The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog and Other How-To Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Richard Jones

Published by Candlewick

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Summary:  Thirty three poems that explain how to do something are collected here.  Starting with “How to Build a Poem” by Charles Ghigna, they cover such diverse topics as “Mix a Pancake” (Christina Rossetti), “How to Tell Goblins from Elves” (Monica Shannon), and “How to be a Tree in Winter” (Irene Latham).  “A Lesson from the Deaf” (Nikki Grimes) beautifully and concisely describes how to sign “Thank you”, with “How to Read Braille (Steven Withrow) appearing on the facing page. Other poets include Marilyn Singer, Kwame Alexander, Robert Louis Stevenson, and many more.  48 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  The concrete nature of these poems will broaden their appeal to younger readers, while older kids might be inspired to try writing some of their own.  The somewhat abstract illustrations add nice subtle touches to the poetry.

Cons:  I learned in the process of writing this review that Paul Janeczko passed away on February 19.

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I wrote a book!

Remember the book A Wonderful Year by Nick Bruel?  Me neither.  It was the first book I reviewed on this blog on February 20, 2015, and I don’t think I’ve looked at it since.

Three days later I posted a review for The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, a book I still book talk many times a year and count among my favorite books of all times.

That’s the way it goes with reading.  Some books are just more memorable than others.

So when I realized that I’ve published almost 1,400 reviews, I decided it was time to do some weeding.  In a week or so, I’m going to take down the reviews from 2015 and 2016.  In preparation for this,  I’ve gone through all the books I’ve written about and picked out the ones I feel have stood the test of time.

I’ve compiled them into a book called Hit the Books: The Best of Kids Book A Day, 2015-2018.  There are about 150 books included; each entry has the summary I wrote on my blog and why it was included on the list.  They’re divided into eight sections: picture books, early readers, early chapter books, middle grade fiction, graphic novels, poetry, biography, and nonfiction.

I also put together ten lists of “Read-Alikes” from the books I’ve reviewed on the blog.  So if you have a fan of Diary of A Wimpy Kid or Raina Telgemeier, you can get some ideas for other books they might want to try.

Let me know if you find this book helpful.  Who knows, I may put together a second edition in another year or two!

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The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Published by Versify

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Summary:  “This is for the unforgettable/The swift and sweet ones/who hurdled history/and opened a world of possibility.”  Kwame Alexander’s poem is an ode to African Americans, both the famous and the unknown ones who played important roles in America’s history.  Kadir Nelson’s oil paintings on white backgrounds portray the subjects; a list at the end identifies them and gives more information about each one. Alexander has also written an afterword to tell how he came to write this poem in 2008, the year his second daughter was born and Barack Obama became president.  He concludes in the final line of the poem, “This is for the undefeated./This is for you./And you./And you./This is for us.” 40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  The poem is extremely moving, as well as being an excellent introduction to a chunk of African-American history.  I hope Kadir Nelson’s amazing paintings will be recognized with some kind of an award.

Cons:  In the group pictures, each person is identified, but it’s just a list, so it’s difficult to tell who is who in the painting.

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Poetree by Shauna LaVoy Reynolds, illustrated by Shahrzad Maydani

Published by Dial Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  When Sylvia celebrates spring by writing a poem, she decides to share it with a birch tree in the park, tying it around the trunk.  The next day, there’s a new poem tied to the tree, and Sylvia can’t believe it–the tree has written back! She thinks about the tree during school, which helps distract her from Walt, the most annoying boy in her class.  The class studies haiku, and Sylvia shares her creation with the tree on the way home. Once again, her efforts are reciprocated the next day. A few days later, on a visit to the tree, who should appear but Walt, who actually starts acting nice.  It turns out it is Walt, not the tree, who is writing the poems. He writes one on the spot to commemorate the beginning of their friendship: “If you want to share a poem with me/Give it to the tall birch tree/Or if you need a friend for writing/Playing with, or sit beside-ing/I’ll be here for you joyfully/Right beneath the Poetree.”  32 pages; ages 4-9.

Pros:  This lovely story of a new friendship would also make a perfect introduction to a poetry unit.

Cons:  Walt seems like a good guy…so why is he so mean at school?

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Bark in the Park: Poems for Dog Lovers by Avery Corman, illustrated by Hyewon Yum

Published by Orchard Books

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Summary:  A girl and her father walk through the city, meeting dogs of many different breeds, such as the Afghan hound: “Although he’s noble and aloof/He’s still a dog, so he still says ‘Woof!’” and the basset hound: “For things she can smell/She’s a comer and goer/She’s much like a Beagle/But longer and lower.”  38 dog breeds are covered in all, with each one getting a two- or four-line rhyme. The book concludes, “So here’s to dogs both big and little/And the others in the middle/And here’s to all the mixed breeds, too/Being friends with a dog is a dream come true.” 48 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  Dog lovers are almost sure to find at least one of their favorites in these pages.  The poems are short and sweet (written by the author of Kramer vs. Kramer and Oh, God!, oddly enough), and the unstintingly adorable illustrations make a perfect pairing.

Cons:  Some lines had an extra syllable or two that made them a little less than flowing.

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The Day the Universe Exploded My Head by Allan Wolf, illustrated by Anna Raff

Published by Candlewick

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Summary:  These poems cover many aspects of astronomy and space travel, including the sun, moon, planets, meteors, black holes, eclipses, stars, rockets, astronauts, and Sputnik. The final piece, “The Day the Universe Exploded My Head” tells readers, “You can learn many facts about space from a book/But nothing’s as real as a firsthand look.”  This poem, like several of the others, is written for multiple voices, with different parts shown in different colors. Includes notes on the poems that give more information about each topic; a glossary of selected space terms; and internet resources.  56 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  It’s a fabulous collection of funny and informative poems that will teach kids a lot about space and astronomy.  I particularly liked the poems for multiple verses; they would be fun to do as a classroom performance.

Cons:  It would have been nice to see more information about the different forms of poetry, like the sonnet (or sunnet) that appears on page 1.

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No More Poems! A Book In Verse That Just Gets Worse by Rhett Miller, illustrated by Dan Santat

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Rhett Miller, who apparently is a famous enough singer and songwriter to be in Wikipedia, has created a collection of 23 poems on such kid-friendly topics as dogs, homework, baseball, and how to use karate to flush a toilet in a public restroom.  Each poem is accompanied by a Dan Santat illustration; some include the poem as part of the picture, such as “My Device” which is written like a series of texts. Includes an author’s note at the beginning explaining his use of punctuation (or lack of).  48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Fans of Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein will love this colorful collection that includes just enough bathroom humor (“3:00 AM Pee”) and gross themes (“Hairs”, “Stinky-Mouth You”) to keep any elementary kid happy.  The poetry perfectly captures kids’ voices (“My dad is a rock star/And I’m just like whatever” begins the jaded kid narrator of “Rock Star Dad”), and the illustrations provide the perfect complementary comic touches.

Cons:  “Brotherly Love” gets a little dark for the younger elementary crowd.

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