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Monthly Archives: May 2016
Once there was a little girl. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” her mother asked. “I just want to stay little right now,” she said. “Why?” said her mother. “It’s nice to be grown up. Why do you want to be little?” “Because I am,” said the little girl, “and because when you are little you can do things you can’t when you grow up.”
So begins “I Like to be Little” by Charlotte Zolotow and illustrated by Erik Blegvad. It’s an endearing little book that does a wonderful job of reflecting how I think a child might choose to look at the world. In the process, it reminded us of some of the very best things about being small…while not forgetting to mention what I think is one of the very best things about growing up.
What are some of the things you get to do when you are little? Skip when you are glad, play under the dining room table, go barefoot in the summertime, draw with crayons, have birthday parties with cake and ice cream, jump in piles of leaves, eat snow as it falls from the sky, or sit and do nothing all day. Her mother asks questions to understand, and occasionally inserts observations, but mostly she listens patiently. Eventually, the mother informs her daughter that she knows something about being grown up that makes all those things happen again…you get to be the mother of a little girl of your own! “I know something as good as that,” the little girl says too her incredulous mother, “at night, after you kiss me and tuck me in, I can lie in bed and think of growing up to be like you…I like to know I’ll grow up some day. But right now, I like to be little.”
This is a really sweet and thoroughly delightful book. The way in which Ms. Zolotow’s little girl describes all the things which she likes about being little is charming, and reading it put a big smile on my face…that smile has appeared again as I think about it. It’s a great reminder to find the joy in little everyday events, and of the value of unstructured play. We also thought it was a particularly good selection for the Saturday before Mothers’ Day.
For our next Mother’s Day themed book, we had a little change of pace. Last night was a beautiful and moving tribute to family. Tonight was a plain old-fashioned laugh-out-loud good time. “Mommy, Pick Me Up” by Soledad Bravi is short on words and is illustrated with simple and colorful drawings, but it is full of humor – perhaps best falling under the category of “It’s Funny Because It’s True.”
Every page of this book rang true for us…and every one made me laugh. If you would like to know how mommy’s day was in our house…any day…we could probably just hand you this book and you’d be up to speed. Two of my favorite pages (splitting hairs here, because they were all pretty good) were the little boy sitting on the floor surrounded by blocks saying “Mommy? Can you help me build a tower?”, and the tried-and-true “Mommy snuggle” with a little boy resting his head on mommy’s shoulder; there’s not much better in the world than the shoulder snuggle. However, my very favorite spread…and I’m guessing I’m not alone…was the little boy calling out:
“YES!” says Daddy…
Yes – that about sums it up. I think I am finished here.
For the week leading up to Mother’s Day, we selected several books that have to do with motherhood and childhood. Our first such selection, “The Best Gifts” by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch and illustrated by Elly MacKay, is a particularly moving tribute to motherhood and to family. With Ms. Skrypuch’s warm and comforting words, and Ms. MacKay’s dreamy dioramas decorating every page, the book reminds us of the importance of special moments and the power of well loved family mementos to bring memories of those moments back, and that “the best gifts cans never be bought.”
The narrative of “The Best Gifts” traces a circle, following Sara and the key moments in her life – from breastfeeding with her mother as a baby to breastfeeding her own child. The book pauses for one of Sara’s birthdays, for college graduation, for Sara’s wedding, and finally for the birth of Sara’s own child. All along the way, there are celebrations and thoughtful gifts, but the very best gifts always come later…when Sara is “wrapped in love” at her mother’s breast, when she falls asleep to her father reading her a bed time story, or when she receives the wedding gift of an old photo album covered with fabric from her baby blanket.
There is some truly beautiful imagery at work in this book (e.g., mother’s milk swirling in Sara’s mouth, father’s words swirling in Sara’s head, a child feeling wrapped in love, and a light scent of sandalwood that later would bring back so many fond memories). Ms. MacKay’s unique style of illustration fits perfectly with the text. We all loved reading this book – all the more so because we are parents of two little girls. I can’t recommend this book enough; it is now a permanent part of our collection.
Side note: the edition we read was an updated version of the 1998 original – with new illustrations and some information on breastfeeding resources at the end.
In honor of National Firefighter’s Day on May 4, we read “The Little Fire Engine” by Lois Lenski. Originally published in 1946, this vintage picture book manages to maintain a timeless appeal. With a straightforward story, simple but colorful illustrations, and a fire engine (!), it certainly grabbed the attention of our youngest during story time.
Fireman Small is the fire chief of Tiny Town. When the alarm bell rings (“ding-ding! ding-ding-ding!”), he springs into action to save the day! He loads up his pumper truck and races off to the fire (“nang-nang-nang” goes the bell, “ooo-o-WEEE-ooo-oo-o-o” goes the siren). When they arrive at the fire, the firemen unload the hose, and put out the fire…but not before Fireman Small rescues a little girl and her cat from an upstairs window!
It’s a good old-fashioned story, with just the right amount of suspense and heroics to keep little listeners engaged. I love the old-school feel of the illustrations as well. Even for big kids, there’s something compelling about firetrucks and firemen – it’s a can’t-miss combination…and “The Little Fire Engine” was definitely a hit for us!
Another day and another wonderful storybook about wildflowers for National Wildflower Week. Barbara Cooney’s timeless classic, “Miss Rumphius”, is a modern day fable that tells the tale of how fields of lupine came to blanket the coast of Maine. Although the protagonist in Ms. Cooney’s book is fictional, like Lady Bird Johnson in yesterday’s storybook, Alice Rumphius seeks to make the world a more beautiful place through the gift of wildflowers. It is an enchanting and inspiring tale, made even more so by Ms. Cooney’s trademark old-timey illustrations which made us wish we could be inside the book with Miss Rumphius.
When Alice Rumphius was a little girl, she would sit on her grandfather’s knee as he told her of faraway places, and Alice would tell him, “When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I too will live beside the sea.” “That is all very well,” he would tell her, “but there is a third thing you must do…You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”
When she grew older, Alice (“Miss Rumphius” by now) did travel to faraway places – tropical islands, tall mountains, jungles, and deserts – making friends everywhere she went. And, eventually, when her travels were through, she did settle down in a quaint little house by the sea. However, while two out of three might not be bad for some people, it is not enough for Miss Rumphius: she cannot be completely happy until she has succeeded in making the world more beautiful. She is initially at a loss, since the world is “already pretty nice”, what more can she add? Then, one fine spring day she is surprised to discover a patch of lupines that have sprouted from seeds blown from her garden at home…and inspiration strikes! She hikes along the coast spreading lupine seeds wherever she goes and next spring…there are lupines everywhere! At last she has accomplished the most difficult task of all.
We love this story. I have adored Miss Cooney’s illustrations ever since reading Oxcart Man to our oldest daughter when she was still very little, and they are used to great effect in Miss Rumphius. The charming houses of the fishing village, the tall ships docking at the harbor, the fields full of flowers, even the illustrations of Miss Rumphius’ far-flung travels – they all made us wish we were there…wherever “there” was in each picture. We were also inspired by Miss Cooney’s tale to do some wildflower planting of our own. Knowing that this book was coming up, we placed an order for two big bags of lupine seeds…and while I felt as though I may have gone a bit overboard initially, after reading the book I wish I had even more seeds to spread about. I had better get to work, too, if I want to start making the world a more beautiful place.
May 2nd marked the beginning of National Wildflower Week. What better time to read about Lady Bird Johnson, the First Lady who brought us the Highway Beautification Act and the National Wildflower Research Center in Austin, Texas. “Miss Lady Bird’s Wildflowers” by Kathi Appelt and illustrated by Joy Fisher Hein is a vibrant and inspiring introduction to this remarkable woman who is still revered in her home state of Texas for the work she did to raise the profile of wildflowers and to help spread their natural beauty along the sides of highways across the country.
Having lived in Texas for over thirty years, I am embarrassed to admit that I didn’t previously know much about Lady Bird Johnson. I had been told at some point that she was responsible for the bluebonnet patches that blanket the highway medians around the state, and I had the sense that she had somehow achieved saint-like stature…but I really didn’t know any details. So, today’s book was particularly valuable for me if for no other reason than to fill in a woefully lacking gap in my (Texas) cultural literacy!
Ms. Appelt began by telling us about Lady Bird’s lonely childhood in East Texas, and how she found solace after the death of her mother in the wildflower meadows, piney woods, and dark bayous around her home. As a congressman’s wife in Washington DC many years later, Lady Bird was troubled by the lack of natural beauty she saw around the city, and the idea of children growing up surrounded only by concrete and asphalt. Following the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, in her new role as First Lady she sought to the help the country heal by working to promote the planting of flowers and trees around Washington DC, and by pushing for the passage of the Highway Beautification Act – which cleaned up the sides of highways around the country, replacing billboards and rusted cars with wildflowers. When she turned 70, she helped to establish the National Wildflower Research Center south of Austin, Texas to study uses for wildflowers and to preserve seeds of endangered varieties.
The book fills in a number of other details of Lady Bird’s life, including her storybook romance with Lyndon Johnson, with accessible language that avoids becoming a “laundry list” of events and accomplishments. Ms. Appelt also sprinkles the story with well-placed quotations from Lady Bird herself – giving some insight into the soul of this champion of wildflowers. Meanwhile, Ms. Hein’s illustrations help the reader to appreciate the beauty that Lady Bird saw in the wildflowers, woods, bayous, and hills of her home state.
“Miss Lady Bird’s Wildflowers” is a beautiful book and an apt tribute to our 38th First Lady. Next time I pull around a bend in the road and my breath is taken away by a field full of bluebonnets, I’ll remember to thank her.
American abstract artist Charles Green Shaw was born on May 1, 1892 – so in his honor, for the 122nd book of our storybook year we selected Mr. Shaw’s classic 1947 picture book “It Looked Like Spilt Milk”. With a simple and compelling blue and white color scheme and spare repetitive text, this is a timeless picture book that is great for family read aloud or for beginning readers to have a go on their own.
In a sense, “It Looked Like Spilt Milk” is a mystery book…albeit fairly elementary. If the ever-changing white silhouette on each page wasn’t spilt milk…what was it? [Spoiler Alert]: Eventually, the reader finds out that what at first looked like spilt milk was actually a cloud in the sky! The repetition and the number of alternatives (fourteen) before you get to the answer may lose some older listeners. However, the mystery – and the implied questions on every page – facilitated interaction that helped to keep our youngest engaged (“Sometimes it looked like a Squirrel.” Was it a squirrel? “…it wasn’t a squirrel”…so…what WAS it?).
I imagine that this book can also offer an opening for discussion of the other things that you may have seen in the clouds; who hasn’t enjoyed some time lying in the grass and looking for definition among the drifting shapes overhead? Which brings me to the other reason we chose this book: clouds!…a subject which fits nicely with our water cycle theme…even if the “April” showers are technically over now that we are in May.
Regardless, “It Looked Like Spilt Milk” is a classic picture book for a reason – I can’t imagine that it ever gets old or ever feels dated. Happy Birthday, Mr. Shaw…and thanks for the book!
If you’re the type that oohs and aahs
at furry faces, precious paws,
the words ahead may be alarming:
Animals aren’t always charming
So reads the disclaimer at the beginning of “The Pet Project” by Lisa Wheeler and illustrated by Zacharia O’Hara. It is a clever and captivating collection of cautionary compositions about picking the perfect pet. With heaps of humor from the rhythmic, rhyming prose and the witty, whimsical illustrations, “The Pet Project” is read-aloud gold!
The book centers on a young girl who asks her professorial parents for a pet. Responding to her request, mom and dad recommend research, advising our protagonist:
“Research, child is not a joke…Formulate a query…slowly plan your bestiary“. If their plan is to convince their daughter that she doesn’t need a pet, then it comes off (almost) perfectly. After working her way diligently through farm animals, woodland creatures, zoo beasties, and more traditional pets, and finding issues with each selection, our heroine arrives at the conclusion that her ideal pets may actually be…protozoa?
I had a lot of fun reading this book aloud. The rhythm varies from poem to poem, and the rhymes are clever. Some of the less desirable characteristics of the potential pets are also sure to get a giggle from younger listeners (the dove poops on her glasses, the cow lays a stinky pie at her feet, and the hippo has a horrible case of halitosis, etc.). Laid out like a field guide, the book is full of hand-written notes and comments in the margins that add to the humor (bonus: even the comments in the insets rhyme!). And then there are the expressive and engaging illustrations (if the gross-outs in the poems don’t get a giggle, the accompanying pictures surely will).
We are sad to leave National Poetry Month behind as we head into May…but I can confidently claim that we thoroughly enjoyed the month right down to the very last read-aloud word of “The Pet Project”!
In honor of Arbor Day on April 29, we read “A Tree is Nice” by Janice May Udry and illustrated by Marc Simont. A lovely cover illustration, and an atypically tall and narrow layout drew us to this book immediately. Inside, the simple but delightful prose from Ms. Udry shares multiple ways in which a tree can be special. The Caldecott Medal-winning illustrations from Mr. Simont picture in enchantingly abstract detail all the wonderfully fun activities described in the text. It’s a combination that makes for a great read-aloud, and it’s an attractive book for inspiring beginning readers.
As Ms. Udry reminds us, trees are wonderful for so many reasons: leaves whispering in the breeze or providing soft piles for play in the fall; limbs for climbing and playing pirate ship or for hanging a swing; trunks against which to sit in the shade and rest…even (in some cases) apples for snacking! Perhaps best of all for Arbor Day, if you plant a tree and you tell people about it, they will wish they had one and will plant a tree too!
Mr. Simont’s drawings, alternating vibrant color (especially in fall) with black and white, look sort of like rough sketches – which adds to the charm. In fact, as a veteran doodler, the drawings looked to me like exactly the sort of simple but compelling work that might inspire a budding artist to pull out their own sketch book and go to work. We loved all the life and activity taking place around the trees, and I was particularly fond of the tree growing from the rocks by the sea; it made me wish I were inside the book myself.
All in all, this is a beautiful little book about subjects we love – trees and playing outside. I believe now I will step out and have a go on the swing hanging from the live oak in our own front yard!
So…it’s April and you’re looking for a book about seasons that also has poetry – you know, for National Poetry Month? Well, have we got the book for you! “Swing Around the Sun” is a charming collection of seasonal poems by Barbara Juster Esbensen about the colors, events, and feelings that we typically identify with each of the seasons. It’s a book that is a joy to read aloud, and with seasonally appropriate illustrations blanketing every page in color, it’s also an engaging work of art.
We were originally alerted to “Swing Around the Sun” by author Laura Purdie Salas – who mentioned that book as one of her inspirations during an online author event several weeks back at Read Aloud Revival. Ms. Esbensen has written five short and engaging poems for each season, with our favorite being “The Wind Woman”…in part because of the dramatic illustration that seems to show the face of the Wind Woman flying over the shadows of trees in the evergreen forest of winter.
Originally published in 1965, “Swing Around the Sun” was reissued in 2003 with an all-star cast of four illustrators – each one applying a unique style and creating a particular feeling around each of the seasons. As a side note, I did think it was interesting that each of the four illustrators currently lives in the Twin Cities in Minnesota. While I thought each artist’s style was appropriate for the chosen season, our favorite illustrations in their own right were Janice Lee Porter’s for Summer.
This was a very entertaining picture book, and one which I am glad to have added to our collection (poetry books are particularly nice to be able to pick up and read again and again). I will admit that I had to order a copy of the original 1965 edition as well, if only because I love the old-school look of the orange and yellow sun illustration on the front cover. Hey – having two copies can’t hurt…can it? We’re not entirely buried in books yet!