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)

Saturday, January 30, 2016

New York Wanderings, Part I: A Unique Children's Library and a Book for Groundhog Day

I'm having a lovely visit in New York with my little grandsons.  Yesterday my daughter and I took them to an adorable children's library.  The unique thing about this library is that the whole building is dedicated solely to children's books!

And a unique thing about the building itself is that it was built in 1869 and used to be a private home.

Not only that, but it was the city of  New Rochelle's first brick building. You can read more about it's history and how it came to be a children's library in 1997, here.

This little "Huguenot Children's Library" was a perfect outing for my grandsons. The eight-month old slept, while the three-year-old explored...

Not only were there wonderful picture books downstairs, but also a train table, puzzle area, wooden doll house, and computer area - all of which my three-year-old grandson enjoyed immensely!

At one end of the big room downstairs, a colorful tiled wall mural not only encourages kids to "READ", but leads them upstairs to the chapter books for older kids...

Now, on to the cute picture book we found for Groundhog Day: Gregory's Shadow by Don Freeman...

Gregory is a shy groundhog, so having his friend Shadow close by makes him feel brave.

But one day Gregory and Shadow go outside to look for food, and they get separated.

Scared and lonely, they search and search for one another.

To make matters worse, tomorrow is Groundhog Day, and everyone will be waiting to see if Gregory and his shadow leave their home together.

You'll have to find the book at your local library to find out how they reunite, and to find out whether Gregory's shadow joins him on Groundhog Day.

Note: When Gregory is searching for Shadow, he thinks he sees a ghost.  If you're leery of ghosts being frightening for young children, you can easily leave out the word "ghost" and replace it with "a dark blue shape", etc.  (The "ghost" ends up being Shadow).

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Books Transport Us

My children and I really enjoyed traveling through books to far off lands and meeting the characters who inhabited them.  

As we compared these characters to ourselves, we often found we shared with them not only their adventures, but a common boundary of ideas and feelings about family and friendship, loyalties and truths.

Thus we often returned from our book travels with a new perspective on others and a renewed perspective of ourselves. 

Today I'm sharing a few of our favorite inspirational books that took us to another time and place.

TALES OF A CHINESE GRANDMOTHER, by Frances Carpenter. (Ages 9-12) Wonderful folktales of the Chinese culture, told by an old grandmother. Each chapter is a different tale. 
THE CHILDREN'S HOMER, by Padraic Colum. Exquisite pen and ink illustrations by Willy Pogany. (Ages 9-12) My kids were entranced by this telling of Greek mythology because it allowed us to see the Greeks through their own eyes.

THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD (series), by Lynne Reid Banks. (Ages 8-12) Exciting, absorbing, and thought provoking story, alive with magic as two boys discover they can bring their toys to life by putting them in an old medicine cabinet that one of them receives - along with a small plastic Indian - for his birthday. They are faced with the responsibility of this tiny person and the consequences of their actions. Gives new meaning to the phrase, "the dignity of human life". 
THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA (series), by C.S. Lewis, illustrated by Pauline Baynes (Ages 8-12). It is so evident in these stories that Lewis respects children's imaginations - he does not dumb-down evil or sugar-coat goodness. At the same time, there is a wonderful sense of the everyday in these incredible fantasy books - hearth and home and the honest decency of ordinary characters who are motivated by love!!! The children, talking animals and creatures, and especially the great Lion, Aslan, will become endearing companions that your children will never forget.
REDWALL (series), by Brian Jacques, illustrated by Gary Chalk. (ages 8-12). This series was read to my children by my husband, and I'm not sure who enjoyed the reading more, him or the children! All the characters are animals, mostly mice and mostly heroic, with the exception of the villain, Cluny the one-eyed rat, and his horde. Matthias, a novice monk (mouse) at Redwall Abbey, has dedicated himself to the service of peace. But he slowly learns that, sometimes, it is virtuous to defend oneself and those one loves. (Many children have been known to read this under the covers at night with a flashlight, after read aloud time is over and dad and mom have gone to bed). Go to http://www.redwall.org/ for Redwall Abbey's fun website and a list of all the books!

THE BRONZE BOW, by Elizabeth Speare. (Ages 9-12) Beautifully told story of a boy living in Jerusalem at the time of Christ. 1962 Newbery Medal winner. A family favorite of ours! 
THE HOUSE OF SIXTY FATHERS, by Meindert DeJong, illustrated by Maurice Sendak. (Ages 9-12). The Japanese invasion of China during World War II is the backdrop for this touching story of a little boy named Tien Pao, who becomes separated from his parents. He is eventually helped by American soldiers and airmen. Throughout the search for his parents, he is determined not to despair.

THE ENDLESS STEPPE, by Esther Hautzig. (Ages 10 and up). Especially be cause it is a true story, this book made a huge impression on us.  The heroine, only ten years old, never loses courage or perseverance in the face of extreme hardship.  She and her family are forced to leave their beautiful home in Poland and move to Siberia in 1942 because they are Jewish.

"But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do." -C.S. Lewis

Monday, January 11, 2016

Sparking JOY in 2016! Two Books About Tidying Up

My Grandma always said, "A place for everything.  Everything in its place."  But how do you get there???

If you want to tackle household clutter and dis-organization for 2016, I have the book for you!  Two, actually...

My husband and I have really enjoyed reading Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  (Yes, you read that right - my husband is reading it too! We want to do some re-modeling soon, and our house and garage are in need of major de-cluttering.  We need help, and this book has given us the courage to start.)

Chapter I: Why Can't I Keep My House in Order?
The "KonMarie Method" doesn't involve the latest innovations or short-cuts to cleaning; it's about getting rid of "stuff" and recognizing what things are truly useful, meaningful, and worthy of holding on to - because let's face it, having fewer things to clean makes life and it's quotidian chores a lot easier!

Illustration by Eloise Wilkin, from We Help Mommy

Marie Kondo is doing something right: more than 3 million copies of her "Life Changing Magic" book, translated into 35 languages, have sold worldwide!

Her first book was a helpful introduction to her tidying up philosophy: only keeping things that "spark joy", and putting them where they belong. 

But for those of us who are not natural organization gurus like Miss Kondo, it lacked some further helpful details...we needed diagrams of that shirt folding (her shirts stand up by themselves when folded, no kidding!), and pictures of what organized drawers and shelves should look like.

Not to worry! Now Marie Kondo has a new book: Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up.

In her new book, Kondo expounds on her six rules of tidying:
1. Commit yourself to tidying up.
2. Imagine your ideal lifestyle.
3. Finish discarding first.
4. Tidy by category, not by location.
5. Follow the right order.
6. Ask yourself if it sparks joy.

I can guarantee, if you follow her principals, you'll find yourself being able to "Whistle while you work!" because you'll be surrounded by things that give you joy.

If like me, following Epiphany, you have an annual house blessing for the new year, this book couldn't have been published at a better time!

The only recommendation from her books that I take issue with is her section for going through (getting rid of - gasp) books.  Most of my books are worthwhile, or I wouldn't have bought them.  

My home library is one area that I'm not going to pair down too much. Even if I'm unable to re-read every single one of my books, can one have too many?  After all, shelves and shelves of them make even the grandest of homes feel cozy!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

What Can You Tell Your Children About Theophany?

The Blessing of the Waters is a beautiful service that takes place in the Orthodox Church for Epiphany (also called Theophany).  Today our priest sent around a beautiful sermon by Father Mark Sietsema that began with the question,

Fr. Mark's expounds:
This was the question that little Israelite children were taught to ask at the Passover seder ritual (Exodus 12:26). This same question we too should ask in the month of January as we celebrate the Baptism of Christ. Through the liturgies of Epiphany and the blessings of homes, we also re-celebrate our own Baptisms, which are simply reenactments of His Baptism. 
(You can read the sermon in its entirety here.)

Archbishop Anastasios, Blessing the Waters [source orthodoxalbania.org]

Father Mark says that to comprehend the deeper meaning of the feast of Epiphany, we must look to the book of Genesis - and particularly the story of Creation, Adam and Eve, and The Flood in the time of Noah.

As Father goes on to explain, these Genesis stories will help us better understand Christ's own baptism because...
What we see on Epiphany, then, is a re-staging of the Creation: the Spirit hovering like a mother bird, in the form of a dove; the approval of the Father thundering from the open heavens; and out of the dark waters emerges the new creation—but this time God starts from the end and works backward! The first creature to emerge from the waters is a man—Jesus Christ. And so it begins—the healing of our nature, the re-harmonization of all creatures, the reconciliation of all living things to God. In time the New Creation will embrace the whole Universe...“For in [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His Cross” (Colossians 1:19-20).

Genesis Stories for Children
So, on to my book recommendations for today - gorgeous offerings from gifted artist, Jane Ray.

All her biblical stories are descriptive, adapted from Scripture (King James version), with vivid folk-art-inspired illustrations. I'm happy to say that all are available used, from Amazon!

This stunning volume, Let There Be Light, newer edition is The Orchard Book of Bible Stories) might be your best choice! It is a collection of the re-tellings of The Story of Christmas, The Story of Creation, and Noah's Ark.

To see all my posts and book recommendations for Theophany and Epiphany, go here.