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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Three reviews: Part A, insert (link, name opinion here) post...

Lee Wardlaw
Illustrated by Eugene Yelchin
Henry Holt and Company, LLC  2011

Told in senryu (a form of Japanese poetry similar in form as haiku), this tale of adopting a cat is by turns touching and humorous. The bits of poems are strung together for the larger story and play at the heart strings plucked by a maestro. It's evident the author loves and understands cats and their quirky nature, and despite the spare nature of the words, I caught myself smiling and nodding to the presentation and this initially prickly character.

The cat in the shelter so poignantly expresses a feeling  anything breathing with a neck can relate to at one point:

Gypsy on my left.
Pumpkin, my right. Together,
we are all alone.

I loved his feisty spirit (wish I had adopted him) and dry wit, every step of this journey is faithfully chronicled:

"Won Ton? How can I
be soup? Some day I'll tell you
my real name. Maybe."

The choice of words are delightful as well as some of the references from toes and worms to belly and bread, the poems don't only fulfill the purpose of telling the story or describing Won Ton. The new relations, the forms slide over into the art category for me, and a very down-to-earth introduction for something that many find intimidating like poetry.

The illustrations are a wonderful blend of the sensibilities of the Japanese silk paintings,  and cartoon. Fresh colors, descriptive lines, it's easy to see why Eugene Yelchin is a Caldecott Honor artist. From the fit of the illustrations with the capules of character and truth, Won Ton is a touching tale for anyone who loves rescue, cats or just the way families can be made.

Other books by Lee Wardlaw101 Ways to Bug your Parents, 101 Ways to Bug your Teachers, 101 ways to Bug your Friends and Enemies, Bubblemania, Seventh Grade Weirdo
Other books by Eugene YelchinBreaking Stalin's Nose, Seven Hungry Babies

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda
Alicia Potter
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Alfed Knopf, (Borzoi Books) 2012

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda is more of a picture story book than a picture book, but oh what a story and book! And pictures! The universal appeal of this book, though told about a long ago period and of a woman, it's still very relatable to kids. Mrs. Harkness is a product of her times and dutifully stays home when her husband goes to China in search of the elusive Panda (I remember reading it was FIFTY years before the West actually found a real panda, from the time of hearing of their existence to concrete proof; till then the panda lived in the same realm as Yeti, UFOS, the substance of myth).

When her beloved husband dies unexpectedly, Mrs. Harkness takes on his passion, his expedition. Despite having no particular talent or experience for the mission, being discouraged from it by society in general and friends and family in particular, and the near impossibility of the task, Mrs. Harkness takes it on, nonetheless. Everyone has wanted to pursue something, or gone against the grain of "common knowledge". Told simply, it's a wonderful story to be read to a young reader or by the young reader with a thirst for knowledge.

Melissa Sweet, another Caldecott honor recipient, uses her signature collage, paintings incorporating Chinese papers garnered from her personal trip to China. Just as Mrs. Harkness journeys through the trek from her cozy shop in New York City to the cities, then jungles, and then the snow laden mountains of China, the layers of papers and paint take us along and perfectly along the story path. I love how simple the painting of Sweet's rendering of Mrs. Harkness (reminds me very much of my New England heritage), and yet the likeness is uncanny.

A jewel of a book, I hope it makes it's way into not only a lot of hearts, but as many curriculum as possible.

Other books by Alicia Potter: Fritz Danced the Fandango (Ethan Long, illustrator)
Other books by Melissa Sweet: Charlotte in Paris (Joan MacPhail Knight, author), Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909 (Michelle Markel, Author), A Splash of Red (Jen Bryant, author), A River of Words: the story of William Carlos Williams (Jen Bryant, author), Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women (Catherine Thimmesh, author)

Mirror, Mirror: a Book of Reversible Verse
Marilyn Singer
Illustrated by Josee Masse
Dutton Books, and imprint of Penguin Group, (USA) Inc. 2010

Such a clever idea! Singer revisits the fairytale in a most personal and reinvisioned fashion. Short, rather spare poems share the heart of a fairytale's protagonist. Except if you flip it and read it in the reverse, the other side of the coin becomes apparent, and you realize there's at least two sides to every story! I share one of my favorites here because the only way to do this (new-to-me) art form justice is to share it:

A beast                                                                              Longing
can love                                                                             stirs
beauty.                                                                              a soft heart.
A moist muzzle                                                                   Look
can welcome                                                                      beneath the fur.
a rose.                                                                               A nightingale singing,
A hairy ear                                                                        can prize
can prize                                                                            A hairy ear.
a nightingale singing.                                                           A rose
Beneath fur.                                                                       Can welcome
look!                                                                                 a moist muzzle.
A soft heart                                                                        Beauty
stirs,                                                                                  can love
longing.                                                                              A Beast.

I even found simply reading the words a compelling grouping of words that tell the tale in a new light. The Illustrations sparkle in bright colors and child-like optimisim and simplicity while reflecting perfectly the topsy turvy nature of the book and the poetry. I have to say after my initial reading, I wanted to sit down and play with this format.

Other books by Marilyn Singer: Tallulah's Tutu (Alexandra Boiger, illustrator), Tallulah's Solo (Alexandra Boiger, illustrator), A Stick is an Excellent Thing: Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play (LeUyen Pham, illustrator).What is Your Dog Doing? (Kathleen Habbley, illustrator), Monster Museum (Gris Grimly, illustrator)
Other books illustrated by Josee Masse: The Care and Keeping of You, (Valorie Schaefer), The Care and Keeping of You 2 (Dr. Cara Natterson), The Feelings Book (Dr. Lynda Madison)