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.

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