Book Review - Forest Has a Song

Author:  Amy VanDerwater
Illustrator:  Robbin Gurley
Publisher:  Clarion Books (March 26, 2013)
Source:  A copy for review
Format: Hardcover
Audience: Ages 6 to 9
Keywords: Poetry, Nature, Forests

Amy VanDerwater: website | blog | twitter | facebook
Robbin Gourley: website |

Description from GoodReads:
A spider is a “never-tangling dangling spinner / knitting angles, trapping dinner.” A tree frog proposes, “Marry me. Please marry me… / Pick me now. / Make me your choice. / I’m one great frog / with one strong voice.” VanDerwater lets the denizens of the forest speak for themselves in twenty-six lighthearted, easy-to-read poems. As she observes, “Silence in Forest / never lasts long. / Melody / is everywhere / mixing in / with piney air. / Forest has a song.” The graceful, appealing watercolor illustrations perfectly suit these charming poems that invite young readers into the woodland world at every season.

My thoughts on the book:
Over the past few years, I have grown to love children's poetry.  Initially, I wasn't a big fan of poetry in general.  However, I started to put some concerted effort into reading children's poetry and discovered that there were some wonderful books out there.  Now I look forward to discovering new books of poetry and sharing them with children.  Debut author, Amy VanDerwater's Forest Has a Song is a beautiful addition to the world of children's poetry and it arrives to us just in time for both spring and National Poetry Month.

VanDerwater explores the forest and the changing seasons with each of her 26 poems.  She has managed to capture the magical qualities of life in the forest with poems that are accessible to all readers. One of my favorite poems is entitled Moss:

Barefoot on this emerald carpet
toe-by-toe I squish across.
I softly sink in velvet green.
Oh how I wish for socks of moss.

As I read this poem, I could feel the soft, damp, coolness of the moss as my feet sank into it.  Can't you?  This is part of the brilliance of VanDerwater's writing.  She has the ability to not only make the reader understand but to also see it and feel it.

VanDerwater's poetry is complimented by Robbin Gourley's gentle artwork.  The combination makes for a beautiful book on multiple levels.  Also, don't miss out on the book trailer created by VanDerwater's husband.  It is a wonderful way to introduce readers to the book.

Forest Has a Song will make a wonderful addition to your school or classroom library, consider picking up a copy of at your local Independent Bookstore.   And happy National Poetry Month - it almost here.   

Check out the official book trailer:

*I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This, in no way, affected my opinion or review of this book.

Thank you to BlueSlip Media for offering a copy of Forest Has a Song for giveaway.  Don't forget to enter for a chance to win a copy of Forest Has a Song a Rafflecopter giveaway

Favorite Miscellaneous Books of 2012

Since I am still reading a few last Middle Grade and YA novels, I decided to do a miscellaneous favorites post before my Middle Grade and YA posts.  I limited all of the titles to ones that were released in 2012. 

Early Readers and Chapter Books

Sadie and Ratz by Sonya Hartnett; Illustrated by Ann James (Candlewick Press) - This early chapter book is filled with humor and sibling challenges that are oh so real.  Not always easy to find in a bookstore, this was a favorite title of mine that needs more attention. 

Bink & Gollie: Two For One by Kate DiCamillo & Alison McGhee; Illustrated by Tony Fucile (Candlewick Press) - See my write up over on the Nerdy Book Club post here.

Rabbit and Robot: The Sleepover by Cece Bell (Candlewick Press) - An early reader that seemed to get over looked.  A story of friendship and humor.  This one had me laughing out loud. 

Lulu Walks the Dogs by Judith Viorst; Illustrated by Lane Smith (Simon & Schuster) - Rarely does a sequel or companion novel live up to the first book, but this sequel is as enjoyable if not more than the first one.  Definitely one of my choices for a read aloud in 1st or 2nd grade classes.

Marty McGuire Digs Worms! by Kate Messner; Illustrated by Brian Floca (Scholastic) - Hop on over to my Nerdy Book Club post for my comments on this one.


October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Lesléa Newman (Candlewick Press) - This novel in verse is a touching tribute to Matthew Shepard.  A powerful book comprised of 68 poems with additional endnotes and resources. (For YA audiences)

The Wild Book by Margarita Engle - Written in free verse, this book takes a look at a young girl living in Cuba at the beginning of the 1900's.  Readers experience Fefa's life through lyrical prose and visual storytelling. 

A Poem as Big as New York City: Little Kids Write About the Big Apple by Teachers Writers Collaborative; Illustrated by Masha D'yans (Universe) - This book inspired me to take on a poetry art project this year with two groups of students.  Children's poems combine to bring New York City to life.

UnBeeLievables: Honeybee Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian (Beach Lane Books) - Bee poems, bee facts and bee paintings combine together to bring new understanding to the life of Honeybees. 

Graphic Novels

Cardboard by Doug TenNapel (Graphix) - Magical cardboard takes on a "Twilight Zone" feel in this graphic novel.  Creepy and fascinating with a message.

Drama by Raina Telgemeir (Graphix) - Telgemeir's humor and ability to celebrate the day to day stuff in the lives of tweens to young teens is remarkable. DRAMA focuses more on the behind the scenes folks of the Drama club rather than the characters with starring roles.

Hades: Lord of the Dead (Olympians #4) by George O'Connor (First Second) - The fourth book in the Olympians focuses not only on Hades but also Persephone and Demeter.  O'Connor's Greek/Geek notes at the end add additional insight to the various volumes in this series.

Book Trailer for Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword

Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite by Barry Deutsch (Amulet) - A strong female character who is also an Orthodox Jewish heroine? I had my doubts when I picked up the first book, but Deutsch won me over.  He continues to impress me with this follow-up as Mirka has some lessons to learn and some problems to solve that won't happen quickly and will require thought. 

Prince of the Elves (Amulet Vol. 5) by Kazu Kibuishi (Graphix) - I love this series and this may be the best one yet. The ending was certainly a cliff-hanger and left me wanting more. The series continues to build and the characters continue to face hard choices and the consequences that follow.

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke (First Second) - In the second book in the series, Zita must learn to come to terms with public attention and her role in everything and what happens when you let someone else step in. 

Bird and Squirrel On the Run by James Burks (Graphix) - The odd couple is resurrected in this graphic novel about an industrious squirrel and an irresponsible Bird. Students love Burks books.  Hope to see more of this odd couple.

Squish #4: Captain Disaster by Jennifer L. Holm and Matt Holm (Random House) - I love Babymouse, but adore Squish.  In each book, I think I come to appreciate this loveable amoeba even more.  Also, there are some great messages that can be used as discussion starters in classes.

So what were some of your favorite books this year?

Four Poetry Books to Add to Your Collection

I thought that over the year I had found a lot of the poetry published for children.  When the Nerdy Award Nominations were released I discovered a few that I hadn't read.  

Here they are...

National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry: 200 Poems with Photographs that Squeak, Soar, and Roar by J. Patrick Lewis (compilation) -One of the things that I love about National Geographic is the incredible photos.  And this compilation is no exception.  Gorgeous photos of wildlife paired with some outstanding poetry.  If you can only give one book of poetry to a teacher, I would suggest this one.  The end notes and resources and poetry tips definitely move this to the top.

In the Sea by David Elliott and Holly Meade -This book of poetry that celebrates sea life would pair beautifully with Water Sings Blue (also on the Nerdy list) and compliment Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems.  Both the illustrations and poems will win new fans.

Edgar Allan Poe's Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems by J. Patrick Lewis and Michael Slack - I am still amazed that there is a poetry book that blends poems/puzzlers and math.  Definitely can't wait to share this one with my teacher friends. 

Poem Runs: Baseball Poems by Douglas Florian- I am quickly becoming a fan of Florian.  I loved UnBEElievables: Honeybee Poems and Paintings which also made the Nerdy list this year.  This fun and creative book of poetry celebrates baseball.  Another must add to the list of poetry books for the classroom.

So what poetry books on the Nerdy list did you love the best?

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday - A Strange Place to Call Home

Author:  Marilyn Singer
Illustrator:  Ed Young
Publisher: Chronicle Books (August 22, 2012)
Source: Copy for Review
Audience:  Grades 1st to 5th
Poetry * Animal Habitats * Nonfiction

Description from GoodReads:
Under the desert's cracked and barren skin, spadefoot toads are waiting for rain. In the endless black of the deepest caves, blind fish find their way. Even in the frozen hearts of glaciers, ice worms by the billion flourish. In this fascinating look at fourteen animals who defy the odds by thriving in Earth's most dangerous places, renowned poet Marilyn Singer and celebrated artist Ed Young show that of all the miracles of life, it is life's persistence that astounds the most.

My thoughts on this book:
Take one talented poet, such as Marilyn Singer, and pair her with an awesome illustrator like Ed Young and the results are bound to be pretty spectacular.  Each two page spread in this book features a poem about 1 of 14 animals that make their home in unusual or challenging environments.  At the conclusion of this book, the end notes contain additional facts about each of the animals and their habitats, and provide a jumping off place for further discussion.

In addition to Marilyn Singer's fabulous poetry, Ed Young's torn and cut paper artwork gives the book a feeling of texture or of coming to life.  I have a feeling that if I had a chance to listen to Young speak about his process for creating the illustrations for this book that I would appreciate it at a whole new level.    

One of the things I have come to appreciate about many nonfiction picture books is the incredible end notes to extend the readers knowledge of the subject at hand.  And though, I sometimes wonder if children read the end notes, I do know that as a teacher, I have always appreciated them. 

I love that there are so many wonderful poetry books that tie in beautifully to classroom curriculum and also have an incredible way of exposing children to nonfiction in a very accessible manner.  After reading A Strange Place to Call Home, I began thinking about how to tie this into various units at different grade levels.  This is one book that will be easy to recommend to teachers and would make an nice addition to a classroom or school library.

Look for this book at your local school or public library, or consider purchasing it at your local independent bookstore.  

Check out this widget from Chronicle that allows you to get a glimpse of the inside of this book:

A Strange Place to Call Home

Don't forget...

Don't forget to link up your nonfiction picture book reviews below: 

Books of Poetry - For Teachers Not Sure Where to Start

Pssst!  Come closer and I will let you in on a secret...poetry completely baffles me.  I know.  I am an educator.  I am supposed to teach this stuff, and maybe even like it.  To be honest, I have had to work at it.  I have to thank my friends like Paul Hankins and Donalyn Miller and John Schumacher for getting me to even crack open a poetry book.  

Guess what?!  Some of those books of poetry aren't so bad.   I have even recommended some books of poetry that I have found to those same friends.  I am learning and growing which means you can too if you think you might not like poetry.

I don't review many books of poetry on the blog.  I sound kind of weird just writing "Read this. I liked it." So, instead, I am sharing my top 10 books of poetry for children that are kid friendly and could be used by teachers to have some fun with poetry in the classroom. And I can say confidently - Read these!  You'll like them. (Please note, these are not in any kind of order...I really like them all.)

Mirror, Mirror! by Marilyn Singer, Illustrated by Josee Masse - This one is really my all time favorite.  I am in awe of Singer's skills at writing these reversible poems. If you haven't seen this one, it is a must read.

Roots and Blues: A Celebration by Arnold Adoff; Ilustrated by R. Gregory Christie - This book of poetry has a jazz feel that just drips off the pages. 

My People by Langston Hughes; Photographs by Charles R. Smith, Jr. - This was one of the poems that hooked me into Langston Hughes' poems. 

Won-Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku by Lee Wardlaw; Illustrated by Eugene Yelchin - I love this book.  Even 18 months after it's release, I still remember and like this one.

Lemonade: and Other Poems Squeezed From a Single Word by Bob Raczka; Illustrated by Nancy Doninger - This one and Singer's Mirror, Mirror! are two must owns (in my opinion) for teachers. 

Emma Dilemma: Big Sister Poems by Kristine O'Connell George; Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter - Maybe I appreciate this one because I am a big sister, but I love how this collection of poems tell a story.

Peaceful Pieces: Poems and Quilts About Peace by Anna Grossnickle Hines - Yes, I just really like this collection of poems. 

A Meal of the Stars: Poems Up and Down by Dana Jensen; Illustrated by Tricia Tusa - Another one that can challenge children to have fun with poetry.

Mother Poems by Hope Anita Smith - This is just a beautiful volume of poetry and the torn paper art is fantastic and Smith is funny in person (though grab a tissue when reading this one).  Aren't those reasons enough to read it?

Love that Dog by Sharon Creech- Though this is really a novel in verse, I had to add this book to the list.  I learned a lot about poetry from this small book.  

What poetry books would be on your list?