Friday, April 29, 2011

Three Favorite Picture Books About Family History

Written and illustrated by Robert Lawson
Winner of the Caldecott Medal
Ages 4 and up
(First published in 1940 by Viking Press)

"When the Civil War began, my father's father quit fighting Satan and went off to fight the Yankees instead. My father was twelve years old and wanted to go too, but they said he was too young. So he went to work in a store to help out."
This book is a simplified account of Lawson's paternal and maternal grandparents and his mother and father with some truly wonderful illustrations that speak a world of words with just an image. I can see why the book won the Caldecott, because the black and white drawings are "strong and good" and sometimes gently humorous (like the picture of his young grandmother as a new bride, hanging over the side of a ship being sick.)
I love this book for the way it captures little slices of history in the personal stories of his ancestors. 
Please be aware that there are some depictions of Native Americans and slaves that are stereotypical, but try to leave off judging, considering that these were the attitudes of the times in which the people lived.

Written by Deborah Blumethal
Illustrated by Mary GrandPre
Ages 4 and up
(Published in 2001 by Dial Books for Young Readers)

"Grandma Marilyn says
our book is like the Kaddish,
a prayer of love
to keep the past alive
so that it will never be forgotten."
Annie learns snippets of family history while listening to the grown-ups talk at large extended family dinners. Inspired to learn more about those family members who came before, Annie embarks on a family history project. She and her Grandma Marilyn gather every scrap of family memorabilia they can find in the house and bring them to the kitchen table, to create a family story album. As they assemble it, we learn -along with Annie- stories of various family members.
The pictures in this book are just so much fun. I love how GrandPre gives life to these family characters. My favorite is the spread below. (I hope the publishers don't mind if I share this with you.)

Can you see the sheepish shrug in Great-Grandpa Louis' eyes as he looks across the page at his wife? And the answering sardonic glint in hers as she gazes back, holding up her needle in an almost threatening manner? I love it! It's priceless!

Written by Phyllis Root
Illustrated by Margot Apple
Ages 4 and up
(Published in 2003 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

"The name quilt was made of little patches, like Grandma's other quilts. But the name quilt had names on it, too, sewn on some of the patches in tiny stitches with different-colored thread. And every name had a story."
Sadie loves working on the name quilt with Grandma, listening to the stories of those people sewn into the quilt.When a terrible storm blows through with heartbreaking consequences, Sadie learns the importance of memories.
This is a wonderful, heartwarming story of family relationships, and how family stories knit us together.

The first book I own, and the last two were borrowed from the library.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Picture Book Read-Alouds, Inspired by Folk Tales

Lucia and the Light
Written by Phyllis Root
Illustrated by Mary GrandPre
Picture Book, Ages 4 and up
Published by Candlewick Press in 2006

Inspired by a Norse folk tale, this is the compelling story of a little girl who bravely journeys up the mountain to rescue the sun, in order to bring light and warmth back to the land.
My girls loved this story, so much so that they asked if we can check it out of the library again. (It's due back today, and we're on our second renewal, so we can't keep it longer.) Even Susanna sat completely enthralled by the story. (She was the first one to spot the shadow of a troll, a portent of things to come, made by the shadows cast from hanging baskets in the family's cabin.)
The pictures are luminously beautiful. The medium looks like pastel, but I'm not sure. However they're done, they have an ethereal softness to them that is very dreamy. The way GrandPre captures light is amazing. The book is a beautiful marriage of art and text.
This is our first encounter with both Phyllis Root's and Mary GrandPre's work, and we will definitely check out other books by these talented women.

Written and illustrated by Demi
Picture Book, Ages 4 and up
Published by Scholastic Press in 1998

Inspired by a Chinese folk tale, this is the story of two fathers, a poor one who enjoys life, and a rich one obsessed with his money. Baffled, annoyed and perhaps a tad bit envious of the seemingly care-free life of the poor family, the rich man decides to give the poor man some money to worry about. This is a wonderful allegory about finding balance.
My girls were familiar with the so talented Demi from her book The Empty Pot, which they love and frequently request to be read.
They liked this story too, maybe not quite as much as The Empty Pot, but they have asked it to be read several times since we checked it out from the library.
(I want to get her books about Gandhi, Muhammad, Buddha, and Mother Teresa next.)

Both these books were checked out of the library.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Some of my favorite read-alouds for young boys (and girls, too)

This post is inspired by Fanny's comment (on this post) of her desire to find more books to read to her young son. Here are some fun books, all written for the 8 to 11 year old range, all older classics, that work beautifully and are especially appealling for reading aloud to young boys (and girls, who will love them too.)

The Great Brain
by John D. Fitzgerald
illustrated by Mercer Mayer

A funny romp of a book, told through the eyes of the youngest brother John D. (or J.D. as his family called him), about life in a family of all boys around the later part of the 1800's. The adventures, schemes, mayhem and mischief, usually concocted by his brother Tom (the Great Brain), that the boys are involved in will leave you laughing and blessing the patience of mothers everywhere. These books are also good to give reluctant readers, because they are so engaging, and well-written, and they keep moving.
These books (some of them) have been re-published, which is wonderful, as it's always a shame when good stories become unavailable to readers. And there are more in the series (that you might only find at your library, 'though I think Amazon has a few of the series):
  • More Adventures of the Great Brain
  • Me and My Little Brain
  • The Great Brain at the Academy
  • The Great Brain Reforms
  • The Return of the Great Brain
  • The Great Brain Does It Again
  • The Great Brain Is Back

by George Seldon
(First published in 1973)

Set in New York City, this is a heartwarming and hilarious story by the author of The Cricket in Times Square (another good read-aloud) about what happens when you employ a genie to help you solve your problems. When Tim's father dies, Tim goes to live with Aunt Lucy in her Sutton Place apartment, bringing along his mutt, Sam. Then Sam falls in love with Aunt Lucy, following her all around the apartment, lying his head on her lap or foot whenever she sits down. Aunt Lucy doesn't love Sam back, and quickly gets so annoyed that she tells Tim the dog has to go. Desperate to keep his beloved pet, Tim seeks the help of Madame Sosostris, an old friend of the family and also a Medium. The solution they stumble across takes Tim to the National Museum to release the trapped Slave of the Carpet. When the genie turns Sam the dog into Sam, the man, hilarity and disaster ensue. It is a funny, charming, gripping story that will leave you smiling at the end.
As a read-aloud, this book works for kids as young as five or six, if they're used to narratives. (The first part of it is a little slow as the story is being set up.) For the child who will read it alone, they might need to be a little older, say 8 or 9 - unless, of course, you've already read it aloud and they want to relive the magic themselves.
Unfortunately, this book is out of print. You can still purchase copies second-hand, and definitely try your library, as they usually have older classics like this.

Ben & Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin By His Good Mouse Amos
Written and Illustrated by Robert Lawson
(First published in 1939)

Amos the mouse feels the need to set the record straight on how Benjamin Franklin got the ideas for all of his marvelous inventions.
A witty, humorous and interesting look at a great figure in history.
ALSO try Lawson's other historical fiction book along similar lines: Mr. Revere and I.

The Enormous Egg
by Oliver Butterworth
illustrated by Louise Darling
(First published in 1957)

Nate Twitchell is shocked to discover that his hen has laid a very un-hen-sized egg. It's so enormous, she can't sit on it. When it hatches, he and the whole town, indeed the whole country, get the surprise of a lifetime when out pops a triceratops. Find out what happens as this enormous baby starts eating and eating...
A fun story, set in the 1950's, that my little girls loved when I read it aloud to them a couple years ago.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Book Review: All Their Names Were Courage by Sharon Phillips Denslow

Written by Sharon Phillips Denslow
Historical Fiction
Ages 7 and up

An historical novel, set during the Civil War, told in the form of letters over the course of three years, as eleven year old Sally Burd corresponds with her brother William, a Union soldier away at war. Sally writes to her brother that she and her friend Isaac have decided to write a book about the horses of Generals fighting in the war, illustrated by Isaac. She writes a letter of introduction and sends copies off to 19 generals, on both sides of the war. Here is an excerpt of that letter:

"Dear Sir,
My friend Isaac Mills and myself, Sarah McAlister Burd, both eleven and one half years,  of Brewers Mill, Kentucky, are writing to generals with regard to your fine horses. We mean to make a book of horses with pictures drawn by Isaac and letters from generals, such as yourself, telling us some about your favorite horse. We feel that the courageous warhorses and their stories and daring should not be lost."
When I saw this book on the library shelf, the title intrigued me. Then when I realized it was an epistolary book, I had to check it out: I'm a sucker for books in the form of letters or journals.
As I started to read, I quickly got hooked by the story. I appreciated that the focus of the book isn't on taking sides in the war; rather, it's about the life of a family, seen through the eyes of a young girl, when a son and brother are away at war; it's about the relationship between brother and sister, and their joint interest in the project that Sally and Isaac have undertaken. And even though I am not a horse person, I was intrigued by the project they undertook. I have never really considered before just how important horses were in the Civil War. I now have a better understanding and appreciation for those gallant warhorses and that all their names were, indeed, Courage.

Book published in 2003 by Greenwillow
This copy borrowed from the library.