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Friday’s Vintage Finds::The ABC Bunny and Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag

My girls and I have been working through Before Five in a Row since last fall, doing the activities as we (I, really) see fit and have the time, resources, and energy for.  I ordered all of the titles from Amazon I could affordably purchase back before Christmas because many of them are so old that our local libraries no longer own copies.  I have loved reading these old gems, so I thought I would highlight some of the older books that we find and love in a periodic post called Friday’s Vintage Finds.

The ABC Bunny is a delightful ABC book by the author and illustrator Wanda Gag (pronounced Gog, not Gag).  The book has beautiful, black and white illustrations that appear to be done with charcoals or pencil.  The only touch of color on each page is the letter for each page, and it is done in red.  This ABC book actually tells a story, which makes it entirely appropriate for older children, as well as toddlers and preschoolers.  The illustrations have a very fluid look to them, so the idea of movement is communicated.  First copyrighted in 1933, this Newbery Honor Book is highly recommended!

Our discovery of The ABC Bunny led to a search for Gag’s better-known, earlier book, Millions of Cats.  This one is delightful and rythmic, prompting back-to-back readings once today already.   Like The ABC Bunny’s illustrations, this book’s illustrations are done in black and white and create a sense of movement.  The best part of this story, though, is the refrain that echoes, even after the book is shut:  “Hundreds of cats,/ Thousands of cats,/ Millions and billions and trillions of cats.”  Copyrighted in 1928, this book was also awarded a Newbery Honor.

On a related note, have you read or heard much about the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act?  News of this has been floating around blogdom for a while, but I must admit that I have been rather nonchalant about it.  This post at Semicolon, though, helped me to realize its impact on the bookish world.  Sheesh!  From the sounds of things, my “vintage finds” might be harder and harder to come by, if the U.S. government has anything to do with it.

Book Review–Rules by Cynthia Lord

Rules by Cynthia Lord

This review is based on the recorded book version of this novel. 

Title:  Rules

Author:  Cynthia Lord; Performed by Jessica Almasy

Length:  4 hours

Synopsis:  This is the story of Catherine, a twelve-year-old girl who loves art and longs for a friend.  Catherine is the sister and often-babysitter for her autistic brother, David, and she often has a hard time fitting in with her classmates because of David’s behaviors.  She works hard to help David be more “normal,” specifically by giving him rules to live by that most people take for granted.  Her best friend is away for the summer visiting her father, so Catherine is excited when she learns that the family moving in next door includes a girl her age.  She spends most of her summer days helping her mother with David, visiting the clinic where David receives occupational therapy, and hoping that Christy, her new neighbor, will not be scared off by David’s differences.  At the clinic, Catherine befriends a wheelchair-bound boy named Jason who “talks” through a communication book he keeps with him at all times.  The story somewhat predictably comes to a climax when Catherine must choose whether or not to invite Jason to a community dance when challenged to do so by Christy, who doesn’t know about David’s disability.  

My Thoughts:  I have been eager to get my hands on this book since I first read about it.  However, I have been unable to get it at the library.  A few weeks ago, I was at the library and just happened to look on the recorded books shelf and it caught my eye.  I used to listen to books on tape (or CD) frequently, but since having children, I have not done so as often.  I still prefer to read a book instead of listen to it; I enjoy the interaction with the page, and I like being able to go back and re-read parts that I miss or really enjoy.    This book was a little bit difficult to follow because of way the Jason communicates (by pointing to words in his communication book); I think I would have followed his and Catherine’s conversations better if I had read them.  Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed Jessica Almasy’s performance of this book.

As for the story itself, Cynthia Lord does a wonderful job of characterization.  David reminds me of some of the autistic children who were students at a school where I worked.  Catherine is the perfect blend of the twelve-year-old girl who just wants a “normal” life but loves and wants to protect her brother.  Lord deftly weaves Catherine’s rules for David into the fabric of the story so that the rules themselves become thematic springboards for Catherine’s problems.  Although I did find the story a little bit predictable, I appreciate the message that Cynthia Lord conveys and the revelation that “not everything that is valuable has to be useful” that this book delivers.    In my opinion, this book is worthy of its Newbery Honor distinction.

Book Review–Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson

Hattie Big Sky

Title:  Hattie Big Sky

Author:  Kirby Larson

Publisher:  Delacorte Press

Length:  289 pages

ISBN:  0385733135

Synopsis:  Hattie Inez Brooks, the sixteen year old protagonist of Hattie Big Sky, is an orphan who has never had a permanent family.  She has always been “Hattie Here-and-There,” a dependent on others’ charity.  However, her fate changes one day when she receives notice that her Uncle Chester, at his death, left her his claim out in Montana.  Hattie leaves her home in Iowa for Montana, where she meets with all sorts of challenges.  She has less than a year to “prove up” her claim, which means that she has less than a year to fence it and cultivate forty acres of it.  Hattie takes the whole business in stride, doing battle with the elements, animals (both wild and domestic), herself, and even one of her neighbors.  The story is laced with references to World War I and the anti-German sentiment that was rampant in the U.S. at the time.   Full of both triumph and heartache, this book is well deserving of its Newbery Honor distinction.

My Thoughts:  I love this book!  I’ve always enjoyed a pioneer story, so I was already set up to enjoy this novel, even before I began reading it.  However, Hattie’s voice completely drew me in.  Each chapter begins with a letter to her sweetheart, Charlie, who is fighting the Huns in Europe, or a letter to her Uncle Holt back in Iowa.  Later in the story, we get to read Hattie’s own “Honyocker Homilies,” articles describing her homesteading adventures she sends back to Iowa to be published in the local paper there.  Larson definitely has a way with words.  The reader gets to know Hattie and her colorful friends and neighbors through her excellent description.  This is Hattie on her own lack of family:

I’d been orphaned before I lost my baby teeth.  Pa’s story was a familiar one to any miner’s family:  the coal dust ate up his lungs.  I was just two or three when he passed.  Aunt Seah took me in when I was five, after Mama died.  The doctor said it was pneumonia that took her, but Aunt Seah claimed it was a broken heart.  The kindest of my many stops along the way, she gave me the gift of certainty that my parents had loved one another.  After Aunt Seah got too old to keep me, I was shuffled from one relative to another–some of them pretty far down on the shirttail.  I’d stay to help out with this person or that until I’d run out of folks who needed help and didn’t mind an extra mouth to feed to get it. 

This is Hattie’s appraisal of her new home on the prairie:

I looked in disbelief.  House was a Charlie term–kind and generous.  Aunt Ivy’s chickens had better accommodations.  The structure wasn’t much bigger than Uncle Holt’s tool shed and was put together with about as much care.  Gaps in siding revealed black tar paper, like decay between haphazard teeth.  Two wood-block steps led up to a rough-hewn door.  A small window–the only window, I was to find out–left of the door stared dully at me.  My own gaze in return was no doubt equally as dull.

Although Hattie finds her place and a family on the prairie, life is not easy for her at all.  In fact, she realizes that even after all her hard work, she will likely still lose her claim:

I sat, quiet and alone.  No tears.  No shaking my fist at God.  Nothing but a heavy stone in my chest that used to be a heart filled with dreams and possibilities.  There should be fireworks, at least, when a dream dies.  But no, this one had blown apart as easily as a dandelion gone to seed.

This is a beautifully written story that is certainly tinged with tragedy, but in the end, Hattie does indeed find her place under the Big Sky.  In addition to being a Newbery Honor book for 2007, this novel is also based on the author’s own family history; her great grandmother was the original Hattie who struck out on her own on the Montana prairie as a sixteen year old.  Knowing that such stories actually took place made this novel all the richer for me.  I am anxious now to read the Newbery winner for 2007 since it beat Hattie Big Sky.  It must be a truly outstanding book!