Friday, October 26, 2007

Nonfiction: Almost Gone: The World's Rarest Animals

Jenkins, Steve. (2006). ALMOST GONE: THE WORLD’S RAREST ANIMALS. Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out science. NY: Harpercollins Publishers. ISBN: 0060536004.

With colorful collages, Steve Jenkins introduces twenty-seven animals from around the world that are endangered, extinct, and that are returning.

Almost Gone: The World’s Rarest Animals is part of the popular series Let’s-Read-and Find-Out Science. This series was developed by numerous professionals within the fields of science, and for each book that is created by various authors the text and illustrations are checked for accuracy by an expert (Jenkins, p. 2). With this level of expertise, Jenkins has written and illustrated an extremely fun and educational book.

The book is well organized. For the majority of the book, each animal has its own page; however for larger animals such as the Northern Right Whale have an entire double-page spread. There are three official areas of the books. The first being the Almost Gone (endangered) animals, second is the Gone Forever (extinct) animals, and finally there are the Coming Back animals. Each endangered animal is first introduced by a heading that presents its name, the country its from, and how many are left, for example for the Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat is from Australia and there are fewer than 60 left (Jenkins, p. 7). For the Gone Forever animals the headings provide their names, the country where it was from, and the year that become extinct. An even simpler heading of name and country is used for the Coming Back animals.

To mark each section, Jenkins provides a little tidbit to the readers to learn more about the different aspects of rare animals. For example, he states that the numbers of the animals remaining is an estimated guess made by scientist who study those specific animals (Jenkins, p. 3), and to explain the animals that are “coming back” were once close to extinction but were able to multiply due to the help of human beings “acting to protect their habitats” (p. 32).

To begin Almost Gone: The World’s Rarest Animals, Jenkins introduces the readers to the interdependence of the animals by using the little Chickadee bird, which is not endangered but still a animal for the example, who is responsible eating insects that would attack a garden full, who spread and fertilize the seeds of the berries it eats, and are the birds that large hawks eat who in turn eat rats and mice (p. 4). Through this circle of life, the author paints a picture of how disruption, such as a rare number of Chickadees, in the circle can endanger a species of animals and bring them to the risk of extinctions.

The text comes in the form of a single paragraph per animal that describes the physical characteristics, the home, and the cause of why the animal is endangered, extinct, or reemerging. The sentences are easily readable and understandable due to use of clear words. Despite the fact that there is only one paragraph that is dedicated to each animal, the text is nonetheless presents a detailed life story of the animal.

The collages that depict all of the animals are amazingly detailed. Jenkins uses an array of colorful and various textured handmade papers to create each animal. The papers’ color and it visual as well as the physical texture is the key to creating the illustrations. Jenkins used a paper that had the look of soft brown and cream-colored velvet to represent the skin of the Abington Island Tortoise. To provide the appearance of fluffy fur seen on the Iriomote Cat, the Assam Rabbit, and the Bactrian Camel, paper with high fiber content was used and instead of being clean-cut, the edges were frayed to enhance the look of fur.

To close this wonderful book, Jenkins provides a world map, which is appropriately made out of paper with deep green and cream swirls, covered in numbers. In a legend categorized the same way as the book, there are the corresponding numbers that provides the names, its location, and its estimated size dimensions.

Through his well-organized, clear story-like text, and beautiful collages, Jenkins’ Almost Gone: The World’s Rarest Animals is a great educational book that will captivate its young readers and to distill an interest in the animals that are reducing in numbers and the animals that are recovering from lack of population.

Jenkins first discusses the interdependence of living things, then portrays twenty-eight endangered and extinct animals. Each profile includes a striking cut-paper rendering of an animal along with a paragraph about the animal's habits and habitat and why its population has dwindled. While the book is informative, it lacks the narrative structure and rich conceptual focus typical of previous entries in the series. Copyright 2003 of The Horn Book, Inc. All rights reserved. (October 1, 2006)

K-Gr 3-This engaging title is informative as well as visually stunning. Jenkins captures the essence of his subjects with appropriately colored, cut-paper collage illustrations on stark white backgrounds. Each endangered animal is introduced in a single paragraph that typically contains a fact or two about its range, behavior, diet, and those conditions that threaten its welfare. The actual number remaining is poignantly noted. A middle section, "Gone Forever," memorializes animals no longer on Earth with an indication of when they were last seen. In a hopeful third section, Jenkins discusses the Indian crocodile, whooping crane, and Alpine ibex, three animals that are "coming back," due to the efforts to protect their habitats. All the animals included in this book are numbered and appropriately placed on a double-page world map. Those who have enjoyed Patricia Mullins' V for Vanishing (HarperCollins, 1997) or Alexandra Wright's Will We Miss Them? (Charlesbridge 1991) will definitely gravitate toward this offering. Report writers may need more extensive information but the beauty of this book justifies its inclusion on most library shelves.-Gloria Koster, West School, New Canaan, CT Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information. (February 1, 2006)

*Learn more about endangered and extinct animals with book like The Best Book of Endangered and Extinct Animals by Christiane Gunzi
*Read books about wildlife conservation like Pamela Hickman’s Turtle Rescue: Changing the Future for Endangered Wildlife.
*Explore websites about endangered animals like The American Museum of Natural History’s Endangered!: Exploring a World at Risk and the website Kids go Wild!: Wildlife Conservation Society.

*Discuss with the children how they can help protect the endangered animals.

Nonfiction: Seymour Simon's Book of Trains

Seymour, Simon. (2002). SEYMOUR SIMON’S BOOK OF TRAINS. NY: Harpercollins Publishers. ISBN: 006028475.

With engaging full-colored photographs, Seymour Simon introduces and discusses the various kinds of trains and the cars they pull, and explains their uses.

In his traditional style, Seymour Simon has created an educational book with clear descriptions and captivating photographs that is perfect for children who have developed a love for trains. The book is simplistically organized. Simon dedicates a double-page spread for each train and each car that is discussed. On one page is a full-page colored photograph and on the opposite page is the text that describes the characteristics and use of the train or car. There are also subject headings for each spread that allows the readers to easily go directly to the train or car that they would like to read about instead of being forced to read through the entire book to find what they want to read.

The use of simple sentences allows the readers to understand the history and the functions of the trains. For example, to begin the book Simon states that, “[t]rains made the world a different place” and discusses how people could travel from one place to another and how cargo could be delivered faster by train instead of walking or using a wagon (p. 2). The author continues to provide historical dates of when the Diesel engine and the when and where the High-Speed train was introduced.

Simon is not afraid to describe the sometime complex nature of how a train engine works. For example how steam is used to run a Steam train:

Wood or coal is burned in a firebox. The train from the fire changes water in a boiler into stem. The pressure of the steam moves pistons back and forth. As the pistons move, the wheels of the locomotive begin to turn. The engine gives off fiery sparks and clouds of smoke through a large chimney (Simon, p. 3).

There are similar descriptions for the Diesel and Electric trains.

There are other details that make Seymour Simon’s Book of Trains a book full of information. Simon provides alternative or nicknames for the trains, such as a Mountain train is sometimes called a “rack” or a “cog railroad train,” which refer to the cog wheel that assist the train in traveling up the steep tracks (p. 16). Simon provides comparative descriptions, for example when describing the Boxcars he says that, “[b]oxcars look like giant shoe boxes on wheels,” which allows the readers to understand the shape of the cars (Simon, p. 20). Finally when describing the use of the cars that the train engines pull, the author provides a list of what type of cargo that is carried in the cars, such as Flatcars simple metal or wooden platforms that carry construction machinery and heavy and piggyback loaded truck trailers (Simon, p. 24), and the materials that Gondolas carry include concrete blocks and bricks, pipes, machinery and wood chips (Simon, p. 21).

To complete the book and provide further engaged reading, there are full-page colored photographs of the trains and cars. These were taken at various point-of-views and angles to create dynamics. Perfect example of this is wonderfully seen in the photograph of the Mountain train, which is able to climb up a steep track that takes people to high vantage points on a mountain. The picture was taken from low angle, which illustrates how steep the track the train travels is. Other photographs are taken close-up, which make parts of the train or cars fall off the page, such as the one showing the Boxcars.

A final element that enhances the beautifully dynamic photographs is the surrounding environment. Some pictures were taken during the middle of winter and had snow on the ground, there were pictures of trains traveling through a forest of green trees and had blue skies. Finally the various colors of sunlight were used when taking the photographs. For example, the photograph of the electric trains, the sun filter between the cars and reflects off the shiny metal sides and windows. Another example is seen in the picture of the Tank cars. The setting sun, which is not seen, highlights the round shape of the cars.

Despite the text being simple in nature, Simon provides descriptive and accurate information about the subject that encourages the readers to learn and providing at times brief mention of certain trains, for example, the Japanese Bullet Train, encourages the readers to think and reader more books. The use of real photographs taken at dynamic angles and various environments provides a second element that makes Seymour Simon’s Book of Trains a great educational book for young beginning train enthusiasts.

The layout and organization are vintage Simon: single pages of clear, direct text describing various topic subsets; handsome, well-chosen glossy photos on facing pages; and generous leading. Simon begins with a brief history of trains, defines types of trains, provides brief explanations of different cars, and ends with the importance of trains today. The illustrations fuel a number of opportunities for preschoolers to revisit the book. Copyright 2001 of The Horn Book, Inc. All rights reserved. (October 1, 2002)

PreS-Gr 4-Trains and individual freight cars are displayed in glorious full color in this oversized book. Simon offers information on different types of these machines from the earliest steam locomotives to France's TGV, which can reach speeds of 300 miles per hour. The section on freight trains delves into each car from boxcars to the now-obsolete caboose. The sharp pictures cover half of each spread. One small complaint is that while the TGV and Japan's bullet trains are mentioned, they are not pictured. But never mind. Even preschoolers will be drawn in by the large, abundant photographs. Another winner from a popular author.-Anne Chapman Callaghan, Racine Public Library, WI Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information. (May 1, 2002).

*Learn more about the different types of trains with books like The Best Book of Trains by Richard Balkwill, Steam, Smoke and Steel: Back in Time With Trains by Patrick O’Brien, and the Big Book of Trains by DK Publishing.
*Ask the children if they have seen any of these trains and if they have ever ridden on a train.
*The children make their own train set by using small cardboard containers like a cracker box for the main body and use construction paper or thin cardboard paper for the wheels (attached by brass round-head paper fasteners) and for a chimney and cowcatcher (if making a steam engine). Use paint or construction paper to decorate the sides. The method can be done to create boxcars. For tank cars, cut a box in half and place either a toilet paper or paper towel tube on top, then add wheels.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Poetry: Witness

Hesse, Karen. (2001). WITNESS. NY: Scholastic Press, Inc. ISBN: 0439271991.

*Winner of the 2002 Christopher Awards*


During the year of 1924, eleven Vermont townspeople, consisting of two children and nine adults, tell the story of how their town and lives were affected by the appearance of the Ku Klux Klan.

Through free verse narratives in this historical novel, Hesse authentically captures eleven individuals’ voice and beliefs. In the cast there are:

* Leanora Sutter, a twelve year old black girl
* Merlin Van Tornhout, an eighteen year old who joins the Klan only to realize that he is not a killer
* Esther Hirsh, an innocent Jewish six year old
* Parcelle Johnson, the town constable
* Sarah Chickering, a farmer who allows Esther and her father to live in her house
* Johnny Reeves, a corrupt and hypocritical clergyman,
* Iris Weaver, the restaurant owner and rumrunner by the name of
* Fitzgerald Flitt, a doctor
* Harvey and Viola Pettibone, who own a shop and who disagree with their opinions on the Klan
* Reynard Alexander, a newspaper editor who is against the Klan

The book is organized into five acts, the traditional Dramatic Structure found in classic pieces of literature like the Greek dramas. Each character speaks at least once in each act. Each narrative has the name of the character for reference to the reader. All of the poems are free verse narrative. Because of the free verse style, Hesse has the ability to write simple yet powerful stories. None of the narratives have capitalized words, not even proper nouns. This allows the readers to only focus (and not be distracted by large letters) on the text and what is being told. It also represents the simple style of speech of all the characters.

Even though it may be simple, each character has a specific way of talking. If the name was not known, the readers could still figure out who is talking by their tone of “voice,” their speech pattern, and their use of words. Esther is the easiest to recognize because of her childlike thoughts and way of describing, such as when she and Sarah Chickering were oiling keys and locks of the door, Esther describes how Sarah works in the lubricant, “openshutopenshut” (Hesse, p. 156). Reynard Alexander, a man of writing knowledge because of his profession, speaks clear and proper in comparison to the other adult characters. The clergyman, Johnny Reeves, says “neighbor” constantly has he gives his sermons. With these touches, Hesse truly makes, without any personal descriptions (other than what the pictures allow), the characters full and round and not flat, and full of emotions.

Another element that makes Witness a fantastic book is the clear progression and evolvement, as traditionally seen in a five-act play, of the characters, in the midst of the Ku Klux Klan’s efforts to recruit member and remove the Leanora and Esther and their fathers from the town. Some characters were pro-Klan; however they changed their thoughts by the end of the book. Merlin Van Tornhout is a prime example of this. After he joined the Klan he could not bring himself to poison the Sutter’s well because he “remembered [Leanora]/ racing that train/ and she was still a colored girl/ but she wasn’t a/ colored girl,” (Hesse, p. 150). How could he kill a black girl who did a heroic and humanly act of had saving little Esther from being crushed by a train at the railway tracks? Other characters’ changes were subtler such as Sarah Chickering’s growing love for Esther, her constant companions. If it was not for Esther she “might have joined the ladies’ klan” (Hesse, p. 59). Befriending the elderly Civil War veteran Mr. Field, Leanora learns that not all white people were the same. Reynard Alexander started out has being a neutral party when it came to the klan business; however, by Act Four he was completely against the klan and states boldly that,

persecution is not american
it is not american to give the power of life and death
to a secret organization
it is not american to have out citizens judged by
an invisible jury.
it is not american to have bands of night riders
apply the punishment of medieval europe to
freeborn men

the ku klux klan must go (Hesse, p. 125).

By the end, the evolvement of the all the characters had taken place and life begins to calm as the Klan leaves because of the cool treatment of the Vermont government.

What makes this book a true historical novel is not just the time period but also the mention of famous historical figures well known during that year. Iris Weaver, who is quite the independent woman, mentions that, “down in texas/ mrs. mariam ferguson,/ … defeated the klan candidate/ … if she wins,/ she’ll be the first woman/ governor in/ this whole damn country./ imagine” (Hesse, p. 28), which is true, Mrs. Ferguson did become governor. There was a great deal of talk about the famous murder trial of the Leopold and Loeb, who killed Bobby Franks, who was rich, white and Jewish, not for hate but for the thrill and because they could. Even Leanora wrote to Helen Keller asking about “how maybe we’d be better off if no one could see./ then nobody would mind about/ a person’s skin color” and Ms. Keller replied with an autographed copy of her The World I Live In (Hesse, p.152). With these references to historical figures and events, the story is richer and gives background information to the time that it was set in, which educates the readers.

With all these wonderfully detailed elements, Hesse has created an amazing story of how a town and its people of all race and backgrounds are affected when a corrupt organization like the Ku Klux Klan enters their lives, and power of standing up to what they believe.

In this stunning piece of little-known American history, Hesse (Stowaway, 2000, etc.) paints small-town Vermont on the brink of self-destruction circa 1924. The narrative poetry format has fitting roots in "The Spoon River Anthology." Eleven characters speak revealingly for themselves to describe a year in which the Ku Klux Klan arrives, seduces many solid citizens, moves from intimidation to threat to violence, and is finally rejected by the tolerant, no-nonsense townsfolk. Central to the story are two children, one an African-American named Leanora, and the other, a Jewish fresh-air child from New York, named Esther. As targets of prejudice, the lives of both are affected by the actions of the KKK: Leanora is the victim of racist remarks and threats, and Esther sees her father shot while she's sitting on his lap. The story is all the more haunting for its exquisite balance of complex and intersecting points of view on gender, ethnicity, politics, religion, and money. The setting is well developed through subtly embedded period details of everyday Vermont life (a broom sale creates a stampede) and incidents of national historical significance (the Leopold and Loeb trial). The voices of each character have a distinct resonance, but the voice of Esther, the moral center of the book, is memorable. It has a unique beauty and style created by Esther's innocent and hopeful way of expression, but revealing of her immigrant roots in New York. This is carefully crafted, with Leanora, who evolves and grows in wisdom and understanding, being given the first and last word. What Copeland created with music, and Hopper created with paint, Hesse deftly and unerringly creates with words: the iconography of Americana, carefully researched, beautifully written, and profoundly honest. (Fiction. 10-14) (August 1, 2001)

The author of Out of the Dust again turns language into music in her second quietly moving novel written entirely in verse. Here, 11 narrative voices chronicle actual events occurring in a sleepy Vermont town after the arrival of the Ku Klux Klan in 1924. Those victimized by the Klan include the families of Leanora Sutter, a 12-year-old African-American girl, and Esther Hirsh, the six-year-old daughter of a Jewish shoe salesman. Rounding out the portrait of the town are community leaders (an enlightened physician, a newspaper editor who moves from neutral to anti-Klan) as well as less prominent folk shopkeepers, a Protestant minister who are swayed into joining the white supremacist group. Their chorus of hatred rings loudly at first, but is tempered by their dawning realization of the severity of the Klan's punishment to their targets as well as the more rational, compassionate strains of the Klan's opponents. Hesse offers glimpses of the world at large through references to Prohibition, the Leopold and Loeb case and a letter Leanora pens to Helen Keller. The author distinguishes the characters (whose pictures appear in the front of the book) not only by their varying opinions but also by their tone of speech. The simpler, candid language of the two youngest cast members, Leanora and Esther, effectively crystallizes their gradual loss of innocence. Easily read in one sitting, this lyrical novel powerfully records waves of change and offers insightful glimpses into the hearts of victims, their friends and their enemies. Ages 9-12. (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information. (August 20, 2001)

*Introduce the Dramatic Structure to the students and have them analyze the text with the Freytag Pyramid method (Exposition, Rising Action Climax, Falling Action, and Denouement.)
*Have students pick a character and read the story as if it was a play.
*Read more books by Karen Hesse like Out of the Dust and Aleutian Sparrow.
*Read books about similar issues such as the Holocaust like Number of Stars by Lois Lowry.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Poetry: Knock on Wood: Poems About Superstitions

Wong, Janet S. (2003). KNOCK ON WOOD: POEMS ABOUT SUPERSTITIONS. Ill. by Julie Paschkis. NY: Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster. ISBN: 0689855125.

Taking seventeen traditional beliefs like walking under ladders and throwing salt, author and poet Janet S. Wong ventures through the world of superstitions in a collection of original free verse and rhyming poems.

Knock on Wood: Poems About Superstitions introduces readers to the world of superstitions, and there remedies, through the creative and original poems of Janet Wong and the corresponding artwork of Julie Paschkis. The seventeen poems are presented by the major element of the superstitions: Cat, Clover, Ears, Garlic, Hair, Hat, Horseshoe, Key, Ladder, Ladybug, Mirror, Potatoes, Rooster, Salt, Thirteen, Umbrellas, and Wood. Many of them are commonly known, such as a black cat crossing your path; however, there are less known ones like not putting hats on tables or beds.

In the collection, there are poems that are written in free verse, such as Horseshoe:

Think of a horseshoe as a piggy bank of luck.
When you bring it home, hang I prongs up.
Then leave it to fill, full and rich,
with no one looking.

When it’s time, the luck will spill.

There are also poems that are in rhyme like Potatoes:

Potatoes for your pocket, Granny.
Let them wrinkle for you, Granny.
Let them dry as hard as stones,
to pull the hurting from your bones.

In any form, the poems also give off specific tones and moods feelings. Many are humorous like Garlic: “All you bloodsuckers,/this is your last change:/ I am one bite/ away -/ from a hunk/ of Mother’s famous garlic chunk chicken,” (Wong, p. 8). Then there are ones that are mysterious and haunting. For example, Umbrellas: “Nasty ghosts fear a storm, have you heard?/ This is why they hide under umbrellas” (Wong, p. 32).

Paschkis’ watercolor illustrations, which are a cross between an Asian-flare and Americana art, have two levels of use in the book. First, they compliment each of the poems, and secondly, they set the format of the entire book. In two colors, such as red and cream for the poem Ladybug, the organic or linear art frames the entire double-spread and are mirror images of each other. These frames illustrate the poems, such as vampires surrounded by cloves of garlic and vampires lying dead because of the garlic, and are wonderfully detailed and creative. An example of this artistic creativity is seen in for Wood where the trees that surround the poem have flowers, animals, and humans intertwined into their surfaces. The text is in the center of the second page and within a shaped that either matches the topic, a hat shape for the poem about hats, or simple geometric or organic shape. On the opposite page is the same center shape with a picture that also relates to the poem, such for the poem about knocking on wood, there is a girl who is walking through a forest and knocking on one of the trees.

The final elements of the Knock on Wood: Poems About Superstitions are, at the very end of the book, the “About the Superstitions,” which briefly explains why the seventeen elements are associated with superstition, for example the belief that ghosts live in umbrellas come from the Chinese culture, and the “Author’s Note” that tells the author’s story of how she became fascinated with the subject.

With her strong interest in the topic and despite the fact that most of her poems are free versed, Wong truly grasps and illustrates the seventeen superstitions in a way that young readers can easily understand and have fun learning about these traditional and cultural beliefs.

(Primary, Intermediate) The author and the artist of Night Garden reunite for this picture book of poems about black cats, horseshoes, ladders, and other superstitions. The tone this time is mostly playful, as in this poem titled "Clover": "If you find a four-leaf clover in the grass, / you know a horse was born there / sometime. / In the days of fairies? / Fame, a faithful friend, wealth, good health. / These will be yours, doubled, they say-- / if you give your clover to me." Other subjects include ladybugs, the number thirteen, and opening umbrellas indoors, and Wong explains each superstition at the end, along with her motivation in these uncertain times for writing poems about superstitions. Where Wong's poetry here is a bit less thought provoking and nuanced than some of her previous work, Paschkis's paintings make the most of each poem. The book is beautifully designed, with one poem per spread, and a repeated, related shape (a hand, a house, a keyhole, etc.) containing a full-color painting on the left page and the poem on the right. The surrounding borders take elements from the poem and the painting and play with them symmetrically on the two pages, often with great intricacy and subtlety. Paschkis and Wong show how a poet and painter in harmony can each enhance the other's work in this engaging and visually striking book. Copyright 2003 of The Horn Book, Inc. All rights reserved (September 1, 2003).

Gr 3-5-Itchy ears, broken mirrors, and hats worn backward join wood spirits, ghosts, and of course black cats in this imaginative exploration of common and lesser-known superstitions. The shapely poems are infused with fey intimations in keeping with the collection's theme: "It is said/salt is magic. The pure kind, sea crystals./Spilled salt is magic flung wild." Some selections are haunting, and some humorous, as in this glimpse of a vampire's downfall: "All you bloodsuckers,/this is your last chance:/I am one bite/away-/from a hunk/of Mother's famous garlic chunk chicken." Paschkis creates an exquisite backdrop for the verses. Presented on a panoramic spread, each poem and facing watercolor scene have matching frames, anchoring them as reflections of one another. Some of the borders are abstract designs, but others are suggestive of elements in the verses. For example, "Potatoes" is contained inside a lumpy oval. Adept at both storytelling and design, the illustrator places the text and picture blocks against a wonderful montage of images in tones of a single color. Children of varied ethnicities and time periods are cast in fanciful folk-art scenes. Humor, satire, subplots, historic references, and decorative and surreal elements abound in artful profusion. There is much to ponder in both words and pictures. Some of the children depicted suggest a young audience, but the mixed poetic/visual brew is sophisticated. The author includes brief comments about the featured superstitions and a note reflecting on her personal experience in this area.-Margaret Bush, Simmons College, Boston Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information (December 1, 2003).

Ask the children if they have heard of any of these superstitions.
*Read other books about superstitions like Keep the Butter Side Up: Food Superstitions From Around the World by Kathlyn Gray and Silly Superstitions by Graham Denton.

Poetry: A World of Wonders: Geographic Travels in Verse and Rhyme

Lewis, J. Patrick. (2002). A WORLD OF WONDERS: GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELS IN VERSE AND RHYME. Ill. by Alison Jay. NY: Dial Books or Young Readers/Penguin Putnam, Inc. ISBN: 0803725795.

Through poems and art, A World of Wonders: Geographic Travels in Verse and Rhyme, poet J. Patrick Lewis and illustrator Alison Jay provide the passport for readers to visit and learn about fascinating places and famous explorers from around the world.

The combined work of J. Patrick Lewis and Alison Jay makes A World of Wonders: Geographic Travels in Verse and Rhyme a wonderful collection of poetry that is completely fun yet educational for readers of all ages.

There are several styles of poetry that Lewis uses in the book. The majority of them rhyme like How to Tell Latitude from Longitude:

Lines of latitude
Have flatitude.

Longitudinal lines
Rise like porcupines.

However, there are a few free verse poems, such the one about Christopher Columbus, which also spells out the name of the explorer’s famous ship:

Spain dispatched three ships
Across the Atlantic on a
Navigator’s hopeless dream of
Traveling westward to Asia
All dreams end in surprise.

Morning, October 12, 1492
Ahoy! In the Bahamas, he had
Reached the wilder shores of
Inhabitations, lost in the future,
Anchored at the far end of destiny.

There also rhymes that come in the form of riddles about famous cities (by asking “Where are you if…”) and questions about little known facts, such as Mount Everest is twenty-seven Eiffel Towers tall (Lewis, p. 18). The poems that are about specific places or people have name of the country and any important information relevant to the subject, for examples the information for the poem Ferdinand Magellan is “Portuguese-born Spanish explorer, First person to circumnavigate the globe, 1480-1521,” (Lewis, p. 4) and Angel Falls has “Venezuela, 3,212 feet tall” (Lewis, p. 14). Finally, there are poems that can be used to learn and/or memorize specific facts like which are “stalagmites” and which are “stalactites” in the poem How a Cave Will Behave and the difference in “Longitude” and “Latitude” in the poem given above.

What is truly wonderful about Lewis’ poems is his use of imaginative words to describe the places. A great example of this is the poem Who Could Somersault the San Andreas Fault. The format of this particular is three stanzas that have three lines each that rhyme with one another then a fourth and final one that has two rhyming lines. To creatively describe to the readers how large the fault is he uses the concept of leaping from one side to the other: “No one could possibly pole-vault/ Or trampoline or somersault/ Across the San Andreas fault/ … 600 miles long and 20 deep-/ Now that is something of a leap./ I think I’ll stay in bed and sleep” (Lewis, p. 11).

Just as fun and unique as the poems, Alison Jay’s illustrations truly compliment the text. The book is a mixture of single-page and a double-page spread format. The majority of her paintings are in a bird’s-eye-view of, for examples, a map, the earth, a grouping of islands; however there are straight-on frontal views as well, like of the Angel Falls or of Mount Everest in On Top of the World. To enhance the already colorful pseudo-naïve artwork, Jay finished her paintings with a coat of clear crackle. This element creates a beautiful dry cracked appearance to all of the illustrations. It even makes Jay’s artwork appear as if it was painted on wood. The illustrations give off the feeling of age and wear, this especially is wonderful on the illustration of a sea map in the Christopher Columbus poem.

With Lewis’ playful use of words and with Jay’s beautiful illustrations World of Wonders: Geographic Travels in Verse and Rhyme is not only a great picture book, but also a collection of cleverly written poetry and unique art that can educate and expand the imagination of all readers about the fascinating and amazing places from around the world.

In catchy, clever verse, the prolific Lewis (Earth and You: A Closer View, not reviewed, etc.) plays with place names, marvels at the journeys of several explorers, goes "Island Hopping," gads about the cities of Europe, even provides mnemonics to distinguish stalagmites from stalactites, and latitude from longitude-"Lines of latitude / Have a f l a t i t u d e. / Longitudinal lines / Rise like porcupines." The crackle finish on Jay's smoothly brushed artwork seems a bit mannered, but she adds plenty of imaginative visual twists to the poems; while the Red, Yellow, and Black Seas, for instance, flow out of oil-paint tubes, the Dead Sea comes from a salt shaker, and the Poles, described as "continental / Plates of white ice cream," are each capped by a jauntily-angled cookie. Lewis closes on an earnest note, urging readers to "Walk Lightly" upon the Earth. Young globetrotters and armchair travelers alike will happily climb aboard for the ride: "Go by yourself or invite a good friend / But traveling by poem is what I recommend." (Poetry. 8-11) (January 1, 2002)

In Lewis's (A Burst of Firsts) witty and fact-filled collection of poems, the narrator of the opening poem urges readers to "Discover the world of GE-OG-RA-PHY!" and recommends "traveling by poem." The poet examines not only the explorers (Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, etc.) themselves, but enough odd places and names to intrigue and tickle young readers. He offers a series of riddles about famous cities and facts about the globe ("Did you know [that] 27 Eiffel Towers and Mount Everest are equally tall?") as well as helpful mnemonic devices (e.g., in "How a Cave Will Behave": "A stalactite drips down from the ceiling./ A stalagmite grows up from the ground"). Lewis's verbal somersaults, both whimsical and plentiful, pepper the volume. As two men sit on a hilltop watching the aurora borealis, the speaker sees "clouds go by/ in colored thunderwear"; another tells of an "Archie fellow that I know/ [who] lived on an archi-pel-ago." But he and Jay (Picture This) also convey a sobering message in "Two Animals Talking": a boy says to a beetle, " `Behold all we have conquered, and/ The continents we've crossed!'/ `But since you always win,' said Beetle,/ `What have others lost?' " as the artwork shows a dark billowing cloud from a smokestack and a man chopping down a tree. The artist's many bird's-eye views brim with easy-to-recognize landmarks. She overlays each illustration with a crackle-glass web of lines. A full-scale treat for the armchair traveler. Ages 5-up. (January 7, 2002)

*Ask if anyone visited any amazing places either in the United States or abroad.
* Learn more about geography and travel with books like My America: A Poetry of the United States by Lee Bennett Hopkins (Ill. by Stephen Alcorn), Geography from A to Z: A Picture Glossary by Jack Knowlton (Ill. b Harriet Barton) and Me on the Map by Joan Sweeney (Ill. by Annette Cable).