Many of you know that I am a huge Beatrix Potter fan and as a children’s librarian, have been charmed by her 23 small books about Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle Duck, Squirrel Nutkin, Benjamin Bunny and her other animal friends for many years. I have collected Beatrix Potter books and related merchandise my entire career and have displayed my collection at the Iowa City Public Library and the Coralville Public Library. So when I accidentally came across Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Classic Children’s Tales, needless to say, I was thrilled. Oh, and did I tell you that I am a flower gardener? Author Marta McDowell from the New York Botanical Garden gives an account of the famous children’s writer and illustrator’s life. Included in the book are old photographs, quotes from Potter’s books, letters, book illustrations, journal entrees, and her beautiful watercolor sketches of flowers and book characters. The second part of the book is a seasonal overview of what is blooming in Potter’s gardens at Hill Top Farm and her other properties in the Lake District of England. The book culminates in a traveler’s guide with information about visiting Potter’s home and gardens today. Readers may not have known that Beatrix Potter left her privileged life in London to farm, raise sheep, write, garden, and conserve the beautiful landscapes in the north of England. Most impressive are all the thousands of acres of land she left to the National Trust upon her death. I’ve read several biographies about Beatrix Potter so I didn’t learn anything new about her life; however, her passion for gardening and the expert information by the author, a consulting horticulturalist, was most informative and a pleasure to read. Someday I hope to travel to the Lake District and visit Hill Top Farm and before I do, I’ll re-read this fascinating book.
Author Archive for Katherine Habley
Librarian Ashley Weaver’s debut novel is the kind of cozy mystery I really enjoy. Set in 1930′s England, wealthy Amory and Milo Ames have been married five years and Amory’s charming playboy husband is still acting like he’s a bachelor. He’s just returned from the French Riviera when her old fiance, Gil Trent, looks Amory up and asks her to join him at a seaside resort to hopefully dissuade his sister, Emmeline, from marrying a cad, Rupert Howe. On the second day at the posh Brightwell Hotel, Emory finds Howe’s body, apparently pushed over a railing onto a terrace below. Lots of friends and acquaintances staying for the week are possible suspects, but Gil is the primary target of the investigation. Then Milo appears on the scene and things get complicated as Amory wants to clear Gil’s name and figure out if her marriage to Milo is worth saving. Another murder takes place and the group of secondary characters each have their own secrets and reasons not to be trusted. Red herrings abound and Milo’s reluctant assistance in helping Amory find the killer keeps the readers’ interest. The sarcastic repartee between Amory and Milo is amusing and the the reader will keep wondering who Amory will end up with, Milo or Gil. The clues start adding up for the detective, but will the mystery be solved before another murder is committed? The romance aspect of the story adds to a fun light read set in a lavish location and time period. I recommend this engaging mystery to fans of Agatha Christie’s books. This first novel would make a great series with Amory Ames as the amateur sleuth.
The Main Coon’s Haiku and Other Poems for Cat Lovers is a 2015 new poetry book for children that I checked-out in preparation for the library’s annual Poetry Workshop for Kids coming up Saturday, April 11th, from 2:00–4:00 p.m. I enjoy facilitating this program for tweens each April in honor of National Poetry Month and am always amazed at the creative poems kids write. We talk about haiku, originally a poetic form from Japan describing a moment in nature in 17 syllables (5-7-5) written in three lines. Nowadays we take lots of poetic license in the writing of haiku as illustrated in this new collection of poems by Rosen who gave us The Cuckoo’s Haiku in 2009. Each of the twenty haiku are about a particular kind of cat. For example, in the haiku entitled “Burmese,” it goes like this: “Only the blazing/forsythia blooms rival/the Burmese cat’s gaze.” Another poem I enjoy is “Maine Coon” written in three simple lines of verse: “Crouched before the couch,/suddenly, cat has all night/for just one sound–mouse.” Haiku is a great form of poetry to teach because it’s short and understandable for young readers and writers. Children can use their imagination to think of a scene in nature that for one brief moment is worthy of notice and describe it in a haiku. It is personal, reflective, and quiet poetry that relies on eliciting feelings, emotions, and wonder. The illustrations in this book are by Lee White and are done digitally in muted colors. A bonus in The Maine Coon’s Haiku is the thumbnail description and image from the book of the breed. Don’t forget to register your 3rd-6th grader for the Poetry Workshop and we’ll talk more about haiku and write some of our own. In the meantime, check out this book on the New Book Shelves and celebrate National Poetry Month!
Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold written by Joyce Sidman is a lovely new picture book of poems suitable for grade K to grade 4. Although there are only a dozen poems included, they are very descriptive of animals surviving in the cold long winter. The author sometimes uses unfamiliar words in her poems but there is a brief glossary of 22 definitions in the back of the book that defines words children might not know. Some poems rhyme but most do not. Two of the poems are in a particular poetic form–a pantoun and a triolet–adding to the reader’s knowledge of the poetic structure used. Sidman has certainly done her research on each animal of the frozen North she writes about. She lives in Minnesota and has observed these creatures first hand; but the addition of a paragraph of information about each hardy animal living in the winter is something that will appeal to animal lovers, parents, and teachers who choose to share this book in the classroom. Some of the animals included are the tundra swan, a big brown moose, winter bees, a vole, and wolves. The aspect of this new volume of poetry that I particularly love are the beautiful illustrations by Rick Allen, another Minnesota native. He is a printmaker and has employed his considerable skills in printing from linoleum blocks and then adding color by hand. The prints were then digitally scanned, composed, and layered to create the artwork for the poems. Winter Bees is a book for those who love the natural world. And even though the poems depict winter scenes, the book ends with the coming of Spring. Hallelujah!
Soon it will be April and I’ll be pulling out my folder for my favorite rainy day stories in preparation for a library storytime or an outreach storytime at any one of a number of community preschools and day care sites. A new picture book is a perfect addition to toddler and preschool storytimes and for any parent whose child might be fearful of a thunderstorm. Blue on Blue is Dianne White’s first book. It is written in a rhyming text that is short and sweet. The book depicts a day that is bright and beautiful until a storm comes along with rain, thunder, and lightning. By late afternoon the little girl takes her umbrella outside and the sun peeks out from behind the rain clouds. The dogs go outside to play and the pigs roll happily in the mud. The mother and baby watch the sunset, the father washes the dogs in the trough, and finally it is time to go back inside for a bath and bedtime. How fortunate for a first-time author to be paired with the Caldecott Award winner illustrator, Beth Krommes. As in The House in the Night, Krommes employs the technique of scratchboard and watercolor to create realistic, detailed artwork that is within the realm of a young child’s understanding of the world. Each beautiful spread has familiar objects in each scene depicted. By the front door we see a red tricycle, a jump rope, an umbrella stand, a basket of laundry and a bag of clothespins, a ball, and a cat looking in while the puppy looks out. Those same objects are later seen in another image outside. The father tills the soil from a distance with the horses out in the field, and then drives the tractor into the barn and rounds up the horses while his daughter hides with her doggie under the covers upstairs in her bed. Turtles, ducks, flowers, lightning bugs, stars, and a toad are other things that will be fun for a small child to point out when the story is shared with an adult. What a happy combination of story and illustrations that mesh together beautifully. Enjoy!
A book on the New Shelf that caught my eye is entitled Smick! and written by the author of many ridiculously funny picture books like Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, Diary of a Worm, and Giggle, Giggle, Quack. This one is very short with only a couple of words per page that often rhyme. There is a dog named “Smick” who plays with a stick and cavorts with a chick. The illustrator is Juana Medina, a Colombia native and graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. She now lives and works in Washington, D.C., and teaches at the Corcoran College of Art + Design. Her spare artwork is done in mixed media. The dog is drawn in what looks like black crayon; the stick looks like a photograph; and the chick appears like a red and yellow photo of a flower petal with black crayon features. This simple story and pictures is a delightful picture book that has already proven to be a hit in storytime. All the white space on the pages combined with the artwork demonstrates that less is definitely more. Check out Cronin’s newest offering and sit back and enjoy all the laughs with the toddler and preschool set.
In the past I’ve enjoyed David Elliott’s books of short poems for young children (On the Farm, In the Wild, and In the Sea) illustrated by Holly Meade. In his newest book, On the Wing, his poems are illustrated by first-time picture book artist, Becca Stadtlander. Here, the 16 poems included are all about different kinds of birds such as the bald eagle, the hummingbird, the Caribbean flamingo, the Australian pelican, and the great horned owl. In free verse the avian-inspired poems are short and sweet and meant to be read aloud. Take the concise poem entitled, “The Puffin.” “The puffin/is unique–especially/it’s beak.” Or how about “The Macaw” verse: “The Macaw/Who spilled the paint?” I can just hear kids laughing at that one when they see the colorful gouache illustration of this particular bird. All of the pictures are a double-spread design and the print is large for young readers to read on their own. The artwork for the cardinal poem and the Japanese cranes poem are particularly lovely. Introducing preschoolers and primary grade children to brief poems helps them with language development and sparks their imagination. Books like On the Wing make a perfect introduction to poetry beyond nursery rhymes. Check out all of David Elliott’s neat picture books of verse and have fun sharing them with little ones. You can find this book on the New Book shelves in the Children’s Room of the Iowa City Public Library.
I love hats! I started wearing hats in my 20′s when I was in college. I’m not talking about knitted wool hats, I’m talking fancy straw and felt hats that I would wear to complete my outfit. I still wear hats and am almost ashamed to admit that I have nearly 200 hats that are in boxes carefully organized and labeled so I can find just the one I want to wear to church on Sunday mornings. I love wearing hats to tea parties and I always take a couple of packable hats when I travel to give me flexibility to dress up an outfit.
As a children’s librarian, one of the best things about my job is doing storytimes for preschoolers, whether in the library or at one of our 40+ day cares and preschools we visit regularly. I always have a theme and hats has been a favorite storytime subject; kids love the hats I bring for show and tell.
A fairly new picture book that I was happy to discover is right up my alley. Happy Birthday Madam Chapeau by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts is one that I can’t wait to read aloud to 3-6 year-olds. The rhyming text tells of a milliner who makes all kinds of fabulous hats but is lonely. Once a year she dresses up and puts on a special hat and treats herself to dinner at the finest Parisian restaurant to celebrate her birthday. This year, as she’s walking to town to dine, a crow steals her birthday bonnet! Many onlookers offer her their hat to wear but she declines each one until a little girl offers Madame Chapeau a hat she has knitted. The illustrations are quite humorous and extend the text very nicely; David Roberts was a former milliner before illustrating children’s books and his knowledge of one-of-a-kind designer hats is evident. There is plenty for children to discover in the pictures that celebrate the joy of ribbons, baubles, bows, and veils. Have fun sharing this one!
A new picture book biography by Patricia MacLachlan is special in every way. The reviews have been great and it’s no wonder. The text is spare and suitable for K-3. I love how the author has made a book about a famous artist accessible for young children. The book begins, “If you were a boy named Henri Matisse who lived in a dreary town in northern France where the skies were gray and the days were cold and you wanted color and light and sun….” We learn how he added vivid color to his surroundings and noticed with an artist’s eye the lovely things around him. Encouraged by his beloved mother, Henri learned to observe color, light, texture, and beauty. He loved the china plates his mother painted, the bright red rugs she hung on the walls, the fruit and flowers his mother brought home for him to arrange on the table, and the beautiful silk clothes the townspeople wore. Henri especially loved raising pigeons and observing how the sun made their feathers look iridescent in the light creating a shimmering effect. MacLachlan says it is no surprise that Matisse grew up to be a fine painter. The seed was planted in his youngest years when his mother gave him a set of paints to mix and notice the wonderful colors he could make on paper. The artwork in The Iridescence of Birds is by Hadley Hooper. After much research she decided to use relief printing. Hooper cut the characters and backgrounds out of stiff foam and cardboard, inked them up, made the prints, and then scanned them into Photoshop. The results are fabulous!
In his old age, Matisse turned to paper collage and cutting with scissors became his mode of expression. Another terrific picture book about his life is entitled, Henri’s Scissors, written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter. She focuses on the artist’s later years when he was confined to a bed and a wheelchair. Here Matisse is depicted using colored paper and scissors and employing his vivid imagination to create artwork that his assistants put up on the walls of his seaside cottage. “A pair of scissors is a wonderful instrument,” says Matisse. He wonders why he never thought of using the technique of paper cutting for his designs earlier. In this book the pictures Winter creates are done in acrylics and cut paper.
Both books would pair nicely together and art teachers will find these titles useful in their classrooms. Parents will enjoy sharing them with their young children to foster their own creativity….and maybe give them a set of paints after reading the books together! Both books also include author’s notes with further information about Henri Matisse and suggestions for reading.
Two-time Coretta Scott King Award winning author, Sharon M. Draper, has written a stunning novel for upper-elementary school children that opens like this: “Words have always swirled around me like snowflakes–each one delicate and different, each one melting untouched in my hands. Deep within me, words pile up in huge drifts. Mountains of phrases and sentences and connected ideas. Clever expressions. Jokes. Love songs …. But only in my head. I have never spoken one single word. I am almost eleven years old.” So begins the story of fifth grader Melody Brooks who has cerebral palsy but doesn’t want to be defined by it. Although she can’t walk, talk, feed herself, or go to the bathroom without help, she can read, think, remember, and feel. She is a brilliant girl trapped in her own weak body and confined to a wheelchair. Melody learns of a computer with technology that will allow her to communicate to others and her world changes big time! But there are still ignorant doctors, thoughtless teachers, and cruel classmates to deal with. Fortunately, Melody has a fierce advocate in her mother, not unlike the author whose own daughter has cerebral palsy, thus providing great authenticity and accuracy in the writing. This book is a compelling read that will hopefully make all readers more compassionate and understanding toward those with disabilities and the misconceptions that go with them. I especially loved Melody’s sense of humor and fortitude despite her many challenges. This is one book you won’t be able to put down until you come to the final page.
Katherine Habley at the Library