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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Nice Christmas Story if You Ignore Rhyme Crimes

The Night the Lights Went Out on Christmas
Written by Ellis Paul and illustrated by Scott Brundage
Albert Whitman & Co., 2015
Ages 4-8  

In “The Night the Lights Went Out on Christmas” the Johnsons inspire a neighborhood competition on who has the best Christmas lights. The decorations get brighter and gaudier until Christmas Block is famous and draws visitors every year.

Finally, one year Jimmy Johnson switches a switch and the lights go out in the entire town. The blackout spreads wider and wider until it covers the world. Everyone on Christmas Block stands heartbroken until Missy Johnson looks up in the sky and cries out about the beauty of the stars. 

Countless faces smile in awe at the night sky. They remember that one star guided three kings on the first Christmas night. They wonder if maybe Christmas can be neon free. The next year the neighbors on Christmas Block don't put up any decorations. Instead, they light a candle on a rock and gather around to sing Christmas carols. 

This is an inspiring Christmas story, but unfortunately the telling of the story falls a little short. It is told in rhyme and four-line stanzas, but the book is riddled with rhyme crimes. The rhyme scheme is inconsistent, there is no regular meter, slant rhyme or almost rhyme is used too often, and awkward word choice and inverted syntax are common.

The colorful full-page illustrations are lovely and vibrant. Expressive facial expressions amp up the emotional power of the story.

If you can ignore the book’s rhyme crimes, this would make a great Christmas gift for a young child.

About the Author and Illustrator:

Ellis Paul is an award-winning folk singer-songwriter.  He has released eighteen albums, including his most recent album for adults, "Chasing Beauty." His children’s albums are "The Dragonfly Races" and "The Hero in You," which was adapted into a children’s book. “The Night the Lights Went Out on Christmas” is based on a song he wrote for his holiday album, "City of Silver Dreams." Visit him at

Scott Brundage is an award-winning illustrator whose works have appeared in major newspapers and magazines throughout the United States. This is his first picture book. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and dog. His website is


Monday, December 7, 2015

National Geographic Celebrates Nature with Poetry Collection

National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry: More than 200 Poems with Photographs that Float, Zoom, and Boom!
Edited by J. Patrick Lewis
The National Geographic Society, 2015

This collection of over 200 nature poems pairs stunning photographs with poems that vary in style and mood, but are equally striking. The poems come from a wide range of over 100 poets, including 19th century classics like William Woodworth, John Keats and Emily Dickinson; 20th century favorites like Robert Frost, E.E. Cummings and Langston Hughes; and contemporary children’s poets, such as Jack Prelutsky, Janet Wong and Jane Yolen.

Simpler poems may appeal to the youngest, such as “Dew” by Charles Ghigna, appearing next to a dew-covered flower: “Diamonds on the petals/Silver on the stems/Early morning sunrise/Turns dewdrops into gems.”  Dramatic narratives might pique the interest of older children. “Tornado Season” by Adrien Stoutenburg tells the story of a destructive tornado: “Wind went by with people falling out of it/ and hairpins/and a barn door swinging without its hinges.”

This book would make a wonderful introduction to poetry for children of all ages and a treasure for the family bookshelf.  
About the Editor:

J. Patrick Lewis is an award-winning poet and the former U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate. Before becoming a full-time writer, he was an economics professor at Otterbein College until 1998. He is the author of more than 50 books of poetry for children including “Spot the Plot: A Riddle Book of Book Riddles” (2009, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger); “The Last Resort” (2002), a New York Times Best Illustrated Book; “The Shoe Tree of Chagrin” (2001), which won the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators' Golden Kite Award; and “A Hippopotamusn't: And Other Animal Poems” (1990). He has also collaborated with other poets on several collections. His children's poetry has been widely anthologized, and his contributions to children's literature have been recognized with the 2011 Poetry Award from the National Council of Teachers of English and the Ohioana Awards' 2004 Alice Louise Wood Memorial Prize. His poetry for adults includes the collection “Gulls Hold Up the Sky: Poems 1983-2010.”