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.