Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)




Thursday, March 29, 2012

MAKE WAY FOR THESE SPRINGTIME DUCKLINGS!

When talk of Springtime and Easter Eggs comes up, children usually think of bunnies and baby chicks.  (Or, if you've read any of my recommended Ukrainian Pysanka books, a goose might come to mind.)  But let's not leave out the ducklings - here are three timeless tales...

The Golden Egg Book, by Margaret Wise Brown, with illustrations by Leonard Weisgard. (ages 2-6)

Once there was a little bunny. He was all alone. One day he found an egg. He could hear something moving inside the egg. What was it?

This "golden oldie" (1947) is a perfect read aloud for little ones, who will have fun trying to guess "what's inside":  An elephant? A mouse?  It ends up being a friend for the bunny: a little duck!

The charming vintage illustrations are a perfect pair with Margaret Wise Brown's classic and simple story.


Another classic springtime "duck tale" is The Ugly Duckling, by Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875). Look for this adaptation, with old fashioned, warm watercolors by author/illustrator Jerry Pinkney (ages 4-8).  William Kilpatrick (Books That Build Character: A Guide to Teaching Your Child Moral Values Through Stories) says, "...to admit that it takes time for a child to grow into his or her true identity is far from cruel.  All children instinctively know that, before true maturity can be achieved, they must undergo some kind of rite of passage.  That is why most fairy tales deal with the theme of transformation and suffering...the ugly duckling must endure loneliness and rejection before he can grow up to be a beautiful white swan.  That is why the great child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim has called fairy tales 'wishes in disguise'."

Another endearing story (1941) is Make Way for Ducklings, written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey (for ages 4-8). This gently told tale of a father and mother duck, searching for a safe home (in the big city of Boston) to bring up their Mallard ducklings, is bound to connect with your child. I remember my own kids repeating all the ducklings' names with me:  "Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack".

Lots of landmarks in Boston are shown, often from a flying duck's-eye view. When we traveled with our children to Boston years ago, we went to Boston's Public Gardens and saw bronze statues of Mother Mallard and the 8 ducklings, as well as the Swan Boats mentioned in the book! (yes, you can still ride in them.)


What about baby geese?  You can read about all the "Gossie" books, by Olivier Dunrea, in my past post HERE. "Gossie is a gosling. A small, yellow gosling who likes to wear bright red boots. Every day."  Fun for Springtime reading as well!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

LITERARY BOOK BAGS - HOW NOVEL!

...and green! (eco-friendly, but also the color.)  Okay, sorry.  Enough with the puns.  
I was in Barnes & Noble yesterday drooling over their leatherbound classics, when this awesome Rudyard Kipling JUNGLE BOOK-inspired reusable bag caught my eye! (And it was only $1.99.)


Other titles I saw included A Tree Grows in BrooklynTo Kill a Mockingbird, and Gone With the Wind (also in green...and lovely!)  You could use these totes for books, groceries, lunch, the beach - the possibilities are endless! I would post a link here, but couldn't find them on B&N's website.


LEATHERBOUND CLASSICS
The classics?  I came away with a couple of those too - most are only $10.00.  Here are some of my favorites:








Tuesday, March 27, 2012

PYSANKA: A UKRAINIAN CELEBRATION OF LIFE

Have you ever read Rechenka's Eggs by Patricia Palacco?  It's a heart-warming story featuring a goose and some beautiful Ukrainian "Pysanky" eggs.  
I've got some other picture book recommendations that feature these special eggs, but first I thought I'd share some information about the symbolism and history behind this art.

I learned a lot about it last weekend when I attended a Lenten Pysanka workshop. The instructor, Adriana, brought a whole basket of her little masterpieces to show us.  It was hard to believe we were about to attempt to paint some ourselves!  Here's what we learned...

"At one time, the egg was associated with pagan rituals and superstitions, symbolizing the release of the earth from the shackles of winter into spring; with its promise of new hope, new life, health and prosperity. 
In 988 AD when Ukraine accepted Christianity, the decorating of eggs took on a deep religious meaning. The PYSANKA commemorated the Resurrection of Christ, and a promise of eternal life. The pagan superstitions were replaced by religious beliefs and legends."

The geometric motifs are the same as found in many forms of primitive art, but their use in PYSANKY gives them specific names and symbolic meanings. Ribbons and belts that encircle the egg with no beginning or end symbolize eternity. Triangles symbolize trios, such as the circle of life of birth, life, death; the Holy Trinity, and the natural elements of fire, air, and water. Stars once symbolized the pagan gods, and now stand for life, growth and good fortune. The cross appears in many forms and symbolizes the four corners of the world, and Christianity."

[Go to Adriana's website for more information here.]

You can watch this video of the whole Pysanka egg painting process that Adriana did for our local news program below:

Here's a photo of my egg, just after it's been plunged down into the blue dye.  The next step will be to expose the egg to a heat source and rub off the wax...
...and here's the finished product!
MY BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS:
Easter Eggs for Anya, by Virginia Kroll, illustrations by Sally Wern Comport.  This sweet story follows Anya as she prays for her family's farm, which is struggling since her father is away at war. She is upset after a fox attacks a goose that has been guarding its nest, as suddenly the nest of goose eggs is left abandoned and cold.  But then she realizes that she will at least have some eggs to decorate as Pysanky for Easter.  You'll be surprised when she wakes up on Easter morning to some new beginnings! (ages 4-8)

Click on the thumbnail photo to see details about each of the books below:
Rechenka's Eggs, written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco.

The Birds' Gift: A Ukrainian Easter Story, by Eric A. Kimmel. Pictures by Katya Krenina

Nina's Treasuresby Stefan Czernecki, illustrated by Timothy Rhodes.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Have you tasted THE HUNGER GAMES?

I'm just starting the final book of THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy. My general impression of much of what is labeled "YA Lit" is not always positive so I hadn't pursued these books, until my niece recommended them to me a few weeks ago.

She is a smart, gifted young girl and her parents have raised her and her two older brothers with many of the same family values shared by my husband and me.

So, of course, I took notice and listened.  Her enthusiasm won me over, and I immediately started reading the first book, titled The Hunger Games.  And let me tell you, it's a major page-turner!

Author Suzanne Collins certainly doesn't shy away from big issues in her books: the brutality of war, personal ethics, power of the elite class, sacrifice, and the dangerous nature of an entertainment and voyeuristic-driven society (ouch - how about the mania of reality TV in our own culture).

She also doesn't shy away from asking a question that comes with those big issues:  in the midst of all this darkness, how do we hold on to what makes us truly human?

As a script writer, Collins knows how to deliver a plot and character driven story, full of quick dialogue.  Her writing sytle does not put this book in the category of great literature, but it's definitely an exciting, if dark, read. Here's the basic premise of this sci-fi trilogy, which the author says was inspired by the Greek myth, "Theseus and the Minotaur" (more about that later)...

Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, "The Hunger Games." The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When Kat's sister is chosen by lottery, Kat steps up to go in her place.

If you haven't yet read the H.G. trilogy, I hope you can get some of your questions answered here in my post; but you as a parent will ultimately have to determine at what age your kids are ready to read the books and deal with the issues brought up in these cautionary tales. The second book of the trilogy is Catching Fire, and the last book is Mockingjay.  (The YA age recommendation is 13-17.)

PARENTS SHOULD PREVIEW:
Like another controversial book, William Golding's poignantly written Lord of the Flies, The Hunger Games is an ugly, if important book to read.  Parents should definitely preview Collins' books, especially if you plan to let your kids see the upcoming movie versions of THG Trilogy. I can assure you, many good discussions are sure to surface about the intense content of these stories.

As you can imagine, there is plenty of graphic violence that your teen will be confronted with in these books. There is also a rather hefty dose of romantic teen struggle, even though Katniss is more often motivated by love for her family than by lust for a boy. Thanks to the manipulative powers of the Game Makers, bow-and-arrow-wielding Katniss is thrown into the arena with Peeta (the boy she is selected to compete with from her district) and torn between her feelings for him and Gale (a boy left back home in District 12, who Katniss had hunted for food with ever since the death of her father).

The author works in plenty of PG-13 situations, but she is careful about anything being sexually explicit.  For example, besides kissing, there is some "sleeping together", but the characters are truly sleeping. Katniss is even referred to as "pure" in comparison to the voyeurism of the inhabitants of the Capitol.

FIGHTING FIRE WITH FIRE?
I'm not sure how all this will play out on the big screen, but producer Nina Jacobson is determined to protect the message that Suzanne Collins was trying to convey in her books.

The Hunger Games 
series is ultimately a message about the dangers of oppressive government and senseless war and violence.  By putting children into a televised battle that is prime-time entertainment, Collins shocks us as readers into an awareness of one way society becomes desensitized to violence and real-life tragedy.  The preciousness of life gets forgotten, through the celebrity of reality TV programming.  Suzanne Collins also sends young readers a strong warning about not just living out an existence on the sidelines while allowing an elite class or oppressive government to take away our humanity by turning us against each other and depriving us of compassion and love of neighbor.

Does it sound ironic that this book is being made into an "entertainment", as a movie?  It will be interesting to see how it goes. (Collins wrote the screen play herself and is listed as an executive producer, so I have a feeling her message will be delivered intact.)

Below, I've included an excerpt from an excellent Library School Journal interview by Rick Margolis with author Suzanne Collins. You might be surprised by some of the things she has to say about teaching our children about war...

IMAGE CREDIT: TODD PLITT/SCHOLASTIC

...your last eight novels have closely examined the effects of war and violence on children. Why are you so obsessed with that topic?


That would definitely go back to my childhood. My father was career Air Force. He was in the Air Force for 30-some years. He was also a Vietnam veteran. He was there the year I was six. Beyond that, though, he was a doctor of political science, a military specialist, and a historian; he was a very intelligent man. And he felt that it was part of his responsibility to teach us, his children, about history and war. When I think back, at the center of all this is the question of what makes a necessary war—at what point is it justifiable or unavoidable?

So let me get this straight. You’re a young kid and your dad is discussing the philosophical significance of war with you and your three siblings?


Ab-so-lutely! One of my earliest memories is being at West Point and watching the cadets drill on the field. If you went to a battleground with my father, you would hear what led up to the battle. You would hear about the war. You would have the battle reenacted for you, I mean, verbally, and then the fallout from the battle.


And having been in a war himself and having come from a family in which he had a brother in World War II and a father in World War I, these were not distant or academic questions for him. They were, but they were also very personal questions for him. He would discuss these things at a level that he thought we could understand and were acceptable for our age. But, really, he thought a lot was acceptable for our age, and I approach my books in the same way.


How so?


I mean, a lot of things happen in “Gregor.” Those books are probably for—what?—ages 9 to 12 or 9 to 14? There’s biological terrorism in the third book. There’s genocide in the fourth book. There’s a very graphic war in the fifth book. But I felt that if my audience came with me from the beginning of that series, they would be able to understand that in context. And I feel the same way about the “Hunger Games” series.


You know, I have two children of my own, so I can think about, “Alright, how would I say this to them?” Things were discussed with me at a very early age. For some people, both of these series, “Gregor” and the “Hunger Games,” are fantasies; some people call them sci-fi. But for me, they’re absolutely, first and foremost, war stories.


One of the most disturbing aspects of the “Hunger Games” is that children are forced to murder other children on live TV. I can’t think of another series for young people that has so much kid-on-kid violence.


Well, the thing is, whatever I write, whether it’s for TV or whether it’s books, even if I’m writing for preschoolers, I want the protagonist to be the age of the viewing audience. So I’m not going to write a war story for kids and then just have them on the sidelines. If I write a war story for kids, they’re going to be the warriors in it.


And if it’s a gladiator story—which is how “Hunger Games” began, I’d say it’s essentially a gladiator story—then the children are going to be the gladiators. They’re not going to be sidelined. They’re going to be the active participants in it. There will be adult characters, but you’re going to go through it with someone who is the age of the intended audience.


Your books send a strong message that grown-ups have messed up the world big-time, and kids are the only hope for the future.


Absolutely. I can’t remember how much we talked about Theseus and the Minotaur the last time we spoke, but Theseus and the Minotaur is the classical setup for where The Hunger Games begins, you know, with the tale of Minos in Crete….


Right. As punishment, Minos ordered the Athenians to throw seven young men and seven maidens into a labyrinth to be devoured by the Minotaur—until Theseus finally kills the monster. I remember you telling me that as an eight-year-old, you were horrified that Crete was so cruel—and that in her own way, Katniss is a futuristic Theseus.


But once the “Hunger Games” story takes off, I actually would say that the historical figure of Spartacus really becomes more of a model for the arc of the three books, for Katniss. We don’t know a lot of details about his life, but there was this guy named Spartacus who was a gladiator who broke out of the arena and led a rebellion against an oppressive government that led to what is called the Third Servile War. He caused the Romans quite a bit of trouble. And, ultimately, he died.


What do you hope young readers take away from your books?


One of the reasons it’s important for me to write about war is I really think that the concept of war, the specifics of war, the nature of war, the ethical ambiguities of war are introduced too late to children. I think they can hear them, understand them, know about them, at a much younger age without being scared to death by the stories. It’s not comfortable for us to talk about, so we generally don’t talk about these issues with our kids. But I feel that if the whole concept of war were introduced to kids at an earlier age, we would have better dialogues going on about it, and we would have a fuller understanding.


Can those dialogues help put an end to war?


Eventually, you hope. Obviously, we’re not in a position at the moment for the eradication of war to seem like anything but a far-off dream. But at one time, the eradication of slave markets in the United States seemed very far off. I mean, people have to begin somewhere. We can change. We can evolve as a species. It’s not simple, and it’s a very long and drawn-out process, but you can hope.

[You can read the full interview HERE]

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

SEARCHING FOR SIGNS OF SPRING

The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month. ~Henry Van Dyke


Weather-wise, March can be tricky, but this year March 20th marks the official start of the Vernal Equinox: the first day of spring.  I hope you're enjoying a fine-weather day, but even if it doesn't feel like the first day of spring where you live, remember the old proverb: No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.

I recall as a child in Tennessee, watching as our daffodils made their first appearance - the small green leaves barely pushing up from their bulbs out of the brown dirt.  And then the waiting: for the buttery yellow buds to finally appear and burst into bloom, after weeks of watchful anticipation.
In most corners of our world there is a lot of waiting involved while watching for the first signs of spring, but there is a lovely new book out this spring to help pass the time as you anticipate the warmth and color that comes with rebirth and new life...

Remember last year's Caldecott winner, A Sick Day for Amos McGee?  Written and illustrated by husband and wife team, Philip and Erin Stead, it is definitely on my list of all time favorite picture books!  Now Erin has illustrated a new book, with author Julie Fogliano about... spring.

In a recent interview with The Horn Book Magazine Erin said, "I live in Michigan, where we hear things like 'lake effect snow' and 'overcast' for months at a time (I’m looking at you, February and March). There are entire weeks where I am convinced that there is no color left in the world. And then the sun comes out, and while my retinas might burn a little at its return, I realize I could not live without blue. And sometimes green."

Well, after you watch the trailer below, you'll want to run right out and find this quiet book, And Then It's Spring, where Erin Stead's beautiful artwork and Julie Fogliano's rhythmic text reveal a world that slowly goes from brown to green, just like the earth in spring!  With the help of a dog, a rabbit, and a turtle, a small boy is on a search...







You might also enjoy this picture book for preschoolers, also about learning to wait, LITTLE CHICK.

Friday, March 16, 2012

THE TRUE STORY OF ST. PATRICK

Zachary Lynch's Life of Saint Patrick, Enlightener of the Irish, published by Conciliar Press, tells the exciting story of this beloved Saint. Born in Scotland, he was captured at the age of 16 and brought to Ireland as a slave to herd and tend sheep.  During this time, he came to have a deep faith in God, and eventually escaped.


After returning home, he became a priest and then a bishop and later went back to Ireland as a missionary, bringing Christianity to its people.  He died March 17, 461. 

Lynch's gorgeous Celtic illuminations bring St. Patrick's story to life, and draw us into the isolated land of a pagan Irish King and his druids.

St. Patrick Puppet Craft
Your kids might enjoy making this cute paper bag St. Patrick puppet.  The instructions can be found here...
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The Lorica ("Breastplate") of St. Patrick 
The story of this prayer is that Patrick and his followers used it to protect themselves from many dangers and from the people who wanted to kill them as they travelled across Ireland. (It is also called the "Deer's Cry" because their enemies saw not men, but deer, as they passed by in pursuit of Patrick and his followers). It may not have been written by St. Patrick, but is considered to reflect his theological focus on the Trinity. It is one of my favorite prayers, especially helpful during times of trouble or distress. 
Iconography by Dn. Matthew D. Garrett - source
You can find a link here, but I'll include a short verse:
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left
Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE NIGHT SKY?

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Wow - In case you haven't heard (or seen the bright heavenly bodies), March 2012 ranks among the best months ever for planet watching!  Five planets are visible, according to Earthsky.org:
"Mercury, the innermost planet, makes its best evening appearance for the year in the Northern Hemisphere. All over the world, Mars shines at its greatest brilliance for the year – and moreover, the red planet stays out all night long. Plus, the brightest and second-brightest planets – Venus and Jupiter, respectively – come together for a stunning conjunction in mid-March. Saturn, the farthest and faintest visible planet, is nonetheless as bright as the brightest stars, and its glorious rings are surprisingly easy to view through a backyard telescope".

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Do you have a child who is showing interest in the night sky?  Below are some excellent picture books about the planets. (To read my past posts about space, the moon, and constellations, click HERE).

Since ancient times, people have been looking up and wondering about all of the things that glow in the night sky, and about our place in the big, wide universe. The study of the night sky and all of the objects and forces up there is called astronomy, and A Child's Introduction to the Night Sky by Michael Driscoll is a great introduction to what astronomers have learned (and are still discovering), what astronauts and scientists explore—and what you yourself can find by gazing up into the night sky... (ages 8 and up)


You live on Earth, so you already know a lot about it. But do you know about its place in out solar system? For instance, it's not the largest planet. If Jupiter were a hallow ball, 1,000 Earths would fit inside it. And did you know our planet Earth takes 365 days to go around the sun, while the planet Pluto takes 248 years?
This simple text by Franklyn M. Branley introduces the nine planets in our solar system and is complemented by Kevin O'Malley's full-color illustrations, which incorporate some of the newest space photographs available. How hot is it on Venus? Which planet takes longest to orbit the sun? Find out the answers in this updated version of this popular text.  Included are many hands-on activities... (ages 5 and up)


My kids loved The Magic School Bus series! To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Scholastic has re-releasing the ten original Magic School Bus titles in paperback. With updated scientific information, the bestselling science series ever is back!
The Magic School Bus Lost in the Solar System, by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen: The field trip to the planetarium is foiled when the museum turns out to be closed, but Ms. Frizzle saves the day. The Magic School Bus turns into a spaceship and takes the class on a trip zooming through the atmosphere, to the Moon, and beyond! With up-to-date facts about the solar system, revised for this edition. (ages 5 and up)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

SERIOUSLY CUTE STORYBOOK PARTY IDEAS

Follow Me on Pinterest offers me a world of ideas and inspiration with just the click of a button! Well, in my case, a couple of clicks: first a click on the photo to make sure it links to a website, then a "repin" or "like" click after my practical side has determined that the project/idea/decor/recipe is even in my I-think-I-can-do-this range.  Usually, if I can garner some kind of DIY inspiration, the photo makes it onto one of my boards.

So - I hope you enjoy these creative storybook party ideas I've found on Pinterest...

LITTLE GOLDEN BOOKS PARTY 
Little Golden Book Party from Aesthetic Nest.  Adorable bookplates, cupcake toppers, and cupcake wrappers are available to download.

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ALICE IN WONDERLAND MAD HATTER TEA PARTY
I love this adorable DIY Alice gift wrap idea from Stampington & Company!  It could be adapted to make cute invitations or decorations...

A Mad Hatter Tea Party is not complete with out "Eat Me" and "Drink Me" tags! Use on goodie bags, gifts, or even as part of a creative Mad Hatter game at your party! Below are free printable Mad Hatter tags perfect for your party.  - B. Nute Productions
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This cute table scape idea from Hostess with the Mostess is adorable!
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MARY POPPINS PARTY
Check out these awesome silhouette decorations from Apartment Therapy.  (Click the link for details).
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HUNGRY CATERPILLAR PARTY
Who doesn't like the Hungry Caterpillar?  Here are some fun ideas.  The one below is from Apartment Therapy...I especially love how this mom created a balloon caterpillar!
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And look at these cute DIY invitations from Pottery Barn Kids!
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DR. SEUSS BIRTHDAY PARTY IDEAS
Hostess With the Mostess featured this whimsical Dr. Seuss inspired party.
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And another from Pizzazzerie


Now you can click - this button - if you want to Follow Me on Pinterest

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A BRAVE JEWISH GIRL WHO SAVED HER PEOPLE...

The Jewish festival of Purim starts tonight at sundown and ends tomorrow at sundown. Whether or not you are familiar with the observance of this celebration, many of you may recognize its heroine, a brave Jewish girl named Esther.  Her story has always been special to me - (Click Here to read my post from last year).

Queen Esther Story Puppets - source here
Then Esther the queen answered and said, "If I have found favour in thy sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request:  For we are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish. But if we had been sold for bondmen and bondwomen, I had held my tongue, although the enemy could not countervail the king's damage.”

This year I want to highlight a recorded version of her story, expertly told by Jim Weiss in Tales From the Old Testament.


Included on the cd are the Biblical stories of:
  • Abraham and the Idols
  • The Story of Ruth
  • Noah and the Ark
  • Queen Esther
  • David and Goliath
  • David's Dance
  • Wise King Solomon
Available through Greathall Productions, Inc. - found HERE.
To see my list of picture books about Queen Esther, go to my post HERE.