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Category Archives: Holiday
For Mothers’ Day, we read an adorable new book called “You Made Me a Mother”, by Laurenne Sala and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. First published in March of this year, “You Made Me a Mother” is short on text but long on moving imagery. In this sweet picture book, Ms. Sala provides a tear-jerking tribute to the magic that is motherhood, making it a perfect fit for our Mothers’ Day read aloud.
“You Made Me a Mother” is written in the first person, with a mommy talking to her little one about how much having a child has changed her life for the better. The narrative takes the reader from the excitement and apprehension of pregnancy, to the “big fat love” of a mommy holding her baby for the first time, to a day somewhere in the future when that same little baby will finally be ready to “let go” of her mommy’s hand. Along the way, Ms. Glasser – whose style you may recognize from her work on the Fancy Nancy books – creates wonderfully expressive scenes that fit the text perfectly.
Ms. Sala succeeds in capturing the feelings I feel are most special about motherhood. I loved the mother’s realization that she would spend her life doing things to make her little one happy, and the feeling of magic she experiences when she hears her little on say her name and take her hand. I know both feelings quite intimately – as well as this one: “If I could, I would open my heart, and love would rain down all over you. And you would giggle. And I’d do it all over again. And we would walk hand in hand. Until you let go.”
Even though it has been over 12 years since I first became a mother, every time I look at this book I am lump-in-my-throat reminded of just how overwhelmingly magical becoming a mother truly was/is. Thank you Ms. Sala and Ms. Glasser for expressing my feelings so beautifully and in a way that allows me to easily share them with my children on Mothers’ Day and everyday.
It feels a little bit too early to be celebrating Easter before March is even over, but here we are! In honor of the holiday, we celebrated with some egg hunting, some paper crafts, and – of course – storybooks! It’s been a holiday-filled month, with several days that merited their own book bundles: Pi Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and National Quilting Day. For Easter, however, we went a step further. After sprinkling our reading list with rabbit and egg-themed books over the past week, today we read four books specifically about Easter.
The first book, “Easter” by Gillian Houghton, was a brief primer on the holiday in English and Spanish, providing some background regarding the religious significance of the day and some of the symbols and traditions that people associate with Easter. With that groundwork laid, we moved on to three charming picture books which were enjoyed by all.
“Bunny’s Easter Egg” is a sweet and simple story about a tired little bunny looking for a quiet place to rest after a long night of hiding eggs. Too exhausted to do any more work, bunny puts one final egg in her own basket and settles in for a nice snooze…but the egg starts crackling and bumping! Seeking a more peaceful location for her well-deserved nap, bunny hops from one potential resting place to another – but whether due to noisy birds, a prickly hedgehog, squeaky mice, or any number of other disturbances, no location is quite as nice as her basket. Eventually, she returns home for a brief snooze before waking to find that the last egg has hatched her a brand new friend – a fluffy little duckling!
We liked Ms. Mortimer’s cute and fluffy illustrations. There is also some repetitive text in the book which is nice for beginning readers, and creates a fun way to interact when reading aloud with little ones. After reading it through a few times, you can ask little listeners to help you to fill in the blanks (for example: “oh no, I can’t sleep here, it’s far too…noisy, squeaky, busy, etc.”)
The Easter Egg by Jan Brett
“The Easter Egg” by Jan Brett is a charming parable about a little rabbit named Hoppi with big dreams and an even bigger heart. Every year the Easter Bunny selects the rabbit with the most amazing egg to help him hide eggs for the children to find on Easter morning. Seeking inspiration for his first egg, Hoppi hops from one house to the next observing how each rabbit applies his or her special talent to create spectacularly decorated eggs. Before Hoppi can decide how to start on his own project, however, he comes across an egg that has fallen from Mother Robin’s nest. Hoppi offers to keep Mother Robin’s egg safe and warm while she tends to her other eggs still in the nest, and he stays with it until it hatches into a little baby bird. When the Easter Bunny arrives to judge everyone’s creations he is impressed with all the beautifully decorated eggs. However, it is the empty blue shell of Hoppi’s egg that the Easter Bunny selects as the most special of all.
“The Easter Egg” is a beautiful book, richly adorned with Ms. Brett’s characteristically detailed and beautiful illustrations. As in other Jan Brett books we have read, we found stories taking place not only in the middle of the page but in the margins as well. We also appreciated how, with all of the artistic talent displayed by the other rabbits in the story, it is Hoppi’s kindness that makes his egg exceptional. It may be an inspirational message for some children to hear that attributes like a big heart or a kind soul can be “talents” just as much as skill at painting or woodworking.
“The Country Bunny” is a delightful book whose bright colors and vintage illustrations are particularly inviting. There is something about the look and feel of this book that just makes you want to pick it up and page through it; it has been a favorite selection in our house ever since we acquired a copy.
The story centers on Mrs. Cottontail (the “Country Bunny” of the title) and her childhood dream of one day becoming an Easter bunny. She grows up, gets married, and has twenty-one (!) children, and presumably lets go of her dream. Once her children are old enough and well trained enough to run the house on their own, however, Mrs. Cottontail is presented with an opportunity: one of the five Easter bunnies has grown too slow, and Grandfather Bunny must select a replacement. While she has no expectation of being chosen, and while there is no shortage of applicants who are swift enough for the job, it is only Mrs. Cottontail who is singled out by Grandfather Bunny as also being kind enough and wise enough. Eventually, Mrs. Cottontail also proves herself the bravest of the bunnies, earning Grandfather Bunny’s admiration and the golden shoes of the title.
Originally published in 1939, “The Country Bunny” has an endearing old-time feel, although the feminist theme that you can have it all as a woman – motherhood and a successful career – seems like a more modern concept. I found it to be a soothing, reassuring story – even if suspension of disbelief was a challenge at times (twenty-one children left home alone who keep the house spotless and tuck themselves into bed on time?). Most of all, however, I am glad we have the book because we all like to hold the book and look at it. Everyone in our house agreed that this one is our favorite.
I may have forgotten to put on any green this morning, but that doesn’t mean we weren’t prepared to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a bundle of carefully selected, holiday-themed story books. We had five books this evening, and I felt four were truly worthy of mention here.
If you have a holiday coming up, it’s always a good idea to make sure you have a Gail Gibbons book queued up for the reading list. Her picture books are a great way to introduce the history and traditions of a holiday in a form that is accessible to younger listeners, while almost always sharing some information that is new to the adults in the room as well.
“St. Patrick’s Day” is a relatively quick read but still manages to provide a brief biography of St. Patrick and explain his significance to the Irish people while also introducing all the major symbols people associate with the holiday (except for green beer). New knowledge I acquired from Ms. Gibbons this evening included the fact that St. Patrick was not originally Irish (he was English?!?), that the holiday was first celebrated in (what would become) the United States in 1737 in Boston, and that St. Patrick used the three-leafed shamrock to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity.
Overall, it was a great introduction to a fun and festive holiday, and an entertaining start to our St. Patrick’s day book bundle.
“Fiona’s Lace” by Patricia Polacco isn’t a St. Patrick’s Day book per se. It is a story about a family – the family of Ms. Polacco’s great-great-grandmother Fiona – who emigrated to the United States from Ireland. Like one of our favorite Christmas books “An Orange for Frankie” (another Polacco creation), “Fiona’s Lace” takes a chapter from Ms. Polacco’s family history and turns it into a delightfully moving storybook that the entire family can enjoy together.
Fiona lives in the little village of Glen Kerry, Ireland – not far from Limerick – with her mother, Annie, her father, Mick, and her sister, Ailish. Ailish never tires of hearing their father tell the story of how he and Annie met, and how he was led straight to her door by the pieces of homemade lace she had tied to lamp posts and bushes all along the way. Annie is no longer able to make lace due to the arthritis afflicting her hands, but she is confident that her oldest daughter Fiona’s lacework is destined to be the pride of Limerick.
Unfortunately for Fiona’s family, the textile mill on which the town of Glen Kerry depends for its livelihood is shutting down. Where can the family go to find work? The O’Flarity’s next door have a possible solution: sign a contract to be in domestic service for a rich family in return for passage to America – a country where, Ailish assures Fiona, “…servants have servants of their own.” With tearful farewells, Mick and the girls pack up their belongings and head for Chicago.
After a long and challenging ocean voyage from Ireland to New York, followed by a similarly draining train ride from New York to Chicago, Fiona’s family arrives at their new home. However, what they find is not the land of bounty that Ailish anticipated – it’s a two room apartment in a rundown area of town that they must share with another family – the O’Flaritys from Glen Kerry! Mrs. O’Flarity educates Fiona’s family on the reality of their new situation: with all of their wages from domestic work going to pay off the cost of their tickets to America, the only way to survive is to find a second job – which they do (Annie scrubbing linens in a local hotel, and Mick at the slaughterhouse).
But there is hope! Mrs. O’Flarity mentions a dressmaker who is looking for fine Irish lace like that which Fiona makes. When presented with Fiona’s samples, the dressmaker tells Annie: “We’ll buy as much as the girl can make!”. Celebrations ensue back at the apartment – Mick talks of using the earnings from selling Fiona’s lace to move the family to their own farm, across the lake in Michigan. That evening, however, while Mick and Annie are working their second jobs, a fire – presumably the Chicago fire – comes tearing through the neighborhood and Fiona and Ailish must flee. They make it to safety, but how will their mother and father find them?
Inspired by Ailish’s favorite story about their parents, Fiona cuts up her beautiful – and now extremely valuable – lace and uses it to mark a path to a basement where the girls eventually lie down to sleep. The next morning, shortly after they awake, they hear a familiar voice cry out “My lambs…my meek little lambs!” It is their father and mother at last – overjoyed at having found their girls amid the devastation of the fire. Ailish is heartbroken over the destruction of Fiona’s lace, but Mick assures them both that their family “…and generations after…will cherish this lace…always!” And they do; according to Ms. Polacco’s end note, those pieces of lace continue to be family heirlooms to this day.
“Fiona’s Lace” is a moving story about the importance of family, of relying on each other and persevering. It is also set against a fascinating backdrop of Irish and American history, and Ms. Polacco’s epilogue adds to the impact of the story by letting the reader know that the tale has tentacles into her life today – that it is part of her family’s lore.
The towns of Tralee and Tralah have been rivals “for as far back as anyone can remember.” The two burgs compete with each other annually for the prize of best St. Patrick’s Day decorations – a prize awarded by the official county judge in the form of a golden shamrock. It is a prize that Tralee has never won, but with each defeat they remain confident of next year’s triumph, despite their track record and the taunts from the people of Tralah.
This year, little Fiona Riley has a foolproof plan – the people of Tralee must paint the town green…entirely green (except, of course, for the mailboxes which are government property, and the fire hydrants which must remain yellow in order to be seen). Everyone agrees this is an excellent plan, and they all set to work on this arduous task – while their counterparts in Tralah work assiduously to decorate their own town with glittery cardboard shamrocks.
One day before St. Patrick’s day, a stranger (who looks suspiciously like a leprechaun) rides into Tralah seeking aid. His cows have become stuck in a nearby river and he must free them quickly. Unfortunately, the haughty people of Tralah are too busy to spare any time for the stranger, who is forced to seek assistance in Tralee. Led by the example of little Fiona, the people of Tralee are persuaded to abandon their brushes (and their best chance yet to defeat Tralah) so that they may help the stranger wrest his herd from the mud at the bottom of the river. Upon completing the task, they arrive home too exhausted to finish decorating – and they all fall asleep with the town only partially painted.
When they awake, they find that every inch of Tralee has indeed been painted green (except of course for the mailboxes and fire hydrants – as previously explained). There is cheering, whooping, and hollering – and the people of Tralee are finally awarded the golden shamrock; their trophy case is empty no more. When they rush to tell the stranger of their good fortune, however, the only trace of him is a single golden cow bell left in a field. The grateful people of Tralee place the cow bell next to their trophy – on which little Fiona’s name has been inscribed – and decide that they will no longer compete with Tralah. From this day forward they will celebrate and decorate as they will with no regard for judges or prizes, but simply for the sheer joy of it.
I loved reading this book. The oil paint illustrations fill every page with deep and vibrant color, and the text is almost like a song with all the Irish names and expressions: O’Learys and McLeans, Reverend Flaherty, Brogan O’Neill, Fiona Riley, and a little man who keeps exclaiming “sure and begorra” when explaining how his cows are stuck in the mud. It’s a thoroughly satisfying conclusion, as well, with the kind-hearted people of Tralee richly rewarded and finally able to (figuratively) take their ball and go home so they can play their own game according to their own rules.
Oh – and more cowbell! Sorry, had to.
This book was very silly and fun. It’s based on the children’s song “Michael Finnegan” and is meant to be sung. Unfortunately for our family, I did not know the tune of the song until I looked it up online later in the evening – but I think everyone enjoyed it…I sure did. It’s repetitive, but the repetition is entertaining, and there’s something about saying the name Michael Finnegan – especially with an Irish accent – that makes me smile. The book also wins extra points because when we first bought it, our youngest wanted to hear it read again and again.
In this extended version of the song, Michael plays the violin frequently but never very well. He becomes rich being paid not to play, is laughed at by his family for never actually getting any better, and eventually finds a soul mate in a little dog, Quinn, who loves his music. The book ends with the exuberant lines:
Michael takes his violin-igan,
Quinn sits up and starts to grin-igan,
Kisses Michael on his chin-igan,
Happy Michael Finnegan, begin-igan!
And in closing…
May your glass be ever full.
May the roof over your head be always strong.
And may you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead.
There are many great Irish toasts that could be mentioned here, but I have always especially appreciated this one. Sláinte!
In honor of Pi Day and Albert Einstein’s birthday today we had another “holiday bundle”. (A brief aside: one of my favorite things about A Storybook Year is how many new holidays we have to celebrate. I think I’ve mentioned this fact before, and I apologize ahead of time for the fact that I will doubtless say it again). Our bundle included several entertaining books, and I will attempt to give each its due here.
Our feature selection today was “The Blueberry Pie Elf” by Jane Thayer and illustrated by Seymour Fleishman. It is a darling little book about an elf named Elmer who loves blueberry pie and whose taste for this delicious confection causes him to go to great lengths to make his love known.
Elmer lives in a house with “some people” who don’t know he’s there because, as Ms. Thayer informs us, “no one can see an elf, no one can hear an elf, and no one can feel an elf.” One day, Elmer helps the people pick blueberries and roll dough for a blueberry pie. After the people go to bed that evening, Elmer jumps into the pie dish and eats “till his elfin stomach bulged.” He then cleans his feet out of courtesy to the people, and curls up in a tea cup to sleep. When he wakes, however, he finds to his dismay that the rest of the pie is gone; consumed by the people for breakfast(?!?). Elmer has a new purpose in life: to find more blueberry pie. Since Elmer can’t be seen, heard, or felt, he begins to take care of chores around the house (sweeping, cleaning dishes, making the bed), hoping that his kind deeds for the people will cause them to make another blueberry pie. However, while they appreciate the efforts of this unseen individual, the people have no way of knowing what it is that Elmer wishes them to do in return. Elmer is distraught; he paces, closes his eyes tight, even hides his head under a pillow trying to block out visions of blueberry pie…to no avail. Meanwhile, the people do bake pies – but not the right ones: apple (yuck), pumpkin (he turns up his nose), and cherry (too sour). However, after sampling the cherry pie, he forgets to clean his feet and leaves tiny footprints on the table. Aha! When the people find the footprints later, they realize at last that they have an elf in the house – that is who has been so helpful lately! If only they knew what to do to thank him…suddenly, while admiring his cherry footprints, Elmer has an epiphany! He jumps into the pie dish and uses his cherry-covered feet to write “Blueberry Pie Please”. At long last, Elmer’s wish is answered – the people make him a blueberry pie, and the book ends with a heart-felt “Thank You” spelled out on the table with blueberry pie filling.
We found a lot to appreciate about this book. Mr. Fleishman’s vintage illustrations add a significant amount of charm to this quaint parable, and what parent wouldn’t appreciate Elmer’s attempt to “earn” more blueberry pie by working hard and being helpful. Elmer is not only hard working, but considerate: until his happy mistake with the cherry pie, he is has the good manners to wipe his feet whenever he helps himself to some dessert, and he remembers to use his polite words (“please” and “thank you”). He is the quintessential model of good behavior! I fear this message was lost on our oldest, unfortunately; when we later discovered that some of her oatmeal from breakfast had dribbled down the cabinet drawers onto the kitchen floor, she seemed unperturbed and simply suggested that perhaps Elmer had been enjoying the oatmeal. Oh well, we shall take our own lesson from this book: don’t give up. Elmer wouldn’t.
“How to Make an Apple Pie And See the World” by Marjorie Priceman is an exuberant and silly tale about the great lengths one COULD go to in order to make an apple pie. You see, the recipe is rather simple: “get all the ingredients at the market…mix them well, bake, and serve…unless, of course, the market is closed.” When one door closes, another opens, however – and Ms. Priceman takes us on a humorously extreme alternate route to gathering the necessary ingredients which involves a trip around the world in planes, trains, and automobiles, stowed in a banana boat, plopped unceremoniously in a bicycle basket, carried on the end of an elephant trunk, and dropped from a plane into a Vermot apple orchard before heading back home.
Ms. Priceman’s tale is funny and entertaining, and her trip around the world is also informative. The book actually provides a little geography lesson, not only in terms of where certain countries are around the world, but in terms of the kinds of food you would want to gather there (e.g., semolina wheat from Italy, cinnamon from Sri Lanka, and sugar cane from Jamaica).
“Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pie” by Cindy Newuschwander and illustrated by Wayne Geehan is a mathematical fairy tale decorated with rich pastel drawings and full of all sorts of Pi-related puns. The story centers on Radius, the son of Sir Cumference, who inadvertently turns his father into a dragon when he brings him the wrong remedy for his heartburn. Alerted to the presence of a dragon in the kingdom, knights begin gathering from all across the countryside and Radius is in a race against time to turn his father back to human form before he is slain. There is a remedy, but Radius must be careful to give just the right dose, a dose which is the same as the ratio between the circumference of a circle and the diameter. With some help from his mother (Lady Di of Ameter) and the Metry brothers (Geo and Sym), Radius eventually determines that all circles have the same ratio – and he administers a dose of 3 1/7 spoonfuls to his grateful father who parades his son back into a town for a celebratory helping of pie.
We love math (see our dorky reason for picking “Waiting” by Kevin Henkes) and I am particularly fond of bad puns – so this book was perfect for us. It’s not just silliness, however. The expression on the face of the dragon that dominates the cover of the book is the only hint that the characters are in on the joke. There is some real math education here in the context of an engaging story; I actually became pretty invested in Radius and was really pulling for him to figure things out.
Albert Einstein’s Birthday
“I am Albert Einstein” by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos was a lot of fun to read. Mr. Meltzer’s books are sized just right to be attractive to little hands, and he presents his subjects in a very accessible way – with a combination of simple text and amusing comic strip vignettes (aided significantly by Mr. Eliopoulos’ expressive and playful style of illustration). We read one of Mr. Meltzer’s other kid-centric biographies for Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, but I did not read the little comics out loud at that point – which appears to have been a mistake. I did fortunately read the comics out loud in this evening’s Meltzer selection, and the exchanges therein between Albert and other characters from his life were consistently the funniest parts of the book; did you know that Albert Einstein had awesome hair?
The idea that you could be so misunderstood by everyone around you as a child, or even as a young adult, and yet go on to become widely acknowledged as one of the smartest men ever to have lived, is tremendously appealing. Yes, Albert Einstein’s life story is an inspiring one, and Mr. Meltzer’s book is a great introduction to that story for younger kids.
It was Valentine’s Day today! How appropriate that out of our sizable bundle of holiday books we found so many to love (check out our Instagram page here and here)! We enjoyed all of our books this evening, but in the end there were four that we felt compelled to list here, starting with everyone’s favorite: “Valentine” by Carol Carrick.
“Valentine” tells the story of a very special Valentine’s Day experience for little Heather, who lives on a farm with her mama and grandma. After unsuccessfully pleading with her mama to stay home from work for the holiday, Heather makes Valentine cookies with grandma, including a heart-shaped cookie just for mama. The real adventure begins, however, when Heather and grandma go out to check on grandma’s favorite sheep, Clover, who has just given birth to three baby lambs, one of which is only barely alive. Heather and grandma work diligently to revive the little lamb, and by the time mama gets home the little lamb is safe and resting by the fire and Heather has christened him “Valentine”. We all loved this book with it’s heartwarming story and joyful watercolor illustrations. We thought it was particularly cute how Heather is cared for by her grandma while her mama is busy at work, and that she in turn cares for the little lamb whose own mother is too busy with two other newborns to give him the special attention he needs. It also reminded us of some of the James Herriot stories that are already on our Favorites list.
Our second book, “I Like You” by Sandol Stoddard Warburg, is a tribute to deep and abiding friendship. It is a very funny little book, its pages filled with whimsical illustrations. Each little vignette looks at the connection between friends from a slightly different angle, some of the which sound nonsensical at first, but all of which ring true. Although a very different type of book from “Valentine”, “I Like You” is heartfelt in its own way, and every single page made us smile.
The other two books tonight that we particularly liked were “Hug Time” by Patrick McDonnell, and “The Very Special Valentine” by Maggie Kneen. “Hug Time” is a spare but charming little story with rhyming prose and adorable illustrations about a little cat named Jules who is trying the make the world a better place by hugging everyone. We liked “The Very Special Valentine” because it was interactive – with sparkly inserts and flaps to pull back as Bunny Gray searches for the perfect Valentine.
All in all it was a pretty special Valentine’s Day around our house, I hope the same is true for you.
Today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday – and in his honor we had a holiday bundle tonight: three books about the life of our sixteenth president. Of the three, the consensus favorite was “Abe Lincoln – the Boy Who Loved Books” by Kay Winters. The stories in each book overlapped each other to a certain extent, and all were full of anecdotes about “Honest Abe”. The thing that took the day for Ms. Winters’ storybook was the illustrations – which were quaint and colorful oil paintings in an old-fashioned style. It also had the biggest pages of our three books tonight, which made it easier to share the illustrations with everyone around the table.
Each selection this evening was geared toward a younger audience – with the focus on Abe’s childhood and formative years. Each emphasized the importance of books in his life, talked about how Abe was mostly self-taught (he only attended school for one year!), and how he was awakened as a young man to the evils of slavery. Our favorite book did not discuss the Civil War, although that subject was covered, however briefly, in our other two books. None mentioned his assassination by John Wilkes Booth, but all three stressed how he understood and harnessed the power of words to inspire people in his time, and still today.
The other two books this evening, while not favorites, are still worth checking out – and we will be reading them again:
- “I Am Abraham Lincoln” by Brad Meltzer is one of many biographies for children by this author. The book’s size makes it just right for smaller hands and the narrative is simple and direct. These facts along with illustrations – reminiscent of Calvin & Hobbes – which portray the subject as a small boy throughout may make this storybook particularly attractive to little ones…if they can get past Abe Lincoln presented as a toddler with a beard.
- “My Best Friend, Abe Lincoln” by Robert L. Bloch provides an account of many of the same events covered in tonight’s other storybooks, but the story is told from the point of view of a fictional best friend. It was a different sort of angle, and the idea of being best friends with a young Abe Lincoln may be compelling to some readers or listeners. We enjoyed the change of pace…and our little one has asked to read this particular book several times now.
For extended reading time tonight, our activity was making valentines. In honor of the approaching holiday, and to help explain the activity, our storybook this evening was “Valentine’s Day Is…” by Gail Gibbons.
In Ms. Gibbons’ book we read a little of the the history behind Valentine’s day, heard about the symbols people typically associate with the holiday, and saw the many ways people celebrate it. There are colorful illustrations in the book and a simple enough narrative to keep younger listeners engaged while providing them a pretty thorough introduction to the holiday. At last, an explanation for all those pink and red hearts that appear all over Target shortly after New Year’s Day! Our little one was quite interested in this book, and loved making valentines after we read it.
As I have noted in prior posts, we have always been pleased to find good “storybooks” that are grounded in reality and provide information about how and why the world around us works the way it does. Gail Gibbons has written a slew of these kinds of books, most of which are available at our public library. I expect we will see her name come up frequently through the year.
Tuesday was another holiday-bundle day. This time we had three books about Groundhog Day – the day when what is essentially an overgrown ground squirrel plays weatherman and lets us know whether Spring will arrive early or late. If the groundhog steps out on a sunny day and sees his shadow, we are in for several more weeks of winter. If he steps out on a cloudy, dreary day and does not see his shadow, Spring is on it’s way. The holiday apparently has its origins with German immigrants who had historically relied upon hedgehogs as their prognosticators of Primavera before arriving in America. However, when they set foot in Pennsylvania they were unable to find any hedgehogs and were consequently forced to rely upon groundhogs (also known as woodchucks) to help them plan for Spring.
“Punxsutawney Phyllis” by Susanna Leonard Hill
is a play on the name of the world’s most famous groundhog: Punxsutawney Phil. In fact, Phyllis is a member of Phil’s family – the current “Phil” being the latest in a long line of Phils over the years. Phyllis has senses that are keenly attuned to the changing of the seasons and she eventually succeeds in convincing her uncle, currently filling the role of Punxsutawney Phil, that she is his one true heir – despite the admonitions of her brother and her cousin that a girl can’t take on the famous role. We particularly liked the “What is Groundhog Day” page at the end of the book which included old English, Scottish, and German sayings about Candlemas Day. In Scotland, for example, the saying was, “If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year.”
The cutest illustrations of the evening were in the book “It’s Up to You, Griffin!” by Susan T. Pickford. Griffin is a groundhog who is given a special task by Mother Nature. He must rise earlier than all the other hibernating groundhogs to let the other animals in the forest know that Spring is on the way. Griffin is honored to the point of distraction, and frets over the importance of his new role…will he be up to the task? Spoiler alert: he is!…albeit, after a little hiccup where he arises a little too early and is freaked out by his own shadow. When he reemerges several weeks later, however, the time is finally right and Griffin dances through the forest spreading the good news that Spring has arrived.
Our third holiday-themed book this evening was “The Secret of the First One Up” by Iris Hiskey Arno. The secret? That the first groundhog who emerges from hibernation has the honor of letting the other animals in the forest know whether Spring is ready to arrive. Lila the groundhog learns that there is a “secret of the first one up” from her uncle but doesn’t learn the secret itself until she arises first and emerges to a crowd of expectant forest animals. This book has been very popular with our youngest, who has been playfully aware of her own shadow over the past week. One disclaimer, our family has taken the liberty of substituting “magic” for “secret” in our reading. We prefer that interpretation, and it fits better with the fact that we teach keeping surprises, but not secrets in our family.
This evening we read the first of what we hope to be many holiday themed books this year. Today, our first holiday “theme” was Martin Luther King Day – and we picked out a couple books (one of which we read aloud ourselves and one of which was read to us).
Our first book was read to us by LeVar Burton of Reading Rainbow – via YouTube : “A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr.” by David Adler. To watch the video, we pulled the computer monitor up to the dinner table and heard about how Martin Luther King, Jr. became the leader of the Civil Rights Movement. We followed up the YouTube video with our own book: “What Was Your Dream, Dr King?” by Mary Kay Carson, which asked and answered questions about Martin Luther King’s life, his philosophy, and his accomplishments. Both books provided not only a great opportunity to learn more about MLK, but the background discussion of the legacy of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s provided a nice bookend to our first two extended read-aloud books: “Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
For extended read-aloud, we began “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller – a “great American novel” that I really enjoyed reading when I was in high-school with a title that has become part of the English language in its own right – that’s some catch, that Catch-22. Unfortunately, I think it was not to be…at least for now. We had some trouble getting everyone’s attention this evening – whether it was the book or not, I think we will look for something different tomorrow and save this one for later. It’s still a great book, but maybe not the right book for the time being.