Monday, December 20, 2010
Cut one, the lace of acid
rushes out, spills over your hands.
You lick them, manners don't come into it.
Orange -- the first word you have heard that day --
enters your mind. Everybody then
does what he or she wants -- breakfast is casual.
Slices, quarters, halves, or the whole hand
holding an orange ball like the morning sun
on a day of soft wind and no clouds
which it so often is. "Oh, I always
want to live like this,
flying up out of the furrows of sleep,
fresh from water and its sheer excitement,
felled as though by a miracle
at this first sharp taste of the day!"
You're shouting, but no one is surprised.
Here, there, everywhere on the earth
thousands are rising and shouting with you --
even those who are utterly silent, absorbed --
their mouths filled with such sweetness.
Monday, December 13, 2010
She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child -- but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.
Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail, only asked
a simple, "How can this be?"
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel's reply,
the astounding ministry she was offered:
to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power --
in narrow flesh, the sum of light.
Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love --
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Family, friends and food are among the ingredients we choose to help us honor and celebrate holidays in ways we value. Choose any and all of these wonderful tales to remember the past and establish unforgettable traditions to share.
The Spider’s Gift: A Ukrainian Christmas Story
retold by Eric Kimmel
illustrated by Katya Krenina
Holiday House, $16.95, Ages 6-9
Celebrated author Eric Kimmel collaborates once again with Ukrainian artist Katya Krenina for this version of a lovely folktale from her native land where Christmas customs are ancient. Not only the story itself, with roots in central and eastern Europe, but the contrasting bright and dark acrylic illustrations, showing clothing, landscapes, and iconic images, transmit both cultural and family traditions in an almost primitive flat style that accents the descriptive language and importance of the foods and symbols, which were significant aspects of the religious experience for people from that time.
Young Katrusya is upset to learn her peasant family will not be celebrating Christmas because the harvest has been so poor there is no money for the extras that define the celebration. But the family ultimately decides that although there is no money to spend, they can still celebrate with a tree, -- which costs nothing to cut down in the forest – by making their own presents, tree ornaments from old brass buttons and paper, hand embroidered cloth, whittled nativity figures, bandura music, and even a braided Christmas bread whose three rings symbolize the Christian trinity.
Bringing the tree into the warm house hatches hundreds of spider eggs hidden in the branches, drawing the attention of Katrusya’s mother who wants the spiders out of the house, immediately. The family convinces her to keep the tree and its spiders in the house until after Christmas, a kind gesture that causes Katrusya to rejoice. When they all return from the evening worship celebration, she discovers the webs have, miraculously, become real silver. Graciously, the family shares the wealth of silver with those from their village.
La Noche Buena: A Christmas Story
by Antonio Sacre
illustrated by Angela Dominguez
Abrams, $16.95, Ages 5-8
For those unfamiliar with a Miami Christmas, here is a grand introduction to many special Cuban traditions that characterize this holiday. Even for local South Floridians, acquainted with warm winter festivities instead of the typical northern icy winter fare, this lively picture book is a rare treat.
Storyteller and author Sacre uses strong sensory language to show the differences Nina experiences from her customary ice skating and building snowmen at Christmas with her mother’s family up north. This year, since it’s her dad’s turn, Nina arrives in Miami’s Little Havana to stay with her Abuela (Grandmother) Mimi for La Noche Buena, (Christmas Eve) the best night of the year for many Cuban families.
Not only does Nina have a chance to meet many extended family members, pick fresh avocados and prepare ingredients for the fiesta, she also meets other neighbor children, gets to see everyone (including herself) dressed in their best, shares the huge traveling party through many nearby backyards, walks to the Rooster’s Mass at midnight, dances, and listens to stories and jokes. Readers can almost feel onion- and spice-generated tears in their eyes, see and hear loud bright colorful parrots, listen to Cuban-accented Spanish words -- part of the lilting language of the story -- taste the garlic flavored marinade, smell the roasting pig and feel the warm hugs from family and congregation members.
Nina is charmed, as are readers and listeners, by both the bright pastel background colors of buildings, clothing, and food reproduced with joyful acrylics by artist Dominguez in this accessible and entertaining story, and by this intriguing glimpse into a distinctive cultural celebration of La Buena Noche. A helpful small glossary of Spanish words and phrases is included at the back.
by Kate DeCamillo
illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
Candlewick Press, $8.99, Ages 4-8
When an organ grinder man with his monkey appears, in the week before Christmas, on the street where Frances lives with her mother, Frances wonders where the two newcomers go at night. The music sounds sad and, while her mother finishes Frances’ costume for the pageant, Frances watches from the window as the monkey holds out his tin cup to the people walking past.
Luminous, lightly focused paintings in sepia tones suggest a city setting from the 1940’s with clothing, streetlights and cars to strengthen this perception along with a photo of a navy officer on a shelf in the living room. Illustrator Ibatoulline carefully contrasts bright holiday lights with dark snowy night, using tenderly textured acrylic gouache to focus attention on important details like the monkey, the falling snow and faces, especially Frances’ face in her pageant role.
On her way with her mother to the nearby church for the Christmas play, Frances stops long enough to drop a nickel in the monkey’s cup and invite the man with the monkey to come to the play. Although he smiles at her, it’s the sadness in his eyes that stays with her later as she prepares to speak her line. But the words simply won’t come out . . . . until the sanctuary door opens to show her guests, releasing Frances to smile. “Behold!” she shouts. “I bring you tidings of Great Joy!” The use of repetition emphasizes the importance of the simple, direct language; particularly as the final double page spread wordlessly shows the entire congregation, including the organ grinder and the monkey, joyfully celebrating with refreshments afterward.
Monday, December 6, 2010
And then all that has divided us will merge
And then compassion will be wedded to power
And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind
And then both men and women will be gentle
And then both women and men will be strong
And then no person will be subject to another's will
And then all will be rich and free and varied
And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many
And then all will share equally in the Earth's abundance
And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old
And then all will nourish the young
And then all will cherish life's creatures
And then all will live in harmony with each other and the Earth
And then everywhere will be called Eden once again
Monday, November 22, 2010
spoke to me
to come falling
out of the brisk cloud,
to be happy again
in a new way
on the earth!
That's what it said
as it dropped,
smelling of iron,
like a dream of the ocean
into the branches
and the grass below.
Then it was over.
The sky cleared.
I was standing
under a tree.
The tree was a tree
with happy leaves,
and I was myself,
and there were stars in the sky
that were also themselves
at the moment,
at which moment
my right hand
was holding my left hand
which was holding the tree
which was filled with stars
and the soft rain --
the long and wondrous journeys
still to be ours.
Monday, November 15, 2010
Monday, November 8, 2010
My aunt is a strict vegetarian.
She refuses to eat any meat.
No burgers, baloney, or bratwurst.
No barbecue ribs for a treat.
She hopes I grow up to be like her.
But I fear that her wish won't come true.
I'm telling you now that I'd rather eat cow
than that goo that my aunt calls tofu.
Ew . . .
Monday, November 1, 2010
Harvest tales can offer new opportunities to consider the abundance in our lives, and ways we can share our gratitude. Not only at this season, but especially now, allow these delightful books to lure you into appreciation.
Thank You For Me
by Marion Dane Bauer
illustrated by Kristina Stephenson
Simon & Schuster, $14.99, Ages 2-5
Rhythmic text matches with light-infused, energetic watercolors in a curling, bouncing, twirling book for the youngest of children. Award winning author Bauer begins with a lilting examination of body parts and what they can do, using the language of movement and sound to engage the senses. We feel the splash of rain puddles, see the love on mama’s face, hear a rush of wind followed by thunder, “boom-a-room, room-a-boom.” Even the smells of Grandpa’s bread and roses, and the singing, smiling, and especially tasting of “long licks of chocolate ice cream” are there, bringing the body together into one skin.
Bauer uses her characteristic nimble phrasing to advance from awareness to thanks, launching readers into an authentic appreciation for the same body parts. All the while, Stephenson’s images in bright, vigorous colors stretch and leap across double pages of white to dance beside the lyrical lines, in this engaging picture book.
Too Many Turkeys
by Linda White
illustrated by Megan Lloyd
Holiday House, $16.95, Ages 4-8
Farmers Fred and Belle adopt a lost young turkey named Buford, who contributes significantly to the fertility of Belle’s vigorous vegetables, bountiful berries, and flourishing flowers. Other gardeners ask for Belle’s secret, but she simply smiles and talks about “smidges of this and that.” It’s after Belle leaves for her “annual birdhouse convention” that the trouble begins.
White’s detailed watercolor artwork in luxuriant colors uses framed and unframed paintings to shape the story’s lively action. As an assortment of turkeys arrive to sample Belle’s gardens, one can observe how White’s design provides a strong undercurrent to the captivating alliterative language of the story. A harassed Fred tries multiple solutions to rid the farm of the winged invaders, but each time he thinks Belle’s gardens are safe, the gobblers return in greater numbers.
Exhausted, Fred makes a deal with the “gawking neighbors” to help him clean up the turkey mess. When Belle returns, she’s concerned about whether her secret has been discovered, noting the neighbors’ new turkeys. Fred, who is relieved to hear her compliments for the care he gave in her absence, doesn’t explain. But an observant reader will note a hidden complication that surfaces only at the end.
The Brothers’ Promise
by Frances Harber
illustrated by Thor Wickstrom
Albert Whitman, $6.99, Ages 5-9
Based on a biblical era legend from the Talmud, a book of Jewish teachings, this retelling is set in early twentieth century Eastern Europe and reads like a folk tale. Two brothers, Josef and Yankel, promise their dying father, Chayim, “to divide the land in half, to work together, and to always take care of each other. Because when a brother helps a brother, the angels in heaven weep tears of joy.”
Using the rich, heavy colors and textures of oils on board, Wickstrom’s paintings undergird this tantalizing tale with contrasting dark and light, mixing curving lines with angles to demonstrate the differences between the two brothers. The short more rotund, light-hearted Yankel, is married, plays the fiddle, and delights in his dancing children.
The taller more angular Josef lives in a simple home, alone, and studies the holy books of wisdom. The brothers continue to be friends, and because of their work together the farm flourishes.
When a drought changes their fortunes, each thinks of his own abundance and is concerned his brother may be in need. In the dark of night they each take a full wheelbarrow of food to the other’s barn or cellar. However, in the morning each discovers that his food supply has not diminished. This trip is repeated two more times, until the brothers discover each other. Remembering their father’s final words, the last page shows the brothers in loving embrace as the now overcast sky erupts in a joyful downpour to heal the parched earth.
Fall from the sky;
They tapdance on tiles
A wild lullaby.
They gush through the gutters.
On smooth windowpanes,
They scribble and scrabble,
Then gargle down drains
To spatter and scatter
In silvery streams
With a cradle of wind
And rockabye dreams.
Monday, October 18, 2010
Monday, October 11, 2010
Friday, October 8, 2010
An unusual treat, these uncommon story books appeal to the curious and unconventional aspects of the Halloween season, disturbing readers expectations. Reading these intriguing tales will capture your imagination, a trick of skill and mastery. Enjoy!
by Jon J. Muth
Scholastic, $17.99, Ages 4-9
Muth has based his third book about Stillwater, the giant panda, and his friends Karl, Addy, and Michael, on a Zen Buddhist question he treats as a ghost story. Using brilliant autumn watercolors, the book opens with Stillwater dressed as a ghost, and the children preparing their own costumes for a trick or treat outing. Instructing the children to meet him at the stone wall, Stillwater promises them a full moon Halloween tale.
Retelling a Chinese story about a girl and her friend who are together so much as they are growing up, that even the parents expect them to marry, Muth describes a change in the family fortunes, which causes the parents to promise to wed their beloved daughter, Senjo, to a nice wealthy man who can take care of the family. Both the girl and her friend, Ochu, now in love, are saddened by this alteration in the plan.
Muth’s flaming autumn watercolors shift to mostly grays and blacks to separate the ancient tale from the bright elements of the children’s Halloween adventures. And he uses blue and purple in Senjo’s white garment to give readers a sense of the split in Senjo’s heart.
The similarities between Senjo’s robe and Addy’s Moon Princess costume add to the spookiness, as does Karl’s comment that Michael must be one thing, either an owl or a pirate, “He can’t be an Owl-Pirate! There’s no such thing!” Yet, as the children travel their trick or treat route, readers see that Michael is, in fact, dressed as a pirate with wonderful, amazing owl wings.
Ochu, from the Chinese tale Stillwater tells, who cannot bear to live in the same village with Senjo married to someone else, packs up and leaves at midnight on the day he learns of the betrothal. The conclusion of both stories, the story and the story within the story, requires one to reflect on identity and self, and simultaneously shiver at this haunting tale, which despite its age is a fresh as today.
The Goblin and the Empty Chair
by Mem Fox
illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon
Beach Lane, $17.99, Ages 6-8
An original folk tale, this story begins “In a time long past, in a country far away,” with a hairy green goblin, who is so frightened when he sees himself reflected in a pond, that he hides from the world, covering his face, and living a lonely life. His compassion is evident however, when he notices the farmer’s pain and, taking care not to be seen, digs, chops, and paints. Yet, the farmer, who is unable to sleep, sees. As does the farmer’s wife, the next night, when the goblin, again taking care not to be seen, responds to her pain by watering, planting, and pruning.
Even the daughter’s pain is noted by the goblin, who still thinking he’s not being seen in his efforts to soothe, is watched once again. When the fourth day brings the silent family to the breakfast table, a chair that has “been empty all winter” is filled at last by the goblin, whose face, although uncovered by the child, the reader never sees. What the reader does see are formerly grieving faces, wreathed in smiles, a transformation achieved by the same visage that so terrified its owner.
The softened watercolors in these stylized paintings demonstrate both the medieval period and the goblin’s wealth, while borders in colored pencil contribute narrative actions, preceding the text at the bottom of each page. Gargoyles, peeking around the borders of the illustrations, echo the changes in the characters experiences.
The unexpected concluding illustration, on the back cover, shows the goblin inviting the family to his home. Internationally recognized author Mem Fox, and award-winning team illustrators Leo and Diane Dillon combine their trademark styles and talents in this beautiful, mysterious, elegant picture book, that begs for multiple readings.
Ant and Honey Bee: A Pair of Friends at Halloween
by Megan McDonald
illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Candlewick Press, $14.99, Ages 7-10
Author McDonald has once again successfully crafted a new series, this time for early readers, inhabiting it with a pair of individuals as memorable, imaginative, and funny as her popular chapter books, whose title character, Judy Moody, names that series. Best friends, Honey Bee and Ant, view themselves as belonging together. It is their efforts to create Halloween costumes, reflecting this lasting friendship, that make for the comedy in this engaging holiday tale.
Tired of the boring Pilgrim outfits from past years, the insect friends spend the first chapter, trying to decide what to be as a pair (not pear, as they finally agree!). No salt and pepper shakers, no moth and bee costumes, not even pencil and eraser will work this year.
In Chapter Two they agree to be a washer and dryer, combining their talents, to complete the ensembles made from “two boxes . . . just the right size.” After all their work, they discover the difficulties of simply navigating the trip to trick or treat, wearing their new attire. Although neighbors comment about the clever and original costumes, it’s because they think the pair are a couple of ice cubes or dancing computers. Moreover, the few treats they do receive turn out to be both disappointing and undesirable.
And, adding insult to injury, it begins to rain, turning the cardboard into soggy blobs. However, when the pair decide to take shelter with friend Cricket, he greets them at the door holding their favorite treats, and in response to his question, “what are you?” they answer for each other that one is a beehive and the other an anthill, ending the book on a creative note by eliciting the perfect response from Cricket.
The Very Best Pumpkin
by Mark Kimball Moulton
illustrated by Karen Hillard Good
Simon & Schuster, $12.99, Ages 5-7
A sweet, unsentimental tale, this autumn picture book is a story of friendship. It is set in the countryside, where Peter lives on a pumpkin farm with his grandparents, and tends the pumpkin patch all summer long in preparation for fall pumpkin sales. One day he follows a long vine, trailing beyond the far edge of the pumpkin field, into the meadow where a tiny pumpkin is growing among the weeds, alone.
Day after day Peter weeds and waters all the pumpkins, giving special attention to the lonely pumpkin. And, a new family moves in next door, with a daughter, Meg. She watches Peter, caring for the pumpkin patch, and admires the most beautiful of all pumpkins in the meadow, alone. However, the two don’t meet until Meg and her parents come to choose their pumpkins.
Illustrator Good has chosen greens, browns, and golden orange tones to suggest late summer and early autumn, aging her watercolor paintings with instant coffee and bleach, muting the colors to reflect the season. A variety of page layouts support the movement of the story; sometimes a double page spread smoothly weaves words and images. Other pages frame the text, and still others feature the text below or beside the illustration.
The growth of the glowing, deep orange-red pumpkin becomes a luminous language mirror, for the growth of a friendship between Peter and Meg the next year, as they plan, plant and tend the new pumpkins, side by side. The book concludes with an easy guide page for growing your own pumpkins.
Monday, October 4, 2010
Monday, September 27, 2010
When the sun has set
And night has come,
The insect chorus
Starts to hum.
And nothing else
Is there to hear,
But the insect voices
Soft and clear.
The insects hum
In sweet delight,
Singing their praises
Of the night.
Monday, September 20, 2010
In the country
Things are quiet.
In the city
Noise runs riot.
Car horns beep.
Close your eyes
And use your ears.
And hear what
A city sleeper hears.
Monday, September 13, 2010
I did it!
I did it!
Come and look
At what I've done!
I read a book!
When someone wrote it
For me to read,
How did he know
That this was the book
I'd take from the shelf
And lie on the floor
And ready by myself?
I really read it!
Just like that!
Word by word,
From first to last!
I'm sleeping with
This book in bed,
This first FIRST book
I've ever read!
Monday, September 6, 2010
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
The vital connections between grandparents and the children of
their children is a bond, linking the fabric of the future with the potency of the past. These books offer a glimpse into the substantial influence wielded, often gently, by those who love profoundly and understand the dynamic energy of education, the power of story, and the strength of memories.
The Perfect Gift
by Mary Ellen DePalma.
Scholastic, $16.99, Ages 4-8
Blending a loving grandmother with the reading and telling of stories is a
perfect match between story, characters, and readers, as Lori, the lorikeet, finds a strawberry to give her grandmother. When the strawberry “hip, hop, plops!” into the river, Lori is interrupted in her tearful moaning by first, a helpful chipmunk who strains, unsuccessfully, to rescue the berry, then by a lovely, long-necked goose, who also comes up empty-handed.
A “flip-flopping frog” finally brings the berry back to the surface for Lori. But before she can even thank him, disaster strikes in the form of a crocodile. The lorikeet frantically tosses her beautiful berry into the air to distract the crocodile, rescuing everyone, but losing the berry, and injuring herself in the process.
Author-artist DePalma uses a medley of illustrations to convey movement, by choosing to cast some of the action outside the framework of the illustration’s usual boundaries, making expansive use of white space, with just a few elements to cast the story, as a story within a story. This foreshadowing of Lori’s final idea of a gift, gives extended dimension to a busy text, and along with the childlike font, adds zest.
Our Grandparents: A Global Album
by Maya Ajmera, Sheila Kinkade, Cynthia Pon
(with a foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu)
Charlesbridge, $16.95 ($7.95 paperback), Ages 4-7
Featuring vibrant photos of grandparents with grandchildren, often in pairs, from more than 30 countries, with an additional dozen or more profiling varied cultural realities in the USA, this affectionate book demonstrates the joy and respect experienced across generations. Using multiple languages, the words for grandmother and grandfather are highlighted between the title page and Tutu’s Foreword.
Additionally, this book is both supported by and, with its sales, supports the work of the Global Fund for Children, a nonprofit organization “committed to advancing the dignity of children and youth around the world, by teaching the value of diversity.” Also, backmatter includes a world map, identifying the countries represented in the photos, and a couple pages of Things to Do together.
A variety of skin tones, assorted backgrounds in the photos, as well as captivating activities, or simply the involvement in being present to each other, are all further demonstration of active language used in the text to engage readers. As one moves through this charming book, one can be compelled to remember one’s own grandparents and the enchantment of those experiences, or be energized to launch a similar opportunity.
Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan
by Jeanette Winter.
Simon & Schuster, $16.99, Ages 6-9
Nasreen’s grandmother shows her granddaughter’s losses – schools formerly available for girls are no longer permitted by the Taliban; soldiers have taken her father; Nasreen’s mother goes searching for him, although the streets are forbidden to women and girls who are alone – and Nasreen’s resulting months-long, sad fearful silence. When there are whispers of a secret school for girls, the grandmother risks suspicion and discovery to take Nasreen, who sits at the back.
Award-winning nonfiction author/artist Winter is skilled in her use of simple sentences to invoke powerful experiences. She uses window-like borders to confine her strong-toned acrylic illustrations, partnering the vivid text with equally
evocative paintings, supplying readers with another kind of window -- into a different reality. Winter’s blue burqas (required coverings for women away from home), grey-blue soldiers, and smoky-blue shadowed figures contrast with greens, pinks, golds and purples in the girls’ clothing, and in the illustrations representing education and the arts. An author’s note at the beginning explains the context of the story and why the nonprofit, Global Fund for Children, is featured on the cover.
The danger to the students and teacher is constant, and the cold winter recess is long and anxious. But the grandmother’s loving concern drives her to hazard true peril, supporting her granddaughter’s opportunity to learn, to develop friendships, to discover, opening still another window – this one for Nasreen. A window of knowledge, offering both solace in her experience of isolation, and hope for the future.
Monday, August 30, 2010
The sky is not so far away.
It reaches to the ground.
I'm standing right inside of it.
It doesn't make a sound.
And once I almost held a star,
A small and shining light
That turned into a firefly
And flickered out of sight.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Monday, August 16, 2010
at the pool.
Trails to tramp.
at the shore.
Time to rest.
Monday, August 9, 2010
It's not easy being the new kid in school.
Nobody knew me. I felt like a fool.
I missed all my friends, who were so far away.
I wasn't quite sure I could get through the day.
I couldn't help thinking I shouldn't be here,
wishing I somehow could just disappear.
A tap on my arm. Now who could that be?
Whoever she was, she was talking to me!
"You must be the new kid. We heard about you."
"That's right," said her friend. "What's it like to be new?"
More kids were stopping to ask me my name.
I started enjoying my moment of fame.
That was last Monday. The days have flown by.
I've made some new friends, and I don't feel so shy.
Now there's a new kid. Her name is Marie.
They're asking her questions like they did with me.
They ask, and she answers. They ask her some more.
And she's in the spotlight, as I was before.
I'll make her feel welcome. Yeah, that would be cool.
It's not easy being the new kid in school.
Friday, August 6, 2010
Within the last century, escaping children have become refugees to and from Cuba. And although desperation, confusion and isolation are far more universal than we may be willing to admit, these books are also powerful stories of family, home, and freedom. Are you taking a trip? On vacation? Or simply ready for riveting reading? Try these titles.
90 Miles to Havana
by Enrique Flores-Galbis.
Roaring Brook, $17.99, Ages 9+
Novelist Flores-Galbis offers readers a mesmerizing piece of history in this growing up story of one young boy, evacuated with his older brothers from 1960’s Cuba to Miami as part of Operation Pedro Pan. Among more than fourteen thousand young people who were part of the largest recorded exodus of unaccompanied minors in the Western Hemisphere, the author taps his own experience, capturing the urgent immediacy of both betrayal and kindness, in this first-person narrative.
Beginning with a traditional New Year’s Eve family fishing trip that blends both the comfort of the familiar and introduces the approaching changes associated with the revolution, in the following days Julian watches as neighbors and friends leave the country for Miami and safety. He notes the mix of sadness and determination as parents send their children to a strange country alone.
When later he and his brothers are among those leaving without parents, the danger and brokenness are clearly shown in a multitude of word images, and represented by a broken plate Julian promises to mend. Their arrival at a camp on the outskirts of Miami is accompanied by an immediate dunking in the pool, and a meeting with a bully the brothers recognize. The most helpful encounter is the discovery of their good friends from next door in Cuba.
The brothers are assigned to sleep in the bathroom, and to kitchen duty, where Julian begins slowly to trust the camp cook, who although she must protect her job, is still able to offer some small assistance. Incidents of bullying and retributive justice intensify, as the overworked priest is often unavailable to supervise the understaffed camp.
When Julian and his Cuban neighbor-friend, join the weekly Saturday group who drive to Miami for an outing, Julian makes plans to help his parents escape. This well-paced novel works for both genders, exploring the bravery, resourcefulness, and resolve required by many Cuban refugees to survive and thrive, despite their uprooting and requisite grafting into a new land.
The Red Umbrella
by Christina Diaz Gonzalez.
Knopf, $16.99, Ages 10+
Based on real events, this well-written debut novel is the story of middle class teen Lucia, who watches the crushing consequences of the Cuban revolution in her small town as soldiers arrive, freedoms are dismantled, people disappear, friends act like strangers, and even her family changes. As the name-calling, betrayals, and even lynchings escalate, her parents feel compelled to make the heart-wringing decision to send Lucia, and her younger brother Frankie, to the U.S.
Lucia and Frankie join thousands of Cuban children who, beginning late 1960 until 1962, are separated from their families, their country and their culture, in what came to be called Operation Pedro Pan. This complex, breath-stopping escape plan at least temporarily orphaned many children, who had no family members to meet them and were placed, at best, with host families across the U.S.
Arriving first in Miami at a facility, Frankie and Lucia are separated, which ultimately leads to a decision by the administrators, to send them to a foster home in Nebraska. There they begin adapting to a new language, a new country, a new way of life, with changes as shattering as bullying, missing the important quinceanera (a girl’s all-important fifteenth birthday celebration), rural farm life, periodic long-distance phone calls with the parents still in Cuba, and even the first-time experience of snow.
Gonzalez is adept in employing Spanish language phrases through dialog, augmenting and clarifying the meaning in her use of paraphrasing and furnishing context cues. Additionally, newspaper headlines serve as chapter titles, supplying contemporary commentary. An Author’s Note at the end provides further historical detail.
Basing her story on the experiences of her family members who were among these children, Gonzalez writes with simplicity and understanding of the complex issues in this important part of American history. Many of these concerns are still alive as the 40th anniversary of this remarkable Cuban exodus approaches.
Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba
by Margarita Engle.
Henry Holt, $16.99, Ages 12+
Award-winning poet Engle once again writes in verse, adding this novel to her historic Cuban repertoire. Told in brief but emotionally authentic narrative poems, each of four characters adds a distinctive voice to this immigrant tale.
Thirteen-year-old Daniel, whose musician parents had “only enough money for one ticket to flee Germany,” as the Nazis gain power, arrives in Cuba on a ship that has been turned away from too many harbors. Paloma, also thirteen, whose father, El Gordo, is a corrupt public official who accepts bribes for visas, befriends him. And David, an older Russian Jew, also an immigrant from the previous decade, mentors Daniel, urging him to adapt to Cuba’s warm weather, wonderful fruit, music and dancing.
Ironically, the “J” for Jew, that condemned Daniel in Germany, contributes to saving his life, when German Christians are imprisoned as spies by Cuban authorities. Paloma and Daniel with David’s assistance, help to rescue an elderly mixed religions couple, and begin to trust each other enough to share their secrets.
Daniel’s dream is to be reunited with his parents in Cuba, where they will be able to live once again as a family together. Paloma wants both to become a dancer like the mother who abandoned her, and to confront her father, whose ethical compromises have increased his income.
The Author’s Note at the back explains her family background, which adds vitality to her storytelling and helps to animate her interest in this aspect of Cuban history. As secrets are revealed and trust deepens, the characters expand into hopefulness and young readers are engaged at multiple levels. This superbly written novel strengthens both its characters and its readers, making a hidden part of Cuban history newly accessible.
Reviews published in August 2010 issue of FAMILY magazine
Monday, August 2, 2010
What inched along like a furry worm?
What thought of flying but could only squirm?
What made a case as clear as glass,
And hung it on a stalk of grass?
What went to sleep a dull, slow thing,
And woke to find himself a king?*
*a monarch butterfly
Monday, July 26, 2010
Bedtime--and like an arrow loosed,
The Great Egret flies back to roost
With others of her company
To decorate a greening tree.
Like great white balls, they seem to light
The soft and mellow southern night.
They sleep the dusky dark away,
To rise again and greet the day.
Monday, July 19, 2010
Who made the rule that dessert is served last?
That math class goes slowly and recess goes fast?
That Christmas must come at the end of the year?
That small kids go first, and big kids to the rear?
Why is the prize in the cereal pack
Never as good as the picture on back?
And how come it rains on the weekend but then
Gets sunny on Monday when school starts again?
I've asked politely, I've even tried yelling
Neither one helps, because no one is telling.
Monday, July 12, 2010
No Easy Way: The Story of Ted Williams and the last .400 Season by Fred Bowen
illustrated by Charles S. Pyle
Dutton, $16.99, Ages 7-10
As a hard-working rookie, Ted Williams garnered attention for his 31 home runs. But his hard work didn’t start there – it began in California where his family, who was poor, had nonetheless supplied him with the expectation of working to get what he wanted. And what Ted wanted was to be the greatest hitter ever.
From junior high, through high school, then for the American Legion Post, and later for two minor-league teams -- the San Diego Padres and the Minneapolis Millers -- and even into his years of playing for the Red Sox, Ted practiced with the bat, and squeezed rubber balls, to smooth out his swing until it was strong “with just a bit of an uppercut.” Although he didn’t realize it then, he was preparing for the summer of 1941 just before soldiers, including several star baseball players, left to fight in World War II.
More than two thirds of the book shows readers the pressure from fans and from Ted himself to finish the season with a batting average of .400 or better. Including several photos to accent that historic era; the illustrations meld with the text to demonstrate Williams’ toughness, the energy of his batting skill, and the power of a sports writer’s sense of significant incidents, and where to place them in a well-told story of a Major League Baseball feat, that has yet to be matched.
The full color illustrations reflect the 1930’s and 40’s, especially the legendary year, 1941, and illustrator Bowen (who resembles Williams, posed in a baseball uniform for the photo on page 2, to create the final picture) uses period details -- including clothing and images of a newsboy, a soda jerk, even a camera, typewriter, and telephone -- to create an authentic setting for this picture book biography. Statistics for Ted Williams in that year are on the back cover.
Clemente by Willie Perdomo
illustrated by Bryan Collier
Henry Holt, $16.99, Ages 6-9
Award-winners Perdomo and Collier combine talents to create a celebration of baseball great Roberto Clemente, the first Latino elected to the Hall of Fame. Named Most Valuable Player as a member of the 1971 World Series winning Pittsburgh Pirates team, Clemente was recognized for his baseball skills, but loved for his gracious and generous contributions, especially in Latin America.
The biography is told by a boy, named Clemente, whose family chose his name to honor the Puerto Rico born baseball hero. The family members remind young Clemente of his namesake’s passion and talent, his many hours of practice, and his dignity. The boy knows the statistics, but even more of his hero’s pride and love for the game, for his homeland, his native language of Spanish, and most important, his love for his family.
The watercolor and collage illustrations are infused with light, even when darker colors are used to mourn his death in an airplane accident enroute to deliver relief supplies to Nicaragua, after a devastating earthquake in 1972. This picture book biography is a joyful tribute to an admired and highly respected sports figure, gone too soon. Back matter includes a Time Line of his life, and both an Author’s and Illustrator’s Note, plus resource materials in print and online.
Henry Aaron’s Dream by Matt Tavares
Candlewick Press, $16.99, Ages 8-10
As a skinny kid who held his bat the wrong way, young Henry Aaron watched from his home in Mobile, Alabama, while Jackie Robinson became the first black to play baseball in the majors. Henry’s dream was to play ball with Jackie.
Still in high school, he was invited and joined a local semi-pro team, but when the “Dodgers held a tryout camp for black ballplayers in Mobile” “the Dodger scouts were not impressed,” and sent him home, because he was too small. Undeterred, Henry later played “shortstop for the Indianapolis Clowns in the Negro Leagues.”
Finally the Braves, a big-league team, offered him a minor-league contract. As Henry began this part of his career, he experienced the same kind of segregation, and name-calling that had been directed at Jackie Robinson, and other black players. Nevertheless, he played hard and demonstrated his skill for all to see.
The day did come for Henry to sign his first major-league contract! Following spring training that year, the Braves played the Dodgers in his hometown of Mobile, where his family, neighbors and friends were able to watch. After his line drive into left field, the umpire ruled him “Safe!” at second base, “beating the throw from….his hero, Jackie Robinson.” Aaron’s dream was a reality!
The oversized, and detailed, watercolor, ink and pencil illustrations use sepia tones to supply a sense of the 1950’s era energy. Also, an Author’s Note, plus a full page of statistics from 1952-1976 with a key, and a Bibliography, give additional information, and add depth to this fascinating biography of a baseball icon.
Hot Diggity Dog: The History of the Hot Dog by Adrienne Sylver
illustrated by Elwood H. Smith
Dutton, $16.99, Ages 5-8
What would baseball be without a stadium hot dog to accompany the game?! And what would we do without wieners, frankfurters, or whatever your favorite version of this fast food invented first as a sausage by Roman Emperor Nero’s chef!?
The U.S. history of the famous dog begins with immigrants who brought it with them from Europe and includes the short tale of the baker brother-in-law who rescued a hot dog vendor’s gloves by creating the bun to keep buyers from burning their fingers. But don’t stop there! On to the depression and the cheap tasty food that kept people warm and was even easy to sell and eat while cheering on your team at a baseball game.
This easy-to-enjoy picture book serves up riddles, statistics, contests, quotes, favorite hot dog stands, and more in interesting sidebar tidbits throughout the pages. How to make it, how to eat it, what to call it, strange discoveries about mustard, ketchup, and many different versions of how to cook it or what to serve with it are included and keep readers intrigued.
Find out who first served it to the King of England, which astronauts first ate it in space, and which famous baseball player was a champion hot dog eater – answers to these questions and more are all found within the pages of this whimsical picture book with cartoon-like illustrations whose humorous cover tantalizes one’s curiosity and begs for attention.
Review published in July 2010 issue of FAMILY magazine
Review published in July 2010 issue of FAMILY magazine
from Nest, Nook & Cranny
Strand by strand a spider strings
Her scaffold stalk to stem,
And when a passerby drops by
Midflight, she draws him in
Across the gauzy threshold
Into her homespun home.
He sticks around 'til dinnertime.
(She never eats alone.)
Monday, July 5, 2010
Some animals are homebodies,
Like tortoises and snails.
Their heads stick out their front doors,
Out their back doors flick their tails.
Belongings go along with them
No matter where they roam,
And you can visit anytime---
There's always someone home.
Monday, June 28, 2010
from Nest, Nook and Cranny
The sweetest home sweet home must be a hive,
Humming with activities of bees.
They never wipe their feet when they arrive;
They track their tacky nectar where they please.
When the workers' busy workday ends,
They take off in a beeline for the comb
To serve up royal jelly to their friends,
And get the latest buzz from all the drones.
Monday, June 21, 2010
from Nest, Nook & Cranny
Herons walk with stilted steps,
Stalking, cautious, through the marsh,
Riffling the water's edge,
Proceeding in a stealthy march.
Each footfall kicks a cloudy plume,
A murky swirl of sediments,
Disturbing creatures in the gloom,
Unsettling their settlements.
Fish dart out of hiding places,
Flicker past the herons' knees,
Daring to seek safer spaces,
Deeper water, denser reeds.
Herons, filled with fishy bites, take flight,
For treetop colonies to spend the night.
Monday, June 14, 2010
under the shade
we fix up a stand
to sell lemonade.
A stack of cups,
a pitcher of ice,
a shirtboard sign
to tell the price.
A dime for the big,
A nickel for small.
The nickel cup's short.
The dime cup's tall.
Plenty of sugar
to make it sweet,
and sometimes cookies
for us to eat.
But when the sun
moves into the shade
it gets too hot
to sell lemonade.
so we put things away
and drink what's left
and start to play.
Monday, June 7, 2010
By the sand between my toes,
By the waves behind my ears,
By the sunburn on my nose,
By the salty little tears
That make rainbows in the sun
When I squeeze my eyes and run,
By the way the seagulls screech,
Guess where I am? At the . . . !
By the way the children shout
Guess what happened? School is . . .!
By the way I sing this song
Guess if summer lasts too long:
You must answer Right or . . . !
Friday, June 4, 2010
During June, Dad’s Day makes it easy to enjoy time with the fathers whose absence we feel keenly and in whose presence we often receive permission for the unexpected. Don’t forget to take this chance to laugh in honor of the man whose name you share.
My Father is Taller than a Tree by Joseph Bruchac
illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin
Dial, $16.99, Ages 3-6
This lyrical rhyming picture book is a tribute to dads, capturing thirteen different father-child pairings, in active and ordinary, exciting and everyday moments, giving shape to the closeness of the bond. Award-winners, author Bruchac and illustrator Halperin, supply reminders of diverse duos, featured in double-page spreads. A large illustration, above several smaller ones, depicts shared activities, such as raking leaves, bicycling, playing chess, reading together, playing instruments, and is accompanied by a simple couplet; for example, “He pats my back when I feel sad. He understands ’cause he’s my dad.”
Halperin’s characteristic detailed illustrations make skillful use of crayon and pencil colors, and feature expressive faces, while highlighting both familiar experience and ethnic variety. Bruchac has chosen uncomplicated language to accent the comfort of the known, even using assorted forms of address to include readers in the emotional impact, supplied by the strength of the connections to father, dad, pa, pop, papá. This unmistakably believable book is irresistible in its unaffected naturalness, and its unpretentious charm. With its realistic and heartwarming details, it is a delight for adults to pore over with young children.
Testing the Ice by Sharon Robinson
illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Scholastic, $16.99, Ages 7-10
More than a biography, author Robinson brings an often-told story of her famous father to younger children in this dramatic picture book. Award winner Nelson’s use of watercolor, pencil and oil evokes the strength of the family setting in the comparison of pioneer Jackie Robinson, as the first black major league baseball player, with his courage as he checked an icy lake in mid-winter, years later.
His children and their neighbor friends heard from Robinson himself, as he told about the segregation of black from white, not only in major league baseball but also, throughout the US in 1945. He explained his decision to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers despite insults, attacks and name calling that were both predicted and experienced, and the sweetness of victory when he hit a home run to win the game between the Dodgers and the Phillies that year.
Daughter Robinson demonstrates her dad’s courage after his retirement from baseball when she wanted to ice skate. She and her siblings and friends coaxed her dad to confirm the ice was safe without realizing until later, that he could not swim. The striking illustrations in rich, almost photographic, styling are based on family photos and radiate vigor and passion, honoring the memory of this baseball icon.
Stars Above Us by Geoffrey Norman
illustrations by E. B. Lewis
Putnam, $16.99, Ages 6-8
Afraid of the dark, Amanda discovers, with her daddy, that stars, fireflies, and crickets make the dark fun and beautiful. Daddy helps to make glowing stars and attaches them to Amanda’s ceiling, to help her remember him when he leaves.
Not only is this a story of being fearful of the dark, it’s also about the dread of departure, as the father prepares to go to war. He shows her how the stars will remind them of each other while he’s away – they will both be looking at the same stars, the ones on her ceiling and the ones in the sky.
Award winning illustrator Lewis uses dark and light in a dramatic set of contrasting paintings, which also emphasize the strength of the memories the family shares. Although the separation is difficult and long lasting, demonstrated by the growth of the puppy Daddy gives Amanda before leaving – naming it Bear after the Big Dipper, a familiar arrangement of stars in the night sky – it’s another way for Amanda to remember her dad. This reassuring story, about being present even in absence, is a welcome addition to the literature for children about a difficult experience.
Your Daddy was Just Like You by Kelly Bennett
illustrations by David Walker
Putnam, $16.99, Ages 3-5
Using a photo album, a grandmother explains for her grandson how similar he and his dad, her son, are to each other, as Dad listens. The repetition of the phrase, “just like you,” shapes the story, and strengthens its framework.
From birth to starting school, sometimes raising a ruckus, fuming and fussing, even to the point of time-outs, the familiar details of both generations will amuse young readers. Bright acrylics supply energy and movement, capturing body language, emotions and facial expressions, a successful matching of sometimes-comic illustrations with light-hearted, playful text.
Reviews published in June 2010 issue of FAMILY magazine
Monday, May 31, 2010
Monday, May 24, 2010
Don't be polite.
Pick it up with your fingers and lick the juice that
may run down your chin,
It is ready and ripe now, whenever you are.
You do not need a knife or fork or spoon
or plate or napkin or tablecloth.
For there is no core
to throw away.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Seven Hungry Babies
by Candace Fleming
illustrated by Eugene Yelchin
Atheneum, $16.99, Ages 3-7
In this rollicking, rhyming story, Fleming sets a frenetic pace with Mama Bird dashing between nest and various locations -- involving garden, millpond, schoolyard, and orchard -- to feed loud, hungry offspring. The mom’s action with sounds: flappa-flap, swoop-swoop, yum, changes slightly each time she goes hunting, adding movement to the repetitive sounds, and a different yummy food treat for each tiny, noisy bird baby to “G-u-u-u-l-p!”
The mother endearments; “precious cuddle-fluffs, noisy warble pies, sweet hatchlings, little egg-crackers,” grow progressively distracted while the young birds continue to cry, screech, shout, shriek, roar and squall the incessant “Feed us! Feed us!” As Yelchin’s dazzling primary colors accent both the babies’ impatience and mother’s intensifying fatigue, readers breathe relief with Mommy Bird when she collapses in exhaustion on a nearby branch, just before the peeping begins again.
Perfect to read aloud, this irresistible picture book brings Daddy along, by granting Mama the final word.
Before You Were Here, Mi Amor
by Samantha R. Vamos
illustrated by Santiago Cohen
Viking, $15.99, Ages 3+
This tender story shows the preparations made by extended family, as members anticipate the new baby’s arrival, and make their own contributions to welcome a new life. Appropriately, Mami is central -- where the book begins and ends, as well as throughout -- eating, swinging, dancing, and especially with the recorded heartbeat.
Papí builds a rocking chair, hermana draws a picture, abuelo plants a tree, tío cooks arroz con leche, tía makes a mobile; all cooperate to greet the infant, each with an offering that confers a blessing, choosing gifts from their hearts to extend their love. The warmth of the bright colors and the content of Cohen’s joyful paintings supply clues for the Spanish words Vamos effortlessly weaves through her story, accenting the Latino cultural heritage of the newborn.
Using a familiar theme, the fluid narrative blends English with Spanish, furnishing a superb picture book for bilingual families, and particularly for children who are interested in what happened before they were born. A glossary at the end confirms any words in doubt.
Will You Still Love Me?
by Carol Roth
illustrated by Daniel Howarth
Albert Whitman, $15.99, Ages 3-5
Reassuring rhyming text comforts young animals, and notably a young boy, as each queries his mama, wondering “will you still love me?” when the new baby comes. From kitten to mouse, cub, duckling, even bunny, they individually ask similar questions: “Will we still have time to hop through the meadow and play? Will you help me find some carrots we can munch all day?”
The affectionate reminders, each one slightly different, are exemplified by this motherly reply: “’Of course,’ said Mother Bunny. ‘You’re my extra-special one. And I’ll love you just as much when the baby bunnies come.’”
Roth’s use of gentle rhythm and cheerful language emphasizes the strong links between mother and child, and harmonizes fluently with Howarth’s lovingly executed watercolor, ink and colored pencil illustrations. Together they combine, producing a sympathetic story, to settle any doubts a first child might entertain, about the approaching arrival of a new sibling.
Mama Says: A Book of Love for Mothers and Sons
by Rob D. Walker,
illustrations by Leo & Diane Dillon.
Scholastic, $16.99, Ages 5-9
Featuring cultures, religions and specifically, languages from around the world, this exceptionally beautiful book dramatizes the best hopes mothers (and fathers, although they are not mentioned here) have for their children to be courageous, compassionate, strong individuals. In this celebration of both our striking human similarities and profound differences, the powerful loving text chants its rhythmic rhymes in smooth step with elegant paintings.
In each of thirteen double page spreads, a single poem is spotlighted, with its translation into the language of the individuals highlighted: “Mama says/Respect all life/And treasure every tree/Mama says/Our planet needs/Each flower, bird, and bee.” The accompanying circular illustration is an intimate glimpse of the mother/son bond, and the full-page companion painting on the facing page offers a reflection of the child’s active participation in the mother’s counsel.
The final spread is a visual representation of the adults the boys from the earlier pages have become. (“I listened to what Mama said/And now I am a man.”) An Afterword identifies the twelve languages whose interpretations appear on the preceding pages, with an explanation and credit to the language experts consulted.
REVIEW PUBLISHED IN MAY 2010 ISSUE OF FAMILY MAGAZINE
Monday, May 17, 2010
When it was time
for Show and Tell,
Adam brought a big pink shell.
He told about
the ocean roar
and walking on the sandy shore.
And then he passed
the shell around.
We listened to the water sound.
And that's the first time
I could hear
the wild waves calling to my ear.
Monday, May 10, 2010
Out in the dark and daylight,
under a cloud or tree,
Out in the dark and daylight,
out where the wind blows free,
Out in the March or May light,
with shadows and stars to see,
Out in the dark and daylight . . .
that’s where I like to be.