Thursday, December 1, 2011

In Anticipation of the Holidays (FAMILY magazine reviews)

When hard times come, we often turn to traditions that have served us well in the past. Gatherings of family and friends, food to share, and tales to tell, are among the treasures of memory making we can use to moderate trying periods. Make use of any or all of these fascinating books to enhance the season!

Franklin and Winston: A Christmas That Changed the World
by Douglas Wood
illustrated by Barry Moser
Candlewick Press, $16.99, Ages 7-10

Not a good student in school, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, was nonetheless a tenacious bulldog, inspiring defense of Great Britain through grim years of war against Nazi forces. His trip to the United States in December 1941was to plan, with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, how to confront the Nazi threat felt around the world.
The US President, who despite polio, had continued to guide and encourage the people of the US through the Great Depression, had met previously and begun a working friendship with PM Churchill and the two were pleased to meet again for this important work. The task of creating the largest alliance in history, coupled with fighting a World War, required much discussion, negotiation, and decision-making.
However, the most charming elements of this nonfiction picture book are the humorous anecdotes author Wood peppers throughout. One example is the time Franklin enters Winston’s room as he is getting out of the bathtub, and celebrated illustrator Moser captures the PM bent over and wrapped in a towel. The watercolor illustrations are, in large part, based on cropped and modified photographs and have the life-like qualities of realism characteristic of Moser’s work.
Capturing the celebration of Christmas at the White House, press conferences, and even Churchill’s address to the US Congress, this is a masterful tale, told of two powerful and dedicated men in a charged and difficult period of history. An Afterword lists the accomplishments of these two leaders during the weeks they spent together in December 1941 and January 1942. An Author’s Note, Bibliography, and a note about the illustrations are appended.

Lighthouse Christmas
by Toni Buzzeo
illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
Dial, $16.99, Ages 5-8

Inspired by a New England tradition, this holiday story begins with Peter and Frances as they plan and hope for Christmas. The lighthouse, where they live with Papa, is located on an island, and the supply boat is late. When Aunt Martha radios that she will send a dory for the children, they must decide if Papa will stay alone for the holiday, since someone must keep the light burning.
When a storm blows up, a fishing boat with an injured man overturns in the water, and the wind blows out the light. Frances must re-light the lamp, while her Papa rescues the fisherman. In addition, there will be no trip to the mainland in the storm.
Using pen and digital media, acclaimed illustrator Carpenter matches her palette to the text, in this 1930’s era picture book. She creates a light-filled house and deftly contrasts the darkness of the storm and its choppy wind and high waters, with the brightness of the Light.
Younger brother Peter is very upset about the lost trip to the mainland, until he and Frances determine how they will celebrate Christmas in the lighthouse. Heightened by the unexpected arrival of an airplane circling overhead, to drop a package from the “Flying Santa,” this cozy, intimate story concludes with a warm, happy gathering of the “Ledge Light family” as Peter has named them, including the one-eared cat that Papa doesn’t like and the rescued fisherman. An Author’s Note at the end explains the Flying Santa Service, launched in 1929 and continuously active ever since (except for the war years, 1941-1944).

The Flying Canoe: A Christmas Story
by Eric A. Kimmel
illustrated by Daniel San Souci and Justin San Souci
Holiday House, $16.95, Ages 6-9

On a Christmas Eve long ago six French fur traders squeeze around a tiny fire in Ontario, far from families, wishing they were home in Quebec. A magical figure is suddenly among them, offering to transport them to Montreal in one night. His only condition is that they may not speak until they are home. They agree, knowing they are able to use Indian sign language to communicate.
Celebrated author Kimmel, known for his award-winning folktales, has based this retelling on a French Canadian legend, with roots in Norse mythology. This story chronicles the trip as the trappers pass over places they recognize; “paddling” their canoe through the air, they “fly” through a blizzard, hear Niagara falls below them, and as they drop lower over Montreal, recognize some of their loved ones.
The San Souci’s, father and son artists, combine their talents to create enchanted illustrations, peopled with fur traders whose dress, head coverings and facial hair are reminiscent of Snow White’s dwarfs. Using both traditional and digital media, the illustrators companion the text with gleaming snow, ice-coated mountains, and cloud cover to conjure this crisp winter tale, in a skillful play of light and dark, for a story whose main action occurs during nighttime hours.
Casting the canoe’s shadow in the shape of the full moon’s brilliance, the illustrations show a happier conclusion than many versions. Since the agreement is, of course, broken, Kimmel’s text is a salute to “miracles” that often lay claim to the entrancing wonder of Christmas Eve.

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