Books by Karen Barbour

AFRICAN AMERICAN POETRY by Arnold Rampersad
CHILDREN'S
Released: Jan. 1, 2013

"Well-intentioned, and at least as valuable for its editorial additions as its lyric contents. (index) (Poetry. 10-13)"
A sampler worth sampling, despite pallid illustrations and a roster entirely made up of dead or veteran poets. Read full book review >
YOU WERE LOVED BEFORE YOU WERE BORN by Eve Bunting
CHILDREN'S
Released: Jan. 1, 2008

Bunting creates a universe of feeling using deceptively simple language. She pulls in all the family members and friends who rejoice in the coming of a new child, and does it without specifying the baby's gender, or whether it is born to the family or adopted. The text is matched with Barbour's beautiful illustrations—deep colors and rich pastels in patterns that recall Klimt's luminescent florals and Chagall's elegant lines. In the mother's voice, the narrative recounts how people loved this child: "Before you were born, you were loved by your aunt," who paints the moon, stars and rainbow in the child's room. Grandparents offer the rocker that they used for the child's mother and aunt. A cousin sorts through his own baby clothes and a neighbor makes a kite. A marvelous integration of color, image and verbal rhythm sure to delight and to become a must-purchase for newborns and their parents. (Picture book. 3-6)Read full book review >
MR. WILLIAMS by Karen Barbour
BIOGRAPHY
Released: Sept. 1, 2005

Mr. J.W. Williams grew up in rural Louisiana during the Depression. He tells of his large family surviving by hard work, faith and love. Each family member contributed, including the horses and mules. But there is also storytelling of traditional folktales and mouthwatering home cooking using the foods produced on the farm. There is a sense of the rhythm of the seasons filled with sights, sounds, smell and touch. As an African-American of his time, he could not escape the fear that accompanied the ugliness of bigotry, but he does not allow it to sour the loving remembrances. In an author's note, Balfour explains that she has attempted to faithfully adhere to the stories she heard directly from Mr. Williams. The wonderful folk art-style gouache-and-ink illustrations are filled with lovely color and perfectly match the simplicity of the text. What a delightful way to show young readers "how it was back then." (Picture book/nonfiction. 6-10)Read full book review >
LET'S TALK ABOUT RACE by Julius Lester
CHILDREN'S
Released: Jan. 1, 2005

A comforting direct address asks readers to think of themselves as stories, and to consider the elements of their stories: families, favorite foods, hobbies, etc.—"Oh. There's something else that is part of my story. It's part of yours, too. That's what race we are." Simply and confidently, the narrative encourages readers to reject the false stories—"I'm better than you because . . . "—and to focus on the stories that lie beneath the skin. Possibly the most effective exercise engages the reader directly by asking her to feel the bones under her skin, a multimedia demonstration of sorts of our universal kinship. The offering treads much of the same ground as bell hooks's Skin Again (2004), but its clear statement of its agenda much more successfully speaks to a child's concrete understanding of the world. Barbour's jewel-toned paintings provide a counterpoint with an appropriately kaleidoscopic array of many-hued children moving fluidly against brilliant backdrops. It's an effort that could easily founder under its own earnestness, but the lighthearted, avuncular tone and vivid art combine to make a surprisingly effective package. (Picture book/nonfiction. 5-10)Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: March 1, 2004

Fifteen poets, from Emily Dickinson to Karla Kuskin, celebrate the pleasures of communicating, while Barbour underscores those pleasures with dazzling, sometimes kaleidoscopic scenes of open books and stylized, often unusually colored human or animal figures. Hopkins has gathered a mix of new poems and reprints: Eve Merriam offers a "Metaphor": "Morning is / a new sheet of paper / "; Pat Mora has a tumble of "Words Free As Confetti"; the McKissacks urge children to "Share The Adventure" of reading; Kuskin of "Finding a Poem"; and Ann Whitford Paul of being a "Word Builder." Alice Schertle contributes a gem about the surreal effects of "Writing Past Midnight," and Richard Armour's disquisition on "The Period" provides an apt close. Like Eloise Greenfield's similarly themed In the Land of Words (2003), this will draw plenty of readers and listeners with its bright colors, and bright words. (Poetry. 7-12)Read full book review >
THE ANCESTORS ARE SINGING by Tony Johnston
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 2, 2003

Twenty-nine poems in free verse and haiku celebrate Mexico's dramatic history and continuing traditions. The poems speak of the ancient rain god Tláloc and the plumed serpent Quetzalcóatl. They reflect on the landing of Hernán Cortés in Veracruz, on the building of colonial churches where saints were given Indian faces, and on the enduring landscape. A young girl with long braids and folkloric dress is featured in many of the illustrations. "On a Jalapeño day—hot, hot, hot—" she drifts out the window and floats over the field where her father plows with an ox. In another poem, "Near the Zócalo" she stands "where the Old Ones / received the sign— / of eagle, serpent, nopal." The folk-like illustrations in black ink crowd the pages with childlike energy. Although the past infuses the present, the images are primarily rural. A rainy-day traffic jam in Mexico City is depicted with child-like drawings of cars occupied by men in sombreros and women with shawl-covered heads. Nothing is conveyed of the sophistication and energy, the vibrancy, or the daring modern architecture of contemporary Mexico City. A glossary provides pronunciations and brief explanations of people, places, and terms. For many readers, more detailed explanations of the history behind the poems would have been helpful. The poems are competent, but not outstanding. A good addition where books about Mexico are needed. (Poetry. 8-12)Read full book review >
FIRE! FIRE! HURRY! HURRY! by Andrea Zimmerman
ANIMALS
Released: April 1, 2003

Again and again, a team of four-legged firefighters puts dinner on hold when a series of fires breaks out in the neighborhood. Barbour's (The Ancestors Are Singing, above, etc.) folkloric illustrations are alive with energy and eye-popping color. In the opening spread, for example, the station bustles as the crew prepares a spaghetti dinner. A blue bear stands at a red stove; a lime-green elephant plays checkers with a Dalmatian in purple overalls; a yellow lion serves a platter of swirly pasta while a pink mouse, striped cat, and an alligator set the table. "The firefighters sit down and start to eat," the authors begin. "But suddenly— / DING! DING! DING! DING!" The fire is at a flower shop. "Fire! Fire! Hotter! Hotter! / Hurry! Hurry! Water! Water! / The team works hard together. / Can they put out the fire?" Of course they can, and in a framed vignette, the shopowner shows her appreciation by presenting the crew with a bouquet. On the facing page, the firefighters sit around the dinner table, now beautified by flowers. But just as they're about to eat, duty calls and the crew rushes off again. Youngsters are sure to join in as the alarm rings and the catchy refrain will likely have them chanting while the crew puts out each fire. The toy shop, the pet store, and the bakery are all saved. In the end, the firefighters finally get to enjoy their meal but, by then, it's been augmented by loads of gifts. A joyful celebration of team work, sure to please the preschool set. (Fiction. 4-6)Read full book review >
LAUGHING OUT LOUD, I FLY by Juan Felipe Herrera
NONFICTION
Released: May 31, 1998

Citing Picasso's Hunk of Skin as his inspiration, Herrera (Calling the Doves/El Canto de las Palomas, 1995) offers 22 poems in facing English and Spanish versions, printed over Barbour's pale, floating figures of images from Mexican folk art. Subordinating meaning to sound and rhythm, the poet writes in quick, breathless phrases that sometimes read like random lists—"I own many socks, some with wings/others Alexandrines, 6 of white beaches/ . . . & 1 skin-diving pig, ‘Where are my sockos?' as Papi says,/one tambourine socko for your flower-vase head." Literalists may flounder, but the music comes through clearly, especially in the Spanish: " ‘®D¢nde est†n mis calcetas?' como dice Papi,/una calceta de pandereta para tu maceta." The voice is a child's, and while references to places in Mexico, California, and the Southwest—as well as Chechnya and Sarajevo—flicker past, it's food and family, spices, pets, and friends that recur. This is poetry to read aloud, to read quickly, to understand more with the heart than with the head. (Poetry. 12-14) Read full book review >
MR. BOW TIE by Karen Barbour
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 1991

Two kids tell how their dad's gift of a meal to the homeless man who sleeps outside their neighborhood store leads first to an informal exchange of his help (sweeping the sidewalk, etc.) for more food and eventually to his going happily away with his parents, contacted through ``a big office.'' Barbour (who illustrated Adoff's Flamboyan, 1988) is a gifted artist whose vibrant colors and comfortably rounded forms are not especially appropriate to the topic; and while the kindness and respect shown towards this troubled veteran (whose name proves to be ``Elliot Lyman Bristow'') are laudable, the conclusion is unrealistic: jacket copy reveals that ``the real Mr. Bow Tie remains on the streets.'' Well-intentioned but simplistic. (Picture book. 4-8)*justify no* Read full book review >