fbpx

Tag Archives | Picture Books

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson: Voices from History

Books have been a part of Vaun­da Micheaux Nel­son’s life since the day she was born. “My moth­er found my name in a nov­el she was read­ing,” Nel­son says. Books and fam­i­ly and his­to­ry form a thread through many of Nelson’s award-win­ning pic­ture books.

Almost to FreedomWe want to focus on Nelson’s telling of his­to­ry begin­ning with the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry. Almost to Free­dom (Car­ol­rho­da, 2003; illus­trat­ed by Col­in Boot­man) is nar­rat­ed by Sal­ly, a doll made by the lit­tle girl Lindy’s enslaved moth­er for her daugh­ter. “I start­ed out no more’n a bunch of rags on a Vir­ginia plan­ta­tion,” the doll tells us. When the doll is giv­en to Lindy, Lindy hugs her hard, names her Sal­ly, and says, “We gonna be best friends.” Lindy takes Sal­ly every­where, tying her to her waist with a rope when Lindy and her mom­ma pick cotton.

Then Lindy’s father is sold away to anoth­er own­er for try­ing to get to Free­dom, and Lindy is whipped for ask­ing Massa’s son how to spell her name. One night Lindy’s mom­ma wakes Lindy “when the sun ain’t awake yet,” and they run away, Sal­ly tied to Lindy’s waist, to meet Lindy’s father at the riv­er. Once across the riv­er, they run, then hide in an under­ground store­room in a house on the under­ground rail­road. “We almost to Free­dom,” Lindy whis­pers to Sal­ly, but slave catch­ers are after them, and when they fran­ti­cal­ly scram­ble out to run again, Sal­ly falls out of the rope around Lindy’s waist and is left behind in the hid­den store­room. Sal­ly waits alone in the dark­ness, think­ing she might be there “for the rest of her days” until one day a moth­er and her daugh­ter Willa, escaped slaves, are hid­den in the store­room. Willa, shiv­er­ing and scared, picks up the doll, names her Belin­da, and promis­es they will be best friends. While the doll miss­es Sal­ly, she is “mighty glad to be Willa’s doll baby. It’s a right impor­tant job.”

In an author’s note Nel­son says she was inspired by a col­lec­tion of Black rag dolls in a folk art muse­um, about which the guide­book said a few had been found in an Under­ground Rail­road hide­out. Nel­son thought, “if only these dolls could talk,” and Sally/Belinda does talk to read­er, in a voice that makes us care not just about Sal­ly but also about Lindy and her fam­i­ly and, lat­er, Willa and her moth­er and any peo­ple flee­ing the hor­rors of slav­ery. Collin Bootman’s rich dark paint­ings cap­ture the story’s emo­tions, from fear and pain to ten­der­ness and love. While we don’t learn what hap­pens to Sal­ly and her fam­i­ly or Willa and her moth­er, the book is a sto­ry of hope and courage and com­fort in the face of the unspeak­able evil of slav­ery and of the long­ing for free­dom and the “right impor­tant job” of being loved.

Bad News for OutlawsBad News for Out­laws (Car­ol­rho­da, 2009; illus­trat­ed by R. Gre­go­ry Christie) begins “Jim Webb’s luck was run­ning mud­dy when Bass Reeves rode into town.” Mud­dy, indeed. Webb was on the run from Mar­shall Bass Reeves and leaped out a win­dow to escape, but Bass chased him down. When Webb fired his gun Reeves, who hat­ed blood­shed, was forced to shoot Webb down. After that dra­mat­ic show­down scene, Nel­son tells us how Reeves went from enslaved to becom­ing a leg­endary law­man in what was then called Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry, a wild part of the wild west.

Reeves had been enslaved in Texas, where his own­er taught him to shoot and hunt. When Bass and his own­er argued and Bass hit the own­er, Bass knew he had to run, and run he did for Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry, where he lived with Native Amer­i­cans until slav­ery end­ed. Even­tu­al­ly Reeves became a U.S. Mar­shall for Judge Isaac C. Park­er. Reeves was known for track­ing down crim­i­nals and also for his shoot­ing abil­i­ty, so accu­rate he could “‘shoot the left hind leg off a con­tent­ed fly sit­ting on a mule’s ear at a hun­dred yards and nev­er ruf­fle a hair.’”

Nev­er taught to read, Reeves mem­o­rized every­thing he need­ed to know to hunt down want­ed out­laws, often using dis­guis­es to cap­ture them. In his long career he arrest­ed more than three thou­sand peo­ple and brought in wag­onloads of crim­i­nals. Both respect­ed and hat­ed, Reeves was “right as rain from the bootheels up” and devot­ed to doing his duty. Once he cut down a man about to be lynched by an angry mob, an act that was “near as risky as a grasshop­per land­ing on an anthill.” When Bass Reeves’s son killed his wife, Bass did his painful duty and arrest­ed his own son.

illustration from Bad News for Outlaws
illus­tra­tion copy­right © R. Gre­go­ry Christie, from Bad News for Out­laws,
writ­ten by Vaun­da Micheaux Nel­son, Car­ol­rho­da Books

For 32 years, Bass Reeves hunt­ed down out­laws and brought them in to face jus­tice. He was the longest serv­ing mar­shal in Indi­an ter­ri­to­ry until Okla­homa became a state and Reeves was out of a job. Near­ly sev­en­ty years old, he joined a local police force, and dur­ing his two years on the force not a sin­gle crime occurred in his area. Such was the pow­er of Reeve’s rep­u­ta­tion as a law­man. When he died, fel­low law­mak­ers called Reeves one of the bravest men the coun­try had ever known and “the most feared deputy U.S. mar­shal that was ever heard of.”

Read­ing this book is a joy, both for the sto­ry of Bass Reeves and also for the voice in which Nel­son tells that sto­ry. Exten­sive back mat­ter includes an author’s note, def­i­n­i­tions for “west­ern words” such as shoot­ing irons and tum­ble­weed wag­ons, a time­line of Reeves’s life, sug­ges­tions for fur­ther read­ing, and his­tor­i­cal back­ground on Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry and the life of Judge Isaac C. Parker.

Dream MarchIn Dream March (Ran­dom House, 2017; illus­trat­ed by Sal­ly Wern Com­port), Vaun­da Micheaux Nel­son adds a book to Ran­dom House’s Step into Read­ing His­to­ry Read­er Series and tells the sto­ry of the 1963 March on Washington.

Nel­son is not con­tent with the bland style occa­sion­al­ly found in easy read­ers and offers won­der­ful details for the march. “Some walked over 200 miles from Brook­lyn, New York. One man rolled 698 miles from Chica­go on skates. It took him ten days.” She shares lyrics from some of the songs sung that day. And she skill­ful­ly lets read­ers know what was at stake. “Black peo­ple fought/for many years/for the right to be treated/with respect…They fought for the right/to attend the same schools/and eat in the same restau­rants. /They fought to use/the same bathrooms/and drink from the same/water foun­tains. /They fought to sit /on any emp­ty bus seat/and to have the same chance/at a job. /They fought for the right to vote./”

To be treat­ed with respect…the right to vote. The fight is not over. But we can take courage from this moment, this event. Nel­son reports on Mar­tin Luther King Jr.’s stir­ring words: “Final­ly Mar­tin said, / his voice like thun­der: /’Let free­dom ring!’ /’From every hill’ and/‘every moun­tain­side,’ /’from every state and every city,’ /’let free­dom ring!’ /And if we do, people/of all col­ors and all faiths/will join hands and sing: /’Free at last, free at last,/thank God Almighty,/we are free at last!’”

We two like to think of young read­ers learn­ing of this his­toric event through Vaun­da Micheaux Nelson’s care­ful­ly cho­sen words. Per­haps they will nev­er for­get the man who roller skat­ed to attend. Per­haps they will be the peo­ple of all col­ors who join hands and sing. Let us hope.

We have always thought that books give us neigh­bors we nev­er would have had oth­er­wise. And Vaun­da Micheaux Nel­son puts read­ers from a small town in Iowa or south Min­neapo­lis right next to an amaz­ing book­store in Harlem — the Nation­al Memo­r­i­al African Amer­i­can Book­store.. Lucky us!

The Book ItchHer sto­ry The Book Itch: Free­dom, Truth & Harlem’s Great­est Book­store (Car­ol­rho­da, 2015; illus­trat­ed by R. Gre­go­ry Christie) intro­duces us to her great-uncle Lewis Michaux, a self-edu­cat­ed man who want­ed to pro­vide books for African-Amer­i­cans who lived in Harlem. She has also writ­ten a book about this store for old­er read­ers. In this younger ver­sion she tells her great-uncle’s sto­ry through the voice of his son, Lewis Michaux Jr., who she says pro­vid­ed much infor­ma­tion about Lewis Michaux Sr. and his store.

Lewis Michaux’s store even­tu­al­ly became famous and was vis­it­ed by celebri­ties such as Muhammed Ali and Louis Arm­strong, civ­il rights lead­ers such as W.E.B. Dubois and Mal­colm X, and hun­dreds of Harlem res­i­dents. But in the begin­ning when Lewis Michaux went to a bank to ask for a loan, the bank refused. “The banker told him ‘Black peo­ple don’t read.’”

Lewis per­sist­ed and raised mon­ey for the store by wash­ing win­dows. He acquired more and more books until the store was jammed full of books, wall to wall, top to bot­tom. “Cus­tomers stay as long as they want, even if it’s past clos­ing time. Dad nev­er makes them leave like oth­er stores do. Some­times Dad locks up so late he’s too tired to come home. He sleeps there with all his books.” Lewis Michaux loved signs: “Knowl­edge is pow­er. You need it every hour. Read a book!” “Don’t get took. Read a book.” Some of his best signs are repro­duced in the end­pa­pers of the book.

Lewis also host­ed speak­ers for ral­lies out­side his book­store. When­ev­er they set up the raised plat­form “peo­ple crowd around.… Peo­ple come to hear talk about fight­ing for the same rights white peo­ple have. Talk about jobs and vot­ing. Peo­ple shout angry words. They kid around and laugh.…Dad talks to the crowd from the plat­form too. He says black peo­ple need to learn their his­to­ry by read­ing books.” Lewis Michaux was friends with Mal­colm X who spoke out­side the store, received his mail at the store, and often talked with the book­store owner.

The most mov­ing sec­tion of this book reports the assas­si­na­tion of Mal­colm X. The civ­il rights leader was sched­uled to speak at the Audubon Ball­room and Michaux was going to appear onstage with him. But Michaux was late because he had to pick up his son from ice-skat­ing with friends at Rock­e­feller Center.

Mom hangs up [the phone] and looks at me. ‘Mal­colm…’ Her eyes are wet. She can’t talk for a minute. ‘Some­one shot him when he stood up to give his speech.

I can’t breathe.

Lat­er I hear Dad’s key in the door. He hugs Mom and me and sags into his chair. …

After I go to bed, Dad sits in the liv­ing room, cry­ing in the dark. I nev­er heard Dad cry before, and I don’t know what to do. I can’t keep from cry­ing too…

Mal­colm used to say, ‘If you’re not will­ing to die for it, put the word free­dom out of your vocab­u­lary,’ Dad said. ‘They think they got rid of him. But peo­ple won’t for­get, Louie. His words will nev­er leave us.’

Lewis Michaux Sr.’s own grief about Mal­colm X takes us right to the scene of his death. We feel its impact because we already know Lewis Michaux and we care about him.

illustration from The Book Itch
illus­tra­tion copy­right © R. Gre­go­ry Christie, from The Book Itch,
writ­ten by Vaun­da Micheaux Nel­son, Car­ol­rho­da Books

His words will nev­er leave us.” The sto­ry ends by not­ing the impor­tance of words and the impor­tance of books and the “Nation­al Memo­r­i­al African Bookstore.”

Back­mat­ter infor­ma­tion tells us that the book­store was forced to move in 1968 because of the con­struc­tion of a new state office build­ing. (Why on this par­tic­u­lar site? Could it have some­thing to do with the impor­tance of words and books?) Lewis moved the store and a few years lat­er he “received notice from the state that he was being evicted.”

We are so grate­ful for this book (Get a new look. Read a book.) and the glimpse into the life of this remark­able man who fol­lowed his dream to make books avail­able to the peo­ple of Harlem, to pro­vide a gath­er­ing place for his peo­ple to pro­mote the exchange of words and ideas.

Nel­son writes like a poet, and her lan­guage sings. Dolls and law­men, book­sellers and civ­il rights activists, enslaved peo­ple flee­ing for free­dom, ordi­nary peo­ple march­ing in Wash­ing­ton D.C. — all of them come alive in her books. Here are oth­er titles of hers to read and learn from and delight in.

Other books by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson:

Read more...

Picture Book Illustration

This col­umn focus­es on the­mat­ic con­nec­tions among Calde­cott Award books, but this month we are intro­duc­ing some books about illus­tra­tion. In pic­ture books, the illus­tra­tions often car­ry half, or more than half, of the nar­ra­tive. Increased under­stand­ing of illus­tra­tion tech­niques can enhance your appre­ci­a­tion and plea­sure when read­ing and shar­ing pic­ture books. Some of these books are enter­tain­ing to read from begin­ning to end. Oth­ers are handy ref­er­ences to dip into on occasion.

A Caldecott Celebration

Calde­cott Cel­e­bra­tion:
Sev­en Artists and their Paths
to the Calde­cott Medal
Leonard Mar­cus
Walk­er & Com­pa­ny, 2008

Calde­cott Medal win­ners from sev­en decades are pre­sent­ed in the book Mar­cus wrote to cel­e­brate the 70th anniver­sary of the pres­ti­gious award. Learn how pop­u­lar artists Robert McCloskey, Mar­cia Brown, Mau­rice Sendak, William Steig, Chris Van Alls­burg, David Wies­ner, and Mordi­cai Ger­stein cre­ate their illus­tra­tions through per­son­al anec­dotes and vis­its to their stu­dios. An intro­duc­tion pro­vides his­tor­i­cal infor­ma­tion about the Calde­cott Award.

From Cov­er to Cov­er:
Eval­u­at­ing and Review­ing Chil­dren’s Books
Kath­leen T. Horn­ing
Harper­Collins, revised edi­tion, 2010

Con­sid­ered a defin­i­tive resource for eval­u­at­ing and review­ing children’s lit­er­a­ture, this book con­tains a chap­ter on pic­ture books. With­in that chap­ter, Horn­ing ana­lyzes texts and illus­tra­tions in sev­er­al pic­ture books. A dis­cus­sion of visu­al ele­ments, com­po­si­tion, media, and style are pre­sent­ed with exam­ples from exem­plary books. In addi­tion to cri­te­ria for eval­u­a­tion, a brief his­to­ry of pic­ture books intro­duces the chapter.

A Pic­ture Book Primer:
Under­stand­ing and Using Pic­ture Books
Denise I. Mat­ul­ka
Libraries Unlim­it­ed, 2008

After defin­ing pic­ture books and pro­vid­ing a his­to­ry of the for­mat, Mat­ul­ka delves into the “Anato­my of a Pic­ture Book.” This acces­si­ble hand­book helps edu­ca­tors and librar­i­ans bet­ter under­stand how pic­ture books work, intro­duc­ing para­text, com­po­si­tion, design, ele­ments of art, style, and medi­um, with black and white draw­ings to illus­trate the con­cepts pre­sent­ed. The book includes an exten­sive glos­sary of pic­ture book terms.

Pic­ture This: How Pic­tures Work
Mol­ly Bang
Chron­i­cle Books, 2019

The 2016 25th anniver­sary edi­tion of Bang’s clas­sic work is the third ren­di­tion of her 1991 exam­i­na­tion of the emo­tion­al impact of images. Using geo­met­ric shapes and lim­it­ed col­or to illus­trate scenes from “Lit­tle Red Rid­ing Hood,” the author-illus­tra­tor explores and explains the pow­er of design. Lat­er, she out­lines her twelve prin­ci­ples of art and com­po­si­tion. This revi­sion includes an in-depth study of the emo­tion that dri­ves four illus­tra­tions from Bang’s Calde­cott Hon­or book When Sophie Gets Angry — Very, Very Angry….

Read­ing Pic­ture Books with Chil­dren:
How to Shake up Sto­ry­time and
Get Kids Talk­ing about What They See
Megan Dowd Lam­bert
Charles­bridge, 2015

Lam­bert describes her Whole Book Approach to shar­ing pic­ture books with chil­dren, devel­oped dur­ing her expe­ri­ence lead­ing sto­ry­time pro­grams at the Eric Car­le Muse­um of Pic­ture Book Art in Mass­a­chu­setts. This child-dri­ven tech­nique goes far beyond read­ing sto­ries, encour­ag­ing active par­tic­i­pa­tion of the young audi­ence through open-end­ed ques­tions and prompts well before the nar­ra­tive begins. Chil­dren con­sid­er such fea­tures as trim size, cov­er, end­pa­pers, typog­ra­phy, and page design. The full-col­or hand­book con­cludes with sam­ple ques­tions for group lead­ers, as well as a glos­sary of book and sto­ry­time terminology.

Read­ing the Art in
Calde­cott Award Books:
A Guide to the Illus­tra­tions
 Hei­di Ham­mond and Gail Nord­strom
Row­man & Lit­tle­field, 2014

This is a hand­book to be used in con­junc­tion with select­ed Calde­cott Award books. Artis­tic analy­ses of the illus­tra­tions will help those who share books with chil­dren to dis­cuss the art­work for which the books won the award. Styles, media, com­po­si­tion, and design are also pre­sent­ed. Use­ful com­po­nents of the book include a glos­sary of art terms and index­es of author-illus­tra­tor-title, media, and style.

Show and Tell:
Explor­ing the Fine Art
of Children’s Book Illus­tra­tion
Dilys Evans
Chron­i­cle Books, 2008

Evans exam­ines the works of twelve accom­plished pic­ture book illus­tra­tors — many Calde­cott award win­ners — includ­ing Bryan Col­lier, Denise Flem­ing, Bri­an Selznick, and David Wies­ner. Each chap­ter includes a brief biog­ra­phy of the fea­tured cre­ator, includ­ing their ear­ly art expe­ri­ences and artists who have influ­enced their work, and a close study of full-col­or illus­tra­tions from a num­ber of his or her notable titles.

Side by Side

Side by Side:
Five Favorite Pic­ture-Book Teams Go to Work
Leonard Mar­cus
Walk­er & Com­pa­ny, 2001

Mar­cus describes the col­lab­o­ra­tion and cre­ative process of writ­ing and illus­trat­ing pic­ture books with five teams: Julius Lester and Jer­ry Pinkney, Joan­na Cole and Bruce Degen, Arthur Yorinks and Richard Egiel­s­ki, Alice and Mar­tin Provensen, and Jon Sci­esz­ka, Lane Smith, and Mol­ly Leach. The chap­ters gen­er­al­ly focus on writ­ing and illus­trat­ing one book. Thumb­nail sketch­es, dum­my books, and fin­ished work are includ­ed as well as man­u­script notes. Some per­son­al infor­ma­tion about the authors and illus­tra­tors may also be of interest.

Teaching Art with Books Kids Love

Teach­ing Art with Books Kids Love
Art Ele­ments, Appre­ci­a­tion
and Design with Award-win­ning Books
Dar­cie Clark Fro­hardt
Ful­crum, 1999

This book is orga­nized into three parts: ele­ments of art, prin­ci­ples of design, and artis­tic style. With­in each part, Fro­hardt defines the con­cept, lists fine art and children’s lit­er­a­ture exam­ples, and then demon­strates how an award-win­ning artist used the con­cept in a par­tic­u­lar book.This is fol­lowed with var­i­ous activ­i­ties chil­dren can attempt for their own explo­ration of the con­cept. While not com­pre­hen­sive, the book intro­duces basic infor­ma­tion appro­pri­ate for an ele­men­tary audience.

Writ­ing with Pictures: 
How to Write and Illus­trate Children’s Books
Uri Shule­vitz
Wat­son-Gup­till, 1997

In this clas­sic work geared to aspir­ing children’s book cre­ators and afi­ciona­dos, renowned author-illus­tra­tor Shule­vitz stud­ies the pic­ture book, con­sid­er­ing the sto­ry, struc­ture, and illus­tra­tions. Hun­dreds of black, white, and red images fill the hefty tome, describ­ing the visu­al prin­ci­ples cov­ered. Note that with leaps in book print­ing tech­nol­o­gy in recent years, the con­clud­ing sec­tion, “Prepar­ing for Repro­duc­tion,” now pro­vides a his­tor­i­cal view of 20th cen­tu­ry book print­ing, espe­cial­ly col­or pre-separation.

Read more...

Picture Book Parade

Picture Book Parade Dolores Huerta
A Pic­ture Book Parade of Dolores Huer­ta: A Hero to Migrant Work­ers,
writ­ten by Sarah War­ren, illus­trat­ed by Robert Casilla

This sea­son, if you vis­it Min­neapo­lis’ Mid­town Farm­ers Mar­ket, you’ll stroll by a har­vest of pic­ture books by Min­neso­ta authors. Pic­ture Book Parade — a new ini­tia­tive by children’s authors Sarah War­ren and Cather­ine Urdahl—will present a dif­fer­ent sto­ry stroll each Sat­ur­day, from May 1 through Octo­ber 30. The strolls are set up at the entrance to the mar­ket, and read­ers walk by a row of signs, each with a two-page spread of the fea­tured book. These diverse exhibits invite reflec­tion, con­ver­sa­tion, cel­e­bra­tion, and pride for all families.

The strolls are self-guid­ed and will be avail­able dur­ing the reg­u­lar hours of the mar­ket — 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sat­ur­days. Many of the strolls will include a vis­it from the author, along with a vari­ety of fun activ­i­ties. Fam­i­lies can pick up spe­cial BINGO cards to track their par­tic­i­pa­tion in the season’s strolls — and receive prizes!

Sarah and Cather­ine want to reach read­ers where they are, by bring­ing books into non-tra­di­tion­al pub­lic spaces. They hope to con­nect artists with their read­ers — a chal­lenge in the era of COVID, when libraries and book­stores have been unable to host tra­di­tion­al events. Sarah and Cather­ine cred­it Hen­nepin Coun­ty librar­i­ans for help­ing spark the cre­ation of Pic­ture Book Parade. They plan to con­tin­ue work­ing with librar­i­ans on future initiatives.

Most of the strolls are fund­ed by a grant Sarah received from the Min­neso­ta State Arts Board. A local out­door sign com­pa­ny prints book spreads direct­ly onto signs. Pic­ture Book Parade worked with indi­vid­ual artists to secure per­mis­sion from publishers.

For more infor­ma­tion and a sched­ule of Mid­town Mar­ket sto­ry strolls, vis­it www.picturebookparade.com

Picture Book Parade Sarah Warren Catherine Urdahl
Pic­ture Book Parade founders Sarah War­ren and Cather­ine Urdahl
Picture Book Parade Families Reading
Fam­i­lies enjoy­ing the Pic­ture Book Parade at Min­neapo­lis’ Mid­town Farm­ers Market
Read more...

Julius Lester

Jack­ie:  Julius Lester loved lan­guage and he loved story.

Phyl­lis:  Lan­guage, Lester wrote, is not just words and what they mean; music and rhythm are also part of the mean­ing.  Just read­ing his books for chil­dren makes us want to read them out loud to hear that music and rhythm along with his gift for putting words together.

Uncle Remus The Complete TalesJack­ie:  He seems to have con­sid­ered it one of his mis­sions to res­cue sto­ries, sto­ries with worn-out stereo­typed images, that no longer fit com­fort­ably in our cul­tur­al nar­ra­tive, and shape them into bril­liant, humor­ous, human­is­tic sto­ries. He re-told the Uncle Remus sto­ries in The Tales of Uncle Remus (1987), illus­trat­ed by Jer­ry Pinkney. He writes in the intro­duc­tion: “The pur­pose in my retelling of the Uncle Remus tales is sim­ply: to make the tales acces­si­ble again, to be told in the liv­ing rooms of con­do­mini­ums as well as on the front porch­es of the South.”

On Writing for Children and Other PeoplePhyl­lis:  Julius Lester wrote over four dozen books, both fic­tion and non­fic­tion, about Black Amer­i­can his­to­ry — his­to­ry that bound black lives togeth­er “like beads strung on a neck­lace of pain.”  In On Writ­ing for Chil­dren and Oth­er Peo­ple Lester says that sto­ries help us con­nect with oth­ers.  “I write because our lives are stories.”

He once wrote, “If enough of these sto­ries are told, then per­haps we will begin to see that our lives are the same sto­ry. The dif­fer­ences are mere­ly in the details.”  His books include both pic­ture books and longer works.

Sam and the TigersJack­ie:  One of my all-time favorite of his pic­ture books is anoth­er col­lab­o­ra­tion with Jer­ry Pinkney, anoth­er re-telling, Sam and the Tigers (1996). In an after­ward, Julius Lester writes of the orig­i­nal book by Helen Ban­ner­man, “It would be unfair to say Ban­ner­man had a racist intent in cre­at­ing Lit­tle Black Sam­bo. … Inten­tion­al­ly or not, Lit­tle Black Sam­bo rein­forced the idea of white supe­ri­or­i­ty through illus­tra­tions exag­ger­at­ing African phys­iog­no­my and a name, Sam­bo, that had been used neg­a­tive­ly for blacks since the ear­ly sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry. … Yet the sto­ry tran­scend­ed its stereo­types … There was obvi­ous­ly an abid­ing truth … I think it is the truth of the imag­i­na­tion, that incred­i­ble realm where ani­mals and peo­ple lived togeth­er like they don’t know any bet­ter, and chil­dren eat pan­cakes cooked in the but­ter of melt­ed tigers, and par­ents nev­er say,  ‘Don’t eat so many.’”

Sam and the Tigers
illus­tra­tion &#169 Jer­ry Pinkney from Sam and the Tigers, writ­ten by Julius Lester, Puf­fin Books

In their re-telling, Lester and Pinkney aim direct­ly for the truth of the imag­i­na­tion. Sam lives in the town of Sam-sam-sa-mara where every­one is named Sam. Sam, his moth­er, and his father all are named Sam. “Nobody was named Joleen or Natisha or Willie…. One day Sam and Sam and Sam went to the mar­ket place to get some new clothes for school.” They start­ed out at Mr. Elephant’s Ele­gant Habil­ments.  Sam insist­ed to his par­ents that he be allowed to pick out his own clothes. “Sam looked at Sam. Sam shrugged. Sam shrugged back. Sam nod­ded. Sam nod­ded back. Sam and Sam looked at Sam and nod­ded togeth­er. Sam grinned.”  I am grin­ning, too, as I read this sen­tence to myself. What fun!

Over the course of the shop­ping trip Sam picks out a coat as “red as a hap­py heart,” pants as “pur­ple as a love that would last for­ev­er,” a shirt “as yel­low as tomor­row,” sil­ver shoes “shin­ing like promis­es that are always kept,” and an umbrel­la “as green as a sat­is­fied mind.” The sounds of the words and the sim­i­les are so sat­is­fy­ing I could go shop­ping with Julius Lester and Sam all day long.

Of course we know what hap­pens with the tigers. (And Jer­ry Pinkney’s tigers threat­en to jump off the page and demand my sweater, soft as a song of for­give­ness and grace.)

Illustration from Sam and the Tigers
illus­tra­tion &#169 Jer­ry Pinkney from Sam and the Tigers, writ­ten by Julius Lester, Puf­fin Books

The tigers grab each oth­er by the tail and run “Faster and faster and faster and faster…until — they melt­ed into a pool of but­ter as gold­en as a dream come true.” When Sam gets home his moth­er makes pan­cakes for the neigh­bor­hood. The talk is of five tigers who have dis­ap­peared. And the pan­cakes, orange and black-striped, are deli­cious — butter‑y. Sam ate a hun­dred and six­ty-nine. “Wear­ing all them col­ors can real­ly make a boy hungry.”

This is a sto­ry to drop into lit­tle free libraries all over town, to read with kids of all ages, to read before and after pan­cakes. Thanks to Julius Lester and Jer­ry Pinkney for giv­ing it back to us.

Black Cowboys, Wild HorsesAfter they col­lab­o­rat­ed on Sam and the Tigers, this same duo wrote and illus­trat­ed Black Cow­boy, Wild Hors­es, a true sto­ry of Bob Lem­mons. Lem­mons, a for­mer slave, “could look at the ground and read what ani­mals had walked on it, their size and weight, when they had passed by, and where they were going.” He is look­ing to bring in a band of mus­tangs, by him­self. “No one he knew could bring in mus­tangs by them­selves, but Bob could make hors­es think he was one of them — because he was.”

This is not just a sto­ry of a cow­boy and mus­tangs, it’s also Pinkney’s won­der­ful paint­ings and Lester’s sat­is­fy­ing sim­i­les. Though pub­lished in 1998 it is so fresh and dra­mat­ic it could have been pub­lished yesterday.

John HenryPhyl­lis: Pinkney and Lester also gave us the Calde­cott Hon­or Book John Hen­ry, (1994).  Though it is so much more, the book starts like a tall tale. Almost as soon as John Hen­ry was born “he grew so big he broke through the porch roof.” The next day he rebuilt the porch, adding “one of them jacutzis” for his par­ents.  Soon after he decid­ed to go on the road with his daddy’s gift of “two twen­ty-pound sledge­ham­mers with four-foot han­dles made of whale bone.” When he met a road crew stymied by a huge boul­der even dyna­mite wouldn’t touch, John Hen­ry swung his two ham­mers so hard a rain­bow set­tled around his shoul­ders.  John Hen­ry beat the boul­der into “the pret­ti­est and straight­est road,” then head­ed off to find work on the crew build­ing the Chesa­peake and Ohio Rail­road, which had encoun­tered a moun­tain so big it made even John Hen­ry feel small.

When John Hen­ry heard that a steam engine said to out-ham­mer ten men was being brought in to drill through that moun­tain, he chal­lenged the steam drill to see who could tun­nel the far­thest through the moun­tain.  Swing­ing his two twen­ty-pound ham­mers with “mus­cles hard as wis­dom” John Hen­ry beat the steam drill by a mile.

As he walked out of the tun­nel to cheer­ing folks, though, John Hen­ry fell dead.  “He had ham­mered so hard and so fast and so long that his big heart had burst.”  Folks swore they heard the rain­bow whis­per, “Dying ain’t impor­tant.  Every­body does that.  What mat­ters is how well you do your living.”

Julius Lester wrote that when he was asked to write about John Hen­ry, he talked to Jer­ry Pinkney, who had researched the sto­ry to illus­trate it, and asked him  what he saw in John Hen­ry  As they talked, wrote Lester, “the image of Mar­tin Luther King, Jr., came to me … I sus­pect it is the con­nec­tion all of us feel to both fig­ures — name­ly, to have the courage to ham­mer until our hearts break and to try to leave our mourn­ers smil­ing in their tears.”

Tues­day, April 20, 2021, almost a year after the mur­der of George Floyd, a jury found the police offi­cer, who knelt on Floyd’s neck until he died, guilty on all three charges.  In the peo­ple who bore wit­ness, the peo­ple who tes­ti­fied, the jury who decid­ed, the count­less many who have worked and marched and protest­ed for account­abil­i­ty and jus­tice with boots on the ground, that same spir­it — courage as hard as wis­dom — lives on. 

George Floyd Memorial
Pho­to attrib­uted to Lorie Shaull, George Floyd memo­r­i­al at the inter­sec­tion of Chica­go Ave
and E 38th St in Min­neapo­lis, Min­neso­ta CC BY-SA 2.0
Read more...

Catherine Urdahl and Her Reading Team
April 2021

It’s been a month since I’ve seen my grand­chil­dren, who live five hours away — a month since we’ve snug­gled up with our favorite books. For me, a month is a long time. That’s because I spent much of the past year with my three-year-old grand­daugh­ter, Juniper, and eight-month-old grand­son, Col­by, help­ing care for them dur­ing the pandemic.

Some of the sweet­est days were back in August after Col­by was born. Some­times I’d wake about five a.m. and hear my daugh­ter read­ing to him — such a beau­ti­ful sound. This was their “spe­cial time,” and I didn’t inter­rupt. I knew I’d get my turn later.

Peekabo MorningAlmost from the start, Col­by made it known he want­ed to see both the book and our faces as we read. We’ve found cre­ative posi­tions, so he can look from book to face and back again. It’s no sur­prise many of his favorite books fea­ture faces of babies. At eight months, he grins and bab­bles when­ev­er he sees Peek­a­boo Morn­ing by Rachel Isado­ra. It’s a sim­ple text: “Peek­a­boo! I see … my mom­my; Peek­a­boo! I see … my dad­dy; Peek­a­boo! I see … my grand­ma.” The book ends with a beau­ti­ful illus­tra­tion of a tod­dler gaz­ing straight at the child read­er. “Peek­a­boo! I see … you.” Col­by gazes back and smiles his best drooly smile.

Col­by also loves the books Chu’s Day and Chu’s Day at the Beach by Neil Gaiman, illus­trat­ed by Adam Rex. Both are about a lit­tle pan­da who’s vol­canic sneez­ing upends every­thing around him. Col­by antic­i­pates the AAAAACHOOO! He looks from the book to our faces to the book — as if he’s waiting.

I espe­cial­ly appre­ci­ate Go, Grand­ma, Go! and Go, Grand­pa, Go! by Lynn Plourde, illus­trat­ed by Sophie Beer. In these books, active, youth­ful grand­par­ents push go-carts, sled down hills, scu­ba-dive, and give pig­gy­back rides. Both Col­by and Juniper love the action of this book — and I love this depic­tion of grandparents!

One of the sweet­est things I’ve seen is Juniper “read­ing” to Col­by, some­times hold­ing the book like a teacher at sto­ry time. “You sit on the group rug, Col­by!” She’s pass­ing on her love of read­ing to her baby broth­er. He’s fas­ci­nat­ed by every­thing she does, so she’s prob­a­bly the most effec­tive read­ing ambas­sador in the house.

Box TurtleOne of Juniper’s recent favorites is The Box Tur­tle by Vanes­sa Roed­er. We all love Ter­rance, the lit­tle tur­tle born with­out a shell. Terrance’s par­ents give him an actu­al card­board box for a shell, but when oth­er tur­tles tell him it’s weird, he starts hunt­ing for a new shell. Juniper finds the attempts hilar­i­ous — espe­cial­ly when he tries a kit­ty lit­ter box and “this whole sit­u­a­tion stunk … a lot.” Ter­rance final­ly returns to his old shell — now in rough shape — and his friends come togeth­er to fix it up. The book ends per­fect­ly: “It wasn’t sleek or sassy. It was far from per­fect and def­i­nite­ly weird. But Ter­rance wasn’t dis­mayed, because this lit­tle box tur­tle was so much more than just his shell.” I can imag­ine myself read­ing this with an old­er Juniper deal­ing with big­ger-kid prob­lems and inse­cu­ri­ties (because she’ll always come to me with her problems!)

TrumanIt wasn’t too big a leap to go from a tur­tle to a tor­toise. Anoth­er recent favorite is Tru­man by Jean Rei­dy, illus­trat­ed by Lucy Ruth Cum­mins. This book pulled us in right from the start: “Tru­man was small, the size of a donut — a small donut — and every bit as sweet.” The book describes Tru­man as “peace­ful and pen­sive, just like his Sarah.” For Juniper, who’s often cau­tious in new sit­u­a­tions, this is per­fect! One day Sarah — look­ing “par­tic­u­lar­ly pen­sive” — tells Tru­man, “Be brave.” Then she leaves. Tru­man waits “a thou­sand hours — tor­toise hours, that is,” and then decides to go after Sarah. Juniper loves trac­ing the dot­ted line path from Truman’s tank, over var­i­ous pieces of fur­ni­ture, and across the ENDLESS rug. He encoun­ters toys that appear giant and ter­ri­fy­ing to a tiny tor­toise. Here we stop and talk about how things would look if we were as tiny as tor­tois­es (a great les­son in scale and per­spec­tive!) But our favorite page is a tri­umphant Tru­man who’s made it all the way to the door and is feel­ing “peace­ful, pen­sive … and BRAVE!” Sarah arrives at just this moment and scoops up Tru­man, who now feels “PROUD!” This was the per­fect book at the per­fect time — just when Juniper was about to start at a new daycare.

I could go on and on, but I’m off to pack my bags. As I said, a month is TOO long.

_______________________

Bookol­o­gy is always look­ing for new Read­ing Teams to help us cel­e­brate the joys of read­ing aloud togeth­er. Con­tact Lisa Bullard for fur­ther infor­ma­tion if you’re inter­est­ed in participating.

Read more...

Carole Boston Weatherford

For over a year now we have been bound to our homes. Change of scene comes from screens, or books. Meet­ing new peo­ple comes through read­ing. So this month we are going to say thanks to a writer who has spent many years and many beau­ti­ful words intro­duc­ing us to peo­ple we did not know — but should know — Car­ole Boston Weatherford.

Car­ole Boston Weath­er­ford has been writ­ing since she was in first grade. Her father taught print­ing and was able to pub­lish those ear­ly sto­ries. Weath­er­ford has writ­ten dozens of pic­ture books for young read­ers — and all read­ers. We can­not be exhaus­tive here, but we can intro­duce you to this won­der­ful writer.

Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou HamerOne of my all-time favorite pic­ture book biogra­phies is Weatherford’s Voice of Free­dom Fan­nie Lou Hamer (2105; illus­trat­ed by Ekua Holmes). Hamer was a hero of the Civ­il Rights move­ment in the 1960s. In 1963, on her way home from a train­ing ses­sion she ordered break­fast at a whites-only lunch counter (seg­re­ga­tion had been out­lawed by then).  She and the oth­ers were tak­en to jail. Hamer was bru­tal­ly beat­en and wait­ed three days for a doc­tor. She nev­er whol­ly recov­ered from the beat­ing, suf­fered kid­ney dam­age, weak­ened eye­sight, and a per­ma­nent limp. But she did not quit. In 1964 she went to Atlantic City to the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion and argued that the Mis­sis­sip­pi Demo­c­ra­t­ic Free­dom Party’s del­e­ga­tion should be seat­ed at the con­ven­tion because the reg­u­lar Demo­c­ra­t­ic Party’s Mis­sis­sip­pi del­e­ga­tion did not rep­re­sent Black peo­ple. Fan­nie Lou Hamer con­tin­ued to work in the trench­es — reg­is­tered vot­ers, marched with Dr. Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. in Alaba­ma and Mis­sis­sip­pi. In her life­time she also start­ed Free­dom Farm, a pig bank, and a Head Start pro­gram, and helped oth­ers get gov­ern­ment hous­ing loans, sued to inte­grate the pub­lic schools in Sun­flower Coun­ty — and won.  Weath­er­ford stud­ied Hamer’s life so assid­u­ous­ly that she could write in Hamer’s voice. She has Fan­nie Lou Hamer tell us her own sto­ry and inter­spers­es the book’s text with quotes from Hamer’s speech­es. The blend­ing is seam­less. This book won a Calde­cott Honor.

Moses When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to FreedomMoses: When Har­ri­et Tub­man Led Her Peo­ple to Free­dom (2006; illus­trat­ed by Kadir Nel­son) is a hymn of praise to this coura­geous icon of his­to­ry. Weath­er­ford begins with Har­ri­et talk­ing to God and hear­ing God’s answer in the song of a whip-poor-will. She has decid­ed she can no longer bear slav­ery and will run away. “God whis­pers back in the breeze. ‘I will see you through child.’”  The book gives us detail s of the har­row­ing jour­ney north: Har­ri­et spends a week in a hole in the ground, takes off her shoes and walks in a stream to elude blood­hounds, almost gives up sev­er­al times, but hears the voice of her God, and con­tin­ues. She is tak­en the last step of the jour­ney by a cou­ple with a wag­on. In Philadel­phia she learns the routes of the Under­ground Rail­road and goes back south to res­cue her fam­i­ly and many oth­er slaves. Kadir Nelson’s pow­er­ful illus­tra­tions add to the imme­di­a­cy of the book and we feel the fear, the cold, damp pota­to hole where Har­ri­et hides out. Har­ri­et Tubman’s whole life can­not be cov­ered in one pic­ture book, but this one book gives the read­er a full sense of her courage, her abil­i­ty to endure hard­ship, her spir­i­tu­al­i­ty and her rela­tion­ship with God.

Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to FreedomIn 2020, Weatherford’s Box Hen­ry Brown Mails Him­self to Free­dom was pub­lished. Illus­trat­ed by Michele Wood, it tells the sto­ry of Hen­ry Brown who, after his wife and chil­dren were sold to an own­er way south, decid­ed to mail him­self to free­dom. He climbed into a wood­en box. A friend nailed the box shut and post­ed it to Philadelphia.

Weath­er­ford tells the sto­ry in six-line poems (because box­es have six sides) which fea­ture Hen­ry Brown telling his own sto­ry.  The sto­ry begins with his life as a child of slaves, thus a slave him­self.  “Treks to mar­ket take my broth­er and me past plan­ta­tions, /Where we encounter oth­er blacks — some shoe­less, coat­less, /Nearly skin and bone in burlap shirts and thread­bare pants. /We share our bread and meat with them. In the slave quar­ter, / They recount the sav­age beat­ing that many of them got/For hav­ing been bap­tized just the night before.”

In Rich­mond, Hen­ry Brown tells us of “…slave pens, whip­ping posts, auc­tion hous­es. / Store­fronts, tobac­co fac­to­ries, and grist­mills — all busy.” We also learn of Nat Turner’s Rebel­lion and the bar­bar­ic pun­ish­ment he received for dar­ing to rise up.

Hen­ry meets Nan­cy. Her mas­ter promis­es “nev­er ever” to sell her. And they jump the broom. But Nancy’s mas­ter goes back on his word. “She and my chil­dren change hands like sea­sons, /Each mas­ter worse than the last. /The last one, Mr. Cot­trell, agrees/To keep my fam­i­ly if I feed them, house them, and pay him./Small price, I figure. /”

illus­tra­tion copy­right © Michele Wood, from Box: Hen­ry Brown Mails Him­self to Free­dom,
writ­ten by Car­ole Boston Weath­er­ford, pub­lished by Can­dlewick Press, 2020

But even­tu­al­ly Mr. Cot­trell fails to help. “…Nancy’s mas­ter snatches/My fam­i­ly and pens them up for sale. /Robbed of all that mat­ters, I beg my master’s help. /But he gives me not one cent/Of my hard-earned wages that he’s pocketed./He says, I dare not med­dle.” Brown sees his fam­i­ly in chains and walks four miles with them, hold­ing the hand of his wife.

Brown is bereft, has noth­ing left to lose. He pays a car­pen­ter to build a wood­en box: “Two feet deep, three feet wide, and two and a half feet long./ I drill three holes in the box. For air.” He burns his hand with acid to give him­self an excuse for tak­ing days off from work. When the box is nailed shut it’s tak­en to a train depot and loaded into a bag­gage car. After many hours, and many hours upside down, the box arrives in Philadel­phia. But no one comes to pick it up. Final­ly the box is loaded on to a wagon.

Some­one raps on the lid. Is all right with­in? / All right, I reply. They pry open the lid, / And I step out a free man. I burst into song.”

Brown has no resources to find and buy his lost fam­i­ly. He tours around New Eng­land but is wor­ried about the Fugi­tive Slave law and goes to England.

Even­tu­al­ly Brown remar­ries and has a daugh­ter. He returns to the Unit­ed States and trav­els giv­ing per­for­mances. “After all, my escape was my finest illusion.”

The work of Car­ole Boston Weath­er­ford presents read­ers with a detailed and painful tapes­try of the his­to­ry of Black peo­ple in the Unit­ed States from hor­rors of slav­ery to the soul-destroy­ing prac­tices caused by racial bias endured by artists like Lena Horne. (She doesn’t only write about African Amer­i­cans. She’s also done a biog­ra­phy of Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe.) But there is love, too, in her books, and strength and resilience. These are books to be pored over, to be cel­e­brat­ed for their beau­ti­ful lan­guage, to be shared, hon­ored, and remembered.

Some oth­er books by Car­ole Boston Weath­er­ford (in chrono­log­i­cal order by pub­li­ca­tion date):

The Sound that Jazz Makes, with Eric Velasquez (illus­tra­tor), Walk­er Books, 2001

Sidewalk Chalk Poems of the CitySide­walk Chalk: Poems of the City, with Dim­itrea Tokun­bo (illus­tra­tor), Word­song, 2001

Remem­ber the Bridge: Poems of a Peo­ple, Philomel Books, 2002

Jazz Baby, with Lau­ra Free­man (illus­tra­tor), Lee & Low Books, 2002

Free­dom on the Menu: The Greens­boro Sit-Ins, with Jerome Lagar­rigue (illus­tra­tor), Dial Books for Young Read­ers, 2005

Dear Mr. Rosen­wald, with R. Gre­go­ry Christie (illus­tra­tor), Scholas­tic Press, 2006

Jesse Owens: Fastest Man Alive, with Eric Velasquez (illus­tra­tor), Walk­er Books, 2006

Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane, with Sean Qualls (illus­tra­tor), Hen­ry Holt, 2007

Birm­ing­ham, 1963, Word­song, 2007

I, Matthew Hen­son, with Eric Velasquez (illus­tra­tor), Walk­er Books, 2007

Becoming Billie HolidayBecom­ing Bil­lie Hol­i­day, with Floyd Coop­er (illus­tra­tor), Word­song, 2008

Rac­ing Against the Odds: Wen­dell Scott, African Amer­i­can Stock Car Cham­pi­on, Mar­shall Cavendish Chil­dren’s Books, 2009

Gor­don Parks: How the Pho­tog­ra­ph­er Cap­tured Black and White Amer­i­ca, with Jamey Christoph, Whit­man, Albert & Com­pa­ny, 2015

Free­dom in Con­go Square, with R. Gre­go­ry Christie, lit­tle bee books, 2016

In Your Hands, with Bri­an Pinkney, Atheneum Books for Young Read­ers, 2017

You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Air­men, with Jef­frey Boston Weath­er­ford, Atheneum Books for Young Read­ers, 2017

How Sweet the SoundHow Sweet the Sound: The Sto­ry of Amaz­ing Grace, with Frank Mor­ri­son, Atheneum Books for Young Read­ers, 2018

Be a King: Dr. Mar­tin Luther King Jr.’s Dream and You, with James E. Ran­some, Blooms­bury USA (Chil­dren) 2018

The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pil­lars of Hip-Hop, with Frank Mor­ri­son, lit­tle bee books, 2018

Schomberg: The Man Who Built a Library, with Eric Velasquez, Can­dlewick Press, 2019

Read more...

Ten Ways to Hear Snow

Ten Ways to Hear SnowWhen you grow up in Min­neso­ta, snow is a part of your world. From play­ing in it until your feet are so cold and wet that your grand­moth­er will scold while you drink hot cocoa to lift­ing your feet high as you trudge through knee-deep snow to a bus stop that’s far­ther away than it has ever been, snow is a fix­ture in your thoughts. 

But ten ways to hear snow? Does­n’t snow fall silent­ly? How does one hear snow?

Cathy Camper knows the answer. All ten of them. And Kenard Pak illus­trates this book with such care that the sounds come alive.

The bare trees are stark against the urban, win­ter land­scape and Pak cap­tures the shad­ows that paint the white, white snow. His snowy land­scapes feel immense yet intimate.

Ten Ways to Hear Snow
illus­tra­tion © Kenard Pak from Ten Ways to Hear Snow by Cathy Camper,
Kok­i­la / Pen­guin Ran­dom House, 2020

Can you imag­ine what the sounds are?

Scraaape, scrip, scraaape, scrip.”

Exact­ly. A shov­el against the side­walk. The author iden­ti­fies sounds that are imme­di­ate­ly famil­iar to chil­dren and adults who know snowfall.

Swish-wish, swish-wish.”

Of course. The wind­shields being swept clear of snow. Snow-time activ­i­ties cre­ate sounds. 

Cathy Camper worked for many years as a K‑12 librar­i­an. She has cre­at­ed an irre­sistible read-aloud. Ten Ways to Hear Snow will encour­age lis­ten­ers to make their own snow sounds, dis­cuss oth­er ways to hear snow, and learn about onomatopoeia.

Lina, the main char­ac­ter, is walk­ing through snow to vis­it her Sit­ti, her grand­moth­er, who lives in an inde­pen­dent liv­ing build­ing. The two are going to stuff grape leaves, an activ­i­ty that’s hard­er for Sit­ti because her sight is fail­ing. Sounds have become very impor­tant to this grand­moth­er and granddaughter.

Camper ded­i­cates this book to her Lebanese fam­i­ly. Words and food are pre­sent­ed with­in the text that will invite fur­ther learn­ing when the book is closed.

It’s a charm­ing book for those who know snow well and those who would like to. The descrip­tive lan­guage and the dig­i­tal paint­ings com­bine to give us a treasure.

High­ly recommended.

Ten Ways to Hear Snow
writ­ten by Cathy Camper
illus­trat­ed by Kenard Pak
Kok­i­la / Pen­guin Ran­dom House, 2020

Read more...

Ashley Bryan: Brave for Life

by Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin and Phyl­lis Root

As we have talked about doing this col­umn we have real­ized that we can only call this an intro­duc­tion to the work of Ash­ley Bryan. His life has been so full of mak­ing children’s books and there are so many won­der­ful children’s books that we can only call out a few — a few entice­ments, and encour­age you to take your­self on a won­der­ful jour­ney into Ash­ley Bryan’s world.

Infinite HopeInfi­nite Hope is an unfor­get­table book. It con­tains sev­er­al strands of infor­ma­tion: Ash­ley Bryan’s draw­ings and paint­ings done from those draw­ings from his time as a sol­dier, draft­ed into World War II; his let­ters to Eva; pho­tographs as back­ground infor­ma­tion, illus­trat­ing places he encoun­tered or was sta­tioned; text writ­ten recent­ly rec­ol­lect­ing Bryan’s wartime expe­ri­ences. These strands give read­ers a pow­er­ful and tex­tured sense of Bryan’s wartime expe­ri­ence. He dis­pas­sion­ate­ly describes the many instances of racism the about 20 mem­bers of the 502 Bat­tal­ion encoun­tered: while sta­tioned in Bel­gium they quick­ly made friends with the Bel­gians, were invit­ed into their homes and shared good times. To put an end to this social­iz­ing the white offi­cers pro­hib­it­ed the Black sol­diers from leav­ing the base on week­ends, though no such pro­hi­bi­tion was laid on the whites; the Black offi­cers were not allowed in the officer’s facil­i­ties or clubs; on Oma­ha Beach dur­ing the D‑Day land­ing, the bod­ies of Black sol­diers were quick­ly removed from the beach so they would not show up on news­casts; Ger­man pris­on­ers of war (cap­tured ene­my sol­diers!) were allowed to sit in the front of bus­es and social­ize with whites; Blacks had to sit in the back; Blacks were the last to be sent home and could only be on board a ship if there were no whites to take those spots. One of the most chill­ing pic­tures is Black sol­diers detailed to clear as-yet-unex­plod­ed mines, dur­ing which, Bryan tells us, many Black lives were lost.

illustration from Infinite Hope by Ashley Bryan
two-page spread from Infi­nite Hope: A Black Artist’s Jour­ney from World War II & France by Ash­ley Bryan,
pub­lished by Cait­lyn Dlouhy Books / Atheneum Books / Simon & Schus­ter, 2020

The con­stant thud and pelt of racism is cer­tain­ly a part of this book. But an even stronger part is Bryan’s sur­vival strat­e­gy — his pas­sion for draw­ing. While sta­tioned in Boston, before being sent to Europe, he drew with the chil­dren in the neigh­bor­hood. He drew while oper­at­ing a winch. “In my knap­sack, in my gas mask, I kept paper, pens, and pen­cils. I would draw when­ev­er there was free time, inter­vals in work. I refused to sleep. I had to draw. It was the only way to keep my human­i­ty. My sketch­es weren’t only to record the day’s hap­pen­ings, but also to lev­el out the day, the expe­ri­ences of the day, to find the human­i­ty — that moment of grace when you trans­form expe­ri­ences into some­thing mean­ing­ful, some­thing cre­ative amidst the dev­as­ta­tion around you, the ugli­ness of war….Thank good­ness I nev­er need­ed to use my gas mask — if I had had to pull it over my head in a hur­ry, a rain of paper and pen­cils would have tum­bled down.” Art helped him survive.

Com­ing home, he put away his wartime sketch­es rather than paint­ing from them as he had when serv­ing in the army but con­tin­ued with his art. “What I paint­ed most steadi­ly for the next sev­er­al decades,” he writes, “were the flow­ers that bright­ened the gar­dens on Lit­tle Cran­ber­ry Island, my home.” Fifty years after the war, he was asked to do paint­ings based on those wartime sketch­es. Bryan writes that had he paint­ed from the draw­ings imme­di­ate­ly after the war, he would have paint­ed in black, grays, dark col­ors. Years lat­er, he saw the way the sol­diers had cre­at­ed their own world to pro­tect them­selves from “all sorts of war” includ­ing racism and seg­re­ga­tion even as they were fight­ing for free­dom. “I can nev­er give them more than they gave me,” he writes, “so I would paint them in full col­or, filled with the vibran­cy and life I have put into my gar­den paintings.”

On page 19 of this mem­oir we read a note by him, “GOD, make me brave for life.” It is fair to say that God did just that. Ash­ley Bryan is brave in encoun­ter­ing life in all its injus­tice and com­pli­ca­tion and trans­form­ing what he encoun­ters into art. He is pas­sion­ate about his art and has been for all his life. He has illus­trat­ed his own books as well as the books of oth­ers. The wood­cuts he cre­at­ed for Lorenz Graham’s How God Fix Jon­ah are so full of ener­gy and emo­tion that it is tempt­ing to “read” the book and not even look at the words. (The words are well worth read­ing, though, for the voice and musi­cal­i­ty of the West African idiom with which Gra­ham retold Bib­li­cal stories.)

Freedom Over MeFree­dom Over Me is Ash­ley Bryan’s recon­struc­tion of the lives of eleven peo­ple whose names he found in a col­lec­tion of slave-relat­ed doc­u­ments. “Eleven slaves are list­ed for sale with the cows, hogs, cot­ton; only the names and prices of the slaves are not­ed (no age is indicated)….My art and writ­ing in this sto­ry aim to bring the slaves alive as human beings.” And so he does, he invents their dreams, their loss­es. Peg­gy is the cook, brought from Africa, who feels close to the moth­er she was sep­a­rat­ed from on the auc­tion block, when she steams roots and herbs. And Peggy’s strong, unflinch­ing face looks carved from African wood. Stephen, a car­pen­ter, who loves Jane, a seam­stress, and build a spe­cial sewing shed for her. Jane: “The praise I receive, /I offer as a tribute/to my ancestors.”

illustration from Freedom Over Me by Ashley Bryan
two-page spread from Free­dom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams by Ash­ley Bryan,
pub­lished by Cait­lyn Dlouhy Books / Atheneum Books / Simon & Schus­ter, 2016

Read­ing this book makes one weep, both for the sto­ries and also the dreams of peo­ple bru­tal­ly enslaved, no mat­ter how “kind” their mas­ters and mis­tress­es might be. As they tell their sto­ries, they also tell their dreams of remem­bered fam­i­ly and life in Africa as well as their yearn­ings to be free. Six­teen-year-old John, being trained as a car­pen­ter, loves draw­ing and draws in the mud with sticks as well as the used paper giv­en him by Stephen and Jane, two enslaved peo­ple who look on John as their son. (In Infi­nite Hope, Bryan, des­per­ate for paper to draw on in the after­math of the war, resorts to using the flat squares of brown toi­let paper the sol­diers had been issued.)

This mov­ing book makes clear what was lost, what was con­tained in the Appraise­ment list of names and dol­lars Bryan includes at the back of the book. Bryan hon­ors these lives, imag­ined, remem­bered, dreamed.

Beautiful BlackbirdBeau­ti­ful Black­bird is a beau­ti­ful book. The cut-paper art­work in vivid sol­id col­ors shows the birds of Africa a long time ago “in their clean, clear col­ors from head to tail.” Only Black­bird was black all over. When Ring­dove asks all the birds who is the most beau­ti­ful of them all, the birds all agree that Black­bird is the most beau­ti­ful one.

When Ring­dove asks for Black­bird to share some of his black, Black­bird replies, “col­or on the out­side is not what’s on the inside,” but promis­es to share his black col­or with the oth­er birds. Paint­ing them with dots and arcs and stripes Black­bird uses all of his black­en­ing on every bird. When all the birds have been dec­o­rat­ed, they gath­er round black­bird and sing,

Our col­ors sport a brand-new look,
A touch of black was all it took.
Oh beau­ti­ful black, uh-huh, uh-huh
Black is beau­ti­ful, UH-HUH!”

Beat the Story-Drum, Pum-PumBeau­ti­ful Black­bird feels like a clas­sic work of children’s lit­er­a­ture. And so does Beat the Sto­ry-Drum, Pum-Pum. The title is no acci­dent — rhythm is a part of every page of this book. Here’s an ear­ly part of the first sto­ry: ”Hen strut two steps, pecked at a bug. Frog bopped three hops, flicked his tongue at a fly. Strut two steps, peck at a bug. Bom three hops, flick at a fly. Hen flapped her wings and spun around. Frog slapped his legs and tapped the ground.” That rhythm is just so much fun to read. We know when there’s a hen involved there’s often work to be done — and the oth­er crea­tures don’t want to do it. So we know the shape of this sto­ry. Bryan wants us to have some fun along the way. “Why the Bush Cow and Ele­phant Are Bad Friends” fea­tures two huge char­ac­ters who can­not resist the urge to fight to prove which one is strongest. No fight ever proves any­thing. And per­haps the main char­ac­ter of the sto­ry is the com­ic mon­key who talks in scat rhythms and, when he goes to tell the Head Chief the two ene­mies are fight­ing again for­gets his mes­sage and eats bananas.

The sto­ries are told with a “well, this hap­pened” atti­tude. The char­ac­ters bring about their own fates — the frog fails to see the hawk, the frog and snake — best friends for one day — learn to be sus­pi­cious of each oth­er and nev­er play togeth­er again but sit alone in the sun. The man who counts spoon­fuls can’t keep a wife because he can’t resist count­ing the spoon­fuls of food she doles out of the pot. And his wives won’t live with that. He ends up alone, count­ing grass.

Rhythm makes a big return in the last sto­ry — Ralu­vhim­ba, God of the Bavan­da, cre­at­ed the ani­mals (with­out tails) when he fell asleep in Cave Luvhim­bi. But he made a mis­take (“…and man hadn’t even been cre­at­ed yet”) he cre­at­ed flies. The ani­mals demand tails to flick away the flies. Ralu­vhim­ba says, “Tell the ani­mals I’ll come down to Mount Tsha-wa-din­da tomor­row and make tails for all of them.” Rab­bit is lazy and doesn’t go so ends up with a lit­tle fluff of a tail. But real­ly, this sto­ry is about sound about the fun of these repeat­ed syl­la­bles. And if we remem­ber to get into line when the tails are being giv­en out, so much the bet­ter. In the mean­time here’s to Ralu­vhim­ba, God of the Bavan­da. Let’s hope we can gath­er with him on Mount Tsh-wa-din­da and cel­e­brate tales and tails and the beau­ty of sound and creation.

Ashley Bryan's ABCs of African American PoetryIn look­ing through Bryan’s pub­lished works we dis­cov­ered one we didn’t know, Ash­ley Bryan’s ABC of African Amer­i­can Poet­ry. Rather than hav­ing each let­ter begin a poet’s name Bryan includes lines from poems that began with or includ­ed that let­ter. So the let­ter A show­cas­es lines from James Wel­don Johnson:

And God stepped out on space
And he looked around and said:
I’m lonely—
I’ll make me a world.

We were delight­ed to find words by many of our favorite writ­ers in the book — Lucille Clifton, Eloise Green­field, Langston Hugh­es — along with new-to-us poets as well.

What a gor­geous and won­der­ful way to learn more about Black poets.

We could go on and on about the many books Ash­ley Bryan has writ­ten and illus­trat­ed, and we hope you will go on read­ing Bryan’s books and lis­ten­ing to him read and talk about his work in the links we’ve included.

Beau­ti­ful books by Ash­ley Bryan. UH-HUH!

For a treat, lis­ten to Bryan read Beau­ti­ful Black­bird.

And hear him giv­ing voice to the won­der­ful rhythms in “Hen and Frog.”

Read more...

Revisiting the Moon

by Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin and Phyl­lis Root

A full moon on Decem­ber 29 end­ed the year 2020.  New year, new moon, and we are think­ing once again about moon books – we’ve looked at some of these before, but good books, like the moon, keep com­ing back. 

New year, new res­i­den­cy for us both at Ham­line University’s Mas­ter of Fine Arts in Writ­ing for Chil­dren pro­gram, so for Jan­u­ary we are offer­ing a list of some of our favorite moon books.

Papa Please Get the Moon For MeJack­ie: There’s love­ly mag­ic in Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me by Eric Car­le. This book has been a favorite of mine since my days as a preschool teacher. It nev­er fails to please the sit-on-the-rug crowd. What’s not to love? There’s Eric Carle’s won­der­ful moon, and a father so ded­i­cat­ed that he finds a “very long lad­der” and takes it to “a very high moun­tain.” Then he climbs to the moon and waits until it’s just the right size. He brings it back and gives it to his daugh­ter. She hugs it, jumps and dances with it — until it disappears.

The com­bi­na­tion of fan­ta­sy and real-moon, fam­i­ly affec­tion and joy is just time­less. This thir­ty year old sto­ry could have been writ­ten yesterday.

Kitten's First Full MoonPhyl­lis: In Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes, Kit­ten, too, yearns for the moon, mis­tak­ing it for a bowl of milk. “And she want­ed it.” Clos­ing her eyes and lick­ing toward the moon only gives her a bug on her tongue, jump­ing at the moon ends in a tum­ble, and chas­ing the moon ends with Kit­ten up a tree and the moon no clos­er. After each attempt, the text reminds us of Kitten’s yearn­ing: “Still, there was the lit­tle bowl of milk, just wait­ing.” When Kit­ten sees the moon’s reflec­tion in the pond and leaps for it, she ends up tired, sad, and wet. Poor kit­ten! She returns home… to find a big bowl of milk on the porch, just wait­ing for her to lap it up.

Thirteen Moons on Turtle's BackJack­ie: Kit­tens and chil­dren and all of us are fas­ci­nat­ed by the moon. Thir­teen Moons on Turtle’s Back: a Native Amer­i­can Year of Moons (Pen­guin, 1992) by Joseph Bruchac and Jonathan Lon­don is a col­lec­tion of thir­teen poems about the sea­sons of the moon from “each of the thir­teen Native Amer­i­can trib­al nations in dif­fer­ent regions of the con­ti­nent [cho­sen] to give a wider sense of the many things Native Amer­i­can peo­ple have been taught to notice in this beau­ti­ful world around us.” The notic­ing is one thing I love about this book. Read­ing these poems makes me want to walk in the woods and see some­thing in a new way.

It feels as if we are in the sea­son of the “Moon of Pop­ping Trees.”

Moon of Popping TreesOut­side the lodge
the night air is bit­ter cold.
Now the Frost giant walks
with his club in his hand.
When he strikes the trunks
of the cot­ton­wood trees
we hear them crack
beneath the blow.
The peo­ple hide inside
when they hear that sound….

And that is much bet­ter than say­ing, “it’s cold.”

Phyl­lis: In “Baby Bear Moon” we learn how a small child lost in the snow was saved by sleep­ing all through the win­ter with a moth­er bear and her cubs. The poem concludes:

when we walk by on our snow­shoes
we will not both­er a bear
or her babies. Instead
we think how those small bears
are like our chil­dren.
We let them dream together.”

Who wouldn’t want to sleep the win­ter away shar­ing dreams with bears?

Jack­ie: I love the poet­ry of this book—

…Earth Elder
made the first tree,
a great oak with twelve branch­es
arch­ing over the land.
Then, sit­ting down beneath it,
the sun shin­ing bright,
Earth Elder thought
of food for the peo­ple,
and acorns began to form.”

Per­haps the best is that Bruchac and Lon­don encour­age us to see more than trees and grass, to imag­ine a land­scape, a thrum­ming with his­to­ry, com­mu­ni­ty, and the spir­its of sharing.

MoonlightJack­ie: Moon­light by Helen V. Grif­fith (Green­wil­low, 2012) is also a poet­ic text — and spare:

Rab­bit hides in shad­ow
under cloudy skies
wait­ing for the moon­light
blink­ing sleepy eyes.

But he goes into his bur­row and doesn’t see “Moon­light slides like butter/skims through out­er space/skids past stars and comets/leaves a but­ter trace.”

What a won­der­ful image! “Moon­light slides like but­ter.” Who can look at moon­light the same again?

Phyl­lis: I love the spare lan­guage of this book, and I love Lau­ra Dronzek’s lumi­nous art as well, where moon­light real­ly does but­ter every tree and slips into Rabbit’s dreams, awak­ing him to dance in the moon­light. So few words, but so well cho­sen — verbs such as skims and skids and skips and skit­ters. A won­der­ful pair­ing of words and art that makes me want to dance in the moon­light, too.

Owl MoonJane Yolen’s Owl Moon, which won a Calde­cott for its evoca­tive win­try art, is a sto­ry of an owl, patience, hope, and love. On a snowy night the nar­ra­tor sets out to go on a long-await­ed out­ing owl­ing with Pa. She knows, because Pa says, that when you go owl­ing you have to be qui­et, you have to make your own heat, and you have to have hope. Their hope is final­ly reward­ed when they spot an owl and stare into the owl’s eyes as it stare back before it flies away. The last image shows the small nar­ra­tor being car­ried toward the lights of home by her pa. The book concludes:

When you go owl­ing
you don’t need words
or warm
or any­thing but hope.
That’s what Pa says.
The kind of hope
that flies
on silent wings
under a shin­ing
Owl Moon.

Jack­ie: “When you go owling/you don’t need words/or warm/ or any­thing but hope.” The shin­ing moon, a light in the night, a lamp of hope that we turn into a friend in the sky. These books make me grate­ful for long nights.

Phyl­lis: And for moon­light and dreams and dancing.

For this updat­ed arti­cle, we add these titles:

Goodnight Moon
Wait Till the Moon is Full
Max and the Tag-Along Moon
Moon Man

How did we miss Moon Man? It’s won­der­ful­ly sub­ver­sive. Enjoy this video of Car­son Ellis read­ing Moon Man!

Read more...

In the Neighborhood of Eloise Greenfield

Eloise Greenfield

Eloise Green­field

In this sea­son of gift-giv­ing we want to look at the gift of poet­ry, specif­i­cal­ly the poet­ry and writ­ing of Eloise Green­field. Since pub­lish­ing her first poem in 1962, she has writ­ten more than forty-five books for chil­dren and was the recip­i­ent of the 2018 Coret­ta Scott King Vir­ginia Hamil­ton Award for Life­time Achieve­ment. Her books con­sis­tent­ly win awards, includ­ing the 2012 Coret­ta Scott King Award for The Great Migra­tion Jour­ney to the North. We want to dip into her work and share the books we have locat­ed so far. Study­ing Eloise Green­field is an on-going project for us, and we hope to inspire you to take on this project too.

Night on Neighborhood StreetNight on Neigh­bor­hood Street (1991) was one of our ear­ly encoun­ters with Eloise Green­field. The for­mat allows Green­field to give us a com­mu­ni­ty in this series of poems about peo­ple who live on one street. No sto­ry arc. No prob­lem encoun­tered and solved. Glimpses of lives in one neigh­bor­hood on one night.

The first poem in a kind of estab­lish­ing shot.  It’s evening, now, of a day that began when “morn­ing mama and daddies/roused the children/ with soft sug­ar-names/and the scent of hot buttered/bread.”  Chil­dren play singing games on the side­walk—We’re goin’ around the moun­tain two by two, Rise, Sal­ly Rise–as night falls on Neigh­bor­hood Street.  From that open­ing we get the glimpses of indi­vid­ual lives.

The glimpses are won­der­ful. In “Buddy’s Dream” Bud­dy dreams him­self a dou­ble and they dance togeth­er. “Go Bud­dy Buddy/Go Bud­dy go.”  Then he dreams two more of him­self — an abun­dance of exu­ber­ance. But it’s not all exu­ber­ance. In “Lit­tle Boy Blues” we read “He’s got the lit­tle boy blues. /He’s all alone/Waiting for his best, best friend to come home…He’s got more lone­some than he can use. /He’s got the bad, bad, long-faced hurt/ and lit­tle boy blues.” On the fac­ing page we see a boy and his dad play­ing a game. We hope it’s the same boy.

Neigh­bor­hood Street is not all games either. There is “The Sell­er,” “car­ry­ing his many pack­ages of death.” But there is love and hope. In “Ner­is­sa” a lit­tle girl’s mama is sick, her daddy’s out of work, and although she wants to help “she can’t bring dinner/like the neigh­bors do/she can’t mend the hole/in her daddy’s shoe/but she’s a big help/ when she tick­les her folks/by telling them the best old/bedtime jokes.” In anoth­er poem Tonya has friends come for an overnight her moth­er tells them she loves them all and she plays her trum­pet for them. Tonya’s moth­er plays once again when the chil­dren are sleep­ing — a tune to caress all the kids on Neigh­bor­hood Street.

Great Migration: Journey to the NorthNeigh­bor­hood Street seems to be part of an urban envi­ron­ment. In The Great Migra­tion Jour­ney to the North (2011), also illus­trat­ed by Jan Spivey Gilchrest, we see indi­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies on their way to the city.

This book begins with an author’s note to give read­ers a con­text for the poems. “Between 1915 and 1930 more than a mil­lion African Amer­i­cans left their homes in the South, the south­ern part of the Unit­ed States, and moved to the North. This move­ment was named the Great Migra­tion.” She reminds peo­ple that African Amer­i­cans were not safe in the south, could not find jobs, chafed under Jim Crow restric­tions. She relates that her own fam­i­ly was part of this migra­tion. Her father went north when Green­field was three months old. The fam­i­ly fol­lowed a few months lat­er. The poems have a chrono­log­i­cal order. First “The News.” “They read about it, heard/about it, in let­ters and newspapers/sent down from the North, /from vis­it­ing cousins and brothers/and aunts…” Then “Good­byes” from a Man say­ing good­bye to the land; a girl and boy; a woman, who says, “I can’t wait to get away/I nev­er want to see this town/again….” And a very young woman who is leav­ing her moth­er behind.

These good­byes are fol­lowed by sec­tions called “The Trip,” “Ques­tion,” (“Will I make a good life/for my fam­i­ly, /for myself?”); “Up North.” Green­field ends with more details of her own family’s sto­ry. “We were one family/among the many thou­sands. /Mama and Dad­dy leav­ing home, / com­ing to the city,/with their/hopes and their courage,/their dreams and their children,/to make a bet­ter life.”

Jan Spivey Gilchrist’s art cap­tures the yearn­ing, the deter­mi­na­tion, the fear of peo­ple as they make the deci­sion to migrate.  Faces from indi­vid­ual sto­ries show up lat­er in the train cars head­ed north. The voic­es in these poems bring us close to the heart­break of leav­ing home, leav­ing fam­i­ly, and the courage of strik­ing out for a bet­ter life. 

The Women Who Caught the BabiesThere is courage and there is joy in The Women Who Caught the Babies (illus­trat­ed by Daniel Minter, 2019). This is a beau­ti­ful book about African Amer­i­can mid­wives. A note from the author at the begin­ning of the book gives read­ers a quick his­to­ry of African Amer­i­can mid­wifery, “With this book I want to take you back only as far as the Africa of a few hun­dred years ago. That’s when mil­lions of Africans were forced from their home­lands, brought to Amer­i­can and enslaved. Some of the enslaved were midwives…women (and some men) who help bring babies into the world. Mid­wives use the word ‘catch’ to describe what they do. They say they ‘catch’ the babies as they are being born.” Then we get the poems. First the sear­ing poem about mid­wifery dur­ing the time of slav­ery. “…The women, also kid­napped, /also shack­led, /made the tor­tur­ous voyages/across the ocean into slavery./In Amer­i­ca, African girls/on the brink of womanhood,/watched the women and learned,/then took their turns/at catch­ing the babies,/and so, too, the next generation,/and the next, and the next,/and the next.”

Addi­tion­al poems show us mid­wives “After Eman­ci­pa­tion,” in the ear­ly 1900s, and the ear­ly 2000s. The book ends with “Miss Rove­nia Mayo,” the mid­wife who caught Eloise Green­field. “On the evening of May 17, 1929, /Miss Rove­nia Mayo caught me, Eloise.”

This, too, is a sto­ry of com­mu­ni­ty, of peo­ple shar­ing the joy of new life and tak­ing care of each oth­er. With stun­ning art and pow­er­ful text, this book hon­ors the mid­wives, the women who “caught the babies, /and catch them still/ wel­come into the world/for loving.”

Paul RobesonWe can­not end with­out men­tion­ing Greenfield’s mov­ing biog­ra­phy of a giant of the 20th cen­tu­ry. Paul Robe­son (1975) illus­trat­ed by George Ford, and updat­ed and released in paper­back in 2009, this book is as impor­tant as it was 45 years ago. It tells the sto­ry of a bril­liant artist and coura­geous man who would not bow to our country’s anti-Com­mu­nist hys­te­ria of the 1940s and ‘50s.

Paul Robe­son was the son of a man who escaped slav­ery and moved to Prince­ton, New Jer­sey, where he was min­is­ter of a church. At Rut­gers he was an All-Amer­i­can foot­ball play­er. He received a law degree from Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty, but Robe­son could not find a job. He was also a bril­liant singer and actor and that became his career.

Paul Robe­son could not help but speak out against the many injus­tices per­pe­trat­ed on African Amer­i­cans in this coun­try. He vis­it­ed Rus­sia and felt life was bet­ter for peo­ple of col­or over there. He had Com­mu­nist friends. Rabid anti-Com­mu­nists led by Joseph McCarthy, accused him of being a Com­mu­nist. He was black­balled. “Own­ers of the­aters, con­cert halls, and radio and tele­vi­sion sta­tions would not allow him to sing or act. Store own­ers stopped sell­ing his record­ings. Some of them were angry with him, and some were afraid that they would be pun­ished too.”

When he did sing, those who came to see him were some­times attacked by Robeson’s ene­mies. He was denied the right to trav­el to oth­er coun­tries. “Sev­er­al times he sang at the line between the Unit­ed States and Cana­da. He stood on a stage in the Unit­ed States, on one side of the line. His audi­ence sat in a park in Cana­da, on the oth­er side of the line.”  His sto­ry reminds us how music can cross bor­ders even when peo­ple aren’t allowed to.  Robe­son is a gen­uine hero of our coun­try and we are grate­ful to Eloise Green­field for shar­ing his sto­ry with children.

In this film clip on YouTube, you’ll be able to watch Robe­son singing “Joe Hill” for Scot­tish min­ers, which just might bring tears to your eyes. In anoth­er film clip Robe­son, who is for­bid­den to leave the Unit­ed States, sings for Welsh min­ers over transat­lantic telephone. 

This too brief look at Eloise Greenfield’s work shows a writer intent on por­tray­ing com­mu­ni­ty, shared respon­si­bil­i­ty, joy, and courage. Her agent, Cather­ine Balkin writes on the Balkin Bud­dies web­site that Eloise Green­field “says her mis­sion is twofold: (1) to con­tribute to the devel­op­ment of a large body of African Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture for chil­dren and (2) to con­tin­ue to fill her life with the joy of cre­at­ing with words.” Mis­sion suc­cess! Thank you for so many gifts, Eloise Green­field. Your words bring us joy and courage — and awe.

A few oth­er titles among Greenfield’s many won­der­ful works:

Africa Dream illus­trat­ed by Car­ole Byard

In the Land of Words illus­trat­ed by Jane Spivey Gilchrist

Hon­ey, I Love illus­trat­ed by Jane Spivey Gilchrist

She Come Bring­ing Me that Lit­tle Baby Girl illus­trat­ed by John Steptoe

Read more...

Helen Oxenbury: A Life in Illustration

Helen Oxenbury: a life in illustrationWhen Mar­sha Qua­ley began this col­umn six years ago, she had us all on the look­out for books about children’s lit­er­a­ture. What would add to our under­stand­ing of this very par­tic­u­lar com­mu­ni­ty of edu­ca­tors, stu­dents, col­lec­tor, and cre­ators? This book about Helen Oxen­bury by Leonard Mar­cus is a gem, filled with the wis­dom of a revered author-illus­tra­tor as well as her illus­tra­tions and deli­cious pho­tos that help our understanding.

As he writes, “In the art of Helen Oxen­bury, see­ing is a way of know­ing, and draw­ing a form of felt expe­ri­ence. In the great vari­ety of books she has illus­trat­ed over near­ly fifty years, Helen has mapped out the ter­ri­to­ry of child­hood in draw­ings that com­bine the inti­ma­cy of a fam­i­ly snap­shot with the for­mal mas­tery of a search­ing and rig­or­ous art.”

Her sto­ry is told by decades. She meets, trav­els with, and mar­ries John Burn­ing­ham, a fel­low art stu­dent. In the ‘60s we learn about children’s pub­lish­ing in Eng­land and Ms. Oxenbury’s first two books for Heine­mann: Num­bers of Things in 1967 and The Great Big Enor­mous Turnip, told by Alex­ei Tolstoy.

We are priv­i­leged to observe how her art style changes over the years. We observe the growth and flour­ish­ing of British children’s books. We hear from her con­tem­po­raries in children’s literature.

Big Momma Makes the WorldSev­er­al of her books are looked at close­ly. When she accept­ed the chal­lenge to illus­trate Phyl­lis Root’s Big Mom­ma Makes the World (Can­dlewick, 2003), a re-telling of the cre­ation sto­ry that casts the Mak­er as a sin­gle moth­er, Oxen­bury writes, “I see Big Mom­ma as high­light­ing the com­plex con­di­tion of women,” she explained. “It is impos­si­bly hard for women today — so much is expect­ed of them. They have the chil­dren, cre­ate the envi­ron­ment they live in, nur­ture this envi­ron­ment, bring up their chil­dren, and, more than like­ly, hold down a respon­si­ble job to boot. And then they have to sparkle on a social lev­el!” These are the thoughts with which Oxen­bury cre­at­ed a pic­ture book that won The Boston Globe-Horn Book Award.

Every page turn, every pho­to­graph, every one of Helen Oxenbury’s includ­ed illus­tra­tions, invites assured steps on the trail of under­stand­ing what it means to cre­ate art to tell sto­ries to cap­ture a children’s atten­tion and take a place in their memories.

from Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes

illus­tra­tion © copy­right Helen Oxen­bury from Ten Lit­tle Fin­gers and Ten Lit­tle Toes,
Walk­er Books, 2003, from pg. 222 of Helen Oxen­bury: A Life in Illustration
by Leonard S. Mar­cus, Can­dlewick Press, 2019

Leonard Mar­cus, who chron­i­cles children’s lit­er­a­ture in so many books, writes with trans­par­ent admi­ra­tion for this author and illus­tra­tor beloved on both sides of the pond.

You need this book. It will make you hap­py and fill you with won­der. You will feast on the visu­als and delight in the widen­ing expanse of your understanding.

Enjoy this video inter­view of Helen Oxen­bury by Wendy Hur­rell (BBC Lon­don News), about this book.

Read more...

The Range Eternal

The Range EternalI am delight­ed by the re-issue of The Range Eter­nal, a pic­ture book that reach­es back into his­to­ry and con­nects with our sens­es, our fam­i­lies, our fears, and our reas­sur­ances. I have read all of Louise Erdrich’s books for adults and chil­dren. She nev­er fails to bring me new ways of look­ing at the world. So it is with this book.

The Range Eter­nal has a num­ber of mean­ings. It is a wood-burn­ing stove, the land­scape where ani­mals thrived, and the con­tin­uüm of time. We meet a young girl whose moth­er cooks at the stove, which has “The Range Eter­nal” embossed on its met­al door. Fam­i­ly life is inter­twined with that stove. It heats the house (even in the sum­mer), cooks their food, keep them feel­ing warm and safe, and it must be stoked, tak­en care of like a mem­ber of the family. 

Sights, sounds, smells, … they’re all woven into the text, which makes it a good one for teach­ing the five sens­es. The book is also appeal­ing for the class­room because the title has so many mean­ings. It would make an engag­ing pre­dic­tive exercise. 

What do chil­dren think about in the qui­et min­utes before sleep claims them? When fears of the dark and the unknown are present? That’s anoth­er dis­cus­sion to have for social-emo­tion­al learn­ing, prompt­ed by the sto­ry told so expert­ly by Ms. Erdrich.

The author is a mem­ber of the Tur­tle Moun­tain Band of Ojib­we. Her main char­ac­ter sees range-roam­ing ani­mals with­in her imag­i­na­tion. The fam­i­ly in the book walks to school. There comes a time when The Range Eter­nal is put out to pas­ture because elec­tric­i­ty has been con­nect­ed and a new stove helps the fam­i­ly cook. But it does­n’t have the same char­ac­ter as The Range Eter­nal and our young girl feels its absence strong­ly. So strong­ly that … well, you’ll want to read the book to find that out.

When I was grow­ing up, my great-aunt cooked on a wood­stove. We ate Sun­day din­ner at her house many times and I was fas­ci­nat­ed by that gigan­tic stove which I was warned not to touch because it was always hot. They ran a dairy farm, had many acres of crops, grew their own food, and canned, cooked, baked, and fer­ment­ed many vital food­stuffs on that stove. This book has a shin­ing mean­ing for me as I’m sure it will for read­ers and lis­ten­ers every­where who have a love of food and fam­i­ly. As shiny as that bright blue Range Eternal.

from The Range Eternal
illus­tra­tion from The Range Eter­nal, © copy­right Steve John­son and Lou Fanch­er,
writ­ten by Louise Erdrich, Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press, 2019

The lay­ered and light-suf­fused paint­ings of Steve John­son and Lou Fanch­er are well-matched to the sto­ry. The pre­dom­i­nant­ly blue and orange col­or palette speaks to the extreme cold and warmth of the sto­ry. But it is the ani­mals and birds woven with­in the snow, wind, clouds, and fire that con­trast so mag­nif­i­cent­ly with every­day life. Their paint­ings give a sense that we are a part of a much larg­er, eter­nal world, reach­ing back and reach­ing forward.

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed. A trea­sure for its warm-heart­ed writ­ing and lumi­nous artwork.

The Range Eter­nal
writ­ten by Louise Erdrich
illus­trat­ed by Steve John­son and Lou Fanch­er
reis­sued by The Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press, 2020
orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished by Hype­r­i­on Press, 2002

Read more...

Catherine Urdahl and Her Reading Team
December 2020

Rais­ing Star Read­ers is delight­ed to intro­duce a new Read­ing Team, this one led by children’s book author Cather­ine Urdahl. Here, Cather­ine shares some heart­warm­ing read­ing moments, with enough book-love and remem­bered sum­mer sun­shine to take the chill out of the cold­est of Decem­ber winds:

Juni and Catherine

Juni and Catherine

I read to my daugh­ters from the time they were infants, and now I have the joy of read­ing to my two-year-old grand­daugh­ter Juni and my new grand­son Col­by. This is my favorite time.

We espe­cial­ly enjoy books that cre­ate a shared expe­ri­ence, lines we repeat togeth­er or a word that always makes us laugh. Rat­tle­trap Car (by Phyl­lis Root, illus­trat­ed by Jill Bar­ton) is one of our favorites, and not only because one of the char­ac­ters is named “Junie.” Our Juni was about 18 months when we first read it togeth­er, at our house on a Min­neso­ta lake. When she heard the fourth line—‘Let’s go to the lake,’ said Junie and Jakie—Juni point­ed out the win­dow and shout­ed, “THAT’S THE LAKE!” It became one of the books she read at Grandma’s house, some­times in front of the win­dow, some­times (even bet­ter!) outside.

Rattletrap CarHear­ing her name and con­nect­ing the book lake to the real lake are part of the appeal. But the book’s won­der­ful lan­guage and sounds keep us com­ing back. (Papa turned the key, brum, brum, brum, brum. Clin­kety clan­kety bing bang pop! And that’s just a small sam­ple…) We say the words togeth­er, or I stop to let Juni fill in. The expe­ri­ence changes as she grows, but the book remains a tra­di­tion that con­nects us from vis­it to visit.

This reminds me of anoth­er book tra­di­tion, two gen­er­a­tions back. Every time we’d vis­it my grand­par­ents’ farm, Grand­pa Ger­hard — a farmer with­out much time to read — would gath­er the grand­chil­dren and read The Cow in the Silo (by Patri­cia Good­ell, illus­trat­ed by Dell­wyn Cun­ning­ham). One of my cousins found the book on eBay a few years ago and made copies for every­one. It’s one of my most prized possessions.

Find­ing con­nec­tion in a book is mag­i­cal. Anoth­er of Juni’s favorites is The Sand­cas­tle that Lola Built (by Megan Maynor, illus­trat­ed by Kate Berube). When­ev­er we read it at my house, Wis­con­si­nite Juni waits for the entry of the char­ac­ter “Min­neso­ta Girl,” then stabs her lit­tle fin­ger into the air and shouts, “This is Min­neso­ta!” Then we laugh.

On warm days, when we build sand­cas­tles on the beach, Juni remem­bers the book and asks for sea glass to sig­nal the mer­maids, just like Lola. (Sea glass is hard to find at a small Min­neso­ta lake.)

Of course, our favorite book changes, depend­ing on the day. Late­ly, Wild Baby (by Cori Doer­rfeld) is at the top of the pile. We notice the mama’s expres­sions as her baby runs off. Is she hap­py? Or angry? Why? We love hear­ing the play­ful, poet­ic text and track­ing the impend­ing dan­ger in the vivid illus­tra­tions. When the branch breaks, sav­ing the baby mon­key, we yell SNAP! And then there’s the cud­dle moment at the end. Is the mama hap­py? Yes!

I love see­ing books became such a big part of Juni’s life. I love how she gath­ers a pile of books and insists “I’M READING NOW!” when it’s time for din­ner, bed, a bath­room break, etc. (Per­haps the grand­par­ent per­spec­tive dif­fers a bit from the parent’s.)

A few weeks ago, I saw the sweet­est book moment EVER — Juni read­ing to her baby broth­er, tak­ing his tiny hand and help­ing him turn a page.

Already, she’s shar­ing the book-love.

Anna
Catherine’s daugh­ter Anna read­ing with Juni and Colby

_______________________

Bookol­o­gy is always look­ing for new Read­ing Teams to help us cel­e­brate the joys of read­ing aloud togeth­er. Con­tact Lisa Bullard for fur­ther infor­ma­tion if you’re inter­est­ed in participating.

Read more...

Books about the Night

Night­time is a mag­i­cal time for kids. It’s a time for explor­ing the night skies. It’s a time for dream­ing cozy dreams.  It’s a time of mis­chief when it comes with the thrill of being allowed to stay up late.

Night­time pic­ture books have always had an allure for me because of the top­ics they explore and the amaz­ing and var­ied art by illus­tra­tors chal­lenged with the task of draw­ing the dark. Such gift­ed people!

Here is a list of ten remark­able night­time pic­ture books. Enjoy!

Owl Moon

Owl Moon
writ­ten by Jane Yolen
illus­trat­ed by John Schoen­herr
Philomel, 1987

A Calde­cott Award win­ning book in which a father and daugh­ter take a night­time walk in the woods in search of owls. Beau­ti­ful sen­so­ry descrip­tions of nature and a love­ly parent/child story.

Sky Sisters

Sky Sis­ters
writ­ten by Jan Bour­deau Waboose
illus­trat­ed by Bri­an Deines
Kids Can Press, 2000

Two young sis­ters expe­ri­ence the thrill of hik­ing on a win­ter night beneath a glim­mer­ing “Grand­moth­er Moon,” with glimpses of wildlife and a final sur­prise: danc­ing North­ern Lights. Gor­geous lan­guage and won­der­ful sib­ling book.

If You Were Night
writ­ten by Muon Thi Van
illus­trat­ed by Kel­ly Pousette
Kids Can Press, 2020

A beau­ti­ful book with echo­ing phras­es that chal­lenge lit­tle night­time explor­ers to dream of what they would do if they were night. There is so much to savor about this book with its del­i­cate paper cut illus­tra­tions and tiny wood­land crea­tures. Such a dreamy feel!

If You Look Up to the Sky
writ­ten by Angela Dal­ton
illus­trat­ed by Mar­gari­ta Siko­rska­ia
Beaver’s Pond Press, 2018

A calm, reas­sur­ing, wise book that reminds young read­ers they are loved and there is hope. Beau­ti­ful art. Sim­ple text. Great bed­time read.

If You Were the Moon
writ­ten by Lau­ra Pur­die Salas
illus­trat­ed by Jaime Kim
Mill­brook Press, 2017

Poet­ic and lyri­cal with won­der­ful, kid-friend­ly illus­tra­tions, this night­time read is actu­al­ly non­fic­tion in dis­guise! It boasts lay­ered text: a dreamy sto­ry line sup­port­ed with a whole host of fun facts about the moon. A real treat.

Dark Emper­or & Oth­er Poems of the Night
writ­ten by Joyce Sid­man
illus­trat­ed by Rick Allen
Houghton Mif­flin, 2010

Poet­ry as only Joyce Sid­man can write and stun­ning, detailed art make this night­time read per­fect for lit­tle nature lovers want­i­ng to explore the world after dark.

 

The Tina­ja Tonight
writ­ten by Aimée M. Bis­sonette
illus­trat­ed by Syd Weil­er
Albert Whit­man, 2020

The desert is dry, dusty, and hot, hot, hot dur­ing the day; but night­time is a dif­fer­ent sto­ry. At night the desert comes alive and its thirsty res­i­dents emerge, search­ing out the cool waters of the tina­ja. With lay­ered text, this book works well as a read aloud and in the class­room. Weiler’s art is magical.

Night Dri­ving
writ­ten by John Coy
illus­trat­ed by Peter McCar­ty
Hen­ry Holt, 1996

A dark­en­ing sky, a long jour­ney, the safe feel­ing of rid­ing in a car with Dad behind the wheel. This is a warm­ly told, nos­tal­gic sto­ry, illus­trat­ed incred­i­bly in black and white. Who doesn’t love a road trip?

Vin­cent Can’t Sleep: Van Gogh Paints the Night Sky
writ­ten by Barb Rosen­stock
illus­trat­ed by Mary Grand­pre
Alfred A. Knopf, 2017

Is dark­ness tru­ly black? Not to Vin­cent Van Gogh. This beau­ti­ful­ly illus­trat­ed pic­ture book biog­ra­phy intro­duces young read­ers to an incred­i­ble artist who danced to the beat of his own drum.

Always Look­ing Up:
Nan­cy Grace Roman, Astronomer
writ­ten by Lau­ra Gehl
illus­trat­ed by Louise Pig­ott and Alex Oxton
Albert Whit­man, 2019

A pic­ture book biog­ra­phy about one of my favorite women of sci­ence — the Moth­er of the Hub­ble Tele­scope. Per­fect for young read­ers who dream big dreams. Nan­cy Grace Roman was a cham­pi­on of persistence.

Read more...

You Should (Not) Read These Books

We Are (Not) FriendsI remem­ber my neigh­bor­hood friends stand­ing on oppo­site sides of a dri­ve­way, angry, yelling loud­ly at each oth­er. I don’t recall why, but I can still feel those emo­tions. That’s how strong feel­ings are. Our chil­dren deal with a mul­ti­tude of emo­tions every day.

You were prob­a­bly remem­ber­ing sim­i­lar instances from your child­hood. And what hap­pened after­ward? Most like­ly you were all friends again, because you need­ed to be. You lived in the same community.

Remem­ber when a new kid moved into the neigh­bor­hood? Or want­ed to join your cir­cle of friends at school?

Remem­ber how scared you were to do some­thing new, but you went along with your friends because you did­n’t want them to think you were afraid?

Fast for­ward to the kids in your life: chil­dren, grand­chil­dren, nephews, nieces, sto­ry­time fam­i­lies, stu­dents. They’re expe­ri­enc­ing the same feel­ings. Some­times, they’re unfa­mil­iar feel­ings and kids don’t know how to han­dle them. Grab one of these five books off the shelf. They are ter­rif­ic for open­ing up discussions.

These books by hus­band-and-wife team Anna Kang and Christo­pher Weyant are per­cep­tive and very much in touch with the feel­ings of child­hood. The text is short. The sto­ry is suc­cinct. Each book makes a good read-aloud (with feel­ing!). The illus­tra­tions are eas­i­ly dis­cernible from a dis­tance. With spare lines and bright col­ors, the two main char­ac­ters become favorites as the sto­ries move from angry to tense to fun­ny to lov­ing. They shout at each oth­er. They talk about all the things they are (not). But most­ly they are friends. They work through their prob­lems and remain friends. These are how-to books we can all cherish.

High­ly recommended. 

Video: Anna and Christo­pher read We Are (Not) Friends.

It Is (Not) PerfectWe Are (Not) Friends
writ­ten by Anna Kang
illus­trat­ed by Christo­pher Weyant
Two Lions, 2019

You Are (Not) Small, 2014, Theodor Seuss Geisel Award, 2015

That’s (Not) Mine, 2015

I Am (Not) Scared, 2017

It Is (Not) Per­fect, 2020

Read more...

We Are Grateful

Fry BreadWe have to con­fess to book envy — that is encoun­ter­ing a pic­ture book and wish­ing that we had writ­ten it. The book’s approach is so arrest­ing, the heart of the book so big, the images so rich. Such books not only make us wish we’d done them, they change what we want to do and what we can do. We always learn from them. Fry Bread could be one of those books — the heart is so big, the lan­guage so beau­ti­ful, the sub­ject so encom­pass­ing — but we nev­er could have writ­ten this book. It had to be writ­ten by Kevin Noble Mail­lard, a mem­ber of the Semi­nole Nation, Mekusukey band.

In this sim­ple book about one food — fry bread — Mail­lard deliv­ers a com­plex and beau­ti­ful paean to the Indige­nous Peo­ple of the Unit­ed States. Begin with the end pages, filled with the names of Indige­nous tribes. The illus­tra­tor, Jua­na Mar­tinez-Neal has said that she imag­ines fam­i­lies of read­ers por­ing over the end pages look­ing for their own par­tic­u­lar tribe.

The poem to fry bread starts with sens­es: ”Fry bread is food/Flour, salt, water/Cornmeal, bak­ing powder/Perhaps milk, maybe sugar/All mixed togeth­er in a big bowl.” “FRY BREAD IS SHAPE,” “FRY BREAD IS SOUND/ The skil­let clangs on the stove/…Drop the dough in the skillet/The bub­bles siz­zle and pop.”/FRY BREAD IS COLOR,” “FRY BREAD IS FLAVOR.” Each page gives us anoth­er char­ac­ter­is­tic of fry bread — time (hol­i­days, fam­i­ly cel­e­bra­tions); art (sculp­ture, land­scape); his­to­ry (“The long walk, the stolen land/Strangers in our own world/With unknown food/We made new recipes/From what we had/”) and more. One of our favorite spreads is “FRY BREAD IS US/We are still here/Elder and young/Friend and neigh­bor.”  But the book doesn’t end with the poem. Exten­sive end notes include a recipe and instruc­tions for mak­ing fry bread. In an author’s note Kevin Noble Mail­lard ampli­fies the his­to­ry of fry bread — “Many tribes trace the ori­gin of mod­ern Indi­an cook­ing to this gov­ern­ment-caused depri­va­tion. From fed­er­al rations of pow­ered, canned, and oth­er dry, gov­ern­ment-issued foods, fry bread was born.”  He anno­tates every spread with more infor­ma­tion includ­ing the fact that a dai­ly diet of fry bread exac­er­bates health prob­lems. He com­pares it to Hal­loween can­dy — an infre­quent but spe­cial treat, but also notes that Native Peo­ples often don’t have access to “con­ve­nient places to buy fruits and vegetables.”

Fry Bread
illus­tra­tion © copy­right Jua­na Mar­tinez-Neal, Fry Bread: A Native Amer­i­can Fam­i­ly Sto­ry, Roar­ing Brook Press, 2019

In the note accom­pa­ny­ing “FRY BREAD IS COLOR” he reminds us that Native peo­ple may have blonde hair or black skin, tight corn­rows or a loose braid. This wide vari­ety of faces reflects a his­to­ry of inter­min­gling between tribes and also with peo­ple of Euro­pean, African, and Asian descent.”

Mail­lard has said he wrote this book part­ly so his own chil­dren could read about Indige­nous Peo­ple, but it is a gift to all of us. The infor­ma­tion in the end papers is so exten­sive, so well writ­ten (and foot-not­ed!) that it will enrich the mind of every read­er. This is a book to savor, to leave in Lit­tle Free Libraries, to give to grand­chil­dren, nieces, and nephews.

All of that, plus this book makes us want to make fry bread. “FRY BREAD IS US” reminds us of com­mu­ni­ty and how shared foods and shared meals bind us togeth­er.  Although this Thanks­giv­ing will be one in which many of us will cel­e­brate in our own homes with­out extend­ed fam­i­ly to try to stem the spread of the coro­n­avirus, we will find ways to be togeth­er — face­tim­ing while cook­ing, zoom­ing while we eat. Cook­ing, eat­ing, shar­ing will still hold us togeth­er, even when we are geo­graph­i­cal­ly apart.

Johnny's PheasantCheryl Min­nema has writ­ten anoth­er book wor­thy of any writer’s book envy—Johnny’s Pheas­ant (illus­trat­ed by the won­der­ful Julie Flett and pub­lished by the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press). John­ny and Grand­ma are on the way home from the mar­ket with “a sack of pota­toes, a pack­age of car­rots, bun­dles of fresh fruit and frost­ed cin­na­mon rolls” when John­ny notices “a small feath­ery hump” in the ditch. They stop and it turns out the hump is a sleep­ing pheas­ant. Grand­ma thinks it was hit by a car but would love to have the feath­ers for her crafts. So they put the pheas­ant into a bag and the bag into the trunk.

At home, John­ny finds a card­board box for the pheas­ant and Grand­ma agrees that it can stay in the house while he builds a nest of sticks. John­ny is so hap­py he runs around the yard, “hoot, hoot,” “hoot, hoot.”

As John­ny heads out the door, sur­prise! The pheas­ant hoots and flies out of the box, around the room, and lands on Grandma’s head, sway­ing his tail in front of Grandma’s face. Then it flies out the door. The pheas­ant lands on top of the swing set briefly and then flies away.

Johnny's Pheasant
illus­tra­tion © copy­right Julie Flett, John­ny’s Pheas­ant, Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press, 2019

But the sto­ry is not over. John­ny finds one pheas­ant feath­er at his feet after the pheas­ant leaves. He runs around the yard with it and even­tu­al­ly gives it to Grand­ma. “Howah,” says Grand­ma. John­ny says “hoot, hoot.” We learned from Deb­bie Reese’s “Amer­i­can Indi­an Children’s Lit­er­a­ture” that “Howah” is an Ojib­we expres­sion mean­ing “oh my!”

What we love about this sto­ry is the affec­tion­ate lin­ger­ing on details. We know exact­ly what they have bought — and note the poet­ry, the love­ly sounds — “a sack of pota­toes, a pack­age of car­rots, a bun­dle of fresh fruit, and frost­ed cin­na­mon rolls.”

Some might think a child run­ning around the yard is not enough dra­ma, but they don’t know chil­dren, don’t know the pow­er of excite­ment at hav­ing brought home a beau­ti­ful bird. They don’t know the joy of one beau­ti­ful feath­er gift­ed by a bird, and gift­ed again to a grand­ma. This book is a won­der­ful reminder to pay atten­tion to the dai­ly adven­tures of liv­ing in the world. And the joy of being right — the pheas­ant isn’t dead, as Grand­ma thinks. 

Cheryl Min­nema is a mem­ber of the Mille Lacs band of Ojib­we. Julie Flett is a Cree-Métis who lives in Cana­da and whose work we have loved since we first saw it.  Her use of white space makes her deep, bril­liant col­ors stand out even more — the red truck Grand­ma dri­ves and the flow­ers on her sweater, the orange car­rot tops with green frondy leaves in the white gro­cery bag, the grassy green road­side where they find the pheas­ant, Grandma’s yel­low skirt, Johnny’s dark blue shirt, the turquoise sofa where Grand­ma sits while play­ing cards. The ear delights in Minnema’s poet­ic spare text, and the eye soaks up the illus­tra­tions. This book is a feast.

We Are GratefulIn We Are Grate­ful by Traci Sorell, an enrolled cit­i­zen of the Chero­kee Nation, the author explains that in Chero­kee cul­ture show­ing grat­i­tude is part of every­day life through­out the year. In fall, she writes, we are grate­ful when shell shak­ers dance in the Great New Moon Cer­e­mo­ny, when we have a feast for the Chero­kee new year, col­lect branch­es for bas­kets, and remem­ber the ances­tors on the Trail of Tears.  In win­ter, we are grate­ful for elders shar­ing sto­ries, bread and soup, tra­di­tion­al crafts and games, for remem­ber­ing those who have passed on, and for babies cra­dled in arms.  In spring, we are grate­ful for spring’s first food, for plant­i­ng straw­ber­ries, for an ancestor’s sto­ries, for a rel­a­tive head­ing off to serve our coun­try.  Sum­mer is the time to be grate­ful for catch­ing craw dads, for har­vest in the green corn cer­e­mo­ny, for lis­ten­ing to trib­al lead­ers speak.  Every day, every sea­son, the book con­cludes, we are grate­ful.  Thread­ed through­out the book are Chero­kee words, and each sea­son con­tains the Chero­kee word for, “we are grate­ful,” Otsaliheliga. 

We Are Grateful
illus­tra­tion © Frané Lessac, We Are Grate­ful, Charles­bridge Pub­lish­ing, 2018

We are grate­ful to have read this book, which reminds us that grat­i­tude is a dai­ly prac­tice, and that we have much to be grate­ful for, from spring onions to the pass­ing on of cul­ture from one gen­er­a­tion to anoth­er. And in uncer­tain times being grate­ful for the small things can be a calm­ing con­stant for young and not-so-young.

Like the illus­tra­tions in Fry Bread, Frané Lessac’s bright, cheer­ful, con­tem­po­rary illus­tra­tions show a range of skin tones that reflect the diver­si­ty of native people.

My Heart Fills with HappinessJust look­ing at the cov­er of the board book My Heart Fills With Hap­pi­ness makes us hap­py — a First Nation child, seen from above, the skirt of her blue dress pat­terned with white birds swirling as though she is twirling with arms out stretched, her face bliss­ful.  White flow­ers scat­ter around the yel­low back­ground — a bright cheer­ful and, yes, hap­py, image. Writ­ten by Monique Gray Smith of Cree, Lako­ta, and Scot­tish descent and illus­trat­ed by Julie Flett, the book cel­e­brates hap­pi­ness through the sens­es and con­nec­tion with oth­ers: the smell of ban­nock bak­ing in the oven, the sun danc­ing on one’s cheeks, singing, danc­ing, drum­ming, walk­ing bare­foot on the grass, lis­ten­ing to sto­ries, hold­ing the hand of a loved one. Flett’s art makes these seem­ing­ly sim­ple acts luminous. 

My Heart is Filled with Happiness
illus­tra­tion © Julie Flett, My Hearts Fills with Hap­pi­ness, Orca Books, 2016

The book con­cludes with an image of the child in a yel­low rain slick­er perched on an elder’s shoul­ders, view­ing the ocean where nar­whals swim.  The last line asks, what fills your heart with hap­pi­ness?  It’s a ques­tion to give seri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion:  hap­pi­ness is a form of resis­tance, and we need to pay atten­tion to what makes us happy.

You Hold Me UpMonique Gray Smith is a new-to-us author.  When we looked at oth­er books she has writ­ten, we also fell in love with You Hold Me Up, illus­trat­ed by Danielle Daniel.  In the same sim­ple, lyri­cal prose, Smith cel­e­brates the ways in which we hold each oth­er up:  when you are kind to me, when you share with me, when we learn togeth­er, when you play with me, laugh with me, sing with me, com­fort me, lis­ten to me, respect me.  The book con­cludes, “You hold me up.  I hold you up.  We hold each oth­er up.” In this try­ing and some­times ter­ri­fy­ing year, we am grate­ful for all those who help hold us up and who, we hope, we help hold up, too. 

This month’s books help us remem­ber that our strength is in con­nec­tion and com­mu­ni­ty.  And we are grateful.

Read more...

Javaka Steptoe

Daddy is a Monster ... SometimesJack­ie: Though our focus this month is on Java­ka Step­toe, we want to begin this col­umn with anoth­er book by his father, John Step­toe, Dad­dy is a Monster…Sometimes. This book is nar­rat­ed by two chil­dren, Bweela and Java­ka, who begin, “We are Bweela and Java­ka and we have a dad­dy. He’s a nice dad­dy and all, but he got some­thin’ wrong with him… .” “Dad­dy gets like the mon­ster in the scary movies, with teeth comin’ out his mouth and hair all over his face.”…”Yeah, he’s sure a mean old crazy monster…sometimes.”

As the sto­ry goes on, we come to real­ize that dad­dy becomes a mon­ster when the kids are act­ing, well…a bit mon­strous. Java­ka paints a door­knob, the kids accept a sec­ond ice cream cone from a white woman who quick­ly assumes their father hasn’t bought them one, or they use their entire arse­nal of delay­ing tac­tics at bedtime.

Some­times Daddy’s a mon­ster when we want to be a lit­tle messy” (kids’ room with clothes, toys on every surface)”…And some­times he’s a mon­ster when we just want to make a lit­tle noise” (kids using cym­bals and play­ing trum­pet while Dad is on the phone)……”And some­times he turns into a mon­ster when we have a lit­tle acci­dent” (ball hits a vase and breaks it).

One thing I love about this book is the con­ver­sa­tions the kids have with their Dad. They are clear­ly not afraid of this mon­ster. Here’s an exam­ple. “‘Dad­dy, how come you turn into an ugly old mon­ster sometimes?”’…“‘I’m prob­a­bly a mon­ster dad­dy when I got mon­ster kids.’” And the book ends with a beau­ti­ful fam­i­ly por­trait and “Dad­dy is a mon­ster, but only some­times’. /‘Yeah, only sometimes.”

Phyl­lis:  I love, too, that the kids always qual­i­fy that Dad­dy is only a mon­ster some­times,  and that they can talk to him about his mon­strous­ness. I espe­cial­ly love when Bweela retorts to her father’s  play­ful “Get out of my face, ‘fore I knock you out” with “Dad­dy, you ain’t gonna knock me out, ‘cause I’m gonna give you a knuck­le sand­wich.”  No way is she afraid of her dad­dy.  His response that he’s only mon­strous when his kids are mon­strous along with the image of the three of them togeth­er on the last  page rein­forces that this is a fam­i­ly that loves each other…all the time.

Jack­ie: I love the feel­ing this book gives me of vis­it­ing with this fam­i­ly, see­ing the good times and the hard times. I love see­ing young Java­ka stretched out on the floor paint­ing. It’s no sur­prise he grew up to be such a won­der­ful artist.

In Daddy's Arms I Am TallIn the first book he illus­trat­ed, a col­lec­tion of poems by twelve poets, In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall (1997), Java­ka Steptoe’s poem “Seeds” is a trib­ute to his father.

You drew pic­tures of life
with your words.
I lis­tened and ate these words you said
to grow up strong.
Like the trees,
I grew, branch­es, leaves, flow­ers, and then the fruit.

I became the words I ate in you.
For bet­ter or worse
the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

This first book won the Coret­ta Scott King Award. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Step­toe has since illus­trat­ed books by many well-known writ­ers — includ­ing Wal­ter Dean Myers, Char­lotte Zolo­tow, and Nik­ki Grimes.

Phyl­lis:  One of the chal­lenges of these covid times is find­ing the books we want to write about when libraries have lim­it­ed hours and book stores may not be avail­able. Jack­ie and I have read books to each oth­er on zoom, found read-alouds on the Inter­net, and ordered books from used book sources (our favorite is Bet­ter World Books, an online sell­er of new and used books that also donates books and funds for world­wide lit­er­a­cy). When I want­ed to reread In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall, I masked up and went to my down­town library, which had the book for in-library use only. I snapped pic­tures of the vivid and stun­ning pages and read the poems about fathers and chil­dren that ranged from fun­ny (“Tick­le tick­le”) to poems so ten­der they made me cry.  My favorite:

Promis­es

Dear Dad­dy,
I’m sor­ry I did not do what you told me to do.
If I do bet­ter
Can I still be your lit­tle boy?

Dear Son,
You will be
My lit­tle boy
For all of your lit­tle boy days.
And when
You are no longer a lit­tle boy
I will still be your daddy

—David A. Anderson

The col­lage art for this poem is exquis­ite­ly sim­ple — a father seen from the back, with a child’s arms around him and his head rest­ing on his daddy’s shoul­der.  Five sim­ple shapes that con­vey immense love.

Sweet, Sweet BabyWhile I was at the library I found anoth­er of Java­ka Steptoe’s books, Sweet Sweet Baby, a small cloth book with sim­ple text (“My sweet baby, My hon­ey bun, I love you for­ev­er, My pre­cious one…”)  The book is shaped like a flower with six petals, each a dif­fer­ent col­or and tex­ture, with Steptoe’s illus­tra­tions of African Amer­i­can chil­dren and par­ents on each page and a Mylar mir­ror at the end.  I wish I’d had this book for my babies to delight in. It’s clear that for Step­toe, fam­i­ly mat­ters in every­thing he does.

Jones Family ExpressThe Jones Fam­i­ly Express, the first book Step­toe both wrote and also illus­trat­ed, is anoth­er cel­e­bra­tion of fam­i­ly as rel­a­tives gath­er for the year­ly block par­ty. The nar­ra­tor Steven’s favorite aunt, Aunt Car­olyn, is com­ing back from one of her many sum­mer­time trips.  Each trip she sends him a post­card and tells him when he’s old enough he can take a trip with her. He wants to give his aunt a spe­cial gift, but he has only a few hours until her train arrives.  With his saved-up $10.75 cents he heads to Nos­trand Avenue to find a gift. Perkins’s Drug Store has noth­ing spe­cial enough, and the ele­phant pic­ture frame at Miss Ruby’s that he wants to buy is almost three times more than he has to spend. His Uncle Charles encoun­ters him on the street and offers to find some­thing with­in Steven’s bud­get at his house, which is full of junky objects that could be use­ful one day. Steven finds the per­fect gift, a train with peel­ing paint and bro­ken win­dows. By the time he fix­es it up with pic­ture of fam­i­ly cov­er­ing the bro­ken win­dows and The Jones Fam­i­ly Express  paint­ed on the side, it’s time to meet Aunt Car­olyn.  She declares his gift the best she’s ever received and gives him his post­card on which she has writ­ten that he’s old enough now to take a trip with her. 

Jack­ie:  Step­toe often uses found objects in his illus­tra­tions and has said of col­lage, “…col­lage is a means of sur­vival. It is how Black folks sur­vived four hun­dred years of oppres­sion, tak­ing the scraps of life and trans­form­ing them into art forms.” His bril­liant use of found objects also reminds all read­ers that there is art and beau­ty all around us.

Radiant ChildIn his Radi­ant Child, the Calde­cott-win­ning biog­ra­phy of Jean-Michel Basquiat, he used “found wood har­vest­ed from dis­card­ed Brook­lyn Muse­um exhib­it mate­ri­als, the Dump­sters of Brook­lyn brown­stones, and the streets of Green­wich Vil­lage and the Low­er East side.” He also includes cut out pho­tographs of peo­ple on the street, a street musi­cian play­ing a trum­pet, dancers, and peo­ple I prob­a­bly should recognize.

The last dou­ble spread is a glo­ri­ous col­lage of peo­ple, per­haps “the crit­ics, fans, and artists he [Basquiat} admires,” with a ten­der illus­tra­tion of Basquiat and his moth­er at the side, and an insert in the larg­er spread that looks like Basquiat with his moth­er. The spread makes me want to spend a day under­stand­ing all that it includes.

But Java­ka Step­toe is not all visu­al art. His words about Jean-Michel Basquiat tell of a life not easy but full of art. From his ear­li­est days his moth­er took him to muse­ums, read poet­ry to him, and got down on the floor and drew with him.  At age sev­en Basquiat was involved in a car acci­dent. His moth­er gave him a copy of Gray’s Anato­my so he could under­stand what was hap­pen­ing in his body. Also at that time it became appar­ent that his moth­er suf­fered from men­tal ill­ness. Even­tu­al­ly she would not be able to live at home.

As Jean-Michel grows old­er, he vis­its his moth­er when he can, /always bring­ing art­work to show, /telling her that one day it will be in a muse­um.”  He first became noticed for his street art. His work so dis­tinc­tive, soon it was hang­ing in art gal­leries. “Jean-Michel, an artist among artists, nev­er doubts one line,/ cre­at­ing from a sound track that is all his own.”

This book is a cel­e­bra­tion — a cel­e­bra­tion of per­sis­tence, of art, of love — and it is a gift to read­ers of all ages.

Phyl­lis:  I love, too, the lan­guage in this book, which begins “Some­where in Brook­lyn between hearts that thump dou­ble Dutch and hop­scotch and salty mouths that slurp ice, a lit­tle boy dreams of being a famous ARTIST.” In an inter­view Step­toe talks about how writ­ing, too, is a kind of col­lage. Just as his father wrote about his own chil­dren, Java­ka uses pieces of his life in his sto­ries.  (Jean Michel in Radi­ant Child draw­ing pic­tures while lying on the floor echoes Steptoe’s own child­hood.) And it’s clear in every­thing Step­toe writes that fam­i­ly does matter. 

For Novem­ber 2017 Pic­ture Book Month Step­toe talks about why pic­ture books are impor­tant and ends by say­ing, “I am very proud to be a “Pic­ture Book Month Cham­pi­on” and look for­ward to CONTRIBUTING TO A MORE BEAUTIFUL WORLD by cre­at­ing and shar­ing my art and expe­ri­ences through books.”

In chal­leng­ing times, his words give us rea­son to read his books and to keep writing:

to help make a more beau­ti­ful world.

Some online resources:

Step­toe talks about why pic­ture books mat­ter for Novem­ber Pic­ture Book Month 2017 https://picturebookmonth.com/why-picture-books-are-important-by-javaka-steptoe/

For a love­ly read-aloud of one of the poems in In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4 – QdbX6JQQ

An inter­view with Java­ka Step­toe where, among oth­er things, he talks about writ­ing by col­lage https://bcbooksandauthors.com/bcba-spotlight-javaka-steptoe/

Lis­ten to Java­ka Step­toe read his Calde­cott win­ning Radi­ant Child https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAxpNb6U8Fo

Read more...

Anita Dualeh and Her Reading Team
October 2020

It’s always fun to catch up with one of our Read­ing Teams and see what titles have become new favorites for them. This month, how­ev­er, Ani­ta Dualeh and her sons are revis­it­ing OLD favorites: pic­ture books that were once beloved by Anita’s boys, but that they have now out­grown at ages 10 and 12. Below, Ani­ta describes what hap­pens when her Read­ing Team reex­am­ines these child­hood favorites through their more “grown-up” eyes:

The Snowy DayOne evening a few months ago, I came down to our office to find my son Adam fin­ish­ing up The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. He recalled that we used to read the book togeth­er. “Whis­tle for Willie is by the same author.” “We still have that book too,” I said as I went to retrieve it from the pic­ture book col­lec­tion that has been rel­e­gat­ed to the util­i­ty room.

I’ll read it — for old time’s sake,” he said, feel­ing like he need­ed an excuse to read some­thing that seemed child­ish to him now. That got me think­ing about revis­it­ing some of the well-loved books from my sons’ ear­li­er years. How well would the books hold up to the crit­i­cal eye of a 10- or a 12-year-old? I col­lect­ed some of their for­mer favorite sto­ries and we sat down one evening togeth­er to re-read some well-loved sto­ries. At first, Adam, my old­er son, tried to give the impres­sion that he wasn’t real­ly lis­ten­ing, in an attempt to com­mu­ni­cate “I’m old­er than that.” Caleb was a lit­tle bet­ter sport but, as usu­al, was influ­enced by Adam’s view to some extent.

Clip, ClopThe first book we read, Clip-Clop by Nico­la Smee, didn’t do much but con­firm their feel­ings. It was one of the first books Adam had request­ed by name when he was a tod­dler. He didn’t remem­ber that, and he no longer had fond feel­ings for the book. My boys thought the sto­ry line was too sim­ple for them now, and they no longer appre­ci­ate the repet­i­tive phras­es in the text.

I Stink!The next book didn’t get a much bet­ter recep­tion. We often used to check I Stink! by Kate and Jim McMul­lan out of the library, with its accom­pa­ny­ing CD. The boys both went through a phase when they would lis­ten repeat­ed­ly to this sto­ry about a garbage truck and his night­ly work. I guess we should have checked out the CD again for the full effect. As it was, my read­ing of the book dredged up no real pos­i­tive mem­o­ries. They just thought the text was sil­ly and won­dered why younger kids are so fas­ci­nat­ed by garbage trucks. 

Yellow ElephantYel­low Ele­phant: A Bright Bes­tiary by Julie Lar­ios was anoth­er favorite of Adam’s — he used to head right for the bin in the children’s sec­tion where he knew it would be “shelved.” He want­ed me to read it over and over to him, and still liked it when I read it to him and Caleb a few years lat­er. “I remem­ber this book,” Caleb said with a smile. We all admired the illus­tra­tions by Julie Paschkis, and not­ed this time how pret­ty the gold finch is. A few years ago, I found a used copy of this book for pur­chase, so now we have it on the book­shelf in the liv­ing room. Still, it had been a year or two since we’d last read it. About mid­way through read­ing it this time, Adam said, “these poems are for any age.” I agree. 

Scaredy SquirrelWe found that Scaredy Squir­rel by Mélanie Watt seemed to have tak­en on added mean­ing thanks to the pan­dem­ic. I used to read this book to Caleb fre­quent­ly, but this time, we were struck by how com­mon­place it now seems to heed the warn­ing inside the front cov­er: “Scaredy Squir­rel insists that every­one wash their hands with antibac­te­r­i­al soap before read­ing this book.” At the start of the sto­ry, the squir­rel nev­er leaves his tree, and every day is the same. We can so well relate to stay­ing home and think­ing that every day feels exact­ly the same. Scaredy Squir­rel even has a face mask and rub­ber gloves in his emer­gency kit, details we hadn’t tak­en much note of in all pri­or read­ings. But the squirrel’s self-quar­an­tine came to an end after he dis­cov­ered that noth­ing hor­ri­ble had hap­pened when he fell, pro­pelled out of this tree into the unknown. We were able to vic­ar­i­ous­ly enjoy Scaredy Squirrel’s “dras­tic changes” in his dai­ly rou­tine as we hold out hope for the day when we aren’t so con­fined to our own liv­ing space.

Adam, Anita, and Caleb reading Scaredy Squirrel

Adam, Ani­ta, and Caleb read­ing Scaredy Squir­rel

Get Me to the Ark on TimeThe last book we read that evening was Get Me to the Ark on Time, writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Cuyler Black. A riff on the flood account from the Torah, the sto­ry is pre­sent­ed in car­toon for­mat, nar­rat­ed by a flamin­go and an anteater. This book held their atten­tion, and the ban­ter between the nar­ra­tors still pro­duced a few smiles.

Then it was bed­time. As the boys drift­ed to their rooms, I was left with lin­ger­ing mem­o­ries of years gone by and filled with grat­i­tude for the bonds that have been forged over the years through the shar­ing of sto­ries. This is rea­son enough to per­sist with read-alouds, even as we move into the teen years. No, pre­cise­ly because we’re mov­ing into those tur­bu­lent years.

_______________________

Bookol­o­gy is always look­ing for new Read­ing Teams to help us cel­e­brate the joys of read­ing aloud togeth­er. Con­tact Lisa Bullard for fur­ther infor­ma­tion if you’re inter­est­ed in participating.

Read more...

Picture Books Minus the Age Stereotypes and Ageism

Imag­ine for a moment — you are read­ing to a sweet six year old grand­child. Per­haps you have sil­very hair and a few wrin­kles. Or per­haps you are not there, yet. This six year old snug­gles close and hands you a pic­ture book to read out loud. The pages reveal a boun­cy rhyming rhythm, chil­dren, an old­er char­ac­ter, and unfor­tu­nate­ly — words like fusty, dusty, rusty, and musty. Also grumpy and frumpy.

grandpa reading

Do you?

  • Read with your good nature intact and shrug it off
  • Stop mid-page and throw the book at the wall
  • Quick­ly recap­ture the Pig Latin of your youth and improvise…ustyfay, usty­day, ustyray, umpygray!

Per­son­al­ly, I look for­ward to being a Nana some­day soon, but my Pig Latin is no longer that good, and my grown kids will tell you that I would nev­er choose option A.

Mod­ern day children’s books rid­dled with neg­a­tive stereo­types of age? Sad­ly yes, they are all too easy to find. In part because pub­lish­ers desire a child pro­tag­o­nist. This neces­si­tates adding a prob­lem if the writer includes an old­er char­ac­ter. Many authors reach for stereo­types, because much of what we think we know about grow­ing old­er is myth, not fact. But stereo­typ­ing old­er adults con­tributes to ageism. And in the end that hurts us all.

From where I sit, writ­ing pic­ture books, there seems to be three basic types to beware of:

  • Those that total­ly exploit the stereo­types (sad­ly, mad­ly, and badly).
  • Those that are well-mean­ing, even ten­der, but per­pet­u­ate “old­er adult means lone­ly, sick, for­get­ful, dependent….”
  • Those with illus­tra­tions send­ing mes­sages that old­er peo­ple are fun­ny, freaky, frumpy or foolish.

For­tu­nate­ly, pic­ture books do exist that make hav­ing many, many birth­days seem like a good thing. Those that show late life as inter­est­ing and reward­ing. And por­tray aging as a life­long process, both nor­mal and natural.

It tru­ly mat­ters what young chil­dren believe. Research con­duct­ed by Bec­ca Levy, Ph.D. of Yale Uni­ver­si­ty finds that tak­ing in neg­a­tive age stereo­types shapes our old­er years and even short­ens our lives. Sim­ply see­ing old age and aging in a pos­i­tive light helps us make good deci­sions, affects our car­dio­vas­cu­lar health and helps us live longer and health­i­er. By up to 7.5 years!

We become what we think as we get old­er. Today’s chil­dren are like­ly to live long. Let’s all plant the seeds for their late life health and hap­pi­ness. Nor­mal aging is NOT about stereo­types like decline and death, ill­ness and demen­tia, or lone­li­ness and grumpi­ness. In fact, research tells us there is a “U‑curve of hap­pi­ness” — with hap­pi­ness peak­ing in child­hood and late life. Our old­er years are most often a time of sat­is­fac­tion and growth.

San­dra L. McGuire RN, EdD has long stud­ied images of aging in children’s lit­er­a­ture. She notes that far too many are neg­a­tive, or make old­er adults invis­i­ble. “I like pic­ture books that por­tray old­er adults in diverse roles like lead­ers, work­ers, vol­un­teers, artists, teach­ers and care­givers,” says Dr. McGuire. “Bio­graph­i­cal books that illus­trate grow­ing up and grow­ing old­er are impor­tant also.”

Old­er adults are actu­al­ly an inter­est­ing bunch. Ageism robs us of the recog­ni­tion that we pos­sess skills and strengths because of our age and expe­ri­ence. It steals away indi­vid­u­al­i­ty caus­ing youngers to believe in a mono­lith­ic “elder­ly.”

On my web­site and blog “A is for Aging” Dr. McGuire and I high­light pic­ture books that por­tray old­er adults and grow­ing old­er in pos­i­tive, affirm­ing ways. Minus the neg­a­tive age stereo­types. Old­er role mod­els, even in pic­ture books, show us the knowl­edge, inner strength and cre­ativ­i­ty in peo­ple in lat­er life. Let’s show kids ter­rif­ic old­er role mod­els. Let’s all make an effort to nip ageism in the bud.

For starters, please check out this list of cur­rent non-stereo­typ­ic pic­ture books about old­er adults. Many more are list­ed at www.lindseymcdivitt.com. Please con­sid­er sign­ing up for blog posts reviews of new “Pos­i­tive Aging” pic­ture books.

  • Grand­par­ents by Chema Heras
  • Har­ry and Wal­ter by Kathy Stinson
  • Henri’s Scis­sors by Jeanette Winter
  • Jin­gle Dancer by Cyn­thia Leitich Smith
  • Julián is a Mer­maid by Jes­si­ca Love
  • George Bak­er by Amy Hest
  • McGinty’s Mon­archs by Lin­da Van­der Heyden
  • My Teacher by James Ransome
  • Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Fros­tic Sto­ry by Lind­sey McDivitt
  • North­woods Girl and Miss Colfax’s Light by Aimee Bissonette
  • The Ocean Calls by Tina Cho
  • The Wakame Gath­er­ers by Hol­ly Thompson
grandma reading
Read more...

John Steptoe’s Beautiful Books

This month we want to cel­e­brate the work of John Step­toe, bril­liant artist and writer, who was born on Sep­tem­ber 14, 1950. His work is a year-round birth­day present to all of us.

StevieHis first book, Ste­vie, was pub­lished by Harp­er & Row in 1969. Step­toe, in an inter­view in 1987, recalled that when he left high school a teacher sug­gest­ed he show Ursu­la Nord­strom his port­fo­lio. He soon did and she asked for a book. He had been think­ing about the Ste­vie sto­ry for a cou­ple of years. Harp­er pub­lished it when he was 19 years old. Life Mag­a­zine re-print­ed it. The book was cel­e­brat­ed as a “new kind of book for black children.”

Now, we have the advan­tage of time and of a ground-break­ing essay by Rudine Sims Bish­op about the way lit­er­a­ture can serve as a mir­ror to reflect one’s own self, a win­dow into anoth­er cul­ture, or a slid­ing glass door to allow read­ers to step into anoth­er cul­ture in their imag­i­na­tions. So, while we agree that Steptoe’s book should be read by Black chil­dren who need to see them­selves mir­rored in the books they read, we also know they should be read by all chil­dren who can move through the slid­ing glass door to the lives of chil­dren who are not themselves.i

And all chil­dren will under­stand Robert, the nar­ra­tor of Ste­vie, who has to deal with the entrance of the younger child Ste­vie into his life. Ste­vie stays at Robert’s house Mon­day through Fri­day while his moth­er works. Robert is not hap­py about Ste­vie, “his old baby self,” liv­ing at his house. He plays with Robert’s toys, leaves foot­prints on Robert’s bed. When Robert goes out­side to play with friends, his moth­er insists he take Ste­vie along. Robert’s friends call him “Bob­by the Babysit­ter,” which makes Robert even more unhap­py with this arrange­ment. Robert thinks Ste­vie has ruined his life and he doesn’t hes­i­tate to tell him. “’I’m sor­ry Robert. You don’t like me Robert. I’m sor­ry,’ Ste­vie says.” Then one day Stevie’s par­ents came to tell Robert and his fam­i­ly the news that Ste­vie and his par­ents are mov­ing. Ste­vie will not be stay­ing at Robert’s house.

After Ste­vie is gone Robert real­izes that he and Ste­vie did have good times, they ran in and out of the house togeth­er, they played on the stoop (“cow­boys and Indi­ans,” which we now see as an unfor­tu­nate choice), ate corn flakes togeth­er. With­out think­ing, Robert pours two bowls of corn­flakes — one for him­self and one for Ste­vie and as he reflects on his good times with Ste­vie, the corn flakes get sog­gy. “He was a nice lit­tle guy, my lit­tle broth­er Ste­vie.” We feel and under­stand his regret at not real­iz­ing that while Ste­vie was still in his life.

John Steptoe

Step­toe was an artist and the illus­tra­tions are done in bold intense col­ors that draw our eyes into the page. Heavy black lines define the sat­u­rat­ed col­ors and make us want to step into this world.

In 1987, John Step­toe was inter­viewed for an arti­cle in The Lion and the Uni­corn. His con­cerns remain our con­cerns thir­ty plus years later.

But black peo­ple are told they’re not tal­ent­ed. We’re not sup­posed to read or pro­duce art; we’re sup­posed to play a lit­tle bas­ket­ball. We are not allowed to make deci­sions. Peo­ple have a def­i­nite way of think­ing about work­ing class peo­ple. But most good things that come out of this soci­ety come from the work­ing class. So I bear the bur­den of talk­ing about this to peo­ple. When I hold teacher work­shops, I am not afraid to say I am racist. We are all racist. When I talk to librar­i­ans I tell them to write let­ters to edi­tors say­ing, we are tired of what they’re pub­lish­ing because all the kids we’re teach­ing are not Dick and Jane. They don’t live in that world, they don’t look like that, they don’t talk like that, and they are being hurt and need some­thing bet­ter. I’m proud of Ste­vie because it addressed itself to work­ing class kids. But I can’t just do that any­more. I have to explore oth­er things.”

Mufaro's Beautiful DaughtersStep­toe want­ed to explore his African roots. In the same The Lion and the Uni­corn inter­view in 1987, Step­toe said of Mufaro’s Beau­ti­ful Daugh­ters:

… I want­ed to find out about African cul­ture. And my research took me to south­east Africa where there was trade with Chi­na as far back as 500 B.C. The sto­ry that I found was a fairy tale record­ed by a mis­sion­ary. It was orig­i­nal­ly called “The Sto­ry of Five Heads.” It took me about a year to research the sto­ry and about anoth­er year and a half to write and illus­trate it. I hear tell you are sup­posed to do three books a year and sup­port your­self that way, so that was not a great way to make a liv­ing. But the pic­tures are good qual­i­ty, it took a lot of work and I feel good about it.”

The illus­tra­tions are more than “good qual­i­ty.” They are arrest­ing, awe-inspir­ing. Every detail of bird feath­er or flower is exquis­ite­ly rendered.

And the sto­ry itself is so sat­is­fy­ing. Based on an African folk-tale, it is the sto­ry of two beau­ti­ful sis­ters, Man­yara and Niasha. But they are not the same. Man­yara has a bad tem­per, seems always unhap­py and teas­es her sis­ter, “when­ev­er her father’s back was turned.” Man­yara expects to be queen and tells Niasha, “You will be a ser­vant in my house­hold.” Niasha has no ambi­tions to roy­al­ty and is hap­py grow­ing mil­let, sun­flow­ers, yams, and veg­eta­bles and befriend­ing a small gar­den snake, Nyaka.

When the King announces that he is look­ing for a queen, Mufaro decides to accom­pa­ny both of his daugh­ters to the roy­al city. Man­yara goes ahead at night, want­i­ng to be the first and ensure her place on the throne. She encoun­ters a hun­gry boy and does not offer food. She spurns an old woman’s advice.

Mufaro and Niasha are wor­ried about Manyara’s dis­ap­pear­ance but even­tu­al­ly set off for the roy­al city. When they encounter the hun­gry boy, Niasha gives him a yam. She gives sun­flower seeds to the old woman.

At the roy­al city, Man­yara rush­es out to tell them of a mon­ster sit­ting on the king’s throne. Niasha enters the throne room and finds the gar­den snake that she had loved.

He is also the king as well as the small boy and the old woman. He has wit­nessed the dif­fer­ence in the daugh­ters and asks Niasha to mar­ry him.

This is not an unfa­mil­iar sto­ry, but we don’t need sur­prise to be sat­is­fied. Per­haps we are hard-wired to love the jus­tice in this book. Good­ness is reward­ed. Self­ish­ness gets its right desserts. Would that that were always true!

Dur­ing Steptoe’s twen­ty year career (he died far too young at age 38) he illus­trat­ed 16 pic­ture books, eleven of which he wrote him­self and five by oth­er authors (includ­ing All Us Come Cross the Water by Lucille Clifton, one of our favorite pic­ture book writ­ers). With many libraries still closed because of the pan­dem­ic, access to books can be lim­it­ed, but one oth­er Step­toe book avail­able online is Baby Says.

Baby SaysThe text con­sists of only a few words typ­i­cal of very young chil­dren: Uh-oh, Here, No, no, Okay, and Baby says. The qui­et art shows two chil­dren, one a baby in a playpen and the oth­er, old­er, build­ing with blocks on the floor out­side the playpen. Baby throws a ted­dy bear out of the playpen, and the old­er boy returns it. Again baby throws the bear, again the boy returns it. The third time the bear hits the boy in the head, so he takes the baby out of the playpen. And, as babies delight in doing, the baby top­ples the blocks. A word­less spread shows the boy glar­ing at the baby, but on the next page baby charms the boy with a smile and a touch to his face, and they end up build­ing blocks together.

As Horn Book arti­cle in 2003 points out, Baby Says is part of a con­tin­uüm. Kath­leen T. Horn­ing writes,

Over the span of his twen­ty-year career, Step­toe returned again and again to the com­plex­i­ties of sib­ling rela­tion­ships, approach­ing the sub­ject each time from a slight­ly dif­fer­ent angle. What remained con­stant was his gift for real­ism, first in lan­guage and lat­er in illus­tra­tions. What changed was his artistry: as his pic­tures became more detailed and real­is­tic, he depend­ed on them to car­ry more of the sto­ry, and the sto­ries them­selves were more care­ful­ly craft­ed. Ulti­mate­ly, with Baby Says, he was able to tell a sto­ry with just six words: baby; says; here; uh, oh; okay; and no.

Every child deserves to hear them­selves in books, and Step­toe let us hear their voic­es. Step­toe saw a “great and dis­as­trous need for books that black chil­dren could hon­est­ly relate to … [and] I was amazed that no one had suc­cess­ful­ly writ­ten a book in the dia­logue black chil­dren speak.”

Two of Steptoe’s books were named Calde­cott Hon­or Books, and two won the Coret­ta Scott King Award for illus­tra­tion. Wash­ing­ton Post arti­cle calls Baby Says “a ten­der kiss good-bye — a gen­tle hug from Steptoe.”

We miss him.

Daddy is a Monster ... SometimesBooks by John Steptoe

Ste­vie, 1969
Uptown, 1970
Train Ride, 1971
Birth­day, 1972
My Spe­cial Best Words, 1974
Dad­dy is a Mon­ster … Some­times, 1980
Jef­frey Bear Cleans Up His Act, 1983
The Sto­ry of Jump­ing Mouse, 1984
Mar­cia, 1986
Mufaro’s Beau­ti­ful Daugh­ters, 1987
Baby Says, 1988

All Us Come Cross the Water by Lucille CliftonIllus­trat­ed by John Steptoe

Moth­er Croc­o­dile by Rosa Guy, 1961
All Us Come Cross the Water
by Lucille Clifton, 1973
She Come Bring­ing Me That Lit­tle Baby Girl
by Eloise Green­field, 1974
OUT­side INside Poems by Arnold Adoff, 1981
All the Col­ors of the Race by Arnold Adoff, 1982

Arti­cle Links

John Step­toe,” Wendy Wat­son, Wendy Wat­son’s Blog, 11 Nov 2014

Read more...

Ann Angel and Her Reading Team
September 2020

As our Rais­ing Star Read­ers col­umn kicks off anoth­er school year, edu­ca­tors and care­givers both con­tin­ue to face the kind of chal­lenges few of us could have imag­ined last fall. Here, Ann Angel describes how her Read­ing Team is coun­ter­ing the “pan­dem­ic bub­ble” by adding non­fic­tion books to their list of favorite reads: 

Hey there, par­ent or grand­par­ent, raise your hand if you’re a pan­dem­ic teacher. I’m guess­ing many hands just went up. My hand is up, too, and I hear from many oth­er grand­par­ents that as the school year begins, we’re pro­vid­ing child­care and the class­room for tod­dlers, kinder­garten­ers, and even some grade school­ers. At least we know that although we may be iso­lat­ed in this pan­dem­ic, we’re in this togeth­er. 

While we hadn’t real­ly planned to be called into ser­vice this way, there are some amaz­ing upsides to edu­cat­ing our lit­tle ones. The best upside is that we get to sift through and share new books and authors with our kids and grand­kids. In my new role as Nana and teacher, I’m see­ing such a won­der­land of non­fic­tion books, and I’m learn­ing about the uni­verse along­side my lit­tle stu­dents. For instance, I now know that dia­dem snakes have wind­pipes that open into the bot­tom of their jaws so they can breathe and eat at the same time; an octo­pus has eight brains; and the earth’s inner core is made of sol­id iron, which grand­son Ted­dy always reminds me is also what Ironman’s suit is made of.

The Stuff of Stars and Soar High, DragonflyEnter­tain­ment, art, and edu­ca­tion are all com­bined in some of the best illus­trat­ed books I’ve come across. Mar­i­on Dane Bauer’s The Stuff of Stars is sure­ly the most beau­ti­ful weave of these ele­ments, with abstract illus­tra­tions by Ekua Holmes that allow a glimpse of nature made of star dust. You can make out the forms of hors­es, feet, birds, but­ter­flies, and a care­tak­er hug­ging a child. The first time I read this with my grand­son Ted­dy, he exclaimed at the explod­ing stars, “I’m begin­ning to love this book!” It has become a favorite, and Ted­dy and I enjoy find­ing new images every time we share it. He reads along with me, lov­ing the idea that before there was you, there was a uni­verse, and we’re all made of star dust. (Note: this book actu­al­ly inspired the name of this column.)

Oth­er favorites that focus on a sin­gle ele­ment include Flip, Float, Fly: Seeds on the Move by JoAnn Ear­ly Mack­en and illus­trat­ed by Pam Paparone, a poet­ic per­spec­tive of the way seeds trav­el and implant across the land. Sheri Mabry Bestor has cap­tured details from the world of insects with Good Trick, Walk­ing Stick! and Soar High, Drag­on­fly!, both col­or­ful­ly illus­trat­ed by Jon­ny Lam­bert. Side­bars pro­vide addi­tion­al details about these insects and encour­age kids to dis­cov­er the tini­est crea­tures in our world.

With well over 100 pages of illus­trat­ed infor­ma­tion, the DK books from Pen­guin Ran­dom House pro­vide hours of fun for my younger grand­kids when we’re togeth­er in our pan­dem­ic bub­ble. Andrew, 6, Ted­dy, 4−1÷2, and Emma, 4, might not always have the patience to sit through lis­ten­ing to all of the text, but they do pick their favorite ani­mals, plan­ets, and explor­ers to share with one anoth­er. Two favorite books include the DK Smith­son­ian Did You Know? Amaz­ing Answers to the Ques­tions You Ask and My Ency­clo­pe­dia of Very Impor­tant Things. I’m guess­ing that, if they don’t grow up to become explor­ers, they could well end up envi­ron­men­tal­ists or zoo keep­ers or even actors, see­ing as part of read­ing always entails act­ing out every­thing from light­ning strikes to snakes breath­ing through their mouths.

Ann Angel's grandsons

And of course, kids can learn any­where, so we are also mak­ing the most of time out­doors. Why not take your books and your Read­ing Team out­side to enjoy the ear­ly fall weather?

There is such a wide vari­ety of non­fic­tion avail­able for all age lev­els. Feel free to leave your favorites in the com­ments below so we can all build our non­fic­tion libraries. 

_______________________

Bookol­o­gy is always look­ing for new Read­ing Teams to help us cel­e­brate the joys of read­ing aloud togeth­er. Con­tact Lisa Bullard for fur­ther infor­ma­tion if you’re inter­est­ed in participating.

Read more...

The Very Amazing Eric Carle

Phyl­lis: Spring is final­ly here, and the pol­li­na­tors are buzzing in the blos­soms, so we thought we’d write about bugs this month. Plus, we’ve just fin­ished a book with our good friend and fel­low writer Liza Ketchum about the rusty-patched bum­ble­bee, the first bum­ble­bee to be list­ed as endan­gered. Once we start­ed look­ing for bug­gy books, we found so many by Eric Car­le, from very hun­gry cater­pil­lars to very grouchy lady­bugs to very lone­ly fire­flies that we decid­ed to look at his body of work.

Since A Very Hun­gry Cater­pil­lar was pub­lished in 1969 (his orig­i­nal idea was A Week With Willi Worm, but his edi­tor sug­gest­ed a cater­pil­lar as a more sym­pa­thet­ic char­ac­ter), Car­le has pub­lished more than 70 pic­ture books that have sold more than 150 mil­lion copies around the world. In addi­tion, he and his late wife Bob­bie estab­lished the Eric Car­le Muse­um of Pic­ture Book Art in 2002.

Here are a few of our favorites:

"Slowly, Slowly, Slowly," said the SlothIn “Slow­ly, Slowy Slow­ly,” said the Sloth the sloth slow­ly, slow­ly, slow­ly crawls along a tree branch, eats a leaf, falls asleep, wakes up. All day, all night, even in the rain the sloth hangs upside down in a tree. The oth­er ani­mals ask the sloth, Why are you so slow? So qui­et? So bor­ing? The sloth doesn’t answer until the jaguar asks (rather rude­ly), “Why are you so lazy?” Then the sloth thinks for a long, long, long time and says, “It is true that I am slow, qui­et, and bor­ing. I am lack­adaisi­cal, I daw­dle, and I dil­ly-dal­ly. I am also unflap­pable, lan­guid, sto­ic, impas­sive, slug­gish, lethar­gic, pas­sive, calm, mel­low, laid-back, and, well, sloth­ful. I am relaxed and tran­quil, and I like to live in peace. But I am not lazy … That’s just how I am. I like to do things slow­ly, slow­ly, slowly.”

What a won­der­ful panoply of words to fall back on when I am feel­ing slow, which seems more and more often in this time of Covid-19. The sloth moves at sloth speed, and I, too, I can be unflap­pable, lan­guid, calm, mel­low — but nev­er lazy.

Carle’s web­site states, “Besides being beau­ti­ful and enter­tain­ing, his books always offer the child the oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn some­thing about the world around them.” Although the text doesn’t men­tion it, the sloth is the world’s slow­est mam­mal, so slow that algae grows on its fur, and Carle’s sloth’s fur has a def­i­nite and accu­rate green tinge to it. (I once did a ninth grade report on the growth of algae on the three-toed sloth, so Carle’s algaed sloth makes me espe­cial­ly happy.)

Jack­ie: I agree those words should be added to all of our lex­i­cons. I’m imag­in­ing wak­ing up and say­ing, “Today I feel unflap­pable, lan­guid, and mel­low.” And it seems that might make for a good day. It’s so sat­is­fy­ing that the sloth is hap­py with just who he is. He doesn’t wor­ry about those who are faster or more goal dri­ven. He’s good with his essen­tial sloth-ness.

Walter the BakerI have an Eric Car­le bak­ing book to share. Wal­ter the Bak­er was pub­lished in 1972 and was off my radar, but it’s a charm­ing sto­ry about a skilled and clever bak­er, Wal­ter, who was “the best bak­er in the whole duchy.” The Duke and Duchess loved his sweet rolls and ate them every morn­ing. And then, oh my gosh, Walter’s cat spilled the milk Wal­ter was plan­ning to use in the sweet rolls, so he had to make his rolls with water. The Duke and Duchess could tell some­thing was wrong and decid­ed to expel Wal­ter from the Duchy. Wal­ter asks for one last chance and the Duke agrees, but only if Wal­ter can invent a roll “through which the ris­ing sun can shine three times.” The roll must be made of one piece of dough and must taste good. AND it must be done by tomor­row morning.

Wal­ter goes home and makes dough after dough. He’s ready to give up and throws a long piece of dough up to the ceil­ing. It twists its way down and twists itself into a pret­zel shape with three open­ing for the ris­ing sun to shine through. Wal­ter has done it! The Duke and Duchess are pleased. And Wal­ter makes pret­zels for the whole town. This sto­ry makes me want to make pret­zels. If it does the same you, there are many recipes online. Here’s just one.

Phyl­lis: I’m so hap­py Wal­ter invent­ed pret­zels, which I love. I love, too, the recog­ni­tion that some­times it’s just when we are ready to give up that we stum­ble upon a solu­tion, an acknowl­edge­ment both of the pow­er of per­sis­tence and also of serendipity.

Pancakes, Pancakes!While we’re on the top­ic of food, in Pan­cakes, Pan­cakes! Jack wakes up want­i­ng a big pan­cake for break­fast. His busy moth­er says he will have to help. She sends him with a sick­le to cut as much wheat as a don­key can car­ry to take to the miller to grind into flour. At the mill Jack first needs to help thresh the wheat with a flail, and the miller grinds the result­ing grain into flour. “Here’s the flour,” Jack tells his moth­er. “Let’s make a pancake.”

Now we need an egg,” his moth­er tells him and sends him to get an egg from the black hen.

Here’s an egg,” Jack says. “Let’s make a pancake.”

Now we need some milk,” she replies.

After each com­plet­ed task, Jack says, “Let’s make a pan­cake,” but the next task awaits.

The milk must be churned into but­ter, he must gath­er fire­wood for the fire and bring up some straw­ber­ry jam from the cel­lar. At last they are ready to mix the bat­ter: flour, egg, milk in a bowl, stirred smooth. The bat­ter cooks on one side, then Jack’s moth­er deft­ly flips it, cooks the oth­er side, and spreads straw­ber­ry jam on the pancake.

Now, Jack,” she begins.

Oh, moth­er, “ says Jack, “I know what to do now.” And he does, as he hap­pi­ly forks a bite of pan­cake into his mouth.

Talk about delayed grat­i­fi­ca­tion and all the often-unseen steps involved in mak­ing the food we eat! A sim­ple pan­cake recipe — flour and egg and milk — is includ­ed. I plan to try it imme­di­ate­ly — the more I read this book, the more rav­en­ous I became.

Jack­ie: The roost­er that begins this book is just arrest­ing­ly beau­ti­ful. It promis­es a good time, a read­ing adventure.

And, I real­ly enjoyed Carle’s intro­duc­tion of new process­es and new words. The wheat grains must be sep­a­rat­ed from the chaff. The miller and Jack use flails. What a great word for kids to know about. As you said, Phyl­lis, his books always offer kids an oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn something.

The Grouchy LadybugThe Grouchy Lady­bug doesn’t flail about, but does have a rough day, as any­one who’s ever been grouchy will rec­og­nize. And these days my mood often swings between grouchy and grate­ful, so I was pleased to spend time with this lady­bug, who is just grouchy, no rea­son, maybe just woke up grouchy.

In any case her response to the friend­ly lady­bug she meets on a leaf is “Do you want to fight?” Then the grouchy lady­bug decides “You’re not big enough,” and she goes off search­ing for just the right spar­ring part­ner. Yel­low-jack­et, Stag Bee­tle, Pray­ing Man­tis, Spar­row, Lob­ster (Eric Carle’s lob­ster is too beau­ti­ful to eat), Skunk, and larg­er ani­mals up to a whale are among Ladybug’s encoun­ters. All have threat­en­ing fea­tures so all are deemed not big enough to fight. Lady­bug gets no reply from Whale so threat­ens its flip­per, fin, and tail. The tail responds with a smack and the Lady­bug is shot “across the sea and across the land.” At six in the evening it arrives where it had start­ed, “wet, and tired, and hun­gry,” and grate­ful for a share of the aphids. The two lady­bugs eat all the aphids and fall asleep togeth­er as the sun goes down and beau­ti­ful Eric Car­le fire­flies come out under the smil­ing moon.

Phyl­lis: Yes, the moon. In Papa, please get the moon for me, when Mon­i­ca wants to play with the round, full moon, who looks just the right size for a play­mate high in the sky, she can­not reach it no mat­ter how much she stretch­es. So she asks her papa, who gets a very long lad­der, so long that both pages of the dou­ble page spread must open up to the sides to show a lad­der four pages wide. On the next spread, the page unfolds from the top to make a very tall lad­der on the very high moun­tain where Papa places it. Papa climbs up, up, up to the moon, which unfolds pop-up-like beyond the edges of the page to immense size, so heavy Papa can­not budge it. The moon tells Monica’s papa that he gets a lit­tle small­er each night, until he will be the right size to take to play with Mon­i­ca. And the moon does shrink each night until, when it is just the right size, Papa takes it and climbs down, down, down the lad­der that now unfolds from the bot­tom of the page. Mon­i­ca jumps and dances and plays with the moon, which gets small­er and small­er until it dis­ap­pears. A few nights lat­er, Mon­i­ca sees a thin sliv­er of moon in the sky, which grows and grows and grows back into its full round self shin­ing in through Monica’s win­dow. All is well in the world of lov­ing papa, lucky child, and accom­mo­dat­ing moon.

Jack­ie: No mat­ter what the sto­ry, all is well at the end. The grouchy are grate­ful, the hun­gry have pan­cakes, the moon smiles down from the sky, the sloth has made his state­ment, the bak­er is rein­stat­ed. These are reward­ing books for hard times. They remind us to find lit­tle pock­ets where all is right — our gar­dens, our mix­ing bowls, the warm yel­low sun, the moon, won­der­ful sto­ries with beau­ti­ful illustrations.

Phyl­lis: And good friends to write blogs with.

Read more...

Ann Angel and Her Reading Team
May 2020

In this Rais­ing Star Read­ers update, Ann Angel shares how read­ing aloud helps car­ry on her family’s her­itage of sto­ry­telling. Here’s how Ann describes it: 

Ann Angel and her grandson Teddy

Ann Angel and her grand­son Teddy

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and Richard Scarry

With Stay-at-Home a require­ment in most states, mine includ­ed, I only see some of my grand­kids via Skype and Zoom. But I have a daugh­ter and grand­son liv­ing with us. That means we’re bal­anc­ing work and Teddy’s school, so, of course, I get involved. Some­times my grand­son Ted­dy insists on read­ing to me. And when he does, pic­ture books take on a whole new lev­el of sil­ly and seri­ous. This is most often the case when I let him pick out his favorites. Of course we go through the usu­al count­ing books and ani­mal sound books which always enter­tain. But then Ted­dy reach­es for books he knows by heart, such as Richard Scarry’s edu­ca­tion­al clas­sics or Lau­ra Numeroff’s If you Give books. Then his imag­i­na­tion kick into high gear. I’m enter­tained like crazy and he devel­ops skills in interpretation.

Richard Scarry Cars and Trucks from A to ZThe sto­ry takes on twists and turns and amaz­ing details. Recent­ly Ted­dy read to me from Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks from A to Z. Ted­dy was con­cerned that an apple car might arrive instead of an ambu­lance. “Would the work­er take you to a farm?” he asked. “Would you get bet­ter or worse?” When we reached an image of a pick­le car, Ted­dy asked, “Who dri­ves a pick­le car? Do you?”

The pump­kin truck cre­at­ed a prob­lem: “Some­one is going to miss Hal­loween. All the pump­kins are falling out of the truck.” Water­mel­ons cas­cad­ing from anoth­er pick­up led Ted­dy to frown and point out, “There won’t be any water­mel­on tonight!”

When read­ing If you Give a Mouse a Cook­ie (Lau­ra Numeroff, illus­trat­ed by Feli­cia Bond), Ted­dy loves to iden­ti­fy the entire mouse fam­i­ly in one of the first illus­tra­tions. The last time we shared this sto­ry, he point­ed out that at one point, the mouse dis­ap­pears from the page. “He’s in the mid­dle of that dust because he’s sweep­ing,” Ted­dy informed me, adding a lay­er to the sto­ry on the page. By the way, we end­ed this sto­ry time by mak­ing our own cookies.

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

While these sim­ple excla­ma­tions might be writ­ten off as a kid’s per­spec­tive, what’s going on inside our kids’ minds when we encour­age them to read to us is so much more. My grand­kids have dis­cov­ered the art of sto­ry­telling with our shared sto­ries and they’re devel­op­ing this tal­ent and skill. Mean­while, I’ve dis­cov­ered the pure bliss of know­ing my grand­kids have this gift and will pass sto­ries along for gen­er­a­tions to come.

Teddy reading

_______________________

Bookol­o­gy is always look­ing for new Read­ing Teams to help us cel­e­brate the joys of read­ing aloud togeth­er. Con­tact Lisa Bullard for fur­ther infor­ma­tion if you’re inter­est­ed in participating.

Read more...

Deb Andries and Her Reading Team
April 2019

We’re espe­cial­ly delight­ed to cel­e­brate with Deb Andries (a.k.a. Gram­my) this month as she launch­es her newest Read­ing Team. Here’s how Deb describes the experience:

Myles, Deb Andries, and Hayes

Myles, Deb Andries, and Hayes, read­ing together

My heart has always felt this “explo­sion of love” when we’ve wel­comed a grand­child into our fam­i­ly. I vivid­ly remem­ber when our grand­son Park­er, now 14, was born, and the pure and ele­vat­ed joy I felt. It was the same “joy explo­sion” with Grayson and Emmy, born four days apart six years ago, and then Fin­ley who is now four. Each of those “lit­tles” is not lit­tle in the uncon­di­tion­al love they share and bring to my life.

Imag­ine how my heart explod­ed when we found out we would be wel­com­ing twin girls into our fam­i­ly! Myles and Hayes, age six months in this pho­to, have con­tin­ued to remind me that my heart grows big­ger and big­ger in love. I didn’t think I’d get the chance to share board books again with grand­chil­dren. I am so glad that my stash (and both my daugh­ters’ col­lec­tions) have been added to our book bas­ket, which has been grow­ing since Parker’s birth!

I also love the newest addi­tions to the book bas­ket: Itsy Bit­sy Spi­der (illus­trat­ed by Emi­ly Ban­nis­ter), My Favorite Book of Col­ors (by Jan­ice Behrens, illus­trat­ed by Joan Michael), and Baby’s Very First Black and White Books by Stel­la Bag­gott. These Usborne “mini” books are just the right size for the girls and the black-and-white illus­tra­tions appeal to their first visions of how they see color.

Usborne Books

While they would rather put the book in their mouth, they will also sit (some­times), both on my lap, and lis­ten to my read­ing voice as I share the bril­liant pho­tos of things they will come to know, love and name for them­selves all too soon. We sing the nurs­ery rhymes, we move our hands with actions – yep, one at a time with hand actions as I only have two hands to help them. We point to the pic­tures, we name them, and we read the book again and again.

Here’s some­thing else I do to sup­port their ear­ly lit­er­a­cy learn­ing. When­ev­er I’m dress­ing them, I always start with their left hand, or their left foot, or left leg, for shirts, socks, shoes, pants, etc. Why, you ask? Because we learn to read from left to right, and if we start with that ear­ly fir­ing of neu­rons to their rapid­ly devel­op­ing brains, we will cre­ate those pat­terns for read­ing. I have also sung to all of my grand­chil­dren as I’m dress­ing them. They hear nurs­ery rhymes and songs so they can “feel” the rhythm, hear the rhyme and put up with my off-key pitch! I want them to know that these tra­di­tion­al rhymes, tried and true, are an impor­tant com­po­nent as I nur­ture their love of reading.

our book basket

our book bas­ket, cur­rent­ly filled with many board books

I love time spent with all my grand­chil­dren in read­ing. It might be the driver’s man­u­al for my soon-to-be 15-year-old grand­son; it might be books online with famous authors shar­ing their works through the COVID-19 school shut­down; it might be that stack of board books just wait­ing to have the pages turned by the newest “lit­tles” in our family.

No mat­ter what comes, we will spend time reading.

_______________________

Bookol­o­gy is always look­ing for new Read­ing Teams to help us cel­e­brate the joys of read­ing aloud togeth­er. Con­tact Lisa Bullard for fur­ther infor­ma­tion if you’re inter­est­ed in participating.

Read more...

Books about Baking Up Family Time

Jack­ie: We decid­ed to hon­or the nation’s new­found love of bak­ing with a col­umn on pic­ture books focused on bak­ing. We still don’t have libraries (a great ben­e­fit of this con­fine­ment is the reminder of how spe­cial and nec­es­sary are libraries in our lives) so we are lim­it­ed to books we can find read aloud on Youtube. Let’s start with an old favorite.

The Duchess Bakes a CakeThe Duchess Bakes a Cake by Vir­ginia Kahl has been around since 1955. The Duke and Duchess live with their thir­teen daugh­ters: Made­lyn, Gwen­dolyn, Jane, Catil­da, Car­olyn, Gwenevieve, Maud, Mathil­da, Willibald, Genevieve, Joan, Brun­hilde, and Gun­hilde. One day the Duchess decides to bake a cake — a love­ly, light lus­cious, delec­table cake. She gives the cook the day off and begins to assem­ble. “What­ev­er she found she put into the bat­ter.” And six times as much yeast for good mea­sure. When the cake begins to rise the Duchess sits on top of it to tamp it down. But the love­ly, light lus­cious delec­table cake will not be stopped. Soon the Duchess is high in the sky, hop­ing for good weather.

The long­bow­men are ordered to shoot down the cake but hit only spar­rows. The cat­a­pul­tiers, ordered to bring the cake down with boul­ders, “kept missing.”

Final­ly, lit­tle Gun­hilde says, “I’m hun­gry.” And the solu­tion is appar­ent. They will eat the Duchess down from the sky. She starts at the top. The oth­ers eat up from the bot­tom. And even­tu­al­ly all is right­ed again.

The sto­ry shows its age a time or two, espe­cial­ly when the Queen and the Duchess are for­bid­den to do any more bak­ing. In our time we want the Queen and Duchess to decide that ques­tion. But it will always be fun to say, “A love­ly light lus­cious delec­table cake.” Even now it makes me hun­gry for the adven­ture of cake.

Phyl­lis:  Kahl’s lan­guage and rhythm are so much fun. I have been walk­ing around all day say­ing, “A love­ly, light, lus­cious, delec­table cake.”  The words them­selves are almost good enough to eat.  I love, too, the long list of what goes into the cake: “In went the sug­ar and flour and but­ter. In went the almonds the raisins, the suet. She added some vine­gar and dropped in the cruet…. She added some eggs, sev­er­al dozen, well beat­en, and some left­over pud­ding that they hadn’t eat­en. Bil­ber­ries, goose­ber­ries, cran­ber­ries, bog berries, black­ber­ries mul­ber­ries, burber­ries, dog­ber­ries”… on and on.  When it looks as though the chil­dren will have to say good-bye to their sky-bound moth­er, the hun­gry youngest of the thir­teen daugh­ters helps hits upon the solution. 

Fry BreadJack­ie: Now for the brand new Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Mail­lard and illus­trat­ed by Calde­cott Hon­or illus­tra­tor Jua­na Mar­tinez-Neal. This love­ly book, with its seem­ing­ly sim­ple struc­ture, car­ries a lot of mean­ing, and is a delight to read. Win­ner of the 2020 Siebert Award, it begins: Fry­bread is food. /Flour, salt, water, /Corn meal, bak­ing pow­der, /Perhaps milk, maybe sug­ar. /All mixed togeth­er in a big bowl.”

A new state­ment about fry bread begins each sec­tion in the book. Fry bread is sound. Fry bread is col­or. Fry bread is fla­vor, time, art. “Fry bread is his­to­ry. /The long walk. The stolen land. /Strangers in our own world/With unknown food/We made new recipes/From what we had.” The illus­tra­tions are as arrest­ing as the text. When “Fry bread is place,” we see kids romp­ing on a gauzy but rec­og­niz­able map show­ing the places named in the text.

Each of the sec­tions gets its own expla­na­tion in the exten­sive back mat­ter. Clear­ly fry bread stands for a lot for Kevin Noble Mail­lard and he brings read­ers to agree with him. I want to pore over the back mat­ter in a way that YouTube real­ly doesn’t allow. And for those who want to make fry bread after read­ing the book, there’s a recipe.

Phyl­lis:; When I first heard about this book, I thought about how fry bread was made foods the con­querors gave to the con­quered, hav­ing tak­en away their own sources of food. So I was espe­cial­ly moved with how fry bread became a cel­e­bra­tion of resilience, per­sis­tence, and inclu­sion. The book ends, “Fry bread is us.”

Just like fry bread is all sorts of col­ors — “gold­en brown, tan, or yel­low, deep like cof­fee, sien­na, or earth, light like snow and cream, warm like rays of sun”–  so are the chil­dren pic­tured joy­ful­ly help­ing to make and eat fry bread. What bet­ter time than now to remem­ber that “We strength­en each other/ to learn, change, and survive”?

Thunder CakeJack­ie: We can’t do a col­umn on cakes and bak­ing with­out includ­ing Thun­der Cake by Patri­cia Polac­co. This book is all about love: the love and trust that the nar­ra­tor has with her Babush­ka. And the love that the grand­moth­er has for the child. Polac­co shows it in the text and in the illus­tra­tions. The prob­lem, as we all remem­ber and the title reminds us, is thun­der, “thun­der that makes the win­dows shud­der.” When the storm clouds appear the child heads for under the bed. But Babush­ka says, “This is thun­der cake bak­ing weath­er, all right. Looks like a storm com­ing to me.”

While they gath­er the sup­plies for the cake from Nel­lie Peck Hen and Kick Cow, the girl keeps track of the approach­ing storm by count­ing the sec­onds between the light­ning and the thun­der. This “tick­ing clock” keeps us turn­ing the pages. Will they have time to bake the cake? What if they get caught out­side when the storm hits?

Mile by mile the storm approach­es, but they get the cake into the oven just in time. While it bakes Babush­ka reminds the nar­ra­tor of all she has done and tells her how brave she is. When the cake comes out of the oven, they each have a slice and a cup of hot tea. Per­fect reward for brav­ery. Per­fect cause for joy. And for us, there is a thun­der cake recipe at the end of the book.

Phyl­lis:  This book is so rich in detail: the thun­der that makes “the win­dows shud­der in their panes,” Babush­ka lov­ing­ly fin­ger­ing “the grease-stained pages to a creased spot,” three over-ripe toma­toes to put in the cake — some­thing I plan to try with my next batch of over-ripe toma­toes in a few months. Grand­ma counts the dis­tance of light­ning dif­fer­ent­ly than I learned as a child, but the count­down does make for a won­der­ful ten­sion.  And not only is the baked cake sat­is­fy­ing so is the lit­tle girl real­iz­ing she is brave after all.

Rude CakesJack­ie: One of the most sur­pris­ing cake books is about an anthro­po­mor­phized cake who is rude. Rude Cakes (2015) is writ­ten by Row­boat Watkins, who says on his web­page that Row­boat is not his real name, but a nick­name bestowed by his wife. But back to the sto­ry, “Rude cakes nev­er say please. /And they nev­er say thank you.” And we see a pink lay­er cake with legs say­ing “Gimme.” Rude cakes take things and they push oth­ers (whom they call “you clum­sy crumb”) out of the way to get to the slide first. Rude cakes are obnoxious.

Still we are not quite pre­pared when a Giant Cyclops with a huge mouth reach­es in Rude Cakes’ bed­room win­dow and grabs the cake. “Giant Cyclops love…” we are told as its mouth opens wide. Page turn. “To wear cute hats.” It puts the cake on its head. Mean­while the cake is say­ing, “I’m not a hat.” The Cyclops doesn’t hear. None of its cyclops friends hear these dis­claimers, until Rude Cake says, “Please, I am not a hat.” Man­ners do make a difference.

Phyl­lis:  This book made me laugh out loud. The art fore­shad­owed the giant Cyclops with a draw­ing hang­ing over the bed where the rude cake is jump­ing rather than set­tling down to sleep, but who would have sus­pect­ed that giant Cyclops liked to wear jaun­ty lit­tle hats? And hats that dance, no less? This book gives me hope for all those who don’t lis­ten, behave rude­ly, and think only of themselves.

Jack­ie: This is a delight­ful book. I would love to share it with kids. And I can imag­ine that nei­ther of us would look at cake in the same way again.

Bak­ing and read­ing, laugh­ing and think­ing, we will get through this time. And we hope we come out on the oth­er side delight­ed by what we had tak­en for grant­ed, grate­ful for so many kinds of gifts, and ready to share the good for­tune we didn’t know we had. And ready for cake.

Phyl­lis:  Yum!

Read more...

Lesa Cline-Ransome

Lesa Cline-Ransome

Lesa Cline-Ran­some

Author Lesa Cline-Ran­some is known for her pic­ture book biogra­phies of poets, anti-slav­ery cru­saders, musi­cians, ath­letes, and math­e­mati­cians. Her nov­el Find­ing Langston received a Scott O’Dell His­tor­i­cal Fic­tion Award and a Coret­ta Scott King Author Hon­or. We impa­tient­ly wait­ed for the com­pan­ion nov­el, Leav­ing Lymon, which was pub­lished in ear­ly 2020. Lesa is a won­der­ful sto­ry­teller and a stel­lar non­fic­tion researcher and author. We’re glad she’s Skin­ny Dip­ping with us!

One green thing I wish every­one would do: Recycle

The book I wish every­one would read:  Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Oth­er Suns: The Epic Sto­ry of America’s Great Migra­tion. It will for­ev­er change the way in which you see his­to­ry, race and inequal­i­ty in this country. 

The best way to stay fit: Walk.  Every sin­gle day.

What keeps me up at night:  The cur­rent state of pol­i­tics, divi­sive­ness, and partisanship. 

Proud­est moment in my career: Com­plet­ing my first mid­dle grade nov­el (Find­ing Langston) after years of writ­ing pic­ture books. 

I don’t believe in: Limitations

My mom was right about: Near­ly every­thing, but when I was young, she told me to always focus more ener­gy on groom­ing my inte­ri­or than my exte­ri­or and I would grow into a woman I could be proud of. 

I tell myself every day: To trust myself. 

The bravest thing I’ve ever done:  Become a moth­er to four chil­dren.  There is no instruc­tion man­u­al and yet every day requires a dif­fer­ent skill set, hard work, ener­gy, humor and resourcefulness. 

If I could give you a piece of advice, it would be this: Be a reader.

The food I can’t resist: Choco­late lay­er cake (warm, with a lit­tle scoop of vanil­la ice cream on the side)

What I do when I want to feel joy:  Sur­round myself with friends and fam­i­ly, good music and great food.

Read more...

A Blizzard of Snow Books

We’re snowed under right now, what with teach­ing and writ­ing and, well, snow, so we thought we’d offer up a bliz­zard of books about the white stuff that falls from our skies.  Curl up with a child, a cup of warmth, and enjoy win­ter in the pages of a book.

The Snow Party, Snow, Snowy Day

The Snow Par­ty by Beat­rice Schenk De Reg­niers and Ber­nice Myers

A lone­ly woman who lives with her hus­band on a Dako­ta farm wish­es for a par­ty.  When snow piles up out­side, knock after knock at the door brings strand­ed motorists who make her wish come true.  This sto­ry, says one source, was “inspired by a 1957 Life Mag­a­zine report” — most like­ly on a bliz­zard in Kansas.

Snow by Uri Shulevitz

In a grey city, snow starts to fall, delight­ing a boy and his dog despite naysay­ers includ­ing radio and tele­vi­sion.  “But snowflakes don’t lis­ten to radio, snowflakes don’t watch tele­vi­sion.  All snowflakes know is snow, snow, and snow.” And they trans­form the town.

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

A clas­sic sto­ry about a lit­tle boy explor­ing a snowy day in the city, smack­ing a snow cov­ered tree, mak­ing a snow­man and snow angels, slid­ing down a snowy hill, and putting a snow­ball in his pock­et to save. Sad that night when the snow­ball has melt­ed, he wakes to new snow and goes out into the snow with a friend.

Snowflake Bentley, Wolf in the Snow, Over and Under the Snow

Snowflake Bent­ley by Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin and Mary Azarian

Calde­cott-win­ning book about a man who loved snow more than any­thing from the time he was a boy, and patient­ly fig­ures out how to take the first-ever pho­tographs of snowflakes. (Jack­ie: Sor­ry for the self-pro­mo­tion, but Snowflake Bent­ley was all about snow and would give me trou­ble if we left him out of this list].

Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell

In this word­less book, a lit­tle girl going home from school in a snow­storm dis­cov­ers a lost wolf pup and braves the storm to return it to its moth­er. When she her­self is lost and exhaust­ed, the wolves sur­round her and howl until her par­ents find her and bring her home safe.

Over and Under the Snow by Kate Mess­ner and Christo­pher Silas Neal

A girl and her father ski through the woods, where wildlife abounds both above and below the snow. 

White Snow Bright Snow, Katy and the Big Snow, The Big Snow

White Snow Bright Snow by Alvin Tres­selt and Roger Duvoisin

A post­man, a farmer, a police­man (all male — the book was pub­lished in 1947) and a “policeman’s wife” go about their dai­ly tasks as snow falls and chil­dren exu­ber­ant­ly play in the snow until spring and the sun return.

Katie and the Big Snow by Vir­ginia Lee Burton

Katie, a big trac­tor who bull­dozes in sum­mer and snow­plows in win­ter, is the only plow big enough to dig out the city of Geopo­lis fol­low­ing a huge snow­storm with blow­ing winds. The maps add to the fun of this story.

The Big Snow by Berta and Elmer Hader

A 1949 Calde­cott medal win­ner, The Big Snow tells about the wood­land ani­mals as they pre­pare for the win­ter blow­ing down on them. Lots of text by today’s stan­dards. Gor­geous illustrations.

Small Walt, Toys Meet Snow, The Snowman

Small Walt by Eliz­a­beth Verdick and Marc Rosenthal

Walt is the small­est snow­plow in the fleet, the last one picked by the dri­vers.  “I’ll dri­ve him,” says Gus as the snow starts to fall.  As the snow­storm turns into a bliz­zard, Walt plows and plows, even up to the top of the high, high hill and down the oth­er side.  Even Big Buck the biggest plow says Walt did a good job. 

Toys Meet Snow by Emi­ly Jenk­ins and Paul O. Zelinsky

A stuffed buf­fa­lo, a plush stingray, and a rub­ber ball ven­ture out into the first snow­fall, build a snow­man (with Plas­tic, the rub­ber ball, for a head), make snow angels, sled down a hill, and pon­der what snowflakes are and what a sun­set is before they go in at the end of the day.

The Snow­man by Ray­mond Briggs

In this mag­i­cal word­less book a lit­tle boy builds a snow­man who comes alive at night and takes him on an adventure.

Goodbye Autumn Hello Winter, The Tea Party in the Woods

Good­bye Autumn, Hel­lo Win­ter by Kenard Pak

Two chil­dren greet the late autumn — the leaves, birds, deer, flow­ers, sun, clouds, stars, trees, all of whom greet them back and say how they are get­ting ready for win­ter.  Then, as snow falls, the chil­dren greet the ici­cles, snowflakes — and win­ter itself.

The Tea Par­ty in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi 

A lit­tle girl sets out through a snowy wood fol­low­ing her father to give him the pie he for­got to take along to her grandma’s and finds her­self at a tea par­ty of wel­com­ing ani­mals instead. Her red wool hat adds bright splash­es of col­or and echoes (at least to us)  Lit­tle Red Rid­ing Hood but with more cel­e­bra­to­ry results in this strange and won­drous story.

First Snow, Owl Moon

First Snow by Bomi Park

In this spare and beau­ti­ful book a lit­tle girl is awak­ened by pit pit pit, the sound of snow, and goes out in the night in her boots, coat, (red) scarf, and mit­tens.  Accom­pa­nied by her lit­tle dog she rolls and rolls a snow­ball into a mag­i­cal world of many chil­dren all build­ing snow peo­ple .  When she returns home, we see the snow per­son she built back in her own yard, wear­ing the bright red scarf. 

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and John Schoenherr

Anoth­er Calde­cott win­ner, a lit­tle girl and her father go owl­ing in the woods on a win­ter night. This real­is­tic sto­ry has a mag­i­cal feel­ing. And why not? There is after all, some­thing won­drous about snow.

Hope you all are able to enjoy snow, even if it’s just read­ing about it, this winter.

Read more...

Ann Angel and Her Reading Team
January 2020

Rais­ing Star Read­ers rel­ish­es this chance to catch up with Ann Angel and her multi­gen­er­a­tional Read­ing Team. For this entry, Ann was espe­cial­ly focused on how the words and visu­al art in pic­ture books lead kids to think and to dream. Here’s how Ann describes it:

Long before I had kids and grand­kids, I thought I’d grow up to be a visu­al artist. And, although my art turned to writ­ing, I always, always, ALWAYS loved to share word play and the details of bril­liant illus­tra­tion in pic­ture books with my chil­dren. Now that they’re grown with chil­dren of their own, I catch them perus­ing illus­tra­tions with their kids to find hid­den, sil­ly, or tiny images that tell a sto­ry with­in a sto­ry. These illus­tra­tions help all of us see how artists draw that sto­ry and move it from the words on the page to art that cre­ates sub-plot and deep­er mean­ings. With­out a doubt, the dis­cov­ery helps us to think more deeply about themes, and to dream about the details of our lives.

Many pic­ture books use nuanced art so kids think about sto­ries in ways that lead them to dis­cov­er tech­niques to nego­ti­ate life and to dream about the mag­ic and, some­times, the silli­ness of the world.

Wild Wild Sunflower Child AnnaI was remind­ed of that mag­ic recent­ly when I came across a dusty copy of Wild Wild Sun­flower Child Anna by Nan­cy White Carl­strom (author) and Jer­ry Pinkney (illus­tra­tor).

When my daugh­ter Ste­vi saw the cov­er she com­ment­ed, “I loved that book. It was one of my favorites.” In part, I think she loved the book because she looked a bit like Anna, but most­ly, I think she fell into the botan­i­cal illus­tra­tions and the mag­ic of nature. After all, this was the daugh­ter who tried to keep pet worms in a plas­tic cup in her bed­room. She was also known in our fam­i­ly for play­ing with, and even kiss­ing, frogs and toads while danc­ing through gar­dens and fields.

Wild Wild Sunflower Child Anna illustration

illus­tra­tion copy­right Jer­ry Pinkney from WIld Wild Sun­flower Child Anna, Simon & Schus­ter, 1987, writ­ten by Nan­cy White Carlstrom

That favorite book dis­cov­ery led to an after­noon with both daugh­ters and grand­kids. Daugh­ter Aman­da, a fifth grade teacher with a love of books (and a tal­ent for writ­ing and art her­self), delight­ed in explor­ing illus­tra­tions with nephew Ted­dy and her son and daugh­ter Andrew and Emma.

Ann Angel's family

Ted­dy, Andrew, Aman­da, Emma

Laundry DayAfter read­ing Anna’s gar­den tale, Aman­da pulled out Laun­dry Day, a book by writer/illustrator Jes­sixa Bagley.

(Of course, I joined in the fun with Laun­dry Day, which is our newest favorite.)

In this book, two bored bad­gers, Tic and Tac, help their moth­er hang laun­dry on a line to dry. They turn this into a game to hang the sil­li­est things. I won’t give all the items away but they include a broom, a comb, a pail of water, even a mouse sit­ting in a soup ladle. The images led the grand­kids to iden­ti­fy items they rec­og­nized and to learn about how some items might have been used by their par­ents and grand­par­ents when they were kids.

Laundry Day illustration

illus­tra­tion copy­right Jes­sixa Bagley, from Laun­dry Day, Roar­ing Brook Press, 2017

Vincent Comes HomeAman­da end­ed up read­ing an entire stack of favorites while grand­kids explored the pic­tures. Jessixa’s detailed art was def­i­nite­ly a top new choice.

In one case, because Vin­cent the cat who lives on a car­go ship looks like our grand-cat Finnegan, Aman­da end­ed up pour­ing over details of ships, ports, and cities with Vin­cent Comes Home, co-cre­at­ed by Jes­sixa Bagley and Aaron Bagley.

Wherever You GoAnoth­er favorite is Wher­ev­er You Go, writ­ten by Pat Ziet­low Miller and illus­trat­ed by Eliza Wheeler.

This delight­ful pic­ture book takes read­ers on a bicy­cle jour­ney with a rab­bit and his com­pan­ion owl through tun­nels, across bridges, into forests, and cities, and dis­tant lands. We learn that we can always return home again. By the way, this book makes a delight­ful high school grad­u­a­tion gift ─ I gave it to my old­est grand­daugh­ter, Beth, who’s study­ing lib­er­al arts in Wash­ing­ton State. (She’s not pic­tured because she’s savor­ing a mel­low Wash­ing­ton cli­mate while we’re sur­viv­ing the cold Mid­west­ern winter.)

Ann Angel's family

You can’t keep Ann away from books and her read­ing buddies!

_______________________

Bookol­o­gy is always look­ing for new Read­ing Teams to help us cel­e­brate the joys of read­ing aloud togeth­er. Con­tact Lisa Bullard for fur­ther infor­ma­tion if you’re inter­est­ed in participating.

Read more...

Celebrating Winter Celebrations

Phyl­lis: Win­ter has come down like a snowy blan­ket, and ani­mals in our world have migrat­ed, hiber­nat­ed, or are shiv­er­ing their way through the months ahead. But ani­mals in pic­ture books have oth­er ideas. Why not be a part of December’s cel­e­bra­tions of Hanukkah, Christ­mas, Sol­stice or help a friend in frozen need? These books make us feel as cozy as a cup of tea, a light­ed tree.

Le Loup NoelMichael Gay’s The Christ­mas Wolf was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in France as Le Loup Noël. For­tu­nate­ly for us, it was also pub­lished in Eng­lish in 1980 by Green­wil­low Books. Father Wolf and his fam­i­ly live in the moun­tains in an aban­doned pow­er­house. When the wolf cubs won­der why Father Christ­mas nev­er comes to them, Father Wolf decide some­thing must be done and heads to town. He is run off the road by a truck and lands in the dump, where he fash­ions a dis­guise from a hat, boots, a long coat, and sun­glass­es. But it’s hard to hide his wolfish ten­den­cies at the store in town, where a revolv­ing door baf­fles him, and sales­peo­ple won­der when he says that his wife prefers a bone to jew­el­ry. In the toy sec­tion his excite­ment caus­es him to for­get his dis­guise, and his tail gives him away. In the out­cry, Father Wolf hides in a win­try win­dow dis­play, final­ly return­ing home emp­ty hand­ed that night. The same truck that ran him off the road, return­ing from town, man­ages to hit him, and when he howls in pain Moth­er Wolf finds him and helps him home. The truck dri­vers, fright­ened by the howl, leap from the truck, which pitch­es down the moun­tain­side, scat­ter­ing the presents it car­ried. In the morn­ing, the ani­mals find presents every­where — in trees, on the ground. A ban­daged and recov­er­ing Father Wolf real­ly has brought Christ­mas to the delight­ed ani­mals. The last two spread show a pleased Father Wolf and wife and ani­mals glee­ful­ly open­ing presents, read­ing books, play­ing a gui­tar, and find­ing all sorts of Christ­mas sur­pris­es. Even though each side of a spread shows a sep­a­rate image, Gay’s art flows seam­less­ly as we jour­ney along with Father Wolf and feel immense sat­is­fac­tion along with him at the end.

Storm Whale in WinterThe Storm Whale in Win­ter by Ben­ji Davies, is a sequel to The Storm Whale in which a lit­tle boy, Noi, res­cued a strand­ed whale washed up by a storm. Noi, who lives with his father and six cats by the sea, keeps search­ing the water for his whale friend with no suc­cess. Win­ter descends, and Noi’s father leaves for one last fish­ing trip, even though the sea is fill­ing with ice. When he doesn’t return by dark­ness, Noi thinks he sees his father’s boat out to sea and hur­ries across the ice to find it. The boat, when he reach­es it, is held fast by ice, and Noi’s father is not aboard. Afraid and not know­ing what else to do, Noi curls up tight in a blan­ket. Sud­den­ly the boat feels a BUMP. The storm whale and his whole fam­i­ly have come to help. They punch through the ice, singing, and push the boat back to the shore, where Noi’s father had been brought when res­cued by oth­er fish­er­men. The art shows Noi togeth­er with his father in the spring, paint­ing the boat which they rename The Storm Whale in hon­or of the night Noi’s friend had come back, then sail­ing togeth­er among the whales.

Both of these are sim­ply told, straight­for­ward sto­ries, and yet both touch the heart unsen­ti­men­tal­ly. Father Wolf wants to make his chil­dren hap­py with the gift of Christ­mas, and Noi wants both to find his friend and also his father. Both sto­ries end with goals achieved, but not until after dif­fi­cul­ty, which makes their suc­cess even sweeter.

The Hanukkah BearJack­ie: The bear in The Hanukkah Bear (by Eric Kim­mell and illus­trat­ed by Mike Wohnout­ka; 2013) has an eas­i­er time of it. He wakes up mid-win­ter to a deli­cious smell, which he fol­lows to the house of 97-year old Bub­ba Bray­na. She doesn’t see as well as she used to, nor hear as well. But she still makes the best latkes around. And this night she makes twice as many because the Rab­bi is coming.

Bub­ba Bray­na wel­comes the bear, whom she mis­takes for the Rab­bi, and inter­prets his grunts and growls as the Rabbi’s part of the con­ver­sa­tion. He devours the latkes. Bub­ba Bray­na laughs at his appetite and wipes of his face. “You eat like a bear,” she says in a teas­ing way. She gives him a scarf and wish­es him a hap­py Hanukkah.

Bub­ba Bray­na is charm­ing in her sim­ple gen­eros­i­ty and accep­tance of a Rab­bi who eats with his paws. And she is gra­cious when the real rab­bi comes with neigh­bors, and the chil­dren see tracks and tell her it was a bear she had fed.

Some may see this sto­ry as fun at the expense of some­one who doesn’t see or hear as well as she used to. But I love it for the qual­i­ties in Bub­ba Bray­na that allow her to be gen­er­ous with a messy imag­ined Rab­bi, laugh at her own mis­take — and solic­it her friends’ help in whip­ping up anoth­er batch of latkes. Would that we all could over­come our mis­takes with such grace.

Emmet Otter's Jug-Band ChristmasOne last ani­mal sto­ry, or sort of. Rus­sell Hoban’s otters are the peo­ple we wish we could be. We have includ­ed this book in the past, but it is so good, so warm, we just have to men­tion it again. Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christ­mas (1971) was writ­ten by Rus­sell Hoban and illus­trat­ed by Lil­lian Hoban. I have loved this sto­ry for most of my adult life. We found it when our kids were young and read it for years – all year long. It is always fun to watch the Jim Hen­son 1977 Mup­pet pro­duc­tion of this sto­ry, but the book is my favorite telling.

Ma Otter says to her friend Irma Coon, “It’s been such a rock-bot­tom life for so long, just once I’d like to bust out with a real glo­ri­ous Christ­mas for Emmet — some­thing shiny and expen­sive.” And Emmet says to his friend Char­lie Beaver, “Some­times [Ma’s] got to have some­thing fine and fan­cy.” When they hear of the tal­ent show with the fifty-dol­lar prize, Emmet drills a hole in Ma’s wash­tub to be part of the Frog­town Hol­low Jug Band and Ma sells Emmet’s tool­box to buy fab­ric for a fan­cy dress to wear as she sings in the contest.

But no one had count­ed on the River­bend Night­mare band with their elec­tri­cal instru­ments and rau­cous (rock-us?) sound. After the Night­mare per­for­mance, Ma sound­ed like a whis­per. Emmet’s band sound­ed like “crick­ets and night peep­ers.” Still, as they walk home, Ma says, “I guess I ought to feel pret­ty bad, but the fun­ny thing is I don’t. I feel pret­ty good.” And they start to make music. And their music is heard…and appre­ci­at­ed by all the cus­tomers at Doc Bullfrog’s River­side Rest. A free sup­per and a night of enter­tain­ing fol­low. And they all go home with a reg­u­lar job at Doc Bullfrog’s and mon­ey in their pockets.

Ma and Emmet are so spunky. Hoban’s lan­guage is so enter­tain­ing. We all have days that we want to call “rock-bot­tom.” And we hope for times when maybe we should feel pret­ty bad, but we feel pret­ty good. This sto­ry is a clas­sic and bears read­ing again and again.

The Shortest DayPhyl­lis: The sparest of poet­ic texts (121 words by my quick count) flows through Susan Cooper’s The Short­est Day, a sol­stice celebration.

Jack­ie: An end note tells us Coop­er wrote the poem for “The Christ­mas Rev­els,” a sol­stice cel­e­bra­tion begun by John Langstaff in 1957 and revived in 1971 and cel­e­brat­ed in cities all over the country.

Phyl­lis: The dark art, soft as a winter’s night, is lit by can­dles in win­dow and torch­es in hands as “every­where, down the cen­turies of the snow-white world came peo­ple singing, danc­ing, to dri­ve the dark away.” They hang homes with ever­greens and burn fires to wak­en the new year’s sun. When the sun returns, they “car­ol, feast, give thanks, and dear­ly love their friends, and hope for peace. And so do we, here, now….”

And we, too, wish­ing you dear friends that in the com­ing year we dri­ve the dark away, com­mit to cel­e­bra­tions, and find peace and joy.

Read more...

A to Zåäö

A to ZaaoThis 96-page pic­ture book wraps many pur­pos­es between its cov­ers. It’s an alpha­bet book, a muse­um exhib­it cat­a­log, an intro­duc­tion to the Swedish lan­guage, and a pic­ture book illus­trat­ed  by a moth­er’s water­col­ors and her son’s pen-and-ink draw­ings. The lus­cious water­col­ors por­tray a muse­um object and the pen-and-ink draw­ings are lay­ered over the water­col­ors, invit­ing the read­er to imag­ine stories.

On the page for “P,” the Swedish phrase “pig­ga upp dig!” are trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish as “perk up!” The water­col­or por­trays a three-legged chair in the ASI’s col­lec­tion, carved by a woman who emi­grat­ed from Swe­den to Amer­i­ca before 1939. The pen-and-ink draw­ings on this two-page spread sug­gest many sto­ry pos­si­bil­i­ties, depict­ing fig­ures of knights, a late-eigh­teenth-cen­tu­ry cou­ple, a troll in shorts, a drag­on, a rein­deer, a man in a dol­phin cos­tume, and a mod­ern-day fam­i­ly hav­ing a beach pic­nic, all of them inter­act­ing with each oth­er. The ideas for sto­ries abound!

In the back mat­ter, there are full-col­or pho­tos and descrip­tions of the fea­tured items from the ASI’s col­lec­tion, graced by more pen-and-ink draw­ings. There’s a lot to learn and a lot to play with. Designed to be a trea­sure for all ages, the book suc­ceeds in its mission.

It’s an enchant­i­ng, infor­ma­tive, and fun book, one that invites you to spend a few hours with your imag­i­na­tion. It’s a keeper! 

A to Zåäö: Play­ing with History
at the Amer­i­can Swedish Institute
illus­trat­ed by Tara Sweeney
and Nate Christopherson
his­tor­i­cal text by Inga Thiessen
Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta  Press, 2019
ISBN 978 – 1517907884

Read more...

Aging Down, Aging Up

Back when my kids were lit­tle, I start­ed work on a non­fic­tion SEL (Social and Emo­tion­al Learn­ing) series called the “Best Behav­ior” series. More than a decade lat­er, these board books and paper­backs are still going strong, I’m hap­py to say. Titles in the series include Teeth Are Not for Bit­ing, Voic­es Are Not for Yelling, and Wor­ries Are Not For­ev­er. The books are about shap­ing behav­ior, but in a deep­er sense, they’re designed to help young chil­dren express their feel­ings, get their needs met, and bet­ter under­stand their grow­ing inde­pen­dence. I think of my books as tools in an SEL toolk­it. They can help you bring out the best in chil­dren dur­ing the tod­dler years, all the way through ear­ly ele­men­tary school, and beyond.

My goal from the begin­ning of the series was to use sim­ple words to teach, encour­age, and reas­sure young chil­dren. But I real­ized that my tod­dler board books — lim­it­ed to 11 spreads, with one full spread devot­ed to tips for par­ents and edu­ca­tors — were too short to ful­ly cov­er the top­ics for a wider audi­ence. What a tod­dler can under­stand from a book called Germs Are Not for Shar­ing is much dif­fer­ent from what a preschool­er or kinder­gart­ner can grasp. So, I’ve cre­at­ed more in-depth paper­backs for old­er chil­dren, using the same titles as the board books. I have var­i­ous ver­sions of, for exam­ple, Words Are Not for Hurt­ing: the board book, the expand­ed paper­back, and Spanish/English ver­sions of both. It’s been a joy­ful chal­lenge for me to adapt my words to the dif­fer­ent ages and stages chil­dren go through. I love aging down and aging up! The process is great prac­tice for any writer, new or expe­ri­enced, espe­cial­ly if you want to write for children.

How do you age down your text? First, know that aging down is very dif­fer­ent from “writ­ing down to chil­dren.” Our goal as children’s writ­ers is not to write to chil­dren in baby­ish lan­guage or to lec­ture our read­ers, even in books that aim to guide a child’s behav­ior. Whether you’re aging your text down or up, respect young read­ers’ intel­li­gence; know that they feel fierce­ly and they care deeply. E. B. White said it this way:

Chil­dren are … the most atten­tive, curi­ous, eager, obser­vant, sen­si­tive, quick, and gen­er­al­ly con­ge­nial read­ers on earth.”

Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford PaulSome children’s writ­ers take the approach of get­ting all their ideas and best lines on the page first, so they don’t get caught up in edit­ing them­selves too much, too ear­ly. In oth­er words, they write long before writ­ing short. This method feels expan­sive and free­ing; it lets you use the page to explore and brain­storm. Yet, there are some tips to keep in mind so you’ll be on your way to cre­at­ing work that’s age appro­pri­ate. Expert pic­ture-book writer Anne Whit­ford Paul in her man­u­al Writ­ing Pic­ture Books says there are char­ac­ter­is­tics of chil­dren to keep in mind as you write for them, including:

  1. Chil­dren have had few experiences.
  2. Chil­dren have strong emotions.
  3. Some­times child­hood is not happy.
  4. Chil­dren long to be independent.
  5. Chil­dren are complicated.

Paul’s list is actu­al­ly longer, and I high­ly rec­om­mend get­ting a copy of her help­ful man­u­al (recent­ly revised and updat­ed) if you want to write for young kids. Let the chil­dren in your own life inform your writ­ing, too. Spend time lis­ten­ing to them close­ly, soak­ing in their words and cre­ative turns of phrase. Ask chil­dren to read aloud to you — pay­ing close atten­tion to what cap­tures their imag­i­na­tions and res­onates with them emo­tion­al­ly. Invite fel­low writ­ers to read and com­ment on your work: What age group do you think this is for? Is this too wordy? Where might I cut some text?

Sup­pose you’ve writ­ten a man­u­script for very young chil­dren, but you’re not sure if it’s age appro­pri­ate. The eas­i­est place to start is with a word count. Gen­er­al guide­lines sug­gest that man­u­scripts should be 500 words or less. If you’re writ­ing for tod­dlers, much less. Think of it this way: Good­night Moon by Mar­garet Wise Brown is only 130 words. For fun, I just count­ed the words in my tod­dler board book Voic­es Are Not for Yelling: 131. Fic­tion pic­ture books for young chil­dren, includ­ing Good­night Moon, are often brief, poet­ic texts in which every word mat­ters—some­times described as “Per­fect words in per­fect places.” Non­fic­tion books for lit­tle ones are sim­i­lar­ly short but are often designed to give infor­ma­tion or share a mes­sage. In my SEL non­fic­tion, I don’t aim to be poet­ic but do hope to share sim­ple phras­es chil­dren can use on their own every day:

You are big­ger than your worries.”

Teeth are not for bit­ing. Ouch, bit­ing hurts.”

Warm water, lots of soap, scrub, scrub, scrub. Send those germs down the drain.”

I adore writ­ing short! It’s sat­is­fy­ing for me to pick at my own words like I pick weeds in my gar­den. I’m an edi­tor at heart, and that’s where I got my start in pub­lish­ing, help­ing oth­er writ­ers use lan­guage to the best of their abil­i­ties. When writ­ing for the very young, revise and then revise again (and again) to boil down your lan­guage to its sim­plest form. If that sounds dif­fi­cult or bor­ing, remem­ber that illus­tra­tions do half the work in books for lit­tle ones. A sim­ple tip? Get rid of your adjec­tives or over­ly descrip­tive lan­guage. Illus­tra­tions can do that job for you.

When­ev­er I’m start­ing a new book in the “Best Behav­ior” series, I tack­le the board book first. This helps me sim­pli­fy the con­cepts and lan­guage for the youngest audi­ence, while also let­ting me reach the fin­ish line faster. Once I’ve writ­ten the board book, I feel like I’ve accom­plished some­thing and want to do more. I then think of the ways in which preschool­ers, kinder­gart­ners, and old­er chil­dren expe­ri­ence behav­ior issues in school and in the com­mu­ni­ty. As they grow old­er, chil­dren spend more time out­side of the home, engag­ing with a wider vari­ety of peo­ple and places. A child’s world grad­u­al­ly expands — and so my books have to expand as well. But not by too much. I try to keep that “500 words or less” rule of thumb firm­ly in mind as I write.

Peep LeapRecent­ly, I vis­it­ed a first-grade class­room to share a cou­ple of my pic­ture books, Small Walt (about a lit­tle snow­plow) and Peep Leap (about a baby wood duck afraid to leave the nest). A theme in each of these works is “small can be mighty” and that we all need encour­age­ment, from our­selves and oth­ers. One of my favorite lines in Peep Leap is: “You are braver than you know.” To be hon­est, I feel scared every time I start a new man­u­script. It doesn’t mat­ter how many books I’ve writ­ten before — each new one feels like a chal­lenge I have no idea how to take on. I give myself lit­tle pep talks and reach out to fel­low writ­ers who often feel the same way. On that day of the first-grade vis­it, the teacher pulled me aside and con­fid­ed that she had a book idea and want­ed to write for chil­dren and hadn’t start­ed yet because it felt too “big.” Well, I hope she does start writ­ing soon, and I told her to give it a try. If you work with chil­dren or are rais­ing them, you have an insider’s view into what makes kids tick, and how much they grow and change as time rolls on. That’s a great start … now you need to put some words on the page.

Read more...

The Arrow of Time

When you walk into our house, you know imme­di­ate­ly my hus­band and I are read­ers. The din­ing room is des­ig­nat­ed as the library, but there are book­cas­es and books in every sin­gle room, includ­ing the bath­rooms. We sub­scribe to The Wall Street Jour­nal and the Sun­day New York Times, as well as Smith­son­ian, Audubon, and Sky and Tele­scope. 

The Enchanted HourMy hus­band has been teach­ing him­self quan­tum physics the last few years. I take books to the movies. Yet we both would have failed the “Goldilocks effect” if that test had been giv­en to us as young chil­dren. In her book, The Enchant­ed Hour: The Mirac­u­lous Pow­er of Read­ing Aloud in the Age of Dis­trac­tion, Meghan Cox Gur­don dis­cuss­es Dr. John Hutton’s research on how read­ing aloud to chil­dren affects their cog­ni­tive development.

Hut­ton, a pedi­a­tri­cian and pro­fes­sor at the Cincin­nati Children’s Hos­pi­tal, dis­cov­ered through MRI scans that the brains of preschool­ers who had been read to on a reg­u­lar basis “lit up” in areas asso­ci­at­ed with lan­guage and pro­cess­ing infor­ma­tion. Com­pared to peers who had lit­tle or no access to books, or who were giv­en screens instead of shar­ing a pic­ture book with a care­giv­er, the sto­ry-rich chil­dren were miles ahead in “lan­guage, emo­tion­al con­trol, vision, hear­ing … lay­ing the path­ways for future thought and reasoning.”

The “Goldilocks effect” per­tains to chil­dren age three to five, when their brains are grow­ing fast. MRI scans showed “too hot” brain activ­i­ty in chil­dren view­ing videos. Not as ter­rif­ic as it sounds, the watch­ers were actu­al­ly pas­sive. Audio — lis­ten­ing to sto­ries through head­phones — pro­duced tepid reac­tions, “too cold.” The “just right” com­bi­na­tion was being read to from a pic­ture book. Chil­dren must process the pic­tures while lis­ten­ing. Their brains are engaged and active. And they have the added ben­e­fit of phys­i­cal con­nec­tion to a person.

When I read this study, I remem­bered my own years between two and five. There were no children’s books in the house I lived in. No one read to me. I was sel­dom spo­ken to and heard no sto­ries. Howdy Doo­dy and The Mick­ey Mouse Club (screen) kept me com­pa­ny. At the age of six, I entered first grade. The “look-say” or “whole word” method was still going strong. Read­ing didn’t click with me until sec­ond grade.

Kids Fort

My hus­band was born in the Depres­sion when children’s books were far down on the list of neces­si­ties. Next came the war, and his par­ents were busy with war work. He wasn’t read to and doesn’t remem­ber any books until he start­ed first grade. His sto­ries came over radio waves (audio), Inner Sanc­tum and One Step Beyond.

I can’t say either of us grew up in a time of few dis­trac­tions. For my hus­band, the war ruled everyone’s lives. By the time it was over, he was twelve, well past those vital devel­op­ment years. My life sta­bi­lized when I turned five, but my par­ents had mul­ti­ple jobs. Learn­ing to read and being exposed to books was left to teachers.

The Enchant­ed Hour cov­ers oth­er stud­ies that prove the impor­tance of read­ing aloud to young chil­dren, such as vocab­u­lary. Read­ing two pic­ture books aloud to a child each day for a year expos­es him or her to more than 438,000 words of text. Cather­ine Tamis-LeMon­da of New York Uni­ver­si­ty believes that pic­ture book time is the only set­ting in which par­ent and child talk about things oth­er than dai­ly rou­tines. Where else can you dis­cuss the moon or ele­phants or how birth­days are cel­e­brat­ed in oth­er countries?

The book includes test results of chil­dren in low­er socioe­co­nom­ic sit­u­a­tions: book- and word-poor house­holds. My back­ground. And yet I did learn to read, though rather late. Once the door to sto­ries was open, I read and wrote them. Library books had to be returned, but the sto­ries I wrote were mine. No one could take them away from me.

My hus­band did fine in lan­guage arts, but his inter­ests lay in math­e­mat­ics and sci­ence. My moth­er want­ed me to get a desk job. My husband’s father urged him to join his build­ing busi­ness. With­out encour­age­ment, we found our own moti­va­tion and fol­lowed our own paths.

Gurdon’s book made me wist­ful. What would my life had been like if some­one read me bed­time sto­ries? If I was tak­en to the library? If some­one stopped to lis­ten to one of my own sto­ries? But I can’t go back to my preschool years and fill that gap. The arrow of time — a the­o­ry devel­oped by physi­cist Arthur Edding­ton in 1927 — only moves in one direc­tion, for­ward. The past is fixed and immutable.

The Read_Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease and Read to Your Bunny by Rosemary Wells

I wor­ry about chil­dren like me, grow­ing up in word- and book-poor homes. The plea of The Enchant­ed Hour is for par­ents to carve out an hour a day to read aloud to their chil­dren. This isn’t a new idea. Jim Trelease’s 1979 The Read-Aloud Hand­book paved that road for par­ents forty years ago. In 1998, Read to Your Bun­ny by Rose­mary Wells was pub­lished as part of her ini­tia­tive urg­ing fam­i­lies to set aside twen­ty min­utes a day of read-aloud time. Down from an hour to twen­ty min­utes, and yet the prob­lem still exists.

Here we are at the same cross­roads, but now the ene­my is screen time. No one read­ing this col­umn is unaware that screens are in the hands of younger and younger chil­dren. I see babies with cell­phones “to keep them qui­et” and I see the expres­sion­less faces of their par­ents, also on screens. Chil­dren in fam­i­lies that are poor in books but rich in screens — no mat­ter where they land on the socioe­co­nom­ic scale — will strug­gle to devel­op live­ly imag­i­na­tions, to escape the pull of social media, to fol­low their own paths, with or with­out encouragement.

The arrow of time only moves in one direc­tion, for­ward. Once passed by, those impor­tant years can’t be reclaimed and fixed.

Read more...

The BEARdecotts

The ALA/ALSC recent­ly announced their Youth Media Awards, result­ing in much excitement.

The teacher librar­i­ans at a Min­neso­ta pri­vate school with three cam­pus­es help their stu­dents look for excel­lence in children’s books by hold­ing their own award process each year. Called The BEARde­cotts, after their school mas­cot, the edu­ca­tors select books for a short list that they then share with their stu­dents over sev­er­al months, read­ing aloud, read­ing indi­vid­u­al­ly, mak­ing crit­i­cal analy­ses, and final­ly vot­ing on the most wor­thy books.

Many of the choic­es this year reflect a theme of anx­i­ety, an emo­tion that is preva­lent among young stu­dents everywhere.

The books in this year’s short list are list­ed below, in no par­tic­u­lar order.

The win­ners at the two ele­men­tary schools are:

Pota­to Pants! by Lau­rie Keller and Drawn Togeth­er by Minh Le and Dan Santat

Is this a lit­er­a­cy expe­ri­ence you’d like to repli­cate in your school?

Patchwork Bike  

Patch­work Bike
writ­ten by Max­ine Bene­ba Clark
illus­trat­ed by Van Thanh Rudd
Can­dlewick Press, 2018

 

Sea Creatures from the Sky  

Sea Crea­tures from the Sky
Writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Ricar­do Cortés
Black Sheep, 2018

 

Shaking Things Up  

Shak­ing Things Up: 
14 Young Women Who Changed the World

writ­ten by Susan Hood
illus­trat­ed by 13 Extra­or­di­nary Women: Seli­na Alko, Sophie Black­all, Lisa Brown, Hadley Hoop­er, Emi­ly Win­field Mar­tin, Oge Mora, Julie Morstad, Sara Pala­cios, LeUyen Pham, Erin Robin­son, Isabel Rox­as, Shadra Strick­land, and Melis­sa Sweet
HarperCollins,2018

Imagine

 

Imag­ine
writ­ten by Juan Felippe Herrera
illus­trat­ed by Lau­ren Castillo
Can­dlewick Press, 2018

Read Bookol­o­gy’s rec­om­men­da­tion for this book.

Wall in the Middle of This Book  

Wall in the Mid­dle of the Book
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Jon Agee
Dial Books, 2018

 

Julian is a Mermaid  

Julián is a Mermaid 
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Jes­si­ca Love
Can­dlewick Press, 2018

 

A Big Moon Cake for Little Star

 

A Big Moon­cake for Lit­tle Star
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Grace Lin
Lit­tle Brown, 2018

Potato Pants!

 

Pota­to Pants!
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Lau­rie Keller
Hen­ry Holt, 2018

The top choice by stu­dents at one of the two ele­men­tary schools, win­ner of the 2019 Beardecott.

Me and My Fear

 

Me and My Fear
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Francesca Sanna
Fly­ing Eye Books, 2018

Drawn Together

 

Drawn Togeth­er
writ­ten by Minh Le
illus­trat­ed by Dan Santat
Disney/Hyperion, 2018

The top choice by stu­dents at one of the two ele­men­tary schools, win­ner of the 2019 Beardecott.

 

 

Read more...

Books Are Our Emissaries

Dinner at the Panda PalaceAs authors, we send our books out into the world and, if we’re lucky, they con­nect us to good peo­ple whose paths we would­n’t oth­er­wise cross.

For 28 years, Din­ner at the Pan­da Palace has been my excel­lent emissary. 

Din­ner at the Pan­da Palace start­ed as a sim­ple count­ing and sort­ing book with lots of ani­mals and a par­ty atmos­phere to make the learn­ing fun.  By the time it was done, it was a book of wel­come, as a tiny mouse comes knock­ing at the door, ask­ing “Is there room for one more?” It’s this part of the sto­ry that res­onates most with read­ers and has led to so many won­der­ful con­nec­tions over the years.

The book has con­nect­ed me to families:

Par­ents and chil­dren write me let­ters and, much to my delight, send pho­tos and drawings.

The book has con­nect­ed me to teachers:

Maryann Wick­ett, recip­i­ent of the 1996 Pres­i­den­tial Award for Excel­lence in Math­e­mat­ics Teach­ing, wrote two arti­cles shar­ing her and her stu­dents’ expan­sive ideas on the math con­cepts in the book.  Two decades after her first arti­cle appeared, she let me know she’d be read­ing the book to chil­dren in Kenya, where she was going part­ly on a human­i­tar­i­an mis­sion, part­ly as a tourist.  “Pan­da is for the human­i­tar­i­an part,” she wrote.

Facebook Comments

The book has con­nect­ed me to reli­gious lead­ers and educators:

Ser­e­na Evans Beeks, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the Epis­co­pal Dio­cese of Los Ange­les wrote, “Din­ner at the Pan­da Palace has been rec­om­mend­ed as a chapel book for Epis­co­pal schools and preschools — per­haps not what you intend­ed when you wrote it, but the min­istry of hos­pi­tal­i­ty shines through it!”

At The Brooke Jack­man Lit­er­a­cy Foun­da­tion’s Read-a-Thon at Barnes & Noble in New York. The young man help­ing me out is D’Andre Lee, a cast mem­ber of Kinky Boots on Broadway.

Helen Singer, Ear­ly Child­hood Librar­i­an at the Rodeph Sholom School in New York City wrote, “Din­ner at the Pan­da Palace…ties in beau­ti­ful­ly with the Jew­ish con­cept of “Hachnasat Orchim,” wel­com­ing guests or the stranger into your home, as well as with the val­ues of kind­ness and inclusion.”

As writ­ers, we nev­er know which minds a book will enrich, which hearts a book will touch, what con­nec­tions will be made.  I’m grate­ful to have a book that has con­nect­ed me to such good peo­ple. In Mr. Pan­da’s words,

No mat­ter how many, no mat­ter how few,
there will always be room at the Palace for you.

My thanks to Wind­ing Oak, pub­lish­ers of Bookol­o­gy, for shar­ing this essay cel­e­brat­ing the 28th anniver­sary of Din­ner at the Pan­da Palace.

Read more...

Making Something Out of Nothing

Jack­ie: We are in cold, cold win­ter. Too cold to read seed cat­a­logs – spring just seems too far away to imag­ine frag­ile green. We are con­fined to cab­in. What to do but think of repur­pos­ing, mak­ing some­thing out of noth­ing, or next to nothing?

Stone Soup by Marcia BrownStone Soup by Mar­cia Brown has always been one of my favorite some­thing-out-of-noth­ing (or at least some­thing out of stones) sto­ries. The three hun­gry sol­diers promise to teach the towns­folk, who claim to have no food to share, how to make soup from stones. The towns­folk quick­ly find a pot, wood for a fire, and three good stones. “’Any soup needs salt and pep­per,’ said the sol­diers, as they began to stir.” No prob­lem. And then it begins, “Stones like these gen­er­al­ly make good soup. But oh, if there were car­rots, it would be much bet­ter.” Françoise brings car­rots. Soon oth­ers bring cab­bage, beef and pota­toes, bar­ley and milk. Tables are set. And the peas­ants decide this won­der­ful soup requires “bread — and a roast — and cider.” They feast and dance into the night and offer the sol­diers warm beds in their homes. I love the idea of mak­ing soup from stones, the notion that the vil­lagers are will­ing to share to make a bet­ter stone soup, per­haps because it’s coöper­a­tive. They are mak­ing soup together.

In recent days, I have want­ed to see the vil­lagers become aware of the stone soup trick, but that is not part of this French folk tale. And I can still imag­ine to myself a vil­lage child wak­ing up with a smile on her face as she under­stands the real charm of stone soup.

Once Upon a Mouse by Marcia BrownPhyl­lis: I can under­stand the vil­lagers’ hes­i­tan­cy to share — they’ve been in the midst of war, feed­ing many sol­diers whether they chose to or not, and now that the war has end­ed, shouldn’t they be left in peace? But peace means more than just the ces­sa­tion of fight­ing. It means, too, learn­ing how to open hearts as well as cup­boards, a les­son the vil­lagers don’t even real­ize they have been sly­ly giv­en and have tak­en to heart.

I have been mak­ing lots of soup as the tem­per­a­ture dips to minus 28 with a wind chill of minus 47 or there­abouts. Like the say­ing about wood warm­ing a per­son twice, (once when you split it, once when you burn it) soup warms us in many ways. The cook­ing warms our kitchens, the eat­ing warms our bod­ies, and the shar­ing warms our hearts. When the ground thaws, I’m going to hunt for a smooth, round stone and try adding it to my soup pot. Who knows? It might be as secret ingre­di­ent, as it was for the vil­lagers in Stone Soup. And I love the flow­ing line of Brown’s art — I knew I want­ed to be a part of pic­ture books when, in col­lege, I dis­cov­ered a tucked-away shelf of children’s books that includ­ed her won­der­ful wood­cuts for Once A Mouse.

Thank You, Omu!Jack­ie: An inside-out- ver­sion of this soup sto­ry is Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora, recent­ly named a Calde­cott Hon­or Win­ner by the ALA. Omu lives on the top floor of an apart­ment build­ing. One day she makes her­self a large pot of thick red stew. Its “scrump­tious scent waft­ed out the win­dow and out the door, down the hall towards the street and around the block” until Knock, Knock, Knock. A lit­tle boy stops in to ask for a bowl of the thick red stew. “It would not hurt to share,” decides Omu. After all she has a very large pot of stew. Then stops a police offi­cer, a hot dog ven­dor, the may­or, and oth­ers — all look­ing for stew. When it comes time for her deli­cious din­ner of stew, Omu’s pot is emp­ty. She hears Knock, Knock, Knock. But she has no more stew. “’We are not here to ask,” says the boy. ‘We are here to give.’” And all the neigh­bors who ate Omu’s stew have returned with meat and sweets, and plates of food. Omu’s small apart­ment is filled with peo­ple who “ate, danced, and cel­e­brat­ed.” Omu’s stew makes a com­mu­ni­ty cel­e­bra­tion out of an emp­ty pot. And who can resist sto­ries that end with eat­ing and danc­ing? (Here’s a link to an inter­view with Oge Mora.)

Phyl­lis: I love this book! Oge Mora also just won the 2019 Coret­ta Scott King Book Awards John Step­toe Award for New Tal­ent Illus­tra­tor for Thank You, Omu!, and it’s easy to see why — the col­or­ful col­lage art, her col­or palette, the way words and images leap off the page, the irre­sistible knocks on the door that pro­pel page turns, and, of course, the sto­ry of freely giv­ing and receiv­ing in return.

 In an inter­view Oge Mora talks about how the heart of the book cen­ters on giv­ing and grat­i­tude. She didn’t include a recipe for Omu’s scrump­tious stew in part, she says, because she wants read­ers to think about food that they have their own rela­tion­ships with — food that com­forts, food that calls up mem­o­ries of cooks who came before us. In an author’s note Mora tells how her grand­moth­er danced and swayed as she stirred a pot of soup, and her table was open to any­one who stopped by. “Every­one in the com­mu­ni­ty had a seat at my grandmother’s table,” she writes. And we are lucky enough to have a seat at Omu’s table as we share this book.

Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms TabackJack­ie: No soup involved in Simms Tabak’s Joseph Had a Lit­tle Over­coat, but there is much mak­ing some­thing out of some­thing less. We can enjoy time and again Joseph’s inge­nu­ity in mak­ing from his worn coat a jack­et, then a vest. When the vest is “old and worn,” he makes a scarf and “sang in a men’s cho­rus.” Then a neck­tie, a hand­ker­chief, and a but­ton. When the but­ton is lost, he makes a book about it. “Which shows you can always make some­thing out of nothing.”

Phyl­lis: Vivid art and clever cutouts show the overcoat/jacket/vest/scarf/necktie/handkerchief/button get­ting small­er and small­er. Joseph, who makes a sto­ry out of “noth­ing,” cheer­i­ly doesn’t seem to care at all that one sus­pender is miss­ing now a but­ton, and we have no doubt that he’ll find some oth­er noth­ing to make a new but­ton out of.

The Patchwork BikeThe Patch­work Bike by Max­ine Bene­ba Clarke, illus­trat­ed by Van Thanh Rudd, begins, “This is the vil­lage where we live inside our mud-for-wall home. These are my crazy broth­ers, and this is our fed-up mum.” The nar­ra­tor and her broth­ers build a sand hill to slide down, jump and climb in the big Fiori tree “out in the no-go desert, under the stretch­ing-out sky.” But the best thing in the vil­lage, she tells us, is the bike she and her broth­ers make out of scraps, with a “bent buck­et seat and han­dle­bar branch­es that shick­et­ty shake when we ride over sand hills.” Tin cans become han­dles, wheels cut from wood go win­ket­ty wonk, a flour sack becomes a flag, Mum’s milk pot becomes a bell (and is she fed-up about that, we won­der), lights are paint­ed on, and the license plate, made of bark, keeps falling off. “The best thing of all to play with under the stretch­ing-out sky at the edge of the no-go desert,” she tells us, “is me and my broth­ers’ bike.” As some­one who’s mend­ed cars with twisty ties and tem­porar­i­ly patched leaky gas tank leaks with bars of soap, I admire their inge­nu­ity. The art races across the page as a few exact­ly right words cre­ate set­ting and fam­i­ly and take us along with the nar­ra­tor and her broth­ers on their best-thing-of-all patch­work bike.

The Secret Kingdom by Barb Rosenstock and Claire A. NivolaJack­ie: And final­ly, back to stones. In The Secret King­dom by Barb Rosen­stock and illus­trat­ed by Claire A. Nivola, we learn of Nek Chand, forced out of his home vil­lage with the par­ti­tion­ing of India to a new­ly-con­struct­ed city. He longed for the sights and sounds of his home, now part of Pak­istan. He could not go back nor could he find the old sights and sounds in the gray city. He found a place on the edge of town, an unin­hab­it­ed jun­gle. He made him­self a home and over the next fif­teen years he scav­enged “bro­ken pieces of vil­lage life under the mod­ern city…chipped sinks, cracked water pots, and bro­ken glass ban­gles in red, blue, and green.” For sev­en years he “car­ried these trea­sures into the wilder­ness. He made cement and pressed porce­lain shards into it.” He “saved half-dead plants from the city dump,” watered them, and filled his king­dom with bougainvil­lea, ole­an­der, man­go and pipal trees. He con­struct­ed god­dess­es and queens, singing men, women, and laugh­ing chil­dren. “Nek built his king­dom over twelve acres and kept it secret for fif­teen years.” When gov­ern­ment offi­cers found his king­dom, they planned to destroy it.

Until the peo­ple of Chandi­garh came.” They loved this place! “By the hun­dreds, city peo­ple roamed sculp­tured walk­ways, ducked through arch­es, laughed and told vil­lage sto­ries, begin­ning to end and back again.” The peo­ple con­vinced the gov­ern­ment offi­cials to pre­serve the village.

With his col­lec­tion of scraps and shards, with his yearn­ing and his art, Nek Chand made a place that called forth sto­ries, laugh­ter, memory.

Nek Chand's Outsider ArtPhyl­lis: This book is breath­tak­ing, both in the sto­ry it tells and also in the world of remem­bered home that Nek Chand cre­at­ed. The author came across this sto­ry by acci­dent while research­ing anoth­er book and was so gripped by Chand’s art and sto­ry that she put aside that project while she wrote The Secret King­dom. A short video offers a glimpse of Chand’s king­dom, and a book for grown-ups, Nek Chand’s Out­sider Art: the Rock Gar­den of Chandi­garh, is filled with pho­tos of his cre­ations made from the cast-off trash of the city. In the end, Chand’s art, built in secret soli­tude, cre­at­ed com­mu­ni­ty as peo­ple fought to save his kingdom.

Jack­ie: When we make some­thing out of noth­ing, we end up with more than the thing we have made, we end up with com­mu­ni­ty, love, healed hearts, home.

Read more...

Knit One, Purl Two

Phyl­lis: Two sticks and some string. That’s the most basic def­i­n­i­tion of knit­ting. The sticks might be met­al or wood. The string might be yarn or flax. But in the hands of a knit­ter, even an unskilled one such as I, they become magic.

In the chilly months, we bun­dle up in cozy sweaters, snug mit­tens, hats that hug our heads. And what’s bet­ter than a book on a cold day or night to help keep us warm, snug­gled up with a lit­tle lis­ten­er or read­er or even a cozy cat? This month we’re look­ing at a few of the pic­ture books that cel­e­brate knit­ting and yarn.

Extra YarnIn Extra Yarn by Mac Bar­nett, illus­trat­ed by Jon Klassen (Balz­er and Bray, 2012), a lit­tle girl in a cold, drab town finds a box filled with yarn of every col­or. She knits her­self a col­or­ful sweater and still has extra yarn, so she knits her dog a sweater. But she still has extra yarn. She knits a sweater for a boy Nate (who laughs at her sweater but is real­ly just jeal­ous) and one for his dog, and so it goes. She knits sweaters for her whole class, includ­ing her teacher, for her par­ents, her neigh­bors (except for Mr. Crab­tree who nev­er wears sweaters, who get a knit­ted hat), sweaters for dogs, cats, birds and “things that didn’t even wear sweaters” — hous­es, mail­box­es, bird­hous­es. And still she has extra yarn. When an arch­duke hears of the mag­i­cal box of yarn and demands to buy it for ten mil­lion dol­lars, Annabelle, who is knit­ting a sweater for a pick­up truck, polite­ly declines. The arch­duke hires rob­bers who steal the box for him, but when he opens the box it is emp­ty. He flings it out the win­dow along with a curse, “Lit­tle girl…you will nev­er be hap­py again!” The box floats back across the ocean straight to Annabelle, who finds it full of extra yarn and who is indeed hap­py as she con­tin­ues to knit a more col­or­ful world. I love how her gen­eros­i­ty makes her world warmer in more ways than one.

Jack­ie: I love this book, too! I love that knit­ting stands for love, and, as you say, her knit objects bring col­or to the town, as love is the col­or in our lives. I also love the pair­ing of the mun­dane — knit­ting — with the mag­i­cal, the unend­ing sup­ply of yarn.

Feeding the SheepPhyl­lis: Feed­ing the Sheep by Leda Schu­bert, illus­trat­ed by Andrea U’Ren (Far­rar, Straus & Giroux, 2010) begins with a lit­tle girl ask­ing her moth­er “What are you doing?” “Feed­ing the sheep,” the moth­er replies. This struc­ture of ques­tion, answer, and rhyming cou­plets con­tin­ues through shear­ing the sheep, wash­ing the wool, card­ing the wool, until final­ly the moth­er has knit a gor­geous blue sweater for her daugh­ter. At the end of the book the moth­er asks, “What are you doing?” and this time the lit­tle girl replies, “Feed­ing the sheep.” Each stan­za ends with a rhyming line: “Snowy day, corn and hay,” “Soft and deep, sheepy heap.” Such fun to say.

Feed­ing the Sheep has the ele­gant sim­plic­i­ty of beau­ti­ful lan­guage, rep­e­ti­tion, rhyming cou­plets, and an end­ing that echoes the begin­ning and res­onates with love between a moth­er and her daugh­ter through the every­day activ­i­ties of their lives. I love this spare and ten­der sto­ry more every time I read it.

Jack­ie: This ten­der sto­ry makes me want to have a sheep, or even bet­ter, be a part of this lov­ing fam­i­ly. Andrea U’Ren’s illus­tra­tions extend the sto­ry. The girl is doing some­thing in each spread that res­onates with what the mom is doing. When Mom is shear­ing the sheep, the girl is play­ing with the fleece. When the Mom is wash­ing the wool, the girl is wash­ing the dog, Mom card­ing the wool, girl brush­ing the dog.

And at the end, we have the love­ly twist. The girl the one feed­ing the sheep. The love is passed on.

Too Many MittensPhyl­lis: Too Many Mit­tens by Flo­rence and Louis Slo­bod­kin (Ran­dom House Children’s Books, 1958) was writ­ten at a time when pic­ture books often had many more words than today (and when most ser­vice peo­ple were men). When Don­nie los­es a red mit­ten while Grand­ma is stay­ing with him and his twin Ned while their par­ents are trav­el­ling, word about the lost mit­ten goes around the neigh­bor­hood. Neigh­bor after neigh­bor help­ful­ly bring over red mit­tens they have found. “Is this yours?” they ask, and Grand­ma replies, “I guess so,” stash­ing the mit­tens in a draw­er. When Don­nie and Ned’s par­ents return from their trip with a present for the boys — red mit­tens — Grand­ma opens the mit­ten draw­er, which explodes with red mit­tens. Ned’s solu­tion: hang the red mit­tens on a clothes­line out­side and post a sign for peo­ple to claim them, which they do, all but one. The neigh­bor­hood likes the mit­ten solu­tion so much that each win­ter the fam­i­ly strings a mit­ten clothes­line for lost red mit­tens to be reclaimed. Any­one who finds a red mit­ten any­where brings the mit­ten over to the twins’ house to hang on the clothes­line. Who knows? You might find your lost red mit­ten there! The mit­tens them­selves are vivid spots in the art.

Jack­ie: The art in this book is so won­der­ful. I love the red mit­tens appear­ing on the pages. They remind me of the joy of car­di­nals in win­ter. And I enjoy the neigh­bor­hood feel­ing of this sto­ry. A sign of how much we have changed since 1958 is that I miss the women who might car­ry mail, or deliv­er pack­ages, or pick up garbage. But we can add them in as we read and talk about this story.

A Hat for Mrs. GoldmanPhyl­lis: In A Hat for Mrs. Gold­man: A Sto­ry about Knit­ting and Love by Michelle Edwards, illus­trat­ed by G. Bri­an Karas (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2016) a lit­tle girl finds her own solu­tion to pro­vid­ing her gen­er­ous and beloved neigh­bor a hat to keep her head warm. When Sophie was born Mrs. Gold­man knit her a tiny baby hat to keep her kep­pie (head) warm. When Sophie grows big­ger, Mrs. Gold­man teach­es Sophie to knit, but what Sophie likes best is mak­ing the pom-poms for all the hats Mrs. Gold­man knits to keep oth­er people’s kep­pies warm which, Mrs. Gold­man says, is a mitz­vah, a good deed. Sophie wor­ries because Mrs. Gold­man is so busy knit­ting for oth­ers that she has no hat to keep her own kep­pie warm when they take Fifi for a walk. Sophie sets out to knit a hat as a sur­prise for Mrs. Gold­man. Sophie knits and knits and knits, but the fin­ished hat is lumpy and bumpy with “holes where there shouldn’t be holes.” Sophie remem­bers Mrs. Gold­man say­ing that Sophie’s pom-poms add beau­ty “and that’s a mitz­vah,” so Sophie dec­o­rates Mrs. Goldman’s hat with 20 pom-poms cov­er­ing the lumps and bumps and holes. Mrs. Gold­man loves her sur­prise and wears Sophie’s hat to keep her kep­pie warm.

Jack­ie: This is such a rich sto­ry, rich in emo­tion, rich in cre­ative solu­tions, rich in vocab­u­lary. I am glad to learn “kep­pie,” and that a good deed is a “mitz­vah.” And I am so glad for the instruc­tions that Michelle Edwards includ­ed in the book, so we can all make hats to keep the kep­pies of our loved ones warm.

And so, skills, and love, are passed down to new knit­ters. Knit one, purl two. A hat a scarf a sweater, pom-poms — what two sticks and some yarn are real­ly knit­ting is love. And that’s a mitzvah.

Read more...

Pie and Gratitude

Novem­ber is a month of grat­i­tude — and, for us, a month to cel­e­brate Pie. We all have a favorite. Many of us have child­hood mem­o­ries of good times and pie. We all wait for the days when we can eat pie for break­fast. So we two thought this would be the per­fect month to look at pic­ture books about pie. We so con­sis­tent­ly think of pie in Novem­ber that we also reviewed pie books last year. But we have a cou­ple of new ones this year. And who can think of pie too often?

How to Make an Apple PieWe want to start with the clas­sic—How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Mar­jorie Price­man (Drag­on­fly, 1994). We both love this book, love the idea of teach­ing geog­ra­phy through pie. If you want to make an apple pie and the mar­ket is closed what can you do? Well, you can go to Italy for wheat for your pie crust, France for an egg, Sri Lan­ka for cin­na­mon. Pick up a cow in Eng­land and on and on until you have col­lect­ed the ingre­di­ents for the pie. The two-page spread show­ing the mak­ing of the pie is charm­ing. And the last spread of shar­ing pie with friends — and the cow, the chick­en, a dog and cat is enough to make you want to get out and make a pie. And of course the book includes a recipe for an apple pie.

How to Make a Cherry PiePrice­man did anoth­er book—How to Make Cher­ry Pie and See the U.S.A. (Knopf, 2008) — which focus­es not on ingre­di­ents, but tools involved in pie mak­ing — pothold­ers, pie pan, rolling pin. It fea­tures the same spright­ly illus­tra­tion style and the same inde­fati­ga­ble char­ac­ter who will go to any lengths for pie.

Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie by Rob­bin Gour­ley (Clar­i­on, 2000) is a “pie-shaped” sto­ry fea­tur­ing one of the stars of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry food world — African Amer­i­can writer and chef, Edna Lewis. The book fol­lows the child Edna through­out the sea­sons as she enjoys and com­ments on the foods that come with each. Spring brings wild straw­ber­ries and for­aged greens. Each sea­son also fea­tures a rhyme from Edna:

But I have nev­er tast­ed meat,
nor cab­bage, corn, or beans,
nor milk or tea that’s half as sweet
as that first mess of greens.

Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Make You a PieSum­mer is hon­ey from the bees, cher­ries, berries and peach­es. “Six per­fect peach­es make a per­fect pie.” And then of course, toma­toes, corn, and beans. This is a book to get read­ers think­ing about foods and sea­sons. In a time when we can buy toma­toes and peach­es all year long, it’s good to remem­ber the best fruits and veg­eta­bles are the ones we find in their seasons.

When apple sea­son comes Edna’s poem reads:

Don’t ask me no questions,
an’ I won’t tell you no lies.
But bring me some apples,
an’ I’ll make you some pies.

We learn in an Author’s Note that in her writ­ings Edna Lewis extolled the virtues of “pre­serv­ing tra­di­tion­al meth­ods of grow­ing and prepar­ing food and of bring­ing ingre­di­ents direct­ly from the field to the table … For Edna, the goal was to coax the best fla­vor from each ingre­di­ent, and the reward was the taste and sat­is­fac­tion of a deli­cious meal.”

Pie is for SharingPart of the sat­is­fac­tion of a deli­cious meal is in the shar­ing. And that is dou­bly true for pie. If we should ever for­get that and dream of eat­ing a whole pie all by our­selves Stephanie Pars­ley Led­yard and Jason Chin have writ­ten a book to jolt us back to com­mu­ni­ty—Pie is for Shar­ing (Roar­ing Brook, 2018). “Pie is for shar­ing,” this book begins. And we see kids and fam­i­lies gath­er­ing for a pic­nic. The best part is that the kids are all col­ors, all eth­nic­i­ties, and they are play­ing and eat­ing pie togeth­er. No one stands alone. No one is exclud­ed. They also share books, balls, even trees. They laugh and swim and build sand cas­tles. They are a flock of friends on a sum­mer day together.

This cel­e­bra­tion of pie and com­mu­ni­ty ends with, “Many can share one light. /And a blanket?/A breeze?/The sky?/These are for sharing./Just like pie.”

Gator PieShar­ing pie is the prob­lem and the solu­tion in Gator Pie by Louise Math­ews (illus­trat­ed by Jeni Bas­sett, pub­lished by Dodd, Mead 1979). We hope you can find this book. It is a charm­ing math les­son told with pie. Alvin and Alice are alli­ga­tor friends who hap­pen to find a pie “on a table near the edge of the swamp. /It was a whole pie that had not been cut. /’ I won­der what kind it is,’ said Alice. /’Let’s eat it and find out!’ cried Alvin.” But before they can cut it, an alli­ga­tor “with a nasty look in his eye” stomps up and demands some pie. They real­ize they will have to cut the pie into three pieces. Then comes anoth­er gator — four pieces. And four gators show up, “swag­ger­ing like gang­sters.” We see a pie cut into eight pieces. Then more gators — a hun­dred in all. Very tiny pieces of pie. Alice cuts the pie into one hun­dred pieces and you’d think that would be the end, but Alvin has an idea…

Per­haps we can tell this is an old­er book because it’s Alvin who’s in charge here. Alice could have had that brain­storm and if we were writ­ing this book now, she would. Still they are good friends, the math is fun, and so is end­ing up with a pie for two friends to share.

This month let’s be grate­ful for friends, for inclu­sive com­mu­ni­ty in a world rat­tled with oth­er­ing, and for the chance to make and eat pie.

Read more...

Lucille Clifton: All About Love

Lucille Clifton, poet and author

Lucille Clifton, poet and author

Poet Lucille Clifton in a 1998 inter­view “Doing What You Will Do,” pub­lished in Sleep­ing with One Eye Open: Women Writ­ers and the Art of Sur­vival, said, “I think the oral tra­di­tion is the one which is most inter­est­ing to me and the voice in which I like to speak.” Asked about the most impor­tant aspect of her craft, she answered, “For me, sound … sound, the music of a poem, the feel­ing are most impor­tant. I can feel what I can hear.”

Clifton was a poet, but as any writer or read­er or hear­er of pic­ture books knows, pic­ture books and poet­ry are kin. Both are meant to be read out loud, savored by the ear and by the tongue.  Both depend on sound, on image, on emo­tion. Every word mat­ters in a poem and in a pic­ture book. So is it any won­der that Lucille Clifton, amaz­ing poet, was also a con­sum­mate pic­ture book writer?

Some of the Days of Everett Anderson

illus­trat­ed by Eva­line Ness

Clifton’s sto­ries hon­or both the every­day lives and also the emo­tion­al lives of chil­dren. Eight of her pic­ture books are about Everett Ander­son, a fic­tion­al African-Amer­i­can boy with a sin­gle moth­er who lives in a city apart­ment, a boy so real to read­ers that chil­dren wrote him let­ters. Some of the Days of Everett Ander­son intro­duces us to Everett Ander­son and takes us through his week, with themes of miss­ing dad­dy, of mama need­ing to work, of a boy who real­izes being afraid of the dark would mean being afraid of the peo­ple he loves and even afraid of himself.

Everett Anderson's Christmas Coming

illus­trat­ed by Eva­line Ness; a lat­er edi­tion was illus­trat­ed by Jan Spivey Gilchrist

Everett Anderson’s Christ­mas Com­ing joy­ful­ly cel­e­brates a city Christ­mas through the days of expec­ta­tion and excite­ment for a boy who lives “In 14A  … between the snow that falls on down­er lives.” He thinks about what he would want if his Dad­dy was here, and how he should try hard­er to be good, and how boys with lots of presents have to spend the whole Christ­mas day open­ing them and nev­er have fun. When a tree blooms with col­or in his apart­ment, and Everett, we see from the art, gets a drum for Christ­mas, Everett Ander­son sees how “our Christ­mas bounces off the sky and shines on all the down­er ones.”

Everett Anderson's Year

illus­trat­ed by Ann Grifalconi

Everett’s Anderson’s Year takes Everett Ander­son from Jan­u­ary when his Mama tells him to walk tall in the world through the months and events of Everett’s Anderson’s year: wait­ing for Mama to come home from work, want­i­ng to make Amer­i­ca a birth­day cake except the sug­ar is almost gone and he will have to wait until pay­day to buy more, miss­ing his Dad­dy wher­ev­er he is, not under­stand­ing why he has to go back to school again, and real­iz­ing, at the end of the year

It’s just about love,”
his Mama smiles.
“It’s all about Love and
you know about that.”

Everett Anderson's Friend

illus­trat­ed by Ann Grifalconi

With Everett Anderson’s Friend his world expands. A new neigh­bor in 13A turns out to be a girl who can out­run and out­play Everett at ball, and he isn’t inter­est­ed in being friends. Then one day he locks him­self out of his apart­ment, and Maria invites him in to 13A where her moth­er “makes lit­tle pies called Tacos, calls lit­tle boys Mucha­chos, and likes to thank the Dios.” Everett real­izes he and Maria can be friends even if she wins at ball. “And the friends we find are full of sur­pris­es Everett Ander­son real­izes.” A sub­tle thread through­out the sto­ry is Everett Ander­son miss­ing his father, who if he were there when Everett locks him­self out, would make peanut but­ter and jel­ly for him and not be mad at all. We don’t know where Everett’s dad­dy is, but we feel his yearn­ing for his father even as Everett dis­cov­ers a new friend. 

Everett Anderson's 1-2-3

illus­trat­ed by Ann Grifalconi

His world expands again in Everett Anderson’s 1−2−3 when Everett Anderson’s mama and a new neigh­bor, Mr. Per­ry, hit it off. One can be fun, Everett thinks, but one can be lone­ly if Mama is busy talk­ing with the new neigh­bor. Everett likes just the two of them, he and Mama. Mama tells Everett that while she miss­es his dad­dy two can be lone­ly – and things do go on. Everett thinks he can get used to being three, but the sto­ry refus­es a pat solution. 

One can be lone­ly and One can be fun, and
Two can be awful or per­fect for some, and
Three can be crowd­ed or can be just right or
Even too many, you have to decide.
Mr. Per­ry and Everett Ander­son too
Know the num­ber you need
Is the num­ber for you. 

Everett Anderson's Goodbye

illus­trat­ed by Ann Grifalconi

In Everett Anderson’s Good­bye we learn that Everett’s father has died. The spare and ten­der sto­ry takes Everett through the five stages of grief list­ed at the begin­ning of the book:  denial, anger, bar­gain­ing, depres­sion and, after a while, accep­tance. In the begin­ning Everett Ander­son holds his mama’s hand and dreams of “just Dad­dy, Dad­dy for­ev­er and ever.” An angry Everett declares he doesn’t love any­body, or any­thing, and a bar­gain­ing Everett promis­es to learn his nine times nine and nev­er sleep late or gob­ble his bread if Dad­dy can be alive again. Everett can’t even sleep because “the hurt is too deep.” After some time pass­es Everett comes to accep­tance of his daddy’s death and says, “I knew my dad­dy loved me through and through, and what­ev­er hap­pens when peo­ple die, love doesn’t stop, and nei­ther will I.”

Everett Anderson's Nine Month Long

illus­trat­ed by Ann Grifalconi

The library’s copy of Everett Anderson’s Nine Month Long has a splen­did sur­prise on the title page: Lucille Clifton’s sig­na­ture and the inscrip­tion, For Ian — Joy! 281. The sto­ry tells about Everett deal­ing with a com­ing new baby in the fam­i­ly and ten­der­ly shows his feel­ings, from antic­i­pa­tion to feel­ing left out. Mr. Per­ry, who is now Everett’s step­fa­ther, helps Everett know that his mama

… is still the same
Mama who loves you what­ev­er her name
and what­ev­er oth­er sis­ter or brother
you know you are her
spe­cial one,
her first­born Everett Anderson.

One of the Problems of Ann Grifalconi

illus­trat­ed by Ann Grifalconi

Over the course of these sto­ries Everett Ander­son grows in empa­thy and under­stand­ing. In the last book One of the Prob­lems of Everett Ander­son he wor­ries  about what to do when a friend shows up every day “with a scar or a bruise or a mark on his leg” and has the “sad­dest sad­dest face like he was lost in the loneli­est place.”  When Everett tells Mama he doesn’t know how to help his friend Greg, she lis­tens and hugs him hard and holds his hand. 

and Everett tries to understand
that one of the things he can do right now
is lis­ten to Greg and hug and hold
his friend, and now that Mama is told,
some­thing will hap­pen for Greg that is new.

Some­times the lit­tle things that you do
make a difference.
Everett Ander­son hopes that’s true.

Clifton’s sto­ries rec­og­nize that not all prob­lems are eas­i­ly solved, but in the del­i­cate strength of this telling, Everett learns that doing lit­tle things might make a dif­fer­ence for his friend. We hope so, too.

From 1970 until her death in 2010 Lucille Clifton made poet­ry of every­day lives and hearts. Read some of the books of Lucille Clifton. Read them all.

They’re all about love, and we know about that.

P.S. Anoth­er month we want to share some of the oth­er won­der­ful children’s books by Lucille Clifton.

Read more...

The Stuff of Stars

I’ve been anx­ious­ly await­ing the book birth of The Stuff of Stars by Mar­i­on Dane Bauer, illus­trat­ed by Ekua Holmes. I heard the text a year ago and for­got to breathe while the author read it out loud. And then I heard who the illus­tra­tor was. Let’s just say, what a pairing!

When I opened my much antic­i­pat­ed copy — after oohing and aaahing over the cov­er — and read the first page, I heard cel­lo. A deep deep cel­lo note, under the words.

In the dark,

in the dark,

in the deep, deep dark…. 

As I con­tin­ued to read, I con­tin­ued to hear cel­lo music — almost a synes­the­sia kind of expe­ri­ence, though thor­ough­ly explained, I sup­pose, by my intense love of cello.

And so, when it came time to read it to an audi­ence — sto­ry­time in wor­ship at church — I con­tact­ed a won­der­ful cel­list in our midst and asked if she was the sort of per­son who liked to impro­vise, draw­ing pic­tures with her cel­lo, etc. She is that sort of per­son, luck­i­ly enough. I emailed her the text and she emailed back her excite­ment.  I said, “Wait ‘til you see the art….” (She gasped when she saw the art.)

I gave her com­plete artis­tic free­dom. We agreed to meet before church to run through it a cou­ple of times. I sat so she could see the pic­tures as I read. We ran through it twice — dif­fer­ent both times. Won­der­ful both times. We did it anoth­er two times in each of our church’s ser­vices — dif­fer­ent those times, too, and won­der­ful in all new ways because the kids were listening.

She’s an extreme­ly tal­ent­ed musi­cian work­ing on a degree in com­po­si­tion — obvi­ous­ly not every­one could do this. But it was just glo­ri­ous, my friends.

She played how “the cloud of gas unfold­ed, unfurled, zigged, zagged, stretched, col­lid­ed, expand­ed…expand­edexpand­ed….” My heart near­ly burst when she played that expan­sion. The chil­dren sat rapt, their eyes wide at the  col­laged mar­bled papers illus­trat­ing the first moments of our cosmos.

The cel­lo illus­trat­ed for our ears how the star­ry stuff turned into “mito­chon­dria, jel­ly­fish, spi­ders…” It helped us hear the ferns and sharks, daisies and gal­lop­ing hors­es. The gal­lop­ing hors­es were fan­tas­tic. 

When the dark refrain returned…

…one day…

in the dark,

in the dark,

in the deep, deep dark… 

…so did that low low note on the cel­lo. The chil­dren noticed. Their heads turned to look at the cello…and then back at the mar­bled dark­ness in the book.

It was powerful.

The Stuff of Stars is pow­er­ful with­out cel­lo music, I assure you. I’ve since read it to young and old alike with­out accom­pa­ni­ment, and it’s a delight­ful — I will even say holy—expe­ri­ence every time. If you’ve not seen this book, you must! Pick up a few copies — it makes a won­der­ful new baby or birth­day gift;  for the sto­ry of the birth of the cos­mos moves to the birth of our planet…and then to the birth of the indi­vid­ual child “spe­cial as Love.”

We need more books like this one — books that hold togeth­er won­der, sci­ence, awe, love, and our place in nature along­side the inevitable ten­sions of life. We need gor­geous books for chil­dren. Too much of the world is ugly right now. Chil­dren need beau­ty, sto­ries, and art. They need to hear:

You

   and me

      lov­ing you.

          All of us

              The stuff of stars.

 

For fur­ther read­ing, I high­ly rec­om­mend the following:

Mar­i­on Dane Bauer inter­views her illus­tra­tor, Ekua Holmes.

The writ­ing process for The Stuff of Stars.

Read more...

Taking Time for a Close Look

Jack­ie: Searching for Minnesota's Native WildflowersPhyl­lis is on the road with her beau­ti­ful and infor­ma­tive new book Search­ing for Minnesota’s Native Wild­flow­ers. [While Phyl­lis is out of the room, I will say that I love this book. It makes me want to get out and find flow­ers. Iowa has many plants in com­mon with Min­neso­ta and I look for­ward to tromp­ing with Phyl­lis and Kelly.)

Search­ing for Minnesota’s Native Wild­flow­ers puts me in mind of April Pul­ley Sayre’s won­der­ful nature books. She’s writ­ten many, but today I want to focus on a few of her bird books, plus one.

My first encounter with Sayre’s writ­ing was Vul­ture View (illus­trat­ed by Steve Jenk­ins, 2007). Sayre cap­tures the lives of vul­tures in few words.

Vulture ViewWings stretch wide
To catch a ride
On warm­ing air.
Going where?
Up, up!
Turkey vul­tures tilt, soar, scan
To find the food that vul­tures can…
…eat.

Vul­tures like a mess.
They land and dine.
Rot­ten is fine. 

We see them eat­ing, clean­ing, preen­ing, and sleep­ing. Then the sto­ry cir­cles back to the begin­ning as the sun comes up and “Wings stretch wide/to catch a ride.”

We learn all we need to know to appre­ci­ate vul­tures in these terse rhymes. And if we want to know more, the book has two dense pages of back mat­ter. Turkey vul­tures are easy to spot, range — in the sum­mer — all over the east­ern U.S. They would be a great bird for begin­ning bird­ers to study.

Woodpecker Wham!In 2015 Sayre took a look at wood­peck­ers—Wood­peck­er Wham! (illus­trat­ed by Steve Jenk­ins). Once again, the birds’ sto­ry is told with quick, live­ly rhymes:

Swoop and land.
Hitch and hop.
Shred a tree stump.
CHOP, CHIP, CHOP!

In the case of this book, dessert comes first. Steve Jenkins’s gor­geous cut and torn paper col­lages com­bine with April Pul­ley Sayre’s rhyth­mic telling of wood­peck­ers’ lives to keep us turn­ing pages until we get to the back mat­ter — six pages packed with addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion about wood­peck­ers. “How do wood­peck­ers know where to dig? First the wood­peck­er taps the tree. This caus­es insects inside to move. The wood­peck­er hears the move­ment or feels the vibra­tions through its bill.” Sayre also tells read­ers how they can help wood­peck­ers. “Plant bush­es, trees, and cac­ti that sup­ply fruits and nuts.

And she pro­vides tips on how to find woodpeckers. 

This books is a sim­ple and thor­ough intro­duc­tion to wood­peck­ers. Per­fect pre­lude to a walk in the woods.

Warbler WaveAnd just this year Beach Lane books has pub­lished War­bler Wave, an amaz­ing book about war­blers with pho­tographs tak­en by Sayre and her hus­band. I have trou­ble iden­ti­fy­ing war­blers with binoc­u­lars. I am amazed that April and Jeff Sayre were not only able to spot these busy birds but spot them long enough to pho­to­graph them.

I want to quote the entire book but will leave you to find that plea­sure. We learn that they fly at night, cross oceans, “Then bedrag­gled, they drop. /A refu­el­ing stop. /They must find food/ or die.” Then fol­lows a few pages of stun­ning pho­tographs. “They flit, like fly­ing flow­ers.”  They snag insects and are on their way north again.

For those who want to learn more about war­blers, there are again six fact-packed pages con­cern­ing war­bler life his­to­ry, how to help war­blers, and the impor­tance of war­blers. “War­blers and oth­er migrat­ing birds cross moun­tains, oceans, and human polit­i­cal bound­aries. …Their beau­ti­ful songs, col­or­ful pat­terns, and sea­son­al arrival bring joy to peo­ple from Alas­ka to Peru. Whether you live in North Amer­i­ca, South Amer­i­ca, or the Caribbean, you can help wel­come the war­blers and share in this nat­ur­al con­nec­tion between diverse habi­tats, wild birds, and people.”

The book was a labor of love. April Sayre writes in the Acknowl­edg­ments sec­tion “For twen­ty-eight years, my hus­band, Jeff, and I have set aside the first cou­ple weeks of May to cel­e­brate war­bler migra­tion. So, it’s extra spe­cial to me that he’s joined me by tak­ing some of the pho­tos and review­ing text for this book about our shared love: warblers.”

Raindrops RollFinal­ly, anoth­er book with April Sayre’s stun­ning pho­tographs Rain­drops Roll (2015). The book opens with a tree frog look­ing quite philo­soph­i­cal about rain. (A pho­to­graph Sayre notes that was tak­en by her hus­band). We see a drenched blue jay, rain drops on leaves, petals, pump­kins, even a moth.

These books make me want to get out­side, to look, to see again what I have been missing.

I hope — and I know Phyl­lis joins me in this — that you have that kind of sum­mer, that you are stunned by the beau­ty in your neigh­bor­hood, see again and see anew.

We’ll be back with more books in the fall.

Read more...

Summoning Spring

Jack­ie: Spring is a lit­tle late com­ing to the Mid­west this year. But we can remem­ber sun­ny days with vio­lets and tril­li­um bloom­ing and rainy days that turn the grass green (instead of the snow we con­tin­ue to get in mid-April). Rainy days make us think of ducks and we are going to beck­on reluc­tant spring with sto­ries of ducks.

In the Rain with Baby Duck I want to start with an old favorite In the Rain with Baby Duck by Amy Hest, with illus­tra­tions by Jill Bar­ton. This is one of those books I wish I had writ­ten. The sto­ry sets up the prob­lem imme­di­ate­ly. Baby Duck has to go out in the rain. She hates the rain. But at the end of the walk are pan­cakes — and Grand­pa. Baby Duck loves both pan­cakes and Grand­pa as much as she hates the rain.

And the lan­guage is so much fun! First there’s the sound of rain, “Pit pat. Pit-a-pat. Pit-a-pit-a-pat.” And then there are the verbs: Mama Duck and Papa Duck love the rain. They wad­dled, and shim­mied, and hopped. Baby Duck hates the rain that brings wet feet, wet face, mud. She daw­dled and dal­lied and pout­ed.

Leave it to Grand­pa to solve the prob­lem with a trip to the attic. Once she’s equipped Baby Duck and Grand­pa go out in the rain. And Baby Duck and Grand­pa wad­dled and shim­mied, and hopped in all the puddles.

I need new boots.

Phyl­lis: Jack­ie, if Amy hadn’t writ­ten this book,