Books about Libraries

The Library Book

 

Also, feel free to share these library memes we’ve created.

http://scintilla.info/2018/04/13/quote-walter-cronkite-libraries/

http://scintilla.info/2018/04/11/quote-without-libraries-bradbury/

The Library Book

Book Review: The Library Book, Susan Orlean