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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | Picture Books

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.

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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.

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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.

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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, and if you hadn’t writ­ten it either, I would have want­ed to have writ­ten it. I, too, love this book for its lan­guage, its won­der­ful rhythms and verbs, and its under­stand­ing Grand­pa who remem­bers what Mama Duck has for­got­ten, that she, too, once didn’t like rain.  And of course, I love pan­cake Sun­day. My red rub­ber boots are still going strong, and once the rain comes down (rain, not snow), I plan to go splash in some pud­dles.

The Tale of Jemima Puddle-duckJack­ie: Beat­rix Pot­ter can help us sum­mon spring. Jemi­ma Pud­dle-duck wants to hatch her own eggs, instead of let­ting one of the farm hens sit on them. “I will sit on them all by myself,” she says. And she leaves the farm to make a nest in the wood. “Jemi­ma Pud­dle-duck was not much in the habit of fly­ing,” but she man­ages to get up over the tree­tops and flies to an open place in the woods. She encoun­ters an “ele­gant, well-dressed gen­tle­man” with two black ears and a long full tail. We are told “Jemi­ma Pud­dle-duck was a sim­ple­ton.” And we see that in action as she agrees that the gen­tle­man has a won­der­ful spot for a nest in a wood­shed full of feath­ers. Nor does Jemi­ma sus­pect any­thing after the eggs are laid, when the “gen­tle­man” sug­gests they share a meal. He asks Jemi­ma to pro­vide from the farm two onions and var­i­ous herbs. While gath­er­ing these sup­plies she runs into the farm dog Kep, who is not a sim­ple­ton. And Jemi­ma is saved from her impend­ing doom by Kep and two fox­hound pup­pies. Unfor­tu­nate­ly the pup­pies eat the eggs before Kep can stop them. Jemi­ma goes back to the farm and even­tu­al­ly hatch­es four duck­lings. I love this sto­ry. There’s such fun in know­ing more than the char­ac­ters in the sto­ry.  And we can sym­pa­thize with Jemima’s wish to do it her­self, even if she’s not quite up to it on her own. Per­haps the best part of the sto­ry for me is Kep, whose nature seems to be to watch over the sim­ple­tons.  We need more of Keps in our world.

Phyl­lis: Along with the accu­rate and beau­ti­ful water­col­ors, Beat­rix Potter’s won­der­ful lan­guage evokes the coun­try­side of her time so vivid­ly:  the two bro­ken buck­ets on top of each oth­er for the “gentleman’s” chim­ney, the “tum­ble­down shed make of old soap box­es.” I sym­pa­thize with Jemi­ma, who wants to hatch her eggs her­self and who, although we are told she is a sim­ple­ton, seems guilty main­ly of igno­rance and inno­cent trust. Our fam­i­ly once fos­tered a duck­ling for a month that had hatched lat­er than its fel­low egglings, and it was indeed a sweet and trust­ing duck­ling who fol­lowed us every­where, peep­ing wild­ly if left alone.  Pot­ter is also unsen­ti­men­tal in her assess­ment of farm life:  when Jemi­ma final­ly does get to sit her own eggs, we learn that she is not real­ly much of a sit­ter after all, but she looks con­tent with her own four duck­lings, hatched by her­self in the safe­ty of the farm­yard, under the pro­tec­tion of Kep.

Duck! Rabbit!Jack­ie: Last April we cel­e­brat­ed the work of Amy Krouse Rosen­thal, who had recent­ly died. We want to hon­or her again with a look at Duck, Rab­bit. This book is such a fun exer­cise in per­spec­tive, thanks to illus­tra­tor Tom Licht­en­held. “Hey, look! A duck!” And we see long bill, slight­ly open, oval head and eye.

That’s not a duck./ That’s a rab­bit.” And what had been the duck bill becomes the rabbit’s ears, the rab­bit is look­ing in the oppo­site direc­tion. Turn the page and the illus­tra­tion is the same, but the con­ver­sa­tion con­tin­ues. “Are you kid­ding me?/It’s total­ly a duck.”

It’s for sure a rab­bit.”

The two con­tin­ue. Is the ani­mal cool­ing its long ears or get­ting a drink in the pond? Is it fly­ing or hop­ping? Then the argu­ment caus­es the crea­ture to leave. And the two reverse (what could be more fun?) “You know, maybe you were right./Maybe it was a rab­bit.”

Thing is, now I’m actually/thinking it was a duck.”

This sto­ry is so much fun. I can imag­ine that it would spark many dis­cus­sions and exper­i­ments about objects or crea­tures that could be eas­i­ly tak­en for oth­er objects or crea­tures.

Phyl­lis:  The book itself is its own exer­cise in tricks of per­cep­tion and point of view:  it’s all in how you inter­pret what you see and where you see it from.  And the book ends with a won­der­ful twist:  each voice hav­ing con­ced­ed that per­haps the oth­er is right after all, one says,

Well, anyway…now what do you want to do?”

I don’t know.  What do you want to do?”

Hey, look! An anteater!”

Thant’s not an anteater. That’s a bra­chiosaurus!”

This bold and clever book makes me smile. All win­ter I’ve been watch­ing the city bun­nies in my back yard (who have eat­en my rasp­ber­ry canes down to the top of the snow).  Now maybe I’ll look out and find they have turned into ducks.

Jack­ie: There are so many duck sto­ries. Of course, Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Duck­lings is the clas­sic.

The Ugly DucklingAnd if it’s not a clas­sic already, Jer­ry Pinkney’s The Ugly Duck­ling soon will be. His inter­pre­ta­tion of the Hans Chris­t­ian Ander­son fairy tale takes us so close to the Mama duck’s nest and the new duck­lings, it’s as if we are stand­ing in the barn­yard. We know the story—the biggest duck­ling is so ugly that even­tu­al­ly even his broth­ers and sis­ters chase him and taunt him. He leaves, only to encounter hunters, and dogs with huge mouths. Even­tu­al­ly he finds tem­po­rary shel­ter in the bro­ken-down cab­in of an old woman who has a cat and a hen. The ani­mals can’t under­stand anoth­er who nei­ther lays eggs or purrs but they don’t chase after him. After three weeks the duck­ling leaves to find water to swim in. When icy win­ter freezes him into the ice he is res­cued by a kind man who takes him home to his warm cab­in and chil­dren. The chil­dren want to play, but the duck­ling, hav­ing seen most­ly taunts and cru­el­ty, does not rec­og­nize play and runs away. Pinkney does not dwell on the rest of the win­ter, except to say it was mis­er­able. Relief comes in the spring when the “duck­ling” finds a home with his own kind, the swans. There are many ver­sions of this sto­ry but this is my favorite. Pinkney takes the sto­ry so seri­ous­ly. His ducks are real ducks and he wants us to notice them and the cat and the hen.  He grabs our atten­tion with his own atten­tion to the details of these crea­tures’ lives. He makes them real while also imbu­ing them with the human char­ac­ter­is­tics of judg­ment, cru­el­ty, curios­i­ty, and even kind­ness.

Phyl­lis: And who doesn’t want to find fel­low crea­tures and be rec­og­nized just for being their own self?

The ugly duckling’s moth­er loves him so much she gives up her bath to sit on his egg after her oth­er eggs have hatched, and she fierce­ly tries to pro­tect him from the oth­er barn­yard ani­mals. But even a mother’s love can’t always con­quer prej­u­dice and nei­ther is the world kind. Our hearts hurt for the “duckling’s” suf­fer­ings and are immense­ly sat­is­fied when he finds his own place in the world.

DuckA few oth­er duck books among a flock of them, Duck by author and illus­tra­tor Randy Cecil, about a carousel duck who longs to fly and who  ends up fos­ter­ing a lit­tle lost duck­ling. Duck real­izes it’s up to him to teach the lit­tle duck­ling how to fly, but his lessons are only part­ly suc­cess­ful, so she straps Duck­ling to her back with her scarf and walks off to find the ones “who could teach Duck­ling what she could not.” When they do find a flock of ducks, the ducks take off, and the lit­tle duck­ling flies up to join them. But Duck, still strapped to Duck­ling, weighs Duck­ling down and real­izes she must lit­er­al­ly let duck­ling go.  She frees her­self from the scarf, duck­ling goes up, duck does down down down. The ducks fly away, a scarf­less duck limps home, and the long win­ter com­mences, with so much snow duck that almost dis­ap­pears in the drifts. Come spring, a grown-up duck wear­ing a scarf returns with his flock and takes duck on his back. 

The book ends with the immense­ly sat­is­fy­ing last line: “And final­ly Duck knew what it was to fly.”

Cold Little Duck, Duck, DuckCold Lit­tle Duck Duck Duck by Lisa West­berg Peters, with illus­tra­tions by Sam Williams, tells a rhyth­mic and rhyming sto­ry of a duck who comes a lit­tle too ear­ly in a mis­er­able and frozen spring,  and her feet freeze to the ice. She warms her­self with thoughts of spring:  bub­bly streams, glassy pud­dles, wig­gly worms, shiny bee­tles, cro­cus­es and apples buds and blades of grass and squishy mud.  By the time a vee of ducks fly in to join her, the ice is melt­ing, and the lit­tle duck dives into spring. With many won­der­ful rep­e­ti­tions of con­so­nant sounds—quick quick quick, blink blink blink, creak creak creak—the book is a delight to read aloud.

And, like the cold lit­tle duck duck duck, we might be find­ing spring right now as well. The snow out­side my win­dow has almost melt­ed, the first wild­flow­ers are bloom­ing, and our hearts are hap­py in the sun­shine. Good work, ducks. Thanks, thanks, thanks!

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Earth Day

Whether you are cel­e­brat­ing Earth Day this week or next week or every week, there are books here that will enchant your stu­dents or your fam­i­ly, open­ing up pos­si­bil­i­ties for good dis­cus­sions.

 

Earth: My First 4.54 Bil­lion Years
Sta­cy McAn­ul­ty, author
James Litch­field, illus­tra­tor
Hen­ry Holt, 2017
pri­ma­ry and ele­men­tary grades

Told from the view­point of the anthro­po­mor­phic Earth itself, this book tells the life sto­ry of our home plan­et, intro­duc­ing it to “alien vis­i­tors.” As Earth says, “You can call me Plan­et Awe­some.” A gen­tle sense of humor and rich illus­tra­tions will engage Earth’s res­i­dents with lots of cool facts and engag­ing text.

Earth Day Every Day  

Earth Day Every Day
Lisa Bullard
Xin Zheng, illus­tra­tor
Mill­brook Press, 2011
pri­ma­ry grades

Tyler and Tri­na are on a mis­sion to save Earth. They apply what they’ve learned in school to earth-pre­serv­ing projects such as recy­cling, sav­ing ener­gy, con­serv­ing water, and cel­e­brat­ing Earth Day.

Earth Verse: Haiku from the Ground Up  

Earth Verse: Haiku from the Ground Up
Sal­ly M. Walk­er, author
William Grill, illus­tra­tor
Can­dlewick Press, 2018
pri­ma­ry grades and up

In haiku verse, Sal­ly M. Walk­er pro­vokes young read­ers to think about our earth from a sci­ence view­point. “Frag­ile out­er crust / shell around man­tle and core– / Earth a hard-boiled egg. It’s always fun to chal­lenge stu­dents to write in 17 syl­la­bles … Walk­er shines a bright flash­light on the path. William Grill’s col­ored pen­cil illus­tra­tions will be inspi­ra­tional, too.

 

Earthshake: Poems from the Ground Up

 

Earth­shake: Poems from the Ground Up
Lisa West­berg Peters, author
Cathie Fel­stead, illus­tra­tor
Green­wil­low Books, 2003
grades 4 and up

A delight­ful col­lec­tion of poems that intro­duce and inte­grate into lessons on earth sci­ence, geol­o­gy, geog­ra­phy, and ecol­o­gy. Often humor­ous, the poems are wor­thy of re-read­ing. The col­lage illus­tra­tions deep­en the reader’s under­stand­ing of the poet­ry; they invite care­ful study.

Here We Are  

Here We Are: Notes for Liv­ing on Plan­et Earth
Oliv­er Jef­fers, author and illus­tra­tor
Philomel, 2017
preschool through ele­men­tary

The author wel­comes his young child to the world with paint­ings of the cos­mos, the land and sea and incred­u­lous fea­tures of this Earth. It’s a beau­ti­ful book to share with young chil­dren and to dis­cuss with old­er chil­dren what the Earth means to them and why they appre­ci­ate it.

Hundred Billion Trillion Stars  

Hun­dred Bil­lion Tril­lion Stars
Seth Fish­man, author
Isabel Green­berg, illus­tra­tor
Green­wil­low Books, 2017
pri­ma­ry grades and up

This is a play­ful book, both in text and illus­tra­tions, that will sat­is­fy young minds hun­ger­ing for facts, math, and absorbable infor­ma­tion about our plan­et, Earth. Fas­ci­nat­ed by real­ly big num­bers? How many stars in the uni­verse? How many trees on Earth? In his author’s note, Mr. Fish­man says that these num­bers are “sort-of-def­i­nite­ly-ALMOST true,” but pin­point accu­ra­cy is not the point. The scope, the mag­nif­i­cence, the under­stand­ing of the grandeur of our Earth … that’s the sto­ry here.

On the Day You Were Born  

On the Day You Were Born
Debra Frasi­er, author and illus­tra­tor
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 1991
all ages

Although this book is often giv­en as a baby’s birth present, it is a good choice for Earth Day read-alouds and dis­cus­sions, rev­el­ing in all of the Earth’s won­ders along­side the humans who are its care­tak­ers. There is a detailed glos­sary explain­ing such nat­ur­al phe­nom­e­na as grav­i­ty, tides, and migra­tion, so it works well for the class­room.

Our Big Home  

Our Big Home
Lin­da Glaser, author
Elisa Kleven, illus­tra­tor
Mill­brook Press, 2002
all ages

This pic­ture book cel­e­brates that all liv­ing things on Earth are inter­con­nect­ed and how the Earth sup­ports our lives. The illus­tra­tions are gor­geous. There’s a strong sense of respect for life and joy in being alive.

Thank You, Earth  

Thank You, Earth: a Love Let­ter to Our Plan­et
April Pul­ley Sayre, author and pho­tog­ra­ph­er
Green­wil­low Books, 2018
pri­ma­ry grades and up

Per­haps inspir­ing your stu­dents’ own thank you notes, the author shares her pho­tographs and a poet­ic text that thank the Earth for its stun­ning beau­ty and life-giv­ing resources. Won­der­ful­ly clear pho­tographs are inspir­ing and large enough for shar­ing. A rec­om­mend­ed pri­ma­ry and ele­men­tary school book that intro­duce con­cepts of sci­ence, nature, geog­ra­phy, biol­o­gy, poet­ry, and com­mu­ni­ty.

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Dearie Darling Cuddle Hug: A Tribute to Wendy Watson

Father Fox's PennyrhymesWhen our chil­dren were young we both spent many hours with them pour­ing over Wendy Wat­son’s illus­tra­tions for her sis­ter Clyde’s rhymes in Father Fox’s Pen­nyrhymes and delight­ing in the sounds and the silli­ness of the rhymes them­selves. We felt as though we had lost a per­son­al friend when Wendy Wat­son died, even though we had nev­er met her.

Here’s just one pen­nyrhyme:

Mis­ter Lis­ter sassed his sis­ter
Mar­ried his wife ‘cause he couldn’t resist her,
Three plus four times two he kissed her:
How many times is that, dear sis­ter?

The illus­tra­tions wel­comed us into Father Fox’s fam­i­ly, a large rol­lick­ing cre­ative crew in a house filled with writ­ing, art, music, and chil­dren, much like the Wat­son fam­i­ly. Clyde has said that their father was the orig­i­nal Father Fox, and Wendy wrote of the art, “Many fox­es wear favorite gar­ments that still hang in clos­ets in Put­ney; and spe­cial fam­i­ly occu­pa­tions and times of the year and occa­sions are in almost every poem and pic­ture.” In the pic­tures (and per­haps in the clos­ets) the clothes are patched show­ing both wear and care.

Small sto­ries unfold in the illus­tra­tions.

You might read,

Som­er­sault & Pep­per-upper
Sim­mer down and eat your sup­per,
Arti­chokes & Mus­tard Pick­le
Two for a dime or six for a nick­el.

Mean­while in four pan­els on a dou­ble-page spread, a horse gal­lops by draw­ing a coach piled high with bun­dles, a fid­dle case, and a young fox rid­ing on top. The coach hits a bump, the salt shak­er falls out the win­dow, a bowl of sup­per falls on the coach dri­ver, and, leav­ing bits and pieces behind, the coach dri­ves on.

Wendy WatsonWhen Wendy had chil­dren of her own she often hid famil­iar things in her art that only they would know, “like dish­es that we owned or fur­ni­ture.”

Our friend Liza Ketchum, who knew Wendy very well, said that the time she spent on each draw­ing was incred­i­ble. In a draw­ing of a coun­try store you can find boots, slip­pers, pots, pans, paint­brush­es, pen­ny can­dy, even bolts of fab­ric and a horse col­lar.

 “Wendy had a throaty laugh that was just won­der­ful,” Liza told us, “and she cared so much about every­thing. When she could not take her cat on an air­plane, she drove cross-coun­try with her cat instead.”

Bedtime BunniesWendy wrote and illus­trat­ed twen­ty-one books for chil­dren and illus­trat­ed over six­ty books by oth­er authors. We could say so much more about so many of her books that we love, (you can read a list and descrip­tions of her pub­lished books), but we have to share one more of our favorites, Bed­time Bun­nies. The bun­ny par­ents call to five lit­tle bun­nies, “Bed­time, bun­nies.” The heart of this spar­e­ly writ­ten book is verbs, four to a spread—skip, scam­per, scur­ry, hop—while the art shows the bun­nies com­ing in for the night, hav­ing sup­per, brush­ing their teeth—Squirt Scrub Splut­ter Spit—taking a bath, get­ting into their paja­mas, hear­ing a sto­ry, get­ting into bed—climb bounce jump thump, and get­ting tucked in—Dearie Dar­ling Cud­dle Hug. The book ends with “Good­night, Bun­nies.”

The illus­tra­tions are spare but full of expres­sion and love, and the col­or palette is soft and warm, with yel­lows, ros­es, green, blues. In each of the live­ly pic­tures the lit­tlest bun­ny does things in their unique style. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this bun­ny fam­i­ly, or Father Fox’s fam­i­ly? It’s as if Wendy Wat­son is call­ing to us—Dearie Dar­ling Cud­dle Hug. Each time we open one of her books, we are invit­ed in to her warm cir­cle of fam­i­ly. And that will nev­er change.

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Laughing Matters

This month, Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin and Phyl­lis Root, the usu­al hosts of this col­umn, have invit­ed Kari Pear­son to share her rec­om­men­da­tions for fun­ny pic­ture books.

Kari Pearson

Kari Pear­son

Let’s play a game! It’s called Funny/Not Fun­ny. It goes like this:

Fun­ny: Eat­ing greasy bloaters with cab­bage-and-pota­to sog (see: How Tom Beat Cap­tain Najork and His Hired Sports­men)

Not Fun­ny: Shov­el­ing gigan­tic snow­drifts out of my dri­ve­way into piles almost as tall as myself.

Laugh­ing mat­ters, as any­one who has sur­vived a Min­neso­ta win­ter will tell you.

Whether you’re snow­bound or not, I hope you will enjoy the warmth and wit this quirky col­lec­tion of pic­ture books has to offer. Some of them are old (look for them at your library or online through Alib­ris), oth­ers are new­er. Most impor­tant­ly, all are guar­an­teed to be more hilar­i­ous than dis­cov­er­ing you have to kick your own front door open from the inside because it has frozen shut overnight in a bliz­zard (file under: not fun­ny). Not that that hap­pened, because that would be ridicu­lous.

The Big Orange SplotThe Big Orange Splot by Daniel Pinkwa­ter (Scholas­tic, 1977)

It all starts with The Big Orange Splot. More specif­i­cal­ly, with a seag­ull who is car­ry­ing a buck­et of orange paint (no one knows why), which he drops onto Mr. Plumbean’s house (no one knows why). Unfazed, Mr. Plumbean allows the splot to remain and goes about his busi­ness, much to the neigh­bors’ cha­grin. On this neat street such things sim­ply aren’t done. Even­tu­al­ly, Plumbean agrees that this has gone far enough. He buys some paint and gets to work cor­rect­ing the prob­lem.

Overnight, the big orange splot is joined by small­er orange splots, stripes, pic­tures of ele­phants and lions, steamshov­els, and oth­er images befit­ting a rain­bow jun­gle explo­sion. “My house is me and I am it,” Plumbean tells his flab­ber­gast­ed neigh­bors. “My house is where I like to be and it looks like all my dreams.” But Plumbean doesn’t stop there. Palm trees, frangi­pani, alligators…nothing is too out­landish for his new dream house. “Plumbean has popped his cork, flipped his wig, blown his stack, and dropped his stop­per” the neigh­bors exclaim in dis­may. They go about hatch­ing a plan to get things back to nor­mal on their neat street. But as they soon dis­cov­er, once a Big Orange Splot appears, there’s no going back. Plumbean’s unbri­dled imag­i­na­tion far out­strips even their most ardent­ly held pedes­tri­an sen­si­bil­i­ties. Wigs have only begun to flip.

Nino Wrestles the WorldNiño Wres­tles the World by Yuyi Morales (Roar­ing Brook, 2013)

Seño­ras y Señores, put your hands togeth­er for the fan­tas­tic, spec­tac­u­lar, one of a kind…Niño!” So begins the most improb­a­ble lucha libre wrestling com­pe­ti­tion of all time. Our hero is Niño, a diminu­tive boy in a red mask with more than a few tricks up his (non-exis­tent) sleeves. Armed with lit­tle more than a pop­si­cle, a decoy doll, and assort­ed puz­zle pieces, Niño pre­vails against a col­or­ful array of foes. La Llorona (the weep­ing woman), Cabeza Olme­ca (a sculpt­ed basalt head from the Olmec civ­i­liza­tion), and the ter­ri­fy­ing Gua­na­ju­a­to Mum­my are just a few of the char­ac­ters in this win­ning trib­ute to the the­atri­cal world of lucha libre. Cer­tain illus­tra­tions might be a bit scary for the youngest read­ers, but they are pre­sent­ed in a sil­ly way that make them less fright­en­ing and more fun. And lest you think that Niño has no seri­ous com­pe­ti­tion, rest assured that all bets are off once his lit­tle sis­ters, las her­man­i­tas, wake up from their nap…

Slow LorisSlow Loris by Alex­is Dea­con (Kane/Miller, 2002)

If you’ve ever been to the zoo, you prob­a­bly noticed that some ani­mals are just not that excit­ing. Or are they? This sto­ry delves into the dai­ly life of Slow Loris, an impos­si­bly bor­ing ani­mal who earns his name by spend­ing ten min­utes eat­ing a sat­suma, twen­ty min­utes going from one end of his branch to the oth­er, and a whole hour scratch­ing his bot­tom. But Slow Loris has a secret. At night, he gets up and does every­thing fast! When the oth­er zoo ani­mals get over their sur­prise at how wild Slow Loris real­ly is, they don’t hes­i­tate to join his all-night par­ty, which includes (among oth­er things) a mul­ti­tude of hats, col­or­ful ties, danc­ing, and an epic drum solo (by Slow Loris, of course). As you would imag­ine, it’s a slow day at the zoo after that as the par­ty ani­mals sleep off the pre­vi­ous night’s shenani­gans. Bor­ing!

Stop That Pickle!Stop That Pick­le! by Peter Armour, illus­trat­ed by Andrew Shachat (Houghton Mif­flin, 1993)

As fast as Slow Loris may be by night, I’m guess­ing he still couldn’t catch the run­away pick­le from Mr. Adolph’s deli. Rather than be eat­en by one Ms. Elmi­ra Deeds, this plucky pick­le leaps out of the jar and makes a break for it. Stop That Pick­le! is a delight­ful­ly wacky sto­ry of one pickle’s dar­ing escape and ulti­mate tri­umph over a host of oth­er foods try­ing to catch it. (And if you were won­der­ing if there is any sol­i­dar­i­ty in the food world, this book answers that ques­tion with a resound­ing NO.) 

When Mr. Adolph is imme­di­ate­ly over­whelmed by the pickle’s speed, a dis­grun­tled peanut but­ter and jel­ly sand­wich joins the chase. “Every­one knows that a peanut but­ter and jel­ly sand­wich is not the fastest sand­wich in the world, but it does have great endurance.” Page by page ten­sion builds as more foods join the pack, all shout­ing: Stop That Pick­le!. By the end of the book the pick­le is being pur­sued by not only the sand­wich (hel­lo, endurance!), but also a braid­ed pret­zel, green pip­pin apple, sev­en­teen toast­ed almonds, a crowd of raisins, a cake dough­nut, a cool grape soda, and an ele­gant vanil­la ice cream cone. How will our pick­le pre­vail??? The sto­ry cul­mi­nates in a back alley moment of truth which I won’t spoil for you, but rest assured that this pick­le lives to run anoth­er day. With its sat­is­fy­ing (yet total­ly inef­fec­tu­al) refrain, Stop That Pick­le! is a great read aloud book and will def­i­nite­ly make you think twice about the moral advis­abil­i­ty of skew­er­ing the last pick­le in the jar.

Sophie's SquashSophie’s Squash by Pat Ziet­low Miller, illus­trat­ed by Anne Wils­dorf (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2013)

When Sophie spots a but­ter­nut squash at the farm­ers’ mar­ket, it is love at first sight. Her squash is “just the right size to hold in her arms. Just the right size to bounce on her knee. Just the right size to love.” Final­ly, Sophie has found the per­fect friend! Except…her par­ents seem to want to eat her friend. “Don’t lis­ten, Ber­nice!” Sophie cries at the sug­ges­tion of cook­ing Ber­nice with marsh­mal­lows. And so Ber­nice becomes part of the fam­i­ly. She goes to sto­ry time at the library, rolls down hills, vis­its oth­er squash. Every­thing is fine until one day Ber­nice is not quite her­self. She starts look­ing spot­ty and her som­er­saults don’t have “their usu­al style.” What to do? This heart­warm­ing sto­ry is has a sim­ple, fun­ny sweet­ness to it as Sophie learns about being a loy­al friend and what it means to let go. Don’t miss the illus­trat­ed end­pa­pers which fea­ture Sophie in her unpar­al­leled squashy exu­ber­ance! This book also offers a sea­son­al­ly appro­pri­ate les­son: win­ter might seem like the end, but some­times it is only the begin­ning.  

How Tom Beat Captain NajorkHow Tom Beat Cap­tain Najork and His Hired Sports­men by Rus­sell Hoban, illus­trat­ed by Quentin Blake (Atheneum, 1974)

No self-respect­ing list of fun­ny pic­ture books would be com­plete with­out How Tom Beat Cap­tain Najork and his Hired Sports­men. This gem is from an era where pic­ture books were a bit longer, but that just means there is more hilar­i­ty here to enjoy. Tom is a boy who knows fool­ing around. He fools around “with sticks and stones and crum­pled paper, with mews­es and pas­sages and dust­bins, with bent nails and bro­ken glass and holes in fences.” You get the idea. He’s an expert.

This deeply trou­bles Aunt Fid­get Wonkham-Strong, a for­mi­da­ble woman in an iron hat who believes boys should spend their time mem­o­riz­ing pages from the Nau­ti­cal Almanac instead of doing things that sus­pi­cious­ly resem­ble play­ing. So she calls in Cap­tain Najork and his hired sports­men to teach Tom a les­son in fool­ing around. As you might imag­ine, Cap­tain Najork has wild­ly under­es­ti­mat­ed Tom’s exper­tise in these mat­ters and gets his come­up­pance accord­ing­ly. Quentin Blake’s won­der­ful­ly zany line draw­ings are the per­fect accom­pa­ni­ment to the hijinks of this weird and total­ly sat­is­fy­ing sto­ry. Greasy bloaters, any­one? There’s also some cab­bage-and-pota­to sog left. Some­how.

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Marion Dane Bauer

Mar­i­on Dane Bauer and her books are respect­ed and loved by chil­dren, par­ents, edu­ca­tors, librar­i­ans, edi­tors, and writ­ers. She began her career as a nov­el­ist, turn­ing to pic­ture books lat­er in her career. Cel­e­brat­ing the release of her newest pic­ture book, the charm­ing Win­ter Dance, we were curi­ous about how she writes these short books so we asked! And this long-time teacher of oth­er writ­ers pro­vid­ed heart­felt answers.

Marion Dane Bauer

Mar­i­on Dane Bauer (pho­to cred­it: Kather­ine Warde)

If You Were Born a KittenWhen you sit down to write a pic­ture book, what has inspired you?

Some­times I begin with an idea I want to share.  If You Were Born a Kit­ten, for instance, comes out of my very impas­sioned belief that the mir­a­cle of birth is hid­den from most young chil­dren in our society—from most of us, real­ly.  I want­ed to cel­e­brate birth in a way that would show it both as mir­a­cle and as part of our sol­id, every­day real­i­ty. 

Some­times the con­cept comes from some­thing I read or some­thing some­one says to me. Win­ter Dance came from an editor’s say­ing, “What about cel­e­brat­ing the first snow?” 

But the actu­al pic­ture book begins, always, with lan­guage.  I can’t even begin to flesh out my idea until the open­ing line is singing in my head.

The Longest NightDo you know the end­ing of your pic­ture book before you begin to write?

I always know the end of a nov­el before I begin to write, and if a pic­ture book is a sto­ry, I know the end of that, too. So when I began writ­ing The Longest Night, I knew before I put down the first word that the lit­tle chick­adee would bring back the sun. When I write con­cept books, though, like How Do I Love You?, I have to find my end­ing in the play­ing out of the lan­guage.

Do you write with a spe­cif­ic child in mind?

I write always for a child, and in the case of pic­ture books for the adult who will be shar­ing the book, but I have no par­tic­u­lar child in my heart … except maybe the small child I was so many years ago.

Do you envi­sion the illus­tra­tions while you are writ­ing?

I envi­sion space for the illus­tra­tions, which is a very dif­fer­ent thing. I don’t think what the illus­tra­tions will depict, specif­i­cal­ly, and I cer­tain­ly don’t think about what they will look like. That’s the artist’s ter­ri­to­ry. But I make sure I have cre­at­ed an active chang­ing world for the illus­tra­tor to take hold of.

How much do you con­sid­er the lev­el of the reader’s vocab­u­lary when you write a pic­ture book?

Hon­est­ly? Not at all. Because pic­ture books are usu­al­ly read to a child rather than by the child, I nev­er con­sid­er vocab­u­lary. Some­times a total­ly new word is, in itself, a kind of enchant­ment for a child. Think of Peter Rab­bit for whom let­tuce had a “soporif­ic” effect! No, I’ve nev­er used the word soporif­ic or any­thing like it, but isn’t it a won­der­ful­ly res­o­nant word? 

I should add, though, that there is one basic rule I use with all of my writ­ing.  I believe the best word in any piece of writ­ing for any audi­ence is always the sim­plest one.  Some­times, though, that best word might just hap­pen to be soporif­ic.

Winter DanceDo you ever begin a pic­ture book feel­ing at a loss for how to write it?

Yes, and when I do I always stop, set it aside, give it time. When it begins to sing to me—if it begins to sing to me—then there will be no more loss.

Win­ter Dance, my newest pic­ture book, actu­al­ly began with an editor’s com­mit­ting to a pic­ture book I had writ­ten about spring.  For a com­pli­cat­ed series of rea­sons the text the edi­tor con­tract­ed had to be altered sub­stan­tial­ly, and dur­ing that process, my drafts got far­ther and far­ther away from any­thing the edi­tor want­ed.  I men­tioned ear­li­er, it was the edi­tor who final­ly came up with the idea that I write about the first snow instead.  Great idea, but first I had to find my fox, and I had to dis­cov­er that fox­es mate in win­ter so he would have a rea­son to rejoice over snow.  And then, of course, I had to find the song to car­ry him through.

What is the word length you aim for in a pic­ture book?

A max­i­mum of 450 words.  Even that can be too long for some books. 

You were best known for your nov­els for mid­dle grade and teen read­ers. What influ­enced you to try a dif­fer­ent book form for a dif­fer­ent read­er?

The truth is I always want­ed to write pic­ture books. In the begin­ning, I sim­ply didn’t know how to write them, even though I had read them end­less­ly to my own chil­dren and to var­i­ous fos­ter chil­dren in my home. Pic­ture books are a bit tech­ni­cal to learn, and I had no one to teach me. In fact, I start­ed out try­ing to write pic­ture books and dis­cov­ered I didn’t know what I was doing. So I moved on and found it eas­i­er, not know­ing what I was doing, to mud­dle through a nov­el. 

The oth­er piece, though, was that my first edi­tor, at a time when we  writ­ers were owned by our first edi­tors, said to me when I showed him what I thought was a pic­ture-book man­u­script, “Mar­i­on, you are not a pic­ture book writer.” Now, he could legit­i­mate­ly have said, “Mar­i­on, that’s not a pic­ture book.” Because it wasn’t. But even when the pub­lish­ing world opened up and I did learn and began pub­lish­ing suc­cess­ful pic­ture books with oth­er hous­es, he refused to alter his vision of me as only a nov­el­ist. So I have him to thank for my career get­ting estab­lished in nov­els. Pic­ture books are so much fun, if he had been open to younger work from me, I prob­a­bly would have been off play­ing with pic­ture books much soon­er.

___________________

Thank you, Mar­i­on, for shar­ing your thoughts about pic­ture books in such an instruc­tive way. We’re always hap­py to learn from you.

Learn more about Mar­i­on Dane Bauer.

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Pinkerton & Friends

I had a “Why in the world….?” moment the oth­er day. It was unex­pect­ed and a lit­tle strange and it was this: When I imag­ine pic­ture books that I am writ­ing and/or think­ing about writ­ing, I imag­ine very spe­cif­ic illus­tra­tions. From a very spe­cif­ic illus­tra­tor. Even though I admire the work of many illus­tra­tors. (I admire this one, too, of course.) But always, always, in my first imag­in­ing, I “pic­ture” the illus­tra­tions by Steven Kel­logg.

I love Mr. Kellogg’s work. But I love the work of a lot of illus­tra­tors and would aspire and hope for many (very dif­fer­ent) illus­tra­tors to make art to help tell my sto­ries. I can switch my imag­i­na­tion to oth­er illus­tra­tors if I think about it, but with­out think­ing about it…it’s Steven Kellogg’s art. When this real­iza­tion came to me I pulled some of his books off the shelves in my office with the ques­tion: Why is Kel­logg my default, the first one whose work I imag­ine?

All I can think is that the years 1999–2002 were what I think of as The Pinker­ton Years. You might think it strange that I can pin­point the years, but I know we were less involved with Pinker­ton (and by that I mean not read­ing Pinker­ton sto­ries on a dai­ly basis) by the time Dar­ling Daugh­ter came along late in 2002. Pri­or to that, we could hard­ly leave the house with­out a Pinker­ton sto­ry with us.

These were also the first of the allergy/asthma years—#1 Son was crit­i­cal­ly ill too much of the time, and with his doc­tors we were strug­gling to fig­ure out what was caus­ing such severe reac­tions. The only clear aller­gens were pets, and he came to under­stand first that he could not be around pup­pies or kit­ties, or any­thing else fur­ry and cud­dly and fun. A ter­ri­ble sen­tence, of course, when you are three and wheezy.

So we read a lot of books about pets, and before we read Rib­sy and Because of Winn-Dix­ie we read Pinker­ton sto­ries. A lot of Pinker­ton sto­ries. #1 Son adored Pinker­ton. Pinker­ton, a Great Dane, is pos­si­bly the most hilar­i­ous dog to ever be fea­tured in a book—he is huge and ungain­ly and always get­ting him­self in a fix. His expres­sions, his “knees and elbows,” his giant flop­pi­ness, and his curios­i­ty and giant heart make him quite a char­ac­ter.

Very quick­ly we learned to spot Kel­logg illus­tra­tions from across the library/bookstore, and pret­ty much wher­ev­er there are Kel­logg pic­tures, there are ani­mals. Not just great danes, but boa con­stric­tors, mice, cats, pigs, ducks in a row, hors­es, spaniels….. And wher­ev­er there are ani­mals, there’s a fair amount of chaos—at least in a Kel­logg book. (Arti­cles and inter­views sug­gest he has lived the fun and chaos in a home we could not have entered and lived to breathe—lots of pets!)

The detail in Kellogg’s illus­tra­tions is tremen­dous, the hilar­i­ty apt­ly con­veyed, and the sweet­ness and roller­coast­er high emo­tions of kids and Great Danes alike comes alive on the page. I could read stacks of the books in one sit­ting to my wheez­ing boy. We used them to get through neb­u­liz­er treat­ments, and to “push flu­ids,” and to encour­age rest for a kid all amped up on steroids. They were mag­i­cal and we poured over the illus­tra­tions long after the read­ing of the sto­ry was done. The med­i­cine could go down with­out much fuss as long as Pinker­ton was along.

Those were exhaust­ing, wor­ried years, and all I can think is that I some­how absorbed Steven Kellogg’s art in my sleep-deprived anx­ious state…and it’s now in my bones. Thank you, Mr. Kel­logg, for your sto­ries, your art, and your pres­ence in our family’s life. You are the default in my imag­i­na­tion and I’m grate­ful.

 

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Death and Grief

Our Chap­ter & Verse Book Clubs read three books about death, writ­ten for chil­dren, in April of 2017. We’ve updat­ed this list with new­er books in Octo­ber, 2018. Sev­er­al of our librar­i­an mem­bers stat­ed that they receive many requests from patrons for books that help chil­dren under­stand death. Our mem­bers around the coun­try put their heads togeth­er to make rec­om­men­da­tions of books they felt are excel­lent sto­ries and dis­cus­sion starters for fam­i­lies. They are pre­sent­ed in alpha­bet­i­cal order by title. There are books sug­gest­ed for many age ranges from pic­ture books to books for teens. And, as with most good children’s books, these are good read­ing for adults as well.

After Life  

After Life: Ways We Think about Death
writ­ten by Mer­rie-Ellen Wilcox
Orca Pub­lish­ing, 2018

For ages 8 to 12 (and old­er), a look at the sci­ence and cul­ture of death, dying, and grief. Each chap­ter includes a brief telling of a death leg­end, myth or his­to­ry from a dif­fer­ent cul­ture or tra­di­tion, from Adam and Eve to Wolf and Coy­ote, and ends with a sec­tion on a com­mon theme in our think­ing about death, such as rivers and birds in the after­life, the col­ors that dif­fer­ent cul­tures use to sym­bol­ize death, and, of course, ghosts. The final chap­ter is about grief, which is both a uni­ver­sal human expe­ri­ence and unique to each per­son. The text offers sug­ges­tions for ways to think about our grief, when to ask for help and how to talk to friends who are griev­ing.

All Around Us  

All Around Us
writ­ten by Xele­na Gon­za­lez, illus by Adri­ana M. Gar­cia
Cin­co Pun­tas Press, 2017

For ages 3 to 7, a young girl and her grand­fa­ther look at the cir­cles in nature and the cycles in life. They dis­cuss the earth, plant­i­ng and har­vest­ing, and life, from birth to death. It’s a book filled with images that will stay with you for a long time.

All Three Stooges  

All Three Stooges
writ­ten by Eri­ca S. Perl
Knopf, 2018

The close friend­ship of two best friends, Noah and Dash, is heav­i­ly test­ed when Dash’s father com­mits sui­cide. Dash with­draws from Noah and Noah isn’t sure how to breach the wall. The two have always shared a love of com­e­dy and Noah tries his best because he needs his friend book. Noa, a girl in Dash and Noah’s Hebrew class, adds to the tex­ture of the sto­ry, as does an inter­wo­ven his­to­ry of famous Jew­ish come­di­ans. This book is full of humor, heart, and under­stand­ing … share this as a fam­i­ly read-aloud.

Badger's Parting Gifts  

Badger’s Part­ing Gifts
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Susan Var­ley
Harper­Collins, 1992

When Bad­ger dies, his friends are very sad. Each of them finds a gift that Bad­ger gave them and shares the sto­ry of the gift with the oth­ers, which helps them all to under­stand what made Bad­ger so spe­cial to them.

Beat the Turtle Drum  

Beat the Tur­tle Drum
writ­ten by Con­stance Greene
Viking Pen­guin, 1976

Two sis­ters, one gre­gar­i­ous and one more intro­spec­tive, are best friends, explor­ing life togeth­er. One of them is horse-crazy and the oth­er tries to under­stand what it is about a horse that makes her sis­ter so entranced. Then one day, there’s an acci­dent, and life changes dra­mat­i­cal­ly for this fam­i­ly. 

 

Bridge to Terabithia

 

Bridge to Ter­abithia
writ­ten by Kather­ine Pater­son
Harper­Collins, 1977

Jess Aarons has been prac­tic­ing all sum­mer so he can be the fastest run­ner in the fifth grade. And he almost is, until the new girl in school, Leslie Burke, out­paces him. The two become fast friends and spend most days in the woods behind Leslie’s house, where they invent an enchant­ed land called Ter­abithia. One morn­ing, Leslie goes to Ter­abithia with­out Jess and a tragedy occurs. It will take the love of his fam­i­ly and the strength that Leslie has giv­en him for Jess to be able to deal with his grief.

Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole  

Care and Feed­ing of a Pet Black Hole
writ­ten by Michelle Cuevas
Dial Books, 2017

When Stel­la Rodriguez vis­its NASA to con­tribute to the Gold­en Record, a black hole fol­lows her home. Mean­ing to become a pet, it swal­lows up every­thing it touch­es (as a black hole would). That’s con­ve­nient for get­ting rid of gifts she doesn’t love … and for things that remind her painful­ly of her father who has recent­ly died. When the black hole eats her, her broth­er, and her dog, she comes to a real­iza­tion about grief. At turns fun­ny and touch­ing, this is a good empa­thy-build­ing book for ages 8 to 12.

Clayton Bird Goes Underground  

Clay­ton Bird Goes Under­ground
writ­ten by Rita Williams-Gar­cia, illus by  Frank Mor­ri­son
Amis­tad, 2017

Clay­ton res­onates with his grandfather’s music, the blues. Although Clay­ton is young, Cool Papa Byrd lets him play his blues harp (har­mon­i­ca) when he and the Blues­men per­form. Clay­ton emu­lates his grand­fa­ther, loves him com­plete­ly, wants des­per­ate­ly to under­stand the blues. But Clayton’s moth­er har­bors resent­ments about her dad and his always being on the road when she was grow­ing up. When Cool Papa Bird dies unex­pect­ed­ly, Clay­ton knows he must play the blues … and his moth­er for­bids him. Clay­ton runs away from home, try­ing to find the Blues­men so he can join them on tour. Things don’t go quite as planned and sud­den­ly life, and the blues, take on new mean­ings.

Cry Heart, But Never Break  

Cry, Heart, But Nev­er Break
writ­ten by Glenn Ringvedt, illus by Char­lotte Par­di
Enchant­ed Lion Books, 2016

This is one of the books we read for Chap­ter & Verse. Peo­ple felt it tells the sto­ry of death quite sen­si­tive­ly. Aware their grand­moth­er is grave­ly ill, four sib­lings make a pact to keep death from tak­ing her away. But Death does arrive all the same, as it must. He comes gen­tly, nat­u­ral­ly. And he comes with enough time to share a sto­ry with the chil­dren that helps them to real­ize the val­ue of loss to life and the impor­tance of being able to say good­bye.

Death is Stupid  

Death is Stu­pid
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Anas­ta­sia Hig­gin­both­am
Fem­i­nist Press at CUNY, 2016

In a starred review, Pub­lish­ers Week­ly wrote, “It’s [an] exact mix of true-to-life humor and unflinch­ing hon­esty that makes Higginbotham’s book work so well, and many of the plain­spo­ken sen­ti­ments she includes, as well as sev­er­al includ­ed ideas for how to remem­ber and hon­or those who have depart­ed, may be eye-open­ing for read­ers fac­ing grief them­selves.” If your child, ages 4 and up, will ben­e­fit from direct respons­es, share this book with them. 

 

Dog Heav­en
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Cyn­thia Rylant
Blue Sky Press, 1995

Specif­i­cal­ly writ­ten for very young chil­dren who are griev­ing the loss of a dog, Rylant por­trays heav­en as a place where dogs are free to roam and play and God is a kind­ly man dis­pens­ing dog bis­cuits. The details are plen­ti­ful, cre­at­ing a lov­ing pic­ture of a rest­ful place. There is a com­pan­ion vol­ume, Cat Heav­en.

Duck, Death and the Tulip  

Duck, Death and the Tulip
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Wold Erl­bruch
Gecko Press, 2016

When Death appears behind Duck one sum­mer day, Duck is alarmed. Has Death come to claim Duck? But they spend the sum­mer togeth­er, grow­ing com­fort­able with each oth­er, offer­ing advice and ges­tures of friend­ship. When it is time for Duck to die, Death shows great respect, send­ing Duck afloat down a riv­er with a red tulip on its breast. The art and the sto­ry work beau­ti­ful­ly togeth­er in this book for ages 10 and up. 

Fall of Freddy the Leaf  

Fall of Fred­dy the Leaf: a Sto­ry of Life for All Ages
writ­ten by Leo Buscaglia
Stack, Inc., 1982

This sto­ry tells about death through the metaphor of leaves on trees. Fred­die and his com­pan­ion leaves change with the pass­ing sea­sons, final­ly falling to the ground with winter’s snow, an alle­go­ry that illus­trates the del­i­cate bal­ance between life and death.

Hey, Al  

Hey, Al
writ­ten by Arthur Yorkins, illus by Richard Egiel­s­ki
Gold­en Books, 1986

Al, a jan­i­tor, and his faith­ful dog, Eddie, live in a sin­gle room on the West Side. They eat togeth­er, they work togeth­er, they do every­thing togeth­er. So what’s the prob­lem? Life is hard. When a mys­te­ri­ous bird offers to lead them to par­adise, they agree. They’re soon liv­ing a life of lux­u­ry. But things aren’t as green as they seem.

My Father's Arms Are a Boat  

My Father’s Arms Are a Boat
writ­ten by Stein Erik Lunde, illus by Oyvind Torseter 
trans­lat­ed by Kari Dick­son
Enchant­ed Lion Books, 2013

It’s qui­eter than it’s ever been. Unable to sleep, a young boy climbs into his father’s arms. Feel­ing the warmth and close­ness of his father, he begins to ask ques­tions about the birds, the fox­es, and whether his mom will ever wake up. They go out­side under the star­ry sky. Loss and love are as present as the white spruces, while the father’s clear answers and assur­ances calm his wor­ried son. 

The Heart and the Bottle  

The Heart and the Bot­tle
writ­ten and illus by Oliv­er Jef­fers
Philomel Books, 2010

There is a won­der and mag­ic to child­hood. We don’t real­ize it at the time, of course … yet the adults in our lives do. They encour­age us to see things in the stars, to find joy in col­ors and laugh­ter as we play.

But what hap­pens when that spe­cial some­one who encour­ages such won­der and mag­ic is no longer around? We can hide, we can place our heart in a bot­tle and grow up … or we can find anoth­er spe­cial some­one who under­stands the mag­ic. And we can encour­age them to see things in the stars, find joy among col­ors and laugh­ter as they play. This is a book that address­es loss, painful emo­tions, and find­ing one’s way back.

Ida, Always  

Ida, Always
writ­ten Car­ol Levis, illus by Charles San­toso
Atheneum, 2016

In this pic­ture book, two polar bears are best friends and they know they will always be. But then Ida gets sick and it’s clear that she is dying, and Gus real­izes he will be alone. They talk and cud­dle and share their love for each oth­er. Gus real­izes that Ida will be with him always, even after she has died. It’s a gor­geous book with an equal­ly beau­ti­ful sto­ry to tell.

Lifetimes  

Life­times: The Beau­ti­ful Way to Explain Death to Chil­dren 
writ­ten by Bryan Mel­lonie, illus by Robert Ing­pen
Ban­tam, 1983

For ages 5 to 8, this book was rec­om­mend­ed by sev­er­al child psy­chol­o­gists because it looks at the life cycles of plants, ani­mals, and humans in an under­stat­ed but com­fort­ing way, accom­pa­nied by sooth­ing illus­tra­tions.

Memory Tree  

Mem­o­ry Tree
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Brit­ta Teck­en­trup
Orchard Books, 2014

Fox lies down in his beloved for­est and takes his last breath. As ani­mal friends gath­er around him, they share their favorite sto­ries about the ways Fox was impor­tant in their lives. As they speak, a tree grows behind them, a mem­o­ry tree, that will pro­vide for and pro­tect them, just as their friend Fox did. A pic­ture book for ages 5 and up.

Michael Rosen's Sad Book  

Michael Rosen’s Sad Book
writ­ten by Michael Rosen, illus­trat­ed by Quentin Blake
Can­dlewick Press, 2005

Some­times sad is very big. It’s every­where. All over me.” Sad things hap­pen to every­one, and some­times peo­ple feel sad for no rea­son at all. What makes Michael Rosen sad is think­ing about his son, Eddie, who died sud­den­ly at the age of eigh­teen. In this book the author writes about his sad­ness, how it affects him, and some of the things he does to cope with it—like telling him­self that every­one has sad stuff (not just him) and try­ing every day to do some­thing he can be proud to have done.

Mick Harte Was Here  

Mick Harte Was Here
writ­ten by Bar­bara Park
Ran­dom House, 1995

I don’t want to make you cry. I just want to tell you about Mick. But I thought you should know right up front that he’s not here any­more. I just thought that would be fair.” Phoebe’s broth­er, Mick, was one of the fun­ni­est, coolest kids you’d ever meet—the kid who made you laugh until your stom­ach hurt, even if you were mad at him. He was the kid you’d want to be friends with. So how can he be gone? And how will Phoebe’s fam­i­ly sur­vive with­out him?

Missing May  

Miss­ing May
writ­ten by Cyn­thia Rylant
Orchard Books, Scholas­tic, 1992

When May dies sud­den­ly while gar­den­ing, Sum­mer assumes she’ll nev­er see her beloved aunt again. But then Summer’s Uncle Ob claims that May is on her way back–she has sent a sign from the spir­it world.

Sum­mer isn’t sure she believes in the spir­it world, but her quirky class­mate Cle­tus Underwood–who befriends Ob dur­ing his time of mourning—does. So at Cle­tus’ sug­ges­tion, Ob and Sum­mer (with Cle­tus in tow) set off in search of Miri­am B. Young, Small Medi­um at Large, whom they hope will explain May’s depar­ture and con­firm her pos­si­ble return.

Missing Mommy  

Miss­ing Mom­my: a Book about Bereave­ment
writ­ten by Rebec­ca Cobb
Hen­ry Holt, 2013

Writ­ten from a young boy’s point of view, with words and draw­ings appro­pri­ate for some­one his age, this is a straight­for­ward sto­ry that explores the many emo­tions a bereaved child may expe­ri­ence, from anger and guilt to sad­ness and bewil­der­ment. Ulti­mate­ly, Miss­ing Mom­my focus­es on the positive―the recog­ni­tion that the child is not alone but still part of a fam­i­ly that loves and sup­ports him.

A Monster Calls  

A Mon­ster Calls
writ­ten by Patrick Ness
Inspired by an idea from Siob­han Dowd
Can­dlewick Press, 2011

At sev­en min­utes past mid­night, thir­teen-year-old Conor wakes to find a mon­ster out­side his bed­room win­dow. But it isn’t the mon­ster Conor’s been expect­ing, the one from the night­mare he’s had near­ly every night since his moth­er start­ed her treat­ments. The mon­ster in his back­yard is dif­fer­ent. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants some­thing from Conor. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-win­ning author Siob­han Dowd—whose pre­ma­ture death from can­cer pre­vent­ed her from writ­ing it herself—Patrick Ness has spun a haunt­ing and dark­ly fun­ny nov­el of mis­chief, loss, and mon­sters both real and imag­ined.

My Father's Words  

My Father’s Words
writ­ten by Patri­cia MacLach­lan
Kather­ine Tegen Books / Harper­Collins, 2018

In the midst of a lov­ing fam­i­ly, Finn and Fiona are secure in their par­ents’ love and car­ing. When their father meets with an acci­dent, they must learn how to cope with­out him. A friend sug­gests they work at an ani­mal res­cue shel­ter, which may be their way out of the sor­row. A car­ing, gen­tle book. 

Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs  

Nana Upstairs & Nana Down­stairs
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Tomie de Pao­la
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1997

Tom­my is four years old, and he loves vis­it­ing the home of his grand­moth­er, Nana Down­stairs, and his great-grand­moth­er, Nana Upstairs. But one day Tommy’s moth­er tells him Nana Upstairs won’t be there any­more, and Tom­my must strug­gle with say­ing good­bye to some­one he loves. This is a qui­et sto­ry about a lov­ing fam­i­ly.

The Next Place  

The Next Place
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by War­ren Han­son
Wald­man House Press, 2002

Sev­er­al librar­i­ans rec­om­mend­ed this book as one that brings com­fort after loss. With words and paint­ings, it depicts a jour­ney of light and hope to a place where earth­ly hurts are left behind.

Ocean Meets Sky  

Ocean Meets Sky
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Ter­ry Fan and Eric Fan
Simon & Schus­ter, 2018

In a tour-de-force of illus­tra­tion and sto­ry­telling, the Fan Broth­ers share the sto­ry of Finn, who planned an ocean voy­age with his beloved grand­fa­ther. After grandfather’s death, Finn builds a boat to take that voy­age on what would have been his grandfather’s 90th birth­day. With this ges­ture of hon­or and respect, sail­ing to the place where the ocean meets the sky, Finn finds com­fort, sail­ing through pages of won­der until his moth­er calls him home.

The Rough Patch  

Rough Patch
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Bri­an Lies
Green­wil­low Books, 2018

Evan, a fox, and his dog share many adven­tures, includ­ing gar­den­ing and the coun­ty fair. When his dog dies, Evan is incon­solable. He neglects his gar­den and it becomes over­grown and weedy. In a cor­ner of the gar­den, a giant pump­kin begins grow­ing and soon it becomes clear it must be entered in the coun­ty fair. Evan returns to one of his favorite places, meet­ing up with friends, old and new.

The Scar  

The Scar
writ­ten by Char­lotte Moundlic, illus by Olivi­er Tal­lec
Can­dlewick Press, 2011

When the boy in this sto­ry wakes to find that his moth­er has died, he is over­whelmed with sad­ness, anger, and fear that he will for­get her. He shuts all the win­dows to keep in his mother’s famil­iar smell and scratch­es open the cut on his knee to remem­ber her com­fort­ing voice. He doesn’t know how to speak to his dad any­more, and when Grand­ma vis­its and throws open the win­dows, it’s more than the boy can take–until his grand­moth­er shows him anoth­er way to feel that his mom’s love is near. 

Something Very Sorry  

Some­thing Very Sor­ry
writ­ten by Arno Bohlmei­jer
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 1996

For ages 12 and up, this is the true sto­ry of a young girl’s strug­gle to come to terms with a tragedy. This sober nar­ra­tion reveals the pri­vate voice of a girl as she copes with the after­math of a car acci­dent: her mother’s death, the injuries of her father and sis­ter, and her own grief, anger, and fear of the future. It’s a poignant sto­ry of a dif­fi­cult fam­i­ly sit­u­a­tion.

A Summer to Die  

A Sum­mer to Die
writ­ten by Lois Lowry
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 1977

Meg isn’t thrilled when she gets stuck shar­ing a bed­room with her old­er sis­ter Mol­ly. The two of them couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent, and it’s hard for Meg to hide her resent­ment of Molly’s beau­ty and easy pop­u­lar­i­ty. But Molly’s con­stant grouch­i­ness, chang­ing appear­ance, and oth­er com­plaints are not just part of being moody. The day Mol­ly is rushed to the hos­pi­tal, Meg has to accept that there is some­thing ter­ri­bly wrong with her sis­ter. That’s the day Meg’s world changes for­ev­er. Is it too late for Meg to show how she real­ly feels?

Tear Soup  

Tear Soup: a Recipe for Heal­ing After Loss
writ­ten by Pat Schweib­ert and Chuck DeK­lyen
illus by Tay­lor Bills
Grief Watch, 2005

An inspi­ra­tional book of wis­dom about liv­ing and grow­ing with grief. After expe­ri­enc­ing loss, tears are a part of life, some­times for months and some­times for years. This book is meant to bring com­fort for ages 12 through adult. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed by edu­ca­tors, librar­i­ans, and par­ents for griev­ing chil­dren.

The Thing About Jellyfish  

The Thing About Jel­ly­fish
writ­ten by Ali Ben­jamin
Lit­tle, Brown, 2015

Every­one says that it was an acci­dent, that some­times things “just hap­pen.” But Suzy won’t believe it. Ever. After her best friend dies in a drown­ing acci­dent, Suzy is con­vinced that the true cause of the tragedy was a rare jel­ly­fish sting. Retreat­ing into a silent world of imag­i­na­tion, she crafts a plan to prove her theory—even if it means trav­el­ing the globe, alone. Suzy’s aching­ly heart­felt jour­ney explores life, death, the aston­ish­ing won­der of the universe—and the poten­tial for love and hope right next door.

Tuck Everlasting  

Tuck Ever­last­ing
writ­ten by Natal­ie Bab­bitt
Rine­hart and Win­ston, 1999

The Tuck fam­i­ly is con­front­ed with an ago­niz­ing sit­u­a­tion when they dis­cov­er that a ten-year-old girl and a mali­cious stranger now share their secret about a spring whose water pre­vents one from ever grow­ing old­er. A clas­sic sto­ry, this book is much dis­cussed in homes and class­rooms, from ages 10 and up through adult. It’s a sto­ry so well told that you can’t help con­sid­er­ing the big ques­tions.

What is Goodbye?  

What is Good­bye?
writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes, illus by Raúl Colón
Dis­ney-Hype­r­i­on, 2004

This is the book I rec­om­mend most often for chil­dren ages 9 through adult. Jer­i­lyn and Jesse have lost their beloved old­er broth­er. Each of them deals with Jaron’s death dif­fer­ent­ly. Jer­i­lyn tries to keep it in and hold it togeth­er; Jesse acts out. But after a year of anger, pain, and guilt, they come to under­stand that it’s time to move on. It’s time for a new fam­i­ly picture—with one piece miss­ing, yet whole again. Through the alter­nat­ing voic­es of a broth­er and sis­ter, Nik­ki Grimes elo­quent­ly por­trays the griev­ing process in this gem of a book that is hon­est, pow­er­ful, and ulti­mate­ly hope­ful.

When Dinosaurs Die  

When Dinosaurs Die: a Guide to Under­stand­ing Death
writ­ten by Lau­rie Kras­ny Brown, illus by Marc Brown
Lit­tle Brown, 1998

No one can real­ly under­stand death, but to chil­dren, the pass­ing away of a loved one can be espe­cial­ly per­plex­ing and trou­ble­some. This is true whether the loss is a class­mate, friend, fam­i­ly mem­ber, or pet. In this book, wis­dom is shared by dinosaurs, pro­vid­ing answers to kids’ most-often-asked ques­tions, explor­ing the feel­ings we may have regard­ing the death of a loved one, and the ways to remem­ber some­one after he or she has died.

Whirligig  

Whirligig
writ­ten by Paul Fleis­chman
Hen­ry Holt, 1998

When Brent Bish­op is out­raged at a high school par­ty, he dri­ves away hurt, furi­ous, and out of con­trol. He dri­ves reck­less­ly, deter­mined to kill him­self, but kills a girl instead, a high school senior with a bright future. Filled with guilt, Brent wants to make resti­tu­tion. The girl’s moth­er asks him to cre­ate whirligigs and set them up in the four cor­ners of the Unit­ed States. We fol­low Brent on his jour­ney, meet­ing the peo­ple whose lives he affects and who change his life.

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Superheroes and Bad Days

Even Superheroes Have Bad DaysI don’t know about you, but I’ve been wish­ing for an hon­est-to-good­ness super­hero to save the day.

If adults are feel­ing that way, kids, who pick up all of our emo­tions, are wish­ing for the same thing. Bat­man and Won­der Woman led the list of most pop­u­lar Hal­loween cos­tumes in 2016. The pro­lif­er­a­tion of super­hero movies is hard to ignore. But there are very few books about super­heroes that are appro­pri­ate for the 3–7 year age range.

With rhyming text and a car­toon illus­tra­tion style that has a sophis­ti­cat­ed palette and deli­cious details, Even Super­heroes Have Bad Days is a book every­one can use right NOW. For kids of that cer­tain age, Shelly Beck­er and Eda Kaban have teamed up to give us a row­dy, exu­ber­ant book filled with images of super­heroes in action.

We first learn what they could do when they’re hav­ing a bad day: kick­ing, punch­ing, pound­ing, shriek­ing. They could be quite destruc­tive with their super­pow­ers.

But upset heroes have all sorts of choic­es …
Instead of destruc­tion and loud, livid voic­es
They burn angry steam off with speed-of-light hik­ing
Or super-Xtreme out­er space moun­tain bik­ing. “

They clean up oth­er people’s mess­es, they pro­tect peo­ple from harm.

Even Superheroes Have Bad Days

There’s no deny­ing that super­heroes could use their pow­ers to wreak hav­oc, make may­hem, but:

Instead they dig down to their super-best part,
The strong super-pow­ers con­tained in their heart!”

There are lots of images to look at while you read togeth­er, includ­ing eight super­heroes cre­at­ed just for this book. Beast­ie, Zing, Thrash, Laser­man Mag­nifique, Screech­er, Typhoon, and Icky are good writ­ing prompts, espe­cial­ly for dif­fi­cult days.

Every sin­gle one of us has those crab­by days, down days, exas­per­at­ed days. How are we sup­posed to act? We can look to these super­heroes for inspi­ra­tion to be our best selves.

Cap­tain Amer­i­ca and Avengers star Chris Evans chose to read this book on the CBee­bies ‘Bed­time Sto­ry’ on the BCC!

Fun and emo­tions and resilien­cy and good read­ing all in one pack­age! It’s a mes­sage book but one that will res­onate with many kids. Rec­om­mend­ed for school libraries, pub­lic libraries, and exu­ber­ant book­shelves every­where.

Even Super­heroes Have Bad Days
writ­ten by Shelly Beck­er
illus­trat­ed by Eda Kaban
Ster­ling Children’s Books, 2016

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The Funny and the Heart

Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Amy Krouse Rosen­thal

Jack­ie: Recent­ly Phyl­lis and I read a heart-break­ing col­umn in The New York Times, writ­ten by author Amy Krouse Rosen­thal, who wrote many children’s books, and a cou­ple of books for adults.

The col­umn, writ­ten as a love-note to her hus­band from a dying wife, was heart­felt, sad, and fun­ny all at the same time. We both wished we had known Amy Krouse Rosen­thal. But it was too late. We looked at a few of her books and found the fun­ny and the heart that char­ac­ter­ized that col­umn.

As a way of pay­ing trib­ute, we want to share just a few of her books with you. And I should add that we both want to do this but Phyl­lis is out tramp­ing around after Min­neso­ta wild­flow­ers for a book project so I am on my own this month. I will miss my big-heart­ed friend in writ­ing a col­umn about anoth­er writer with heart, but will do my best.

Yes Day!Humor and heart char­ac­ter­ize all the Amy Krouse Rosen­thal books I have read. A favorite of my grand­chil­dren is Yes Day! Once a year the exu­ber­ant child in this book wakes up to a day in which his par­ents answer all his ques­tions with, “Yes.”

Can I please have piz­za for break­fast?” Turn the page and he is about to enjoy what we know to be, because it’s steam­ing with fla­vor, deli­cious sausage piz­za.

Can I use your hair gel?” Turn the page and the fam­i­ly is pos­ing for a por­trait with our hero stand­ing in front with superbly spiked hair.

Can I clean my room tomor­row?” Yes. Or pick all the cere­als?  And we see in the gro­cery cart Puffed Sug­ar Cere­al, Marsh­mal­low Fluff cere­al (“with bits of actu­al cere­al”), Hot Fudge Sun­dae Flakes (“1 whole oat per serv­ing”).  There are no bad wish­es. Mario can come for din­ner. Our hero can stay up real­ly late. And on the last two pages we see the Yes Day cel­e­brant lying on the ground,  under the stars with his Dad. “Does this day have to end? We know the answer. But his last words are “See you again next year!”

This pic­ture book is so sat­is­fy­ing. Our grand­daugh­ter Ella is sev­en and enjoys the Har­ry Pot­ter books, Bev­er­ly Cleary books, as well as many graph­ic nov­els. But she loved this book, too. And sat through repeat­ed read­ings, laugh­ing at all the jokes.

ChopsticksElla also loved Chop­sticks. This sto­ry of the friend­ship of two chop­sticks is loaded with visu­al and ver­bal puns. “They go every­where togeth­er. They do every­thing togeth­er.” Until one of them snapped. “Chop­stick was quick­ly whisked away,” car­ried by a kitchen whisk. “The oth­ers all wait­ed qui­et­ly. /No one stirred,/ not even Spoon.”

When Chop­stick returns from his surgery, he tells his friend to go off, have adven­tures on his own. One of his hilar­i­ous adven­tures is con­duct­ing an orches­tra of kitchen imple­ments. The turkey baster plays French horn, a fork plays an oven ther­mome­ter that looks like a bas­soon. Who could not love this page?

Who could not love this book which ends with the chop­sticks play­ing “Chop­sticks” on the piano?

Exclamation PointAmy Krouse Rosen­thal had a light touch with seri­ous sub­jects, too. Excla­ma­tion Mark is the sto­ry of a punc­tu­a­tion mark that does not fit in. Hilar­i­ous already, right?  The text and illus­tra­tions appear on what looks like the wide-lined school paper of the ear­ly grades. The book begins “He stood out from the very beginning—on the next page we see a row of cir­cle-drawn peri­ods with lit­tle faces and one peri­od with a long line above it—the Excla­ma­tion Mark. “He tried every­thing to be more like them./But he just wasn’t like every­one else. [Line of peri­ods.] Peri­od.”  After a while he meets a ques­tion mark. Of course it only speaks in ques­tions. “Who are you? What grade are you in? What’s your favorite col­or? Do you like frogs?” And on and on—until Excla­ma­tion Mark says, STOP!” The Ques­tion Mark loves it and asks him to do it again. “Hi!” And again, “Howdy!”  And more. “It was like he broke free from a life sen­tence.” With all its puns and sil­ly phras­es, this is at its core a sto­ry of find­ing one’s place in the world. And that is always sat­is­fy­ing

SpI was famil­iar with only two of Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s books, Spoon, the sto­ry of a spoon who is unhap­py with its role in life, envies the oth­er imple­ments. He says of Chop­sticks, “Every­one thinks they’re real­ly cool and exot­ic! No one thinks I’m cool or exot­ic.” Even­tu­al­ly Spoon real­izes a spoon’s work can be cool—and fun. Such a great idea to tell this tale from the point of view of a spoon. We all need to be remind­ed and remind­ed that we all have a place in the world. And how light-heart­ed to let a spoon char­ac­ter do the remind­ing. And there’s the advan­tage of giv­ing kids per­mis­sion to talk to their spoons.  How many kids now have con­ver­sa­tions with their spoons when they eat their morn­ing cere­al and have Amy Krouse Rosen­thal to thank?

from Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosen­thal, illus­tra­tion copy­right Scott Magoon

Duck! Rabbit!The sec­ond book in my AKR men­tal library was Duck! Rab­bit!, It’s a sto­ry told total­ly in dia­logue about two friends who see a crea­ture that could be a rab­bit with long ears or a duck with a beak. ”Are you kid­ding me?/It’s total­ly a duck./It’s for sure a rabbit./See there’s his bill./What are you talk­ing about?/Those are ears, sil­ly.” It’s a clever turn on two char­ac­ters who can look at the same picture/event/person and come to com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent con­clu­sions.  Final­ly one says, “You know, maybe you were right./Maybe it was a rab­bit.” And the oth­er says, “Thing is, now I’m actu­al­ly think­ing it was a duck.” After this com­ing togeth­er, the sto­ry ends with them see­ing an anteater/brachiosaurus. And we take off again.

If I were a teacher I’d keep a stash of Amy Krouse Rosen­thal books in my bag for those times when kids are antsy, or stand­ing in line to get into the audi­to­ri­um, or just need a good laugh or a good pun. I’m def­i­nite­ly going to keep a stash for my grand­kids. I wish I had said, “Thanks,” when she was still liv­ing. The best I can do is pass these books along to read­ers of all ages who need a smile or actu­al­ly would like to start the day talk­ing to their spoons—or their chop­sticks.

Phyl­lis:  Thank you, Jack­ie, for this month’s col­umn.  Like these books and their author, you, too, have an amaz­ing heart and a sense of joy and delight.  Now, back to my book dead­line….

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Chef Roy Choi’s Story

Chef Roy ChoiEvery time I re-read this book, it makes me hap­pi­er. I’ve grown quite fond of the books being pub­lished by Read­ers to Eaters and I eager­ly antic­i­pate each new book.

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix is anoth­er food arti­san biog­ra­phy from Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin, this time co-writ­ten with June Jo Lee. Jack­ie writes the fla­vor­ful essence of the artist in an irre­sistible recipe of words. June Jo is a food ethno­g­ra­ph­er, “study­ing how Amer­i­ca eats,” and the co-founder of Read­ers to Eaters. As a kid-at-heart, I want a biog­ra­phy writ­ten about her next. Study­ing food?

But this book is about a boy born in South Korea who trav­els to Amer­i­ca at age two with his fam­i­ly and attends school in Cal­i­for­nia. His moth­er is a tal­ent­ed cook, spe­cial­iz­ing in kim­chee, a Kore­an food sta­ple. Her cook­ing is so good that she and her hus­band open a restau­rant. And Roy is fas­ci­nat­ed by what hap­pens there.

He becomes a chef. The authors relate his jour­ney in a way that every kid will under­stand. Even­tu­al­ly, Chef Roy Choi launch­es the Kogi BBQ Taco Truck with a mix­ture of Kore­an and Mex­i­can food. He pre­pares ingre­di­ents by hand, with love, to share with his com­mu­ni­ty. Healthy fast food is a rare thing in his neigh­bor­hood and Kogi is a hit.

One of the main ingre­di­ents for this LA-con­nect­ed book is street art turned into book art by Man One. Don’t miss the authors’ and illustrator’s notes in this book. They will have your stu­dents want­i­ng to know more about these tal­ent­ed book cre­ators. The art in this book (I’m para­phras­ing from his Note) start­ed with spray-paint­ing the back­grounds on large can­vas­es, pho­tograph­ing them, and then work­ing with them dig­i­tal­ly, adding pen­cil and Sharpie to cre­ate tru­ly unique pic­ture book art. He includes many scenes from his community—you can sense the love imbu­ing these pages. His palette, the tex­tures … they’re yum­my.

This is a book filled with so much respect for read­ers, eaters, and kids with aspi­ra­tions … it’s com­plete­ly sat­is­fy­ing.

Don’t miss this for your inspi­ra­tional school and class­room library!

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix
writ­ten by Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin and June Jo Lee
illus­trat­ed by Man One
Read­ers to Eaters, 2017.

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Read Out Loud for Easter

As you pre­pare to cel­e­brate East­er, we encour­age you to include books in your cel­e­bra­tion. A tra­di­tion of read­ing out loud before East­er din­ner, after East­er din­ner, as you awak­en on East­er morn­ing … per­haps each day dur­ing Holy Week? Here are a few gems we believe you and your fam­i­ly will trea­sure. Hap­py East­er!

At Jerusalem's Gate  

At Jerusalem’s Gate: Poems of East­er
writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes, illus­trat­ed by David Framp­ton
Eerd­mans Books for Young Read­ers, 2005

There are twen­ty-two free-form poems in this book, each from the point of view of a wit­ness to the events of the cru­ci­fix­ion and res­ur­rec­tion of Jesus Christ. Each poem could be read by a dif­fer­ent fam­i­ly mem­ber or the poems could be read sep­a­rate­ly through­out the East­er week­end. The wood­cut illus­tra­tions will engen­der con­ver­sa­tions about the style, tech­nique, and details.

The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes

 

The Coun­try Bun­ny and the Lit­tle Gold Shoes
writ­ten by Du Bose Hey­ward, illus­trat­ed by Mar­jorie Flack
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 1939

Lit­tle Cot­ton­tail Moth­er is rais­ing 21 chil­dren, but it’s her dream to become the East­er Bun­ny. As she assigns her chil­dren chores and teach­es them life’s lessons, she gains con­fi­dence to audi­tion for the job of one of the five East­er Bun­nies who deliv­er eggs and bas­kets on East­er Sun­day. It’s a sweet sto­ry still, near­ly 80 years after it was first pub­lished. The bright­ly col­ored illus­tra­tions are mem­o­ry-mak­ing for new gen­er­a­tions of read­ers.

The Easter Story  

The East­er Sto­ry
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Bri­an Wild­smith
Alfred A. Knopf, 1994

The events of Holy Week, the Last Sup­per, the cru­ci­fix­ion, and the Res­ur­rec­tion, are recount­ed through the eyes of the lit­tle don­key that car­ried Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sun­day. With Wildsmith’s dis­tinc­tive illus­tra­tions, this book has been pub­lished in many edi­tions and many lan­guages. A good read-aloud book to add to your East­er book­shelf.

Egg  

Egg
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Kevin Henkes
Green­wil­low Books, 2017

Four eggs, each a dif­fer­ent col­or, hatch (one doesn’t) and the chicks set off—and return for the unhatched egg. When the egg hatch­es, there’s a sur­prise! When the book ends, there’s anoth­er sur­prise! This is a book about friend­ship and grow­ing up, just right for read­ing out loud and for emerg­ing read­ers to read on their own. With sim­ple lines and appeal­ing col­ors, the illus­tra­tions are irre­sistible.

The Golden Egg Book  

The Gold­en Egg Book
writ­ten by Mar­garet Wise Brown, illus­trat­ed by Leonard Weis­gard
Gold­en Books, 1947

A true clas­sic among East­er books, a small bun­ny finds a blue egg. He can hear some­thing mov­ing around inside so he con­jec­tures what it might be. As the bun­ny tries to open the egg, he wears out and falls asleep. Only then does the young duck­ling emerge from the egg. With rich­ly col­ored illus­tra­tions from the mas­ter­ful Leonard Weis­gard, this is a trea­sured book for many chil­dren and fam­i­lies.

Simon of Cyrene and the Legend of the Easter Egg  

Simon of Cyrene and the Leg­end of the East­er Egg
writ­ten by Ter­ri DeGezelle, illus­trat­ed by Gab­hor Uto­mo
Pauline Books & Media, 2017

Based on a few lines about the leg­end of Simon of Cyrene that the author found while research­ing, this book brings to life the expe­ri­ence of the cru­ci­fix­ion and res­ur­rec­tion of Jesus Christ, as told through the per­spec­tive of Simon. He takes eggs to Jerusalem to sell for Passover when he becomes caught up in the pro­ces­sion fol­low­ing Jesus as he car­ries his cross to Cal­vary. As Jesus stum­bles and falls, a Roman sol­dier forces Simon to bear the cross instead. Told with a live­ly nar­ra­tive and bright­ly col­ored, sat­is­fy­ing illus­tra­tions, this is a good sto­ry to choose for read-alouds, open­ing up an oppor­tu­ni­ty to dis­cuss the many aspects of the East­er sto­ry.

Story of Easter  

Sto­ry of East­er
writ­ten by Aileen Fish­er, illus­trat­ed by Ste­fano Vitale
Harper­Collins, 1997

With an infor­ma­tive text and glo­ri­ous illus­tra­tions, this book explains both how and why peo­ple all over the world cel­e­brate East­er. It tells the bib­li­cal sto­ry of Jesus’ Res­ur­rec­tion and then describes how peo­ple hon­or this day and the ori­gins of these tra­di­tions. Hands-on activ­i­ties help draw chil­dren into the spir­it of this joy­ous cel­e­bra­tion of rebirth.

Story of the Easter Bunny  

Sto­ry of the East­er Bun­ny
writ­ten by Kather­ine Tegen, illus­trat­ed by Sal­ly Anne Lam­bert Harper­Collins, 2005

Most peo­ple know about the East­er Bun­ny, but how did the East­er Bun­ny get his job and how does he accom­plish the dis­tri­b­u­tion of so many col­or­ful eggs each East­er? It all began in a small cot­tage with an old cou­ple who dye the eggs and weave the bas­kets. One East­er, they sleep in and it’s their pet white rabbit’s deci­sion to deliv­er the eggs and choco­late, there­by start­ing a tra­di­tion. Told in a mat­ter-of-fact style with appeal­ing, detailed illus­tra­tions, this is a good addi­tion to your East­er tra­di­tion.

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March Shorts

Oooo! Here in Min­neso­ta, shorts in March mean chills. These books will give you chills–in a good way!

Cat Goes Fiddle-I-FeeCat Goes Fid­dle-I-Fee
Adapt­ed and illus­trat­ed by Paul Gal­done
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 1985
(reis­sued in April 2017)

I rec­og­nized the title imme­di­ate­ly as I song I know well, sung as “I Had a Roost­er” by Pete Seeger on Birds, Beasts, Bugs & Lit­tle Fish­es in 1968. Turns out, I remem­ber the rhyme more than the words. Gal­done wrote a dif­fer­ent adap­ta­tion of this folk tale, one that is irre­sistible for read­ing out loud. In fact, even if you’re sit­ting alone in a room by your­self, you’re going to want to read this out loud. The words and the rhyme scheme are fun. Kids at sto­ry­time and kids in a class­room and kids sit­ting on your lap will want to sing along … and quite pos­si­bly dance. In this new edi­tion, Galdone’s illus­tra­tions are friend­ly. Find the snail. Who shares the page with the dog? There are many ani­mals to exam­ine and they don’t always make the expect­ed sounds: “Hen goes chim­my-chuck, chim­my-chuck.” As the tale builds cumu­la­tive­ly, it’s a good exer­cise in mem­o­ry and rep­e­ti­tion, and just plain fun. Turns out it’s a dif­fer­ent sto­ry than Seeger’s so both of them could be used. 

Hoot & Honk Just Can't SleepHoot & Honk Just Can’t Sleep
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Leslie Helakos­ki
Ster­ling Children’s Books, 2017

Two eggs, one from an owl’s nest and one from a goose’s nest, tum­ble to the ground dur­ing a wind storm. When the mamas take home the wrong eggs, the hatch­lings are con­fused. The owlet doesn’t like the food the oth­er goslings like and the gosling doesn’t want what the owlets are hun­gry for. And their sleep pat­terns are quite dif­fer­ent. A won­der­ful way to open up the dis­cus­sion about dif­fer­ent birds with young lis­ten­ers, this is a gor­geous book with a hap­py-go-lucky spir­it. Illus­trat­ed by Helakos­ki with pas­tels on sand­ed paper, the col­or is sump­tu­ous, the views have depth, and everyone’s going to want to touch the bird’s feath­ers. And who can resist the main char­ac­ters’ names? Hoot. Honk. Hoot and Honk. 

Charlotte the Scientist is SquishedChar­lotte the Sci­en­tist is Squished
writ­ten by Camille Andros
illus­trat­ed by Bri­anne Far­ley
Clar­i­on Books, 2017

I squealed after I read this book. This is exact­ly the book I would have read and re-read when I was a kid. The fly papers are dia­grams of the inside of a rock­et, labeled care­ful­ly so there’s much to pon­der. Char­lotte is a bun­ny rab­bit with a prob­lem. She is a seri­ous sci­en­tist with no room to con­duct her work. She has a large fam­i­ly, as some bun­nies do, and they’re always under­foot. So Char­lotte employs the Sci­en­tif­ic Method to solve her prob­lem. She cre­ates a hypoth­e­sis and tried her exper­i­ment and draws a con­clu­sion. And all of this is done with a great amount of humor sup­plied by the author and the illus­tra­tor, a seam­less sto­ry. That car­rot-shaped rock­et is delight­ful and so is the bun­ny in the fish­bowl. At the end of the book, there’s a fea­ture “In the lab with Char­lotte,” that uses Charlotte’s exper­i­ments for a dis­cus­sion of the sci­en­tif­ic method. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

Anywhere FarmAny­where Farm
writ­ten by Phyl­lis Root
illus­trat­ed by G. Bri­an Karas
Can­dlewick Press, 2017

Where can you farm? Any­where! Togeth­er, Root and Karas present con­vinc­ing argu­ments for grow­ing your own food wher­ev­er and how­ev­er you can. “For an any­where farm, here’s all that you need: soil and sun­shine, some water, a seed.“With soft vignettes that look close­ly at ways and means to plant seeds, “Kale in a pail, corn in a horn,” to cir­cu­lar depic­tions of neigh­bors tend­ing their small-scale farms, to two-page spreads that show an urban com­mu­ni­ty involved in gar­den­ing, the blend of poet­ry and illus­tra­tions make this book an appeal­ing invi­ta­tion to try your hand at farm­ing … any­where. Read­ers will have fun detect­ing all the places grow­ing plants can be sup­port­ed. As kids and adults of all ages and abil­i­ties work togeth­er, the lush end to this book is a sat­is­fy­ing one. Excuse me, won’t you? I’m off to ger­mi­nate my seeds!

Peg­gy
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Anna Walk­er
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 2017 paper­back

I pro­nounce this a Pic­ture-Book-of-the-Absurd, delight­ful­ly so. “Peg­gy lived in a small house on a qui­et street.” Her chick­en coop in the back­yard of a sub­ur­ban house has a tram­po­line out­side. “Every day, rain or shine, Peg­gy ate break­fast, played in her yard, and watched the pigeons.” In a series of nine “slides” (do you remem­ber slides?) on each page, we observe Peg­gy doing just these things … with joy and When Peg­gy is blown off her tram­po­line by a strong wind into the unfa­mil­iar envi­ron­ment of down­town, does she pan­ic? No. She takes the oppor­tu­ni­ty to explore. In vignettes, Peg­gy eats spaghet­ti, she rides an esca­la­tor, and she shops for bar­gains. The soft, mut­ed water­col­or palette of the book is punc­tu­at­ed by Peggy’s black feath­ers, mak­ing her easy to fol­low as she ulti­mate­ly decides she’d rather be at home. But how will she get there? Clues plant­ed ear­li­er in the sto­ry give her ideas and ulti­mate­ly she finds her way back to her chick­en coop with new-found friends. This is an ide­al book for shar­ing one-on-one, exam­in­ing the humor on every page as the intre­pid Peg­gy shares her sto­ry.

RoundRound
writ­ten by Joyce Sid­man
illus­trat­ed by Taee­un Yoo
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 2017

Do any of us spend enough time notic­ing the nat­ur­al world around us? Do we look at the shape of things? Do we won­der enough about why they are in the shapes they are? What about all of the round things in the world? The moon. water, lily pads, rocks … so many spe­cif­ic things to notice, observe, and appre­ci­ate. Joyce Sidman’s poem leads the lis­ten­er into this explo­ration: “I love to watch round things move. They are so good at it!” Yoo’s illus­tra­tions find things to show us that are not in the text … words and illus­tra­tions blend­ing togeth­er into a book that is more than its parts. Col­or­ful and charm­ing, the book’s design gets every­thing right. Even the author’s bios on the back jack­et flap are pre­sent­ed in round shapes! Two pages in back ask “Why are so many things in nature round?” Short para­graphs from the author will broad­en your vision, lead­ing to dis­cus­sions and notic­ing more each time you walk out­side.

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

From the glossy cov­er to the moon’s expres­sive face to the brack­et­ed, you-didn’t-know-that facts, every­thing about this book is appeal­ing. Salas has a way of look­ing at some­thing as famil­iar as the moon while encour­ag­ing us to think about it in fresh ways, poet­i­cal­ly obser­vant, wak­ing-you-up ways. The moon as a bal­le­ri­na? Of course, and for very good rea­son. In brack­ets, the facts: “The moon spins on its invis­i­ble axis, mak­ing a full turn every twen­ty-sev­en days.” Kim illus­trates this spread with a con­tent­ed, bal­let-danc­ing moon that can’t help but make the read­er smile. “Weave a spell over won­der­ers.”? The brack­et inspires us with “Claire de Lune” and “The Moon is Dis­tant from the Sea.” The illus­tra­tion shows the Baule peo­ple of the Ivory Coast in fes­ti­val masks. All of this is set in the vibrant col­ors of a moon­lit night. It’s an inspir­ing book pre­sent­ed with the right bal­ance for kids who love a poet­ic pre­sen­ta­tion as well as fac­tu­al infor­ma­tion.

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Our Hearts Will Hold Us Up

Jack­ie: It seems per­fect­ly appro­pri­ate that the Man­ag­er of Hol­i­day Place­ment  has placed Valentine’s Day, a day to cel­e­brate love and affec­tion, right in the mid­dle of cold, dark Feb­ru­ary. I want that cel­e­bra­tion to spread out for the whole month (why not the whole year?) the way the smell of bak­ing bread fills an entire house, not just the kitchen. Why can’t all of Feb­ru­ary be Heart Month? We are choos­ing books this month with that goal in mind. We want to cel­e­brate heart, love, ties of affec­tion. And we have cho­sen a new book, a cou­ple of medi­um new books and an old book to help us.

More, More, More Said the BabyA while back we did an entire col­umn on Vera B. Williams. But I am still miss­ing her. I need her polit­i­cal activism and her huge heart in my neigh­bor­hood. I turned to More, More, More Said the Baby. (Green­wil­low, 1990). 

This book is a huge cel­e­bra­tion of the love between dad­dies and kids:

Just look at you
With your per­fect bel­ly but­ton
Right in the mid­dle
Right in the mid­dle
Right in the mid­dle
Of your fat lit­tle bel­ly.
Then Lit­tle Guy’s dad­dy
Brings that baby
Right up close
And gives that lit­tle guy’s bel­ly
A kiss right I the mid­dle
Of the bel­ly but­ton.

Between grand­mas and kids:

Then Lit­tle Pumpkin’s grand­ma
Brings that baby right up close
And tastes each
Of Lit­tle Pumpkin’s toes.

And mamas and kids:

Just look at you
With your two closed eyes
Then Lit­tle Bird’s Mama…
Gives that lit­tle bird a kiss
Right on each of her lit­tle eyes.

I nev­er tire of read­ing about these chil­dren, diverse chil­dren, who are so loved and so val­ued. This book will be fresh as long as we laugh and kiss babies with bel­ly but­tons and ten lit­tle toes.

Phyl­lis:; I miss Vera B. Williams, too, and I love see­ing her spir­it still alive in her books and also in the hearts of peo­ple every­where who care about peo­ple every­where. Her lan­guage in More More More is so delicious–along with the rep­e­ti­tion we have live­ly verbs of inter­ac­tion between grown-ups and beloved chil­dren (swing, scoot, catch that baby up).  Lit­tle Guy, Lit­tle Pump­kin, and Lit­tle Bird have names that could be any child’s. I love, too, the exu­ber­ant art and hand let­tered mul­ti-col­ored text. Every­thing about this book cel­e­brates tak­ing joy in our chil­dren.

My Heart Will Not Sit DownJack­ie: In My Heart Will Not Sit Down, (Alfred Knopf, 2012) empa­thy and car­ing for oth­ers trav­el around the world. Rock­liff cre­ates a school child Kedi, who hears from her teacher about the hun­gry chil­dren in New York City and can­not stop think­ing about them. She asks her moth­er for a coin to send them. Her moth­er says they have no coins to spare. “Kedi knew Mama was right. Still, her heart would not sit down.” She asks an uncle, a sweep­ing moth­er with a baby on her back, a grand­moth­er pound­ing cas­sa­va, laugh­ing girls who car­ried pots of riv­er water, old men play­ing a game of stones, even the head­man. No one has coins… Until the next morn­ing when her mama gives her one coin. She takes the coin to school, think­ing that one coin can do lit­tle good for the hun­gry chil­dren. Then the vil­lagers show up—each bear­ing a coin. “We have heard about the hunger in our teacher’s vil­lage,” said the head­man. “Our hearts would not sit down until we helped.” 

Phyl­lis:  This is one of those books that called to me from the shelf in a book­store and cap­ti­vat­ed my heart once I opened it. Kedi’s heart stands up for the hun­gry chil­dren in New York, Amer­i­ca, as she calls it. When the vil­lagers bring their coins, which the author notes would be a small for­tune to the vil­lage even though $3.77 would not go far in Amer­i­ca even in the Depres­sion, her mama asks, “Now will your heart sit down in peace?” Kedi answers, “Yes, Mama, Yes!”  The author notes, too, that in Cameroon, where the event occurred on which the sto­ry is based, peo­ple shared with any­one in need, even strangers, because, as they said, “You may meet him [a stranger] again, and in his own place.” This sto­ry reminds me that the actions of one small per­son can touch many hearts and feed hun­gry chil­dren.

The Heart and the BottleJack­ie: Hearts can spur us to action. Hearts can break. And the last two books are gen­tle sto­ries of the heartache of loss. Oliv­er Jef­fers writes of a “lit­tle girl…whose head was filled with all the curiosi­ties of the world.” Jef­fers shows us this lit­tle girl talk­ing with her grand­pa who sits in a chair, lying under the stars with her grand­pa. He accom­pa­nies her on all her explores. And then one day the chair is emp­ty. She decides to put her heart in a bot­tle to keep it safe. After that she wasn’t curi­ous. She grows up and the bot­tled heart is heavy around her neck.  When she wish­es to retrieve her heart she can’t—until she meets anoth­er lit­tle girl.

This is a sto­ry about deal­ing with sadness—we want to pro­tect our hearts but we lose so much when we wall them up.

Phyl­lis:  Oliv­er Jef­fers both wrote and illus­trat­ed The Heart and the Bot­tle, and the illus­tra­tions help car­ry the events and the emo­tions of the sto­ry.  When the girl who has bot­tled her heart decides as a grown-up to take her heart out again, the art shows her try­ing to shake the heart out, grip it with pli­ers, break the bot­tle with a ham­mer, and final­ly, aban­don­ing her work bench cov­ered with a drill, a cross cut saw, a wood­en mal­let, screw­driv­er, and oth­er assort­ed tools includ­ing a vac­u­um clean­er lean­ing again the bench, she climbs a lad­der to the top of an enor­mous­ly tall brick wall and drops the bot­tle which still doesn’t break but just “bounced and rolled…right down to the sea” where a lit­tle girl eas­i­ly frees the heart from the bot­tle and returns it.  The book ends, “The heart was put back where it came from.  And the chair wasn’t emp­ty any­more. But the bot­tle was.” Here, too, the art reflects that the woman’s  world is once again filled with won­der.  We need our hearts with­in us.

Cry, Heart, But Never BreakJack­ie: Cry, Heart, But Nev­er Break comes to us from Den­mark. It was writ­ten by Glenn Ringtved, illus­trat­ed by Char­lotte Par­di and trans­lat­ed by Robert Moulthrop (Enchant­ed Lion Books, 2016).  This book also deals with loss. Four chil­dren live with their grandmother—“A kind­ly woman, she had cared for them for many years.” Then Death knocks at the door. The chil­dren decide to fore­stall Death’s mis­sion with cof­fee. They will keep him drink­ing cof­fee all night so he can­not take their grand­moth­er, thus giv­ing her anoth­er day of life. Even­tu­al­ly he has had enough. And one of the chil­dren asks why grand­moth­er has to die. And then comes: “Some peo­ple say Death’s heart is as dead and black as a piece of coal, but that is not true. Beneath his inky cloak, Death’s heart is as red as the most beau­ti­ful sun­set and beats with a great love of life.” He tells them a sto­ry of Sor­row and Grief meet­ing and falling in love with Delight and Joy. “What would life be worth if there were no death? Who would enjoy the sun if it nev­er rained? Who would yearn for day if there were no night?”

When Death goes to the Grandmother’s room, he says to the chil­dren, “Cry, Heart, but nev­er break. Let your tears of grief and sad­ness begin a new life.” Char­lotte Pardi’s illus­tra­tions are per­fect for this book, sim­ple and ten­der. We see what appears to be quick­ly-sketched fur­ni­ture in the night kitchen—we know this is a sto­ry. And yet we con­nect with the emo­tions on the children’s faces.

Cry, Heart, But Never Break

Cry, Heart, But Nev­er Break. Illus­tra­tion © Char­lotte Par­di.

Phyl­lis: I love that the chil­dren ply Death with cof­fee, which Death loves, strong and black, and that it’s the youngest child who looks right at Death and even­tu­al­ly puts her hand over his. But even cof­fee can’t stop Death; when he goes  upstairs the chil­dren hear the win­dow open and Death say, “Fly, soul, fly away.” Their hearts grieve and cry but do not break. Some (but not all) of the best books about Death come, inter­est­ing­ly, from oth­er coun­tries. But this book is not only about Death it is about the neces­si­ty of a life with both sor­row and grief and also joy and delight. This is a book that makes me cry and hope for all our hearts that they nev­er com­plete­ly break.

Jack­ie: We start­ed with connection—the con­nec­tions of babies and fam­i­lies, and we have come round to loss of con­nec­tion, when what remains is love. Our hearts will hold us up.

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The Books in the Night

Phyl­lis: Night means many things: the ter­ri­fy­ing dark­ness behind the garage where I had to car­ry the garbage after sup­per as a child, the dark night of the soul that depres­sion brings, the hours between sun­set and sun­rise that grow longer and longer as our earth turns into win­ter. But night holds com­fort as well as fear, and this month we want to look at books about the gifts that night and dark­ness can bring.

In the Night KitchenWho hasn’t heard of Mick­ey who “heard a rack­et in the night and shout­ed ‘Qui­et down there!’ and fell through the dark out of his clothes past the moon and his mama and papa sleep­ing tight and into the light of the night kitchen?” (Mau­rice Sendak moves through more action in his mar­velous first sen­tences than almost any oth­er author we can think of.)  The Night Kitchen is Sendak’s imag­ined answer to what might have hap­pened after he had to go to bed as a child, and his com­ic-book art pays trib­ute to the comics that influ­enced his work. This book has encoun­tered both pub­lic and pri­vate cen­sor­ship, includ­ing librar­i­ans paint­ing dia­pers or clothes on Mick­ey to cov­er his nudi­ty, but chil­dren love the adven­ture he dis­cov­ers in the night kitchen.

Jack­ie: Sendak’s edi­tor, the leg­endary Ursu­la Nord­strom, was elo­quent in defend­ing her books from such cen­sor­ship. She once wrote to a teacher who had burned a copy of In the Night Kitchen, “I think young chil­dren will always react with delight to such a book as In the Night Kitchen, and that they will react cre­ative­ly and whole­some­ly. It is only adults who ever feel threat­ened by Sendak’s work.” (Dear Genius, p.302)

Where Does the Brown Bear Go?Phyl­lis: Sendak imag­ines a rol­lick­ing adven­ture mak­ing cake for break­fast, while Nik­ki Weiss, right from the title, asks, Where Does the Brown Bear Go? Love­ly in its sim­plic­i­ty and strong at its heart, this series of rhyming ques­tions, one to a spread, won­ders where ani­mals go when night falls:

When the lights go down on the city street
Where does the white cat go, hon­ey?
Where does the white cat go?
When evening set­tles
On the jun­gle heat,
Where does the mon­key go, hon­ey?
Where does the mon­key go?

After every two ques­tions, the same answer comes: 

They are on their way.
They are on their way home.

This would be a sweet cat­a­log of ani­mals head­ed home at night, but the book res­onates more deeply when it asks: 

When the junk­yard is lit
By the light of the moon
Where does the junk­yard dog go, hon­ey?
 Where does the junk­yard dog go? 

Know­ing that even the junk­yard dog is on his way home moves me almost to tears. 

Jack­ie: Same here. And it urges me to imag­ine what is home for the junk­yard dog and to put myself in that home for just a bit.

Phyl­lis: The last page shows a boy snug­gled in bed sur­round­ed by his stuffed ani­mals (who resem­ble the ani­mals of the pre­ced­ing pages), and the book’s last line reas­sures us that every­one is home. It’s what we wish for every one of us, that a home awaits us at night where we are safe and cher­ished.

Night on Neighborhood StreetEloise Greenfield’s Night on Neigh­bor­hood Street uses a vari­ety of poet­ic forms to tell the sto­ries of the chil­dren and grown-ups who live on Neigh­bor­hood Street as night falls and bed­time arrives. Juma stretch­es out his bed­time with a will­ing dad­dy, a new baby cries and is rocked lov­ing­ly to sleep, a fam­i­ly gath­ers for “fam­bly time” on the floor, Tonya’s moth­er plays her horn for Tonya’s friends at an overnight, the church con­gre­ga­tion sings songs of praise, and Karen lets her sis­ter be the mama when their mama has to work at night.  But the dark­er side of life appears as well:  a lone­some boy wait­ing for his friend to come home looks at the moon “with a sad, sad eye/poking out his mouth/getting ready to cry.” A drug deal­er comes around, but the chil­dren “see behind his easy smile” and head inside. A “broth­er who tries to pick a fight” is shut down when every­one else nods and smiles and lets him know they’re not inter­est­ed in fight­ing. The book ends with Tonya’s mama blow­ing lul­la­by sounds on her horn into the silence of the street. And the chil­dren “hear and smile…and they are at peace with the night.” 

Jack­ie: I love how the fam­i­lies watch out for each oth­er in this book. There is such a strong sense that chil­dren are cared for. Tonya’s Mama is a good exam­ple of this:

When Tonya’s friends come to spend the night
Her mama’s more than just polite
She says she’s glad they came to call
Tells them that she loves them all
Lis­tens to what they can do
Tells them what she’s good at, too.
Plays her horn and lets them sing
(Do they make that music swing!)…

We aren’t sure why Tonya’s friends are there. Per­haps there was trou­ble, per­haps it’s just a vis­it. But we are sure that Tonya’s moth­er is strong and will love and take care of  these chil­dren. Neigh­bor­hood Street is a neigh­bor­hood indeed, where all are made stronger by watch­ing out for each oth­er.

The House in the NightPhyl­lis: Susan Marie Swanson’s The House in the Night, inspired by a nurs­ery rhyme from The Oxford Nurs­ery Rhyme Book, is also decep­tive­ly sim­ple in its text. The sto­ry is told in short declar­a­tive sen­tences, one sen­tence each to a dou­ble page spread of Beth Krommes’ Calde­cott-win­ning scratch­board illus­tra­tions illu­mi­nat­ed with bright yel­low stars, lamp­light, moon, and oth­er objects. “Here is the key to the house,” the book begins.  In the house a light burns, a book rests on a bed, a bird flies with a song about star­ry dark, moon, sun, all of which cir­cles back (in short­er phras­es, a beau­ti­ful use of syn­tax) to the house in the night where art shows a par­ent lov­ing­ly tuck­ing in the child who has read the book in “the house full of light.” Utter­ly beau­ti­ful and sat­is­fy­ing.

Jack­ie: There is so much to notice in this book. First the trav­el and the won­der­ful verbs:  In the house burns a light/In the light rests a bed./On that bed waits a book./In that book flies a bird./In that bird breathes a song….” We go all the way to the moon and the sun—and return. And for the jour­ney back Susan Marie Swan­son uses no verbs. We zoom from one place to the next. It real­ly feels like space trav­el.

Sun in the moon,
moon in the dark,
dark in the song,
song in the bird,
bird in the book,
book on the bed,
bed in the light,
light in the house,…

You are right, Phyl­lis. This is such a sat­is­fy­ing trip back to the cozy bed­room of the house in the night.

Sweetest KuluPhyl­lis:  Not all nights are dark. The sum­mer sun nev­er real­ly sets in the arc­tic, although some­one who lives there told me how the qual­i­ty of light changes under the mid­night sun. (Some­day I hope to see for myself.) In the Arc­tic Sum­mer of Sweet­est Kulu by Celi­na Kalluk nature comes to give its gifts to lit­tle Kulu on the day he is born. The sun gives him “blan­kets and rib­bons of warm light,” wind tells how weath­er forms, snow buntings bring seeds of flow­ers and Arc­tic cot­ton, “remind­ing you to always believe in your­self.” Arc­tic Char, Fox, Nar­wahl and Bel­u­ga, Muskrat, Polar Bear, and the Land itself all offer gifts  both tan­gi­ble and intan­gi­ble. This is a child wel­comed and cher­ished by all.  A final piece of art shows Kulu nes­tled with a polar bear cub in a cir­cle of grass and flow­ers.  Exquis­ite­ly beau­ti­ful and lov­ing, this is a book as full of light and joy as the end­less Arc­tic sum­mer days. 

Jack­ie: I am so impressed with the lan­guage of this book. Many phras­es caught my ear. Here are a cou­ple of exam­ples: “Melodies of wind arrived,” “Fox, so thought­ful and swift,/came to tell you to get out of bed as soon as you wake,/and to help any­one who may need your help along your way…”

This bed­time lul­la­by res­onates with old­er read­ers, too.  We are dai­ly remind­ed in our own lives of Muskox’s gift. “Muskox shared her­itage and empow­er­ment with you,/magnificent Kulu,/showing you how to pro­tect what you believe in.”

These night­time books, whether in the kitchen, on Neigh­bor­hood Street, in the cozy house in the night, or in the Arc­tic urge us to qui­et, to being in a qui­et world, where we have space and time to appre­ci­ate what is around us in the phys­i­cal world as well as what is in our hearts and how they are strength­ened by affec­tion and care.

Phyl­lis: This is the sea­son for qui­et, after the bloom­ing and buzzing of sum­mer. As days short­en and the nights stretch out toward sol­stice, choose a book or sev­er­al to read aloud, an act as com­fort­ing as a cup of warm cocoa and a fire in the fire­place.

Here are a few more night sto­ries:

Can’t Sleep by Chris Rasch­ka

Good Night Sleep Tight by Mem Fox

Good Night, Goril­la by Peg­gy Rath­man

Night Flight by Joanne Ryder

Night Nois­es by Mem Fox

Ten Nine Eight by Mol­ly Bang

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Orbiting Kindergarten

Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in OrbitThat live­ly, quirky-think­ing duo from Plan­et Kinder­garten have teamed up once again for Plan­et Kinder­garten: 100 Days in Orbit. Many schools use the 100-day mark­er to reflect on how far they’ve come since the first day of kinder­garten. Social graces, eti­quette, mind­ful­ness, assign­ments, singing, pledges … they’re all includ­ed in this new book.

But the extra-fun twist is that our hero recounts the entire sto­ry as a trip into space aboard a star­ship filled with aliens and a thought­ful com­man­der. 

A class­mate who becomes sick doing “anti-grav­i­ty exer­cis­es” is kind­ly accom­pa­nied to the Nurse’s Office by our hero. Shane Prig­more, the illus­tra­tor, reminds us of the excit­ing scene from Star Wars, the first movie, in which Luke Sky­walk­er zeros in on the Death­star, with a hall­ful of doors, slight­ly askew, and the red-doored office at the end. Adults and old­er sib­lings will get the ref­er­ence and con­tin­ue look­ing for more. 

Wait­ing for show-and-tell, our hero says “Then, like the Apol­lo astro­nauts, we wait to be called up. It takes for­ev­er before my turn.” May­hem ensues when there’s a tricky maneu­ver … but these chil­dren aliens are quick to lend a hand, because that’s what they’ve learned in Plan­et Kinder­garten!

Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in Orbit

The illus­tra­tions are bold and fun­ny and cued-up with plen­ty to notice and appre­ci­ate. The sto­ry is clever but that nev­er gets in the way. It’s a very good sto­ry to read out loud, savor as a child-and-adult read­ing book, or use in the class­room to inspire space-themed play and imag­i­na­tion. Count me in as a moon cir­cling this plan­et!

Plan­et Kinder­garten: 100 Days in Orbit
writ­ten by Sue Ganz-Schmitt
illus­trat­ed by Shane Prig­more
Chron­i­cle Books, 2016

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Thanksgiving is a Good Time for a Book

Thanks­giv­ing is fast approach­ing, As food is being pre­pared and fam­i­ly gath­ers, as food is being digest­ed and some peo­ple are nap­ping, as sports and shop­ping beck­on, per­haps it’s a good time to take out a stack of Thanks­giv­ing books to read aloud as a fam­i­ly. Here are 11 books that reflect the Thanks­giv­ing hol­i­day with many dif­fer­ent sto­ries, rang­ing in age from very young to teens … with books adults will enjoy as well. Hap­py Thanks­giv­ing!

1621: a New Look at Thanksgiving  

1621: a New Look at Thanks­giv­ing 
writ­ten by Cather­ine O’Neill Grace
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Children’s Books, 2004

Coun­ter­ing the pre­vail­ing, tra­di­tion­al sto­ry of the first Thanks­giv­ing, with its black-hat­ted, sil­ver-buck­led Pil­grims; blan­ket-clad, be-feath­ered Indi­ans; cran­ber­ry sauce; pump­kin pie; and turkey, this lush­ly illus­trat­ed pho­to-essay presents a more mea­sured, bal­anced, and his­tor­i­cal­ly accu­rate ver­sion of the three-day har­vest cel­e­bra­tion in 1621.”

 

Bal­loons Over Broad­way:
the True Sto­ry of the Pup­peteer of Macy’s Parade

writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Melis­sa Sweet
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 2011

Everyone’s a New York­er on Thanks­giv­ing Day, when young and old rise ear­ly to see what giant new bal­loons will fill the skies for Macy’s Thanks­giv­ing Day Parade. Who first invent­ed these “upside-down pup­pets”? Meet Tony Sarg, pup­peteer extra­or­di­naire! In bril­liant col­lage illus­tra­tions, Melis­sa Sweet tells the sto­ry of the pup­peteer Tony Sarg, cap­tur­ing his genius, his ded­i­ca­tion, his zest for play, and his long-last­ing gift to America—the inspired heli­um bal­loons that would become the trade­mark of Macy’s Parade.”

Boy in the Black Suit  

Boy in the Black Suit
writ­ten by Jason Reynolds
Atheneum, 2016

A book for old­er chil­dren and adults, Matt’s moth­er has just died and his father isn’t doing well. Matt’s on his own so he gets a job at a funer­al home, where he’s sur­prised by how mov­ing he finds the sto­ries behind these funer­als. When he meets one young woman whose beloved grand­moth­er just died, he goes on his first “date” with her … at the home­less shel­ter where she and her grand­moth­er have always served Thanks­giv­ing din­ner. This is an uplift­ing sto­ry of friend­ship, car­ing, and heal­ing.

Cranberry Thanksgiving  

Cran­ber­ry Thanks­giv­ing
writ­ten by Wende Devlin
illus­trat­ed by Har­ry Devlin
Pur­ple House Press, 2012

First pub­lished in 1971, this beloved favorite shares the sto­ry of Grand­moth­er invit­ing a guest for Thanks­giv­ing din­ner and allow­ing Mag­gie to do the same. “Ask some­one poor or lone­ly,” she always said. Thanks­giv­ing was Grandmother’s favorite day of the year. The cook­ing was done and her famous cran­ber­ry bread was cool­ing on a wood­en board. But she wasn’t hap­py to find out Mag­gie had invit­ed the unsa­vory Mr. Whiskers to din­ner. Would her secret cran­ber­ry bread recipe be safe with him in the house?”

Give Thanks to the Lord  

Give Thanks to the Lord
writ­ten by Kar­ma Wil­son
illus­trat­ed by Amy June Bates
Zon­derkidz, 2013

Cel­e­brate the sea­son in this heart­warm­ing sto­ry that ref­er­ences Psalm 92 in ten­der rhyme from award-win­ning author Kar­ma Wil­son. Told from the point of view of one young mem­ber of an extend­ed fam­i­ly, Give Thanks to the Lord cel­e­brates joy of all kinds, from the arrival of dis­tant rel­a­tives to a cozy house already filled with mer­ri­ment, to apple cider and the deli­cious smells of roast­ing turkey and bak­ing pie.  And just when your mouth is water­ing, sit down and join a thank­ful child in prayer, prais­ing God for ‘food and fun and fam­i­ly, all the won­der­ful things I see.’ ”

Giving Thanks  

Giv­ing Thanks:
Poems, Prayers, and Praise Songs of Thanks­giv­ing 

writ­ten by Kather­ine Pater­son
illus­trat­ed by Pamela Dal­ton
Chron­i­cle Books, 2013

Kather­ine Paterson’s med­i­ta­tions on what it means to be tru­ly grate­ful and Pamela Dalton’s exquis­ite cut-paper illus­tra­tions are paired with a col­lec­tion of over 50 graces, poems, and praise songs from a wide range of cul­tures, reli­gions, and voic­es. The unique col­lab­o­ra­tion between these two extra­or­di­nary artists flow­ers in this impor­tant and stun­ning­ly beau­ti­ful reflec­tion on the act of giv­ing thanks.”

Gracias, the Thanksgiving Turkey  

Gra­cias, the Thanks­giv­ing Turkey
writ­ten by Joy Cow­ley
illus­trat­ed by Joe Cepe­da
Harper­Collins, reis­sued in 2006

Miguel’s truck­er father is on the road and Miguel is wor­ried about him mak­ing it home in time for Thanks­giv­ing. But then Papa sends a big wood­en crate with the mes­sage, “Fat­ten this turkey for Thanks­giv­ing. I’ll be home to share it with you.” Miguel names the turkey Gra­cias and takes him for walks in New York City. Adven­tures fol­lows. Miguel wants des­per­ate­ly to save Gra­cias from the Thanks­giv­ing table. Fun and high-spir­it­ed tale.

How Many Days to America?  

How Many Days to Amer­i­ca? a Thanks­giv­ing Sto­ry
writ­ten by Eve Bunting
illus­trat­ed by Beth Peck
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 1990

When sol­diers come to their home in the mid­dle of the night, father and moth­er decide they must flee their coun­try for their family’s safe­ty. This is the tale of that jour­ney and their land­ing in Amer­i­ca on the Thanks­giv­ing hol­i­day, where the fam­i­ly is thank­ful for free­dom and safe­ty.

Squanto's Journey  

Squanto’s Jour­ney: The Sto­ry of the First Thanks­giv­ing 
writ­ten by Joseph Bruchac
illus­trat­ed by Greg Shed
Sil­ver Whis­tle, 2000

In 1620 an Eng­lish ship called the Mayflower land­ed on the shores inhab­it­ed by the Pokanoket peo­ple, and it was Squan­to who wel­comed the new­com­ers and taught them how to sur­vive in the rugged land they called Ply­mouth. He showed them how to plant corn, beans, and squash, and how to hunt and fish. And when a good har­vest was gath­ered in the fall, the two peo­ples feast­ed togeth­er in the spir­it of peace and broth­er­hood.”

Thankful  

Thank­ful
writ­ten by Eileen Spinel­li
illus­trat­ed by Archie Pre­ston
Zon­derkidz, 2016

A book that con­veys “the impor­tance of being thank­ful for every­day bless­ings. Like the gar­den­er thank­ful for every green sprout, and the fire­man, for putting the fire out, read­ers are encour­aged to be thank­ful for the many bless­ings they find in their lives.”

Thanks a Million  

Thanks a Mil­lion
writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes
illus­trat­ed by Cozbi A. Cabr­era
Green­wil­low Books, 2006

A very appro­pri­ate book for your Thanks­giv­ing cel­e­bra­tion, there are six­teen poems that range in form from a haiku to a rebus to a rid­dle, Nik­ki Grimes reminds us how won­der­ful it is to feel thank­ful, and how pow­er­ful a sim­ple “thank you” can be. This book can be used through­out the year as well. In class­rooms, this is a good men­tor text for cre­at­ing poems of thanks and grat­i­tude.

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William Steig and Transmogrification

bk_sylvester_200pxJack­ie: After Phyl­lis and I read Amos and Boris for our last month’s arti­cle on boats we both won­dered why we hadn’t looked at the work of William Steig. He so often exe­cutes that very sat­is­fy­ing com­bi­na­tion of humor and heart. Steig’s lan­guage is fun­ny but his sto­ries reg­u­lar­ly involve wor­ri­some sep­a­ra­tion and then return to a lov­ing fam­i­ly.

William Steig was born to immi­grant Jew­ish par­ents from East­ern Europe in 1907. His father was a painter and dec­o­ra­tor and his moth­er was a seam­stress. When the Depres­sion came, Steig sup­port­ed the fam­i­ly by sell­ing car­toons to The New York­er mag­a­zine. At age six­ty he began to write children’s books and wrote more than two dozen before his death in 2003 at age 95.

Roger Angell, writ­ing in The New York­er, quot­ed a New York school teacher [his wife] speak­ing about Steig’s children’s books: “They’re touch­ing but not sen­ti­men­tal, and they bring young chil­dren ideas they’ve not expe­ri­enced before.”

Solomon the Rusty NailThey’re touch­ing and they are funny—sometimes they are down­right sil­ly. In Solomon The Rusty Nail (1985), Solomon the rab­bit fig­ures out that if he scratch­es his nose and wig­gles his toes at exact­ly the same time he becomes a rusty nail. Not to wor­ry, this is not Sylvester and the Mag­ic Peb­ble, not yet at least. Solomon also fig­ures out that if he says to him­self, “I’m no nail, I’m a rab­bit,” he will quick­ly become a rab­bit again.

Phyl­lis: I thought I knew most of Steig’s work but I didn’t know this book, and I love it, not least for Steig’s won­der­ful­ly play­ful lan­guage. When Solomon dis­cov­ers his abil­i­ty to trans­form, his first thought is to show his fam­i­ly what a “prize pazoo­zle of a rab­bit” he is but decides instead to keep his “secret secret.” When Solomon trans­forms into a rusty nail behind a tree to fool a cat who has cap­tured him, the cat is “dis­com­bob­u­lat­ed “and search­es for Solomon “clock­wise, counter clock­wise, and oth­er­wise.”

But for all their deli­cious lan­guage, Steig’s sto­ries have high stakes: when Solomon refus­es to turn back into a rab­bit so the cat and his wife can eat him, the irate cat pounds him into the wall of their cab­in where Solomon, unable to trans­form back into his true self, won­ders, “Do nails die?”

Doctor De SotoJack­ie: Steig’s Doc­tor DeS­o­to, (1982) the mouse den­tist has always been a favorite of mine. It is the per­fect com­bi­na­tion of humor and sen­si­tiv­i­ty, even com­pas­sion. Even though he has sworn not to treat fox­es and wolves, Doc­tor Des­o­to agrees to treat the suf­fer­ing fox. And the fox repays this kind­ness by won­der­ing if it would be “shab­by” to eat Dr. and Mrs. DeS­o­to. [Is “shab­by” not the per­fect, hilar­i­ous word here?] We root for Doc­tor DeS­o­to who says he always fin­ish­es what he starts and we love his remark­able prepa­ra­tion that allows him to fix the fox’s tooth and save the lives of him and his wife.

Per­haps every­one knows Sylvester and the Mag­ic Peb­ble (1969), Steig’s Calde­cott win­ner. Sylvester’s unfor­tu­nate wish turns him into a rock. His par­ents grieve. He sits and drows­es as a rock until a remark­able series of cir­cum­stances results in his return to his old don­key form. So sat­is­fy­ing.

Steig loved this theme of trans­for­ma­tion and clear­ly wasn’t done with it after Sylvester. He gave us the above-men­tioned Solomon the Rusty Nail, The Toy Broth­er (1996), Gorky Ris­es (1980), all of which involve some sort of mag­i­cal prepa­ra­tion or incan­ta­tion and some sort of “stuck­ness.”

Amazing BonePhyl­lis: Steig is a mas­ter at mak­ing us believe these seem­ing­ly inex­plic­a­ble vicis­si­tudes. In The Amaz­ing Bone Pearl the pig finds a bone that can talk in any lan­guage and imi­tate any sound—a trumpet’s call to arms, the wind blow­ing, the rain pat­ter­ing down, snor­ing, sneez­ing. When Pearl asks the bone how it can sneeze, it replies, “I don’t know. I didn’t make the world.” When a hun­gry fox cap­tures Pearl and the bone pleads for him to let her go, the fox replies, “I can’t help being the way I am. I didn’t make the world.”

Toy BrotherJack­ie: The Toy Broth­er (1996) is a won­der­ful turn­around book about two sib­lings who live with their parents—Magnus Bede, a famous alchemist, and his “hap­py-go-lucky wife” Euti­l­da. The old­er son, Yorick, “con­sid­ers lit­tle Charles a first-rate pain in the pants.” Yorick is his father’s appren­tice and hopes to turn don­key dung into gold. When the par­ents go off for a wed­ding Yorick sneaks into his father’s lab. Things don’t work out as he hoped and Yorick next appears the size of a mole. Charles enjoys his role as big broth­er and is actu­al­ly kind to Yorick, builds him a house, feeds him crumbs of cheese, tries to amuse him by cos­tum­ing him­self and the fam­i­ly ani­mals. But the two can­not get Yorick back to his orig­i­nal size, and nei­ther can Mag­nus. Until Yorick remem­bers one very impor­tant detail.

Once again, Steig’s lan­guage is such a joy. When they real­ize what is need­ed, Mag­nus says, “Gin­ger! That’s a fish from anoth­er pond. Is it any won­der there was no trans­mo­gri­fi­ca­tion?” What child is not going to love that? I almost feel trans­mo­gri­fied read­ing it.

Gorky RisesGorky the frog makes a potion, too, in a kitchen lab, with “a lit­tle of this and a lit­tle of that: a spoon each of chick­en soup, tea, and vine­gar, a sprin­kle of cof­fee grounds, one shake of tal­cum pow­der, two shakes of papri­ka, a dash of cin­na­mon, a splash of witch hazel, and final­ly a bit of his father’s clear cognac and a lot of attar of ros­es (!!).”… “This obvi­ous­ly was the mag­ic for­mu­la he had long been seek­ing.”

He doesn’t know what it will do but soon real­izes that it enables him to rise in the sky and float. He star­tles the groundlings, includ­ing a fox who looks like he just dropped by before his gig in Doc­tor DeS­o­to. Gorky endures a storm and longs for home…and even­tu­al­ly fig­ures out how to get there.

Amos & BorisPhyl­lis: In Amos and Boris, I was star­tled by the for­tu­itous appear­ance of two ele­phants who help Amos the mouse roll Boris the whale back into the sea when he is beached by a storm. I didn’t real­ize that more ele­phants wan­der through Steig’s stories—Elephant Rock where Gorky even­tu­al­ly lands real­ly is a trans­formed ele­phant, restored to his real self by the last drops of Gorky’s for­mu­la.

Brave IreneStorms are also recur­ring char­ac­ters in Steig’s books. Irene encoun­ters a storm in Brave Irene, an inim­itable one that yodels a warn­ing: “Go home….GO HO-WO-WOME,” as she attempts to deliv­er a dress her moth­er has made for the duchess. When the wind car­ries off the dress, Irene press­es on in the wors­en­ing storm to tell the duchess what hap­pened to her beau­ti­ful gown. Irene twists her ankle, she gets lost, night falls, she shiv­ers from the cold, and just when she final­ly spots the cas­tle below she is swal­lowed by a snow­drift up to her hat. In despair, she won­ders if she should give up and freeze to death, since she is already buried. But the mem­o­ry of her moth­er “who always smelled like fresh-baked bread” gives her the ener­gy to fight free of the snow­drift, find a way to the cas­tle (where the wind has plas­tered the gown to a tree) and even­tu­al­ly arrive home, dri­ven by the doc­tor who tells her moth­er “what a brave and lov­ing per­son Irene was. Which, of course, Mrs. Bob­bin knew. Bet­ter than the duchess.”

Back cover of Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, illustration copyright William Steig

Back cov­er of Sylvester and the Mag­ic Peb­ble, illus­tra­tion copy­right William Steig

Jack­ie: These char­ac­ters are all sur­prised by cir­cum­stance. Storms fly in. The potions do not work exact­ly as planned. Deal­ing with these cir­cum­stances is not always easy. And so it is with the lives of chil­dren. Things do not go along as planned. They hear: “We are mov­ing. You’ll be going to a new school.” “Your father and I are sep­a­rat­ing.” “We’re hav­ing a new baby. You’ll need to share your room.” It’s hard to get back to the old life. That is true in Steig’s sto­ries. Sylvester’s par­ents grieve when they lose him. Gorky’s par­ents search for him all night and are tremen­dous­ly relieved to see him.

All of his char­ac­ters are returned to the lov­ing arms of fam­i­ly, changed per­haps by their adven­tures, but not alone. I would love to do a ses­sion with stu­dents in which we read these books and then wrote our own sto­ry of trans­mo­gri­fi­ca­tion. What a free­ing expe­ri­ence to change into something/someone else, to float, to talk to a bone—that talked back.

Phyl­lis: What a ter­rif­ic idea. I want to read all of his books aloud, savor­ing his deliri­ous­ly delec­table lan­guage in book after book after book. Steig is a prize pazoo­zle of a writer as well as an artist.

Jack­ie: Though he was not writ­ing tracts for chil­dren Steig was well aware of the pow­er of sto­ry. He said in his Calde­cott Accep­tance Speech:

Art, includ­ing juve­nile lit­er­a­ture, has the pow­er to make any spot on earth the liv­ing cen­ter of the uni­verse, and unlike sci­ence, which often gives us the illu­sion of under­stand­ing things we real­ly do not under­stand, it helps us to know life in a way that still keeps before us the mys­tery of things. It enhances the sense of won­der. And won­der is respect for life. Art also stim­u­lates the adven­tur­ous­ness and the play­ful­ness that keep us mov­ing in a live­ly way and that lead us to use­ful dis­cov­ery.

Books for chil­dren are some­thing I take seri­ous­ly. I am hope­ful that more and more the work I do for chil­dren, as well as the work I do for adults, will approach the con­di­tion of art. I believe that what this award and this cer­e­mo­ny rep­re­sent is our mutu­al striv­ing in the same direc­tion, and I feel encour­aged by the faith you have expressed in me in hon­or­ing my book with the Calde­cott Medal. (Calde­cott Accep­tance Speech, June, 1970).

His sto­ries remind us that the “mys­tery of things … stimulate[s] adven­tur­ous­ness and play­ful­ness” in both theme and lan­guage. In Steig’s books we can share the fun of sound, the joy of adven­ture, and the sweet­ness of return.

Phyl­lis: And they remind us, too, that in the inex­plic­a­ble events of the uni­verse, our fam­i­lies love us, search for us when we are lost, and wel­come us home again with immea­sur­able delight.

See also: The Col­lec­tion of William Steig at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia.

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Coming Home to Safe Harbor

Lake Superior

Phyl­lis: This sum­mer I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to sail for a week in Lake Supe­ri­or, so we are turn­ing our thoughts to books about the sea (includ­ing the great inland sea that bor­ders Min­neso­ta, so vast it makes its own weath­er).  If we can’t go sail­ing right now, we can at least read about it in a fleet of good pic­ture books.

Jack­ie:  And I am a self-con­fessed water gaz­er. I’m not a boater of any kind but I can’t get enough of being next to water, watch­ing and lis­ten­ing.

The Mousehole Cat

Phyl­lis: I can­not tell you how much I love The Mouse­hole Cat by Anto­nia Bar­ber with lumi­nous art by Nico­la Bay­ley.  As many times as I’ve read it, the sto­ry still gives me shiv­ers and makes me want to cry. Mouse­hole (pro­nounced Mowzel by the Cor­nish peo­ple who live there) is a small town where the peo­ple go out every day through the nar­row break­wa­ter open­ing into the ocean to fish for their liv­ing. Old Tom and his cat Mowz­er fish as well, for Mowz­er in par­tic­u­lar is par­tial to a plate of fresh fish. 

One day a ter­ri­ble win­ter storm blows in. “’The Great Storm-Cat is stir­ring,’ thinks Mowz­er,” and although the Great Storm–Cat flings the sea against the break­wa­ter and claws at the har­bor gap, the boats are safe “as mice in their own mouse­hole,” but the peo­ple are hun­gry because no one can go out into the ocean to fish.

Final­ly, on Christ­mas Eve, Old Tom decides he should go out to try to fish, for he can­not stand to see the chil­dren starv­ing at Christ­mas. Mowz­er goes with him, “for he was only a man, she thought, and men were like mice in the paws of the Great Storm-Cat.”

The Mousehole Cat

illus­tra­tion copy­right Nico­la Bay­ley

And it is Mowzer’s singing that dis­tracts the Great Storm-Cat long enough for the boat to escape the har­bor and play out the nets in the ocean. All day Mowz­er sings to the Great Storm-Cat, but she knows he will strike when they run for the har­bor and safe­ty.  As she thinks of the food they might make with the catch they have hauled in, Mowz­er begins to purr, a sound the Great Storm-Cat has not heard since he was a Storm-Kit­ten. They purr togeth­er, the seas calm, and Old Tom and Mowz­er come into the har­bor on the “small­est, tamest Storm-Kit­ten of a wind” where the whole town is wait­ing with lit can­dles to guide them home.  (Even writ­ing this gives me shiv­ers of delight.) 

Every year since then the vil­lage of Mouse­hole is lit with a thou­sand lights at Christ­mas time, “a mes­sage of hope and a safe haven to all those who pass in per­il of the sea.”

Jack­ie: The lit can­dles that guide them home after the adven­ture is such a won­der­ful touch. Don’t we all want to be guid­ed home after a great strug­gle? The plot is so sat­is­fy­ing as well. It’s the small cat that saves them because she begins to purr.  As I was think­ing about Mowzer’s purr I real­ized how calm­ing a cat’s purr is.  I think we all become more relaxed if we have a purring cat on our lap. Same for the Great Storm Cat.

This is a love­ly illus­trat­ed short sto­ry that I think would charm mid­dle graders, as well as pri­ma­ry graders.

Amos and BorisPhyl­lis:  Anoth­er favorite is William Steig’s Amos and Boris, the sto­ry of a mouse who builds a boat, chris­tens it the Rodent, pro­vi­sions it with a delight­ful list of items, and sets sail on the ocean. Amos is less lucky than Old Tom and Mowz­er; one night, gaz­ing at the vast and star­ry sky while lying on his boat, he rolls over­board, and the Rodent in full sail bowls along with­out him. Amos man­ages to stay afloat through the night, lead­ing to one of my favorite com­fort­ing lines in all of pic­ture books: “Morn­ing came, as it always does.” And with morn­ing comes Boris the whale, just as Amos’s strength is fail­ing. Boris gives Amos a ride home by whale­back, and on the week­long jour­ney they become “the clos­est pos­si­ble friends.”

Jack­ie: I just love that!

Phyl­lis:  When they near shore, Amos thanks Boris and offers his help if Boris ever needs it, which amus­es Boris. He can’t imag­ine how a lit­tle mouse could ever help him.

Amos and Boris by William Steig

illus­tra­tion copy­right William Steig

Years pass. Hur­ri­cane Yet­ta flings Boris ashore right by Amos’s house. Boris will die unless he gets back in the water, and Amos runs off to get help: two ele­phants who roll the whale back into the ocean while Amos stands on one of their heads, yelling instruc­tions that no one can hear. Soon Boris is afloat again, whale tears rolling down his cheeks. Know­ing they might nev­er meet again, the friends say a tear­ful good-bye, know­ing, too, that they will always remem­ber each oth­er.

In anoth­er writer’s hands, I might make some com­ment about the con­ve­nient “ele­phants ex machi­na” that Amos finds, but I accept it com­plete­ly here, because Steig makes me believe. And cry, again.

Jack­ie: There is so much to love in this sto­ry. First, the list of items: cheese, bis­cuits, acorns, hon­ey, wheat germ [Steig must have includ­ed wheat germ because he liked the sound. Wheat germ?] fresh water, a com­pass, a sex­tant, a tele­scope, a saw, a ham­mer and nails and some wood, … a nee­dle and thread for the mend­ing of torn sails and var­i­ous oth­er neces­si­ties such as ban­dages and iodine, a yo-yo and play­ing cards.” I just love the notion of a mouse on a boat prac­tic­ing his yo-yo tricks. And I think read­ers will be called to ask them­selves what they might find essen­tial for a sea jour­ney.

And I’m admir­ing of the nuanced way Steig moves the plot along. Amos doesn’t roll off the boat because he falls asleep, or because a high wind blows him off. He falls off because he is “over­whelmed by the beau­ty and mys­tery of every­thing.” His own capac­i­ty for awe is what caus­es the prob­lem.

You have talked about the won­der­ful back and forth of help­ing between Amos and Boris. I want to men­tion, too, Boris’s won­der­ful voice. When the mouse meets the whale, he says. “’I’m a mouse, which is a mam­mal, the high­est form of life. I live on land.’

Holy clam and cut­tle­fish!’ said the whale. I’m a mam­mal myself, though I live in the sea. Call me Boris,’ he added.” [A lit­tle nod to “Call me Ish­mael?”]

Some­times good luck hap­pens. When the worst looks inevitable, fate inter­venes. And some­times fate gives us life-sav­ing ele­phants. They are such a relief. And so out­landish. It’s as if Steig is say­ing, “I’m the author. I can do this.”

Little Tim and the Brave Sea CaptainPhyl­lis:  Edward Ardiz­zone wrote and illus­trat­ed a series of eleven books about Lit­tle Tim, who goes to sea, begin­ning with Lit­tle Tim and The Brave Sea Cap­tain and end­ing with Tim’s Last Voy­age. We loved these books when my chil­dren were grow­ing up, and we still do. Vis­it this site so you can hear a sam­ple of Lit­tle Tim and The Brave Sea Cap­tain read aloud and see Ardizzone’s won­der­ful art. 

Jack­ie:  I love the lan­guage of this book: “’Some­times Tim would aston­ish his par­ents by say­ing, ’That’s a Cunarder’ or ‘Look at that bar­quen­tine on the port bow.’” [I want to say that again and again.] When his par­ents say he is much too young to go to sea, Tim is “so sad that he resolved, at the first oppor­tu­ni­ty, to run away to sea.”

Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain

illus­tra­tion copy­right Edward Ardiz­zone

But best of all, I had the sense through­out this sto­ry that the sto­ry­teller was going to give me a won­der­ful yarn and that, with or with­out ele­phants, Lit­tle Tim was going to get through this adven­ture safe­ly.

Keep the Lights Burning, AbbiePhyl­lis:  Keep the Lights Burn­ing, Abbie by Peter and Con­nie Roop is a book for those who pass in per­il of the sea. Based on the true sto­ry of 16-year old Abbie Burgess, whose father was the light­house keep­er on Matini­cus Rock off the coast of Maine, the book tells how Abbie’s father heads out one morn­ing to get much need­ed sup­plies from Matini­cus Island and is storm-bound there for weeks before he can return. Abbie takes care of her three younger sis­ters and her ail­ing moth­er and “keeps the lights burn­ing” so that ships can pass safe­ly by. She lights the lamps, scrapes ice off the win­dows so the lights can be seen, trims wicks, cleans lamps, fills them with oil, and saves her chick­ens when waves threat­en to wash them away, all until her father can safe­ly sail back to the light­house. A won­der­ful strong char­ac­ter for girls and boys to know about.

Jack­ie:  There is some­thing so allur­ing about light­hous­es and islands. I won­der how many kids have fan­tasies of liv­ing in a light­house on an island. I sure did. I real­ly enjoyed the mat­ter-of-fact tone of this sto­ry. As Abbie is first light­ing the lamps a match blows out, but the next one doesn’t, nor the next and she goes on to light them all, night after night for a month. No dra­ma, just a telling of what she did. No dra­ma but touch­ing emo­tion at the end when we learn that her father was watch­ing for those lights every night as evi­dence that his fam­i­ly was still there. That detail almost made me tear up.

In a Village by the SeaPhyl­lis:  We could sail on through sea sto­ry after sea sto­ry. A more recent book, In a Vil­lage by the Sea by Muon Van is a ele­gant­ly sim­ple and love­ly sto­ry that begins, “In a fish­ing vil­lage by the sea there is a small house.” Each page moves clos­er in, from the house to the kitchen to the fire to a pot of soup to a woman watch­ing the soup to a sleepy child to a dusty hole in the floor where a crick­et is hum­ming and paint­ing a pic­ture of a fish­er­man in his storm-tossed boat hop­ing for the storm to end so that he can return to his vil­lage by the sea where in a small house, his fam­i­ly waits for him to come home. April Chu’s beau­ti­ful art con­cludes the book with the crick­et paint­ing a pic­ture of that fish­er­man and his boat sail­ing home into a calm har­bor.

Jack­ie:  This book is so art­ful and so sat­is­fy­ing in the way we cir­cle in on the sto­ry and then cir­cle back out. And I agree about April Chu’s illus­tra­tions. They are won­der­ful­ly expres­sive. I almost expect the dog to talk.

In a Village by the Sea

illus­tra­tion copy­right April Chu

Thanks for choos­ing these books, Phyl­lis. I’m sit­ting at my desk on a qui­et, cloudy day but feel as if I have been on adven­tures. My head is stretched, and I look at my house and yard with new appre­ci­a­tion. The sea, or sto­ries about the sea, take us out of our lives, our kitchens, toss us around a bit, and with hope and help—and occa­sion­al elephants—bring us back home, where, as Lit­tle Tim might say, we are ever so glad for warmth and choco­late.

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Windows, Mirrors, Sliding Glass Doors, and Maps

There seems lit­tle chance of devel­op­ing the humil­i­ty so urgent­ly need­ed for world coöper­a­tion, instead of world con­flict, as long as our chil­dren are brought up on gen­tle dos­es of racism through their books.” —Nan­cy Lar­rick

When chil­dren can­not find them­selves reflect­ed in the books they read, or when the images they see are dis­tort­ed, neg­a­tive or laugh­able, they learn a pow­er­ful les­son about how they are deval­ued in the soci­ety of which they are a part.” —Rudine Sims Bish­op

Per­haps this exclu­siv­i­ty, in which chil­dren of col­or are at best back­ground char­ac­ters, and more often than not absent, is in fact part of the imag­i­na­tive aspect of these books. But what it means is that when kids today face the real­i­ties of our world, our glob­al economies, our inte­gra­tions and over­lap­pings, they all do so with­out a prop­er map. They are nav­i­gat­ing the streets and avenues of their lives with an inad­e­quate, out­dat­ed chart, and we won­der why they feel lost.” —Christo­pher Myers

Three pro­found quotes, all con­tem­plat­ing the trou­bling real­i­ty of the pre­dom­i­nant­ly white world of children’s lit­er­a­ture. These quotes appeared in three sep­a­rate arti­cles that were writ­ten decades apart in 1965, 1990 and 2014, respec­tive­ly. It has been more than 50 years since Nan­cy Lar­rick penned “The All White World of Children’s Books.” And then, 25 years lat­er, Rudine Sims Bish­op addressed the same trav­es­ty in her arti­cle “Mir­rors, Win­dows and Slid­ing Glass Doors.” Skip ahead anoth­er two dozen years and we hear from Christo­pher Myers when he dis­cuss­es “The Apartheid of Children’s Lit­er­a­ture.” It is a sad real­i­ty that so lit­tle progress has been made over so many years.

bk_courageeousconversationsYet, I am com­pelled to feel opti­mistic. I have sin­cere hopes and dreams that big­ger change is pos­si­ble. One rea­son for this pos­i­tiv­i­ty comes from the invest­ment and effort my new school dis­trict has made towards racial equi­ty and pro­mot­ing the equi­ty jour­neys of every dis­trict employ­ee. The two-day “Beyond Diver­si­ty” work­shop I recent­ly attend­ed, based on the work of Glenn Sin­gle­ton and his book Coura­geous Con­ver­sa­tions About Race, was one of the most pow­er­ful “back to school” pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment ses­sions I have ever expe­ri­enced. Sim­ply put, race mat­ters, and so do our dis­cus­sions, beliefs, feel­ings, thoughts, and actions relat­ed to race. 

Emmanuel's DreamSo how do I grap­ple with the cur­rent real­i­ty, my role as a white woman work­ing in class­rooms with a mix­ture of pre­cious brown, black, and white faces, eager to share a side of children’s lit­er­a­ture that hon­ors each and every one of them? We are in our sec­ond week of school, estab­lish­ing class­room com­mu­ni­ties, dis­cussing our hopes and dreams. I pull out a trea­sured book, one that packs a pow­er­ful mes­sage about the impor­tance of not let­ting dis­abil­i­ties become inabil­i­ties. A true sto­ry that deliv­ers an uplift­ing mes­sage of brav­ery, respect, deter­mi­na­tion and love. As I read the first few pages of Emmanuel’s Dream by Lau­rie Ann Thomp­son, the lit­tle guy right in front of me asks the ques­tion, “Hey, how come every­one in that book looks like me?.” I dream of a day when this expe­ri­ence, the shar­ing of a pic­ture book filled with chil­dren and adults of col­or, does not prompt a child, any child, to feel this is an unusu­al occur­rence, but rather one that is com­mon­place and expect­ed.  

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Apples, Well-Being, and Family

Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Make You a PieBring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie: A Sto­ry about Edna Lewis is a mem­o­rable book about grow­ing food through­out the sea­sons and liv­ing off the land in Vir­ginia. Wild straw­ber­ry, purslane, dan­de­lions, sas­safras, hon­ey. As spring rides the breeze into sum­mer, this extend­ed fam­i­ly tends to their larder, tak­ing full advan­tage of the fruits, nuts, and veg­eta­bles grow­ing around them. Sum­mer sub­dues itself into fall. Time to bring in the corn and beans, take a last har­vest of pecans before win­ter sets in.

This way of life may be unfa­mil­iar to a large per­cent­age of chil­dren, but even though the book is set in the 1920s, every­thing about the sto­ry feels con­tem­po­rary. Per­haps it is a way of life that with­stands time.

Food is the focus because this is a glimpse of the ear­ly life of Edna Lewis, renowned chef and South­ern cook­book author. As the author and water­col­or illus­tra­tor Rob­bin Gour­ley writes, “But her most sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion was to make peo­ple aware of the impor­tance of pre­serv­ing tra­di­tion­al meth­ods of grow­ing and prepar­ing food and of bring­ing ingre­di­ents direct­ly from the field to the table.” With our cur­rent resur­gence of inter­est in a farm-to-table lifestyle, this book is a good way to talk about food and nutri­tion with your chil­dren.

Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Bake You a Pie

Quite a few tra­di­tion­al say­ings are includ­ed in the book:

Rac­coon up the pecan tree.
Pos­sum on the ground.
Rac­coon shake the pecans down.
Pos­sum pass ‘em round.”

Your mouth will water so much while you’re read­ing this book that you’ll be glad there are five recipes in the back of the book, from Straw­ber­ry Short­cake to Pecan Drops.

The water­col­or illus­tra­tions through­out are charm­ing and infor­ma­tive, warm and lov­ing. The col­or palette of clear, bright tones adds to the feel­ing of health and well-being.

It’s a worth­while addi­tion to your home, school, or pub­lic library.

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Calvin Can’t Fly

Calvin-250When I was doing sto­ry­time week­ly, a book about a book­worm star­ling was in my reg­u­lar rota­tion. Yes, you read that right—a Book­worm Star­ling. That’s exact­ly what Calvin (the star­ling) is—a book­worm. And that is his shame—his cousins call him “nerdie birdie,” “geeky beaky,” and “book­worm.” Unusu­al (gen­tly deroga­to­ry) labels for a star­ling. Not that it deters Calvin—he most­ly shrugs and turns the page.

Calvin is the only star­ling in his very large fam­i­ly who does not seem to care much about fly­ing. (Refresh your mem­o­ry on how star­lings move about with this astound­ing video of star­ling mur­mu­ra­tions.) He’s into books. In a big way. While his cousins learn to fly and chase bee­tles, bugs, and ants, Calvin sits and learns to read let­ters, words, and sen­tences. He dreams of adven­ture sto­ries, infor­ma­tion, and poet­ry. His cousins dream of insect eat­ing and garbage pick­ing. And although they call him by the above names, they most­ly ignore him, so enrap­tured with fly­ing are they.

And Calvin is just as enrap­tured with sto­ries and learn­ing. Pirates and vol­ca­noes, dinos and plan­ets, sci­ence and history—Calvin reads it all. He reads the entire sum­mer, learn­ing and absorb­ing every­thing his lit­tle star­ling brain can.

When the sea­sons begin to turn, the urgency for Calvin to learn to fly becomes appar­ent. And yet, he man­ages not to learn. This cre­ates quite an issue, because the wind has grown cold and it is time to head south….

The entire star­ling fam­i­ly takes off, minus Calvin. They don’t get far before they turn around and come back for Calvin. He is car­ried in the most hilar­i­ous way, which more than excus­es the unkind words pre­vi­ous­ly used about his read­ing habits.

And as it turns out, Calvin’s read­ing saves them—Calvin is the unex­pect­ed hero! “Make haste!” he says, lead­ing the entire star­ling fam­i­ly to safe­ty. Kids love this! They love that his book-knowl­edge of some­thing as obscure as hur­ri­cane safe­ty came in handy. They all but cheer—actually, once a set of twins did cheer when I read how Calvin saved them all. And kids are fur­ther delight­ed when Calvin flaps his wings in hap­pi­ness, jump­ing and hop­ping and dancing…and flies! At last!

When I looked up the author, Jen­nifer Berne, I found out there’s anoth­er Calvin book! I don’t know how I missed it. Ms. Berne and the illus­tra­tor, Kei­th Bendis, have told an empow­er­ing sto­ry, (with­out being preachy!) about the won­ders and neces­si­ty of read­ing. Can’t wait to read Calvin’s next adven­tures. I’m off to find a group of kids to read to….

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Cook-A-Doodle-Do!

Cook+A+Doodle+Do-260-pixI’ve got dessert on my mind—berry short­cake, to be pre­cise. I’ve already done the straw­ber­ry short­cake dur­ing straw­ber­ry sea­son. My rasp­ber­ry bush­es are pro­duc­ing at a rate that might call for short­cake in the near future, how­ev­er. And when­ev­er I make shortcake—or even think of it—I think of Cook-a-doo­dle-doo by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crum­mel (who are sis­ters, I believe).

This book was An Extreme Favorite at our house through two kids—one who was already on the old­er end of pic­ture books when it came out. Why the pop­u­lar­i­ty? Quite sim­ply: It’s hilar­i­ous. And sweet (no pun intend­ed). But most­ly hilar­i­ous.

Big Brown Roost­er is in need of a change—no more chick­en feed! No more peck­ing about! He remem­bers that his very famous great-grand­moth­er, The Lit­tle Red Hen, penned a cook­book: The Joy of Cook­ing Alone by L.R. Hen. Once he finds it, he real­izes his great granny cooked far more than loaves of bread. And he is hun­gry for the straw­ber­ry short­cake fea­tured in the mid­dle of the book.

Like his Great-Granny before him, Big Brown Roost­er is sur­round­ed by unhelp­ful friends. Dog, Cat, and Goose each take their pot­shots at Big Brown Roost­er, but he is unde­terred. He ties on his apron, ready to cook all alone, only to find three new friends: Tur­tle, Igua­na, and Pot-bel­lied Pig.

Do you three know any­thing about cook­ing?” Roost­er asked.

I can read recipes!” said Tur­tle.

I can get stuff!” said Igua­na.

I can taste!” said Pig. “I am expert at tast­ing.”

And so the team mem­bers don hats—an apron tied around Big Brown Rooster’s head, a tow­el around Pig’s head, an oven mitt for Igua­na, and a small pot worn base­ball cap-like for tur­tle. The illus­tra­tions are sweet and hys­ter­i­cal at the same time. The mix-ups and mis­un­der­stand­ings are on the lev­el of the Three Stooges crossed with Amelia Bedelia. But detailed side­bars guide a home/kid cook through the cor­rect steps. What the friends lack in expe­ri­ence and skill, they make up for in exu­ber­ance and excitement—so, very much like bak­ing with chil­dren, actu­al­ly.

It’s astound­ing when you see what they go through, but they cre­ate a beau­ti­ful (if slight­ly lean­ing) tow­er of straw­ber­ry short­cake. It’s only when they try to move it to the table to enjoy togeth­er that things…slip away from them. Pot-bel­lied Pig takes his turn—he’s the expert taster, and pos­i­tive­ly unflum­moxed by short­cake being smeared across the floor. In split second—not even a page turn—the straw­ber­ry short­cake is gone.

It is then that the pre­vi­ous­ly ami­able friends start to lose it. Names are called and threats are inti­mat­ed (plump juicy roast pig, igua­na pie, tur­tle soup etc.)

But wise Roost­er takes com­mand. “It doesn’t mat­ter,” he says. “The first short­cake was just for prac­tice.”

And so they make anoth­er. The three friends—Iguana, Pig, and Turtle—volunteer to help again, and it’s quick work the sec­ond time around. The last spread fea­tures a par­ty of friends—includ­ing the nay-say­ing Dog, Cat and Goose!—enjoy­ing straw­ber­ry short­cake. The last page fea­tures Great-Granny’s recipe for Mag­nif­i­cent Straw­ber­ry Short­cake.

I think I’ll make some tonight!

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Bink and Gollie

Ear­ly this morn­ing I read Bink and Gol­lie books to my nieces. We were killing timeBink&Golliebook-180pix while their par­ents picked up the rental car for their Great Amer­i­can Sum­mer Road­trip. To say that the lev­el of excite­ment was pal­pa­ble is an understatement—it was a wave that near­ly knocked me down when they opened their door. They talked—both of them—nonstop for an hour while we sipped our break­fast smooth­ies.

Mom and Dad were not back when we sucked down the final drops of smooth­ie, which was con­cern­ing, so anx­ious were they to get on the road already. I said, “Well, what can we do…that we can put down if your Mom and Dad come back in two minutes…and pick back up after your trip?”

Books!” said one.

YEAHWE CAN READ BOOKS!” said the oth­er.

On the deck!”

In the sun­shine!”

Let’s do it!”

And so we took Bink and Gol­lie with us to the sun­ny deck. No mat­ter how excit­ed these sweet girls get—and let me tell you, they were excit­ed this morning!—they calm down instant­ly with a book. Their breath­ing changes by page two. And so we snug­gled up and read, breath­ing deeply in the ear­ly morn­ing sun­shine.

I’d for­got­ten how much of the sto­ry is told in the pic­tures in Bink and Gol­lie books—and how many words are in the pic­tures. Labels and instruc­tions, signs and notes, jokes and fun. Because both girls are learn­ing to read, this works real­ly well. I read the sto­ry itself and they read the pic­tures. The pic­tures are often filled with big words. (So is the sto­ry itself—it’s some­thing I appre­ci­ate about Kate DiCamillo’s and Ali­son McGhee’s writ­ing. They do not sim­pli­fy vocab­u­lary.) Some things we have to sound out togeth­er, but the real fun is get­ting the inflec­tion right. Read­ing it in our Gol­lie voice, or like a 1940’s radio adver­tise­ment, or like a car­ni­val bark­er.

Bink and Gol­lie are oppo­sites in many ways—Gollie is tall and skin­ny, prag­mat­icBink&Gollie-180-pix and for­mal in her speech. She says things like I long for speed. And Greet­ings. And I beg you not to do that…. My nieces find this amus­ing. They are also tall and skin­ny, prag­mat­ic (some­times, any­way), and hilar­i­ous­ly for­mal in their speech at times.

Bink is short and has hair stick­ing up all over her head. She loves bright socks and pan­cakes and peanut but­ter. No one would call my nieces short. (“We don’t have that prob­lem,” one of them said this morn­ing as we read about Bink order­ing a Stretch-o-mat­ic to make her­self taller.) But their hair is some­times Bink-like. And they delight in the sim­ple things of life—including, but not lim­it­ed to, socks, cel­e­bra­to­ry pan­cakes, and peanut but­ter. They also have Bink’s energy—they yam­mer, they jump, they zip, they climb and glide.

In short, they love both Bink and Gol­lie. They are Bink and Gollie—they can relate, as it were. Bink and Gol­lie have adven­tures, a sweet friend­ship, and they roller­skate everywhere—these details light up my sweet girls. They enjoy decod­ing the words in the pic­tures and get­ting the joke. They are envi­ous of the tree­house in which Bink and Gol­lie live. They’d like to vis­it Eccles’ Empire of Enchantment—and maybe hit a Bar­gain Bonan­za. (Maybe the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dako­ta will sat­is­fy them.)

Bink and Gol­lie got us almost to Mom and Dad’s return. We did have to take a lit­tle field trip to my house (just around the cor­ner) because their cousin was bak­ing scones, but then Mom and Dad were home, the rent­ed Jeep was loaded in record time, and off they went!

I won­der if they’re lev­i­tat­ing with excite­ment in their car seats, chat­ter­ing away like Bink or say­ing I long for the moun­tains…. like Gol­lie. They invit­ed me to sneak in their car and go with them. Maybe I should’ve tak­en them up on it.

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Bookstorm™: Jazz Day

Bookmap for Jazz Day

 

Jazz DayThis month we’re fea­tur­ing Jazz Day, a book that’s all about jazz and a pho­to­graph that record­ed a moment in time, peo­ple at the top of their musi­cal careers and peo­ple who were just get­ting start­ed. Author Rox­ane Orgill is famil­iar with the jazz cul­ture; she’s writ­ten sev­er­al books about the music and the peo­ple. Illus­tra­tor Fran­cis Valle­jo took ele­ments of pho­tog­ra­phy, graph­ic design, acrylic, and pas­tels to illus­trate his first book. This pow­er­ful team has received no few­er than six starred reviews for the pic­ture book biog­ra­phy they’ve cre­at­ed togeth­er.

In Jazz Day, each sto­ry is told with a poem, among them free verse, a pan­toum, and a list poem. There are poems about the pho­tog­ra­ph­er, the musi­cians, the young neigh­bor­hood boys who showed up for the pho­to­graph out of curios­i­ty, the jazz life, and the process of tak­ing the pho­to, Harlem 1958, which is famous for cap­tur­ing a large num­ber of musi­cians in their time, their cloth­ing, their com­mu­ni­ty, but with­out their instru­ments (except for one guy, Rex Stew­art, but it earned him a poem).

In each Book­storm™, we offer a bib­li­og­ra­phy of books that have close ties to the the fea­tured book. You’ll find books, web­sites, and videos for a vari­ety of tastes and inter­ests. This month, we’re focus­ing on books about jazz, music, singers, and pho­tog­ra­phy. 

Downloadables

 

 

You’ll find more infor­ma­tion about Rox­ane Orgill on her web­site. The illustrator’s web­site will show you more of Fran­cis Vallejo’s port­fo­lio.

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

Jazz Musi­cians in Pic­ture Books. Here you’ll find excel­lent pic­ture books about jazz musi­cians includ­ing Trom­bone Shorty, John Coltrane, Thelo­nius Monk, Louis Arm­strong, Dizzy Gille­spie, Mary Louise Williams, Mel­ba Lis­ton, Duke Elling­ton, and Ben­ny Good­man. Many of these books help us under­stand how the child­hood of these renowned musi­cians launched them into their careers.

Jazz Singers. Ella Fitzger­ald? Scat. Josephine Bak­er? Show­man­ship. Civ­il rights. The Sweet­hearts of Rhythm? Swing musi­cians who rose to promi­nence dur­ing the war. Excep­tion­al books about excep­tion­al singers.

Jazz for Old­er Read­ers. From Rox­ane Orgill’s own book, Dream Lucky, one of the best books about jazz musi­cians, to high­ly respect­ed books like Jazz 101, and The His­to­ry of Jazz, and Marsalis on Music, there’s a lot of infor­ma­tion here to get you talk­ing pro­fi­cient­ly about, and teach­ing, jazz.

Pho­tog­ra­phy. Art Kane wasn’t a pho­tog­ra­ph­er but he took one of the most famous pho­tographs, Harlem 1958. But there are children’s books about famous pho­tog­ra­phers such as Gor­don Parks and Snowflake Bent­ley. You’ll find more sug­ges­tions in the Book­storm.

The Music. Your stu­dents who are already inter­est­ed in rap or jazz rap or hip-hop or pop music, will be fas­ci­nat­ed to lis­ten to the dif­fer­ent gen­res of jazz music that came before … and we’ve includ­ed URLs where you can find excel­lent exam­ples. Or per­haps you’re a jazz afi­ciona­do and you have your own music to share.

Web­sites. There are help­ful web­sites such as the Jazz Edu­ca­tion Net­work and Smith­son­ian Jazz that will help you put togeth­er a mul­ti­me­dia set of les­son plans for explor­ing jazz, our most Amer­i­can form of music.

Let us know how you are mak­ing use of this Book­storm™. Share your ideas and any oth­er books you’d add to this Book­storm™.

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Bookstorm™: Miss Colfax’s Light

Bookmap Miss Colfax's Light

 

Miss Colfax's LightWe are pleased to fea­ture Miss Colfax’s Light as our June book selec­tion, in which author Aimée Bis­sonette and illus­tra­tor Eileen Ryan Ewen tell the fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ry of a woman who served as the Michi­gan City Light­house keep­er from 1861 to 1904. Cap­tains and nav­i­ga­tors on Lake Michi­gan relied on her light­house to keep them from founder­ing on the rocks or crash­ing onto the shore in rough weath­er.

Every day heroes. That’s how author Aimée Bis­sonette refers to the peo­ple in his­to­ry who intrigue her. She trav­eled to research her cho­sen sub­ject, Har­ri­et Col­fax, talk­ing with peo­ple in Indi­ana who could proud­ly pro­vide infor­ma­tion. Miss Col­fax faith­ful­ly kept a log, so Aimée was able to read about Harriet’s work and her dai­ly life in Harriet’s own words. Illus­tra­tor Eileen Ryan Ewen paint­ed a wealth of accu­rate, time-appro­pri­ate details into the pages of the book, help­ing read­ers visu­al­ly under­stand the time in which Miss Col­fax lived. We think you’ll be inspired by Miss Colfax’s sto­ry as much as we are.

In each Book­storm™, we offer a bib­li­og­ra­phy of books that have close ties to the the fea­tured book. You’ll find books, arti­cles, and videos for a vari­ety of tastes and inter­ests. This month, we’re focus­ing on books about Amer­i­can light­hous­es, light­house keep­ers, and biogra­phies of female heroes. 

Downloadables

 

 

You’ll find more infor­ma­tion about Aimée Bis­sonette on her web­site. The illustrator’s web­site will show you more of Eileen Ryan Ewen’s port­fo­lio.

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

About Light­hous­es. For back­ground infor­ma­tion as you pre­pare to excite stu­dents, library patrons, or your fam­i­ly mem­bers about Amer­i­can light­hous­es, these books will help you locate these bea­cons of safe­ty, learn more about their oper­a­tion, and under­stand the sci­ence and math that are an inher­ent part of the work­ings of light­hous­es around the coun­try.

Brave and Extra­or­di­nary Women. From pic­ture book biogra­phies to short-arti­cle antholo­gies, you’ll find a vari­ety of inspir­ing sto­ries from oceanog­ra­ph­er Sylvia Ear­le to edu­ca­tion­al activist Malala Yousafzai.

How Light­hous­es Work. From the Fres­nel lens to the Chance Broth­ers engi­neer­ing to the improve­ments in fuel, increas­es in the range of light, and Edison’s inven­tion of the light­bulb, you’ll find books to inform your pre­sen­ta­tions and dis­cus­sions about Miss Colfax’s Light.

Light­house Books. There are a num­ber of good books to pair with our fea­tured Book­storm. Com­pare the true sto­ry of Miss Col­fax with that of Abbie Burgess, who took her light­house keep­er father’s place dur­ing an ice storm, or the Maine Fly­ing San­ta pro­gram, or the Lit­tle Red Light­house near the George Wash­ing­ton Bridge in New York City, among many oth­ers.

Pro­tect­ing Our Water­ways. In addi­tion to our light­house keep­ers, the U.S. Coast Guard is on duty pro­tect­ing water trav­el­ers and ship­ping ves­sels dur­ing all types of weath­er and in haz­ardous sit­u­a­tions. These books will extend read­ers’ under­stand­ing of the work done by high­ly skilled patrols.

Water. Before and after read­ing Miss Colfax’s Light, it’s a good time to have a dis­cus­sion about the impor­tance of water in our lives. From our Great Lakes, to our coastal waters, to the rivers and lakes through­out our coun­try, to the water that falls from the sky, to the water that is pumped up from under­ground aquifers, water and water con­ser­va­tion are essen­tial to our every­day lives. 

Whether you choose to focus on every day heroes, water, sci­ence, Great Lakes com­merce, or inspi­ra­tion women, there are many direc­tions you can go and many sub­jects you can sup­port with Miss Colfax’s Light.

Let us know how you are mak­ing use of this Book­storm™. Share your ideas and any oth­er books you’d add to this Book­storm™.

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Gardening and Farming Delights

 

Jack­ie: At last—we made it to spring and all the usu­al accou­trements have shown up—lilacs, vio­lets, the smell of apple blos­soms, and thoughts of sprout­ing seeds and grow­ing veg­eta­bles.  How could we not look at pic­ture books about gar­dens and farm­ing this month?

Miss Jaster's GardenI have to con­fess, Phyl­lis, I did not know of Miss Jaster’s Gar­den, writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by N. M. Bodeck­er and pub­lished in 1972. I’m so glad to meet Miss Jaster and Hedgie the hedge­hog whom she treats with a bowl of milk each night. “But hedge­hogs being the shape they are, and Miss Jaster being a lit­tle near­sight­ed, as often as not she put the saucer where the hedgehog’s head wasn’t. And Hedgie—so as not to cause distress—“politely dipped his tail in the milk and pre­tend­ed to drink.” 

That’s not the only prob­lem caused by Miss Jaster’s poor vision. When she is scat­ter­ing flower seeds in her gar­den she does not see Hedgie and plants seeds on him too.  “…after a while he began feel­ing rest­less.” Hedgie is sprout­ing. Hedgie blooms! And feels like danc­ing. “Tomor­row I’ll be as qui­et as an earth­worm,” thought Hedgie, “but not today. Today is the great­est day of my life. There’ll nev­er be anoth­er like it!” When Miss Jaster sees flow­ers danc­ing in the yard, she yells, “STOP THIEF!”  and poor Hedgie, fright­ened and cha­grined, runs off. Even­tu­al­ly the Chief Con­sta­ble, with a capa­ble bit of sleuthing, finds Hedgie and brings him back—“a weary, wor­ried, bedrag­gled lit­tle ani­mal, down on his luck.” Miss Jaster feels bad at hav­ing giv­en the hedge­hog (“flow­er­hog”) such a scare. And they take break­fast togeth­er every morning—“And there was noth­ing but peace and sun­shine and a touch of Sweet William.”

I love the tone of this book—Hedgie is up for the adven­ture of being a walk­ing flower gar­den. The con­sta­ble is thought­ful, “Did you by chance, hap­pen to notice how many legs these flow­ers had when they made their get­away? In round num­bers?” In round num­bers! And I love the characters—the hedge­hog who’s so thought­ful he pre­tends to drink with his tail so as not to upset Miss Jaster. And kind Miss Jaster who doesn’t mind shar­ing her gar­den with a hedge­hog and is actu­al­ly pleased when she real­ized that she also shared flower seeds with him.

This sto­ry has a lot of text. But the humor is so won­der­ful and the char­ac­ters just the right degree of eccen­tric, I think it would be enjoyed  by the five to nine­ty crowd. What do you think?

Miss Jaster's Garden

Phyl­lis: I didn’t know this book, either, but I also love it. The dou­ble-page spread map at the begin­ning of the book is a lit­tle sto­ry all in itself, as good maps often are. From Hedgie’s cor­ner to the bird­bath (“For ancient inscrip­tion, see page 17”) to Miss J’s wick­er chair and Sun­rise Hill (“Ele­va­tion 9’”) Bodeck­er has cre­at­ed a whole world in art as well as text.

As some­one who has become near­er and near­er sight­ed my whole life, I com­plete­ly under­stand how Miss Jaster might make such a mis­take. And who wouldn’t want a walk­ing flower gar­den? Who wouldn’t want to be a flower gar­den? I love how the end­ing brings mutu­al sat­is­fac­tion to Miss Jaster and to Hedgie, who have always been solic­i­tous of each other—each morn­ing they share “a leisure­ly break­fast … and a walk along the beach, fol­lowed by a small but per­sis­tent but­ter­fly.”

Cer­tain­ly the text is much longer than many more recent pic­ture books, but what won­der­ful details! When Miss Jaster goes out to plant she does so in “a pur­ple morn­ing-dress and stur­dy shoes” with a “large straw hat, trimmed with corn­flow­ers on her head,” pulling “a small four-wheeled wag­on full of gar­den tools and flower seeds.” Like a gar­den in full bloom, the sto­ry is lush with lan­guage.

I love, too, how Hedgie, as he dis­cov­ers he’s sprout­ing, won­ders which he will be:  “’Flower bed or veg­etable gar­den? Veg­etable gar­den or flower bed?’” until one day, “’I’m in bloom!’ cried Hedgie.”

Grandpa's Too Good GardenJack­ie:  I call James Steven­son the writer with the humor cure. He makes me laugh. And Grandpa’s Too Good Gar­den  is one of his cur­ing-est. Mary Ann and Louie are dis­ap­point­ed with their gar­den­ing. Louis says, “We dig and rake and plant and water and weed—and noth­ing ever comes up. Our gar­den is no good.” Grand­pa remains calm and tells them he once had a gar­den that was “a lit­tle too good.” There are some won­der­ful car­toon-y frames of Grand­pa and Wainey in the gar­den (both as kids with lit­tle mus­tach­es) but the sto­ry real­ly begins when Father throws his Mir­a­cle Grow hair ton­ic out the win­dow. It spills into the gar­den and gets rained in. Before Wainey even wakes up a vine snatch­es him up and almost out the win­dow. The gar­den was taller than the house. Giant cater­pil­lars came to eat the giant plants. The plants con­tin­ued to grow and Grand­pa got “snagged on a weath­er vane above our roof.” Grand­pa is in trouble…only to be res­cued by Wainey on a giant but­ter­fly. This hap­py end­ing is accom­pa­nied by Wainey show­ing up to offer Grand­pa and the kids some ice cream. I love the exag­ger­a­tion, the total silli­ness of it.

Phyl­lis: Gar­den­ers need patience, but not all of us wait qui­et­ly. When the seeds don’t grow quick­ly  enough, Wainey and Grand­pa encour­age them. “’Hel­lo, beans? Toma­toes? Are you down there? Give us a sign!’ ‘Hel­lo, car­rumps?” The for­tu­itous hair ton­ic reminds me of old radio sci­ence fic­tion shows. “You threw the growth for­mu­la out back?” the sci­en­tist asks his assis­tant just before the now-giant earth­worms come bang­ing on the door. There’s a sat­is­fy­ing cir­cu­lar­i­ty to Grandpa’s gar­den sto­ry when one of the giant but­ter­flies that meta­mor­phed from the giant cater­pil­lars res­cues both broth­ers. Won­der­ful wack­i­ness!

Farmer DuckJack­ie: Farmer Duck by Mar­tin Wad­dell (illus­trat­ed by Helen Oxen­bury) is set on a farm and Farmer Duck does farm work so we are includ­ing it. It’s all about friends. And friends are impor­tant to gar­den­ers. Who else would take our extra zuc­chi­ni? or help us pull weeds? or share plants with us?

This is such an exu­ber­ant telling. Was there ever a lazier farmer than the human farmer who stays in bed all day, yelling to the duck, “How goes the work?” Farmer Duck always responds the same way, “Quack.” This goes on day after day. While the lazy farmer eats bon bons, the duck saws wood, spades the gar­den, wash­es dish­es, irons clothes. The oth­er ani­mals can’t stand to see their friend work so hard. One night they meet in the barn and make a plan. “’Moo!’ said the cow./’Baa!’ said the sheep./ ‘Cluck!’ said the hens. And that was the plan.” 

When they car­ry out their plan the lazy farmer runs away and nev­er returns. “…moo­ing and baaing and cluck­ing and quack­ing, they all set to work on their farm.” We just can’t help but think hay will be sweet­er, corn will be taller, and there may be danc­ing in the barn.

Farmer Duck

Phyl­lis: I adore this book, text and art. The duck looks wea­ri­er and wea­ri­er, and who wouldn’t want to be com­fort­ed by such car­ing hens and the oth­er ani­mals as well?  And I love how the ani­mals that the duck tend­ed to at the begin­ning of the sto­ry, includ­ing car­ry­ing a sheep from the hill, all pitch in to help at the end as “moo­ing and baaing and cluck­ing and quack­ing, they all set to work on their farm.” Ani­mals, unite! The fruits of the labor belong to the labor­ers!

When the Root Children Wake UpJack­ie:  I would be remiss not to men­tion your name­sake book, Phyl­lis—When The Root Chil­dren Wake Up, retold by Audrey Wood and illus­trat­ed by Ned Bit­tinger. It’s a sto­ry of sea­sons. A robin comes to the win­dow of Mother’s Earth’s under­ground “home” and calls, “Root Chil­dren! Root Chil­dren …Wake up! It’s time for the mas­quer­ade.” The chil­dren awak­en the bugs and paint them and head out for the mas­quer­ade. But it’s not too long before “Cousin Sum­mer slips his knap­sack on his back and quick­ly strides over the hills and far away.” Time for Uncle Fall. And soon it will be time for anoth­er winter’s nap. 

There’s a lot about this sto­ry that I like—the cir­cle of sea­sons, paint­ing the bugs. I’m a lit­tle put off by the very real­is­tic draw­ings of chil­dren as the “Root Chil­dren.” I’m not sure why. Maybe because they seem too real to be sleep­ing under­ground all win­ter. Makes me feel  claus­tro­pho­bic. Maybe I’m just grumpy. I’d love to know what oth­ers think.

When the Root Children Wake UpPhyl­lis: It’s true that what caught my eye about When the Root Chil­dren Wake Up was my name in the title, but I also love the sto­ry and art in the ver­sion I have, a reprint of the 1906 Sybelle Olf­fers book  first pub­lished in Ger­many and repub­lished in Eng­lish in 1988 by Green Tiger Press. The charm­ing­ly old-fash­ioned orig­i­nal illus­tra­tions remind me of books I loved as a child and include a joy­ous spread of the root chil­dren emerg­ing above ground car­ry­ing flow­ers and grass­es “into the love­ly world.” Inter­est­ing how art can change the per­cep­tion of a sto­ry!

Lola Plants a GardenA gar­den book for the very young is Lola Plants a Gar­den by Anna McQuinn, illus­trat­ed by Ros­aline Beard­shaw. The straight­for­ward sto­ry tells how Lola loves the poem “Mary Mary Quite Con­trary” and  wants to plant a gar­den of her own. She and Mom­my read books about gar­dens, make a list of Lola’s favorite flow­ers, buy seeds, and plant them. While she waits for them to grow, Lola makes their own book about flow­ers, strings beads and shells and bells, and makes a lit­tle Mary Mary doll. Lola’s patience and work are reward­ed as the flow­ers grow big and “Open toward the sun.” Dad­dy helps her hang her bells, her friends come to her gar­den to eat Mommy’s peas and straw­ber­ries, and Lola makes up a sto­ry for them about Mary Mary. The book con­cludes, “What kind of gar­den will Lola plant next?” Sim­ply told and sat­is­fy­ing, the book makes me want to run out and buy more pack­ets of flower seeds, then invite friends to come vis­it in the gar­den and encour­age them to grow.

Lola Plants a Garden

Jack­ie: Friends and gar­dens and the cycle of sea­sons. We are all root­ed on this earth. And that’s good to remem­ber. Let’s go plant some beans.

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Spring, Where Are You?

The Boy Who Didn't Believe in SpringPhyl­lis: Each year, as soon as the snow melts, I’m eager to go search for native wild­flow­ers. Two of the ear­li­est flow­ers bloom in two dif­fer­ent pro­tect­ed places a car ride away. And every year, I go too early—either the ephemer­al snow tril­li­ums aren’t even up yet or the pasque flow­ers are still such tiny, tight, fur­ry brown buds that they’re hard to spot in the dried grass on the hill­side where they grow. When I do final­ly find snow tril­li­ums and pasque flow­ers in bloom, I know spring real­ly has arrived.

A lit­tle boy named King Shabazz also goes look­ing for spring in Lucille Clifton’s The Boy Who Didn’t Believe in Spring, illus­trat­ed by Brin­ton Turkle. His search takes him down city streets rather than up windy hill­sides, but the impe­tus is the same.

When King Shabazz’s teacher talks about spring, he whis­pers, “No such thing.” When his moth­er talks about spring, he demands, “Where is it at?”

One day after his teacher has talked about blue birds and his Mama had talked about crops com­ing up, King Shabazz has had enough.

Look here, man,” he tells his friend Tony Poli­to, “I’m going to get me some of this spring.” They set off through their urban neigh­bor­hood, search­ing for spring. They look around the cor­ner, by the school and play­ground, by the Church of the Sol­id Rock, past a restau­rant and apart­ment build­ings until they come to a vacant lot walled in by tall build­ings with an aban­doned car sit­ting in the mid­dle.

 When the boys go to inves­ti­gate a sound com­ing from the car, Tony Poli­to trips on a patch of lit­tle yel­low pointy flow­ers. “Man, the crops are com­ing up!” King Shabazz shouts. The sound turns out to be birds who fly out of the car, where the boys dis­cov­er a nest with four light blue eggs.

 “Man, it’s spring!” says King Shabazz.

As do pic­ture books by Vera B. Williams, Ezra Jack Keats, and Matt de la Peña, Clifton’s book cel­e­brates the city where so many of us live and where spring arrives, as well, even if you don’t yet believe in it.

Lucille CliftonJack­ie: I loved this book so much that I had to do a lit­tle research on Lucille Clifton, who wrote more than twen­ty books for chil­dren. You men­tioned cel­e­bra­tion, Phyl­lis. Here’s what New York­er mag­a­zine writer Eliz­a­beth Alexan­der said of Clifton after her death in 2010:

Clifton invites the read­er to cel­e­brate sur­vival: a poet’s sur­vival against the strug­gles and sor­rows of dis­ease, pover­ty, and attempts at era­sure of those who are poor, who are women, who are vul­ner­a­ble, who chal­lenge con­quis­ta­dor nar­ra­tives. There is lumi­nous joy in these poems, as they speak against silence and hatred.

There is lumi­nous joy in this book—joy in the char­ac­ters who are best friends and wait at the stop­light, which they have nev­er gone past before, to see what the oth­er will do; joy in the dis­cov­ery of a bird’s nest on the front seat of a beat-up car. This is a sto­ry of sur­vival, too. The boys do cross the street, even though Junior Williams has said he will beat them up if he sees them. They will sur­vive. They have courage, each oth­er, and appre­ci­a­tion for spring.

and then it's springPhyl­lis: Julie Fogliano’s book and then it’s spring is anoth­er sto­ry of wait­ing, this time in a more rur­al set­ting, told in sec­ond per­son in one long extend­ed sen­tence whose syn­tax cap­tures the feel­ing of wait­ing and wait­ing and wait­ing.

First you have brown,
all around you have brown,

the book begins, and pro­ceeds to seeds, a wish for rain, rain, a “hope­ful, very pos­si­ble sort of brown” but still brown. As time pass­es (and the sin­gle sen­tence con­tin­ues) the child gar­den­er wor­ries that the birds might have eat­en the seeds or bears tromped on them, until final­ly the brown

still brown,
has a green­ish hum
that you can only hear
if you put your ear to the ground
and close your eyes…”
until final­ly, on a sun­ny day,
“…now you have green,
all around you have green.”

Jack­ie: I love Julie Fogliano’s lan­guage: “…a hope­ful, very pos­si­ble sort of brown.” And the brown with the green­ish hum just makes me smile. I know this is a blog about writ­ing but I have to men­tion Erin Stead’s illus­tra­tions. Her pos­si­ble-birds-eat­ing-seeds paint­ing is full of jokes—there’s a bird wear­ing a bib, a bird flat on its back, birds billing (as in billing and coo­ing) a bird trilling. It would be worth giv­ing up a few seeds to see these live­ly birds in one’s yard.

Phyl­lis: And the sign to keep bears away (which the bear is using to scratch under his arm) made me laugh out loud: “Please do not stomp here. There are seeds and they are try­ing.”

Iridescence of birdsThe Iri­des­cence of Birds, A Book about Hen­ri Matisse by Patri­cia MacLach­lan also uses the syn­tax of an elon­gat­ed sen­tence to height­en a sense of yearn­ing and show how Matisse’s love of col­or and light might have bloomed from his child­hood “in a drea­ry town in north­ern France where the skies were gray and the days were cold” and his moth­er bright­ened their home with paint­ed plates and flow­ers and red rugs on the dirt floor, and his father raised pigeons “with col­ors that changed with the light as they moved.” The sin­gle long inter­rog­a­tive sen­tence is answered by anoth­er, short­er ques­tion:

Would it be a sur­prise that you became
A fine painter who paint­ed
Light
And
Move­ment
And the iri­des­cence of birds?”

Jack­ie: This book does for me what all good pic­ture books do, it makes me want to know more about Hen­ri Matisse—and his remark­able moth­er. She knew that a red rug trumps a dirt floor any day—and she must have had a lode of artis­tic abil­i­ty her­self. And this book makes me want to try to write a sto­ry in one sen­tence.

Waiting-for-Spring StoriesPhyl­lis: Wait­ing-for-Spring Sto­ries by Bethany Robert was a baby gift to my first daugh­ter, and it con­tin­ues to enchant. Papa Rab­bit, “like Grand­pa Rab­bit before him and Great-Grand­pa Rab­bit before that,” helps to pass the time with his lit­tle rab­bits until Spring arrives by telling sto­ries, sev­en in all. And true to a child’s sen­si­bil­i­ty of the world, wind talks, a star yearns to sing, the lit­tle rabbit’s too big feet com­plain about the ways he tries to shrink them, a worm reas­sures a rab­bit, and, in my favorite, “The Gar­den,” veg­eta­bles rebel against a farmer who plans to eat them for sup­per.

’Get him, boys,’ called the onion.” And they do. The onion makes him cry, pota­to trips him, the car­rot whacks him on the head, and they escape by rolling out the door.

After that, the farmer rab­bit always ate pan­cakes for his din­ner.”

Jack­ie: Those veg­eta­bles could be in a hor­ror pic­ture book, for sure. But maybe they are too fun­ny for a hor­ror pic­ture book.

Phyl­lis: The book and the sto­ry­telling end with sun­light pour­ing in the win­dow and the snow begin­ning to melt from the win­dow­panes.

Spring is here at last!”

Jack­ie: These sto­ries remind me of Arnold Lobel’s work in their sure por­tray­al of char­ac­ters I care about in just a few words. And I so love the talk­ing grass and the talk­ing feet and the feisty onion, car­rot, and pota­to. I don’t know why but I found myself want­i­ng to hear some­thing from the lit­tle rab­bits between the sto­ries, some­thing about the wait­ing or the upcom­ing spring. But that’s anoth­er book. These sto­ries are cozy and charm­ing and just right to read while we wait.

pasque flowers trilliumPhyl­lis: Last week I saw pasque flow­ers and snow tril­li­ums. This week I found green leaves grow­ing in my gar­den. This year’s time of yearn­ing is over. It’s time to go out­side and glo­ry in spring­time, here at last.

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Bookstorm™: A River of Words

 

Bookmap for A River of Words

A River of WordsAuthor Jen Bryant and illus­tra­tor Melis­sa Sweet have teamed up on a num­ber of pic­ture book biogra­phies about cre­ative artists. We’ve cho­sen to fea­ture their very first col­lab­o­ra­tion dur­ing this month in which poet­ry takes the spot­light. By telling us the true sto­ry about poet William Car­los Williams’ child­hood and grow­ing up, with his clear poet­ry sur­round­ing the pages, they awak­en inter­est in young peo­ple who may think this no-longer-liv­ing, ancient (he was born in 1883 and died in 1963) poet is not with­in reach. They’ll be sur­prised by how his poet­ry will touch them. And he made a career for him­self as a poet while he was being a coun­try doc­tor! What an inter­est­ing fel­low.

We trust you will find this month’s Book­storm use­ful for teach­ing poet­ry, teach­ing writ­ing, units on nature, talk­ing about non­fic­tion and biog­ra­phy … and enjoy­ing the qui­eter moments when read­ing poet­ry is one of life’s plea­sures.

For more infor­ma­tion and dis­cus­sion guides, vis­it Jen Bryant’ web­site.

You can learn more about Melis­sa Sweet, the illus­tra­tor

Downloadables

 

 

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

Pic­ture Book Biogra­phies of Poets. From Shake­speare to Woody Guthrie, from Dave the Pot­ter to Pablo Neru­da, you’ll find top-notch biogra­phies of poets with whom kids find con­nec­tion. Sev­er­al of these are excel­lent men­tor texts as well.

Biogra­phies of Poets for Old­er Read­ers. If you’d like to use A Riv­er of Words with old­er grades, we’ve includ­ed a few biogra­phies that pair well. For instance, you’ll find Pablo Neru­da: Poet of the Peo­ple (Mon­i­ca Brown and Julie Paschkis) on the pic­ture book side and Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Dream­er, also about the Chilean poet Pablo Neru­da, for the more com­fort­able read­ers.

Revolv­ing Around William Car­los Williams. We’ve rec­om­mend­ed a biog­ra­phy writ­ten for adults, a col­lec­tion of Mr. Williams’ poems for chil­dren, and a book that was inspired by his poem, “This is Just to Say.”

Kids and Nature. Nature-deficit dis­or­der is on many edu­ca­tors’ minds. William Car­los Williams had a sig­nif­i­cant con­nec­tion to nature. He wrote about it often. We’ve includ­ed books with ter­rif­ic ideas for enthus­ing chil­dren about going out­doors, both unplugged and plugged-in.

Col­lage and Mixed-Media Illus­tra­tions. Do the types of illus­tra­tion con­fuse you? We’ll have an inter­view with Melis­sa Sweet this month that we hope will make you feel more com­fort­able dis­cussing the art in A Riv­er of Words. We’ve sug­gest­ed a few books that also use a mixed media style.

Let us know how you are mak­ing use of this Book­storm™. Share your ideas and any oth­er books you’d add to this Book­storm™.

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Celebrating Ezra Jack Keats

The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack KeatsJack­ie: This is the time of year when I read the Trav­el Sec­tion of the Sun­day paper. I just want to go away from grit­ty snow, brown yards and come back to Spring. Well, there are no tick­ets on the shelf this year so Phyl­lis and I are tak­ing a trip to the city cre­at­ed by Ezra Jack Keats. And why not? This month, this year marks his one-hun­dredth birth­day.

As our trav­el guide we’re tak­ing The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats (Yale Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2011), writ­ten by Clau­dia Nah­sen to coin­cide with The Snowy Day’s 50th anniver­sary and the show­ing of many of his works at the Jew­ish Muse­um, New York

Last Stop on Market StreetI’ve been think­ing of Keats since I read Last Stop on Mar­ket Street, this year’s New­bery Award win­ner, writ­ten by Matt de la Peña and illus­trat­ed by Chris­t­ian Robin­son. Robinson’s won­der­ful depic­tions of the urban land­scape and the text’s sug­ges­tion that beau­ty is all around us, remind­ed me of Keats’s city scenes. Often they are set in his child­hood home in Depres­sion Era Brook­lyn but enhanced with Keats’s bril­liant col­lages, sketch­es, and jazzy palette.

A bit about his life, which I learned from Nahsen’s beau­ti­ful book: Jacob Ezra Katz was born in New York, on March 11, 1916. He was the youngest of three chil­dren born to immi­grant par­ents in a “love­less mar­riage.” He grew up in a fam­i­ly marked by strife and unhap­pi­ness. He felt invis­i­ble as a child and believed “’life was mea­sured by anguish.’” (Nahsen,p. 5). Art saved him. And in his art he gave life and valid­i­ty to the streets he remem­bered from his child­hood and to the kids, often invis­i­ble to soci­ety, who live on those streets.

The Snowy DayPhyl­lis: And up until pub­li­ca­tion of A Snowy Day, the first full-col­or pic­ture book to fea­ture an African Amer­i­can pro­tag­o­nist, those kids were vir­tu­al­ly invis­i­ble in pic­ture books as well. I espe­cial­ly love how Keats makes us see the city and the chil­dren and grown-ups who live in it with fresh eyes—his art includes graf­fi­ti, trash­cans, and the strug­gles and cel­e­bra­tions of child­hood. Nah­sen quotes Keats: “Every­thing in life is wait­ing to be seen!” While some peo­ple crit­i­cized Keats, a white writer, for writ­ing about black char­ac­ters in The Snowy Day, the poet Langston Hugh­es wished he had “grand­chil­dren to give it [the book] to.” Keats felt the crit­i­cisms deeply but con­tin­ued to tell and illus­trate the sto­ries in his world “wait­ing to be seen.”

LouieJack­ie: Keats wrote and illus­trat­ed twen­ty-two books in his career. The ones I know are just as fresh, just as in tune with the lives of chil­dren as they were when he wrote them. We all know Peter of A Snowy Day, Peter’s Chair, A Let­ter to Amy. But Keats’s Louie is not quite as famil­iar. Louie is a qui­et, kid who hard­ly ever speaks. But when he sees the pup­pet Gussie (Keats’s mother’s name) at Susie and Roberto’s pup­pet show, he stands up and yells “Hel­lo!, Hel­lo! Hel­lo!” Susie and Rober­to decide to have Gussie ask Louie to sit down so they can get on with the show. After the show they bring Gussie out so Louie can hold the pup­pet. Then the boy goes home, even­tu­al­ly sleeps and dreams he is falling and kids are laugh­ing at him. When he wakes up, his moth­er tells him some­one slipped a note under the door—“Go out­side and fol­low the long green string.” At the end of the green string is—Gussie! There is so much to love about this story—a sen­si­tive por­tray­al of a child who is some­how dif­fer­ent, gets laughed at, yelled at by some kids; two kids, Susie and Rober­to, who treat Louie with great kind­ness; and a hope­ful end­ing.

Nah­sen says: “…neglect­ed char­ac­ters, who had hith­er­to been liv­ing in the mar­gins of pic­ture books or had sim­ply been absent from children’s lit­er­a­ture take pride of place in Keats’s oeu­vre.” She quotes from his unpub­lished auto­bi­og­ra­phy: “When I did my first book about a black kid I want­ed black kids and white kids to know that he’s there.” So it is with Louie. Keats reminds read­ers that the qui­et kids, the kids who march to a dif­fer­ent drum, the kids who live behind the bro­ken doors, or on bro­ken-down bus­es and can only have a crick­et for a pet (Mag­gie and the Pirate) are there.

Maggie and the PiratePhyl­lis: Just as Keats por­trays the real lives of kids who live in bus­es or city apart­ments with­out “even any steps in front of the door to sit on,” he doesn’t shy away from the small and large griefs and trou­bles of child­hood. In Mag­gie and the Pirate, Maggie’s pet crick­et, tak­en by a boy who admires the cricket’s cage, acci­den­tal­ly drowns in a riv­er. Mag­gie and her friends hold a crick­et funer­al, and when the “pirate,” a boy who didn’t mean for the crick­et to die but want­ed the cage “real bad,” brings Mag­gie the cage with a new crick­et, the chil­dren

                “all sat down togeth­er.
                Nobody said any­thing.
                They lis­tened to the new crick­et singing.
                Crick­ets all around joined in.”

Tragedies and con­so­la­tion in the death of a cricket—a world seen through children’s eyes.

The Trip, Louie's Search, Regards to the Man in the Moon

Jack­ie: Keats came back to Louie with three oth­er books and used this char­ac­ter to help him present some of the oth­er prob­lems of child­hood—The Trip (1978), Louie’s Search (1980), and Regards to the Man in the Moon (1981).

The Trip tells us that Louie and his Mom move to a new neigh­bor­hood. Louie’s Search takes place after Louie has moved to a new neigh­bor­hood. “’What kind of neigh­bor­hood is this?’ thought Louie. “Nobody notices a kid around here.” He puts on a paper sack hat and paints his nose red and goes out for a walk. Even­tu­al­ly he picks up an object which has fall­en off a junk wag­on and so encoun­ters the scary junkman Bar­ney. Bar­ney is huge and thinks Louie has stolen this object. “’Come back, you lit­tle crook,’ Bar­ney bel­lowed.” They go to Louie’s house where Bar­ney tells his Mom, “Your son’s a crook!’”

What Louie had found was a music box. When he holds it the box makes music. When he drops it, it stops. Bar­ney decides to give the music box to Louie and stays for tea with Louie and his mom. It’s the begin­ning of a won­der­ful rela­tion­ship that ends with a wed­ding and Louie find­ing the Dad he hoped for.

The Trip, Jennie's Hat, Dreams

Phyl­lis: Anoth­er thread through­out Keats’ work is the pow­er of imag­i­na­tion. Louie in The Trip imag­ines a plane fly­ing him to his old neigh­bor­hood. Jen­nie in Jennie’s Hat imag­ines a beau­ti­ful hat instead of the plain one her aunt has sent, and the birds, who she feeds dai­ly, swoop down and dec­o­rate her hat with leaves, pic­tures, flow­ers (paper and real), col­ored eggs, a paper fan, and a pink valen­tine. In Dreams, Rober­to imag­ines (or does it real­ly hap­pen?) that when a paper mouse he has made tum­bles from his win­dowsill, its shad­ow “grew bigger—and bigger—and BIGGER” until it scared off the dog ter­ror­iz­ing his friend’s kit­ten on the side­walk below.

Ezra Jack Keats: Artist and Picture-book MakerWe haven’t real­ly even talked about his art and his bril­liant use of col­lage and col­or. Just as Keats’s books cel­e­brate the pow­er of the imag­i­na­tion, Ani­ta Sil­vey says that Keats took “absolute joy in the cre­ative process.” We can share that joy in his books in sto­ries and art that rec­og­nize that every­one needs to be seen, every­one has a place, and every­one, joy­ous­ly, mat­ters.

Jack­ie: Bri­an Alder­son in Ezra Jack Keats: Artist and Pic­ture-Book Mak­er writes that in The Snowy Day Keats “came home to his prop­er place: a col­orist cel­e­brat­ing the hid­den lives of the city kids.” I would add that that can be said for most of his works. And we are the rich­er for it.

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Skinny Dip with Michael Hall

Red: a Crayon's StoryWhat is your proud­est career moment?

Sev­er­al months before the pub­li­ca­tion of my book, Red: A Crayon’s Sto­ry, The Wall Street Jour­nal pub­lished an edi­to­r­i­al bemoan­ing the “gen­der indus­tri­al com­plex,” “cul­tur­al war­riors,” and books—including mine—“that seek to engage the sym­pa­thies of young read­ers … and nudge the nee­dle of cul­ture.” I had writ­ten some­thing good enough to pro­voke the wrath of the WJS edi­to­r­i­al page. It was a proud moment, indeed.

In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?

The first thing that comes to my mind is base­ball. But there are prob­lems.

First of all, base­ball isn’t an Olympic sport. (It became an offi­cial Olympic sport in 1992, but was oust­ed after the 2008 sum­mer Olympics.) Nev­er­the­less, since we’re talk­ing about fantasy—and since I have a rich fan­ta­sy life—this is rel­a­tive­ly easy to over­come. Let’s face it, if I can imag­ine the bald­ing, pot-bel­lied, six­ty-some­thing me grace­ful­ly climb­ing the wall in left field to rob a bat­ter of an extra-base hit (to the thun­der­ing approval of the crowd), I can cer­tain­ly imag­ine that base­ball has been rein­sti­tut­ed as an Olympic sport just in time for the sum­mer of 2016.

Michael Hall sports fantasyBut there’s a more dif­fi­cult prob­lem: Hav­ing spent much of my life imag­in­ing myself as a star left field­er for the Min­neso­ta Twins, my sta­tus as an ama­teur is clear­ly in doubt. If it came down to it, I wouldn’t sac­ri­fice my imag­i­nary Twins base­ball star sta­tus in order to imag­ine win­ning an Olympic gold medal for the Unit­ed States Olympic team.

So I’m going with table ten­nis.

What is your favorite line from a book?

In an old house in Paris that was cov­ered with vines lived twelve lit­tle girls in two straight lines.”

What keeps you up at night?

These pesky crea­tures called should’ves. I don’t know how they get into the house, but at night, they crawl into my bed and whis­per in my ear.

You should have done this, Michael.”

And frankly, you should have done that as well, Michael.”

This makes sleep­ing dif­fi­cult.

It’s well known that should’ves tire eas­i­ly. If you ignore them, they’ll fall asleep. So I thought I could just wait them out. But it’s less well known that they snore loud­ly. So, even while sleep­ing, they keep me awake.

One night, after the should’ves fell asleep—and were snor­ing horribly—I picked them up, put them in a shoe box, and took them out the back door. I went back to bed and was doz­ing off, when I was vis­it­ed by five angry shouldn’t’ves.

Michael, you should not have done that!”

Which of your books would make a good movie and who would be the star?

It's an Orange AardvarkThe book with the most crisply drawn char­ac­ters is prob­a­bly It’s An Orange Aard­vark, a book about five car­pen­ter ants who awake to a noise out­side their dark nest in a tree stump. One ant tries to get clues as to what it is by drilling holes in the stump. As each new hole reveals a dif­fer­ent col­or, a sec­ond ant, who is con­vinced that it’s a hun­gry aard­vark, twists the infor­ma­tion to fit his pre­con­ceived belief, even as his ver­sion of the truth becomes more and more absurd.

For me, this was always a book about sci­en­tif­ic method. The hole-drilling ant is a wide-eyed, ded­i­cat­ed, ide­al­is­tic sci­en­tist. I think some­one like Toby Maguire would be per­fect for the role. (There is no love inter­est here. It’s a pic­ture book after all. But I’m sure a tal­ent­ed screen­writer could fix that.)

The sec­ond ant, the one who’s con­vinced an aard­vark awaits, is sort of a cross between Dick Cheney and Cliff Clavin from Cheers. I could sug­gest some­one like Willem Defoe, but I don’t want to play up the sin­is­ter part too much (it’s a pic­ture book, after all), so I’ll go with John Ratzen­berg­er from the Cheers cast. 

 

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That Lovely Ornament, the Moon

by Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin and Phyl­lis Root

Jack­ie: We’ve passed the Sol­stice but we still have more night than day. We can watch the moon with our break­fast and with our din­ner. We thought we’d cel­e­brate this sea­son of the moon by shar­ing some sto­ries fea­tur­ing that love­ly orna­ment.

Phyl­lis: And Christ­mas Eve we saw an almost full moon cast­ing shad­ows on the snow before the clouds blew in. Moon­light real­ly is mag­i­cal.

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.

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

Out­side 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.

 

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John Burningham

John BurninghamYou prob­a­bly know John Burn­ing­ham best for Mr. Gumpy’s Out­ing but illus­tra­tors, book cre­ators, are so much more than what we see between the cov­ers of their books. Their lives are often illus­trat­ed. They record things on paper visu­al­ly. They put what they’ve observed into draw­ers and port­fo­lios and note­books so they have that once-seen image to call upon for their work.

In this epony­mous­ly titled book, John Burn­ing­ham (Can­dlewick Press), both Mau­rice Sendak and Bri­an Alder­son write fore­words for the book, par­tic­u­lar­ly about the ear­ly 1960s which saw the pub­li­ca­tion of Bor­ka (Burn­ing­ham) and Where the Wild Things Are (Sendak). Those books “were the direct result of those fast and furi­ous­ly fresh­ly designed pic­ture book days. Down with the sim­per­ing 19th cen­tu­ry goody-goody books that deprived chil­dren of their ani­mal nature, wild imag­i­na­tion, and lust for liv­ing.” (Sendak)

The major­i­ty of the book is Burningham’s remem­brances of child­hood, liv­ing in a car­a­van with his fam­i­ly dur­ing World War II, his ear­ly jobs, attend­ing the Cen­tral School of Arts, and each of his books. This Lit­er­ary Madeleine is replete with sketch­es, draw­ings, and fin­ished work, pho­tos, inspi­ra­tion, and obser­vances.

John Burningham Books

Here are some high­lights:

There is a mis­con­cep­tion that pic­ture books for chil­dren should be packed with colour and dec­o­ra­tion on every page. This is rather like say­ing a suc­cess­ful piece of music should be crammed full of loud noise. It’s the jux­ta­po­si­tion and build-up of sound that makes music inter­est­ing.” (pg 127) 

 “When I look at some of my child­hood draw­ings, I real­ize I have repro­duced them again years lat­er. The plumb­ing pic­ture I drew as a child is very sim­i­lar to the pic­ture in Time to Get Out of the Bath, Shirley.” (pg 130)

John Burningham

He offers com­ments on many of his books, insight­ful, pro­duc­ing much flip­ping back and forth to look at oth­er draw­ings, to exam­ine how Burn­ing­ham has done this else­where, to absorb his scope and style. For Oi! Get Off Our Train (called Hey, Get Off Our Train in the US … oi!) he explains that the West Japan Rail­way Com­pa­ny hired him to make a book about the Yoshit­sune, Japan’s first steam loco­mo­tive, for Expo 90, a world’s fair held in Osa­ka in 1990. The paint­ing below is from this book …

Oi Get Off Our Train!

It’s very reveal­ing about this author/illustrator that he writes, “Oi! Get Off Our Train was first pub­lished in Japan in 1989. It is an envi­ron­men­tal tale, now ded­i­cat­ed to Chico Mendes, who did so much try­ing to pro­tect the rain­forests. He was mur­dered for his work. Oi! Get Off Our Train is about endan­gered species, but more than that it’s about the social hier­ar­chy of young chil­dren and the need to ease them­selves into a group.” (pg 167)

Harvey SlumfenbergerHar­vey Slumfenburger’s Christ­mas Present relates the sto­ry of a young boy who is quite poor. The only present he will get for Christ­mas is the one that Father Christ­mas will bring him. “Father Christ­mas was very tired. The rein­deer were asleep and one of them was not very well. But Father Christ­mas knew he had to get the present to Har­vey Slum­fen­burg­er.” (pg 179)

It is a book to be read care­ful­ly, savored, and cher­ished. Pull it down from your shelf every few months and you’ll quick­ly be pulled into his art­work once again. You’ll find your­self filled with effer­ves­cence, the type that car­ries you on to do great things.

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Don’t get took! Read a book!”

by Vic­ki Palmquist

bk_bookitchI go crazy when I hear that Vaun­da Michaux Nel­son has anoth­er book com­ing out. I’m a fan. For my own read­ing life, No Crys­tal Stair: a doc­u­men­tary nov­el of the life and work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem book­seller, is one of my top ten books in the last ten years. I found every aspect of that book sat­is­fy­ing. I learned a great deal. Ms. Nelson’s writ­ing style is well suit­ed to nar­ra­tive non­fic­tion: she makes it excit­ing. 

So, when I heard that a pic­ture book form of No Crys­tal Stair was on the hori­zon, my expec­ta­tions were high. It would be illus­trat­ed by R. Gre­go­ry Christie, whose work I have loved ever since his Stars in the Dark­ness (writ­ten by Bar­bara M. Joosse) found me sob­bing. But how would they com­press all of the great true sto­ries in No Crys­tal Stair into a pic­ture book?

They’ve done it. Even the title appeals to younger read­ers: The Book Itch: Free­dom, Truth & Harlem’s Great­est Book­store (Car­ol­rho­da, 2015).

The book is nar­rat­ed by Michaux’s son, Lewis H. Michaux, Jr., who is just­ly proud of his father. It opens with Muham­mad Ali’s vis­it to the store. Jump right in!

With the longer text in No Crys­tal Stair, Nel­son builds a depth of under­stand­ing for Michaux’s com­mit­ment to books. In The Book Itch, she knows this is not need­ed for young read­ers. We learn the parts that will inter­est this crowd. Michaux start­ed with five books, sell­ing his read­ing mate­ri­als out of a push­cart. He couldn’t get financ­ing from a bank because the banker said “Black peo­ple don’t read.” Michaux believed oth­er­wise. His store became a place to find, and read, books by and about black peo­ple.

Lewis Michaux was a good friend to Mal­colm X. They were both polit­i­cal and believed “Nobody can give you free­dom. Nobody can give you equal­i­ty or jus­tice or any­thing. If you’re a man, you take it.” Nel­son includes the heart­break­ing scene that recounts Michaux’s reac­tion to the assas­si­na­tion of Mal­colm X. His son had nev­er seen his father cry before that day.

bk_bookitch_illus

This book keeps his­to­ry alive and vital by con­nect­ing us to The Nation­al Memo­r­i­al African Book­store, a place which was, in Michaux’s words, “The House of Com­mon Sense and Prop­er Pro­pa­gan­da.” Christie’s illus­tra­tions are at once a record and a rib­bon reach­ing from the past, show­ing us how peo­ple felt. We often for­get about this in our look back … and it’s essen­tial to remem­ber that impor­tant his­tor­i­cal fig­ures were just like us, think­ing, act­ing, laugh­ing, hurt­ing.

Ms. Nelson’s place in my list of Best Non­fic­tion Authors is firm. This is a book that belongs in every library, class­room, and on fam­i­ly book­shelves. Books bring us free­dom.

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Picture Books and Dementia

by Jen­ny Bar­low

We could reach her through nurs­ery rhymes.

She reg­u­lar­ly sat in the liv­ing room, wrapped in a blan­ket in her wheel­chair. To peo­ple who don’t under­stand, she would seem with­ered, vacant, even loose in the joints, and maybe very shab­by. But we stroked her palsied hands and gen­tly called her name. On occa­sion, she’d open her eyes.

Hick­o­ry dick­o­ry,” we’d start.

Often fast, like an auc­tion­eer, she’d respond, “DOCK! The mouse ran up the clock, the sheep’s in the mead­ow the cow’s in the corn, hick­o­ry dick­o­ry dock!”

Ok, so she wasn’t perfect…but she deserved points for keep­ing with­in the nurs­ery rhyme genre. Demen­tia vis­its peo­ple dif­fer­ent­ly, but com­mon­ly the mem­o­ries it spares are ones from child­hood. Some­one, like­ly this woman’s moth­er, 90 some years ago, before WWI, before women’s suf­frage, before radio, took the time to sit with this now-wrin­kled woman as a then-chub­by-faced baby and sing her nurs­ery rhymes.

Near­ly a cen­tu­ry lat­er, we were blessed to enjoy the echoes of that love between par­ent and child.

Barlow_Rosie

Jen­ny in cos­tume for an activ­i­ty at work where she used the children’s book Rosie the Riv­et­er by Pen­ny Col­man, and had a dis­cus­sion about WWII,

We must not lim­it our­selves. Peo­ple of all ages and sit­u­a­tions love pic­ture books for dif­fer­ent rea­sons. Kunio Yanagida’s pic­ture book was cit­ed in The Jour­nal of Inter­gen­er­a­tional Rela­tion­ships to express why this is true:

There is a Japan­ese say­ing that one should read a pic­ture book at three dif­fer­ent times through one’s life: at first, in child­hood; sec­ond, dur­ing the peri­od of rear­ing chil­dren, and third, in lat­er life. Old­er peo­ple are thought to be par­tic­u­lar­ly impressed and feel sym­pa­thy when read­ing pic­ture books because of their rich life expe­ri­ences.1

Viral videos show how peo­ple momen­tar­i­ly awak­en hiber­nat­ing per­son­al­i­ties by hear­ing just the right song. They use the scaf­fold­ing of the music to sing words they can’t say on their own in a sen­tence, yet their expres­sions sug­gest they very much know the con­text. The same can be true with read­ing.

It is now uni­ver­sal­ly accept­ed that music should be used dai­ly to empow­er the lives of those with demen­tia. It is time for read­ing, inde­pen­dent­ly or in a group, to become revered in a par­al­lel light. Reflect­ing back on how the woman remem­bered nurs­ery rhymes, the leap in log­ic with children’s sto­ries becom­ing senior’s sto­ries isn’t so out­landish.

The mod­ern day world of children’s lit­er­a­ture is vast, with clas­sics like Peter Pan or The Vel­veteen Rab­bit to sophis­ti­cat­ed non-fic­tion about his­tor­i­cal moments this old­er gen­er­a­tion cre­at­ed. Well-writ­ten sto­ries stay with us, change us into bet­ter human beings, and make our own hearts wis­er. C.S. Lewis once said, “A children’s sto­ry that can only be enjoyed by chil­dren is not a good children’s sto­ry in the slight­est.”

The words on the page, the illus­tra­tions woven with the sto­ry­line, the length, the page turns, the weight of the book itself: all of these aspects sup­port an inter­gen­er­a­tional mar­ket. Pre­co­cious pic­ture books work espe­cial­ly well as seniors, even those with advanced demen­tia, usu­al­ly retain much of their vocab­u­lary.  

The form and for­mat of pic­ture books are also effec­tive for engag­ing these read­ers. Although we see old­er folks sit­ting with their cup of black cof­fee and morn­ing paper, the font size of newsprint can be hard to deci­pher, the busy­ness of the ads mixed with blocks of dif­fer­ent arti­cles can be con­fus­ing, and, due to atten­tion dif­fi­cul­ties caused by dis­ease and stress, the length of news sto­ries, let alone nov­els, can be over­whelm­ing. The design and length of pic­ture books, on the oth­er hand, wel­comes these same read­ers.

The Alzheimer’s Asso­ci­a­tion reports there are cur­rent­ly over five mil­lion peo­ple in the Unit­ed States with this type of demen­tia, and that num­ber may triple in the next 35 years.2 The per­cent­age of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion made of chil­dren ages 12 and younger will dip in that same time peri­od.3 The busi­ness of writ­ing pic­ture books and plac­ing them with the per­fect read­er can, and should, grow up.  

There is a blue ocean of under-served and under­es­ti­mat­ed peo­ple, bro­ken-in-body chil­dren-at-heart, who need us. Pic­ture books can help fam­i­lies express love to those they thought they had lost. We already have the pow­er, we just need the refram­ing mind­set. It’s sim­ple, real­ly; we can even reach them through nurs­ery rhymes.

Long live “children’s” lit­er­a­ture.

Note from the Bookol­o­gist: Jen­ny sug­gests these pic­ture books to begin with:

Grandfather’s Jour­ney by Allen Say

The Name Quilt by Phyl­lis Root, illus. by Mar­got Apple

The Road to Oz: Twists, Turns, Bumps, and Tri­umphs in the Life of L.Frank Baum by Kath­leen Krull, illus. Kevin Hawkes

A Nation’s Hope: the Sto­ry of Box­ing Leg­end Joe Lewis by Matt De La Pena, illus. Kadir Nel­son

Up North at the Cab­in by Mar­sha Wil­son Chall, illus. Steve John­son

Sources:

1. http://pages.stern.nyu.edu/~kbrabazo/Eval-repository/Repository-Articles/reprints%20japan%20program.pdf

2. http://www.alz.org/facts/overview.asp

3. http://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/53_appendix1.pdf

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by Vic­ki Palmquist

How to Read a StoryA step-by-step, slight­ly tongue-in-cheek but most­ly sin­cere, guide to read­ing a book, How to Read a Sto­ry by Kate Mess­ner, illus­trat­ed by Mark Siegel (Chron­i­cle Books), will have you and your young read­ers feel­ing all warm and cozy and smart.

With advice in Step 2 to Find a Read­ing Bud­dy, we are cau­tioned “And make sure you both like the book.” That makes per­fect sense. Read­ing bud­dies, as drawn in a col­or­ful palette by illus­tra­tor and car­toon­ist Mark Siegel, can be old­er, younger, “or maybe not a per­son at all.” Per­haps a blue dog will wish to read with you.

In Step 6, the sug­ges­tion is to read the dia­logue by say­ing it “in a voice to match who’s talk­ing.” The ink-and-water­col­or illus­tra­tions take up the nar­ra­tive, giv­ing us irre­sistible words with which to prac­tice, a lion, a mouse who says “I am the most POWERFUL in all the land!” and a robot who mere­ly says “Beep.” It’s excel­lent prac­tice for inter­pret­ing pic­tures and putting mean­ing into the words.

We’re invit­ed to try our minds at pre­dic­tion in Step 8, as our read­er and his read­ing bud­dy, the blue dog, con­tem­plate what will hap­pen next.

It’s a book that will make you smile, a good match between well-cho­sen words and play­ful illus­tra­tions, yet it’s a use­ful book for home and school and sto­ry hour. How can chil­dren learn the way to read out loud? How to Read a Sto­ry will have them try­ing before you know it.

 

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