For Parents

Beyond Shel Silverstein: Silly Poetry for Kids

I feel I must clarify. I adore Shel Silverstein. Who doesn’t love “Sarah Cynthia Silvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out”? Or “Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too”? Great stuff. But I fear that children’s poetry, particularly funny poetry, begins and ends with dear old Shel. There is a whole world out there of funny poetry for kids, and some of it even gives Shel a run for his money. These are poems that evoke giggles and guffaws, that insist on being read aloud, and that are perfect for these evenings as the weather gets colder and we want to snuggle by the fire. Check them out! And if you have other suggestions for me, please add them in the comments. I am eager for a few new titles to grab on the next snowy Sunday.

Polka Bats and Octopus Slacks by Calef Brown

Georgie Spider catches flies but never eats the little guys. Instead he cooks them up in pies. He doesn’t use the legs or eyes or any artificial dyes . . . Not far from a greenish town, the Bathtub Driver is selling cut-rate imported shampoo. Georgie Spider serves up award-winning pies, while overhead on Highwire 66 there’s a small problem causing an acrobat traffic jam. Ed’s funny smell, Eliza’s special jacket – they’re all part of the picture in Polkabats and Octopus Slacks, fourteen stories about pesky snails, sleeping fruit, and one funky snowman. In the tradition of Edward Lear, Calef Brown has fashioned fourteen nonsense poems so zany that both young and old will be unable to suppress their laughter. Brown’s invented words and sounds and their visual counterparts create both an audible and a visual feast. This is the kind of silliness children relish.

I’m Just No Good at Rhyming by Chris Harris, Illustrated by Lane Smith

Meet Chris Harris, the 21st-century Shel Silverstein! Already lauded by critics as a worthy heir to such greats as Silverstein, Seuss, Nash and Lear, Harris’s hilarious debut molds wit and wordplay, nonsense and oxymoron, and visual and verbal sleight-of-hand in masterful ways that make you look at the world in a whole new wonderfully upside-down way. With enthusiastic endorsements from bestselling luminaries such as Lemony Snicket, Judith Viorst, Andrea Beaty, and many others, this entirely unique collection offers a surprise around every corner: from the ongoing rivalry between the author and illustrator, to the mysteriously misnumbered pages that can only be deciphered by a certain code-cracking poem, to the rhyming fact-checker in the footnotes who points out when “poetic license” gets out of hand. Adding to the fun: Lane Smith, bestselling creator of beloved hits like It’s a Bookand The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, has spectacularly illustrated this extraordinary collection with nearly one hundred pieces of appropriately absurd art. It’s a mischievous match made in heaven!

What are You Glad About? What are you Mad About? by Judith Viorst

From the beloved and internationally bestselling author of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Judith Viorst comes a collection of wry and witty poems that touch on every aspect of the roller-coaster ride that is childhood.

Did you wake up this morning all smiley inside?
Does life taste like ice cream and cake?
Or does it seem more like your goldfish just died
And your insides are one great big ache?

From school to family to friends, from Grrrr to Hooray!, Judith Viorst takes us on a tour of feelings of all kinds in this thoughtful, funny, and charming collection of poetry that’s perfect for young readers just learning to sort out their own emotions.

Scranimals by Jack Prelutsky, Illustrated by Peter Sis

We’re sailing to Scranimal Island,

It doesn’t appear on most maps….

Scranimal Island is where you will find the fragrant Rhinocerose, the cunning Broccolions, and if you are really, really lucky and very, very quiet, you will spot the gentle, shy Pandaffodil. (You may even hear it yawning if the morning’s just begun, watch its petals slowly open to embrace the rising sun.

So put on your pith helmet and prepare to explore a wilderness of puns and rhymes where birds, beasts, vegetables, and flowers have been mysteriously scrambled together to create creatures you’ve never seen before –– and are unlikely to meet again! Your guides –– Jack Prelutsky, poet laureate of the elementary school set, and two–time Caldecott Honor artist Peter Sis – invite you to join them on an adventure you will never forget!

The Popcorn Astronauts and Other Bite-able Rhymes by Deborah Ruddell, Illustrated by Joan Rankin

Take a bite out of the calendar with this cheerful collection of delicious seasonal poems, each one an ode to a favorite food

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.

Dive into a watermelon lake and sing the praises of mac and cheese in this playful and poetic celebration of food. In spring, bow to the “Strawberry Queen” and eat “Only Guacamole.” In summer you’ll meet Bob the Ogre, who only eats corn on the cob, and in fall, you can learn “21 Things to Do with an Apple.” And then in winter, retreat from the cold at “The Cocoa Cabana ” Stellar team Deborah Ruddell and Joan Rankin deliver a whimsical celebration of the tastiest treats of life in this palatable poetry collection.

Ogden Nash’s Zoo by Ogden Nash, Illustrated by Etienne Delessert

A collection of verses about animals from the barnyard to the aquarium and the haunts of the lion and rhinoceros also includes verses about mythical animals.

Kate Hillyer is a middle grade writer and poetry lover who feeds her addiction by serving as a Cybils judge for poetry. She blogs here and at The Winged Pen. You can also find her at www.katehillyer.com and on Twitter as @SuperKate. 

Celebrating Little Free Libraries and Their Founder

You’ve seen them, right? Little boxes on poles, filled with books, and standing in the most unexpected places.

Brunswick, ME has a Little Free Library down the street from the Brunswick Inn.

The Little Free Library movement began just nine years ago in Hudson, Wisconsin when founder Todd Bol crafted the first book box from an old door. Less than a decade later, there are more than 75, 000 Little Free Libraries in 88 countries.

Of course, Bol’s vision had everything to do with books and reading, but what many don’t know is that building a sense of community was Bol’s ultimate goal. Connecting people to books is one thing. Connecting people to people through books is what makes each Little Free Library so very special.

Ashlyn doesn’t wait to get home to start reading. The Little Free Library in Monroe, Indiana is one of her favorite places to visit.

Last week, Todd Bol died following a very brief illness. He leaves behind a successful non-profit organization that employs 13 people and has more than 75,000 volunteer stewards who maintain the Little Free Libraries around the world.  Author Miranda Paul and illustrator John Parra have been working on a picture book about Bol and his Little Free Library movement. The book is titled “Little Libraries, Big Heroes,” and will be released in 2019.

Listen to Miranda discuss the upcoming book and Bol’s legacy on NPR’s All Things Considered.

 

Little Free Libraries have sprouted up everywhere. They can be found in parks, neighborhoods, outside of businesses and on country roads. Authors Sherri Duskey Rinker and Jane Yolen have placed them in front of their homes.

One day, Sherri’s neighbor called and told her to grab her camera and look at what was happening outside. Sherri snapped this picture.

THIS is exactly what Todd Bol envisioned. Not book boxes on sticks. Hubs of community, sharing, reading, memory-making.

 

This Little Free Library stands outside the Exploration Station at Perry Farm Park in Bourbonnais, Illinois.

 

Recently, my daughter discovered a Little Free Library near her college campus in Illinois. On a rainy day, she placed copies of my books inside, snuggled next to Sharon Creech’s Heartbeat. Knowing that a young reader could wander by and find a story to enjoy there made my day.

 

The Little Free Library at Phoenix Farm, the home of author Jane Yolen.

At some time, I’d like to place a Little Free Library myself. I live on a sprawling, working farm, so my own property would only attract cattle and hogs. I will think of the perfect spot and I’ll carry on Todd Bol’s amazing legacy by signing up to become a Little Free Library steward. You can, as well, by clicking here.

Until then, I’ve resolved to keeping a box of books in my trunk. I won’t pass a Little Free Library without adding my contribution, in memory of and in celebration of Todd Bol.

We’re talking nonfiction with a librarian!

As an author of primarily nonfiction, I thought it would be interesting to interview a librarian about all-things nonfiction for middle grade readers.

Rachel Stewart, the children’s services librarian for the Maumee (Ohio) Branch of the Toledo Lucas County Library was kind enough to answer questions I had about the topic from her perspective. Rachel has been with the TLCPL for five years. Her background is in elementary education, taught in traditional as well as a Montessori school, where she also served as an administrator. As you would expect, she is an active reader, enjoying various genres and subjects

As a children’s librarian, what nonfiction titles/subjects do you find appeal to middle grade readers the most? Middle grade readers are drawn to books about making and doing. When filling our new nonfiction displays, I notice that books related to STEAM subjects go fast, especially those that involve LEGO building or crafts. The DK book series is a constantly popular one. It is so popular that we have a designated, ongoing display of those books for customers to browse. This tells me that kids have a natural curiosity about a wide variety of topics and enjoy the graphic layout and photographs within these books.

I know that in our library system, the biographies for children, from PB to YA are shelved with biographies for adult readers. Does this lessen the exposure to young readers? (As opposed to shelving them in with children’s books?) We keep a constant display of the “Who Was/is…?” series, which has been very useful to parents and children alike. We often do temporary displays of PB bios and are currently doing a long-term display of YA/adult bios. Most often, when a child asks about bios, it is about a specific person and we can point them in the right direction (if such a book exists). We frequently do juvenile nonfiction displays on a wide variety of topics and usually include bios. There are pros and cons to interfiling, however, a major positive is that interfiling encourages young readers to choose books that they may not be exposed to in the juvenile section. Interfiling also allows adults with a lower reading level to feel comfortable browsing for books on a topic of interest.

Do you find that MG readers are borrowing nonfiction titles simply out of curiosity or because of school assignments? I believe that MGs are borrowing for both reasons. The NF displays that we keep up are heavily trafficked and browsed. I will often recommend narrative NF to reluctant NF readers just to open that door.

Does the library do much programming in nonfiction for middle grade readers? Nonfiction programming is a priority within the Toledo Lucas County Public Library system. At Maumee we have a popular programming series for grades 1-8 called “No School? No Problem!” that is focused on STEAM activities and scheduled when the local schools are off. When presenting those programs, we always include a large selection of related books for attendees to browse.

Do you have any amusing experiences with middle grade readers relating to nonfiction topics you care to share? I enjoy loading a child up with books on a favorite topic. I witness visible excitement and anticipation as if taking that stack home will be like opening a gift. 

 I also happen to have an 11-year-old that is a voracious reader of both fiction and nonfiction. He is spoiled by new books almost daily and I love when he asks what I brought for him. He is a fan of the Nat Geo and Guinness Books about world records and amazing facts. I am amused when he feels the need to share (at rapid-fire pace) interesting trivia from those books while I am driving or getting ready for work in the morning.

What are some of your favorite middle grade nonfiction titles? I have a love of cookbooks and am thrilled whenever we get new juvenile titles. Cooking encompasses so many practical life skills and supports emotional well-being. I believe learning to cook and bake should be a core part of childhood.

Thank you Rachel for your time and input!