Do you hear what I hear?

Versatile poet Marilyn Singer has again teamed up with Canadian illustrator Josee Masse to create a vivid collection of brief poems that promise to appeal to a broad array of children.

Echo Echo by Marilyn Singer and illus by Josee Masse

As with her two previous titles featuring reverso poems, a form Singer devised that employs pairs of poems that can be read line-by-line in two opposite directions, Echo Echo: Reverso Poems about Greek Myths plays with perspectives, short lines, accessible language and lively content.

This intriguing format proves to be a particularly apt approach for the subject of Greek mythology, so resonant with dual perspectives and dramatic conflict. Singer’s polished poems provide one point of view on the left-hand side of a page and an opposing perspective in the other half. Visually, too, each side stands out, as the text of one poem employs white text against a vibrant Aegean blue, while the other displays the opposite combination.

The fourteen pairs of poems, complemented with Masse’s bright, energetic full-page acrylic illustrations, feature the famous myths of Pandora and the box … the rivalry between Arachne and Athena … King Midas and the daughter he turned to stone … Perseus and the slaying of Medusa … Bellerophon and his capture of the winged horse Pegasus … the self-absorbed Narcissus and Echo (a highlight of this collection) … Pygmalion and the statue Galatea … Theseus and his escape from the labyrinth thanks to Ariadne … Icarus and Daedalus … Melanion and Atalanta and the three golden apples … and the tragic stories of Demeter and Persephone and of Eurydice and the musician Orpheus.

Singer’s playful yet thought-provoking poems provide educators with the perfect resource to help young people realize the power of point of view, of word choice, of poetic tone, and punctuation. Why not use this creative poetry to craft a writing workshop like no other? As Singer writes, “When the world was young,/ such wonders!”

See also …

My previous post on Singer’s Mirror Mirror and on poetry collections that celebrate nature.




It’s a Beautiful Day to READ ALOUD!


“I hear the echo of a voice, reading aloud to the nations…
Then I realize it’s not only a voice reading aloud to the nations
But it’s voices reading aloud all over the world…”
– The World Read Aloud Day
by Lesley, from Kenya, LitWorld Friend, Poet and Librarian
Whether you’re in NYC today for the 2012 festivities or snug in your own home, treat yourself and your family to an enriching read-aloud time! It’s a beautiful day for a book … or two … or … three … .


An African-American Book Feast to Savor

Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the free African-American Children’s Book Fair returns Saturday to the Community College of Philadelphia. One of my favorites, the fabulous Bryan Collier (see this prior post), will be there, in addition to the indomitable illustrator Jerry Pinkney and author Walter Dean Myers, national ambassador for young people’s literature. Acclaimed illustrators such as E.B. Lewis, Floyd Cooper, and Sean Qualls are on the schedule, as well as the award-winning poet Marilyn Nelson.

And …

The American Library Association’s announcement of the 2012 children’s book awards is a great source for ideas for kids of all ages. Of those winners, many are great to read aloud to children 5 to 8, including …

and for ages 8 to 12, consider the powerful Hurricane Dancers by Margarita Engle.

Congratulations to the beloved author/illustrator Ashley Bryan (see my prior post) for the Coretta Scott King – Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime achievement.

Dust Turns to Hope for an Afghan Girl

Reedy, Trent. Words in the Dust. Scholastic, 2011.

Dusty scenes of strife-filled Afghanistan have blanketed computer and TV screens in the last decade. But what do we know of the actual people whose lives have been warped by the Taliban?

Meet Zulaikha, a 13 year-old Afghan girl whose opportunities are constrained not only by fear, customs, and oppression, but also by her cleft lip. For Zulaikha, a mundane trip to the market can mean fresh torture, as at any moment she might hear a local bully’s dreaded cry of “Donkeyface!” Even at home she meets with harsh treatment, especially from her younger brother. How can she hope for a better life? Her sister, the only one with whom she can share her feelings, will soon marry and move out. That will leave Zulaikha with all the chores and, as her stepmother reminds her, little chance of her own husband and home. If only she could learn to read and write as her mother did … but that, too, seems impossible.

Words in the Dust, the debut novel by Trent Reedy, provides an eye-opening view of life in contemporary Afghanistan, particularly as experienced by women. Reedy’s perspective was hard won. When he was nearing the end of his six-year term in the National Guard, he was called to active duty in Afghanistan in 2004. He and his unit encountered a girl named Zulaikha who had a severe cleft lip, and arranged to have an army doctor perform the much-needed surgery.

Yet Reedy has not created some trite, reassuring made-for-TV story. As the plot unfolds, cultures clash, as when the American doctor unknowingly insults Zulaikha’s father, and the girl almost misses her chance at the surgery she so desperately wants. Most moving, though, is the gender-related conflict in Afghan society, as females encounter a web of sexist restrictions. Zulaihka finds she will need more than a pretty face to thrive in her harsh environment. She needs a mentor, a wise woman who will help her develop her intellect. When she stumbles upon that person, events unfold that bring her closer to her stepmother and to the mother who was killed by the Taliban for daring to read books of poetry.

Reedy is donating a portion of his royalties to Women for Afghan Women, an organization working for education and humans rights for women.

Complemented by a glossary, author’s notes, and recommended titles for further reading, this novel will provide a rich and rewarding reading experience for ages 11 and older. Note: Scholastic sent me a free advance copy of this novel, for which I am grateful. I have offered my genuine opinions of the book, as always.

For younger children, turn to Greg Mortenson’s Listen to the Wind: The Story of Dr. Greg and Three Cups of Tea.

Rise Up and Read Aloud!

World Read Aloud Day Is Coming March 9, 2011

Last year, 40,000 people joined in the first World Read Aloud Day. Will you be a part of this celebration on Wednesday? What better way to honor the power of words to change the world than to read aloud to children? You don’t have to join the crowds in Times Square for the 24-hour readathon. You can have your own event — in your classroom, in your library, in your bed with your child snuggled beside you.

World Read Aloud Day springs from LitWorld, headed by literacy advocate and author Pam Allyn, in an effort to build a world that nurtures reading. One of the group’s many literacy initiatives is the creation of this international celebration “to show the world that the right to read and write belongs to all people. World Read Aloud Day motivates children, teens, and adults worldwide to celebrate the power of words, especially those words that are shared from one person to another, and creates a community of readers advocating for every child’s right to a safe education and access to books and technology. By raising our voices together on this day we show the world’s children that we support their future: that they have the right to read, to write, and to share their words to change the world.”

Reading aloud is fun, but it’s much more than that. We can all take part in building a more just and literate world. Person by person. Book by book. Word by word.

Librarian on the Roof!

Yes, librarians can be heroes, too. If you don’t believe it, just read Librarian on the Roof! A True Story by M.G. King and illustrated by Stephen Gilpin. This spirited picture book is based on the real adventures of RoseAleta Laurell, who blew into the small town of Lockhart, Texas, and found a small, outdated library with a lot more dust than people. The old brick-and-limestone building had been a cultural center once, but it had lost its luster. And worst of all, it had no children’s section.  So RoseAleta decided to raise a ruckus, or raise funds for an area just for kids. “We need more books — picture books, mystery books, adventure books! We need tables just the right size. Comfy chairs. Colorful artwork. And computers.” Of course, the question was where  the money would come from. That’s what led RoseAleta up to the roof. Fifty feet up, she perched a tent and vowed to camp out until the community raised the funds needed.

All this commotion didn’t meet with the town official’s approval. One page shows him scowling as he yells, “RoseAleta, stop this nonsense right now. We are a respectable town. We simply cannot have librarians falling off the roof.”

“HORSEFEATHERS! Respectable towns have libraries filled with children.” RoseAleta didn’t budge.

In one week, the community raised $39,000 — nearly twice her goal —  and today, the library is once again a vital place, with scores of kids learning and reading in the oldest library in Texas.

The very idea of a librarian camping out on the roof will tickle a lot of children. The colorful, cartoonish illustrations by Stephen Gilpin are humorous and defy the outdated stereotype of a librarian. They depict RoseAleta as a bright-eyed, feisty, energetic woman determined to stay on top of things.

Other Books Featuring Heroic Librarians

  • That Book Woman by Heather HensonHenson, Heather. That Book Woman. Illus. by David Small. Simon & Schuster, 2008. Ages 6-8. This spare, uplifting picture book pays homage to the 1930s era of pack horse librarians in Kentucky. Young Cal cares not a whit about books and can’t fathom why the Book Woman would bother to ride a horse up the mountains to loan such things. Even Cal is impressed, though, when she braves a fierce winter storm. Cal asks his younger sister to teach him to read, and when the Book Woman arrives the following spring, he shows off his new skill. Small’s expressive watercolor, pastel chalk, and ink illustrations beautifully convey the characters’ emotions.
  • Ruurs, Margriet. My Librarian Is a Camel: How Books Are Brought to Children Around the World. Boyds Mills, 2005. Ages 8-10. Take children around the world by selecting from the two-page entries describing rural library services in 13 countries. Camels, donkeys, and elephants are here, as well as a boat, a wheelbarrow, and a refitted boxcar. You can use this to enliven geographical studies, to reinforce the important role of literacy, and to broaden awareness of different lifestyles and cultures.
  • Winter, Jeanette. Biblioburro: A True Story from Colombia. Simon & Schuster, 2010. Ages 6-8. Sometimes it takes two — burros, that is — to deliver library resources. That’s how avid reader Luis shares his beloved books with those in the remote jungles of South America. Winter’s vivid paintings evoke the lush, tropical setting of this story centered on the joys of books. She includes an author’s note on the actual Luis and his “biblioburros.”

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