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Viewing Blog: Books of Wonder and Wisdom, Most Recent at Top
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Children's literature that cultivates peace, justice, respect and curiosity
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1. Hello world!

You can read my recommendations for great read-alouds for children at my new URL: http://readaloudsforallchildren.wordpress.com

Thanks and hope to hear from you soon!

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2. Architects of Memories

Wells, Rosemary and Secundino Fernandez. My Havana: Memories of a Cuban Boyhood. Illus. by Peter Ferguson. Candlewick, 2010. Ages 8-12.

Memories can move us forward or backward, depending on how we use them. My Havana: Memories of a Cuban Boyhood evokes the intensity of one child’s connection to his home in 1950s Havana. Prolific children’s book author Rosemary Wells once heard a radio interview with the Cuban-American architect Secundino Fernandez and years later located Fernandez and worked with him to produce this resonant little historical novel burnished with hope and light.

Secundino, or Dino, relishes his city avenues “lined with coral-stone archways, ancient doors, and window frames painted bright as birds-of-paradise.” As twilight arrives, neighbors begin their checker games, and the cafes fill with people. Dino loves to sketch the buildings, with their porticoes and marble columns. The first time Dino leaves the city of his heart, he crosses the Atlantic to spend time with his grandparents in Spain. When he finally returns home, he expects to stay. Dictators — first Batista, then Castro — take over, though, and the family abandons their restaurant to join relatives in New York City.

So homesick in this dark and dreary new environment, Dino relies on his memory to recreate his beloved Havana in the confines of his bedroom. With great care, he cuts out cardboard to represent its archways, balconies and cafes. Aluminum foil glued to plywood and glazed with blue nail varnish becomes a sparkling turquoise harbor. The double-spread illustration depicting the imaginative boy, scissors in hand, beautifully captures his resourceful nature. The novel closes with Dino adapting to his new world: “New York sunlight, shimmering with the promise of summer, settles round my shoulders like the arms of my mother. It is almost like my Havana.” This brief novel would brighten units on immigration, Cuba, or architecture.

Macaulay, David. Built to Last. Houghton Mifflin, 2010. Ages 9 and up.

In my decade as a school librarian, I often watched children poring over Macaulay’s remarkable architecture books. Rather than merely compiling his acclaimed books, Castle, Cathedral, and Mosque, Macaulay has created new colored illustrations, revised the text, and clarified some explanations.

While some might still long for the previously published cross-hatched illustrations, Macaulay’s changes enhance the reader’s experience of the architecture of the past. He ushers us into his Castle, for instance, with a double-spread illustration of a purple-robed king surveying a map, with pawns awaiting strategic placement. The castle Macaulay highlights is imagined but based on castles built for the conquest of Wales between 1277 and 1305, His interesting perspectives of the workers and how they go about building still capture the hearts of readers, young and old. In Cathedral, Macaulay was inspired by the 13th-century Gothic cathedrals of France. It’s hard to resist sharing Macaulay’s passion for the plans, methods and tools used by those builders “whose towering dreams still stand today.” Finally, the least changed a

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3. Leave Room for Pecan Pie

I’ve been marveling at Jacqueline Woodson’s finely wrought fiction for years, so it seems fitting that I feature her in this fourth of four posts on outstanding African-American authors or illustrators. Her latest picture book, Pecan Pie Baby (Putnam, 2010), is another treat. Mama’s little Gia isn’t wild about having a new baby in her family. In fact, all the fuss about that “ding-dang baby” is just plain annoying. When Mama says the baby’s wanting some pecan pie, Gia says, “Well, … I love pecan pie. And you love pecan pie. So that baby’s just being a copycat!” Sophie Blackall’s ink and watercolor illustrations clearly portray the child’s worried, sometimes exasperated expression.  At Thanksgiving, engulfed in the family’s incessant talk of “baby this and baby that,” Gia explodes: “I’m so sick of that DING-DANG BABY!” Sent to her room, a teary little Gia sits on her bed feeling “real, real, real alone.” The illustrator’s perspective of looking down on Gia from a distance captures her forlornness. Later, Mama comes upstairs and tells Gia how she’ll miss those special days shared by just the two of them — just the message she needed to hear. The night ends with cuddles and a plate of pecan pie for all three. Growing families will find this a sweet, reassuring book to share with children ages 4 to 7.

More Timeless and Touching Picture Books …

Coming on Home Soon. illus. by E.B. Lewis. Putnam, 2004. Ages 6-9. Set during World War II, Ada Ruth’s mom has left to seek work. She’d heard “they’re hiring colored women in Chicago since all the men are off fighting in the war.” Her grandmother tries to comfort Ada Ruth, but it’s just not the same. Lewis’s lovely watercolor paintings capture the changing emotions of the girl as she waits. One full-page illustration shows her sitting in an old-fashioned hardback chair, gazing out the window at the snow and trying to recall her mother’s smell: “like sugar some days.” A little black stray kitten arrives and gives Ada Ruth some comfort. The pet stays nearby as she and her grandmother listen to news on the radio. Ada Ruth prays for the soldiers who won’t return anytime soon. And she thinks proudly of her mama, washing the trains up in Chicago. At last, Mama’s long-awaited letter arrives with much-needed money and with the words Ada Ruth has craved: she’s coming on home soon.

The Other Side. illus. by E.B. Lewis.Putnam, 2001. Ages 6-9. In this sensitive story, there’s a split-rail fence that separates a rural black community from the white. Young Clover lives in a yellow house on one side of the fence; a new girl, Annie, lives on the other. Clover watches red-headed Annie sit on the fence and sta

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4. Ashley Bryan’s Bright and Beautiful Books

Ashley Bryan deserves a special valentine for bringing so much joy to the realm of
children’s literature. From his witty, rhythmic retellings of folktales to his bold and beautiful paintings, woodcuts, and
collages, Bryan has enriched the lives of countless readers around the world. You can meet this beloved author/illustrator by opening Ashley Bryan: Words to My Life’s Song (Atheneum, 2009). This engaging autobiography shines with light, color, and love. Bryan, 87 and still thriving, invites us to hear his story, enlivened with his own poetic, accessible language and with a potpourri of photographs that reveal his childhood world, his family, his artwork, his Bronx neighborhood, his parents’ home back in Antigua, as well as his life on Little Cranberry Island. We get a sense of how he evolved as an artist; one touching painting shows him as a wide-eyed child, book in hand, staring out the window at night. Images of birds — which filled the family’s living room — and the echoes of his mother singing will show up, of course, in Bryan’s books, as shown in the illustrations reproduced in this book. Bryan’s childhood was punctuated by drawing, painting, reciting poetry, and listening to the Bible stories his mother read to him and his siblings. His recalls how they were the first black family to join the pretty St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church — where he would one day design a stained-glass window over the altar, showing a magnificent, dark and honey-hued image of Jesus rising from the tomb. After high school, he went, portfolio in hand, to a prominent art institute. A representative there told him his artwork was the best he had seen and that “it would be a waste to give a scholarship to a colored person.”
Bryan persevered. He was accepted at the Cooper Union School of Art and Engineering, and his world widened. After serving in WWII and graduating from Columbia, he taught art (from prep school to Dartmouth), and eventually made his way to the peak of children’s book illustrators.  This autobiography does not brag about Bryan’s multiple awards; instead, it beams with his humble, respectful and indomitable creative spirit. It invites us all to reach inside and listen to that still, precious voice … and to celebrate life while you can.
Note: Ashley Bryan will speak March 16th at the Virginia Festival of the Book. If you’d like to read more about him, see this fabulous 2009 interview in Horn Book.

Of Ashley Bryan’s nearly three dozen books, which do you like best? One of my favorite read-alouds for children ages 7-9 is Beautiful Blackbird.

In Bryan’s rousing read-aloud version of an Ila folktale from Zambia, all the birds have solid-colored feathers, with no patterns or specks of black. Only Blackbird has black feathers that “gleam all colors in the sun.” Generous Blackbird stirs up a brew in his medicine gourd, and then give

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5. Freedom on the Menu

Carole Boston Weatherford is the vibrant author of some of the best children’s books  exploring African-American history.  I met Carole a year ago after she flew up from North Carolina to come visit our school library. As a snowstorm barreled in that day, we had to change our schedule at the last minute. Carole mastered the situation with grace and verve, adjusting each of her three sessions to relate perfectly to the age group. She recited poems to the youngest; she had children participating by chanting, jingling bells and tapping a triangle. They left the library joyous and inspired.

A section of lunch counter from the Greensboro...

Image via Wikipedia

With the fourth and fifth-graders, she discussed Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins and presented a sensitive and nuanced look at Jim Crow as it still existed when she was a child in Baltimore. She showed a photograph of the park where she and her family were not allowed to go. The students were solemn and spellbound. Carole Boston Weatherford knows how to make history real to children.

One of my favorite read-alouds for Black History Month, is Freedom on the Menu (Dial, 2004), which works well with ages 6-10. Told from the point of view of eight-year-old Connie, the story takes readers to the Woolsworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, NC. Connie and her mother often stop there for a soda after shopping downtown. Connie would like to sit down and have a banana split instead, but can’t; only whites may sit at the counter.  “All over town signs told Mama and me where we could and couldn’t go,” Connie lamented. Lagarrigue’s somber, impressionistic paintings show the hateful Jim Crow signs that warp the community. Changes are in the air, though, as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. comes to town. Connie sees her older siblings become politically involved and join in the lunch counter sit-ins. As the protests spread through the South, laws change. Six months later, Connie gets to savor her banana split at the counter, and it tastes like so sweet — like freedom. The author’s note about the 1960 Greensboro sit-ins provides additional information that will help young people understand the Civil Rights movement. See Weatherford’s web site for lesson plans inspired by this exemplary picture book.

And don’t miss these treasures …

For older children:

The Beatitudes: From Slavery to Civil Rights. illus. by Tim Ladwig. Eerdmans, 2009. Ages 7-12. Anyone looking for a picture book to illustrate the role of faith in helping people survive and eventually overcome tragedy should take a look at this beautiful book. While the religious tone might be too heavy for some people, there is a place for a book that fosters faith in God and respect for all.

Birmingham, 1963. Wordsong, 2007.

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6. Shining a Light on Bryan Collier

This Black History Month, why not introduce
children to one of today’s most creative children’s book illustrators: Bryan Collier. A good place to start is with Collier’s latest, a picture-book biography that won the 2011 Coretta Scott King Award and a Caldecott Honor for its stunning illustrations.

Hill, Laban Carrick. Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave. illus. by Bryan Collier. Little Brown, 2010.

Hill’s spare, poetic text opens with the image of dirt. “But to Dave it was clay, the plain and basic stuff upon which he learned to form a life as a slave nearly two hundred years ago.” The simple words work with Collier’s art to focus on the growth and development of a unique artist. Known simply as Dave, this talented man went on to create about 40,000 pots, some of which are displayed in museums today. The concise biography gains heft and power with Collier’s textured, earth-colored watercolor/collage images. The illustrations feature Dave’s strong hands, especially in Collier’s four-paneled foldout showing how “Dave’s hands, buried in the mounded mud, pulled out the shape of a jar.” Collier clearly situates the artist’s remarkable achievement within the context of South Carolina’s lush green landscape and its cotton fields, worked by enslaved field hands. Living in a time when that state outlawed the education of slaves, Dave often wrote brief poems on his pots. The final illustration shows him picking up a stick to write a few lines that “let us know that he was here.” Facts about Dave’s life and art, a photograph of his work, and the author’s sources are included. This is a beautiful book that will lead to discussions on justice, slavery, and the nature of creativity.

Note: Collier is not only an outstanding artist, he’s a wonderful person to invite to your library. I invited Bryan to speak at my school library about six years ago, and he was EVERYTHING you hope for in a visiting author/illustrator: He was warm, professional, inspiring, enthusiastic, and engaging. It was a memorable day for children and teachers alike. Leave a comment if you’d like to hear more, or if you’d like to share your experiences with authors/illustrators. In my next post, I’ll feature another children’s book author who was a fabulous visitor, Carole Boston Weatherford.

A Sampling of Collier’s Outstanding Books

Freedom River by Doreen Rappaport. Jump at the Sun, 2000. Ages 9-12. Rappaport and Collier make a fantastic team: exemplary nonfiction prose and striking, thought-provoking collages. This thrilling, true story tells of a little-known hero: John Parker, an ex-slave who helped hundreds escape from slavery into freedom. Risking all, Parker crossed the Ohio River time after time to bring slaves from slave-owning Kentucky to the free state of Ohio. Rappaport zeroes in on one particular family Parker managed to free from the Shrofe plantation. She builds tension by repeating simple action verbs: “Run, run”; “Row, row”; “Listen, listen.

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7. One Snowy Day a Groundhog Met a Fox

Blackaby, Susan. Brownie Groundhog and the February Fox. Illus. by Carmen Segovia. Sterling, 2011. Ages 4-7.

If you’re seeking a whimsical read-aloud for Groundhog’s Day, you’ve found it. Brownie Groundhog and the February Fox sparkles with wit and sly charm. Brownie is a clever groundhog that meets a hungry would-be predator on a cloudy February 2nd. The fox tells her, “Hold still…. I’m trying to eat you for breakfast.” Brownie’s flip response is that it’ s simply too late for breakfast. The two find they both hate to wait. Brownie suggests the fox work up an appetite by clearing the snow off the pond. Segovia’s humorous image shows the fox putting his fluffy tail to good use. Alas, after all that effort, it’s too late for lunch, says Brownie. Then the tricky groundhog leads the fox to a tree and winds her scarf around and around the fox, binding him to the trunk.

Brownie’s little heart is touched, though, as she hears the fox’s plaintive cries. She decides it’s time to share what’s in her basket: cocoa and cinnamon toast. The crumbs attract a robin — the first sign of spring! The two new friends leave for home, pondering their next adventure. The illustrator’s note describes how Segovia first conceived of this engaging character one winter as she sketched a groundhog. Her wintry palette, splashed with the fox’s red, is as refreshing as that impromptu picnic.

Enhance a snowy story with the cold facts, perfectly described and displayed in

Cassino, Mark and Jon Nelson. The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter’s Wonder.. Chronicle, 2009. Ages 4-9. You’ll be singing songs of snow, glorious snow after reading this snappy little informative book. Cassino and Nelson reveal the scientific nature of snow by using an accessible format featuring a brief fact in a large type size, then giving details in smaller text. Readers will learn of the three major types of crystals (star-shaped, plate and columnar), as well as other interesting facts. (It’s the molecular structure of water that creates the six-sided crystals, for instance.) The superb illustrations include both spectacular photographs that beg to be shared and Aoyagi’s ink and watercolor diagrams that show how a crystal develops from a speck of soil, pollen, or other substance, and then develops into an intricate six-sided beauty. Also noteworthy are the clear instructions on catching and examining snow crystals — just the trick for getting readers to venture outside to explore wintry wonders.

More and More Snow …

Alarcon, Francisco X. Iguanas in the Snow and Other Winter Poems. illus. by Maya Christina Gonzalez. Children’s Book Press, 2001. Fresh poems, often written with an unusual perspective, grace bright and beautiful pages showcasing poems in both Spanish and in English.

Andersen, Hans Christian. The Snow Queen. Trans. and retold by Naomi Lewis. Illus. by Christian Birmingham. Candlewick, 2008. Ages 8-10. Don’t miss Andersen’s most beautiful fairy tale, a source of inspiration for C.S. Lewis and other fantasy writers. Of the many versions available, Lewis’s is the one you want. This memorable wintry tale begs to be read aloud: “The cloak and cap were made of snow, and the driver ah, she was a lad

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8. Try a Little Tenderness

Stead, Philip C. A Sick Day for Amos McGee. Illus. by Erin E. Stead.Roaring Brook, 2010. Ages 3-7.

This year’s 2011 Caldecott went to a sweet, whimsical story of kindness. Amos McGee works at the zoo and sets aside time each day for the animals; he would play chess with the elephant, run races with the tortoise, sit with the shy penguin, lend a handkerchief to the rhino, and read to the owl. Then one day Amos gets sick and stays in bed. The lonely animals decide to take action; that afternoon they make their way to Amos’s home. Throughout the book, Erin Stead’s pencil and woodblock illustrations sprinkle humorous details guaranteed to make readers smile. My favorite is the double spread showing the animals riding the bus, while others will be charmed by the last illustration, showing the quiet penguin gazing at the moon while the others snooze away after a busy afternoon taking care of their friend.

Looking for more kindness? For ages 4-7, try last year’s Caldecott winner, The Lion and the Mouse, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, and, for Valentine’s Day, reach for Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch, by Eileen Spinelli. For older children, consider Tale of the Mandarin Ducks by Katherine Paterson and the Cinderella variations that focus on the protagonist’s kindness:  The Talking Eggs by Robert San Souci, Papa Gatto by Ruth Sanderson, and Gift of the Crocodile: A Cinderella Story by Judy Sierra. Also, see my December 27th post on being kind to animals.

What are your favorite children’s books featuring kindness? Please leave a comment!

Filed under: Caldecott Award, Picture Books Tagged: 2010 Caldecott, 2011 Caldecott, Eileen Spinelli, Jerry Pinkney, Katherine Paterson, Robert D. San Souci, Ruth Sanderson 2 Comments on Try a Little Tenderness, last added: 1/20/2011
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9. Catch This Bus

Kittinger, Jo. S. Rosa’s Bus: The Ride to Civil Rights. Illus. by Steven Walker. Calkins Creek, 2010. Ages 6-9.

Many children’s books relate the story of Rosa Parks and her refusal to vacate her seat for a white man. This picture book, however, zooms in on the actual bus — #2867, which began its journey in 1948 on the assembly line in Michigan and ended up getting restored and displayed in the Henry Ford Museum in 2003. Kittinger keeps the story rolling along, undeterred by superfluous details. Walker’s colorful oil paintings, especially those of the bus, add to the kid appeal. After Rosa’s arrest, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the bus boycott, which “went on and on. No dimes jingle-jangled in the coin box. Day after day, week after week, month after month, Bus #2357 rode down the street with plenty of empty seats.” After 382 days, the boycott ended with the Supreme Court ruling that outlawed race-based discrimination. Use this book to enhance children’s understanding of the Civil Rights Movement and their appreciation of the perseverance of those who participated. The bibliography provides noteworthy sources for those who want more details.

Shelton, Paula Young. Child of the Civil Rights Movement. Illus. by Raul Colon. Schwartz & Wade, 2009. Ages 5-9.

This first-time author is a daughter of Civil Rights leader Andrew Young and a first-grade teacher, experiences that enrich her engaging, child-friendly true story. Using simple, rhythmic language, she describes how her family moves from New York to Atlanta to work for the end of “Jim Crow, / where whites could / but blacks could not”). Famous leaders in the movement, including Martin Luther King, Jr., are not cast as distant gods but as folks who ate and laughed and prayed together. Colón’s soft-colored pencil-and-wash illustrations evoke the affection shared among the activists. Children will laugh upon learning of Shelton’s first protest: She sat on the floor and wailed when a Holiday Inn restaurant in Atlanta refused to serve her family.  One aspect that particularly recommends this book to children is its hopeful, positive tone, with its emphasis on community and respect. The story’s triumphant end shows Paula and her family joining the world-changing march from Selma to Montgomery. A brief bibliography and biographical notes provide additional information.

Other Recommended Titles for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Michelson, Richard.  As Good as Anybody:Martin Luther King and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom. Illus. by Raul Colón. Knopf, 2008. Ages 6-10. Michelson provides an interesting perspective in this 2009 Sydney Taylor Book Award winner. He focuses on two peaceful heroes: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and an ally, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Michelson invites readers to consider the parallels between the two leaders and their experiences. Both experienced hostility and prejudice in their homeland. Both overcame it with love, faith, and wisdom. Colón’s iIllustrations illuminate both the individual exper

3 Comments on Catch This Bus, last added: 1/15/2011
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10. Here’s to All the Dreamers

Today, the American Library Association announced the winner of the 2011 Pura Belpré Author Award. It’s a beauty! 

Ryan, Pam Muñoz.  The Dreamer. Illus. by Peter Sís. Scholastic, 2010. Ages 10-16.

The landscape of a major poet’s mind provides Ryan with the space to create her own work of art in The Dreamer. Her lush rendering of the early life of Neftali Reyes, the acclaimed Chilean poet known to the world as Pablo Neruda, is stunning and original.

This is the story of a scrawny, seemingly weak boy who finds power in words, in his vibrant environment, in the kingdom of imagination. The authoritarian figure of the father looms large in this novel, providing tension and conflict. The rigid patriarch has worked hard to advance with the railroad and is determined to see his son Neftali pursue a respected career in medicine. Ryan depicts the boy’s fears, his stuttering, and his growing resistance to his father’s demands.

The integration of form and content in this historical novel is a joy to experience. Ryan’s poetic structure involves choosing a single evocative word to denote each chapter, sprinkling her own poetic, Neruda-like lines within the story, and capturing the boy’s sense of wonder with the use of onomatopeia and repetition. Further highlighting the boy’s experiences and imagination are the dreamy pen-and-ink pointillist illustrations of Peter Sis, known for his sensitive, often mysterious artwork.

A sampling of Neruda’s poems is included at the end of the book and will inspire older readers to discover more about this remarkable poet.

Pablo Neruda

Image via Wikipedia

Filed under: middle grade, Novels, Poetry Tagged: Historical fiction, Latino culture, Pablo Neruda, Pam Munoz Ryan, Peter Sis, Pura Belpré Award, Sense of wonder
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11. Playing with Perspective

Singer, Marilyn. Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse. Illus. by Josee Masse. Dutton, 2010. Ages 7-10.

Arresting images, lyrical language, and relevant themes inhabit all of Marilyn Singer’s poetry collections for children. In Mirror Mirror, she has created a new poetic form, which she calls the reverso. The apt name refers to her technique of writing a poem that can be read in both directions — up and down. She uses the same words in both poems, changing only punctuation and capitalization as needed.

Singer’s reversos focus on fairy tales, where things are almost never as they appear.  The title and the form perfectly match the substance, all the while providing an intriguing reading experience. Masse’s vibrant paintings create split images that depict the brilliant duality of the poem’s perspectives. Words and illustrations reflect interesting angles on familiar fairy-tale characters: “Rapunzel’s Locks,”(“No wonder she felt snippy.”); “In the Hood,” (plays on two meanings of hood: Red Riding Hood’s and the slang word for neighborhood); “Longing for Beauty,” (“A beast/can love/ beauty”; now read the lines in reverse order) and “The Road,” about the process of letting yourself go “wherever the road leads.” That’s what the poet and the illustrator have done. Now it’s your turn, dear Reader. Keep your eyes wide open. This could be paired with Laura Whipple’s If the Shoe Fits: Voices From Cinderella, 33 fresh poems from various perspectives of objects (such as the glass slipper) and characters in the fairy tale.

Double the Fun With a Superbaby

O’Malley, Kevin. Once Upon a Royal Superbaby. Illus. by the author, Carol Heyer, and Scott Goto. Walker. 2010. Ages 6-9.

As in the hilarious Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude (Walker, 2005), this talented trio again taps the inherent conflict of a collaborative writing assignment for two kids who don’t see eye-to-eye. The boy’s contribution to the pair’s invented fairy tale includes plenty of rock ‘em sock ‘em action, while the girl focuses on a queen she names “Tenderheart” and the baby she calls “Sweet Piper.” The boy transforms the infant into “Strong Viper” as the “superbaby” manages to save his kidnapped parents from a giant cyclops, in a happy-ever-after ending that satisfies both writers.  O’Malley’s Photoshopped drawings of the storytellers are complemented by Goto and Heyer’s dramatic illustrations reflecting the children’s contrasting ideas. This picture book provides humor as well as an opportunity to discuss conflict resolution and gender differences.

Filed under: Folk and Fairy Tales, Picture Books, Poetry Tagged: Carol Heyer, Josee Masse, Kevin

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12. Educated by Kindness

McCully, Emily Arnold.
Wonder Horse: The True Story of the World’s Smartest Horse. Holt, 2010.

A horse is a horse, but sometimes it takes a special person to recognize its real worth. Bill “Doc” Key was born a slave, but became a veterinarian and a successful entrepreneur in post-Civil War Tennessee. Doc decided to see how much he could teach Jim, his seemingly bright little foal. With kindness and patience, he taught the horse to count, to distinguish colors and letters of the alphabet, and to add and subtract.

Doc took his prodigy on the road, and for a while, the two met with applause and amazement at fairs, theaters, and arenas. Then a newspaper reporter asked, “How could a little old black man with no education teach a dumb animal to do those things?” Doc didn’t give up, though; he invited some professors at Harvard to examine Jim Key to determine if the horse was, in fact, educated. After they confirmed  it, the newspapers set the record straight: “JIM KEY EDUCATED BY KINDNESS.”

McCully, whose sprightly watercolors add charm to this fact-based story, continues to live up to the high standard she has set in her career of writing and illustrating beloved picture books. Those yearning for more details on this amazing man and his horse can find them in the author’s note and bibliography.

Recommended Read-alouds That Call for Kindness to Animals

Note: Please leave a comment with your favorites!

Saint Francis instructs the Wolf, engraving

Image via Wikipedia

Kimmel, Eric. Brother Wolf Sister Sparrow: Stories About Saints and Holiday House, 2003. Animals. See the masterfully retold Italian legend “St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio.”

Levitin, Sonia. All the Cats in the World. Harcourt, 1984. Powerful story of friendship and kindness. No one can care for all the cats in the world, but everyone can perform acts of kindness, as an elderly woman shows a lonely, bitter old lighthouse keeper.

Meddaugh, Susan. Martha Walks the Dog. Houghton, 1998. Clever Martha uses praise to tame a hostile dog.

Pericoli, Matteo. The True Story of Stellina. Knopf, 2006.   Pericoli and his wife, Holly, rescued and raised a finch, Stellina, that had fallen from her nest onto a busy street in New York City. They nurtured the bird in their Manhattan apartment, where she leaned to eat, fly, and sing.

Spencer, Ann. And Round Me Rings: Bell Tales and Folklore. Tundra, 2003. See “Bell of Justice Rings,” a retelling of an Italian folktale, in which a horse calls attention to its mistreatment.

Filed under: Peace stories, Picture Books Tagged: animals, Emily Arnold McCully, folktales, kindness, Add a Comment
13. Back to the Land of Picture Books

… Or Reality Flies the Coop in the NYT

If you’re still outraged by the supposedly dim outlook for picture books depicted in the much-criticized NYT article in October, take a deep breath. Thanks to Karen Springen’s recent Publishers Weekly’s article, we can put that distorted view to bed. Check the facts: Picture books represented 10.8 percent of the children’s book market, slightly up from 2005. Moreover, the NYT article ignored  library use. It’s up around the country, says Julie Corsaro, president of the American Library Association’s Association for Library Service to Children division. “And in many public libraries, picture books have the highest circulation.”

What do picture books do so well? Consider these features:

  • 1.    Children read them over and over and over.
  • 2.    Picture books encourage young ones to envision and to predict what might happen next (habits that help them become fluent readers).
  • 3.    Picture books teach visual literacy – a skill needed today perhaps more than ever.
  • 4.    Picture books can be used as models of narrative technique, point of view, skillful word choice, foreshadowing, symbolism, imagery, and plot development .
  • 5.    Picture books can tap higher-level thinking skills. Examples:  the crackling humor in Kevin O’Malley’s folktale-based Animal Crackers Fly the Coop or the theme of finding one’s place in the world in  How I Learned Geography.

In my years as a PK-5th grade librarian, I often found the vocabulary in picture books was more sophisticated, more memorable and more powerful than what typically occurs in chapter books for younger children. Additionally, the range of themes explored in picture books is astounding, as my reviews (Christmas in the Trenches, John’s Secret Dreams, etc.) on this blog indicate. Many are intended for and best appreciated by older readers.

I hope some special picture books tumble down the chimney for children across the universe. Those treats might inspire a whole new way of looking at the world. They could earn a treasured spot in a child’s personal library …  or nestle forever in a child’s memories.

Filed under: Holidays, Picture Books Tagged: American Library Association, Kevin O'Malley, New York Times, picture books, Publishers Weekly, Display Comments Add a Comment
14. A Time for Peace

McCutcheon, John Christmas in the Trenches. Illus. by Henri Sorensen. Peachtree, 2006.

If you’ve ever heard the song “Christmas in the Trenches” by folksinger John McCutcheon, you will remember it. It’s became part of my Christmas tradition after hearing it on a local college radio station in ’84. McCutcheon has adapted his touching song about the Christmas Truce of 1914 for this picture book and CD for older children. The story’s narrator is an elderly man named Francis, who tells his grandchildren of the unique Christmas he experienced as a young soldier in WWI.  The soldiers in the trenches were bored and homesick on Christmas Eve. Suddenly, they heard German voices singing Christmas carols. The English soldiers decided to join in on “Silent Night,” an act that inspired a German soldier to cross No Man’s Land with a white flag and a Christmas tree. The two sides called a temporary, informal truce. Sorensen’s atmospheric oil paintings highlight the unexpected night of peace with a double-page spread showing the soldiers and the battlefield. Included are an author’s note, music notation, and a CD with the title song and “Silent Night/Stille Nacht,” along with a reading of the story. This sensitive picture book won a 2007 Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. For older children who want to learn more about the event, show them Jim Murphy’s Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting (Scholastic, 2009). Murphy gives an accessible overview of WWI and focuses on how peace was briefly restored when troops defied orders and met their enemies in the barren land between the trenches. There the soldiers ignored their differences and sang carols, exchanged small gifts, and regained a sense of humanity.  Archival photographs, maps, and artwork help children understand the events.

More Beauties of the Season … and Share Your Favorites by Leaving a Comment!

Climo, Shirley. Cobweb Christmas: The Tradition of Tinsel. Illus. by Jane Manning. HarperCollins, 2001. Ages 6-9. Charming story of a kind old lady who gets to experience a little Christmas magic, thanks to some spiders. Manning’s bright illustrations provide interesting perspectives and a warm spirit.

Cunningham, Julia. The Stable Rat and Other Christmas Poems. Illus. by Anita Lobel. Greenwillow, 2001. Cunningham’s original poems explore the Nativity from the perspective of the animals that gathered there. Lobel’s lovely paintings capture the mystery of the season.

Daly, Niki. What’s Cooking, Jamala? Farrar, 2001. You can’t eat friends! That’s why Jamala decides to save

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15. The Gift of a Goat

McBrier, Page. Beatrice’s Goat. Illus. by Lori Lohstoeter. Aladdin, 2004. Ages 7-10.

One way to counteract the “gimme” culture is to share a story about generosity and gratitude. Set in Uganda, Beatrice’s Goat, shows how Beatrice and her family must struggle to survive. The family cannot afford to send Beatrice to school. Instead, she must help her mother watch the younger children, tend the chickens, and grind the cassava flour.
Then news comes that a charitable organization has given them a goat. Beatrice will be responsible for taking care of Mugisa, an apt name meaning “lucky gift.” Before long, Beatrice is able to sell the goat’s milk and even to drink it herself. And then, to her surprise, her mother is finally able to afford to send Beatrice to school in her brand new uniform. After Mugisa gives birth to two kids, there’s even enough money to put a new metal roof on their house. Loestoeter’s  acrylic illustrations are warm and engaging, as is this special story based on the account of an actual family helped by the Heifer Project.

Other Books That Touch on Philanthropy

DiSalvo-Ryan, Dyanne. A Castle on Viola Street. HarperCollins, 2001. Ages 7-10.

Fleming, Candace. Boxes for Katje. Farrar, 2003. Ages 8-10.

Milway, Katie Smith. One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference. Kids Can, 2008. Ages 9+

Mortenson, Greg. Listen to the Wind: The Story of Dr. Greg and Three Cups of Tea. Dial, 2009. Ages 8-12.

Nivola, Claire. Planting the Trees of Kenya. Farrar, 2008. Ages 7-10.

Rubel, David. If I Had a Hammer: Building Homes and Hope with Habitat for Humanity. Candlewick, 2009. Ages 10+

Shoveller, Herb. Ryan and Jimmy and the Well in Africa That Brought Them Together. Kids Can, 2006. Ages 8-10.

Weatherford, Carole Boston. Dear Mr. Rosenwald. Scholastic, 2006. Ages 7-10.

Filed under: Holidays, Peace stories, Picture Books Tagged: Add a Comment
16. Bright Lights, Little Hero

Kimmel, Eric A. When Mindy Saved Hanukkah. Illus. by Barbara McClintock. Scholastic, 1998.

Can children ever get enough of stories with small heroes? Of Kimmel’s many finely crafted picture books, this is one of his best. Mindy and the rest of the Klein family live behind the walls of the Eldridge Street Synagogue in New York. When resourceful Papa goes on his quest for a candle they can melt into tiny candles for their menorah, he meets with near-disaster. “A fierce Antiochus of a cat” pounces on him. Leave it to brave little Mindy to save the day! A huge part of the fun of this exciting story is Barbara McClintock’s humorous, detailed ink and watercolor paintings, evoking century-old styles and interesting aspects of this historic synagogue. I can’t imagine a more enjoyable way for children to discover the reasons for Hanukkah.

More Great Hanukkah Read-alouds

da Costa, Deborah. Hanukkah Moon. Kar-Ben, 2007. “At Aunt Luisa’s you ll get to celebrate the Hanukkah Moon,” Isobel’s father promises. This likable picture book centers on Hanukkah customs with a Latina twist.

Kimmel, Eric. Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins. Holiday House, 1994. Hershel of Ostropol arrives at a village where the people can’t celebrate Hanukkah because their synagogue has been overtaken by goblins. Hershel is brave and bright enough to outwit those goblins, though, in this thrilling story brought to life by Trina Schart Hyman’s spooky illustrations, which won a Caldecott Honor.

Krensky, Stephen. Hanukkah at Valley Forge. Dutton, 2006. This engaging story features a young Jewish soldier explaining Hanukkah to George Washington. Atmospheric watercolor paintings evoke the contrast between the cold Pennsylvania winter and the soldier’s glowing candlelight.

Kroll, Stephen. The Hanukkah Mice. Marshall Cavendish, 2008. A girl’s new dollhouse is the perfect place for a family of mice to celebrate Hanukkah.

Manushkin, Fran. Hooray for Hanukkah! Random House, 2001. “I am bright, but I could be brighter!” Hear the story of Hanukkah from the perspective of the menorah in this charming book for young children.

Polacco, Patricia. Trees of the Dancing Goats. Simon & Schuster, 1996. Based on the author’s childhood, Polacco shows how Trisha and her family prepare to celebrate Hanukkah. When Trisha visits her neighbors, she finds them bedridden with scarlet fever instead of decorating for Christmas. Then Grampa comes up with a surprising way to cheer up their neighbors. The plan involves a lot of work and even sacrifice, but it will make for a holiday for all to cherish.

Rosen, Michael J. Elijah’s Angel: A Story of Chanukah and Christmas. Harcourt, 1992. Touching story of a friendship between nine-year-old Michael and the elderly African-American Elijah, who gives the boy one of his carved wooden angels. Should a Jewish child keep such a gift?

Singer, Isaac Bashevis. Power of Light: Eight Stories for

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17. Welcome to my Table: Tales of Hospitality

Demi. The Hungry Coat. Margaret K. McElderry, 2004.

“Once upon a time in Turkey there lived a funny, little wise man named Nasrettin Hoca. He wore a huge, white turban and a worn-out coat made of patches upon patches. Riding about on his little gray donkey, he liked to help whomever he could.”

When Nasrettin sets out to visit a friend who’s having a banquet, he encounters a caravan getting wrecked by a frisky goat. Because he stops to help, Nasrettin finds he doesn’t have time to change his dirty clothes before visiting his friend. He finally arrives, but  instead of the friendly, cheerful welcome he expects, he is ignored. Nasrettin slips out and returns, this time wearing an elegant silk coat. The host promptly invites him in and gives him all the fine food previously denied him. But Nasrettin has a trick up his sleeve; he starts to feed his coat instead of his belly! Children will love chanting the refrain “Eat, coat, eat” and as they participate in the story, they’ll understand what Nasrettin’s host should have: It’s wrong to judge a person by his clothes. Demi’s gorgeous paintings feature the motifs and colors of traditional Turkish art and brighten this lively tale featuring Turkey’s famous folk hero.

More Tales of Hospitality

Becker, Bonnie. A Visitor for Bear. Candlewick, 2008. A grumpy bear posts a “No visitors” sign outside his door. But a bright-eyed, friendly mouse keeps popping in and opens Bear’s eyes to his need for companionship.

Leodhas,  Sorche. Always Room for One More. Illus. by Nonny Hogrogian. Caldecott Medal. Lachie MacLachlan lives in a “wee house in the heather” in Scotland, with his family of twelve. He always welcomes every weary traveler who wanders by in rough weather. His guests show their gratitude in a delightful way that continues to charm readers young and old.

Kinsey-Warnock, Natalie. Nora’s Ark. Harper-Collins, 2005. Based on the Vermont flood of 1927, the author tells a memorable story of how a girl’s grandparents welcome neighbors, chickens, ducks, pigs, a horse and a cow into their home on the hill as the waters rise and uproot their community. The humorous, detailed paintings by Caldecott Medal-winning artist Emily Arnold McCully evoke the dangers of the flood and the warmth of a kitchen filled with kind people and good cheer.

Muth, Jon. Stone Soup. Scholastic, 2003. Muth retells a beloved old French folktale and transports it to China. Instead of hungry soldiers, he features three monks who know the importance of community in making people happy. This picture book presents a feast for the eyes, heart and mind.

Ryan, Pam Munoz. Mice and Beans. As Rosa Maria prepares for a big family party, some mice are planning their own festivities. Even though Rosa Maria sets mouse traps, the mice save the day when they notice she forgot to stuff the piñata.

Rylant, Cynthia. The Relatives Came. Aladdin, 1993. It’s a full, full house every year when the relatives come bumping up from

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18. Thank your lucky beans

Birtha, Becky. Lucky Beans. Albert Whitman, 2010.

Who wants beans? Marshall’s family, like many others living through the Depression, is lucky to have food on the table. That doesn’t stop Marshall from growing tired of having beans every night, though.

Some welcome excitement bubbles up after the family hears about the contest at Kaplan’s Furniture Store. Guess the number of beans in the jar and win a new sewing machine! Marshall knows someone who’s good with numbers and who’s been wanting a sewing machine — Ma. He can’t help but wonder if this contest is open to all people, not just to whites. Reassured by fair-minded Mr. Kaplan, Marshall is ready for action. Together, the family members tackle the problem, using the estimation techniques Marshall has learned at school. The day arrives when Mr. Kaplan announces the winner. The jar contains 53,293 beans — just 13 more than Ma guessed. She gets to take home that shiny black sewing machine. In no time, she’s putting it to good use and earning money.

This likable picture book is a natural to use with units on estimating, the Depression, or the trait of industriousness. As with Grandmama’s Pride, her first picture book, Birtha notes she was inspired by recollections of her grandmother — who actually did win a sewing machine in a similar contest.

More Books Featuring Industrious Characters

Galdone, Paul. The Little Red Hen. Clarion, 2006. Every child should hear this classic, retold with sass and rhythm by Galdone and illustrated with lively humor. Then share another, newer version that emphasizes cooperation: The Little Red Hen: An Old Fable by Heather Forest. Discuss with children the similarities and differences between the two and ask which they prefer, and why.

Galdone, Paul. The Three Little Pigs. You know which one built the best house. Compare the classic with an Appalachian version,  The Three Little Pigs and the Fox by William H. Hooks, in which sister Hamlet saves her silly brothers. S.D. Schindler’s finely detailed paintings add to the fun.

McDonald, Margaret Read. Too Many Fairies: A Celtic Tale. Marshall Cavendish, 2010. An old woman complains, “Work! Work! Work! How I hate it!” But after noisy fairies invade her home to do her chores, she decides work might not be so bad after all. The watercolor illustrations by Susan Mitchell are fun, but it’s McDonald’s use of repetition and onomatopoeia that make this tale lively and engaging.

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19. Fairy Tales Reach the Heart

Prolific writer Jane Yolen is a passionate proponent of the role of traditional folk and fairy tales in the lives of children. In Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie and Folklore in the Literature of Childhood, she warned, “Our children are growing up without their birthright: the myths, fairy tales, fantasies and folklore that are their proper legacy. It is a serious loss.”

In the process of entertaining us, myths and folk literature perform four crucial functions, Yolen argues. They provide …

  1. a landscape of allusion
  2. insight into ancestral cultures
  3. a safe path for processing experience
  4. a framework for an individual’s beliefs and values

“When we … deprive [children] of the insights and poetic visions expressed in words that humans have produced throughout human history, we deny them – in the end – their own humanity.” We bequeath to them a dry and shallow culture.

While I agree all four functions are vital, I’d like to focus on the third and fourth roles, as they pertain to the education of the heart, which is so often neglected in our schools. As Yolen pointed out, “The best of the old stories spoke not just to the ears but to the heart as well.”

How do these old tales speak to the heart? They echo our fears, hopes, and losses. Most children aren’t conscious of their fear of abandonment, but they recognize it when they hear a story such as “Hansel and Gretel.” Folk literature explores and examines forces so fearsome as to seem almost insurmountable. Like Jack, children live in a world with giants. The tales give them tools to interpret their confusing lives. They invite young ones to envision a way to triumph over adversity, to succeed despite all obstacles. Dare to hope, the stories tell us.

There’s more. Children respond to the stark morality, the chiaroscuro of fairy tales. They understand it. They crave it. That’s why the sugary, Disney versions don’t have the same impact. G.K. Chesteron said, “If you really read the fairy tales, you will observe that one idea runs from one end of them to the other – the idea that peace and happiness can only exist on some condition. This idea, which is the core of ethics, is the core of the nursery tale.” In other words, you cannot get unless you give.

These stories reflect the human condition, in that they so often depict a condition of choice. The heroine chooses to venture “east o’ the sun and west o’ the moon” – and rescues her husband. Every choice has consequences. The wolf’s choice to climb down the chimney lands him in the pot of boiling water. Justice is served.  Every memorable story, Yolen wrote, “is about the working through evil in order to come at last to the light.”

Choose to lead young ones to these powerful old tales. They deserve no less.

A Few Recommended Folk and Fairy Tales … (Look for more in future posts.)

For Ages 4-6

Cousins, Lucy. Yummy: Eight Favorite Fairy Tales. Candlewick, 2009. Cousins  retells beloved classic fairy tales with simple, direct language, complemented by her large, expressive, bright gouache spreads. As in the traditional versions, poetic justice rings out loud and clear in this collection, which

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20. Celebrating Imagination

Rappaport, Doreen. Illustrated by Bryan Collier.  John’s Secret Dreams. Hyperion, 2004.

John Lennon forever changed the scope and impact of rock ‘n’ roll. He was a rebel from the wrong side of town who dreamed of hitting it big. Yet, as he reached the pinnacle of fame and fortune, he resented its warped confines. When he met Yoko, his life seemed to open up. He became politically engaged, and as the Vietnam War raged on, he spoke out for peace. This powerful picture-book biography by a masterful nonfiction writer and award-winning illustrator invites children to follow their own dreams. Rappaport’s spare, sometimes poetic text flows with Collier’s lively cut-paper collage and watercolor art, which, in turn, illuminates well-chosen excerpts from John’s lyrics. Eerily, the last illustration zooms in on a single lit candle, surrounded by others — so evocative of the peace tower Yoko has established in Iceland in honor of John. October 9th, John would have turned 70. Remember and imagine peace.


More Picture Books that Celebrate the Power of Imagination

Alarcon, Francisco X. Poems to Dream Together/Poemas Para Sonar Juntos. Lee & Low, 2005. Ages 8+. Alarcon expresses his dreams of peace, community, and hope for the future in this lively bilingual collection of poems. The rhythmic poems are fresh, simple, and original, and are enhanced with Barragan’s dreamy, bright illustrations.

Banks, Kate. Max’s Words. Farrar, 2006. Ages 6-9. Max’s brothers collect things like coins and stamps. Max decides he’ll collect words. Starting with short, ordinary words, he progresses to the more sophisticated ones he discovers in the dictionary. His brothers, intrigued by Max’s collection, move the words around to make a story, which is illustrated with Kulikov’s artwork featuring  exaggerated facial expressions and odd perspectives.

King, Stephen Michael. Milli, Jack, and the Dancing Cat. Penguin, 2004. Ages 5-8. Already out of print, this lively picture book is a charming celebration of creativity. Milli’s special gift is her ability to see the wild potential in ordinary objects. She can “take a straight piece of wire and give it a wiggle, or a simple square of cloth and set it dancing in the wind.” Yet, her own potential is untapped as she spends her days making the plain brown shoes the townspeople want. When  Jack and the dancing cat stroll into town, they offer her dancing lessons in exchange for new boots. This initiates in Milli a newfound freedom and courage to use her creativity. Her delightfully quirky inventions, brought to life with King’s lively watercolor illustrations, will delight children.

Levine, Arthur A. The Boy Who Drew Cats: A Japanese Folktale. Illus. by Frederic Clement. Dial, 1994. Ages 8+. Strange and powerful retelling of a Japanese folktale featuring a young boy who does not seem to belong anywhere. After his mother takes him to a monastery, he angers a monk who thinks he wastes time with his drawing. The other monk, though, gives him a special farewell gift and a message that will help the boy survive a frightening night. Clement&rsquo

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21. Power to the Picture Book

The recent New York Times article lamenting a so-called trend of parents pushing young children to abandon picture books in favor of chapter books missed a great opportunity to discuss self-destructive tendencies in the publishing world and the chain bookstores.

As a recently retired school librarian, I continue to devote a lot of time to children’s books. But rather than complain about the parents (and yes, there is too much of the parental pushiness the reporter noted), I would look first at the bookstores and the publishing industry itself. I can’t blame parents for not realizing the astounding variety and quality of picture books, in terms of both literary and artistic standards. Walk into any Borders or Barnes & Noble, and you are bombarded with the same old same old commercially oriented “stars” — Fancy Nancy ad nauseum, the latest books by celebrities such as Bob Dylan (love ya, Bob, but you’re no master at children’s books), and the endless array of books with tie-ins to toys, movies, and TV shows. The employees — if you can find them — rarely know much about children’s literature or child development. More and more, these stores offer the classics (Where the Wild Things Are, Make Way for Ducklings, The Little Engine That Could) and the trendy trash tied to toys and other products, but leave out many creative, noteworthy children’s books. Is it any wonder that wonderful picture books often go out of print? Some of them never even saw the light of day in the big chain stores.

Do bookstores really want to sell more books? Or just more of the same? If they would simply buy quality books, display, promote, and offer more story times, adults would become more aware of the choices that are fleetingly available. And if publishers would (1) lower prices for hardbacks and (2) offer many more picture books in paperback, they’d be selling more.

Even the layout of these stores no longer invites lingering, exploring, and discovering great children’s books. The Barnes & Noble in Wilmington, DE, for instance, has redesigned its large space to resemble a warehouse for selling the Nook. It feels intimidating now even to go inside. The local Borders store has reduced the seating in the children’s area, along with the quantity of picture books, audiobooks, and child-oriented CDs. A quick glance around either of these, but especially Borders, will yield plenty of bright colors — of Disney and Nickelodean products.

Do these people have a death wish? Smoke and mirrors won’t do. Children need books, lots of books, lots of beautiful, funny, gross, touching, well-written, memorable picture books! Push back, people. Look out for the interests of your children and everyone else. If you can’t buy books — preferably at independent bookstores –  go to the library. They even have kind, knowledgeable people who will lead you to the kinds of books you and, most importantly, your children really want. Gems are all around if you look for them.

Let’s hear it for for such recently published books as …

Down, Down, Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea. By Steve Jenkins. Illus. by the author. Houghton, 2009.

Elsie’s Bird. By Jan

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22. Wisdom from a Spider?

Didactic tales do not reach children. Over the centuries, storytellers, rabbis, and Christ himself  have relied on better tricks. You have to give your audience an entertaining story, with images that linger in the mind. Many have used the  image of the spider to evoke desirable character traits such as industriousness, perseverance, cleverness, or cunning. In West Africa, griots spin tales featuring the humorous spider/man Anansi, who  often shows children what they should not do. Every child needs to meet Anansi, as the storyteller Patrick Addai relates in his essay  “I will always remain a spider.”

Great Spider Read-alouds from Many Cultures

Arkhurst, Joyce. The Adventures of Spider: West African Folk Tales. Illus. by Jerry Pinkney. Little, Brown, 1992. Entertaining and accessible collection of six Anansi tales retold by a NYPL librarian/storyteller. My favorites include “How Spider Got a Thin Waist,” which shows the result of Spider’s greed; (2) “How Spider Got a Bald Head,” which features some hot baked beans in an unexpected spot; and (3) “ How the World Got Wisdom,” which reveals why no one person or culture holds all the answers.

Badoe, Adwoa. Pot of Wisdom: Ananse Stories. Illus. by Baba Wague Diakite. Badoe’s witty retellings of ten Ananse folktales are enlivened by Diakite’s boldly patterned illustrations.

Bruchac, Joseph, Ka-Hon-Hes and Michael Caduto. Native American Stories. Fulcrum, 1991. Collection focuses on the many lessons nature can teach humans. See the Muskogee/Creek myth “How Grandmother Spider Stole the Sun,” a story simple enough for children to retell.

Cronin, Doreen. Diary of a Spider. Illus. by Henry Bliss. HarperCollins, 2005. Ages 5-8. Spider keeps a diary, allowing young readers to see the world according to arachnids. Cronin’s fresh, funny story shows the engaging protagonist at spider school, at sleepovers, and in the throes of friendship — in this case, among different species.

Cummings, Pat. Ananse and the Lizard: A West African Tale. Holt, 2002.  Ages 6-8. When Ananse the spider hears that whoever guesses the name of the daughter of the village chief will get to marry her and get half the kingdom, he’s sure he’ll be the winner. But tricky Lizard has his own scheme, and this pourquoi tale reve

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23. By the Light of the Silvery Moon

Foley, Greg. Willoughby & the Moon. Harper, 2010. Ages 5-7. Foley’s second picture book is another surreal peek into a child’s world of wonder. The little boy Willoughby can’t get to sleep because the night is just too dark. Where has all the moonlight gone? Then he notices a glow beneath his closet door. When he investigates, he finds a scared snail on top of the moon, searching for the silver ball he’s lost. The illustration showing the brave boy willing to help his new friend is worth the price of the book. Using the snail’s map, the two embark on a journey through the moon and eventually, Willoughby returns to his very own bed. The stunning illustrations, with their deep blacks and luminous silvers, make this a stylish and unusual bedtime book worth savoring.
More Moon Stories and Poetry …
and share your favorites by leaving a comment .

  • Bruchac, Joseph. Thirteen Moons on Turtle’s Back. Ages 7+ Penguin, 1992. Poems from Native American legends celebrate the seasons of the year.
  • Burleigh, Robert. One Giant Leap. Penguin, 2009. Ages 7+ Burleigh uses dramatic free verse to give children an engaging view of what it was like to land on the moon, as Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong did. Mike Wimmer’s oil paintings help enliven this exciting true story.
  • Costa, Deborah. Hanukkah Moon. Lerner, 2007. Ages 6-8.  When Isobel goes to stay with Aunt Luisa, an artist from Mexico, she is surprised to see a banner that reads “Feliz Januca ” hanging over the fireplace and a piata shaped like a dreidel. Her aunt will gently open her eyes to a different way of celebrating Hanukkah and the time of the new moon. Warm, glowing watercolor and crayon illustrations evoke the affection that develops between the child and her aunt.
  • Dayrell, Elphinstone. Why the Sun and the Moon Live in the Sky. Ill. by Blair Lent. Houghton Mifflin, 1990. All ages. Humorous African folktale tells how the sun and water were once friends who both lived on earth. But when water comes to visit, sun and his wife, moon, are crowded out of their home and land in the sky.
  • Florian, Douglas. Comets, Stars, the Moon and Mars: Space Poems and Paintings. Houghton, 2007. All ages. Florian’s inventive poems put a fresh spin on the night sky. The brief, witty lines amuse, inform, and sometimes even swirl, with Florian’s bright, playful paintings sure to please curious children.
  • Henkes, Kevin. Kitten’s First Full Moon. Harper, 2004. Ages 3-6. Why not experience the full moon from the perspective of a silly kitten? Deceptively simple and visually alluring, Henkes’ rhythmic story of a kitten who confuses the full moon with a bowl of milk is a treat for young ones. Use this to teach young ones visual literacy; have them look for shapes and patterns, just as the kitten does.
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24. Librarian on the Roof!

Yes, librarians can be heroes, too. If you don’t believe it, just read Librarian on the Roof! A True Story by M.G. King and illustrated by Stephen Gilpin. This spirited picture book is based on the real adventures of RoseAleta Laurell, who blew into the small town of Lockhart, Texas, and found a small, outdated library with a lot more dust than people. The old brick-and-limestone building had been a cultural center once, but it had lost its luster. And worst of all, it had no children’s section.  So RoseAleta decided to raise a ruckus, or raise funds for an area just for kids. “We need more books — picture books, mystery books, adventure books! We need tables just the right size. Comfy chairs. Colorful artwork. And computers.” Of course, the question was where  the money would come from. That’s what led RoseAleta up to the roof. Fifty feet up, she perched a tent and vowed to camp out until the community raised the funds needed.

All this commotion didn’t meet with the town official’s approval. One page shows him scowling as he yells, “RoseAleta, stop this nonsense right now. We are a respectable town. We simply cannot have librarians falling off the roof.”

“HORSEFEATHERS! Respectable towns have libraries filled with children.” RoseAleta didn’t budge.

In one week, the community raised nearly twice her goal — $39,000 — and today, the library is once again a vital place, with scores of kids learning and reading in the oldest library in Texas.

The very idea of a librarian camping out on the roof will tickle a lot of children. The colorful, cartoonish illustrations by Stephen Gilpin are humorous and defy the outdated stereotype of a librarian. They depict RoseAleta as a bright-eyed, feisty, energetic woman determined to stay on top of things.

Other Books Featuring Heroic Librarians

  • Gonzalez, Lucia. The Storyteller’s Candle. Illus. by Lulu Delacre. 2008. Ages 8-10. What role does the public library play in building a community? Join Hildamar and her cousin, Santiago, as they enter the library in Manhattan’s El Barrio. Recently arrived from Puerto Rico, they are struggling to navigate new customs in a bewildering big city. Fortunately, the children find a creative and caring librarian, who lights her storyteller’s candle, speaks in both English and Spanish, and sparks imagination in her listeners. Soon, the children lead their Hispanic community to the public library, where they create a holiday play and, in the process, create a stronger community. This picture book is a tribute to Pura Belpré, New York City’s first Puerto Rican librarian, whose name was given to the American Library Association’s annual award that honors Latino authors and illustrators. Delacre’s oil and collage illustrations add warmth to an inspiring story.
  • Henson, Heather. That Book Woman. Illus. by David Small. Simon & Schuster, 2008. Ages 6-8. This spare, uplifting picture book pays homage to the 1930s era of pack horse librarians in Kentucky. Young Cal cares not a whit about books and can’t fathom why the Book Woman would bother to ride a horse up the mountains to loan such things. Even Cal is impressed, though, when she braves a fierce winter storm. Cal asks his younger sister to teach him to read, and when the Book Woman arrives the following spring, he shows off his new skill. Small’s expressive watercolor, pastel chalk, and ink illustrations beautifully convey the characters’ emotions.
  • Ruurs, Margriet. My Librarian Is a Camel: How Books Are Brought to Children Around the World. 4 Comments on Librarian on the Roof!, last added: 11/5/2010
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25. The bullies, the victims, and the silent bystanders

“Another thing I think about names is that they DO hurt. They hurt because we believe them. We think they are telling us something true about ourselves, something other people can see even if we don’t. “   — James Howe in The Misfits


Estes, Eleanor. The Hundred Dresses. Ages 7-10. This timeless little novel remains one of the most powerful explorations of bullying in children’s literature. First published in 1944, Estes sets her  story in a cliquish, Waspy little town. Wanda Petronski is from a family of Polish immigrants. She has a strange name. She wears the same clean but faded blue dress to school every day. After Wanda confides to popular Peggy that she has 100 dresses, she gets taunted daily. Then one day, she’s gone. Her father wrote to explain they were moving to the big city, where plenty of people have “funny” names. Yet another surprise comes when Wanda’s lovely drawings of 100 dresses win the school art contest. The girls, even queen bee Peggy, regret their behavior, but it is too late to make amends. Especially moving is the response of Maddie, the bystander too afraid to intervene. Maddie reaches the decision that she will never again remain silent while someone gets bullied in her presence. Since research indicates that most children tend to be bystanders, it is important to teach them to stand up for what’s right, even (or especially) when it means contradicting the “in” crowd.

Polacco, Patricia. The Junkyard Wonders. Philomel, 2010. Drawing on her own experiences as a dyslexic child, Polacco tells how young Tricia landed in the “junkyard” class for kids who had learning differences. The children were taunted and ridiculed and felt like cast-offs, but their wise and nurturing teacher, Mrs. Peterson, saw their gifts and helped them realize their potential. The story, while lengthier than most picture books, has plenty of conflict and action and can easily be read in two sessions. Allow time to discuss the need to value each person and to resist judging on the basis of appearances. After that discussion, share Polacco’s concluding note, in which she reveals the stellar achievements of her “junkyard” classmates.

More picture books that explore bullying:

  • Anholt, Laurence. Camille and the Sunflowers: A Story About Vincent van Gogh. Barron’s, 1994. A boy and his family befriend the lonely painter who has a unique perspective.
  • Bateman, Teresa. The Bully Blockers Club. Lottie is tired of being bullied, so she starts a club where everyone is welcome.
  • dePaola, Tomie. Trouble in the Barkers’ Class. When the new girl acts like a bully, the students try talking to her and ignoring her until she finally figures out a better way to treat others. Also, see dePaola’s Oliver Button Is Not a Sissy.
  • DiSalvo, Dyanne. Spaghetti Park. A community unites to fix up their park and manages to persuade the bullies to join them.
  • Fierstein, Harvey. The Sissy Duckling. Ages 5-8. 2 Comments on The bullies, the victims, and the silent bystanders, last added: 11/11/2010
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