Thursday, December 24, 2015

On Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Beni Montresor (Young Scott, 1961). 

Normally when I think of a book from my childhood, it's the illustrations that come back vividly. While the orange pages (which unfortunately my camera tried to make white in the images below) with blank ink definitely made an impression, what I really loved about this book as a kid was the ever talented Margaret Wise Brown's words.  A quiet tension runs throughout the book.  It's at once peaceful, with tranquil words describing children unable to sleep while snow falls softly in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve, but it also combines that with the heart-pumping excitement and anticipation of Christmas.  It's a great classic to read the night before Christmas. This version is out of print, but it was republished in the 90s with new illustrations.

I've made updates to my list of multicultural picture books that I originally posted last year.  You can check that out here. 

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone!  

Monday, December 21, 2015

Who Built the Stable?: A Nativity Poem

Who Built the Stable?: A Nativity Poem by Ashley Bryan (Atheneum, 2012).

I was interested to read this book because I love Ashley Bryan's colorful illustrations.  I'm not religious so I was curious to see how he portrayed this nativity story.  This poem asks "Who built the stable where the Baby Jesus lay?... Was it made by human hands, was it built by God?" The answer Bryan gives is that "A child built the stable, a little shepherd boy."  This little shepherd boy shelters Mary and Joseph so that they can have their baby. In the end, the boy looks in the baby's eyes and knows in his heart that he will be a carpenter, and a shepherd, too.  A great nativity story and beautifully illustrated.

I was surprised to learn that Ashley Bryan is 92 years old now.  He has a great website here

Friday, December 18, 2015

My First Kwanzaa

My First Kwanzaa by Karen Katz (Henry Holt, 2003). 

This is a super cute book that shows a family celebrating Kwanzaa and teaches the reader about the traditions involved. The story and illustrations are very sweet and colorful. 

For more information and activities for kids about Kwanzaa, see this website.

See my Pinterest board here for more Kwanzaa books.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Hanukkah Moon

Hanukkah Moon by Deborah da Costa, illustrated by Gosia Mosz (Kar-Ben Publishing, 2007).

This is a lovely book about a young Mexican-American girl named Isobel whose Aunt Luisa invites her over to celebrate the eight nights of Hanukkah ("Januka" in Spanish) and see the Hanukkah Moon, or luna nueva, the new moon that appears ever Hanukkah. The illustrations are filled with warmth from family love, light, and the holiday. Aunt Luisa teaches Isobel, and the readers, about Latin-Jewish Hanukkah traditions.

If you're interested in learning more, I found a nice article about how Jewish Latinos celebrate Hanukkah in Los Angeles here.  

For more Hanukkah picture books, see my Pinterest board here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Sharing the Bread: An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving Story

Sharing the Bread: An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving Story by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Jill McElmurry (Schwartz & Wade, 2015).

This is a great book about a traditional 19th century American Thanksgiving.  The illustrations are great, I loved looking at all the little details and historical touches. The story itself has a nice sentiment about everyone in the family sharing responsibilities in preparing for the meal and coming together to express gratitude. 

There is also a activity kit for the book available as a PDF here

I wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving! 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Gracias the Thanksgiving Turkey

Gracias the Thanksgiving Turkey by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Joe Cepeda (Scholastic, 1996).

This is a fun book about a young Puerto Rican boy named Miguel who lives in New York City with his abuelos and tia while his truck-driver father is on the road.  His father sends him a turkey to fatten up for Thanksgiving, but of course Miguel ends up attached to his new friend whom he names Gracias. He and Gracias have some fun adventures but Miguel is worried what will happen once Thanksgiving comes, but everything works out when the family decides to have chicken for dinner.  

Monday, November 16, 2015

Thanksgiving Treat

Thanksgiving Treat by Catherine Stock (Atheneum, 1990). 

This is a sweet book about a young boy who wants to help with Thanksgiving preparations but no one in his family wants his help because they think he'll just get in the way.  Until of course his grandfather teaches him out to collect chestnuts for roasting, and his family is appreciative of the yummy treat.  

Catherine Stock has written and illustrated numerous wonderful picture books, including Galimoto which was a Reading Rainbow book.  

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving Day by Anne Rockwell, illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell (Harper Collins, 1999). 

I'm going to be sharing several Thanksgiving books that I found at my local library over the next couple weeks.  I'm starting off with a popular book that, while well meaning, is quite problematic at times.

First of all, the good:  The illustrations are lovely and I like that they show a diverse range of children and multiculturally mixed families.  It's the story of a classroom learning about the first Thanksgiving and putting on a play.  The history that is taught is where it gets problematic.  The author refers to the Native Americans by their tribal name, the Wampanoag, which is great.  However, other than that, she portrays the whole situation as peaceful and caring between friends. Of course we want to promote sharing and kindness among children, but rewriting history to do so is not justifiable. 

One line that jumped out at me was: "Michiko was thankful that she and all the other Pilgrims were greeted kindly by the Wampanoag people, who shared the land with them." Saying that the Wampanoags "shared the land" with the Pilgrims is twisting the true history and making it seem like it's ok to just steal other people's land. I might still read this story to a child just because of the illustrations, but rewording or skipping the problematic passages.

Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature has a good critique of the book here, which also has the author's response.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Witch Who Was Afraid of Witches

The Witch Who Was Afraid of Witches by Alice Low, illustrated by Karen Gundersheimer (1978).  

This was one of my Halloween favorites growing up.  It's the story of a young witch who lives with her older sisters who are bossy and mean to her.  They make her feel like she's not good enough to do magic like they can.  But one Halloween she befriends a trick-or-treater and learns she really does have witch magic.

It was reissued in 2000 with new illustrations by Jane Manning and made into an "I Can Read" book.  From the images I've seen of that version (Amazon), they are perfectly nice illustrations but lack the quirkiness of the original version.  It's actually really interesting to compare the two to show how a story can have such a different feeling depending on the illustrations. The expressions of the character faces in Gundersheimer's version just can't be beat. 

See my Pinterest board for more Halloween books.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Trouble with Mom

The Trouble with Mom by Babette Cole (Putnam, 1984).  

This is a book from my childhood that is a lot of fun.  I used to read it at Halloween time although it's not actually about the holiday.  It's about a boy whose mom is quite eccentric.  Although she's never called a witch in the text, the pictures portray her as such.  His mom doesn't fit in with his classmates' parents, in fact they call her names and don't let their kids hang out at their house. The boy is ashamed and wishes his mom were normal.  But when a fire breaks out at school, his mom saves the day and the other parents realize she's ok afterall.  This is a funny book with a good message to not judge people who are different.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower: John Howland's Good Fortune

The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower: John Howland's Good Fortune by P.J. Lynch (Candlewick, 2015). 

When I found out about this book, I had to get it.  I'm a descendant of Mayflower passengers John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley so I was eager to see how a picture book would tell their story.  P.J. Lynch is an award-winning author and illustrator from Ireland.  His illustrations here are beautifully rich and detailed. He also did a good job with writing the story from a teenage Howland's perspective. The title of the story comes when Howland falls of the Mayflower in a storm but of course is saved and pulled back on.  It's a good thing or I, and millions of his other descendants, wouldn't have been born. 

Despite being a picture book, this is definitely a book for older children-- I'd say probably 10 and up.  He lets readers into the mind of Howland which, while not being historically factual, helps kids put themselves in a Mayflower passenger's shoes.  Being an adult, some of these thoughts and dialogues made me question how accurate some of the sentiments would have been at that time.  For instance, there is a scene where Howland is given an order to steal corn from a native's home and he expresses how it weighs on his conscience.  In reality, would he have cared about taking food from a native? I don't know, maybe. I think coming up with excuses for our ancestors' behavior to be problematic. But at least this is a way of conveying to kids that stealing did happen.  There is also a scene where Squanto tells them how his whole village was killed off by a plague brought by the white man.  So the author definitely tries not to gloss over the hard truths while still telling the story from Howland's point of view. 

I also liked how he included "Lizzy" Tilley throughout the story.  She has a pivotal role in the end especially.  When Howland wants to sail back to London to make a fortune and suggests she go too, she tells him that her parents died trying to start a life in America and she won't let their dream and hard work be in vain, that there is still more work to do and neighbors to help. This persuades  Howland to stay, which turns out to be a good thing because the boat that went back was attacked by pirates, and of course a couple years later he and Elizabeth marry. While her speech to Howland to persuade him to stay probably isn't accurate (although I don't know personally if that came from research or just an invention of Lynch), there isn't a reason why it couldn't be, and helps readers to imagine women at the time.  It actually makes me want to read a story from Elizabeth Tilley's perspective now.

Overall, I thought this was a great book and definitely worth reading with older kids.  It could open up a lot of questions and be great for having conversations about our history and its portrayal. 

On The Mayflower
Suffering the first winter
Squanto showing them how to plant their crops and manure the fields


Friday, September 4, 2015

The Swing

The Swing by Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by Julie Morstad (2012).

How do you like to go up in a swing,
            Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
            Ever a child can do!

Many of us are probably familiar with the poem from Stevenson's collection A Child's Garden of Verses (1885).  It is beautifully illustrated by Julie Morstad in this board book.

Click here for my review of another of Julie Morstad's books, How To.