Tag Archives: candace fleming

Day 140 – Boxes for Katje

We have been fortunate this year to have come across all kinds of outstanding read-aloud books; I have to keep a tab open on my browser for thesaurus.com just to keep track of all the different ways to say “wonderful”! Today’s book, Candace Fleming’s “Boxes for Katje,” is no exception. Based on real-life events in the life of Ms. Fleming’s mother, “Boxes for Katje” is an uplifting tale of generosity – of strangers working together and reaching across an ocean to share some of their own good fortune with those in need.katje

After World War II, the country of Holland, like much of continental Europe, was devastated. What might otherwise have been considered basic necessities (soap, socks, clothing without holes) became extremely rare. Imagine the excitement in the Dutch town of Olst when Postman Kleinhoonte pedals up one morning with a package for little Katje Van Stegeran. In the box are woolen socks, a cake of soap, a chocolate bar (!), and a letter from an American girl in Indiana, named Rosie. Katje writes back to Rosie thanking her for the socks and the soap, but most of all for the chocolate: “Sugar is not found in Holland these days, so anything sweet is precious,” she writes. Several weeks later, a new box arrives from America – full of sugar! “No sugar? Yikes!” says the enclosed note from Rosie. The two girls continue their correspondence, and as Rosie learns more about the needs of Katje’s neighbors and friends she rallies her entire town to send increasingly large care packages of meat, powdered milk, socks, shoes, scarves and winter coats. After weathering a particularly cold winter with the help of their new winter clothes, the people of Olst – led by Katje – prepare a special care package for their American friends: a box full of Dutch tulip bulbs.

This sweet and inspiring story about basic human kindness was a delight to read together. I was particularly moved by the unbridled joy with which the people of Olst reacted to their gifts from America. The colorful and exuberant illustrations by Stacey Dressen-McQueen, which cover every page of the book, do a wonderful job of conveying that sense of joy and excitement. I recommend taking a minute as well to read the author’s note – “A True Story About Boxes” – at the end of the book for some of the real-life background for the story. We were fortunate enough to hear Ms. Fleming discuss this tale on an online author event at Read Aloud Revival. I thought it was especially neat to hear her discuss how this book was intended as a “thank you” to her mother for sharing all of her stories…and the pressure that Ms. Fleming put on herself to tell this story in a way that would do her mother justice. Well – it seems to us like she succeeded; this one is a treasure.

Day 109 – Oh No!

This afternoon we were thrilled to be able to sit in on another live author event at Read Aloud Revival – this time with author Candace Fleming. In her honor this afternoon we read “Oh, No!”, an infectious, rhythmic read-aloud experience that has been a favorite with our youngest ever since we checked it out of the library several weeks ago. I was hooked on this one from the very first “Ribbit-oops” of the tree frog falling into a deep, deep hole. The jaunty cadence, the repetition, the rhyming, and Eric Rohmann’s rich and humorous illustrations make this an instant read-aloud classic – in my humble opinion.oh no

Following the tree frog into the deep, deep hole we meet a squeaky mouse (pippa-eek), a lethargic loris (sooo-slooow), a clever sunbear, and a merry monkey. Oh No! All the while they are being watched by a ravenous and patient tiger who has been waiting his turn to “help” the trapped animals out of their predicament. Oh No! However, there is one more animal coming that the tiger did not count on…turnabout is fair play, as they say…Oh No!

Just flipping through the book as I write this review, I wish we could all sit down and read it aloud again. It’s thoroughly addictive – both the words and the pictures. I’m honestly not sure which I like better. The repetition and the rhyming are also great for beginning readers. I highly recommend this Fleming-Rohmann collaboration. It’s an honest-to-goodness five-star read-aloud treat!

While we didn’t hear a lot from Ms. Fleming regarding “Oh, No!” on the recent online event, we did learn that the illustrator – Mr. Rohman – is Ms. Fleming’s husband. You wouldn’t know it from their brief bios on the inside of the dust jacket, although (curiously) they both live in Oak Park, Illinois…so I guess you could “do the math”. It seems like a pretty good deal as an author to have your own Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator right there in the same house…even if Mr. Rohman has only illustrated a few of Ms. Fleming’s books. Ms. Fleming provided what I thought were some fascinating insights on how she thinks about the author-illustrator dynamic. Ms. Fleming has been writing long enough that she does actually get some say in who will be chosen to do the artwork for her books, unlike most authors. However, she has also learned to get out of the illustrator’s way once he or she has been selected: she believes it is the illustrator’s job to decide how to tell the story in pictures, and she doesn’t even like to provide feedback to her husband when he is working on one of her books. It sounds like she is typically very happy with the results, too. I particularly enjoyed hearing her description of what it’s like to see the final version of her books for the first time; regardless how she might have imagined the characters when she was writing, she opens up the book to see the pictures and thinks (and I’m paraphrasing): Of course! THAT is what they look like! I thought that was a neat way to think about a process that might seem impersonal to some.