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)

Friday, January 30, 2015

Shadow Play and Groundhog Day: Contemplating Candles, Shadows, and the True Light

February is drawing near! The second day of February might be Groundhog Day in the United States, but from ancient times Christians have observed it as a holy day celebrating the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple at Jerusalem, 40 days after His birth.

On this day in many Christian churches, we will bless candles and celebrate the Light of the World.

Luke 2:27-32 ...And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said: "Lord, now let Your servant go in peace according to Your promise, because my eyes have seen Your salvation which you have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory to your people Israel."
Jesus's Presentation in the Temple with Simeon and Anna
(icon source)

Shadows Aren't Just for Groundhogs! 
In the early days of Christianity in Europe, a folk custom arose that on this day (mid-way through winter, known as Candlemas in the West for the blessing of candles) if a hedgehog came out of its burrow and saw his shadow, he would return because there would be six more weeks of winter. 

Sound familiar? When German immigrants came to America, there weren't any hedgehogs here, so they put forth the test for light and shadow to groundhogs on February 2nd. (Go here for my past post, "Celebrating Groundhog Day with some Famous Hedgehogs.")

Making Beeswax Candles is a fun activity to celebrate Candlemas and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. You can order kits from Bella Luna Toys or Magic Cabin.

Here are some fun books exploring shadows and shadow play, as a fun prelude to Groundhog Day...

Shadow by Suzy Lee - a nearly wordless book. (2010)
An adventure that begins in a cluttered attic with a little girl and the click of a lightbulb.  When you open Shadow, you'll notice the pages are designed with the images on the top page being reflected as upside-down silhouette images on the page below.  The book becomes the attic room itself, as the pictures reveal what the girl sees in reality along with the shadowed fantasies her own shadow-poses inspire. This book is a true "page turner", as your engrossed child will be excited to see what the imaginative little girl will think up next! Ages 4-8

Count! by Agnese Baruzzi. (2012)
Reminiscent of shadow puppet theatre, Count! will help your child to learn to count from one to ten, with dark, lacy silhouettes of creatures such as squirrels, owls, rabbits, and butterflies. Though the pages themselves are sturdy, the die-cut illustrations are very intricate - making this book appropriate for the hands of careful 3-year-olds and up. 

Shadow Play - a partially wordless book - by Paul Fleischman, pictures by Eric Beddows. (1990)
I love Shadow Play, but it's out of print, so you'll have to search for it at your local library.  A boy and a girl buy tickets for a tent show shadow performance of Beauty and the Beast.  But taking into account that appearances are "as thin and deceptive as...shadows", who are the real players?  Read it and find out! Ages 4-8

Step-by-Step Tutorials to Help You Make Your Own Shadow Puppet Theatre...
Make a Cereal Box Shadow Theatre - go here for instructions.

Go here for a fun tutorial for making a Shadow Puppet Theatre - with links to books, templates, and resources about shadow puppets.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

My Top 12 Quotes from Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen was published on January 28, 1813.  In anticipation, I thought I'd share some of my favorite P & P quotes with you today...did I include yours?

1.  Opening line:"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

2. "Bingley was sure of being liked wherever he appeared, but Darcy was continually giving offence."

3.  "She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me." -Mr. Darcy to Mr. Bingley

4.  "I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine." -Elizabeth Bennet

5.  "But that is one great difference between us. Compliments always take you by surprise, and me never." -Elizabeth to Jane

6.  "A lady's imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony, in a moment."  -Mr. Darcy

7.  He sat down for a few moments, and then getting up, walked about the room. Elizabeth was surprised, but said not a word. After a silence of several minutes, he came towards her in an agitated manner, and thus began:"In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you." -Mr. Darcy

8. "It has been coming on so gradually, that I hardly know when it began. But I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley." -Elizabeth Bennet

9.  "An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do."  -Mr. Bennet

10. "Be not alarmed, madam, on receiving this letter, by the apprehension of its containing any repetition of those sentiments or renewal of those offers which were last night so disgusting to you." -Mr. Darcy

11. "He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman’s daughter; so far we are equal."  -Elizabeth Bennet

12. "You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever." -Mr. Darcy

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Beautiful, Frozen World of Hans Brinker (From the Hand of Gifted Artist, Laurel Long!)

I've got another beautiful picture book to add to my list of winter reads: Hans Brinker, (2007) retold by Bruce Coville, illustrated by Laurel Long

This is an adapted and obviously very abridged version of the 1865 classic children's novel Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge. 

Mary Mapes Dodge's enthusiastically interwoven little explanations and asides about Dutch history and culture throughout her original story captivated children when it was published.

Homeschoolers and children who love getting lost in a good book will still enjoy the lengthy, didactic original, but these days, not all kids may appreciate such an "armchair travel" type book.  

As Bruce Corville, author and adapter of the newer version, points out in the "Note" at the end of his picture book:

"the Internet now offers so many ways to learn about a place like Holland...underneath the book's wealth of social, geographical, and historical data pulses a charming and quite moving story about a family struggling to thrive against great odds. It is this story that Laurel Long and I have tried to bring to the forefront of our adaptation."  

Corville's abridged adaptation definitely loses the charm of Mary Mapes Dodge's descriptive and adept story telling, but Laurel Long's stunning illustrations make up for it in that they help you see the charm and beauty of the missing text! 

Long's radiant, detailed paintings that illustrate this book are not to be missed.  They remind me of those you'd see on traditional Russian lacquer boxes...

Set against a backdrop of frozen canals, this beloved tale is about how 15 year old Hans Brinker - a most honorable hero - and his younger sister Gretel long to compete in their Dutch village's most exciting event of the year: the great ice-skating race!  

Such lovely endcovers of blue delft!
Just like my blue delft plate!

The Brinkers are poor. With their hand-carved wooden skates, the brother and sister don't seem to have a chance against their well-trained friends, who own steel blades. The prize for the winners of the race?  Silver Skates, of course. 

The conflict?  The reason Hans' family is poverty stricken is that the father, "Raff" Brinker, is sick and has amnesia from a head injury caused by a fall from the dike, and cannot remember or communicate where he has hidden their savings.  (By the way, in the M.M. Dodge original story, Raff is prone to quite violent outbursts - lots of Victorian Era drama there!)

Hans, Gretel, and their mother must work very hard to make up for their incapacitated father's lost job and wages. They are looked down on by most of their community, but luckily a kind doctor enters their lives...

I hope you'll read this truly heart-warming story with your kids - either version - you may be surprised at who wins the race!  (I absolutely love the original story by Mary Mapes Dodge, and treasure my 1926 vintage copy.  You can read it here, on Project Gutenberg.)

Best for ages 8 and up.

Saturday, January 10, 2015


Illustration from Holly Claus, The Christmas Princess
by Brittney Ryan, with pictures by Laurel Long and Jeffrey K. Bedick

Shockingly, here in Southern California, we had quite a nippy New Year's, and saw snow not only on the mountains, but at lower elevations on the foothills as well!  

More recently, the weather here has been warm and beautiful, but I've been missing it because I've had to take time off for some "sick days". I've heard many of you in the Midwest and East have had some forced time off for "snow days".

A newbie to Snow Days, my grandson Peter has been thoroughly enjoying the Midwestern snow, just like Peter in The Snowy Day (his favorite story), wearing his red hat and making footprints in the powdery white stuff...he'll have happy memories to bring home to Southern California when he moves back this month with his mom and dad!

Crunch, crunch, crunch.  
His feet sank into the snow.

Ezra Jack Keats' Inspiration:
Just who was the inspiration for Ezra Jack Keats' "Peter"?  This little guy:

"In 1940, Life magazine published a short photo essay focused on a little boy in Liberty County, GA, who was about to undergo a blood test. Keats was struck by the sweet images of the child, and cut the group of photographs out of the magazine. That little boy was the inspiration for Keats' character Peter, the African-American protagonist of The Snowy Day and six books that followed."  (source: npr.org - read more about Keats here).

Baby, It's Cold Outside!
Reading aloud comes in a close second to being out-in-the-snow for my grandson, but it has been a saving grace for my daughter. A few days ago, they experienced -27 degree weather (with the wind chill factor): just too cold to go out!

Here are some exceptional "snowy" books I posted about in past years - great for when there's snow, but it's so cold you have to stay in...and great for Southern Californians who have to experience their SNOWY DAYS (mostly) through books!

A Snowy Book That Will Warm Your Heart:  When It Snows

The Art and Science of Snowflakes and the Determination of a Young Boy From Vermont:  Snowflake Bentley

The Beautiful, Frozen World of Hans Brinker , (from the hand of gifted artist, Laurel Long).

For more recommendations, go here to read my past post, Picture Books in Winter.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Two Good New Year's Resolutions for Young Souls

It's "later than you think!" and that time again!  The New Year brings new-found resolutions.
"A new heart for a New Year, always."  - Charles Dickens.

Your resolutions may number 70 (like Jonathan Edwards'), you may try to follow Fr. Thomas Hopko's 55 Maxims of the Christian Life, or maybe you'll just focus on these basic 14.  
But how about these two, simple enough for even the youngest child to remember (Matt. 22:37-39 ; Mark 12:30-31; Luke 10:27; Deut. 6; Lev. 19:18):
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind." 
"Love your neighbor as yourself."

Good Books for the New Year?  I love St. Theophan Academy's list "Reading Through the Year of Grace"...which has book recommendations for many of the Saints' days from January through December.  

Happy New Year!
Thank you, dear readers for stopping by.  
Stay tuned for more Good Books For Young Souls in 2015!