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May 26, 2011 Edition

Mirror Mirror, by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josee Masse

If you read a poem bottom to top, will it make sense? It will in this book of clever book of reversed verse, where tweaking the punctuation is the only change allowed. See two sides to some classic fairy tales: who finds life more unfair – Cinderella or her stepsisters? Who is hurrying through the woods – Red Riding Hood or the wolf? And why on earth is the girl who tricked Rumplestiltskin so glum? (hint: check out the smoke and gold yarn!) Inspired by her cat, Singer began playing with words to make poems that read the same backwards and forwards, and this slim book will have you chuckling out loud and possibly even picking up a pen to test your own cleverness. Masse’s strong illustrations continue the mirroring theme, deepen the poems’ meanings and often provide clues to the poems’ speakers – a tall order, well-done.

The Chiru of High Tibet, by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Linda Wingerter

High on windy plains in northern Tibet live the chiru, tiny animals little taller than a baseball bat, who have been hunted nearly to extinction for their incredibly soft, warm wool. This quietly powerful story follows them from their grazing grounds in northern Tibet to their calving grounds somewhere in the foothills of the Kunlun Mountains. In a strong, rhythmic voice, it also tells the story of conservationist George Schaller and his team of mountain climbers who followed the chiru for several springs before discovering where they calved. Icy colors predominate in the lovely and evocative illustrations.

Mimi’s Dada Catifesto, by Shelley Jackson.

Mimi, a cat with the soul of an artist and a large shoe collection, refuses to attach herself to a human until she meets the artist she calls Mr. Dada. Then the tables are turned: he doesn’t want anything to do with a cat. When Mimi performs a sound poem, Mr. Dada throws a shoe at her. When she displays her gallery of ready-made art (including a dead bug and a hairball), he sweeps it up into the trash. And when she creates a randomly-generated poem just for him, Mr. Dada walks right through it (making it even better, in Mimi’s opinion). It’s not until Mr. Dada finds himself complaining about Mimi in the same words his neighbor uses to complain about him that he suddenly becomes aware that they share an artistic bond. Readers of all ages will have fun creating art in the Dadaist style along with Mimi.

The Carnival of the Animals, written and read by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Mary GrandPre, music by Camille Saint-Saens

Saint-Saens wrote Carnival as a joke to point out his friends’ resemblances to animals, but he allowed only one piece (a complimentary one) to be published before his death. Here, Prelutsky, a poet with a great sense of humor, has written poems to go with each movement, and GrandPre has illustrated each with her own colorful and easily-recognized brand of sly humor. Turn the pages along with Prelutsky’s reading of his verse or close your eyes and picture the animals dancing before you while you listen to the Württemberg Chamber Orchestra perform the whole piece – or even get up and dance along to the music.

The Man Who Planted Trees, by Jean Giono, wood engravings by Michael McCurdy, read by Robert Lurtsema

This timeless classic has made its way from a book to a movie and now back to a book with an audio CD. The CD has both a soundtrack by the Paul Winters Consort and a reading of the story by public radio broadcaster Robert Lurtsema, whose resonant voice and measured pacing echo the quiet woodcut illustrations and slow pacing of the story. It is the allegorical story of Elzéard Bouffier, a French shepherd who spent his life restoring life to a desolate valley by planting 100 acorns every day. Eventually, the empty valley becomes a forest of oaks that form a haven for life of all kinds. Pair this with Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney, for another look at how we spread life and joy around us in small ways.

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