Tag Archives: friendship

Day 181 – Sam and the Firefly

fireflyToday we read a cautionary tale about the dangers of taking a joke just a little too far. First published in 1958, “Sam and the Firefly” by P.D. Eastman is ultimately an engaging story about friendship and redemption – with a side of drama!

Sam is an owl who wakes at night to find everyone else asleep. He cannot find anyone to play with but a firefly named Gus. At first they have fun with the discovery that Gus can use his tail light to write words in the sky; Gus proves a prolific sky-writer. He writes “Gus and Sam”…”Fish” and “Wish”…”House” and “a Mouse”…”Yes”…”No”…even “Kangaroo” and “Thermometer!”

Gus is excited with his new-found skill, but it soon becomes clear that things are getting out of hand. When Gus jets off to an intersection and begins scrawling competing instructions in the sky, he causes a big car crash. Then he gets airplanes all crossed up by doing the same thing high in the sky – all the time pursued by an increasingly dismayed Sam.

After causing a stampede at the movie theater by scrawling “Come in! Free show” in bright lights above the marquee, Gus finally pushes his luck too far.  He changes “Hot Dogs” to “Cold Dogs” on a hot dog vendor’s stand – and the vendor manages to catch him and put him in a jar! Sam desperately wants to free his friend, but does not know how. As the man drives Gus back out into the country, the man’s car gets stuck on some train tracks…and a train is coming! In the nick of time, Sam fetches the jar, frees Gus, and has him write “Stop, Stop, Stop, Stop” in front of the train. The train stops, and the car is saved! Gus has learned an important lesson, and he and Sam continue to be friends…playing every night, but no more bad tricks.

“Sam and the Firefly” has some outstanding illustrations – simple but with a charming, vintage feel. There is just enough danger to keep little listeners engaged, and some repetition and rhyming that might be nice for beginning readers. Overall, an excellent choice for read aloud…it has been read many times in our house.


Day 108 – Zen Ties

In honor of Haiku Day on the 17th of April, we read a fantastic book: “Zen Ties” by John Muth. Sprinkled with clever plays on words, beautiful watercolor images, and some insightful and well-placed Haiku, “Zen Ties” is a sweet and gently humorous book about compassion and friendship.Zen ties

The story reintroduces giant-panda Zen master Stillwater and his three friends Addy, Michael and Karl, who originally appeared in Mr. Muth’s Caldecott Honor book “Zen Shorts”. “Zen Ties” also introduces us to Stillwater’s taciturn yet poetic nephew Koo, who arrives at the train station at the beginning of the book. “Hi, Koo” says Stillwater in greeting – foreshadowing the charming bits of poetry that Mr. Muth, through Koo, will insert periodically throughout the story.

It’s summer time in “Zen Ties”, the weather is spectacular, and there is fun to be had playing at the park with Stillwater, Koo, and the children. Michael, however, is troubled; he is nervous about an upcoming spelling bee, and he is afraid his nerves are going to keep him from doing well. Stillwater suggests that the children come with him to bring food for his ailing friend Miss Whitaker. The children are skeptical; to them Miss Whitaker is the angry old lady on their street who is always yelling at them to get out from in front of her house. However, despite Miss Whitaker’s initial gruffness and her blue mood (she appears to be lonely and tired), the visit goes rather well; the children clean around the house and spend time painting pictures for Miss Whitaker. Stillwater suggests that Michael might like to come back the next day. When they return on the morrow, Stillwater explains that Miss Whitaker used to teach English and might be able to help Michael prepare for his spelling bee – which she does, gladly.

Eventually, the children and Miss Whitaker become fast friends, visiting frequently and enjoying apple tea together. Oh, and about that spelling bee: Michael makes it through all the way to the end and has a ribbon to share with Miss Whitaker. When Stillwater walks Koo to the train station at the end of the book, offering to dispose of his tea cup for him, Koo shakes his head:

“Nearing my visit’s end,

summer now tastes of apple tea

I will keep my cup”

I adore this book. I’m not really even sure where to start. The book is very well written – as noted below, Mr. Muth takes care to say what he has to say in the most efficient manner possible – and he manages to work in some humor in the process: “What would you do if you were in a spelling bee?” Michael asks Stillwater…”I would spell words,” he answers. Stillwater’s quiet confidence is comforting as well; you know that if you stick with him, everything is going to work out just right. Mr. Muth’s illustrations are captivating – expressive and colorful – adding heart to the story. My favorite picture was of Miss Whitaker at home alone in the evening after the children’s first visit; she is sitting in the dark peering through a magnifying glass to get a better look at the paintings the children left behind. The connection between Miss Whitaker and the children by the end of the book is inspiring; it always makes me choke up a little when Karl tells Stillwater that Miss Whitaker had been yelling at them just that morning. Stillwater asks “Why are you smiling?” and Karl says, “She was telling us to get out of the street and play in her yard”. Most of all, however, I love the sense of caring and community that shines through in this story.

About the Haiku – I did notice that Koo’s poetic interjections are not truly Haiku in the way Americans know it – with three lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables. When I first read this book, I thought it was odd to see the obvious play on words with Koo’s name, but not see any true Haiku…as I knew it. In fact, if you read Mr. Muth’s author note (well worth the time, by the way), he makes that point that the rigid 5/7/5 structure is actually an attempt in English to “create an analog with the Japanese language”. Rather than adhering to those particular numbers of syllables, Mr. Muth tries to “have the discipline to say what (he wants) said in the fewest words. It doesn’t always work out to be seventeen syllables”, an interesting lesson in and of itself.


Day 102 – The Library Lion

In honor of National Library Week, this evening we read a book that made us all want to ROAR: The Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen and Kevin Hawkes. It is an uplifting and charming story about an unlikely friendship and the importance of playing by the rules, which reminds us that sometimes there may still be a very good reason for breaking them.library lion

Rules are important to Ms. Merriwether, the librarian. She has some simple but important rules for anyone wishing to enjoy the library – be quiet and don’t run. There are no rules barring lions, however, and that is why Ms. Merriweather is unperturbed when a lion wanders into the library one day, despite the protestations of a vexed Mr. McBee.  The lion nearly loses his library privileges when he ROARs in protest at the end of storytime, but Ms. Merriweather gives him a second chance, and she is not disappointed. Once he has learned to control his temper, the lion – who originally seemed so out of place – is strangely at home quietly strolling the aisles on his padded paws and serving as a comfy backrest at storytime. He is also a tremendous help to Ms. Merriweather.

Then one afternoon Ms. Merriweather falls from a stool while reaching for a high shelf and breaks her arm. She asks the lion to fetch Mr. McBee, but the assistant librarian, who never wanted the friendly feline in the library in the first place, chooses to ignore the lion’s silent entreaties. Desperate to get help for his fallen friend, the lion uses the only other tactic he can think of – he ROARS! right in Mr. McBee’s face. The ploy works to perfection – Mr. McBee races down the hall to Ms. Merriweather’s office to report on this blatant disregard for rules and finds her lying on the floor waiting for help. Meanwhile, the lion trudges slowly out the door of the building. He has broken the rules, and he knows what that means.

For days and days thereafter, library visitors look up from their books expecting to see the lion arrive at any moment, but he is nowhere to be found. Ms. Merriweather in particular is saddened by the lion’s absence, speaking to Mr. McBee in a voice that is quiet “even for the library.” Seeking to cheer up his friend, and perhaps a bit regretful himself, Mr. McBee ventures out alone on a rainy evening and finds the lion, soaking wet, staring in the glass doors of the library. “There’s a new rule in the library,” Mr. McBee tells the lion, “No roaring allowed, unless you have a very good reason – say, if you’re trying to help a friend who’s been hurt, for example.” The next day, the lion returns to a joyful welcome. “No running!” calls Mr. McBee as Ms. Merriweather rushes down the hall to greet her long-lost friend – but she doesn’t listen, because “sometimes there (is) a good reason to break the rules, even in the library.”

“Library Lion” is a heartwarming and engaging book, and it has been a favorite of our youngest ever since we checked it out. It made us literally ROAR out loud when reading the text – and then made our hearts ROAR to see the picture of Ms. Merriweather and the lion embracing on the final page.It is also beautifully and playfully illustrated. I particularly enjoyed the variety of expressions so well captured on the faces of the people (and the lion!) in Mr. Hawkes’ drawings – expressions of curiosity, contrition, concern, melancholy and joy which added valuable color to the story.  I appreciated the way in which “Library Lion” so effectively conveys the allure of the library – we don’t know where the lion came from, but why wouldn’t he walk into a place as great as the library? We certainly love to spend time there!