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Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshall by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Back a few months ago, a publicist with Lerner Publishing Group (Carolrhoda Books) contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in reviewing a couple of books written by African American authors for Black History month.  I was intrigued by the titles, so I agreed.  Well, here it is almost the end of February, and I’m just now getting around to it.  Let me tell you, though, that this particular book is worth the wait.  In fact, Bad News for Outlaws:  The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshall by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson won the Coretta Scott King Author Award this year.  If I had just been a little quicker, I could’ve been one of those who said “I read it first!”  🙂

This episodic biographical picture book details the life of one Bass Reeves, a legendary lawman who, by the time the Indian Territory became the state of Oklahoma, had arrested some 3,000 lawbreakers, in the process taking the lives of only fourteen people.  In the wild and lawless West, this was remarkable.  The picture of Bass Reeves that Nelson paints with her words is one of a genuinely good man, a hero even, who did his job with honor and integrity.  He even worked toward rehabilitating the outlaws he apprehended by talking to them about the Bible and about doing right.  He would also stop at nothing to “get his man,” even assuming different personas to catch the ne’er-do-wells. 

This book is chock full of historical detail, and it contains all sorts of additional information in the back:  a glossary of Western terms, a timeline, bibliographies and website lists for futher reading, short sketches about some of hte historical figures and regions mentioned in the book, and even an interesting note from the author about how she came to know about this little known African American hero.  I like what she said at the close of her note:  “Bass’s story is so incredible it comes close to sounding like a tall tale.  But it isn’t.  It’s true.  And I’ve done my best to tell it true.”  I like that–I thought some of the story read like a tall tale, and it’s amazing to learn that Bass Reeves’ exploits did in fact happen.

R. Gregory Christie, three time recipient of the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award,  is the illustrator whose work fleshes out the story for us.  The illustrations really evoke the feeling of the Old West.  You can see an example illustration from Bad News for Outlaws here, or visit R. Gregory Christie’s website to gain an even broader appreciation of his artwork. 

Although I have not shared this book with my children yet, I am excited to add this one to our collection.  As regular Hope Is the Word readers know, my girls are interested in “pioneery” things (to borrow the terminology of my old boss, the librarian at the public library where I worked while in undergraduate school), so I think this one will be a winner with them when they’re old enough to understand some of the lawlessness and the violence that marked the Old West.   I think this book would be appropriate from grades four through high school.  (I’m an adult, and I really liked it.  It made me want to know more about Bass Reeves!)  What’s more, Carolrhoda Books has created several different resources for use with this book that would really help to broaden the study into something meaty. 

I give this one a Highly Recommended! 

I received no compensation, other than a free copy of the book, for writing this review.

Author/Illustrator Spotlight::Robert McCloskey

I’m probably coming a little late to the party for this particular author and illustrator, but my only exposure to him as a child that I recall is Make Way for Ducklings.  It is certainly a charming book in its own right (not to mention that it’s a Caldecott Medal winner!), but I must’ve been a little too old (or something?) for it to make a huge impression on me.  (Either that, or now I’m reverting back to my second childhood.)  When I discovered One Morning in Maine, I positively fell in love.  I’m not sure what it is about this book–the relationship we’ve already established with the younger Sal through Blueberries for Sal, the fact that my girls are just about the age that Sal is in One Morning in Maine, or just the simple fact that this somewhat lengthy picture book has so many interesting details about life in coastal Maine.  (An island, even!) Sal’s delight over losing a tooth; her consternation over losing (as in misplacing) that tooth while going clam digging with her father; and her fastidious care for her little sister while they travel by boat across the bay to do some shopping are just perfect–McCloskey really nailed the age, I think.   This one’s definitely going on my Best Picture Books list.


I was interested to note that McCloskey only wrote eight books.  To quote Eleanor Blau, the author of McCloskey’s NY Times obituary, “It had to be right, and it often was.”  My girls and I have also enjoyed Time of Wonder, another book for which McCloskey won the Caldecott Medal.  It didn’t grab me quite as much as One Morning in Maine, but it also doesn’t have such an endearing heroine.  I also think I prefer the black-and-white illustrations of his earlier works over the color ones in Time of Wonder.

I would really like to read McCloskey’s Homer Price and its sequel, Centerburg Tales: More Adventures of Homer Price.  His obituary states that these are full of tall tales; I’m not sure if this means they are tall tales or if they contain tall tales.  Something I’ve read before about them makes me think the latter.  Has anyone read these?

If you haven’t introduced your children to the wonder of Robert McCloskey, don’t wait.  I’m planning to “Row” Lentil some time this spring.  I can’t wait!  (For more on Lentil, check out Lisa’s post.)

Read Aloud Thursday

 

This week we’ve hit the jackpot with some good read-alouds–so many that I’m having to ration them for various blog posts.  🙂  That’s a good problem to have, though, right?


I am never “up” on new books, mainly because I just browse at the library and find most of our good books serendipitously.  Even after reading this post over at Brimful Curiosities, I mostly just thought it would be nice to happen upon the new Caldecott Medal winner one day.  Well, I was following my usual protocol at the library last week when I happened to see that beautiful bookcover staring back at me from a display shelf, smack by the library’s front door.  It was meant to be!  Jerry Pinkney’s The Lion & the Mouse is everything a wordless picture book should be.  (Keep in mind that I usually don’t even like wordless picture books.)  First of all, the story is familiar enough that we didn’t lose the narrative in the middle of deciphering the pictures.  Second, the illustrations themselves do a great job of carrying the story–there aren’t any gaps.  Third, well, it’s by Jerry Pinkney–need I say more?  (We’ve enjoyed his work before.)  Fourth, it isn’t truly, completely wordless–there are lots of onomatopoeic animal sounds in the book–all done up in large, illustrative type, which is perfect for a beginning reader.  I’d love to add this one to our collection.  I think I’m beginning to appreciate wordless picture books more.  🙂
Maybe I should’ve called this edition of Read Aloud Thursday the fable/folktale edition; this next book is a retelling of a familiar folktale.  Out of the Egg by Tina Matthews is sort of a fractured version of “The Little Red Hen.”  Actually, I think I’d call it a redeemed version, not a fractured version.  The story goes along predictably until the Little Red Hen lays a perfect, white egg.  Out of this perfect, white egg comes the cutest little red chick.  The little red chick then has the opportunity the undo some of the selfishness of the past. . . Okay, this sounds way too serious–it’s really a great little picture book, and I know we could pull all sorts of lessons out of it.  What I really want to highlight, though, are the pictures!  With a palette of only four colors, Tina Matthews showcases the woodblock print technique beautifully.  The reds and greens are surprising against the stark black and white backgrounds, which is perfect for this tale that ends in a surprising way.  Highly Recommended!


Okay, maybe this post is more about beautiful illustrations than anything this week.  😉  I saw Uri Shulevitz‘s Snow on display at the library and picked it up despite the fact that we had already finished our study of all things snowy.  I’m really glad I went ahead and picked this one up, though.  The story is rather sparse, actually–a little boy is excited because it is snowing.  No one he encounters, though, will admit that it might actually snow more than a flake or two or share in his excitement.  Even the weather forecasters side against him, but thankfully, “snowflakes don’t listen to radio” and “snowflakes don’t watch television.”  The story ends with some fantastical elements–a Mother Goose and nursery rhyme characters literally come off of a bookstore sign and frolic in the snow with the believing boy.  What this book is really all about to me, though, is the pictures.  (It turns out that Uri Shulevitz won a Caldecott honor for this book the same year Snowflake Bentley won the Medal.)   You can tell by the cover illustration that gray figures heavily into the color scheme, which is entirely appropriate for a snowy day.  I love the way the artist emphasizes the strengthening of the snowstorm as the book progresses.  On one of the first illustrations, there is just that one snowflake, a mere dot of white on a gray field of sky.  We found it to be surprising and delightful.  I’d definitely add this one to my winter book collection!

Oh, I’m just basking in the joy that is beautifully written and even more beautifully illustrated picture books!  What a privilege it is to share these with my children!  🙂

Would you like to share your joy at your family’s read-alouds? (Or even perhaps steer others away from certain books?)  Simply write up your own Read Aloud Thursday blog post and link it up below.  If you don’t blog, simply leave a comment!

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Kids’ Picks–Audiobooks Galore!

It has been a long time since I’ve had enough foresight to participate in Kids’ Picks over at 5 Minutes for Books, but I’ve had this post percolating in my brain for a long time.  I’m glad to finally have the motivation to get it written and posted!

As I’ve said more times than I can count, audiobooks are a staple here at the House of Hope.  I honestly believe that Lulu, especially, would spend half of her day everyday listening to something (and it would be something related to Little House, usually).  I would estimate that the girls average 1 1/2 to 2 hours of listening time on most days:  one hour at rest time and the remainder at bedtime or other snatches of time during the day when they need occupying.  In fact, I hear Little Town on the Prairie even as I’m writing this. 

I often feel disconnected from what they’re listening to since I’m usually using that time to do other things, so I don’t always write about it here at Hope Is the Word.  However, there have been a few stories they’ve listened to over the past six months or so that I really want to record here, and due to various circumstances, I feel like I have at least a little bit to say about them, so here goes:
I’m not sure how I missed Eleanor Estes’ Newbery Medal-winning Ginger Pye as a child, but I’m really glad my girls have had the pleasure of enjoying this fun and suspenseful story (over and over and over again 😉 ).  They’ve listened to it enough times that I know the whole story, more or less, and I have been amused by the things they’ve picked up and used in their imaginative play as a result.  Louise, especially, has an affinity for names, and more than one of her imaginary playmates or dolls has been named Addie Eagan (spelling? Remember, when I haven’t read it, I’m not responsible  for spelling it correctly!).  Ginger Pye is a heartwarming dog story with some quirky characters, and it’s a mystery, to boot.  I think it would make a great choice for the Children’s Classics Mystery Challenge.  I think I might just read it aloud to my girls for the challenge!  (I really am always curious after I listen to some work to see just how all of those names, etc., are spelled.)  My girls like this one so much, they’ll be thrilled!

This next book is one I picked out for them at the library for purely sentimental reasons:  I loved it myself as a child.  Since my girls love pioneer stories, I figured they’d enjoy this one, too.   They listened to it several times, and we listened to part of the story on at least one short trip.  Carol Ryrie Brink’s Caddie Woodlawn is another Newbery Medal winner.  I’m sure that most people are familiar with the story, but I wanted to share it here because my girls did love it and I have my own particular memory of it:  I have never, ever forgotten the fact that one of the brothers (Warren, I think) messed up his recitation for school.  He was supposed to say, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”  Instead, he said, “If at first you don’t fricassee, fry, fry a hen.”  I’ll leave it to you, dear readers, to determine why this has remained lodged in my brain.  😉


The next couple of audiobooks are ones I’m not as familiar with, but they definitely qualify as kids’ picks.  I picked up a couple of the Mercy Watson stories simply on name recognition:  I’ve read enough of Kate DiCamillo to know that she’s good.  My girls found the endearing stories about this beloved pet pig to be laugh-out-loud funny, and I’ll admit that I did, too. We listened to a couple of the stories over and over again when we went on vacation last fall, and we all got in on the fun.  Since then, we’ve checked out another one of the collections (there are two stories per each collection, I believe), and it was met with just as much enthusiasm and laughter all around.  Since I’ve never seen an actual copy of one of these books, I can’t say for sure, but Ms. DiCamillo’s website has them categorized as “Early Chapter Books,” so I’m thinking these might be a good series to keep in mind for my blossoming reader.

Speaking of a blossoming reader (nice segway, huh?), I just have to share this last book, not just because it’s fun and my girls really liked it in audio, but also because I think it might mark a turning point in Lulu’s journey toward independent reading.  We ran errands on Saturday and went on a little roadtrip to a neighboring town for shopping, etc.–mainly just to get out of the house after a week of sickness and being mostly cooped up.  We usually do bring along a longer audiobook for any trip of an hour or more, but I failed to get one and put it in the van.  Louise had chosen How I Became a Pirate as her bring-along entertainment for the trip, and it just so happens that this particular book is one that came with a CD of the story.  Guess what we listened to five or six times before we even made it out of town?  You guessed it.  It is a fun story, and I think my girls were perplexed about the whole pirate thing (we haven’t read anything with pirates in it to my recollection up until now)–Green teeth?  “Aaargh?”  Sea chanteys?   “Shiver me timbers”?  I don’t think they looked at the pictures much in the van; they just enjoyed listening.  When we got home, Lulu brought me the book and proudly read to me from a page in the middle of the story.  Granted, she had listened to it multiple times that day, but she was obviously working hard to sound out the words.  Bingo!  While she is making great progress in her reading, she is a little bit reluctant to apply it outside of “school time.”  This has changed somewhat over the past few weeks, but I was thrilled when she voluntarily brought me this picture book and shared with me what she could do.  I definitely consider that a Kid’s Pick!

Reading aloud to my children is truly one of the highlights of my day, but I am so thankful to have access to so many great audiobooks to supplement what I do with them.  Right now for my girls a day without an audiobook is almost unthinkable.  While I suspect this will probably change as they both become independent readers, I’m glad that they have been able to meet so many wonderful characters through the stories they’ve heard in this way.

Would you like to see what others bloggers’ kids are picking these days?  Click over to Kids’ Picks at 5 Minutes for Books!

Friday’s Vintage Find::The Big Snow by Berta and Elmer Hader

Just in case I haven’t shared enough books about show this week, I thought I’d share one more.  (You can read my other posts here and here.)  😉  The Big Snow by Berta and Elmer Hader was published in 1948 and won the 1949 Caldecott Medal.  (Newsflash:  I just realized that I usually refer to this as the Caldecott Award, when its title is actually the Caldecott Medal.  I stand corrected.)  This book is as deserving of this medal as any I’ve seen; reading this book is like looking through an artist’s nature sketchbook.  The illustrations alternate between color and black and white.  It’s very vintage-y, as one would expect from a book over fifty years old.  It was probably just that familiar musty smell, but our borrowed library copy reminds me of something (old encyclopedias, I think) that I used to read at my grandparents’ house.  The story itself is very simple–a huge variety of animals get ready for a big snow.  In the end, many of them depend on humans to feed them.  Reading this book made me want to get out in the freezing (for Alabama, anyway) cold weather and finally put up those bird feeders we bought back in October. 

I give this one a Highly Recommended.

Read Aloud Thursday::Katy and the Big Snow Go-Alongs

I generally prefer for my Read Aloud Thursday posts to be all nice and random, but life, with all its requisite nightly activities, has begun in earnest at the House of Hope this week.  The girls have resumed their music classes, and I, alas, must hie me to the local community college twice weekly for instructing students in reading skills.  (Appropriate, huh?)  I wanted to make the books we’ve enjoyed as a part of our Five in a Row unit on Katy and the Big Snow all its own post, but I’m killing two birds with one stone here for sake of time.


I’ve highlighted Ezra Jack Keats before here at Hope Is the Word, but I only mentioned The Snowy Day briefly in that post.  However, no sharing of books about snow would be complete without this Caldecott Award-winning book!  The Snowy Day is about Keats’ most famous (only?) character, Peter, and the fun he has out-of-doors on an unexpected snowy day.  With simple, colorful illustrations and a story line that capitalizes on the fun even a city boy can have when his world turns white with snow, this is a perfect example of how good a simple picture book can be.  Highly, highly recommended, and I’m adding it to my Best Picture Books list to prove it!  🙂


This next one is pure silliness, but I like it.  There Was a Cold Lady Who Swallowed Some Snow! by Lucille Colandro is my favorite of the ones of read of her “Old Lady Who” series, and I’ll admit that it took a second reading for me to even get that in this book she isn’t the “old” lady, but the “cold” lady.  Cute, huh?  More perceptive readers than I will probably recognize what it is, exactly, that’s percolating in that cavernous stomach of hers (based on what she swallows), but I thought it was very clever.  My girls like this one a lot, too, and the illustrations by Jared Lee are just as appropriately colorful and silly.


I don’t usually like wordless picture books, but I do like Emily Arnold McCully’s illustrations (and her writing, too, for that matter), and this one works for us.   (Ironically enough, we inadvertently ended up with two McCully books from one library run, and they’ve both made Read Aloud Thursday!)  I’m beginning to suspect it’s because Louise is much more willing to narrate the story for us, and now that she’s old enough, Lulu’s predilections don’t have as much sway over what we read, etc.  Anyway, First Snow is a sweet, sweet picture book about a family of mice who take a day to go sledding, and one little girl mouse overcomes her fright of going down the big hill to have the best time of all.  One good thing about wordless picture books is that they force you to really stop and inspect each page.  I have such respect and admiration for children’s book illustrators that this is always a good thing for me.

This last book really deserves a post all its own, but as you know, I’m trying to kill the proverbial two (or three or four) birds with one stone here. 
I’ve been on a quest to purchase all of Robert Sabuda’s pop-up books ever since the fateful day I ran across his Narnia book at my local Tuesday Morning.  Since then we’ve added Peter Pan: A Classic Collectible Pop-Up, and just before Christmas I ran across a banged up copy of Winter’s Tale at T.J. Maxx.  I paid more than I should’ve for it, given its condition (some of the pop-ups are a little crumpled; some feature, I suspect musical, at the end of the book just doesn’t work), but I couldn’t resist.  I’d already given the book a place of honor on our shelf, next to our other pop-up titles, when I happened to remember it.  I’m so glad I did!  The girls really enjoyed this 3-D version of a world covered in snow, and we all marvelled at Sabuda’s ability to create such intricate likenesses of snow-bound creatures like an owl, a family of deer, and a moose.  This would make a great companion to any book that focuses on snow and its effects on the animal world.  One bonus for me was that since the book is already less-than-perfect, it was easier for me to give in and let the girls really look at it.  If you’re unfamiliar with Robert Sabuda, be sure to visit his website for a taste of what this amazing paper engineer has to offer.  You’ll be hooked, too!   🙂


One last title that I want to share in detail here is another Caldecott Award winner.  Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and illustrated by Mary Azarian actually appears in a later volume of Five in a Row (we’re currently in volume one), but I couldn’t resist sharing it with my girls this time through.  It is the true story of Wilson Bentley, a Vermont farmer whose passion in life was collecting and photographing snowflakes.  The story is all about his determination to follow his dream, despite the hard work and sacrifice.  My girls enjoyed this book tremendously, and while I didn’t read every detail about his life to them (there is more information in the “sidebars” of the story), they liked it enough to request it twice in a row.  The illustrations truly are worthy of their Caldecott distinction–woodcuts with watercolors–beautiful!  I’m pretty sure there’s no shortage of resources out there for this book, but I did want to link the Original Wilson Bentley images website for those of you who are unfamiliar with this remarkable story. 

We did read a few more titles, of course, which I’ll  list here:

Some other titles which we’ve read before would’ve made a great addition to this unit, if only I’d had the foresight to borrow them again from the library:

I had planned to read The Long Winter for our next chapter book selection (Louise having declared that she’s afraid of the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which was my other choice), but it turns out that I no longer own this book, or at least I can’t find it.  I settled on Farmer Boy instead; since it is set in New York, I figured that much of the book has to take place in a winter time decidedly more winter-ish than ours. 

I was inspired by Candace’s Winter Nature Study post at His Mercy Is New, also. 

Whew!  That’s an unusually long Read Aloud Thursday post, and if you’re still with me, thank you!  🙂  I actually have at least one more book to share, but it will wait for Friday since it’s actually a Vintage Find.  😉  I also hope to share some pictures of our lapbooks, but since we haven’t put them together, that will also have to wait for a future post.  Stay tuned!

What about your family?  Is it cold enough where you live for everyone to hunker down by the fireplace for some good, old-fashioned entertainment in the form of shared stories?  Please tell us about it by either leaving a comment or linking up you blog post below! 

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Read Aloud Thursday–Best of 2009

 

My girls and I have read a lot of good books together this year, so when I first began to think about how I wanted to end the year for Read Aloud Thursday, I thought I might actually try to go back and check out from the library as many of the picture books I’ve reviewed this year as I could and let my girls pick their favorites.  Then I decided I’m not nearly as brave (or energetic!) as Carrie and promptly abandoned that idea.  I just don’t think I could even begin to pick a favorite, favorite, favorite picture book for myself (or even a few of them), let alone get my girls to do it by just looking at the covers on the computer screen.  My always-a-work-in-progress Best Picture Books list will have to suffice. 

What I decided to do instead is highlight the best chapter book read-alouds we did this year.  Actually, it seems more and more that chapter books are becoming the norm around the House of Hope for read-alouds; Lulu tends to request them, and Louise just goes along for the ride.  Oh, by no means am I giving up reading picture books!  No way!  I think I just got a little overwhelmed the past couple of months with the holidays and early pregnancy funk.  Besides, with a new little one on his or her way,  there will be plenty of picture books to read and enjoy all over again, as well as new ones to discover! 

Anyway, back to the best chapter books discussion.  Looking over the list of what we’ve read together (click and then scroll down to see it), I think my favorite of all was our saunter through The House at Pooh Corner, but I’m just very sentimental that way.  Read this post for proof of my extreme sentimentality.  

I read the list of books we’ve finished aloud to the girls just before bedtime last night, and Lulu predictably voted The Best Christmas Pageant Ever as her favorite, so little sister (also predictably) followed.  I don’t know if they really loved it that much, if they remember it best since it’s the last one we read, or if they loved it because we saw their cousins perform in a stage production of it while we were in the middle of reading it, but that was their number one pick.  Of course, Lulu had to give a loyalty vote to Little House on the Prairie, which I hope and believe she will always hold near and dear to her heart.  I know we’ve spent many, many, many hours listening to the audiobooks of that series here at the House of Hope this year.

Honestly, it would be very difficult for me to pick which book I think they enjoyed the most.  I could more easily pick the ones I think didn’t go over as well, but what would be the fun in that?  😉  If I were to pick a top three five six, though, not including the above choices, the list would include

  • All things Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.  The girls loved this book and its sequel, found it hilarious, and much to my chagrin, actually “got” the mischief the children got themselves into. 
  • Charlotte’s Web.  How can I not include this one?  I consider this book the pinnacle of read-aloud perfection:  immensely readable text, perfect illustrations by none other than Garth Williams of Little House fame, and a perfect story.  To have it read by the author raises it to an even higher plane.  This book has also provided lots of fodder for my girls’ imaginations.   This year was our second trip through, and I daresay it won’t be our last. 
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  This read-aloud brought me as much joy as any I’ve shared with them yet, and that’s saying a mouthful for sure.  The fact that Lulu saw a large read-aloud copy I just purchased and requested another trip back into the Wardrobe is testimony to me of the power of this story. The girls have even listened to this one in audio a few times.  However, they share a CD player during rest time, their normal audiobook-listening time, and some of the scenes with the White Witch are a little too intense for Louise, so she usually votes against this one, at least the dramatized audio version we have. 
  • The Story of Helen Keller was an unexpected treat for my girls.  This sort of links back (like many, many things here at the House of Hope) to the Ingalls family, since Mary was blind.  They really soaked up Helen Keller’s inspiring story, and yes, we took a field trip to Ivy Green, even if I never managed to share the pictures here like I promised to do. 
  • Betsy-Tacy enchanted us all.  I’ll never forget lying in bed in our hotel room on vacation and finishing this book with the girls.  I look forward to sharing the sequels with them in the future. 
  • .Last but certainly not least, Tumtum and NutmegThese books were a joy to read, and Louise still gets a kick out of Madame Tiptoe and her pogo-ing ballerinas in the second story.  I don’t think I expected a modern book to be this much fun and imaginative for some reason, but rest assured that there is still good children’s literature being written today. 

As for 2010, I’m not sure which direction we’ll travel.  Rest assured, though, I’ll share whatever we discover together here at Read Aloud Thursday!  🙂

What about your family?  Care to tell us your top picks of 2009, or maybe just what you’ve been enjoying lately?  Link up your blog post below, or simply leave a comment.  Oh, and don’t forget about the Read Aloud Thursday buttons!

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Have a magnificent last day of 2009!  What better way to go out than a Read Aloud Thursday! 🙂

Read Aloud Thursday

Are you guys feeling the Christmas cheer through the books you’re enjoying together these days? We are, but it seems like our read-aloud time has been cut in half (or fourth, actually) due to various and sundry “must dos” that are always on the list.I have a neat anthology of Christmas stories called A Newbery Christmas that I picked up for a few dollars at my library’s used bookstore, but alas, we haven’t read the first story out of it.  It is a compilation of fourteen stories written by Newbery award-winning authors.  Some of the authors represented in this anthology include Eleanor Estes, E. L. Konigsburg, Madeleine L’Engle, Lois Lenski, and Beverly Cleary.  So why am I telling you about this, if we haven’t even cracked it open?  I don’t know.  Good intentions, maybe.  🙂

We have read and delighted in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, though.   Honestly, I would probably have waited until my girls are a little older to read this one aloud, but I had motivation this year:  my nephews are in a local theater production of this heartwarming story this week.  We went to the public performance on Sunday, and ‘though we hadn’t finished the book then, the looks on my girls’ faces were priceless:  They KNEW the Herdmans!  I find Barbara Robinson’s take on the Christmas story so poignant; of course I was teary-eyed and quavery-voiced by the end (my girls are used to this by now).  This is the bit that got me right in the heart:

But as far as I’m concerned, Mary is always going to look a lot like Imogene Herdman–sort of nervous and bewildered, but ready clobber anyone who laid a hand on her baby.  And the Wise Men are always going to be Leroy and his brothers, bearing ham. 

Even if you have no children with whom to share this story, read this one.  It’s good.

We revisited The Polar Express yesterday and enjoyed pulling out the paints and brushes for a little related art project.  There’s really not much for me to say about this picture book classic, so I won’t.  However, I will point you in the direction of a great resource book I’ve used a few times with my girls and expect to use even more as they get a little older.  It’s Storybook Art: Hands-On Art for Children in the Styles of 100 Great Picture Book Illustrators by MaryAnn F. Kohl and Jean Potter.  It contains art projects that mimic or somehow highlight the styles of art used by 100 picture book illustrators.  I’ve been completely enamored of this book since I’ve had it, and I’m really itching to be able to use it even more with my girls.

So how’s that for a Read Aloud Thursday post?  One book we haven’t actually read, one book we did read (but that I admit I would normally have put off for a few years), and one book we read but I only used to point you in the direction of an instructional book, of all things.  I’m sorry.  Once this holiday season is over, I plan to get back to my usual blathering on and on about how much I love this book and that one.  🙂

I do have one more little bit of business to take care of this Read Aloud Thursday!  A giveaway–from last week’s Read Aloud Thursday anniversary post!  Someone is going to have a great little  big anthology coming to her door. . . .

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. . . and that someone is Stephanie, who commented

Every year I think of wrapping my books up for the girls and always remember a few days after the start of December. Maybe next year. I’m not sure I’ll get time to do a read-aloud post today … or pick a favorite Christmas book! I’m going to go with The Night Before Christmas because it’s a childhood favorite. If you asked my N2, she would pick The Grinch and if you asked N1, she “might” pick The Nutcracker because we are reading through it right now, but who knows?

Stephanie, I’ll be emailing you ASAP to get this wonderful collection on its merry way to your home!

So how about your family?  What are you reading together as Christmas nears?  Please leave a link to your blog entry below, or simply leave a comment.

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Oh, and one more thing:  there will be NO Read Aloud Thursday next week in honor of Christmas Eve, but Read Aloud Thursday will be back on December 31 with a special year-in-review edition.  Stay tuned!  🙂

Friday’s Vintage Find::The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson

My girls and I finished our latest chapter book read-aloud after an intermission from it which was precipitated by the Thanksgiving holiday and all the accompanying hullaballo.  We read The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson.  I had seen this title repeatedly on numerous homeschooling message board threads, etc., so I thought we’d give it a go.  It turns out that it was a winner and it was also a timely read in that it is set during the Christmas holiday season.

The Family Under the Bridge is set in Paris.  It is the story of the Calcet family:  a mother, an older sister named Suzy, a brother named Paul, and the baby sister named Evelyne.  After losing their home, they inadvertently occupy the home of a longstanding homeless man named Armand.  Armand is an older man who is rather happy with his lot (or lack thereof) in life, but he is not happy about giving up his abode under the bridge to three winsome little children.  Of course, as one would expect from such a story, Armand begins to take the children under his wings, and the story ends up promisingly and happily for them all.

This story was first published in 1958 and is a Newbery honor book.  Much of the story itself and the attitudes, however subtle, are dated.  This really didn’t bother me too much, but I’m not too politically correct anyway.  One example:  there is a huge group (family?) of gypsies in the story, and while they are portrayed positively, some of the stereotypes (i.e. the idea that they are thieves, the inevitable fortune-telling, etc.) are brought out, but it seemed to me that most often Carlson was trying to combat those stereotypes.  The other issue that occurred to me is the issue of homelessness.  Armand really is portrayed as a little bit lazy; he seems perfectly happy to be homeless and without responsibility.  However, he is “rehabilitated” by the love of this little family in the end. 

The only real problem I had with this story is that I CANNOT pronounce French words AT ALL, so that hampered my reading.  (I took two years of Spanish and one year of Russian, believe it or not, in high school, so everything about French eludes me.)  I think my girls enjoyed this one, as evidenced by their cries of “one more chapter” every time I finished a chapter.  However, I’m beginning to wonder if this is an adequate measure of success for a read-aloud because I can’t remember a time in the past year when they didn’t say that.  🙂  This story didn’t resonate with me as much as a lot of our other recent read-alouds have, but I still think it’s a worthwhile read-aloud.

Author/Illustrator Spotlight::Allen Say

Taking a cue from Stephanie, I decided that we would try to read our Five in a Row selections geographically–that is, read books set in the same part of the world together, rather than spreading them out over the year.  After reading (and loving!) Masako Matsuno’s A Pair of Red Clogs ( my thoughts here), we picked up Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say.  I feel like this Caldecott Award-winning book hardly needs an introduction .  It is the touching biographical sketch of Allen Say’s gradfather’s immigration to the United States as a young man and his eventual return to Japan as an old man.  It is all about discovering a new country and missing an old country.  It is about restlessness and wanderlust.  It makes me cry, and despite that, my girls love it.  🙂 

Even before we read Grandfather’s Journey, we had read several books about Japanese people assimilating into American culture.  The girls thought they were hilarious, and I really enjoyed reading them aloud.  What I didn’t realize, though, is that we would be gaining so much of Allen Say’s perspective either through his writing or his illustrations.  The one the girls loved most is How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina R. Friedman.  In this humorous story, a young girl explains how both chopsticks and knives and forks came to be the utensils of choice in her home.  It is the story of her Japanese mother and her American father, a sailor stationed in Yokohoma.  We read of the beginning of their romance, which is speeded along when her father learns his ship will be leaving in three weeks.  The young couple has enjoyed spending time together, but they have never eaten together due to their discomfort at each other’s manner of eating.  What follows is a story faintly remisicent of “The Gift of the Magi” in which each person sacrifices to learn the other’s traditions.  Allen Say‘s illustrations are recognizable in this story.  In fact, my girls were pretty sure that the young woman in How My Parents Learned to Eat is the same one in the next selection. . .

Tea with Milk by Allen Say might be subtitled “Mother’s Journey,” for it is the story of Allen Say’s mother, and while it is a continuation of the story begun in Grandfather’s Journey, in many ways these companion stories are opposites.  In this story, a young girl is born outside San Francisco and spends her youth there, until her Japanese father grows so homesick for Japan that he relocates his family there.  Masako cannot assimilate into life in Japan, and she eventually grows restless enough to move away from her parents’ village into the larger city of Osaka.  In Osaka she gains employment in a department store, and it is there that she eventually meets her future husband (the father of Allen Say).  Their meeting is through a unique turn of events that happens precisely because they both, though they are both Asian, speak English.

Allen Say is obviously both a talented author and illustrator.  His illustrations, particularly in his own books, are more portrait-like than most children’s book illustrations.  However, this style fits the tone and subject matter of his books very well.

We actually read another book which Allen Say illustrated, and I’m including it in this post even though it is a totally different type of book.  The Boy of the Three Year Nap by Dianne Snyder reads like a  Japanese folktale.  It is the story of a lazy boy named Taro who maneuvers to marry the daughter of a wealthy neighbor, but his exasperated mother turns the tables on him in order to teach him a lesson and win the girl.  Lulu thought this book was really funny–she really seemed to grasp what Taro was trying to do.  Louise, on the other hand, didn’t like this one as much.  She seemed a little frightened by the scary costume Taro dons when he dresses up as a village ujigami (god) to trick his neighbor.  Allen Say’s illustrations in this one are very colorful and humorous.  All of the characters are represented in a way which captures the emotion and humor in the story.

We read several other books in our study of Japan, but we didn’t really do anything other than read, talk, and look at Japan on the map.  (I hope to share about these books later.)  Oh, we also ate at a new Asian restaurant and tried our hand at using chopsticks, much to the amusement of our waiter.  We never did master it.  🙂

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