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)

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Poem for March, as April Comes Knocking...by Emily Dickinson

photo source

Dear March - Come In! 
by Emily Dickinson (1830 - 1886) 

Dear March - come in! 
How glad I am! 
I looked for you before.
Put down your hat -
You must have walked - 
How out of breath you are!
Dear March, how are you?
And the rest? 
Did you leave Nature well?
Oh March, come right upstairs with me, 
I have so much to tell! 

I got your letter, and the bird's; 
The maples never knew 
That you were coming - I declare - 
How red their faces grew! 
But March, forgive me - 
And all those hills 
You left for me to hue;
There was no purple suitable;
You took it all with you.

Who knocks? That April!
Lock the door!
I will not be pursued!
He stayed away a year to call,
When I am occupied.
But trifles look so trivial  
As soon as you have come,   
That blame is just as dear as praise
And praise as mere as blame.

Born in 1830 in Massachusetts, Emily Dickinson lived in almost total physical isolation from the outside world and is now considered, along with Walt Whitman, the founder of a uniquely American poetic voice.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Pascha Book Giveaway Winner...

Thanks to all who left comments and entered my Pascha Giveaway!
Congratulations to Robin Levy!  She is the winner today, chosen by list randomizer (courtesy of random.org), for my giveaway book Meditations for Pascha.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A New Children's Book for Pascha (and a Giveaway Book of Eastertide Devotions for Moms)

Catherine's Pascha, by Charlotte Riggle, is a new picture book that follows a sleepy little girl on Pascha night. (Pascha is the Orthodox celebration of Easter.  "Pascha" comes from the Hebrew word for Passover, because the Passover feast was being celebrated when Jesus was raised from the dead, and because in his Resurrection Christ fulfilled the promise of the Passover sacrifice.)  

Illustrated by R.J. Hughes, this book has a lot going on...
Your child will follow along, as late at night Catherine and her family leave their home with their Pascha basket full of goodies and arrive at their darkened church.  Once there, Catherine and her friend Elizabeth light a candle with others from their parish, sing, walk in procession, and proclaim "Christ is Risen!" as they celebrate the joyful Resurrection of Christ.
The pictures on each page in the book are framed by an illustration of a building. At first, it’s Catherine’s house. The picture within the frame follows the action of the story. Once Catherine arrives at her parish, the frames on page after page show a different Orthodox church building from around the world. Inside the frame - which follows earthly time and earthly place - we see Catherine at her parish church, yet there is a sense in which all distinctions of time and place have collapsed. Because of the different church buildings that frame her story, there is a sense in which she stands together with Christians from all times and places to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ!

How about putting a copy of Catherine's Pascha in your child's Easter basket this year? Be sure to visit the wonderful website for the book - you'll find copies of Catherine's Pascha available for purchase there.


Ever wonder how Easter got it's name? You can find out on the Catherine's Pascha website. There are also lots of fun activities, recipes, and information about traditional Pascha eggs and baskets!

Now for the Giveaway...for a lucky Mom (or Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, or other adult who may be following my blog)!

Would you like to have a devotional book for the days that follow Pascha? Far from being merely a “vacation from fasting,” the Pascha season (or "Eastertide", the 40 days between Pascha and Ascension) is a time that, properly understood, can greatly enrich our faith.

The Pascha season is certainly a time for rejoicing, but this should not lead us to forget that it is a preparation for another great feast: Pentacost. During the Pascha season, we celebrate and rejoice in our Lord’s Resurrection and we prepare for the great feast of the Holy Spirit descending upon us.

Today I'm giving away the book Meditations for Pascha: Reflections on the Pentecostarion, by Vassilios Papavassiliou.  He is also the author of Thirty Steps to Heaven.

Each short chapter in this lovely little yellow paperback volume gives us reflections and Scripture readings about Bright Week, Thomas Week, Week of the Myrrh-Bearing Women, and so on...

Vassilios Papavassiliou's Meditations for Pascha is his fourth in a series of pocket devotions: Meditations for Holy Week, Great Lent, and Advent.

  • Please leave a comment here at the end of this post to enter my giveaway for Meditations for Pascha.  
  • Giveaway ends Friday, March 27, 2015
  • One winner will be chosen at random (I use random.org list randomizer.)  
  • Winner announced Saturday, March 28, 2015.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Sound of Music: It Started With a Book by the "Real Maria"...

source - Trapp Family website

If you, like me, have been enjoying the many articles and television specials (for instance the wonderful Diane Sawyer special last night with Julie Andrews, or the Huffington Post piece, "5 Stories You Didn't Know About The Sound of Music") regaling the 50th Anniversary of the iconic Sound of Music film, I know you'll enjoy the book that inspired it all, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta Trapp.

My mom introduced me to the book years ago, and it's even more enchanting than the musical (which I adore). I had so much fun reading the true story in Maria Augusta Trapp's own words.

Obviously the book made an impact on many, for it inspired first a German-Austrian comedy drama film (ironically!), then a Broadway-hit (1959), and later the Oscar-winning Hollywood film (all totally romanticized of course)!

I used to love to listen to my parents' recording.  No DVD movies back then!

Maria's biographical story was published in 1949, and in 1950 she won St. Francis de Sales Golden Book Award from the Catholic Writers Guild for the best book of non fiction.

A few things in the true story surprised me -- mainly that the family was musically accomplished even before Maria's arrival (though she is the one who introduced them to the classical madrigals that they became known for singing), and secondly, that they became so religiously devout after her arrival (if I remember correctly, they observed Mass daily - their conductor/manager was a priest.)

It was obvious from her reminiscences that Maria's stay at the Abbey before her arrival to the family's home had a huge influence on her, and she adored the captain's children from the very start of her time as a tutor there.  I loved Maria's description of teaching the children about Advent and making a beautiful hanging wreath of candles for them when she first arrived.

One of the most humorous parts of the story for me was Maria's account of some of their first experiences in America after they left Austria (which isn't part of the movie at all!)

After they arrived in America with hardly any money, and as they learned to adapt to a new culture, steely Maria quickly got to work finding used furniture to furnish their living quarters - she was the queen of yard/estate/garage sales!  And they toured all over, literally trying to survive financially.

Their first major concert, which brought the Trapp Family Choir national attention, took place in New York in Town Hall on Dec. 10, 1938.

In a review of their opening performance, The New York Times commented: ''There was something unusually lovable and appealing about the modest, serious singers of this little family aggregation as they formed a close semicircle about their self-effacing director for their initial offering, the handsome Mme. von Trapp in simple black, and the youthful sisters garbed in black and white Austrain folk costumes enlivened with red ribbons. It was only natural to expect work of exceeding refinement from them, and one was not disappointed in this.''

In 1942, the family bought a 660-acre farm in Stowe, Vermont, which later became a lodge and summer music camp.  It is still running to this day.  Go here for more information.

I hope you take time to find this book - it's such an enjoyable read!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Little Limerick-y Nonsense for St. Patrick's Day

My daughter snapped this cute photo of my grandson with a fun Roald Dahl quote last week in San Diego - the quote is perfect for my St. Patrick's Day post today...

So how about this "Little Nonsense":  90 degree weather in Southern California. In March!  

Today is thankfully a bit cooler, but we really haven't had much of a winter this year. We're relishing the sun, but praying for rain as we enter a fourth year of drought.

Roald Dahl wasn't the only one who appreciated nonsense. Edward Lear was a master at it, especially with limericks - witty poems of five lines that have a specific and distinctive rhythm. 
When I think of limericks, I think of Ireland - maybe because the word sounds so Irish.  I discovered there are both a city and county of Limerick in Ireland, and that is where the limerick poem gets its name from.  But whether the poems actually originated there has long been up for debate.  

How about a limerick for St. Patrick's Day:
In Ireland you won’t find a snake 
In a field, a forest or lake. 
If you’re happy with that 
 Give thanks to St. Pat, 
He did it for everyone’s sake.

Luke Dingman icon 

Here's a silly limerick from Edward Lear:
There once were two cats of Kilkenny. 
Each thought that was one cat too many, 
So they started to fight 
And to scratch and to bite– 
Now, instead of two cats, there aren’t any.

And don't forget Mother Goose:
Hickory dickory dock, 
the mouse ran up the clock; 
the clock struck one 
the mouse ran down; 
hickory dickory dock!

Try writing your own limerick, following these rules...

1- The five lines have a specific pattern: the first, second and fifth lines (the longer lines) rhyme; and the third and fourth (shorter) lines rhyme. (AABBA) 

2 - This five line poetry also follows a syllable count. 
Line 1: 7-10 syllables 
Line 2: 7-10 syllables 
Line 3: 5-7 syllables 
Line 4: 5-7 syllables 
Line 5: 7-10 syllables

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Do you have a favorite limerick?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A "Cheerful" Churchmouse? (He'll Be Happy in Your Child's Easter Basket!)

Cheerful, by Palmer Brown (1957), is one of the treasures I brought back from my visit this past December to the NYCPL's awesome bookstore. 
Could not pass it up!  
And now he looks so at home on my living room end table.

How fortunate for book lovers that this (little - 6 3/4" x 4 1/4") volume has been brought back into print by The New York Review Children's Collection.

This entrancing story, which is gorgeously illustrated, will delight children ages 4-6, as they follow the escapades of "Cheerful" the churchmouse and his family - his parents, his brother Solemnity, and his sisters, Faith and Hope.

"Last of all, there was Cheerful, who did have white feet, and long white whiskers too.  Because his drooping whiskers made him look so sad when he was little, his mother said, "Be Cheerful!" And he tried to be, since that was his name  Most of the time it was easy..."

His parents and brother and sisters are happy growing up in the bustling city, but Cheerful always wonders what it would be like to live in the country (he often lies in a favorite green shadow cast by a stained glass window, pretending it is a green field).

"Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, 
Guard the ground I stand upon!"

One day, he decides to leave home and travel to the countryside. He gets waylaid in fruit and vegetable pushcart, and consequently ends up in a Grandmother's kitchen.

You'll have to read the book to find out what happens, but the happy ending involves "a glorious egg of crystal sugar" (as a child were you intrigued by those panorama eggs with a peephole in one end?  I was, and so were my kids!) that the little mouse finds in an Easter basket intended for the Grandmother's grand-daughter!

One of the cutest little books I've seen in a long time.  I think you'll love it - and it would fit perfectly in your child's Easter Basket!

Palmer Brown (1920-2012) was the author and illustrator of five adorable books for children: Something for Christmas, Beyond the Pawpaw Trees and its sequel The Silver Nutmeg, Cheerful, and Hickory—all published by The New York Review Children’s Collection. (go here to order)

The New York Review Children’s Collection began in 2003 in an attempt to reward readers who have long wished for the return of their favorite titles and to introduce those books to a new generation of readers. The line publishes picture books for preschoolers through to chapter books and novels for older children. Praised for their elegant design and sturdy bindings, these books set a new standard for the definition of a “classic.” Among the titles you will find Wee Gillis, a Caldecott Honor Book by the creators of The Story of Ferdinand; Esther Averill’s time-honored Jenny and the Cat Club series; The House of Arden by E. Nesbit, one of J.K. Rowling’s favorite writers; several titles by the award-winning team of Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire, including their Book of Norse Myths and Book of Animals; James Thurber’s The Thirteen Clocks and The Wonderful O, both with illustrations by Marc Simont.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Louisa May Alcott: She Was Told To Write A Book For Girls. She Reluctantly Tried. The Rest is History.

Louisa May Alcott was 35 when she wrote the following journal entry - a prelude to the success (and fame) that was to come:
September 1867.
–Niles, partner of Roberts, asked me to write a girls' book. Said I'd try.

Louisa May Alcott (Nov. 29, 1832 - March 6, 1888)
Photograph dated around 1862,
when she was a Civil War nurse, at 30 years old.

My daughter and I just watched the 1994 film adaptation of Little Women for the umpteenth time, and it got me thinking about Louisa May Alcott and her own story...

Writing A Girls' Book
Mr. Niles later repeated his request, this time approaching her father...
May, 1868.
–Father saw Mr. Niles about a fairy book. Mr. N. wants a girls' story, and I begin "Little Women." Marmee, Anna, and May all approve my plan. So I plod away, though I don't enjoy this sort of thing. Never liked girls or knew many, except my sisters; but our queer plays and experiences may prove interesting, though I doubt it.

It only took her two months to write the first half, and Little Women (Part 1) was published in October, 1868.  It was an immediate success.

Like her protagonist Josephine "Jo" March, Louisa May Alcott was a bit of a tomboy, had a fiery temper, lived in poverty during the Civil War, and became a writer to earn money. But unlike Jo and the other March sisters, she never married.

Louisa's Journals and Letters about Little Women, Part II:  The "Wedding Marches"?
Oct. 30 1868.
-Mr. N. wants a second volume for spring. Pleasant notices and letters arrive, and much interest in my little women, who seem to find friends by their truth to life, as I hoped. 

A lot of young readers had their hearts set on Jo marrying Laurie. Read on...

November 1st.
–Began the second part of "Little Women." I can do a chapter a day, and in a month I mean to be done. A little success is so inspiring that I now find my "Marches" sober, nice people, and as I can launch into the future, my fancy has more play. Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only end and aim of a woman's life. I won't marry Jo to Laurie to please any one.

Poor Laurie.
Reading Little Women as a young girl, I remember thinking, How could Jo have let Laurie go!?

I'm reminded of this every time I watch the film with Winona Ryder and Christian Bale.  Their chemistry is perfect, and the proposal scene is heart breaking!

If I'm honest with myself, I've not only never fully gotten over the fact that Laurie didn't end up with Jo, but that he ended up with her youngest sister, Amy.

Amy!  Who wore a clothespin on her nose every night. Who burned Jo's manuscript. Who broke Jo's heart by going off to Paris with Aunt March!

I think I was about eleven years old when I read Little Women for the first time. I just couldn't understand how stodgy Professor Bhaer - so old - was Jo's destiny, not Theodore "Laurie" Laurence, her charming "Teddy".

It seems that Louisa May Alcott created the character of Prof. Bhaer to appease her readers and her publisher.

But Jo's marriage to the Professor did make perfect plot sense with her plan to open a school for boys in the house left to her by Aunt March, something she may not have done if she had married Laurie. (Well you never know...I think they could have done it - after traveling all over Europe, of course!)

Because of the great success of Little Women, Louisa May Alcott quickly finished up Part II.  But what to title it?

I LOVE this archived letter that Louisa wrote to her publisher, Mr. Niles, regarding the title of the second half of her popular book...

Mr Niles,
     I can only think of the following titles. “Little Women Act Second”. “Leaving the Nest. Sequel to Little Women”.
     Either you like.  A jocose friend suggests “Wedding Marches” as there is so much pairing off, but I dont approve.
     Suggestions gratefully received.
yrs truly
L. M. A.

In 1869, the book was eventually published in America simply titled, Little Women Part Second, but in Britain it was given the endearing title, Good Wives.

Beginning in 1880, both parts have since been published as the single volume we know today, Little Women.

Read this interesting article "10 Things You May Not Know About Little Women" here, from MentalFloss; and more about Louisa May Alcott here, on Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute.

You can read the Journals and Letters of Louisa May Alcott,  here, on Project Gutenberg.

And I hope you've seen the 1994 film adaptation.  The music, casting, cinematography, costumes, and set design put you right in Louisa May Alcott's world and book.  The movie is as enjoyable as the novel!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Lenten Prayer Request

“What shall pass from history into eternity? The human person with all its relations, such as friendship and love." 
-Fr. Georges Florovsky

Taking a step away from children's book blogging, to take a moment to honor a dead father and humbly ask you to pray for the precious family he has left behind (a now widowed wife and six children).

Fr. Matthew, an outstanding Orthodox priest, died in a tragic car accident on his way home from Vespers this past Sunday night, during an evening snow storm in Connecticut. His children were with him, but were thankfully not injured.
Fr. Matthew Baker (source)
Memory eternal.

Read more here; and if you feel so inclined, you may make a donation here - 100% of the donations received in this campaign will go directly to his wife. She has 6 young children to care for, and has lost the family's only income. 
(Go here for the local news story.)