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, December 13, 2018

"With Light in Her Hair"

Today's post was inspired by the traditional Swedish song about Santa Lucia and these photos from my daughter, who was up late into the night baking Lussekatter ("Lucia Cats"). Such a nice treat for the children this morning as they lit their Advent Wreath candles and read the story of Saint Lucia!

Night walks grand, yet silent, 
Now hear its gentle wings,


In every room so hushed, 
Whispering like wings. 

Look, at our threshold stands, 
White-clad with light in her hair, 
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Darkness shall take flight soon, 
From earth's valleys.
So she speaks Wonderful words to us:
A new day will rise again 
From the rosy sky… 
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Saint Lucia was born in Syracuse, Sicily, during the reign of Emperor Diocletian. Making a vow of virginity, she gave away her dowry to the poor, and an angered suitor reported her to the authorities. She was condemned her to a brothel, but she miraculously became immoveable. After being set on fire she remained unhurt. She finally suffered martyrdom by sword. A tradition says her eyes were gouged out in torture, so she is considered by some as the patron saint of the blind. In Sweden, her feast day is also celebrated as the first day of Christmas. Traditionally, some families celebrate this day by the oldest daughter wearing a white robe with a red sash and evergreen wreath with candles.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Two Young Kings For Your Christmas Reading

A King of Kings and a King of Bohemia... I have two Christmas picture books that I'm recommending in today's post: The Christ Child by Maud and Miska Petersham, and Good King Wenceslas by Pauline Baynes. As I mentioned in my last "Prague Blog", both books have ties to my recent trip there.

THE CHRIST CHILD (ages 6 and up)
I found a used library copy of this book (published in 1931) by Maud and Miska Petersham at Shakespeare & Sons in Mala Strana, the "Little Quarter" in Prague.  (Whenever I come across an affordable old book by this incredible husband-wife writing and illustrating team, I buy it!)

The Petershams were truly pioneers in the world of children's picture books from the 1920-50's.  Maud was born in New York, and her husband Miska was a Hungarian immigrant. Their quaint and stylistic approach to story telling and illustrating is a unique blend of their backgrounds.

This book brings to life in vibrant color and small "chapters" the story of the birth and childhood of Christ from the text of the Gospels of Mark and Luke.

(Other books by the Petershams in my collection include The Circus Baby, Nursery Friends from France, Tales Told from Holland, and The Rooster Crows.  Many of the Petershams picture books can be found online, but it's a lot more fun perusing used bookstores, don't you think?)

GOOD KING WENCESLAS (ages 6 and up)
Pauline Baynes (well-known for her illustrations of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia) does not mince words in this re-telling of the exciting story of the young Bohemian Prince, Wenceslas - patron saint of Prague and the Czech Republic.

There are many legends surrounding this good saint, and his tragic death is recorded in history.  As with many saints' stories, Wenceslas faced his martyrdom bravely, and Baynes' hopeful re-telling (published in 1987) is book-ended with the words of the well loved Christmas carol about this good and brave King.

The other hero/saint in this Bohemian story is Wenceslas' grandmother, Ludmilla.  She brought him up in the Christian faith.

During our tour of Prague Castle, my mother and I were privileged to see both the Wenceslas Chapel (which contain his relics) in St. Vitus Cathedral, and St. Ludmilla's tomb in St. George's Basilica.

St. Wenceslas' relics are in the Wenceslas Chapel in St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague Castle.

Stained glass window in St. Vitus Cathedral by Mucha depicting (in the center) a young Wenceslas at his Grandmother Ludmilla's knee.

St. Ludmilla's tomb is located in a chapel in St. George's Basilica, Prague Castle.

A painting in St. George's Basilica near the tomb of Ludmilla, showing Wenceslas being taught by his Grandmother to care for the poor.

Just outside the walls of Prague Castle, I took a quick photo of my mom next to the statue of Wenceslas.

It had rained all day, so on our walk back to our apartment, we stopped at a little cafe for some hot tea. It was the perfect end to our wonderful time at Prague Castle!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Time Out for a Prague Blog

Happy St. Nicholas Day! Well, I took a little break from blogging to travel with my family to Prague.  After our last trip in 2011 (our son was at school there), you may have read my post about the Strahov Monastery Libraries 

On this trip we not only re-visited those libraries, but amidst the Christmas markets, cathedrals, a castle, incredible music and architecture, we discovered some English bookstores!

At Shakespeare & Sons (just around the corner from the Charles Bridge in Malá Strana), I immediately gravitated to the back room full of children's books and found several by the very talented Czech-born American author and illustrator Peter Sis.

Can you spot his picture book, Madlenka?  Madlenka's tooth is loose, and she wants everyone to know! Talk about an international city block! Her neighbors are -- a French baker, an Indian news vendor, an Italian ice-cream man, a Latin American grocer, a retired opera singer from Germany, an African American school friend, and an Asian shopkeeper.  As we look through die-cut windows to the images and memories they have carried from old country to new, we can see that Madlenka's block is as richly varied as its inhabitants.  (ages 4-8)

I was beyond excited about the second book I found by Peter Sis - The Pilot and the Little Prince.  My grandson is going to LOVE it!  Did you know that Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was a pilot before he was an author??  This fascinating biography is beautifully written and illustrated by Sis.  A must read for aspiring little pilots! (ages 5-8)

We also found an Expat bookstore - the largest English-language bookstore in Prague, with a cafe that serves an "American Style Weekend Brunch" and good coffee (yay!) - The Globe Bookstore and Cafe.

This bookstore caters to students, but on Sundays they offer a Storytime for Kids! 

They have a great children's section and I was super excited to find this brand new edition of P.L. Travers Mary Poppins illustrated by one of my favorites: Lauren Child!!!

Take a peek at my photos from the Christmas Market in Prague's Old Town Square...it was lovely!

Such a sight! Stay tuned: I found a beautiful used Christmas picture book (from 1931) at Shakespeare & Sons that I'll post about later, along with a favorite book about the Bohemian Good King Wenceslas!