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Day 46 – Presidents’ Day

Our holiday bundle for Presidents’ Day included three books about George Washington that we really enjoyed. All three included varying degrees of detail regarding the life of our first president, and all of them provided that detail in a way that was easy to follow and accessible to young listeners.

Our favorite was “A Picture Book of George Washington” by David Adler, picture georgeand illustrated by John & Alexandra Wallner. The book spans George’s entire life from his birth on February 22, 1732 to his death in 1799, discussing key events and developments that are important to understanding who he was and why he was such an important historical figure. The brief but informative text is nicely complimented by the colorful and inviting illustrations, each of which covers two full pages in the book. Mr. Adler actually has several “A Picture Book of…” biographies – one of which we “watched” being read on Reading Rainbow for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and one of which we wanted to have for Lincoln’s birthday but could not find at the local library in time. I expect we will be reading his work again, particularly if we can find some more books where he is paired with these illustrators.

“George Washington” by Wil Mara george textbookwas more of a textbook that our first selection – but once again geared toward very young readers. Of our three Washington books, “George Washington” included the most historical information – with call-outs and “fast fact” bubbles to supplement the text on every page. The book is also built for small hands – just the kind of book that invites aspiring readers to sit and flip through it on their own if it is left within reach.

One key concept which was hinted at but not called out explicitly here or in Mr. Adler’s book was just how important George Washington’s standards of leadership and character while president were to the development and sustainability of our fledgling nation; had he been anyone other than who he was, the United States may never have survived in its current form. However, I can not find fault with either book on this score – that concept, which incorporates some opinion as well as fact, may be added in if the reader believes it is appropriate. I would not have changed the way either book went about telling their stories.

Our third book about “the father of our nation” was more whimsical than the non-fiction works above. It was also a tad unsettling for those of us with tooth issues. “George Washington’s Teeth” by Deborah Chandra & Madeleine Comora teethis a rhyming book about George’s famously fake teeth. The rhyming text makes the book particularly attractive for read aloud, and Brock Cole’s watercolor illustrations are full of interest and not a little comedy (look closely at all the funny facial expressions). The authors walk through key events in George’s adult life, events with which many of us are already familiar – or should be after reading our first two books – but which now take on additional depth and color as we see George losing teeth and suffering through toothaches…until at last he is toothless. Fortunately, his dentist saves the day with a mouth full of false teeth made of ivory (I had always thought they were wooden myself!)

Hope your Presidents’ Day was a happy one one. See you tomorrow!

Day 42- Huge Harold

Bill Peet’s “Huge Harold” Haroldstarts out as a very small rabbit with feet that are two times too big for a rabbit of his size – a “sign” says his father, that Harold will grow to “great height”…and boy, does he! Based on the illustrations, Harold appears to be all of ten feet tall and about as awkward as can be. Now, it ain’t easy for a rabbit of this size to hide out…from hungry predators or from well-armed farmers. However, in the end, Harold finds his true calling as a carriage horse – and eventually champion trotter – in the stables of the kind Orville B. Croft.

Although it took a few pages, our youngest did eventually get sucked into the story. Your friendly neighborhood narrator was into it from page one, but I’m a sucker for Bill Peet books – especially the ones that rhyme. We didn’t love seeing the gun-toting farmers in a children’s book (there are a few in the Whingdingdilly as well), but only one of the farmers actually takes a shot at Harold – and the rest of the book, including the ending, is entertaining and heartwarming enough to get past it.

I Do Not Like Nelly Dean

Seeking the answer to a rather simple question this weekend, we opened up an entirely new, intriguing, and entertaining window on Wuthering Heights. None of us has been terribly fond of Nelly Dean, the primary narrator of the story, since early on in our reading. A surface interpretation of the story could leave the reader thinking that Nelly is merely a humble servant recounting history as she saw it. I believe that is how Mr. Lockwood is intended to see her. For our own part, we have taken a somewhat different view. As we have made our way through the novel, Nelly has struck us variously as gossipy, astoundingly and cruelly negligent, and even abusive. Her lack of action in several circumstances not only failed to avoid catastrophe, but caused it.

Humble servant, negligent gossip or conniving and abusive? We weren’t sure exactly how Nelly was to be taken. At times we felt as though we were supposed to find her a sympathetic character, as she has attempted to portray herself to Lockwood. Eventually, however, our curiosity and uneasiness led us to seek corroboration; is there anyone else who has developed a similarly dim view of her character. Well, imagine our surprise…there is a fairly large community of people who view Nelly Dean as the villain of Wuthering Heights.

Over the next several nights we will be taking a slight detour on our extended read-aloud, looking over a 1958 essay by James Hafley: “The Villain of Wuthering Heights” in order to see whether we agree.