Monthly Archives: November 2013

Harry the (Wonderful) Dirty Dog

Happy Picture Book Month! Meet another one of my personal childhood favorites, the Harry the Dirty Dog books by Gene Zion, illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham. I still remember the happy feeling I got from Harry’s transformative bath (is that a spoiler?), the bird’s nest, and how much Harry was loved by his family. I don’t have too many memories from my early childhood, but 40 years later, I do remember these books and how much I loved the stories. That’s as good a recommendation as any book is going to get! Needless to say, I was thrilled to find them reissued when my boys were little.

9780060842444  harry-by-sea-gene-zion-hardcover-cover-art    11468383  9780060268527_p0_v1_s260x420

My favorite is No Roses for Harry! I love the bird and the great sweater Harry gets at the end of the book. (Is that a spoiler, too? These books have been read for almost 60 years, can we still have spoilers?) The books are wonderful for reading aloud or for newly independent beginning readers.

Gene Zion was talked into writing the Harry books by Ursula Nordstrom, editor for Harper’s Department of Books for Boys and Girls for more than three decades. She was responsible for many of the most beloved books of the last century. Read a fascinating blog post from Maria Popova about Nordstrom and Maurice Sendak.

Here is Betty White’s charming reading of the first Harry book (from Storylineonline).

Which Harry book is your favorite? Do you love these books as much as I do?

Advertisements
Categories: Books we love, Oldie but Goodie | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

Perfect Picture Book Friday: The Day the Crayons Quit

Perfect Picture Book Friday is here with The Day the Crayons Quitthe delightful, laugh-out-loud creation of Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers (it took me an extra few seconds to figure out who the illustrator was because his name is upside-down on the cover). The book is so funny that when I was reading it aloud to my 11-year-old (yes, he is very patient with me … he sat with his new James Dashner book in his lap and listened to me read), my 14-year-old walked into the room and asked why we were laughing about a beige crayon. Then he sat next to me for the rest of the book!

Check out Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog feature Perfect Picture Book Fridays. She has compiled a complete list of recommended picture books with links to resources for home and the classroom. It’s awesome!

51E7nP9Xi-L._SX300_

Title: The Day the Crayons Quit

Author/Illustrator: Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers

Publisher: Philomel Books (Penguin), 2013

Fiction

Ages:  3-7 years

Theme: colors, jobs, drawing, creativity, labor relations

Opening: “One day in class, Duncan went to take out his crayons and found a stack of letters with his name on them.

Synopsis: Poor Duncan just wants to color. But when he opens his box of crayons, he finds only letters, all saying the same thing: His crayons have had enough! They quit! Beige Crayon is tired of playing second fiddle to Brown Crayon. Black wants to be used for more than just outlining. Blue needs a break from coloring all those bodies of water. And Orange and Yellow are no longer speaking—each believes he is the true color of the sun. What can Duncan possibly do to appease all of the crayons and get them back to doing what they do best? (from Amazon)

Resources and ideas: Literature response; writing; classroom use ideas; discussions could be generated about science (ROY G BIV, visible and invisible parts of sunlight), animals, seasons (colors change, snow happens, etc.), labor law and fairness, compromise, friendship, self-esteem or self-acceptance

What I thought: We loved this clever book. All the colors have different personalities and different problems being the color they are. I tried to choose a favorite spread to share with you, but I couldn’t do it. I just ended up reading the book again, and then again. Just for fun, here is the gray spread.

photo

Check out an informative interview with Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers at the blog Omnivoracious!

Enjoy, and let me know what you and your kids think!

Categories: Books we love, Perfect Picture Book Friday | Tags: , , , , | 17 Comments

Perfect Picture Book Friday: The Greatest Skating Race

I love this book!

It’s Perfect Picture Book Friday again, after taking last week off. The Greatest Skating Race is a book I have read to my kids and recommended to friends many times. It is a wartime adventure story told from the point of view of a very brave boy.

Check out Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog feature Perfect Picture Book Fridays. She has compiled a complete list of recommended picture books with links to resources for home and the classroom. It’s awesome!

Screen shot 2013-11-07 at 10.50.44 PM

Title: The Greatest Skating Race: A World War II Story from the Netherlands

Author/Illustrator: Louise Borden and Niki Daly

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster), 2004

Fiction

Ages: 8-12 years

Theme: World War II, bravery, skating, races, Europe, helping others

Opening: “In December of 1941 I was ten years old . . . and at that time what I cared about most was skating on the frozen canals of Sluis, the town where we lived.

Synopsis: In 1941 Piet, a young Dutch boy from Sluis, gets the assignment of a lifetime: he must skate along the frozen canals of the Netherlands and across the Belgian border to guide two Jewish children to their aunt’s house in Brugge, where the children will remain for the duration of World War II. Their father has been taken by German soldiers, and the children are no longer safe in Sluis — but the journey with Piet, past soldiers and enemies, is fraught with danger.
Along the treacherous path to Belgium the three children skate using every bit of speed, courage, and strength they can muster. All the time they try to appear like innocent schoolchildren simply out for a skate, for if the German soldiers discover their escape plan, the children will be in grave trouble. During the journey Piet thinks about his hero, Pim Mulier — the first person to ever skate the Elfstedentocht, the famous and prestigious Eleven Towns Race that takes place in his country. For years Piet has dreamed of proving that he is a skater as brave and strong as Pim Mulier — but he had never imagined that his test would fall under such dangerous circumstances. (adapted from the jacket flap)

Resources and ideas: PDF with lesson ideas; this book lends itself to most subjects: geography (Europe), history (World War II), math (metric conversions), science (properties of water, weather history), commerce/business, culture, anti-semitism

Review from School Library Journal: Starred Review. Grade 2-5–This slice of historical fiction celebrates the bravery and resourcefulness of children. In the winter of 1941, 10-year-old Piet, a strong skater, is enlisted to lead his two young neighbors from Holland to safety over the ice to relatives in Belgium after their father is arrested for sending messages to the allied forces. The three children leave their home in Sluis and bravely skate 16 kilometers on the canals to Brugge. They outwit and hide from German soldiers and make it to their destination in one long, difficult day. Told with immediacy and suspense from Piet’s point of view, the engaging narrative is arranged in columns, which is an ideal structure to relate the action in short sentences. Readers learn about the Elfstedentocht, a 200-kilometer skating race, and the boy’s hero, skater Pim Mulier. The gorgeously detailed watercolor illustrations capture a sense of the time. The subdued, winter hues of brown and smoky gray are those often found in the oil paintings of Dutch and Flemish masters and match the quiet tone of the text. The book’s format maximizes the drama and expanse of the landscape. Use this picture book to introduce curricular units and to give youngsters a vivid child’s-eye view of the past.–Shawn Brommer, South Central Library System, Madison, WI  (Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.)

What I thought: I was fascinated by the story told in this book. It brings a part of Europe and its history alive. There are innumerable details that bring tremendous realism to the storytelling, with great expression added by the illustrations that show skating postures, worried faces, and historically accurate clothing and skates. I love this one with the tall, graceful grandfather.

photo

from page 21

The book could be shortened a little by skipping over some of the main character Piet’s fantasizing about the Elfstedentocht, if a younger child has trouble getting through the entire text. A highly meaningful adventure!

Check out an informative interview with Louis Borden at the blog Randomly Reading!

Enjoy, and let me know what you and your kids think!

Categories: Books we love, Perfect Picture Book Friday | 16 Comments

Reblog Thursday: E.B. White from the fantastic Brain Pickings

Today I am reblogging a wonderful post from one of my favorite blogs, Brain Pickings. I became a supporting subscriber recently and look forward to every issue of Brain Pickings Weekly.

Enjoy and let me know what you think!

E. B. White on Why He Wrote Charlotte’s Web, Plus His Rare Illustrated Manuscripts

by Maria Popova

“A book is a sneeze.”

Legendary editor and reconstructionist Ursula Nordstrom, who headed Harper’s Department of Books for Boys and Girls from 1940 to 1973, is celebrated as the single most influential champion of innovation in children’s book publishing in the past century. Her vision ushered in a new era of imagination of literature for young readers and brought to life such timeless classics as Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon and Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. More than merely an editor, Nordstrom, who famously cultivated the insecure genius of young Maurice Sendak, wore the hats of friend, therapist, confidante, and tireless defender of her young authors. Among her most memorable creative feats, however, is Charlotte’s Web (public library) by E. B. White, published on October 15, 1952.

E. B. White’s second draft for the beginning of Charlotte’s Web, found in The Annotated Charlotte’s Web, 1994.

A few weeks before the book’s release, however, the Harper & Row publicity department expressed unease about White’s choice of protagonist. Worried that a spider might revolt readers and critics, they asked him to explain his choice. On September 29, White sent Nordstrom a short note in response to her concern that the book endpapers are too bright (but not without an endearing Whitean tease: “I’m not sure that anybody thinks about endpaper except publishers, and probably not more than 1800 people in the United States have ever heard the word ‘endpaper’”), then proceeded to address the PR people’s unease in a lengthy explanation of why he wrote a book featuring a spider. The letter, unearthed by Letters of Note, is itself an absolute masterpiece of prose and testament to White’s character, bespeaking at once his elegant command of the written word and his equally famed love of animals. (White’s bemused dismay at the inquiry was sure to fall on an understanding ear, as Nordstrom had her own feisty grievances with publishers’ unimaginative shallowness.)

E. B. White’s drawings of the vectors of the web-spinning process, found in The Annotated Charlotte’s Web, 1994.

I have been asked to tell how I came to write “Charlotte’s Web.” Well, I like animals, and it would be odd if I failed to write about them. Animals are a weakness with me, and when I got a place in the country I was quite sure animals would appear, and they did.

A farm is a peculiar problem for a man who likes animals, because the fate of most livestock is that they are murdered by their benefactors. The creatures may live serenely but they end violently, and the odor of doom hangs about them always. I have kept several pigs, starting them in spring as weanlings and carrying trays to them all through summer and fall. The relationship bothered me. Day by day I became better acquainted with my pig, and he with me, and the fact that the whole adventure pointed toward an eventual piece of double-dealing on my part lent an eerie quality to the thing. I do not like to betray a person or a creature, and I tend to agree with Mr. E.M. Forster that in these times the duty of a man, above all else, is to be reliable. It used to be clear to me, slopping a pig, that as far as the pig was concerned I could not be counted on, and this, as I say, troubled me. Anyway, the theme of “Charlotte’s Web” is that a pig shall be saved, and I have an idea that somewhere deep inside me there was a wish to that effect.

As for Charlotte herself, I had never paid much attention to spiders until a few years ago. Once you begin watching spiders, you haven’t time for much else — the world is really loaded with them. I do not find them repulsive or revolting, any more than I find anything in nature repulsive or revolting, and I think it is too bad that children are often corrupted by their elders in this hate campaign. Spiders are skilful, amusing and useful, and only in rare instances has anybody ever come to grief because of a spider.

One cold October evening I was lucky enough to see Aranea Cavatica spin her egg sac and deposit her eggs. (I did not know her name at the time, but I admired her, and later Mr. Willis J. Gertsch of the American Museum of Natural History told me her name.) When I saw that she was fixing to become a mother, I got a stepladder and an extension light and had an excellent view of the whole business. A few days later, when it was time to return to New York, not wishing to part with my spider, I took a razor blade, cut the sac adrift from the underside of the shed roof, put spider and sac in a candy box, and carried them to town. I tossed the box on my dresser. Some weeks later I was surprised and pleased to find that Charlotte’s daughters were emerging from the air holes in the cover of the box. They strung tiny lines from my comb to my brush, from my brush to my mirror, and from my mirror to my nail scissors. They were very busy and almost invisible, they were so small. We all lived together happily for a couple of weeks, and then somebody whose duty it was to dust my dresser balked, and I broke up the show.

At the present time, three of Charlotte’s granddaughters are trapping at the foot of the stairs in my barn cellar, where the morning light, coming through the east window, illuminates their embroidery and makes it seem even more wonderful than it is.

I haven’t told why I wrote the book, but I haven’t told you why I sneeze, either. A book is a sneeze.

E. B. White’s notes on web weaving, found in The Annotated Charlotte’s Web, 1994.

White, in fact, had little patience for the objections some critics, librarians, teachers, and parents had to the book’s protagonist and his choice to tackle the subject of death in a children’s book, which he saw as an infringement on his creative vision and integrity as a writer. In an unpublished letter to Nordstrom, cited in The Annotated Charlotte’s Web (public library), White dismisses these concerns with his characteristically concise, sharp-witted satire:

I am working on a new book about a boa constrictor and a litter of hyenas. The boa constrictor swallows the babies one by one, and the mother hyena dies laughing.

Complement with the altogether fantastic Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom (public library), which also gave us Nordstrom’s infinitely heartening correspondence with young Sendak.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

Categories: BlogShare, Books we love, Reblog Thursday | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Reading to older kids

Some of my favorite memories are of reading to my two boys. Now that they are 11 and 14, they don’t sit on my lap and laugh at picture books anymore. But I still want to spend reading time with them, sitting on the sofa or on their beds, talking about an interesting book and what it has to teach us. I love all their questions, even the goofy ones.

I decided to try some non-fiction titles I’d seen reviewed recently. I brought them home and asked the boys to do me a favor by sitting with me on the couch to see what the books had to offer. We looked at all three.

Journey into the Deep by Rebecca L. Johnston (Junior Library Guild)

Alien Deep by Bradley Hague (National Geographic Kids)

Follow Your Money by Kevin Sylvester (Annick Press)

photo-14

There is a ton of information in these three books, and we didn’t take time to read any one of them thoroughly. However, whenever I tried to hurry through the marine life, one of them would grab the page, turn it back, and ask, “What was that?” We talked about how great advances in technology have made it possible to travel underwater more safely and get much better photographs and videos. Hundreds of new creatures have been discovered in the last decade or two. Follow Your Money was fun because we looked at the Table of Contents and picked things. The 14-year-old wanted to know about jeans, and we ended up having a conversation about factories in Bangladesh, cotton farmers, and retailers. The 11-year-old and I wanted to know about MP3 players. As a musician, I was not surprised that the online retailer makes most of the profit. I plan to use this for another session on the couch.

I had decided that non-fiction was the key to another reading session, but my 14-year-old suggested that we read Erin Hunter’s Warriors series aloud together. I was surprised and happy to realize he was interested and actually thought reading a book together would be fun! The Warriors books are below reading level for the boys, but who cares? Maybe we’ll try the Seekers instead, since the boys have already read Warriors and because Seekers is about journeying and survival, not about clan warfare.

What do you think?

Categories: Books we love | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.