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)

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Come with me to Russia!

You don't even have to pack a bag! My husband and I had the pleasure of travelling to St. Petersburg last December. It was a trip I will never forget, and I look forward to sharing some of my photos with you this week.
I found these luggage tags at Target!!!
Below are a couple of cute books about Russia that I bought for my goddaughters.  They are a great introduction to young children about this beautiful country and its customs and costumes...
Have you heard of Dover Publications?  I love the little sticker books! They're small format and VERY affordable at only $1.50. Besides the Nesting doll sticker book, I found an "Anastasia from Russia" sticker book pictured below with Look What Came From Russia, part of a series of books by Miles Harvey.

I have to admit that I was a bit surprised that Look What Came From Russia covered history, inventions, food, clothing, and art, but left out religion.  Much of Russia's architecture, customs, celebrations, and history are steeped in the traditions of the Orthodox Church.

Many of the photos that I took during our visit to St. Petersburg were in beautiful churches, museums, and palaces - we saw beautiful byzantine iconography everywhere.

I'll be sharing pictures of churches we visited in another post - below are some of my photos from The Russian Museum in the Mikhailovsky Palace. 
Our first day touring around St. Petersburg was bright and sunny (but COLD!)
Note: We went through the icon exhibit first, and unfortunately, I thought the camera with the line through it meant "no photography".  Later we realized it meant "no flash photography".  So I don't have any photos of the icons, but you can see some of them here and here.

We saw very traditional Russian paintings...
current day art,
and some modern artwork...

We also saw the art of one of my favorite Russian artists, Mikhail Nesterov.  I was so excited to see his beautiful art in person.  From the Museum website:  "The creative oeuvre of Mikhail Nesterov (1862-1942) that was connected with religious and philosophic searches of the so-called Silver Age of the Russian culture revealed to a viewer the wonderful poetical world of the Orthodox monasteries and Old-believing cells, fascination of the nature of Middle Russia and the inspired beauty of the national character."

Below is a painting that Nesterov did of the Monk Sergius, who became St. Sergius of RadonezhNesterov's most famous painting was Vision of the Young Bartholomew  It features Sergius as a young boy (his name was Bartholomew before he became a monk). You can read my blog post with his story and see that painting, here
"St. Sergius of Radonezh"

Inspiration was found on the banks of the cold sea for Nesterov's next well-know work: Holy Russia. The painting was exhibited in 1902 in Kiev.  It depicts Jesus Christ surrounded by pilgrims, standing against a winter landscape.
"Holy Russia"

The sad painting below shows Tsarevitch Dmitry, Ivan IV the Terrible's youngest son, thought to have been killed while still a child by Boris Godunov (who allegedly wanted to get rid of the last heir to the throne and ascend it himself). It was never proved, but people blamed Boris.  Nesterov depicted the tsarevich as an innocent child in a very emotional and mysterious portrait.  God is looking down upon him and blesses his soul from above. Can you see the image of Christ in the upper left-hand corner of the painting?
"Tsarevitch Dmitry"
There were so many other wonderful things we saw at The Russian Museum - sadly space won't allow me to show you all the historical paintings, statues, folkart.

More about my travels to St. Petersburg soon...I hope you stop by again!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Children's Book Picasso Might Have Liked?

Maybe.  In a round-about-way.  If you read my last post, I ended it by mentioning a book, Nina's Treasures, illustrated by Stefan Czerneki. Noted at the end of the book is this interesting tidbit: "Many of the colors and patterns in this book are adapted from the work of Maria Primachenko, a peasant woman from Kiev whose brilliant folk art was praised by Pablo Picasso."

This comment led me to do some further investigation about Maria's artwork, and to show you more of Czerneki's artwork from Nina's Treasures.  But first the folkart of Maria Primachenko...
"Dumplings on the Shelf", Maria Primachenko [1979] - source
Maria Primachenko (born 1908) was a peasant woman from the Kievan village of Bolotnya. She spent all her life there, taken ill with polio as a child.  This painful disease very much influenced her life. By reports of her relatives, Maria grew into а thoughtful and considerate person, having compassion for nature and every living thing.

Her interest in art began, by her own words, like this: "Once, as a young girl, I was tending a gaggle of geese. When I got with them to a sandy beach, on the bank of the river, after crossing a field dotted with wild flowers, I began to draw real and imaginary flowers with a stick on the sand… Later, I decided to paint the walls of my house using natural pigments. After that I’ve never stopped drawing and painting."
"At the Well", Maria Primachenko [1969] - source
Indeed, her unique art shows a successful blend of natural talent, an overwhelming desire to create beauty and a sensitive perception of reality. The complex world of her images springs both from her own imagination and from the entire system and content of Ukrainian folk poetry.
"Green Elephant", Maria Primachenko [1936] - source
Though Primachenko never studied art, her pictorial flair for bringing to life ideas, feelings and impressions gradually ripened into true mastery. Exhibitions of her works have proved tremendously popular in Moscow, Poland, Bulgaria, France and Canada. (source for bio information here.)
"Fairy Bird - Peacock", Maria Primachenko [1936] - source
Picasso once said after visiting a Primachenko exhibition in Paris, "I bow down before the artistic miracle of this brilliant Ukrainian."  

Which brings me back to the book that I highlighted yesterday (with the note about Picasso at the end).  The illustrator, Stefan Czernecki, was very influenced by Maria Primachenko (as you will see!)...

Stefan Czernecki was born in Germany, but is of Ukrainian descent.  He co-authored Nina's Treasures with Timothy Rhodes.
All summer long Katerina tended her flowers...She gathered the seeds from the flowers and put them in the cupboard, where they would be safe until spring planting.
Katerina hung her warm feather comforter out to air.  The next morning it began to snow. Winter had come.
The oven glowed all evening, and at midnight she delivered a big basket of baked goods to the neighbors.
The winter was longer and colder than any that Katerina could remember...Finally Katerina had little food for herself and none for Nina...then she remembered.  She reached into the cupboard and pulled out a large sack...soon Nina was fat again, but she still did not lay eggs.

In the village it was time to celebrate the spring festival...Katerina could not go, for she had nothing to take - no food and no flowers...the next morning Katerina was awakened by Nina's cackling and clucking...
There in the nest were the most beautiful eggs...
Today, before each spring festival, the grandmothers in Zelena work late into the night turning the most ordinary eggs into the most extraordinary treasures.

I'm leaving the Ukraine and heading into Russia with my next few posts...see you there!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Bright Colors in My Kitchen...Easter is Coming

So let us rediscover Lent. A journey, a pilgrimage! Yet, as we begin it, as we make the first step into the “bright sadness” of Lent, we see—far, far away—the destination. It is the joy of Easter, it is the entrance into the glory of the Kingdom. And it is this vision, the foretaste of Easter, that makes Lent’s sadness bright and our Lenten effort a “spiritual spring.” The night may be dark and long, but all along the way a mysterious and radiant dawn seems to shine on the horizon. 
–Alexander Schmemann

Orthodox Lent is almost over: these are the last few days until Holy Week begins and then...Pascha!  
My finds from Easter clearance sales!
This year Orthodox Easter and Western Easter are quite far apart - so if you've already
celebrated Easter, you can store my book recommendations (below) away for next year.
Lots of wonderful colors have been appearing in my kitchen this last week: flowers from my springtime walks, ingredients and teacups for some Lenten refreshments, and gifts for Pascha on my kitchen table, being gathered and ready to wrap...
St. Euphrosynos the Cook (read his story here) on my
windowsill with some Rock Rose Orchid flowers
gathered on a walk along the horse trail behind my house.
My favorite chilled drink for Lent: Sparkling
water with lemon, ginger, and cranberries -
sweetened with a little Stevia.
My favorite dairy-free hot drink for Lent: Vanilla Chai
tea with coconut milk and Stevia.
My Pascha cards arrived in the mail, along with two books that will be
paired with brightly wrapped German chocolates
for my sweet godchildren!
I adore the colorful illustrations in both of these books.  The first is a Pennsylvania Dutch story The Egg Tree by Katherine Milhous, published in 1950...
One Easter morning, after seeing the Easter Rabbit, Katy and Carl went on an egg hunt in Grandmom's garden and through her house... 
Katy couldn't find anything until she went up to the attic. And there she discovered a very special set of eggs... Grandmom had painted them when she was a little girl. And now, she hung them from the branches of a tiny tree -- an Egg Tree! 
So began a very special Easter tradition.
I do an Egg Tree for Pascha every year! (more photos here)
Now here are some special eggs...in the story, Nina's Treasures, another cute book (1990), this one showcasing Ukrainian egg decorating (Pysanky): 
Although winter threatens starvation, old Katerina gives her hen ("Nina") her precious flower seeds, a gift that surprisingly results in some spectacular eggs for trading, in a folktale about the springtime ritual of egg decorating. 
"Katerina was so surprised at what she saw that she almost dropped
the poor hen. There in the nest were the most beautiful eggs. Each
was different from the other, and each looked like a miniature flower
garden laid out in gorgeous patterns of colors and borders."
Note at the end of the book: Many of the colors and patterns in this book are adapted from the work of Maria Primachenko, a peasant woman from Kiev whose briliant folk art was praised by Pablo Picasso.

Coming next on my blog:  Russia! I'll be observing Holy Week, but as I am able, I'll be working on posting some beautifully illustrated Russian books of Saints and Bible stories, photos from my trip to St. Petersburg, and some fairy tale books I brought back. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Learning a Lesson About Forgiving our Enemies, from a Brave Saint Named George

April 23rd is the Feastday of St. George! So today I'd like to recommend this book, St. George and the Dragon by Jim Forest.  Its sumptuous illustrations are by Russian iconographer and artist, Vladislav Anddreyev. (ages 4 and up)

From the book’s afterword for older readers:
True stories become streamlined into legends and legends become compressed via symbols into myths. The St. George of myth was a knight in armor who fought a dragon to save a princess, but the real George never saw a dragon nor did he rescue a princess in distress. We are not even sure he had a horse or possessed a sword. 

A Christian convert born late in the third century after Christ, George was one among many martyrs of the early Church. 

What made George a saint among saints was the completely fearless manner in which he openly proclaimed his faith during a period of fierce persecution when many other Christians were hoping not to be noticed. According to one ancient account, George went to a public square and announced, “All the gentile gods are devils. My God made the heavens and is the true God.” For this George was arrested, tortured and beheaded. The probable date of his martyrdom is April 23, 303, in the town of Diospolis in Asia Minor — today’s Turkey. His witness led to the conversion of many and gave renewed courage to others already baptized.

St George k
As you would expect, this dragon is fierce! Yet in Jim Forest's telling of this profoundly Christian legend, the dragon is not slain, but only wounded by George. After the battle the townspeople, whose children had been the dragon's food, are given charge of caring for their former enemy.

I recently bought this book for my friend's three-year-old son.  He was immediately engrossed with the colorful Byzantine-style illustrations and engaging story.

You can find it here or on Amazon.com.

"Prepared and alert a Scout follows the lead 
Of our Patron Saint George and his spirited steed." 
- Baden-Powell in "Scouting for Boys":  Did you know that St. George is the Patron Saint of the Boy Scouts?  Read more here...

You can also read more about dragons in children's literature in my past post, "Dragon Tales", here.

Ansel Adams' Photographs and Washington Irving's "Sketch Book"

"When words become unclear, 
I shall focus with photographs. 
When images become inadequate, 
I shall be content with silence."
 – Ansel Adams
Ansel Adams [2/20/02 - 4/22/84] source
Today marks the 29th anniversary of the death of legendary American photographer Ansel Adams. He has been called the most influential photographer for the cause of our beloved national parks. 

Are you curious about why I am featuring him here on my blog about children's books?  Well, on a recent trip to Yosemite National Park, we stayed at the historic Ahwahnee Hotel, and I discovered that Ansel Adams is not only linked to Yosemite because of the many photographs he took, but also because of his part in an annual event there that is based on a children's book!
Celebrated every December since 1927, the Bracebridge Dinner  transforms the beautiful dining room at the Ahwahnee Hotel into a 17th century English manor for a feast of food, song and mirth.
Bracebridge Dinner
The inspiration for this yuletide ceremony was "Old Christmas" from Washington Irving's Sketch Book. It describes Christmas Day, 1718, at Bracebridge Hall in Yorkshire, England. (You may be familiar with Sketch Book - it includes Irving's short stories, including "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow".  You can see it here in its entirety on Archive.org, here).

"The Christmas Dinner"
Illustration by R. Caldecott
source: Project Gutenberg
What does this dinner have to do with famed photographer Ansel Adams?  Adams wrote the Ahwahnee's original Bracebridge Dinner program, which still follows his score of classic Christmas carols.

Adams was also the original "Lord of Misrule" (the court jester given rule over the evening) of the first dinner in 1927, and the Pageant Master of the Bracebridge Dinner for 40 years! Ansel Adams wrote the lines for all the characters in a rhymed, upbeat cadence, and searched out appropriate music.
Ansel Adams (right) as the Lord Of Misrule, a role he played in 1927-28.
[Photo courtesy of KennyKarst/DNC Parks & Resorts@Yosemite Inc.]
Today, a cast of over 100 people, including performers from San Francisco's Eugene Fulton Chorale move diners to tears with an a capella rendition of "O Holy Night" one minute, and have them howling with laughter the next at the antics of the Lord of Misrule.

Ansel Adams was born in San Francisco four years before the great earthquake of 1906. An aftershock of the earthquake threw him to the ground, breaking his nose and marking him for life.

He spent his childhood days playing in the sand dunes beyond the "Golden Gate" (the entrance to the San Francisco Bay, where the bridge would eventually span the Pacific to join San Francisco and Marin across the narrows).Young Ansel gained an appreciation for nature there, which would become his primary source of photographic inspiration.

Natural shyness and a certain intensity of genius, coupled with the dramatically “earthquaked” nose, caused Adams to have problems fitting in at school. He was finally pulled out of school to be tutored at home by his father and aunt. He eventually became a gifted musician, teaching himself to play the piano and read music at the age of 12.

Adams first visited Yosemite in 1916, when he was 14 years old. On that trip, he hopped up on a tree stump to take a photo of Half Dome, then stumbled, headfirst, and accidentally pushed the shutter release. The upside-down image remained one of Adams’s favorites, he wrote in his autobiography.

Here is an amazing vintage 1958 video, "Ansel Adams, Photographer". Watch and listen to how Adams integrates the artistry of his piano playing with his artistic photography talents!

I love the view of the Yosemite Valley as it opens up to you, just after you've driven through the tunnel, arriving at Inspiration Point.
I took this photo during our visit in February 2013.  I just realized in writing this post,
that I was there just a few days before Ansel Adams' birthday, which was Febraury 20!
Ansel Adams has shot several dramatic black and white photos of this stunning view during different seasons and weather conditions...this particular shot is during a thunderstorm.
"Yosemite Valley Thunderstorm" by Ansel Adams, 1945 - source

And I love this unique photo I found of Adams with his camera, shooting another picture of the same view in 1976...
Ansel Adams at Inspiration Point, 1976
Alan Ross Photography - source

Here is a wonderful biography for kids, illustrated by the photographs of Adams. The text follows the pictures, with an insightful account of Adams' life, from his upbringing in San Francisco to his love of nature and photography.

For Grades 5 and up, but children of any age who have visited Yosemite National Park (or are planning a trip there) will enjoy looking at the photography.

Ansel Adams: America's Photographer, A biography for young people, by Beverly Gherman.