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|Kareem Abdul Jabbar, April 2013|
I was thrilled to have the opportunity several weeks ago to hear basketball great Kareem Abdul Jabbar speak at a library event about his books, in particular about his children's book, What Color is My World: The Lost History of African American Inventors
(co-written with Raymond Obstfeld). I grew up with a father who was a sports fanatic; in the absence of sons, he took his two daughters regularly to see the Lakers play at the Forum in Inglewood. I saw Kareem Abdul Jabbar play countless times (and his predecessor, Wilt Chamberlain) and have many fond memories of cheering for him and his teammates.
Walking into a room filled with library staff, he literally seemed to be double the size of most of the people in the room, and despite his reputation as being introverted, he seemed at ease speaking with his audience of librarians and library support staff. Wearing a UCLA Bruins cap (no Lakers garb in sight), he gave an inspirational talk about what inspired him to write two of his books: What Color is My World
, and On the Shoulders of Giants
, a book about the Harlem "Rens," an all-black basketball team from the segregated days of professional basketball. He bemoaned the fact that so many African American young people seem to think that the only avenue to success is to be Jay-Z or Kobe Bryant, and said he wrote What Color is My World
to help inspire young people to consider other careers. During a lively Q&A, he answered a variety of questions on his own role models in basketball (Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain), his fond memories of Coach John Wooden, his inspiration for writing, and more. What Color is My World
is an assortment of biographical sketches of famous and little-known black inventors, ranging from George Crum, inventor of the potato chip, to Dr. Charles Drew, who developed the concept of large scale blood banks. The biographical sketches are enveloped in a fictional story about twins who have moved into a new house and meet an old handyman who's coincidentally just full of knowledge about African-American history, particularly scientists and inventors. This scheme provides an engaging setting for telling the stories of these remarkable men (unfortunately, only one woman is included among those discussed). The design of the book is also noteworthy--it's abundantly illustrated with full-color illustrations and there are flaps which kids can open which discuss each of the scientists, giving a portrait and brief "fast facts". When the reader opens the flap, he or she will find more information about that particular inventor and his invention. Below are examples of several spreads from the book.
I would highly recommend this book to any young person interested in science and technology, regardless of his or her race. It's also a fun and entertaining book for parents to share with their kids.
Recommended for ages 8-12.
Award-winning author Kimberly Newton Fusco
really knows how to create strong female characters that stay with you long after you've finished her book. In her most recent book, Beholding Bee
, she weaves an especially magical and moving story that's perfect for middle-grade readers.
As the novel opens, we meet 11-year old Bee, who lives with a traveling carnival. It's 1942, and Bee's parents, carnival workers, were killed when she was four and she's been raised by a kindly young woman, Pauline. Bee fills her days chopping onions and helping at the carnival's hot dog cart. She has to deal with teasing about a prominent birthmark on her face, although her guardian Pauline suggests it's a precious diamond. In fact, the carnival owner only seems to be keeping Bee so that he can use her in his "freak show" when she's a little older. But when Bee's two best friends leave the carnival, Bee decides it's time to find a real home, and takes to the road with a stray dog as unwanted as she is and a small piglet.
Bee is taken in by two mysterious but kindly old women, Mrs. Swift and Mrs. Potter, who live in an old home that seems straight out of a fairy tale. Their clothes seem to come from another era, and curiously only Bee is able to see these women she calls her "aunts." For the first time, Bee goes to school, where she must cope with cruel bullying. Although she's put in a special education class where she clearly does not belong, at school she makes her first friend her own age. Gradually, Bee learns that there are people who care about her, and she learns to accept herself for who she is.
This is a lovely, lyrical, story filled with what Bookpage called "real magic"--"created by love and conjured up by need." Kimberly Newton Fusco manages to fuse magic and realism, love and cruelty, loneliness and hope into another novel that's a treasure for middle-grade readers (and adults who love to share books with children!)
I am so pleased to have a guest post today from author Annette LeBlanc Cate, whose book, Look Up! Birdwatching in Your Own Backyard has just been released by Candlewick. It's a delightful, whimsical introduction to birdwatching, and I asked Annette to comment on how to get our kids outside!Birdwatching with Kids--Can Birds Beat Lego Star Wars?
I have been a little worried, as my book Look Up! comes out... that someone would ask me why I thought to write a book about bird-watching for kids, and that I wouldn't really have anything more profound and clever to say than..."I just wanted to, and I thought kids would like it, and I thought it would be fun".
That's it in a nutshell... but here... um... it is in a pumpkinshell...
Somewhere in middle of the 1990's I was the art director for an animated tv show, and although in some ways it was a deeply fun and happy time in my life... in others it was an excruciatingly horrible time in my life, fraught with soul-crushing deadlines, endless late nights staring into a computer screen til my eyeballs swam, drawing the same things over and over. Was I still an artist, if I did just draw these same cartoony characters over and over, and did that even matter? I worried that I was getting creatively bankrupt, and I also worried that I wasn't getting out of my dark basement much...i noticed that the only time I was outside was when i stumbled out to my car half asleep in the morning, and when I crawled back out to it, often late at night, and I thought, that can't be good for a person, especially someone who was supposed to be an artist.
I needed to get out, and get some air.
So I started walking at lunch, just to get outside, and, lucky for me, where I worked was right across the street from the Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass., which is a beautiful, famous old cemetery, filled with secret hidden dells and gardens. It's also filled with birds. I started to look forward to seeing them... so many I had never seen. Had they been here all along?
I also made a real effort to try and draw things that were not the characters in the show... I started keeping sketchbooks, just for drawing outside.... and it had to be outside, even if I was just sitting and drawing the skunk cabbage in the swampy stuff behind my house. If you sit still on the edge of a swamp and draw skunk cabbage... you know, pretty soon you're going to see some birds. And that is just what happened... soon I was watching birds, and then I was drawing them. And then I bought my first little field guide...a Peterson's beginner's guide, and that was it for me. Soon I was going out of my way to find places where birds would be, I was looking just for them.... in my spare time when I was out drawing, walking at lunch, and even looking into the sky and the woods when stopped at red lights during my sluggishly long commute to work. There really were birds out there, everywhere, and the more I looked, the more I saw them. I feel they saved me a little bit...they got me out of that dark computer filled basement, got me thinking of light and trees and everything else that was out there in the world....and they were waiting for me when the show ended, and I left that job, and had my first baby.
The bird book itself took years, and it grew out of the armloads of sketchbooks and notes. It grew from me reading field guides obsessively (is there any other way to properly read a field guide?) when I found I really needed to figure out what "breeding plumage" meant, because terms like that seemed to come up a lot. The more I cracked the code of field guides, figured out the secret language of birders, the deeper in I got, the more it all made sense, the more I loved it, the more I wanted to explain it.... because I guess I am just one of those people who likes to explain things. And I thought, really... a book about birds would be fun for kids.
Birding is sort of a natural thing for kids....they like to know the names of things, and they pay attention to stuff most grownups don't have the time of day for... like bugs on the steps, and butterflies, and flowers pushing up through the pavement.... and and birds, too. Kids start out loving to be outside, just running around and looking at things and poking around in the dirt.... being so interested in all those creatures that creep and crawl and slither and fly. So what happens?
Well, you know... life.... other kids...tv... video games.... soccer....that all happens. It creeps up. Your kids are no longer 5, now they see other kids with video games, and they decide they have to have Lego Star wars too, and who can blame them?. But can kids who love video games still love nature? Well... of course they can... but here's the catch... YOU have to love nature too, because that's how it works. We can, even with our older school-age children... influence (and by this i mean "make them") love what we love. So... if you want your kids to get out and love nature... well... you're going to have to get out there, too!
There are all sorts of ways to incorporate nature into your daily life... big ways, like, say, living in a house that abuts conservation land or spending vacations camping... and small ways... and I think the small ways are the best for starting any worthwhile endeavor. Nature is right outside the door... start by paying a little more attention, yourself. Maybe the next time you're sitting there after soccer practice you say to your kid... hey, why don't we just sit for a few minutes, nice just to sit, right? Is that a hawk up there on the lights? (and often, there really is one up there, have you ever noticed?) No need to hurry... because you're not in a hurry, right? Every grown-up knows there's always so much to do, so much to fit into the day... but maybe once in a while... you can just sit and look into the trees for a few minutes.
Maybe you start by saying, hey let's just take a little walk around the neighborhood after dinner, or even just sit on the steps in the evening, maybe we'll see some birds flying by... or we'll watch the chickadees at the feeder. Maybe you'll see some birds... and maybe you won't... but the important thing is that you are outside with a kid, just spending some quiet time... and not in a ticking-something-off-the-list way... but in a way that says "I really like just being out here with you in nature, it's nice to just be here." You have to be content, and not rushed, and not in a hurry. Kids know when you are in a hurry.. and I think birds do, too. So slow down, and just be. Outside.
And it doesn't hurt to buy a field guide and look up birds together, see what birds are native to your area... who lives in your yard? Going on a hike soon? Prepare first, say... hey, looks like we will be in the lair of the terrible Blue-winged Warbler, perhaps we'll see one! You might do a little homework yourself and make subtle suggestions about habitat and such... what birds might we see if we go to the mountains, or by a lake? Kids really are such clever and inquisitive creatures, just a few suggestions might be a good jumping-off point.... no need to make it a big learning thing (enough of that in school, I'm sure your kids will think) It's fun... and make sure you think it's fun, too.
|Annette and son enjoying the great outdoors|
And maybe next time you'll say hey, look what I bought us, a sketchbook for you, and one for me, and these cool pencils, why don't we try a little nature drawing? And then you can draw horribly, and your kids will think that's funny, because they love when grownups do things horribly, and you can say yeah well the important thing is that i'm trying, and maybe you'll both have a good laugh and it will be a happy moment between two, or however many of you there are. I hope you see lots of birds... or that you have fun just looking and drawing, just being together out in nature.Thanks so much, Annette, for your visit to The Fourth Musketeer!
Recommended for ages 6-12
.Release date: March 5, 2013
In her debut book for children, author Jan Pinborough
offers a charming picture book biography of Anne Carroll Moore, an individual not well known among the general public but whose advocacy of library services for children are worthy of being celebrated in this handsome new volume released just in time for Women's History Month.
The book begins almost like a fairy tale: "Once in a big house in Limerick, Maine, there lived a little girl named Annie Carroll Moore. She had large gray eyes, seven older brothers, and ideas of her own." We soon learn that Annie is a bit of a rebel, not content to do what a girl was supposed to do in those days. She loved books, but in those days children weren't allowed in the library. When she grew up, she went to New York City on her own to enroll in library school, and soon went to work in a library where they had something brand new--a room just for children, where Annie even read aloud to them. An advocate for children, she later became head of the children's rooms at the New York Public Library's many branches. At this time, children weren't allowed to take books home, since the librarians thought the children wouldn't bring them back.
Pinborough portrays Anne Carroll Moore's feisty personality with a constant refrain in the book: "Miss Moore thought otherwise." When a grand new central library was built in the city of New York, Miss Moore was responsible for creating and designing the special place for children, complete with child-sized furniture. She brought authors, musicians and storytellers to entertain the children, and entertained them herself with her special doll Nicholas Knickerbocker and stories of his life. Even when she retired, she continued educating librarians across the country on how to create wonderful libraries for children.
Back matter includes more details about Miss Moore, the "trailblazing librarian," and a list of sources.
The lively artwork by Debby Atwell
, executed with brightly colored acrylics in a folk-art influenced style, is a wonderful match for Pinborough's breezy writing style. Every children's librarian will want to have a copy of Pinborough's tribute to this remarkable woman on his or her shelf. She was a true hero for librarians and children everywhere! Check out the special website
devoted to the book, an interview with the illustrator, Debby Atwell, at Kidsbiographers Blog
, and watch for a special post by Jan Pinborough on Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month
on March 7!
Lisa Taylor of Shelf-Employed
and I are so proud to present the newest edition of our joint effort, Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month
, beginning today! We are very excited with the roster of distinguished authors and bloggers who have joined in our efforts this year. For a complete list of contributors, check out the right sidebar on the blog. Some of the authors and books that will be featured include Jane Yolen and her new release, Bad Girls
, Jan Pinborough and her charming new picture book Miss Moore Thought Otherwise
, Tanya Lee Stone and her new book Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors?,
Renee Watson and Harlem's Little Blackbird,
and so many more. Some of the blogs whose authors will be contributing this year are Read Roger
, Hope is the Word
, Bay Views
and More, the Reading Tub
, and Pink Me
. This year's posts are sure to be as fascinating as in the past.
Here at the Fourth Musketeer, I will also be reviewing a number of new women's history related books this month, so look out for those as well.
Since I grew up in an era when girls were lucky to find a biography of Amelia Earhart, Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton, and maybe Betsy Ross in the school library, I am overwhelmed by all the wonderful resources that are out there for today's girls. I am grateful to the many wonderful authors who not only write about the iconic figures of women's history, but also about the lesser-known women who are also outstanding role models for our girls of today. You, too, can learn about some of these terrific resources by following Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month. And please pass on the word to others who might be interested, especially the gatekeepers who are often the ones who put books into the hands of kids: teachers, parents, and of course, librarians!
Recommended for ages 12 and up.
The prostitute with the heart of gold is a popular trope in fiction--although not one that we see often in YA novels, particularly with their focus these days on the supernatural and the dystopian. Ruta Sepetys
, who won so many honors with her first novel, Between Shades of Gray
, (no connection with the even bigger best-seller, Fifty Shades of Gray
!) transports us to 1950 and the seedy world of New Orleans' brothels and gangsters in her new just-released novel, Out of the Easy
The book, narrated by the protagonist, 17-year old Josie, begins: "My mother's a prostitute. Not the filthy, streetwalking kind...But she sleeps with men for money or gifts, and according to the dictionary, that makes her a prostitute." Her mother works for Willie, based on an actual New Orleans madam of the time, and her on and off boyfriend is a nefarious gangster, Cincinnati. Josie hates Cincinnati and has a difficult relationship with her mother as well. Willie, the generous madam with the proverbial heart of gold but a tough exterior, takes on the role of mother-figure for Josie, while her own mother seems to have little patience for raising her. Josie's made good grades in school, and lives above a bookshop where she works part-time. She also works part-time cleaning the brothel. She's hoping to go away, leaving the Big Easy. Her heart is set on college--not in New Orleans, where everyone knows who she is--and who her mother is--but at Smith College, where she hopes to make a fresh start.
Josie's carefully made plans and all her savings might come to nothing when she becomes mixed up in the police investigation of a a murder of a handsome tourist--one who happened to come into the bookstore shortly before his death and who afterwards had drinks with her mother. As Josie becomes entangled in a web of lies, will she be able to escape her fate in New Orleans? Will she become just like her own mother in the end?
I found this new work by Sepetys to be engaging from the get-go; Josie is a strong, smart, character with lots of "moxie." Many of the more minor characters, especially her friend who is a closeted homosexual, are also appealing. Sepetys portrays the 1950's as a world of secrets, where everyone is part of the New Orleans Mardi Gras, wearing a mask that disguises who they really are. One aspect of the novel which did bother me is that the world of the prostitutes at the whorehouse seemed to be somewhat prettified; although Josie's mother is an extremely unlikeable character, the other girls at the house who play more minor roles seem to be more stereotyped. The gangsters, also, seem like stock characters. However, I enjoyed the fact that the story is not predictable, a fault I often find with teen novels.
This novel, despite its setting in the underworld of New Orleans, does not have gratuitous sex or violence, and could be read by middle school students as well as high school. While Out of the Easy
did not engage me emotionally in the same way that Sepetys' earlier novel, Between Shades of Gray
, did, it is a skillfully crafted novel that is well worth reading for its compelling main character and its well realized setting.
Recommended for ages 7-12.
Candlewick has recently reissued in beautiful full-color paperback editions several biographies of famous African-American women by Kathryn Lasky. Earlier this month I reviewed Vision of Beauty: The Story of Sarah Breedlove Walker
. In A Voice of Her Own
, Lasky shares the story of an equally extraordinary woman, Phillis Wheatley, known as the first black woman poet in America.
Lasky begins her book as a young girl is kidnapped from Africa and sold into slavery in America in 1761. Through the girl's eyes, Lasky describes the harrowing journey from the west coast of Africa. A powerful illustration, painted in acrylics, shows a terrified young girl huddled in the hold of the ship. Upon arrival, she is purchased at a Boston slave market by the Wheatley family and given the name Phillis. When we next meet Phillis, we learn that she has become no ordinary slave. Mrs. Wheatley, realizing quickly how bright her new young slave was, decided to teach her to read and write, a sort of social experiment to see if an African could learn and understand the Bible. While this sort of instruction was not illegal as it was in the South, it was nevertheless never done.
Phillis proved to be such an able student that she progressed beyond English to Latin and Greek, geography and mathematics--this at a time when few white women were offered this sort of education, and only the elite among white men. Phillis was especially attracted to poetry, and had her first poem published when she was only fourteen years old. Phillis became a celebrity in Boston, and was trotted out by her mistress to all the finest houses in town as a sort of curiosity.
Phillis Wheatley. Poems on Various Subjects. London, 1783
Ironically, Boston printers refused to publish a compilation of Wheatley's poems, refusing to believe that a Negro slave could have written them, even after a panel of distinguished Bostonians, including John Hancock, interviewed her and vouched for her. Instead, the Wheatleys sent Phillis on a trip over the ocean to London, where she met a British publisher willing to publish her volume, and was received in the finest homes. Returning to America when she learned her mistress was ill, she continued to write, even as Boston rebelled against the British. After being published in London, her book sold well in Boston, and Phillis' fame grew. She was even invited to meet General Washington after writing a poem in his honor.
In an epilogue, Lasky relates briefly the last years of Wheatley's life; after receiving papers freeing her from slavery from the Wheatleys, she married and had three children, all of whom died in infancy. Her final poem, "Liberty and Peace," celebrated the end of the war, and she died in poverty at the age of thirty-one.
Back matter includes an index and a list of selected sources, as well as notes from the author and illustrator. The text includes a few brief quotations from Wheatley's poems.
At a brief 38 pages, with beautiful and abundant color illustrations, this very accessible biography is one step up from a picture book, and could be read aloud in class or by parents as well as read independently by students in about third grade and up. While the author provides plenty of information for a biographical report, the subject matter is fascinating and suitable for general reading as well as school assignments. Phillis Wheatley's remarkable rise from an illiterate slave to a literary figure celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic is an inspiration to share with children, particularly during Black History Month or Women's History Month.
I am delighted to welcome award-winning author Deborah Hopkinson
to my blog today, to discuss her newest historical fiction picture book, Knit Your Bit: A World War I Story
Q: How were you inspired to write a story about this little piece of history--the Knit Your Bit campaign for soldiers during WWI?
A: I am fascinated by stories of ordinary people in history, and also intrigued by historical photographs. Years ago I worked at the American Red Cross in Honolulu and learned about the home front efforts to knit for soldiers. That drew me to learn more about the social history of knitting in America and the result is Knit Your Bit
Q: Are you a knitter yourself? Or perhaps a family member? If so, did that play a role in your inspiration for this story?
A: I actually do love to knit and I love yarn stores. But there is a big caveat to this – I am, quite honestly, not very good. I knit for relaxation only and I’m a bit like Mikey in the book – I keep dropping stitches! So I am content to knit scarves for myself – or for friends who can’t knit at all and so are a bit more forgiving of mistakes. I have a number of friends who are wonderfully accomplished knitters and the book is dedicated to them.
Q: Knit Your Bit tells the story of those at the home front during war. Do you hope that this book will be read by those children with moms and dads in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere? Will you be doing any special outreach to military families?
For more information about current Knit Your Bit projects check out:
Q: Please tell us a little bit about your research process for this book.
Q: I loved the illustrations by Steven Guarnaccia, which gave the story a real period feel. In fact, the illustrations reminded me of the TinTin comics. Can you comment about how the illustrations contribute to your text?
A: I absolutely agree! I love how Steven’s artwork complements the wonderful graphic style of the period. The Red Cross posters of the time were part of what drew me to the story, so when you add the historical photos on the endpapers along with the art and the poster in the note, it all seems to come together to give young readers both a sense that this did happen in a different time, but that some things remain the same.
Q: Please give us a brief preview of your upcoming book, The Great Trouble. And can you share with us some of the projects you have coming up?
A: The Great Trouble, A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel,
is middle grade historical fiction about the 1854 cholera epidemic in London. I tried to give the story a Dickensian feel, while at the same time celebrate the pioneering public health work of Dr. John Snow, who was born 200 years ago, in 1813. I think kids will enjoy it. I am also working on projects about Beatrix Potter and World War II.
To find out more about my books I hope readers will visit me on the web at: www.deborahhopkinson.com
or look at my Pinterest boards at:
Thanks again to Deborah Hopkinson for appearing at The Fourth Musketeer. For other stops on her Knit Your Bit Blog Tour please check www.deborahhopkinson.com.
Recommended for ages 7 and up.
Get a jump on Women's History Month with this new picture book about Clara Lemlich, a remarkable 20th century labor leader. Its author, Michelle Markel, will be contributing a post to 2013's Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month
, so don't forget to sign up to follow the blog so you don't miss any of the fascinating posts!
Picture books about early 20th century Jewish women labor leaders are not exactly published every day in the picture book universe, so I was especially eager to read this new work, illustrated by award-winning illustrator Melissa Sweet
, about Clara Lemlich, best known for organizing the shirtwaist makers' strike of 1909.
We first meet Clara as she is arriving in the United States, part of the mass of immigrants. But Clara is different--she's "got grit, and she's going to prove it. Look out, New York!"
Social justice is an overriding theme of this book, and we see through Clara's eyes the injustices of life in early 20th century America for the impoverished immigrants. "This was not the America she'd imagined." Girls are hired to make blouses for a few dollars a month, wages desperately needed to help support their families. Markel vividly describes the factories in just a few words--only two toilets, one sink, and three towels for 300 girls to share, and better not be a few minutes late or bleed on a piece of cloth if you've pricked your finger or you'll lose half a day's pay or even be fired.
But little Clara Lemlich is not one to sit back and take it. She organizes strikes, and despite being arrested repeatedly, and beaten, she is not easily silenced. But she realizes that a general strike of all the garment workers is what's needed to make the bosses stand up and take notice, and at a union meeting, she calls for women to launch the largest walk-out ever.
Clara is the leader of the Revolt of the Girls, as the newspapers call it. And eventually the owners meet some of their demands, including a shortened work week and better wages. Markel ends her elegie to Lemlich on a hopeful note, emphasizing how Clara's actions helped thousands of workers. "proving that in America, wrongs can be righted, warriors can wear skirts and blouses, and the bravest hearts may beat in girls only five feet tall."
An afterword provides further details about the history of the garment industry, and the role of Jewish immigrants in the business. Strangely enough, Clara is never identified as Jewish in the main text of the book, although she is shown shouting in Yiddish for a general strike. Back matter also includes a selected bibliography of general and primary sources. I would have also liked to have seen something on Clara Lemlich's later life. For example, she continued advocating for the oppressed her entire life, even helping to organize nursing home orderlies in the retirement home where she spent the end of her life.
Melissa Sweet's remarkable illustrations integrate the garment industry in a very literal fashion into her depiction of Clara's life. She uses watercolor, gouache, and mixed media, and pieces of fabric and sewing machine stitching are front and center in nearly every illustration. Some of the illustrations are particularly moving, including the one in which rows and rows of factory workers are shown from directly above, with the hundreds of girls appearing faceless and indistinct from each other like cogs in a wheel. I also loved the "girl power" illustration of Clara calling for a general strike--Sweet depicts Clara from behind, with hundreds of people in the audience raising their fists in solidarity and with her call for a strike in an oversized text balloon, with the word "Strayk!" (or strike!) in bright red lettering!
This is a must-have for anyone interested in exposing their children to important issues and people in the social justice movement, as well as outstanding women in history, those who chose to try to make a difference in an era when women were encouraged to make their dominion at home. To learn more about Clara Lemlich, consult Markel's bibliography or check out the entry in the Jewish Women's archive
Recommended for ages 12 - adult.
There is no shortage of stories about the Holocaust for young people, whether fiction or nonfiction. Greenhorn
, by author and children's book editor Anna Oswanger
, strikes a different chord than most of these works by focusing on the aftermath of the war, through the story of one of its young survivors.
Although published as a free-standing book, Greenhorn
, at 43 pages, is really more of an illustrated short story. Set in an Orthodox yeshiva in Brooklyn in 1946, the story tells of the arrival at the yeshiva of twenty orphaned Polish boys, including young Daniel, who won't let go of a little tin box he carries with him everywhere. Daniel rarely speaks, but Aaron, whose father is a rabbi, considers him his friend. Aaron stutters and is made fun of by the other boys, and feels some connection with the nearly silent refugee when the yeshiva boys start teasing Daniel about his box that he carries with him and even sleeps with. What's in the box, everyone wonders? The horrifying reality of what Daniel is carrying around contrasts with the innocence of the children at the yeshiva, who are concerned with baseball, basketball, candy, and other normal kid pursuits. We learn that inside the box is a greasy piece of soap, made with fat from the bodies of Jewish prisoners. Daniel clutches to it believing it could contain a piece of his mother, of whom he has not even a photograph.
An afterword explains that this story is based on a real incident in the life of Rabbi Rafael Grossman. A glossary provides explanations of Yiddish names, words and phrases used in the text.
Although this looks by the cover, the slight size of the story, and the abundant illustrations like a book for young children, I would not recommend this book for children younger than twelve. Also, some background knowledge of the Holocaust is useful for understanding the implications of the story. The story would make a good addition to a unit on the Holocaust, and could easily be read aloud in a classroom or read by individual students and used for classroom or home discussion. The Holocaust is such a vast tragedy that sometimes it is difficult to imagine the scope; this small book brings one element of a survivor's story vividly to life for young people.
I am so pleased to welcome to The Fourth Musketeer author Deborah Heiligman
, the winner of this year's Sydney Taylor Book Award for Teen Readers for her riveting teen novel, Intentions
. She has kindly responded to my interview questions below.
Q: Intentions tells the story of 15-year old Rachel, who in the beginning of the novel overhears her beloved rabbi committing adultery right in the sanctuary. The novel develops into a powerful and poignant story of betrayal and disappointment, and a coming-of-age story of learning to accept responsibility for our actions. It's your first YA novel. What inspired you to come up with this particular story?
A: I wanted to capture that moment in a teen's life when she realizes that someone she adores and even idolizes is flawed. That happened to me in a pretty spectacular way in my community growing up (though not quite as spectacularly as in the book!) and it was a truly painful time. That moment informs who you become I think--because how you deal with it can shape the rest of your life. My editor Michelle described it as the moment when the black and white of childhood becomes the gray of adulthood. Even when we are adults we are walloped when someone we admire or love does something bad... to wit, I started writing this book during the Clinton/Lewinsky debacle. I liked Clinton a lot and I was upset by what he had done, and even more than that, I was sad that my young sons were confused and were asking so many questions. Yet because of that I knew I was on to something universal. Also around that time a rabbi in New Jersey was tried and convicted of having his wife killed. So it all came together in that way. It did, however, take me almost two decades to finish it in a way that I was satisfied with it and ready to throw it into the wide world.
Q: Rachel has such an authentic-sounding teenage voice. Does she have anything in common with your teen self? How do you channel this teen voice in your writing?
A: I think people who know me personally see some of me in Rachel, but she came to me pretty much fully formed as a character. There were certain things about her that felt too much like me, and so those I changed. In the end she became someone who I hope I would have been friends with at that age--but nice friends with! In terms channeling the teen voice, I find it very easy to access my teenage self, the emotions and desires, the gusts and squalls of those years. Perhaps I have not actually grown up....?!
Q: Rachel's personal disappointment with the rabbi changes her whole relationship with Judaism in this novel. Can you tell us a little about your Jewish background and the role Judaism plays in your life?
A: I grew up as what I affectionately call an Orthodox Reform Jew. My father was actually an immigrant from a shtetl in Lithuania, and grew up dirt-poor and Orthodox in Lehighton, PA. (They had to include Jews from the next town to have a minyan. I don't know how they kept kosher except that they had their own chickens.) He married my mom late in life (her second marriage) and she was kind of High Reform, though her first husband had been Conservative. SO. The agreement was that they would belong to the Reform synagogue, go every week, and always have a really nice Friday night dinner. So that's how I grew up. I loved my temple and I had lots of friends of all kinds, but my heart friends were mostly Jewish. As a teenager I got involved in Jewish youth groups and in college I went to Hillel (mostly to so a lot of cooking for a lot of people--challah for a hundred!, which was fun). In college I decided to concentrate (major) in religious studies. That gave my parents, especially my mother, kinipshun (spelling?) fits. She said to me on the phone when I told her: "There are two things you are not allowed to do: be a rabbi, or marry a rabbi." Wise woman, she. So of course for a whole week I was going to be a rabbi. Instead I became a writer! (My best friend became a rabbi and she and her rabbi husband read the manuscript for me a couple of times.) Back to real life: My husband agreed to bring up our kids Jewish (he is Jewish, but not religious) and so we did. We belonged to a great synagogue in New Hope, PA, that is Reconstructionist and both my sons became bar mitzvahs there. Since we moved back to NYC we don't belong to a synagogue. I miss it sometimes, but mostly I feel very happy and at home here, and we have holidays here and with my family back in Pennsylvania where I grew up.
Q: As an author, you have produced an extremely diverse group of books, ranging from fun rhyming picture books for preschoolers such as Fun Dog, Sun Dog, to the award-winning biography Charles and Emma and an upcoming picture book biography of mathematician Paul Erdos. What are some of your favorite parts of writing fiction as opposed to nonfiction?
A: You know in fiction you get to MAKE STUFF UP. I love that. But I also really love writing nonfiction. I must tell you that I always make stuff up, and usually tell my husband about it. He is a dyed-in-the-wool nonfiction writer so he doesn't quite get why when we're on a dark country road, for example, I might worry aloud about alien abduction or people by the side of the road who need our help but turn out to be shapeshifters, that kind of thing. When Intentions was accepted for publication, he said something like, "Oh good now I can tell myself you're a novelist, not crazy."
Q: You have said repeatedly that your all-time favorite children's book is Charlotte's Web (a favorite of mine as well--it's the first book I can remember asking for and reading myself). What are some of your favorite children's books with Jewish themes? And can you tell us some of the books that are currently on your nightstand?
A: Well at least I'm consistent. Wait, Charlotte wasn't Jewish? OK--some of my favorite books with Jewish themes (there are so many great ones!): The Treasure by Uri Shulevitz (one of my all-time favorite adult books is The Way of Man by Martin Buber, which has that tale in it as well); The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen; The Diary of Anne Frank; Cures for Heartbreak by Margo Rabb; Darkness over Denmark by Ellen Levine; Just Enough is Plenty by Barbara Diamond Goldin. (I wrote all those by memory, by the way--I think that's how you know your favorite books, when they just come to you POP! It means you are holding them in your heart always.)
Deborah, thanks so much for participating in the Sydney Taylor Blog Tour! Please check out some of the other blog tour stops listed below.
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2013Ann Redisch Stampler, author of The Wooden SwordSydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers CategoryAt Shelf-Employed Carol Liddiment, illustrator of The Wooden SwordSydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers CategoryAt Ann Koffsky’s Blog Doreen Rappaport, author of Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the HolocaustSydney Taylor Honor Award in the Teen Readers CategoryAt BildungsromanTUESDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 2013Linda Glaser, author of Hannah’s WaySydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers CategoryAt This Messy Life Adam Gustavson, illustrator of Hannah’s WaySydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger ReadersCategoryAt Here in HP Louise Borden, author of His Name was Raoul WallenbergSydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Older Readers CategoryAt Randomly Reading WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 2013Sheri Sinykin, author of Zayde Comes to LiveSydney Taylor Honor Award in the Younger Readers CategoryAt Read, Write, Repeat Kristina Swarner, illustrator of Zayde Comes to LiveSydney Taylor Honor Award in the Younger Readers CategoryAt Writing & IllustratingTHURSDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 2013Linda Leopold Strauss, author of The Elijah DoorSydney Taylor Honor Award in the Younger Readers CategoryAt Pen and Pros Alexi Natchev, illustrator of The Elijah DoorSydney Taylor Honor Award in the Younger Readers CategoryAt Madelyn Rosenberg’s Virtual Living Room FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2013Blog Tour Wrap-Up at The Whole Megillah
Recommended for ages 7-12.
Winston Churchill was known during his lifetime as the British Bulldog, due to his famous tenacity. In addition to being a great statesman, writer, and orator, Churchill was an animal lover, but it was not bulldogs who lived alongside the famous man, but miniature poodles.
This new picture book by debut author/illustrator Kathryn Selbert
tells the story of the British home front by highlighting Churchill's relationship with his poodle, Rufus. The author opens with the following:
"Rufus's best friend, Winston Churchill, is a busy man, but most days Rufus and Winston share a walk."
It's 1940, and Winston is managing a nation at war. Through the eyes of Rufus, Churchill's faithful brown miniature poodle, we see Churchill at work, visiting his secret underground bunker, the room from which he directs the war, going to the House of Commons, walking through streets filled with rubble from buildings destroyed by Nazi bombers. Rufus is not always invited along however; when Winston meets with his allies, Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin, to plan D-Day, Rufus sits by the door, patiently guarding the bunker. Rufus is once again by Churchill's side as the war ends, barking and howling with happiness. In the end, Rufus and Winston retire to the country, resting..."two war dogs." In the final lovely two-page spread dominated by the greens of the English countryside, Winston and Rufus gaze out to the horizon, with the country finally at peace.
Back matter includes a timeline of World War II, a look at Churchill and his affection for poodles (he owned two during his lifetime, both named Rufus), and a brief biography of Winston Churchill himself. The author also includes books for young Churchill fans, Churchill and World War II-related websites, a bibliography, and quotation sources.
Acrylic and collage illustrations have an nostalgic yet realistic look, with plenty of sepia tones suggesting a time long ago. Each two-page spread features a quotation by Churchill on a yellowed piece of paper, in an old-fashioned typewriter-style font, designed to look like it has been pinned to the rest of the picture. An interview on the Charlesbridge
website indicates that this book grew out of an undergraduate school project, but that the book originally focused more on the relationship between dog and owner, and less on the historical details. The book now provides more of an introduction to World War II, one that would be a good classroom read-aloud while studying that time period. The book will, of course, capture the heart of dog lovers as well as history lover, with its illustrations that depict Rufus in all his poodle splendor.
Disclaimer: I am a poodle owner and a poodle lover. Review copy provided by publisher.
|Churchill with the real Rufus |
Recommended for ages 7-12.Candlewick Press
has recently reissued in paperback Kathryn Lasky
's biography of Sarah Breedlove Walker, originally published in 2000. In a brief 48 pages, Lasky chronicles the life of this remarkable woman, born into poverty to former slaves, who became a highly successful entrepreneur and philanthropist. Orphaned at the age of seven, Sarah had a difficult childhood, and married at the age of 14 to escape living with her sister and her cruel husband. She eventually moved to St. Louis where she worked as a laundress and diligently saved to be able to give her daughter the education she never had.
Because of poor nutrition, Sarah's hair began to fall out, and she began to work on a formula that would produce healthy hair for African-American women. After testing her products on herself, she began selling door-to-door, and eventually expanded her products into the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company, a business empire which made her the wealthiest black woman in America.
In a brief, easy to read narrative, Lasky hits on the highlights of Walker's life, emphasizing how remarkable her success was in an era when she had two strikes against her--being female and being black. My favorite scene in the book involves Waker attending a conference of African-American business leaders, all of whom (of course!) were men. Lasky describes how Walker tried unsuccessfully to get the attention of Booker T. Washington, so that she could speak. She finally sprang to her feet, relating how she came from the cotton fields of the South, promoting herself into the business of manufacturing hair goods. "'My object in life is not simply to make money for myself, but to use part of what I make in trying to help others,' continued Madam Walker...With these words, Madam Walker proved herself more than equal to any man in that room."
|Sarah Breedlove Walker|
An epilogue describes Walker's commitment to philanthropy and to civil rights; her dying words were "I want to live to help my race." Back matter also includes an illustrator's note an index, and selected sources.
Abundantly illustrated with beautiful full color watercolor paintings by Nneka Bennett
, Lasky's book is an inspirational tale that could be read aloud or read independently by children in elementary school.
Release date: January 22, 2013Recommended for ages 9-14.
Few foreign books for children wind up translated into English, perhaps not surprisingly given the plethora of titles published each year by American and English-speaking authors from Canada, England, Australia, and other countries. Often the ones that do make it for release in the U.S. are special titles, and that's the case with the new historical novel Mister Orange
by Dutch author Truus Matti.
This title is especially unusual because, although written originally in Dutch and first published in the Netherlands, the book takes place in New York City during World War II and the protagonist is a young American boy, Linus, whose brother has shipped off to fight on the European front.
Mr. Orange, as adults might guess who see the American cover (the Dutch cover looks completely different, as is often the case), is none other than the famous Dutch artist Piet Mondrian, who has moved to New York to escape the repressive political environment in Europe. With Linus' older brother off at the war, Linus inherits his grocery delivery route, and, unable to remember his customer's foreign name, dubs him Mr. Orange because of his twice monthly delivery of a box of oranges. The two strike up an unusual friendship, as Mr. Orange shares with Linus his unusual perspective on life. We learn, for example, how he attempted to capture in his work the raw energy of both boogie-woogie music and New York.
At home, Linus' family anxiously awaits word from Linus' brother Alfie, and each letter is eagerly devoured. At first, the war seems like something out of his brother's beloved super-hero comic books, with his brother the hero, until Linus reads part of a despairing letter that his parents tried to keep from him. As the real horrors of war hit home, Linus grows and changes as well. Can imaginary heroes like Mister Superspeed do any good in a world filled with so much uncertainty and horrors? Perhaps Mr. Orange can help Linus make sense of it all.
Back matter includes information on Piet Mondrian and his life in New York City in the 1940's. Also included are additional resources for reading, watching on the Internet, and where to find Mondrian's paintings in museums around the United States.
This is an top-notch historical novel that should appeal to boys as well as girls. It's filled with characters that young people can easily identify with, and also provides interdisciplinary content on World War II, the home front, and art. It can be effectively paired with a book on Mondrian or further exploration of the artist's works on the Internet in order to fully appreciate the mental images of his apartment and working style described in the book.
|Dutch edition of Mister Orange|
Truss' first novel, Departure Time
, was a 2011 Batchelder Honor Book and I won't be surprised if this book is also recognized by that committee which awards honors to the most outstanding books originally published in a language other than English and then translated and published in the U.S.
Dr. King has been on my mind of late. Now that I am working as a full-time children's librarian, I was excited to organize a program for our family storytime in his honor. Since it happened that the program fell on his actual birthday, February 15, rather than the federal holiday, we read--and acted out--picture books about him, and sang Happy Birthday and instead of having cake, tasted his favorite dessert, pecan pie (served up in very small servings in cupcake liners!). The program turned into a family occasion, as my banjo-playing mother-in-law and my teenaged son came to teach the children and adults some of the iconic civil rights protest songs: We Shall Overcome, We Shall Not be Moved, and This Little Light of Mine.
There's a rich variety of books available on Dr. King, aimed at all ages, yet it was not difficult to choose which books I wanted to highlight. Here are some of my favorites, although I was not able to read them all at the storytime. I Have a Dream,
by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Schwartz & Wade, 2012). Kadir Nelson has outdone himself with the magnificent oil paintings he produced to illustrate some of the most iconic excerpts from Dr. King's most famous speech (the complete text is included in the back of the book, as is a CD with Dr. King delivering the address). This is a book that should be in every American classroom and library. The dignified and statuesque artwork, combined with Dr. King's inspirational language, cannot fail to move anyone who sees and reads this book.Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr
., by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Hyperion, 2001). In a book suitable for kindergartners on up, Rappaport brings Dr. King's career to life using simple but eloquent language and Dr. King's own powerful words, taken from various speeches and letters from throughout his lifetime. Combined with outstanding artwork by Bryan Collier, her text is perfect for reader's theatre; at my own program, three children read the words of Dr. King and I read the narrator part, making a very moving small piece of drama perfect for the classroom or library storytime. My Uncle Martin's Big Heart,
by Angela Farris, illustrated by Eric Velasquez (Abrams, 2010). This warm-hearted picture book tells Dr. King's life told from the perspective of his young niece. Dr. King comes through as a family man, Uncle M.L. who loved to laugh, not just an icon of the Civil Rights movement. My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing Up with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr
., by Christine King Farris (Simon & Schuster, 2003). In this outstanding book written by King's older sister, we see Martin Luther King as a mischievous young boy, not wanting to practice the piano, surrounded by a warm and loving well-educated family who tried to shield their children from the worst of segregation. Dr. King's father, stood up to the worst of the bigotry of that time, and the young King learns the importance of standing up for justice and equality. A powerful book that can be easily understood by elementary school-aged children.
Recommended for ages 7 and up.
This new picture book biography by Jen Bryant
chronicles the unusual story of Horace Pippin, a self-taught African American folk artist who didn't complete his first painting until he was over forty years old. Born in 1888, Horace quickly demonstrated a love of drawing, and everyone loved his pictures. One day, Horace entered a magazine contest, and won his first art supplies--paints, colored pencils, and brushes. In 8th grade, he had to quit school to go to work to help out his family, but he continued making pictures using whatever materials he could find.
Horace joined the army and went to France to fight in World War I, and even in the horrible trenches, where conditions were miserable, Horace filled his notebooks with drawings for his friends. But a serious injury to his arm by a bullet left Horace unable to lift or move his arm the way he used to. Would he ever be able to draw again?
But Horace's desire to create was not easily stopped, and he managed to teach himself to paint by using his left hand to hold up his right. Through his art he expressed the pain of his war experiences, as well as chronicling a variety of other subjects from domestic scenes of women working in the kitchen to Bible stories and scenes of cotton fields. It took him three years to finish his first painting, and soon he was able to hang his paintings around town. But no one bought them, at least not until the head of a local artists' club saw Horace's pictures, and brought his friend, the famous painter N.C. Wyeth to see them. Soon Horace achieved great fame, and his paintings were collected by people from all over the world.
Back matter includes a historical note with further biographical background on Pippin, notes from the author and illustrator, and suggestions for further reading, as well as recommended websites on Pippin and quotation sources. The end papers show a map of the United States indicating places where we can see Pippin's paintings, along with reproductions of some of his original works.
I was not familiar with the work of Horace Pippin before reading this work. Jen Bryant's text, while accessible for young children, will spark the imagination of older children and even adults to explore further the work and life of this African-American artist. Bryant and illustrator Melissa Sweet
do a wonderful job of capturing not only the spirit of Pippin's artwork, but his determination and resolve to rise above the many difficulties he experienced in his life. Sweet, the author-illustrator of Balloons over Broadway
and the illustrator of more than eighty other picture books, manages to evoke Pippin's use of color and composition in her own illustrations. The illustrations are created using watercolor, gouache, and collage, and incorporate quotations from Pippin as well as images. Sweet writes in her illustrator's note that "Lettering Pippin's quotes within the illustrations gave me a way to illuminate his simple and heartfelt approach to making art."
This is a terrific book to share for Black History Month or any time you would like an inspirational picture book biography to share with children or a class.
Amazon has selected A Splash of Red
as one of its Picture Books of the Month
Recommended for ages 9-14.
The versatile Avi,
who won a Newbery years back for his historical novel Crispin: The Cross of Lead,
pens a real historical thriller in his latest novel, Sophia's War
, set during the American Revolution. This is definitely my favorite Avi novel since The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
. Like that celebrated adventure/historical nove, Sophia's War
features an indomitable young heroine, who thrusts herself in the center of political and military intrigue during one of the most famous betrayals in American history.
The novel opens in 1776 in loyalist-occupied New York City, the same setting for Laurie Halse Anderson's Seeds of America novels Chains
, and Forge
. Twelve-year old Sophia Calderwood adores her older brother, William, who has enlisted in the revolutionary army. Although she's a well-educated young woman who is well-versed in all the revolutionary rhetoric of the time, Sophia can't help herself when she becomes infatuated with the handsome and charming British officer, John Andre, who is billeted with her family. But when her brother becomes a prisoner in the horrible prison ships off the coast of New York and Andre refuses to help, Sophia's feelings change, and soon she is eager to avenge her brother's fate.
When Sophia is approached by an acquaintance to spy for the revolutionaries by working as a maid at the British general's grand house, she discovers a nefarious plot--one which involves not only the handsome John Andre, but her hero, the acclaimed American officer Benedict Arnold. Can she pass on what she knows to the revolutionary command, and will anyone believe her?
This is a tremendously exciting novel, one which I devoured in one sitting. Told in the first person by Sophia, the novel is fast-paced, and action-packed. While easy to read, the novel includes 18th century phrases scattered through the text, giving Sophia an authentic voice for the period without making the text too difficult for middle grade readers to read. A few of the colorful phrases, such as "bosky," sent me to the glossary of 18th century words included in the backmatter. Avi also includes an Author's Note, which explains that the characters of Sophia, her parents, and brother, are entirely fictitious, but the other figures who populate the novel are real enough and the stories of the American prisoners in New York and the handsome British officer John Andre are as historically accurate as he could write them.
Avi concludes his note with a passionate defense of historical fiction: "History provides endlessly amazing stories. Historical fiction, I believe, can illuminate these stories with the ordinary people who make extraordinary history...Truth may be stranger than fiction, but fiction makes truth a friend, not a stranger."
Thanks, Avi, for another terrific historical title for young people to add to your impressive canon of over 70 works.
Recommended for ages 8-12.
Children's books are filled with memorable pig characters. Classics such as Freddie the Detective, Charlotte's friend Wilbur, and Babe the sheep-pig have been joined in more recent years by characters such as Poppleton, Mercy Watson, and Nanny Piggins. To those wonderful porcines we must add a new member: Flora the sled-pig.
What animal lover, young or old, could resist a book with the unlikely title: The Adventures of a South Pole Pig? How on earth would a pig wind up in the Antarctic, we wonder? Well, readers, never fear, author Chris Kurtz
weaves indomitable piglet Flora into a charming South Pole adventure story filled with slops, friendship, danger, and humor.
Flora, a piglet on a farm that raises sled dogs, wants nothing more than to explore beyond the limits of the pigpen she shares with her mother and siblings. When she briefly escapes and has a chance to meet the dogs training at pulling sleds, she wants to join their pack, and soon is on the way to the South Pole with a bunch of dogs. While she thinks she has a special mission to help the sled dogs, the reader quickly suspects that the cook has other plans for her (bacon, anyone?). But when an iceberg hits their ship in the South Pole, it's the courageous Flora who saves the Captain's life. Few of her shipmates survive, and soon it's Flora who has the chance of a lifetime to prove her mettle as a brave and irreplaceable member of the pack. Will she succeed in helping to rescue her shipmates?
This story would make a terrific read-aloud for a classroom or family, as well as a novel that children 8-12 could read easily on their own. The novel has many appealing characters, among them a somewhat haughty cat, Sophia, who needs Flora's help to catch rats, a wise lead dog, Oscar, and a courageous young cabin boy, Aleric. The novel is enhanced with adorable black and white illustrations by Jennifer Black Reinhardt
. Highly recommended!
Recommended for ages 6-12.
Newbery-honor winning novelist Gary D. Schmidt and Caldecott-winning illustrator David Diaz together have created a beautiful and moving portrait of Martin de Porres, a 17th century Peruvian saint. I was completely unfamiliar with this remarkable individual, an illegitimate child both to a former African slave and a Spanish conqueror. He grew up in poverty until the age of eight, when his noble father came from Ecuador and took Martin and his sister Juana back with him to raise. Later apprenticed to a doctor-barber, Martin showed a talent for healing and a religious calling. But the local prior, prejudiced against Martin's dark skin, would not let him to train to be a priest. Instead, he became a servant at the monastery. Martin's talent for healing dogs and befriending animals of all kinds began to be known, and the local people as well as the monks soon began to ask Martin to doctor them. Eventually he was allowed to take vows as a priest, and he continued to work miracles as the "rose in the desert."
Schmidt's lyrical text and Diaz' beautifully realized illustrations combine to make this a stellar offering for those looking for inspirational stories about saints or other religious figures to share with their children. Diaz illustrations are rendered with a flat, stylized method and are colored with rich, jewel-like tones. Many of the illustrations have a dream-like quality suited to rendering the miracles described in the text.
Like Saint Francis of Assisi, Martin was known for his work with animals and with the poor. Unlike Saint Francis, however, Martin came from an underprivileged background himself. A brief Author's Note tells the reader that Martin was made a saint in 1962, the first black saint in the Americas. He is now known as the patron saint of interracial relations, social justice, those of mixed race, and animal shelters.
Two years ago I did a blog post on my top books for the 8 nights of Hanukkah
. This year I am revising that list a bit to include some recent titles (and I have removed a few older ones that are now, alas, difficult to find). The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah begins on Saturday, December 8 at sundown. Because the Jewish calendar is based on the moon, the holidays fall at different times on our calendar each year. These Hanukkah stories are wonderful to share with children of any faith! This year I am very excited to be presenting a Hanukkah storytime, complete with a lesson on dreidel spinning, at the public library where I work. Here are some of my favorite Hanukkah stories to read aloud:
1. Lemony Snicket and Lisa Brown. The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story
(McSweeney's, 2007). From one of our greatest contemporary Jewish children's writers, Lemony Snicket, aka Daniel Handler, and his wife, the witty illustrator Lisa Brown, comes this hilarious picture book about a latke who has had it up to here with trying to explain Hanukkah to all kinds of Christmas symbols, from candy canes to pine trees. He can't help screaming because Hanukkah is not
a Jewish Christmas! Absolutely pitch perfect for American Jewish children who are deluged with Christmas symbols in December, and a great read-aloud--the kids will love to join in with the latke as he screams his way through the book. A Lemony-Snicket worthy ending will please Snicket's many fans as well.
2. Jane Yolen and Mark Teague. How do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah
? (Blue Sky Press, 2012). Those fabulous dinosaurs obviously come from a multicultural home, since this year the celebrated author and illustrator team have released both a Christmas and Chanukah title featuring the adorable dinosaurs of How do Dinosaurs Say Good Night?
and so many other beloved picture books and board books. Toddlers and preschoolers will surely giggle to see their favorite dinosaurs being mischievous and squeezing the Chanukah gelt (chocolate coins), fidgeting during prayers, and more. Of course they eventually learn the proper way to behave, and how to enjoy the holiday as well. This is a great one to read aloud to younger children, or to purchase as a Hanukkah gift.
3. Eric Kimmel and Gloria Carmi. The Chanukkah Guest
(Holiday House, 1992). Eric Kimmel is the most prolific of our Hanukkah picture book writers, with ten different titles available, some with single stories, and others which are compilations of multiple stories. This older title is my personal favorite. A delightful comic story set in the Old Country, The Chanukkah Guest
revolves around Bubba Brayna, a grandmother so old she's almost blind and deaf, but she still makes the best potato latkes in the village. On the first night of Hanukkah, she makes a special batch for the rabbi, but when she lets in her guest, she's in for a surprise. It turns out to be a hungry bear, but she can't tell the difference between the bear and the rabbi! It doesn't matter, because the bear quite clearly enjoys the latkes...only what is Bubba to do when the rabbi finally arrives and no latkes are left?
4. Eric Kimmel and Trina Schart Hyman. Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins
(Holiday House, 1994). This Caldecott-honor title is a great read-aloud for the elementary school age crowd (it can be scary for very young children). Hershel of Ostropol, the famous trickster (an actual historical person, by the way) arrives at a tiny village on the first night of Hanukkah. The villagers are terrorized by wicked goblins, who don't allow any Hanukkah celebrations. Can Hershel outwit the King of the Goblins himself? Wonderful illustrations evoke the long-gone world of the Eastern European shtetl.
Hear Eric Kimmel read the story himself at this link.
5. Erica Silverman and Steven d'Amico. The Hanukkah Hop
(Simon & Schuster, 2011). The author of the popular Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa
series spins a light-hearted, rollicking and fresh Hanukkah story as a contemporary young girl, Rachel, be-bops and dances her way through a rhythmic Hanukkah celebration, complete with dreidel spinning, candle lighting, latke eating, and of course dancing to a traditional klezmer band. The book features a repetitive rhythmic refrain which adds a joyous touch to the tale. The lively and colorful illustrations add to the fun.
6. Issac Bashevis Singer and Maurice Sendak. Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories
(Harper Collins, 2001--originally published 1966). As far as I'm concerned, Issac Bashevis Singer's wonderful stories about the Polish town of Chelm belong on every child's bookshelf, Jewish or not. While not all the stories in this collection have to do with Hanukkah, the title story, Zlateh the Goat, is a Hanukkah tale, and makes an excellent read-aloud for older children. In this touching story, a family decides that they must sell their dairy goat in order to have money for Hanukkah and other necessities. Twelve-year old Aaron is charged with taking Zlateh to sell to the butcher, but on the way, a terrible snow storm hits. Zlateh's milk and warmth save the boy's life as they burrow into a haystack, and when they return the family cannot bear to be parted from her. Who better to illustrate these stories than the inimitable Maurice Sendak; his drawings evoke the pathos and humor of the lost Jewish world of Eastern Europe, and his artwork combined with Singer's stories make a true classic (and Newbery Honor book). If you've never read these, give yourself a Hanukkah treat and get your hands on a copy (and no calories involved).
7. Maxie Baum and Julie Paschkis. I Have a Little Dreidel
(Scholastic, 2006). Although this book was not available when my kids were the appropriate age, this would definitely be part of my rotation for preschool and early elementary aged children. This colorful oversized picture book features the familiar Hanukkah song, supplemented with additional verses depicting all the events of a typical family Hanukkah celebration with relatives arriving, latkes cooking, lighting the candles, eating supper, and finally playing dreidel. The author includes a recipe for latkes, rules on how to play the dreidel game, and the music for the dreidel song.
8. Sharon Robinson and E. B. Lewis. Jackie's Gift
(Viking Juvenile, 2010).
This engaging picture book offers a touching and funny true story about baseball legend Jackie Robinson, written by his own daughter. Young Steve Satlow is a huge baseball fan, and it's a dream come true when star Dodger player Jackie Robinson and his family move onto their block in their Brooklyn neighborhood. We learn that some of their neighbors had tried to stop the Robinson family from being able to move into the neighborhood, but Steve's Jewish parents had refused to sign the petition. Steve and his family befriend the Robinsons, and when the holidays come around, Steve is invited over to help trim the Robinsons' tree. When Jackie Robinson arrives at Steve's house with a Christmas true under his arm, not realizing that the Satlows are Jewish and don't celebrate the holiday, Steve's parents don't know what to do, since to them the tree is a religious symbol. E.B. Lewis' trademark watercolor illustrations lend a nostalgic mood to the 1940's setting. I would recommend this book for Jewish and Christian families alike, since it offers a subtle message of accepting all religious faiths which is well-suited to the holiday season.
For another take on Hanukkah favorites for kids of all ages, I recommend the Jewish Library Association's new Hanukkah Read-up, a printer-friendly list of recommended titles for different ages.
Recommended for ages 12 and up.
Pablo Picasso was probably the most famous and most influential artist of the 20th century. His long and storied career encompassed not only painting, but also sculpture, printmaking, ceramics, poetry, photography, and set design. Many books for young people have been published on this great figure, including two in 2012: Picasso: I the King, Yo el rey
, by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand
, illustrated by Caldecott-winning artist David Diaz
(Amazon Children's Publishing, 2012), and Just Behave, Pablo Picasso!,
by Jonah Winter
, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
(Arthur A. Levine, 2012). A review of the latter title will appear in my blog tomorrow.
Many parents and even teachers don't always realize that picture books are not just for young children. Carmen T. Bernier-Grand's new biography in verse about Pablo Picasso is a perfect example. The author has written a number of biographies in verse (her most recent was on Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso), and that format that seems particularly appropriate for an artist like Picasso. Bernier-Grand does not white-wash Picasso's personality, and the tales of his womanizing and infidelities are clearly not suitable for young children. In her poem "Gold Crowns," she writes: "As paint is to brush, women are to Picasso's art." Moreover, the tragic events of his life are depicted, such as the early death of his beloved sister and the terrible bombing of Guernica that inspired one of Picasso's most famous paintings.
Instead, I would highly recommend this book for middle school, high school, and adults who'd like to explore Picasso's life and work in a beautifully illustrated, easy-to-read format. Because Picasso's life is told through free-verse poetry, much must be left out, but a narrative-style three page essay at the end of the book fills in many of the details, as does a comprehensive chronology of his life. Backmatter also includes a glossary, bibliography, and source notes. David Diaz is a perfect match for illustrating Picasso's life, and the pages seem to glow with deep colors. While his illustrations are representational (no cubist illustrations of Picasso's life!) they have an abstract, stylized quality about them, with a simplification of form that is typical in other books Diaz has illustrated. Photos of some of Picasso's most famous works such as Guernica and Les Demoiselles d'Avignon are included, integrated into the text.
Recommended for ages 7-12.
Those looking for an attractive book on Picasso for young readers should check out Jonah Winter's picture book, Just Behave, Pablo Picasso!, released in February of 2012 and illustrated by the versatile Kevin Hawkes (I'm a big fan of The Wicked Big Toddlah, Library Lion, and A Pig Parade is a Terrible Idea, among others). This book focuses on the early years of Picasso's career. In a highly creative and appropriate opening, the first 2-page illustration shows a bucolic country landscape, a peaceful scene with hills, cows, blue sky and puffy white clouds. But turn the page, and "BLAM!", the young Pablo is depicted literally bursting through the canvas, almost like a superhero artist, paintbrush in hand. Winter and Hawkes together capture the magnetic force of Picasso's creative personality, with a lively text suited for students in elementary school. Many will identify with Picasso's rebellious personality, as he skips from one style to another and one country to another in what seems a blink of an eye (or in this case the turn of a page). Actual paintings of Picasso, listed at the end of the book, are worked into Hawkes' illustrations, while Picasso's contemporaries proclaim in cartoon-style text bubbles their opinions of Picasso's work.
We see Picasso's style evolving to become ever more abstract, and share in the shock of the crowd at the exhibition of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, now considered one of his greatest works. But despite his early success, Picasso refuses to stay still artistically, and disdains his neighbors, who shout collectively at him during one very funny two-page spread, "Just behave, Pablo Picasso!", as they point their fingers at him. Picasso, of course ignores them, becoming a "force of nature...the most original artist of his time."
An afterword provides more background on Picasso's life.
This book would fit very well into a discussion of creativity and different ways of seeing the world, as well as promoting discussion of perseverance in the face of criticism.
Release date: January 1, 2013
Recommended for ages 10 and up.Carolyn Meyer
's series The Young Royals has examined the youth of many of history's most prominent royal female figures, including Queen Elizabeth I, Marie Antoinette, and Cleopatra. It's perhaps inevitable that she would turn her attention to the most important female queen of the 19th century, a figure so prominent she gave her name to an entire historical period, Queen Victoria. The book spans from 1827, when Victoria was eight years old, to 1843, by which time Victoria was a young queen with three children.
Meyer tells her story through diary entries based on Victoria's own diaries, which she began keeping at the age of thirteen. (Note: in 2012, the entire contents of these diaries were made available online
). T As Meyer explains in an afterword, these diary entries were written in the knowledge that they would be read, at first by her mother and governess, and later by historians. Meyer uses her imagination (and research of course) to describe what Victoria is really feeling, but incorporates many of Victoria's stylistic quirks, such as an affection for writing in all capitals or underlining dramatically, to give the feel of her actual diaries.
I really enjoyed this novel, and felt it did a terrific job of capturing Victoria's strong personality and opinions, both as a young girl and as an adult. We learn many details of Victoria's daily life, from her strained relationship with her mother and her advisor, Sir John, to her attachment to Dash, her mother's King Charles Spaniel. Even when you're a privileged princess, you don't necessarily get your way, and Victoria's wishes are often thwarted by her mother or court intrigue. Even when she becomes queen, her struggles with her mother are not over, although Victoria takes control of many aspects of her court, including her personal household. In addition to dealing with all the intrigues of court life, Meyer also takes us into Victoria's confidence as she is wooed by and eventually weds her cousin Albert, the love of her life. Even with Albert, however, there were inevitable conflicts, as the young couple tried to adjust to their different roles--queen, sovereign, wife, and mother, and prince consort, husband, and father.
An afterword provides additional information on the rest of Victoria's life and other historical notes, as well as a bibliography and a list of related websites to visit.
Those who read this novel should certainly get a copy of the DVD of The Young Victoria
, the beautifully realized 2009 film starring an elegant Emily Blunt as the young monarch. Another appealing novel for young readers with the young Victoria as a prominent character is Prisoners in the Palace
by Michaela Maccoll (Chronicle, 2010).
Disclosure: advance copy provided by publisher.
Recommended for ages 9-14.
Author Randi Barrow
's debut novel, Saving Zasha
, was one of my favorite historical fiction titles of 2011, and was recognized with many honors. Not only was it terrific historical fiction, it was a great dog story, one that could appeal equally to both boys and girls. I was therefore excited to read her newest novel, Finding Zasha
, a prequel to Saving Zasha.
Set in the middle of World War II Russia, Finding Zasha
is another page-turner, filled with adventure, danger, and yes, adorable German shepherd puppies being raised by the Nazis for nefarious purposes. As the novel opens, we meet our hero, twelve-year old Ivan, who lives in Leningrad with his mother and loves to play his concertina. When Leningrad is besieged by the Germans and its citizenry begin to starve, Ivan's mother sends him on a dangerous journey across a frozen lake to stay with an uncle in the countryside. But as the Germans march across Russia, this seemingly safe town, too, is occupied by the Germans, and Ivan is determined to help the war effort by joining the Partisans, who work secretly to undermine the Nazis however possible.
When a Nazi officer, the sadistic Major Recht, discovers Ivan's musical talents, he brings him to stay in the German camp, a valuable opportunity for Ivan to discover information which he can feed to the partisans. At Nazi headquarters, Ivan also befriends two adorable German shepherd puppies, Thor and Zasha. The Nazi commander plans to train the puppies to hunt Russians, and then breed them to create a corps of Russian-hating dogs. Ivan can't imagine a worse fate for the innocent puppies, and dreams of somehow rescuing the prized dogs from their Nazi handlers.
When a turn of events in the war provides an opportunity for Ivan and the puppies to escape the Nazi's clutches, he's separated from Zasha, and is torn between trying to rescue her and possibly put the partisans in danger or saving himself and the other puppy Thor. And he lives with the knowledge that the vindictive Recht will stop at nothing to get his prized dogs back. Will he ever find safety for himself and the dogs?
Once again, Randi Barrow has penned an outstanding title with appeal for boys and girls alike, a "historical thriller" (a phrase I borrow from author Laurie Halse Anderson) that will especially capture the imagination of animal lovers, students interested in history and World War II, and anyone who enjoys a good adventure novel. I had a hard time putting the book down, as I followed Ivan's nail-biting story of the hardships of life in Leningrad during the Nazi siege, his harrowing journey out of Leningrad, his life with the partisans and under the nose of the Nazis, and his eventual escape. This book can be read with or without having read its companion novel, Saving Zasha,
although undoubtedly those who have read one of the books will be eager to read the other.
The author includes a helpful afterword on Russia and World War II, which gives some historical context to the story, particularly to Hitler's campaign against Russia, the siege of Leningrad, during which one and a half million civilians starved, and the role of the partisans in Russia's war effort.
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Recommended for ages 8-12.
Debut author Stephanie J. Blake
has written an appealing middle-grade novel about a heroine with an unusual name: Freedom Jane McKenzie. It's 1959, and Freedom is a tomboy through and through. She'd rather be playing marbles with the boys than engaging in more lady-like pursuits like tea parties and playing with Barbies. She dreams of winning the annual marble competition at the Autumn Jubilee, but it's not clear her mother will even let her enter, since her mom thinks marbles aren't proper for young girls. It's not easy growing up, particularly when your best friend (a boy, of course) doesn't want to have anything to do with you anymore, since he's getting teased for being friends with a girl. And on top of everything, your parents are constantly arguing over your dad's drinking. With her mother pregnant, Freedom has to take on plenty of chores at home, but still finds time to befriend the scary old lady who's their neighbor. Mrs. Zierk soon turns out to be the one person who has time to listen to Freedom, and soon is teaching her piano and jam-making.
Will Freedom become the Marble Queen, or will she have to give up her marbles and become a different person now that she's growing older?
This is a well-written story for 8-12 year olds; told with a humorous voice in the first person, the novel offers us an engaging heroine, a girl with plenty of spunk who we'd like living in our neighborhood. The author provides plenty of historical details about the era, including the building of bomb shelters, the novelty of television, having sundaes at the dime store, and the introduction of Barbie, among others, to give the book an authentic feel for the era. She also recreates effectively the pace of life at that period, when children roamed around their neighborhoods during the summer and after school without their parents fearing for their safety.
Freedom is a character I'd like to hear more from in the future.