Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thanksgiving is a Time for Remembering (FAMILY magazine reviews)

Thanksgiving is more than a time for gratitude. It has also become a time to reflect on immigration, remembering that many of us have come to the United States for safety and freedom. Being together, sharing food and family history, reading and telling stories, and talking about the events that influence us can bring new meaning and enrichment into our relationships. The love we share with each other is always an important part of reading and telling stories. Holidays can provide times for these essentials. Have fun!!

The Memory Coat by Elvira Woodruff
Illustrated by Michael Dooling
            Rachel and her orphaned cousin, Grisha, play a storytelling game to distract him from his grief following his parents’ deaths during an epidemic. The only thing left from his former life is a coat his mother made from her own coat. “Inside, he can still feel his mama’s touch,” Rachel tells the aunts and uncles who want Grisha to have a new coat.
This heartwarming immigrant tale shows a Russian Jewish family who must leave when it is no longer safe in their village. They make the difficult journey by wagon, train, and finally, by ship across the ocean to America.
Rachel’s words begin the stories. But it’s Grisha’s pictures that help him to find comfort in this storytelling game they play together.
The restrained oil paintings that illustrate the story use sepia tones to give a sense of another era, especially those of the farm and village scenes. However, even the more colorful pages use subdued tones to communicate the fear and grimness of wartime Russia, and the immigrant lines at Ellis Island.
A minor fall when Rachel loses her balance, during their storytelling game in the customs inspection line, knocks Grisha into a basket. He scratches his eye. When the Ellis Island doctor examines him, it looks red and irritated. He writes a chalk letter “E” on Grisha’s coat. How Rachel solves the problem, and Grisha does not get separated from the family, is the happy ending to this tale.
An Author’s Note, and Historic Notes about Life in Russia, The Journey Westward, and Ellis Island are important back matter.

Scholastic, $17.99 (hardcover) 
$6.95 (paperback)
Interest Level: Grade 2-5

Gracias, The Thanksgiving Turkey by Joy Cowley
Illustrated by Joe Cepeda
            Papa, who is a truck driver, sends a live turkey to Miguel. He lives with Abuela, Abuelo and Tia Rosa in a small New York City apartment. Miguel names the turkey Gracias. He’s supposed to feed the turkey, so it will be fat for Thanksgiving dinner, in time for Papa’s arrival.
            Miguel and Gracias become friends, amigos. He goes to the library to find out what turkeys eat. Miguel and his school friend, Clarene, talk with the park ranger in Central Park. They get sacks of cut grass from him to feed to Gracias. The Indian couple that owns a nearby store gives them old cabbages and lettuces for turkey food. The “whole neighborhood knows about Gracias.”
Even the friendly local cop teases them about whose oven is bigger to cook the turkey. Miguel gets worried when the subject of ovens comes up.
“People shouldn’t eat pets,” he says. Then, Gracias is stolen! Despite all best efforts, no one can find her.
The oil paintings are bright and cheerful, featuring the multicultural neighborhood, and the changing seasons. Officer Deveraux, to Miguel’s great relief, arrives with a still alive Gracias, which she has rescued.
This humorous story with its surprising twists is an unexpectedly delightful tale. Its setting in the city with a non-traditional Spanish speaking family supplies a satisfying ending. A glossary with Spanish words and their English translations is at the back.

Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 2  

The Thankful Book by Todd Parr
            Well-known for his signature primary colors and flat, primitive style illustrations, Parr once again uses a simple format for sharing important information. His animal and people characters outlined in black are featured on colorful backgrounds with unusual things to be thankful for. Purple hair, begins: “I’m thankful for my hair because it makes me unique.” Underwear can be worn on one’s head. The library is filled with endless adventures.
            This book is an unusual exploration of gratitude. Text and pictures together invite laughter. Great conversations can emerge from what readers and listeners are thankful for as a part of enjoying this book together.
            As often happens at the end of his books, Parr concludes with a personal note: “There are lots of things to be thankful for. Try to remember some of them every day. The end. Love, Todd” This is a perfect story to share.

Little, Brown and Company, $11
Interest Level: Junior Kindergarten – Grade 2

More Books to Share:

The Perfect Thanksgiving by Eileen Spinelli
Illustrations by JoAnn Adinolfi
Henry Holt, $7.99 (paperback)
Interest Level: Pre-Kindergarten – Grade 1

A Turkey for Thanksgiving by Eve Bunting
Illustrated by Diane de Groat
Clarion, $6.99 (paperback)
Interest Level: Kindergarten - Grade 3

What is Thanksgiving? by Elaine Landau
Enslow Publishers
Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 3

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