Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Beatrix Potter

Ah, where to begin . . . where to begin?!  You must introduce author/illustrator Beatrix Potter to your child as early as possible.  If you don't own Peter Rabbit, I'm urging you to give a copy to your little one before the year is out!  I'm quite serious!  Every child should own a copy of this classic.  In sharing Potter's tales with your children, you will be sharing a literary legacy.  I have several different printings of Beatrix Potter's tales, and I'll have to honestly say that the best edition to get is the original 4.4 x 5.6 Warne publishing which has been renewed several times over (yes, I'm downright giddy that Warne & Co. still holds the publishing rights).  Children love holding this size in their hands most of all.

I can't speak enough for Potter's enchanting, life-like watercolor illustrations.  She perfects each animal's anatomy before she personifies it with story and clothes.  It's as if Peter just hopped from the garden onto the page or Tom Kitten has just pawed his way onto the book cover.  I never eat green peas without thinking of the mouse's inability to direct Peter to safety, hindered by the large pea in her mouth.  Every time I see a tailless squirrel, I think of Squirrel Nutkin's impudence to old Mr. Brown owl.  And before my eldest knew of hide-and-go-seek, she hid from us squealing, "I'm running from Mr. McGregor!  I'm running from Mr. McGregor!"

I've sat here and thought and thought and thought only to arrive at the fact that I'm not quite sure which charming tale is my favorite.  I guess it would be Peter Rabbit and the follow-up Benjamin Bunny.  However, I do love the tales of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, Mrs. Tittlemouse, and the Two Bad MiceThe Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse is a delightful retelling of the town mouse and the country mouse.  The kids especially like the last two mentioned and The Tale of Pigling Bland (in addition to Peter Rabbit).  My husband and I double-over laughing each time we read The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit!  It's the most random of Potter's tales (though I wouldn't necessarily recommend it for the kids).  Potter writes her version of the elves and the shoe peddler in The Tailor of Gloucester, a perfect Christmas tale for this time of year.  But really, I could list all of them in one way or another.  Instead, let me give you the complete listing of Potter's books at the end of this post.  Check them out and share with us which tale your family likes best!
This beautiful edition is available at abebooks.com.

If you'd like to know more about Beatrix Potter's life, do take the time to check out the blog Happy Homemaker UK.  Laura gives a lovely summary of Beatrix Potter, complete with beautiful photographs.  She's compiled quite a lot of research in just a few lines, making her bio on Beatrix Potter interesting to read, not to mention that I'm quite envious of her visits to Potter's childhood home and the Beatrix Potter exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

One more thing I found fascinating, most can deduce Potter's love for nature after seeing her detailed watercolored subjects.  What you may not guess is that she's helped to preserve the Lake District in England by her conservation efforts and by willing land and farms to the British National Trust. 

I'm so taken with Beatrix Potter and her tales, that we have Peter Rabbit paraphernalia all around our home.  In addition to several stuffed Potter characters and porcelain piggy banks, I rediscovered Wedgewood's Peter Rabbit bowl, plate, and cup, wherein I quickly grabbed a set for each child in a nostalgic flurry to pass on those sweet memories to my brood (I had a bowl, plate, and cup as a child).  Daily my children eat several meals in full view of old Mrs. Rabbit as she readies Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter for their day.

Also, take advantage of one of my favorite links: these color pages from the various tales to download for your children to color.

In closing, this is the first (and may be the last) time I've recommended a movie.  However, the BBC has done a brilliant job with the Potter tales, keeping the animation true to the original text and illustrations.   Each series begins with a human Beatrix Potter character writing a letter to the recipient of her next tale, briefly explaining her artistic process before segueing into the animation.  So if you need a way to bring Beatrix Potter's tales into your home while you're getting dinner on the table, check out the BBC videos.

I firmly believe your family will find Beatrix Potter's tales some of your favorite reads.  Ours certainly has.
Available at abebooks.com

The Tale of Peter Rabbit (c. 1901, 1902)
The Tailor of Gloucester (1902, 1903)
The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin (1903)
The Tale of Benjamin Bunny (1904)
The Tale of Two Bad Mice (1904)
The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-WInkle (1905)
The Pie and the Patty-pan (1905)
The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher (1906)
The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit (1906)
The Story of Miss Moppet (1906)
The Tale of Tom Kitten (1907)
The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck (1908)
The Roly-Poly Pudding (1908) = The Tale of Samuel Whiskers (1926)
The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies (1909)
Available at abebooks.com
Ginger and Pickles (1909)
The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse (1910)
The Tale of Timmy Tiptoes (1911)
The Tale of Mr. Tod (1911)
The Tale of Pigling Bland (1913)
Appley Dappley's Nursery Rhymes (1917)
The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse (1918)
Cecily Parsley's Nursery Rhymes (1922)
The Tale of Little Pig Robinson (1930)

Monday, November 29, 2010

I am a Bunny

I want to know; yes, I really want to know how many of you grew up with I am a Bunny written by Ole Risom and illustrated by Richard Scarry.  The copyright is 1963, so I'm hoping to get a good response from you, my readers.  Just flipping through this book makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, like I am the one sucking my thumb and rubbing blankie across my nose as it's read instead of my child.  Isn't it amazing how books can do that?  Well, this one does it for me.  It's one of the first books my memory recalls, and it's the first book I bought my eldest child.  There's nothing especially noteworthy about the book.  The text and illustrations are quite simple, but don't children gravitate to that?  The story simply introduces Nicholas, and the reader gets to know Nicholas alongside the changing of the seasons, starting with spring and ending "Then I curl up in my hollow tree and dream about spring."

"Come, Little Leaves"

Come, Little Leaves
by George Cooper
"Come, little leaves," said the wind one day.
"Come over the meadows with me and play;
Put on your dresses of red and gold,
For summer is gone and the days grow cold."

Soon as the leaves heard the wind's loud call,
Down they came fluttering, one and all;
Over the brown fields they danced and flew,
Singing the sweet little song they knew.

"Cricket, good-by, we've been friends so long,
Little brook, sing us your farewell song;
Say you are sorry to see us go;
Ah, you will miss us, right well we know.

"Dear little lambs in your fleecy fold, 
Mother will keep you from harm and cold;
Fondly we watched you in vale and glade,
Say, will you dream of our loving shade?"

Dancing and whirling, the little leaves went,
Winter had called them, and they were content;
Soon, fast asleep in their earthy beds,
The snow laid a coverlid over their heads.

 Buell, Ellen.  Read Me a Poem: Children's Favorite Poetry.  New York: Grossett & Dunlap, 1965.

Friday, November 26, 2010

My Favorite Things

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  I just love this holiday time of year sandwiched between Thanksgiving and New Year's!  Fun, fun!

Many of you are familiar with acclaimed illustrator Renee Graef from the very first American Girl books.  Others may have seen her adaptations for young children to the Little House on the Prairie books.

Quite simply, in My Favorite Things, Renee Graef illustrated Rodgers & Hammerstein's popular and beloved song from The Sound of Music.  This beautiful book is a real treasure.  It even includes the musical score in the back.  The only trick is reading the story without singing it!  Usually, we all just end up singing it together.  Graef's My Favorite Things would make a lovely gift this season.  You're familiar with the song, so I'll let the illustrations speak for themselves.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Over the River and Through the Wood

If I had more time and energy, I would review all the many versions of Over the River and Through the Wood that are out there today.  But I have neither.  So, let me share with you two favorites from my personal search last year.

My very favorite is Brinton Turkle's illustrated copy from 1974.  I mean that name alone, Brinton Turkle, is just so much fun to say.  It's a song in and of itself: Brinton Turkle, Brinton Turkle, Brinton Turkle, Brinton Turkle.  Okay, maybe I've been hanging out with my kids too long.  But they (the kids) love this version; so much so, that we had to buy it.  So we have our very own copy of the nineteenth century, New England family's journey "through the white and drifted snow" to read as often as we please.  And we do read it often!  The kids' favorite verse is:
Over the river, and through the wood -- 
Oh, how the wind does blow!
It stings the toes,
And bites the nose,
As over the ground we go.
In Turkle's version, it's "to grandfather's house we go."  He also includes all twelve verses, making the journey palpable, escalating our anticipation to that beloved last line: "Hurrah for the pumpkin-pie!"  There's also music included on the last page, if you'd like to play Child's song for yourself.

I also enjoyed Christopher Manson's beautifully illustrated woodcuts.  Manson takes us on a journey "with a clear blue winter sky" from the perspective of a young boy witnessing the activities of other little boys (sailing on ice, gathering firewood, sledding, ice skating, playing hockey, giving sugar to a horse, fishing, logging, etc.) while on the way to his "grandmother's house."  I think Manson's viewpoint best reflects Lydia Maria Child's intention since she first entitled the poem "The Boy's Thanksgiving." Now, I know I've whetted your appetite to find a version and read up to "the pumpkin-pie!"

I took the following information about Child's poem turned song from Over the River and Through the Wood: A Thanksgiving Poem by Lydia Maria Child illustrated with woodcuts by Christopher Manson.  New York: North-South Books, 1993.   
The song we know today as 'Over the River and Through the Wood' 
is adapted from a poem by Lydia Maria Child.  The poem was first 
published in her popular three-volume anthology for boys and girls, 
Flowers for Children (1844-1846).  During the nineteenth century 
it was reprinted many times under various titles.  Child's poem 
became the unofficial anthem of Thanksgiving after her friend 
John Greenleaf Whittier included it in Child Life (1871), 
his immensely popular collection of nineteenth-century children's 
verse.  The original poem was twelve verse long, but it has often 
been shortened to six.  This book uses the verses that appeared 
in the Whittier anthology under the title 'Thanksgiving Day'.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thanksgiving Is Here!

Diane Goode remains one of my favorite children's book illustrators.  My grandmother first introduced me to her one Christmas by giving me Pinocchio, and now my children enjoy that time-worn copy.  Goode's illustrations are filled with whimsy, humor, and life.

If you haven't read Thanksgiving Is Here!, you must check out a copy before everyone else grabs them up! 

Just like Tasha Tudor's Pumpkin Moonshine is my favorite pumpkin story, Goode's Thanksgiving Is Here! is my favorite Thanksgiving story.  She faithfully captures the commotion of family and friends reuniting at Grandma and Grandpa's Thanksgiving table.  It seems that Goode catalogues my personal Thanksgiving memories: Grandma's early rush into the kitchen to put the turkey in the oven, the long extended table with mismatched chairs, the post-feast naps or walks, and the long anticipated pumpkin pie.  Goode's "pen-and-ink drawings with a watercolor wash" present many surprises!  Look for the hidden stories her illustrations hold, just to name a few: the mysterious gift, "whose dog is that?", and Great-grandma's knitted present.  I guarantee that your family will enjoy Thanksgiving Is Here!

Note: Goode collaborated with Cynthia Rylant a few times to readers' delight.  I will feature those two books, Christmas in the Country and When I Was Young in the Mountains, later on.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Very First Thanksgiving Day

The Very First Thanksgiving Day by Rhonda Gowler Greene with paintings done by Susan Gaber (copyright 2002) was quite a hit with the kids!  The story follows a rhythm comparable to "This is the House that Jack Built" with its own clever rhymes.  Greene begins her story in the classical literary technique in medias res ("in the middle of things") with "This is the very first Thanksgiving day" and builds her story backward to England and then again forward to the first feast, making this version a unique approach in retelling the Thanksgiving story.

Once again, I have been stunned by the artwork!  I could just sit and look at this book again and again!  Gaber does a beautiful job of depicting the brilliant colors of the Pilgrims' natural-dyed clothing.  And your kids will delight in the frequent images of children throughout Gaber's illustrations.  Have your children search for the Pilgrim and Wampanoag dolls throughout the story and discover the themes of thanksgiving and sharing through visual representation.  Don't miss the author and illustrator's notes at the beginning for fascinating background information.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Pilgrims of Plimoth

I especially enjoyed reading The Pilgrims of Plimoth written and illustrated by Marcia Sewall (copyright 1986).  What I particularly like about this book is that the language rings true to the time period (complete with a thirty-seven word glossary in the back).  Sewall dedicates her book to "The Pilgrim Village Interpreters, whose great spirit gives life to our Plimoth pilgrims" and captures that living history feel in her text.  It "sounds" like an oral history recitation, making it a pleasure to read aloud. Meanwhile, Sewall's illuminated paintings further bring her text to life.

What's unique about Sewall's book is that she gives a detailed account of life after the Thanksgiving feast.  She chronicles the events from the Mayflower's voyage to the growth of "Plimoth" Plantation through the following sequential points of view: The Pilgrims, the Menfolk, the Womenfolk, the Children and Youngfolk ("of survivors . . . over half were children"), and The Plantation.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

N.C.Wyeth's Pilgrims

What a treat!!!  In N.C. Wyeth's Pilgrims, acclaimed children's author Robert San Souci takes Newell Convers Wyeth's series of murals originally created for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in New York and gives them a voice with his thoroughly researched text (text copyright 1991 and illustrations copyright 1945).  Souci's succinct yet detailed account presents a thorough summary of events from the excellent contrast between the Pilgrims and the "strangers" to a factual synopsis of life in the village after the feast.

Wyeth's twelve paintings, although not entirely historically accurate, provide a visual feast.  For those of you unfamiliar with N.C. Wyeth, he is father to Andrew Wyeth and to a lineage of talented American artists.  Here's a website to quickly view some of his most recognizable children's book illustrations: click here.  And last, but certainly not least, the book's endpapers supplies a copy of the Mayflower's original passenger list, furnishing a fascinating historical read.

A Pilgrim father shows his son how to shuck corn.

Friday, November 12, 2010

"I Like Fall"

I Like Fall
by Aileen Fisher

I like fall:
it always smells smoky,
chimneys wake early,
the sun is poky;

Folks go past
in a hustle and bustle,
and when I scuff
in the leaves, they rustle.

I like fall:
all the hills are hazy,
and after a frost
the puddles look glazy;

And nuts rattle down
where nobody's living,
and pretty soon . . .
it will be THANKSGIVING.

Great tip from my mom, Beth: This is a great poem to identify new vocabulary with musical instruments.  Some ideas: use the wood instrument for "smoky," slide the sandpaper for "scuff," rustle paper for "rustle," slide cymbals together for "hazy," play the triangle for "frost," and shake the rattles for "nuts rattle down."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Thanksgiving Story

The Thanksgiving Story written by Alice Dalgliesh and illustrated by Helen Sewell received the 1955 Caldecott Honor, making this the earliest Thanksgiving book that I'll feature.  What I like best about this book is that Dalgliesh personalizes the Thanksgiving account by telling the story of Giles, Constance, Damaris, and little Oceanus who was born at sea. Through her simple text we learn about the day-to-day activities that the Hopkins family experiences through surviving, planting, harvesting, and feasting.  This is  shorter than Weisgard's version, allowing the little ones to follow it more easily. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Plymouth Thanksgiving

Hello, readers!  Now we're getting into the books telling about the Pilgrims journey from England to the New World, their grueling winter, the Wampnoag tribe's critical help during the planting season, and the celebration of the very first Thanksgiving feast.  Over the course of the next few days, I'm going to acquaint you with a handful of my top picks (after examining many choices) that introduce this story.  In each book, I learned something new about the Pilgrims' journey which became the exciting part of this process.  Of course, each story-teller and illustrator communicates their version of Thanksgiving story differently, so hopefully you'll find one version that's best suited for each of your children.

Today, we're going to take a look at illustrator Leonard Weisgard (1916-2000).  Weisgard won the Caldecott Medal in 1947 for his illustrations of The Little Island, and you can read more about him in this short biography.  Weisgard wrote and illustrated The Plymouth Thanksgiving (copyright in 1967), striving to attended to detail and accuracy by using William Bradford's diary and by spending extensive time and research at Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Weisgard is best known for his illustrations, and this is no exception (I've included two different cover illustrations).  The kids especially liked being able to see the detail of the Mayflower interior.  Personally, I was gripped by the listing of all the passengers on the Mayflower, which made the story come alive for me (and made the fact that only half survived all the more startling).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Deal of the Day:

Hi, friends!  I just thought I ought to share my finds with you.  I LOVE the Target $1.00 aisle.  And today was no exception.

In the past, I've encouraged you to purchase a collection of Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes for your children.  Well, who can beat a $1.00 for a board book containing an average of 12 or more nursery rhymes?  Target has it.  They have four different board books with different nursery rhymes in each.  So if you bought all four, you'd still only be paying a total of $4.00 plus tax.  Frederick Richardson (1862-1937) does the vintage illustrations that you'll quickly be charmed by.  If you aren't familiar with his work, he's an American illustrator who illustrated books around the turn of the century.  To see examples of his work, check out Frederick Richardson here.  The board book itself is 4.25 x 5.75 inches, a perfect size for little hands.  I find that my children enjoy books that they can hold comfortably best of all.
Okay, but that's not all.  Target also has Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas paraphernalia.  We purchased these two cute bags: Cindy-Lou Who and the Grinch's dog, Max.  And we left so many other choices behind.  
I plan to feature How the Grinch Stole Christmas next month.  But you know Target, you have to get it now before it "gets gone"!  So as a courtesy, I wanted to let all my readers and friends in on this deal.

Monday, November 8, 2010

This First Thanksgiving Day

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to feature a few Thanksgiving books so you'll have time to check them out before Thanksgiving day.

One of the stories that the kids have wanted read to them over and over again is This First Thanksgiving Day: A Counting Story by Laura Krauss Melmed and illustrated by Mark Buehner.  They're taken with Buehner's bright, artful illustrations, jammed packed with "I spy" elements of squirrels, rabbits, and other creatures.  As Melmed writes the text in twelve poems, she highlights the day-to-day harvesting activities from the children's points of view.  Then Buehner ends with a beautiful scene of the two villages eating the first Thanksgiving feast together.

This story provides many fun teaching elements too! 
  • Since this is a counting story, practice counting the participants in each page as they ready for the very first Thanksgiving. 
  • Listen for the rhyme in the second and fourth lines. 
  • Have your children find the hidden turkey in each page. 

 Note: For children unfamiliar with the Thanksgiving story, I'd recommend begining with a book that gives a more comprehensive account of how the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims came together to share a bountiful harvest before I'd begin with this book (and I'll be featuring some of those  recommendations later this week).  Also, this particular story is better suited for the kindergarten and toddler ages.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Carl Sandburg

A few weekends ago, we went to Carl Sandburg's home, Connemara, in Flat Rock, NC.  The kids loved running wild with the goats (a few are descendants from the prize winning dairy goats that Sandburg's wife, Lilian, raised).  And we loved walking through the beautiful fall foliage reflecting off the pond at this time of year.

So in memory of Sandburg, let me share with you one of our favorite Sandburg poems:

by Carl Sandburg

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

If you're interested in reading more of Sandburg's poetry, I recommend Poetry for young People Carl Sandburg edited by Frances Schoonmaker Bolin and illustrated by Steven Arcella.

Friday, November 5, 2010

In November

Can you believe we're already in the month of November now?  Here's a book describing the events that occur in November.  And if you haven't already checked out author Cynthia Rylant yet, here's your first opportunity with In November by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Jill Kastner.

First off, I just want to say that I want to frame a few of Kastner's brush-stroked oil illustrations in my home.  I mean, check out this beautiful painting of a cardinal couple in a snow and berry filled tree:

The illustration speaks for itself, doesn't it!

Then Rylant takes her readers on a tour of the fall-ending, winter-readying activity of animals hibernating, birds flying south, and families preparing for the blessings of Thanksgiving.  Rylant's beautiful lyrical voice evidences throughout this book.  Her soft, quite tone reverberates the story's content of preparing for the sleepiness of winter.  Allow me to give you a taste of the poetic imagery in Rylant's writing with her last lines:  In November, at winter's gate, the stars are brittle.  The sun is a sometime friend.  And the world has tucked her children in, with a kiss on their heads, till spring. 

So readers, tell me what you think about this book!

"The Mist and All"

I like the fall,
The mist and all.
I like the night owl's
Lonely call --
And wailing sound
Of wind around.

I like the gray
November day,
And bare dead boughs
That coldly sway
Against my pane.
I like the rain.

I like to sit
And laugh at it --
And tend
My cozy fire a bit.
I like the fall --
The mist and all.

~ author unknown 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Pumpkin Pumpkin

My mom introduced me to this beautifully illustrated book by Jeanne Titherington called Pumpkin Pumpkin.  Titherington does the full-color art on each page strictly with colored pencils.  The detail in each illustration almost looks like it could be a photograph with the exception of the softness color pencils lend to each illustration.  Titherington's simplicity in chronicling the life cycle of a pumpkin introduces us to a little boy named Jamie who plants pumpkin seeds and watches a pumpkin grow until it's ready for carving.  The children especially enjoy looking for the insect, amphibian, or mammal in each illustration.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Carol Ryrie Brink

How many of you are familiar with Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink?  Often a forgotten jewel of a story, I wish there was a resurging awareness of this frontier narrative.  Caddie grows up in a family full of brothers, and she conducts herself as an adventure loving tomboy, much to her Boston bred mother's chagrin.  Brink packs each chapter with the spunky Caddie and her brother's escapades as they maneuver the hazards of frontier life in mid-nineteenth century Wisconsin.  What stands out most to me in remembering this book, however, is that Brink casts Caddie's father as the hero.  I think we need more of those around -- books that cast daddies as heroes!  Caddie Woodlawn is a "must read" for all members of the family, perfect for either reading alone or reading aloud.  Also of noteworthy interest, Brink bases Caddie's story on her own grandmother's childhood.   I've included a copy of the old edition cover I grew up reading.

Now that you know how much I fell for Brink's little jewel of a book, you can imagine my surprise and elation when I discovered Brink's poem Goody O'Grumpity in the children's book section of our library.  Ashley Wolff's intricate hand-colored linoleum prints further lend a detailed description to this simple story poem.  The poem opens with "When Goody O'Grumpity baked a cake" and continues on about an early Plymouth Plantation neighbor making a spice cake while the village children eagerly wait "With wishful eyes / and watering mouth."  Don't be mislead by Goody's last name "O'Grumpity."  It's not at all a characterization of her.  Brink uses it for the rhyme.  So do check out this harvest season gem of a book, and be sure to read the illustrator's note at the beginning.

If you end up enjoying Goody O'Grumpity as much as I did, try Jane Yolen's Harvest Home poem illustrated by Greg Shed.  Yolen's beautiful lyrical narrative describes a family's and community's work in harvesting wheat and the harvest traditions that follow.  Shed's illustrations reverberate the harvest theme in its golden, "sun kissed hues done in gouache on canvas."  Again, be sure to read the "Harvest Customs" note in the back of the book.