Monthly Archives: June 2006

Tour America: A Journey Through Poems and Art by Diane Siebert illus. by Stephen T. Johnson

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Tour America: A Journey Through Poems and Art by Diane Siebert illus. by Stephen T. Johnson

Siebert, Diane illus. by Stephen T. Johnson. Tour America: A Journey Through Poems and Art. Chronicle, 2006. ISBN 978-0811850568 64 pp. $

*****

Opening with a poem comprised of clever, absurd and unique names of American towns, Tour America is a whirlwind tour of sights in half of the continental United States. Following the path of motorcyclist poet Siebert and her husband, the poems take up from New Jersey, speed north through New York and New England, across the Midwest, down the west coast, across the southwest and back north up the east coast, coming to rest at the Washington monument in Washington, D.C.

Just like a video game that allows the player to go meta, each entry shows the state pinpointed on an outline of the US, and the location of the attraction pinpointed on a state map. Johnson’s vivid and dynamic images bring us along visually as Seibert chronicles the sights, sounds, smells and feelings of each place. Her poems pay tribute to the wonders of America, man made and natural, from the majestic to the fantastic: Charleston’s Old Ironsides; the St. Louis Gateway; Roswell, New Mexico; Mount Saint Helen’s, Washington; New York City’s gargoyles, Chicago’s El. The pit stops are as much a conglomerate as our melting pot of citizens.

The writing style matches each location–Mount Saint Helen’s poem is fittingly punctuated with ellipses and all caps: Kerplow! Ka-booms! The ode to the El has a rollicking, fast pace, while Niagara Falls’ simplistic sparse words convey the size and beauty of the falls in just twenty words. The Badlands has a quiet desolate tone, while Mount Rushmore is given a distinguished sound. Siebert’s Vortex poem has a dynamic energy, but a swirling or disjointed concrete poem might have better conveyed the “mind-boggling” inexplicable force for this location in Gold Hill, OR.

Each poem is accompanied by a fact box that at best expands on information in the poem with statistics and anecdotes (Lucy the Elephant, Golden Gate Bridge, Vortex) and at worst, seems to be little more than the poem in paragraph prose (Old Ironsides).

The illustrations are as rich and varied as their subjects, with the composition tone and medium chosen carefully to reflect an era, tone and attitude, a place in time, not merely a location. The El is represented by a photomontage collaged with painted newspaper clippings, fragmented the way the view appears like a film strip outside of train windows. The Cadillac Ranch shows cars on end with a combination of pastel, gouache, oil and charcoal that creates the rainbow effect of the hot sun’s reflection on oil and rust. Las Vegas is a busy, bright and shiny collage of jewels, fruit, dice and tropical plants. Rosewell’s photograph background gives and eerily realistic tone to the digital spaceship’s searchlights (pieced together from car headlights, perhaps?).

Mount Rushmore’s pencil and crayon etching on greenish paper reminds the reader that these dead presidents appear on our currency New York’s gargoyles are photos and digital collage to reflect the neon of the city that never sleeps. Many of the images have the feeling of grand masters, with their oil on canvas or panel medium created impressionist like swirls in prairie grasses, the aurora borealis, clouds, and oceans. This reviewer, hardly an art major, only sounds so smart about composition because the artist helpfully lists the medium for each image in an appendix. A partial postmark appears on each page to timestamp the visit, and dot the endpapers.

This picture book for all ages is recommended for collections in the US and abroad, could be used for units on poetry or geography, and would make a great gift for your favorite armchair traveler.

An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston, illus. by Sylvia Long

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An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston, illus. by Sylvia Long

Aston, Dianna Hutts, illus. by Sylvia Long. An Egg is Quiet. Chronicle Books, 2014 (reprint). ISBN 978-1452131481 36 pp. $16.99

*****

An Egg is Quiet is a rich natural history picture book, celebrating diversity by showcasing over sixty eggs from birds, fish, reptiles, insects and more. Aston’s poetic introduction (“It sits there, under it’s mother’s feathers… on top of it’s father’s feet… buried beneath the sand. Warm. Cozy.”) is the jumping off point for an eggs factapolooza. Eggs are described visually as shapely, colorful, textured, and artistic, with beautifully rendered examples of each. Eggs are also characterized as clever (for camouflage) and giving (for nurturing). Textual asides provide more information about a particular species or trait. Each egg is identified by common name. Dinosaurs and embryos are given a little extra attention.   Eggs pictured larger than actual size are noted, all measurements are given in English and compared to objects children might be familiar with, such as a jellybean.

The paintings are absolutely gorgeous from the lush endpapers patterned after the scarlet tanager egg, to the closeup of a nest with one ready-to-hatch egg. The attention to detail is incredible: twisting branches and vines, patterned stones, and tendrils of grass and leaves augment the pictures and fill in habitat. The design itself is lovely and elegant – a large readable script for the main text, and neatly lettered blurbs that act as field notes with more information.

This is potentially a great book for one-on-one sharing; the images create plenty of opportunity for dialogue, and several activities appear to be built in. The first two-page spread contains every egg found in the book, and the final two page spread shows the adult animal, creating an opportunity for a matching game. Young readers will enjoy also spotting specific eggs identified in the “colorful” spread in other places in the book – a kind of paper egg hunt! The ending invites audience participation.

No sources are cited; the acknowledgements thank an earth scientist, a birder and a biologist. This fine complement to the science curriculum is recommended for public and school libraries.

Charmed Thirds by Megan McCafferty

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Charmed Thirds by Megan McCafferty

Jessica Darling, the witty narrator of Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings, is back with this third installment covering her college years.  While her high school boyfriend Marcus is at a Buddhist college in California, Jessica is attending Columbia in New York. She is majoring in psychology instead of writing or journalism, and didn’t even write in her journal her freshman year.  She looks forward to her summer internship at a hip magazine, but worries about being separated from Marcus.

I absolutely loved the first two books in this series, which may be to blame for my disappointment in this novel. When I first started reading it, I thought I had picked up a volume of Gossip Girl instead.  The voice didn’t sound like Jessica’s and I was surprised by the amount of swearing. Eventually I got into it and enjoyed most of the characters, but it just didn’t have the same feel as the other two in the series.  It’s definitely more Chick Lit than YA. I think I would have enjoyed it much more if it had been a stand alone novel with a completely different main character, because it felt like a different narrator anyway.

Review of the other books in the series:

Sloppy Firsts

Fourth Comings
Perfect Fifths

Could a Tyrannosaurus Play Table Tennis? by Andrew Plant

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Could a Tyrannosaurus Play Table Tennis? by Andrew Plant

Plant, Andrew. Could a Tyrannosaurus Play Table Tennis? Kane/Miller Book Publishers, 2006. ISBN 978-1929132973 32 pp. $

*****

Every child goes through the fascinated-by-dinosaurs stage, and this clever book will both delight and educate. Plant’s ABC book lists familiar species and new discoveries, with a pronunciation guide and definition for each name. A table incorporated into the border of each page lists facts such as period, habitat, size, and eating preference (herbivore, carnivore). The book is prefaced with a timeline of 4600 million years, depicted as a spiral that shows the duration and species of each era.

Opening with two children admiring a museum’s elegantly towering display of Tyrannosaurus bones, it is easy to imagine the book as a competitive silly dialogue between two children, each trying to top the other as each entry asks, “Could [dinosaur name:] [perform an activity:]?” In each case, the answer is a clear “no”–humorous illustrations show soccer balls impaled on horns, fishing line tangled around large limbs, canvases splattered and torn, crushed musical instruments, and mangled sports equipment. Creatures are infused with personality – a Deinonychus in a top hat brandishing a cane, a Xuanhanosaurus roaring into an X-ray, an Anchiceratops timidly balancing, elephantine, on a beach ball while holding an umbrella.

The dynamic illustrations are beautifully painted and carefully composed, varying in perspective and giving a snapshot feel to each image. Plant has fun with color, imagining these prehistoric beasts in earthy brown and green tones with brighter red, yellow, and blue accent markings in patterns of stripes and spots. An author’s note at the beginning explains that we can only imagine what dinosaur’s skins must have looked like.

The concept book also deals innovatively with size. Each dinosaur is drawn to scale and pictured with a familiar object. A Brachiosaurus is clearly much too large for a basketball courts regulation 10-foot hoops; a tiny Wannansaurus struggles to lift a barbell. And just in case the size scales aren’t clear, a final 2 page spread shows all the dinos, from smallest to largest, grinning fearsome toothy grins, in line to shake hands with the two humans, recognizable from the beginning of the book.

Concluding with a very short glossary of a few sports that the Australian author must have felt children around the world might not understand, a further reading list for other dinosaur fanatics is the only thing missing from this thoroughly entertaining title.