Review: Picture Yourself Writing Poetry

Picture Yourself Writing Poetry: Using Photos to Inspire Writing
by Laura Purdie Salas
Capstone Press, August 2011
32 pages
Ages: 8 and up
This title is one of the Picture Yourself Writing ____: Using Photos to Inspire Writing series, and it’s quite effective—it inspired me to write! Not only does it demonstrate how one can use images to get ideas for poems, it also contains many specific, easy-to-understand writing tips. Salas covers such important topics as incorporating sensory detail, choosing concrete nouns and strong verbs, characterization and point of view, and structure, all paired with wonderful examples. 
The books opens up with the line, “The best poems are magical, miniature worlds.” It then shows readers how to create those worlds themselves while inviting them to enter several created by Salas.
I think this would be a great book to incorporate into any poetry curriculum. I would also heartily recommend it to students who enjoy writing… as well as to those who tend to struggle with it.

(Disclaimers: I received this copy for review for free from the publisher as part of the Cybils judging process. This review is my opinion only and doesn’t necessarily reflect the judging committee’s selections.)

Review: Only the Mountains Do Not Move

Only the Mountains Do Not Move cover

Only the Mountains Do Not Move cover
Only the Mountains Do Not Move: A Maasai Story of Culture and Conservation
by Jan Reynolds
Lee & Low Books, September 01, 2011
40 pages
Grades 3-4
I’ve always been fascinated by the Maasai, so I was pleased to see this book about their culture written for children, and this book didn’t disappoint. Straightforward text is combined with Maasai proverbs and beautiful photography to give us a detailed glimpse at modern-day Maasai life. This is a balanced representation: Reynolds isn’t afraid to show the less pleasant (biting bugs!) or shocking (drinking cow blood!) aspects of Maasai life, but she also reveals the peace and togetherness it brings. Especially relevant to her young readers is how she focuses on what the Maasai boys and girls do at different ages.
One pleasant surprise was how Reynolds shares with readers not only the historical Maasai culture, but also how the Maasai way of life is changing due to outside pressures and how they are adapting to this new world, giving the story context in the broader world.
I’d be remiss, however, if I didn’t mention that there were a few minor drawbacks for me. First, it bothered me not to have pronunciation guides for the Maa words embedded in the text (but there is one at the end). Second, although the Maasai proverbs were lovely, I wanted more of them and to have them appear more regularly throughout the text. As it is, with 10-14 pages between proverbs, they sort of surprised me each time and felt more like interruptions than the embellishments they should have been. Finally, I would have liked to get a little closer to the main family throughout the whole book. Sometimes the text seems to move way out to the Maasai in general for a long time, then it zooms in briefly to the main characters, then goes right back out again. I would’ve liked more connections to have been made between the general way of life and the specific family.
On the plus side, the back matter includes an author’s note, a glossary and pronunciation guide, a web site for more information, and source notes and acknowledgements. There’s also a very interesting interview and book talk with the author available here, which should make it ever more appealing for teachers hoping to use it in the classroom.
This is a wonderful book for introducing a unique and fascinating African culture to upper elementary students.

2011 CYBILS, Nonfiction Picture Books… and me!


I’m absolutely thrilled to announce that I’ve been selected to serve as a judge in the nonfiction picture book (NFPB) category of the 2011 CYBILS (Children’s and Young Adult Blogger’s Literary Awards)!
I write nonfiction picture books, so I read a lot of nonfiction picture books. Now, I get to help recognize the best of the best. Nominations have opened, titles are rolling in, and I’ve already started reading. You can see what has been nominated here, and you can add your own nomination here. I’m not sure I’ll get much writing done in October, but it will be an epic month of great reading, I’m sure! Stay tuned for reviews of nominated titles.

Congratulations Cybils 2009 winners!

A few special shout-outs for a few special Cybils 2009 winners:

Non-Fiction For Young Adults
The Frog Scientist
by Pamela S. Turner; illustrated by Andy Comins
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Nominated by: Laurie Thompson (YAY, that’s me!)
Again, what a field. Each of the books in this category blew me away. It’s thrilling to see these exciting topics being covered in depth in such interesting formats for upper middle grade and young adult readers. I was shopping a teen nonfiction book awhile back, and an agent told me, “Nobody buys teen nonfiction.” Look at this list (and any other awards list this year!), and it’s obvious that is so not true. I think each of these books will leave an important and lasting impression on their readers, but special congratulations to Pamela!

Picture Book (Non-Fiction)
The Day-Glo Brothers
by Chris Barton; illustrated by Tony Persiani
Nominated by: Cynthia Leitich Smith
As soon as I heard Chris was working on this, I figured it would be a slam dunk. What a great topic idea! Chris and Tony REALLY pulled it off, though. Chris’ insane research adds so much depth (reminding me to always do my homework, because you never know what you’ll find), and what kid (or adult) could resist Tony’s Day-Glo cartoon-style illustrations? (Not me!)

Fantasy & Science Fiction (Middle-Grade)
Dreamdark: Silksinger (Faeries of Dreamdark)
by Laini Taylor
Putnam Juvenile
Nominated by: Melissa
Wow, this was a tough category for me–so many great finalists! I know (and love) Joni, Laini, and Grace, so I was cheering for all three (if that’s possible). I bet it was even harder for the judges, though, don’t you think? It’s got to be a win for all just to be going up against the likes of Neil Gaiman, I guess. But, huge congratulations are due to the dear, sweet, ridiculously talented, and super hardworking Laini Taylor. Both Dreamdark books are true masterpieces.

Picture Book (Fiction)
All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon; illustrated by Marla Frazee
Beach Lane Books
Nominated by: Cynthia Leitich Smith
I LOVE this book, and I can’t decide which I love more, the words or the illustrations. This is a perfect example of a picture book, standing equally on both legs. It’s a beautiful message for today and always–sure to become a classic.

Middle Grade Fiction
by Laurie Halse Anderson
Simon & Schuster
Nominated by: melissa
This is historical fiction at its best, and a book that needed to be written. The only thing missing is book two. I can’t wait! Exellent choice, judges!

Easy Reader
Watch Me Throw the Ball! (An Elephant and Piggie Book)
by Mo Willems
Nominated by: Melissa
You just gotta love Elephant and Piggie. ‘Nuf said. Although I think THERE’S A BIRD ON YOUR HEAD will always be my favorite.