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Imperfect Gifts for Thanksgiving

21 Nov

Last July, my mother took a bad fall from the top of the staircase. She spent her birthday in the hospital. Luckily no bones were broken, but she had severe cuts and bruises and her dementia worsened significantly. Mom had to give up her license and her home. This has been an emotional ride for the whole family. Thankfully, mom doesn’t need to be alone through this, she has children and grandchildren and great grandchildren who love her dearly. Mom is living with my sister and brother-in-law who have made her feel welcome and needed. She spends many hours a week watching a digital picture frame of photos from her past and retelling those memories to everyone who stops in for a visit. In cleaning out her house, I passed heirlooms on to the family. One thing I kept for myself was her set of knitting needles. There are many things mom can’t do anymore, but knitting is something she can do. And teaching me to knit is one of her new tasks.

22291344_2014584645484208_4380399781917116534_oIn September, I was thrilled to meet funny man and Caledecott Award winner, Dan Santat. I was moved to tears hearing the back story behind his newest picture book, which he authorstrated.  In addition to getting my copy signed by the legendary surly asian guy, I also got a beautiful tote bag. That bag has become my knitting bag. I’m proud and happy to have a reminder that mom can still teach me something new literally ‘after the fall’. Like Humpty Dumpty, mom was able to pick herself back up (with lots of help and support) and move forward in her life. She is an inspiration to me and I know I’ll never read this story without thinking about her. IMG_7800

AFTER THE FALL written and illustrated by Dan Santat (Roaring Brook Press, 2017) That famous egg Humpty Dumpty takes the famous fall. But what happens when all the king’s horses and all the king’s men put him back together again? He’s patched up but not quite the same. Not only can’t he climb back up the wall to sit and do his favorite thing, bird watching, he can’t even climb up to the top bunk and ends up sleeping on the floor. The wall haunts him. Now even bird watching mocks him. He faces the wall every day. And little by little he works up the courage to climb back up. What happens when he does? Humpty Dumpty cracks again… and he flies away. Humpty Dumpty is the most beautiful bird in the sky.

So fast forward to today, two days before Thanksgiving and I count my blessings, always counting my family first. With mom’s help I have knit four scarves and one baby blanket to give my grandchildren for Thanksgiving. Today was such a gorgeous sunny day, I took pictures of everything outside to show off the rich colors.

 

 

 

If you look closely, you’ll see all the imperfections. But I hope you also see the love. The first two scarves have the most mistakes. Each one was ‘ripped’ and restarted more than once. There were a lot of dropped stitches and uneven edges. But I eventually mastered the simple garter stitch, casting on, binding off, and adding a new skein of yarn to a working project.  I finished them both off with pom-poms using up the leftover yarn and adding a bit of both colors mixed with white so each granddaughter would have a piece of her cousin’s scarf in her own. The next two multicolored pastel scarves are for the two older granddaughters’ younger sisters. The yarn was dyed like this and I bought a giant skein so I didn’t even have to add another ball to finish each one. By now, I was able to whip these up in a couple of days. Then the big challenge came. I learned to combine the knit stitch with the purl stitch and a slip stitch and followed a simple herring bone pattern using two different balls of yarn at the same time to make a car seat/stroller blanket for my youngest grandchild and first grandson… the little prince. Wow, after the scarves I thought I was up for something different. This was a little more than I had bargained for. Not only was I losing track of the pattern, I had trouble keeping my tension even, so one end of the blanket is much wider than the other end.

The scarves and blanket are ready to give my precious grandchildren. They’re not perfect, but then neither am I . So when my little ones are wrapped up in soft colorful yarn, they’re also wrapped up in my love. And because I am who I am, no gift is complete without a book. No, no one got my signed copy of AFTER THE FALL. But I did find three books featuring knitting to give each family.  Sadly, I mailed off the baby blanket this morning without a book picture, but you get the idea.

 

 

 

 

EXTRA YARN written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen (Balzer and Bray, 2012) In a black and white world Annabelle finds a box of colorful yarn. After knitting a sweater for herself, she uses   some of the extra yarn to knit a sweater for her dog, then her neighbor, and his dog, and her classmates, and her teacher but she still had extra yarn. It seems that tiny box had an endless supply of colorful yarn, so Annabelle knits sweaters for her mom and dad, and all the people (except Mr. Crabtree), and all the animals in her neighborhood. Then she goes around the world knitting and spreading bright colors over the otherwise drab scenery. An evil archduke offers Annabelle a million dollars for her box of yarn but she refuses to sell it, so he sends robbers into her room to steal the box. Unfortunately, when he gets the box it is empty. He curses her and throws the box out the window. The box finds its way back to Annabelle who still had enough extra yarn to knit a sweater for her tree.

LOST. FOUND written by Marsha Diane Arnold and illustrated by Matthew Cordell (Roaring Brook Press, 2015) Bear loses his long red scarf in the woods. It is alternately found and then repeatedly lost again by each animal who finds it. Eventually they all find it again in a clearing and in a struggle to claim the scarf for themselves they destroy it. But Bear has an idea, taking up all the loose yarn he teaches the forest animals to knit one extra long scarf that they all share around a campfire.

PENGUIN AND PINECONE written and illustrated by Salina Yoon (Bloomsbury, 2012) Penguin loves his new friend Pinecone and thinking he might be cold, Penguin knits him a scarf to match his own. Pinecone is still cold, so Penguin does the hardest thing… he helps him return home to the pine tree forest and leaves him in a pine nest to keep him warm. When Penguin returns he finds his friend has grown into something even greater.

Another great picture book is KNIT TOGETHER written and illustrated by Angela Dominguez (Dial Books, 2015). I wrote a post about it a few years ago. Follow this link for a quick review and some fun yarn activities you can do with your little ones too.

There’s more fun with LOST. FOUND and PENGUIN AND PINECONE on these pages.

*** If you got this far, please like, comment, or share. Thank you! ***

 

 

2016 Christmas Picture Books

17 Dec

I spent a magical morning reading more than a dozen new Christmas picture books. Three were religious in nature the rest secular, and one was a Christmas/Hanukkah combo story.  All were published this year.

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Although this is not a comprehensive list of the new Christmas titles, these are the ones I was able to get from my local library. In this collection, I found a few new favorites. They are listed alphabetically by the author’s last name.

*****

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A Night of Great Joy

written and illustrated by Mary Englebreit

Zonderkidz, 2016

Sweet rendition of the biblical Christmas story. The children set the stage and put on the play of the first Christmas. Cute pictures showing how young children might put on a simple production of the Christmas story.

*****

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The Day Santa Stopped Believing in Harold

written by Mareen Fergus and illustrated by Cale Atkinson

Tundra Books, 2016

Love this new twist on the old ‘I don’t believe in Santa anymore’ syndrome. This time it’s Santa who doesn’t believe… in Harold. He’s discovered that it’s Harold’s mom who writes the letters and Harold’s dad who puts out the milk and cookies. And at Harold’s house, Harold has a few doubts of his own. On Christmas Eve, they both decide to wait up and see if the other is really real. Funny. Sweet. And definitely believable!

*****

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Santa’s Underwear

written by Marty Rhodes Figley and illustrated by Marty Kelley

Sleeping Bear Press, 2016

Is there anything funnier than underwear? Santa can’t find his special Christmas long johns. He can’t get dressed until he does. Kids will love watching Santa try on all his other pair of underwear. But none of them will do. Finally, Santa finds a special gift from the reindeer… a new pair of long johns as bright as Rudloph’s nose!

*****

28686978The Christmas Fox

written and illustrated by Anik McGary

Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2016

Lovely story and artwork. All the other animals invite Little Fox to go meet the new baby but Little Fox is too busy playing in the snow. The other animals have gifts to bring the baby and Little Fox doesn’t believe he has a gift. But when he decides to go he brings the his joy and the baby smiles!

*****

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The Biggest Smallest Christmas Present

written and illustrated by Harriet Muncaster

G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2016

Tiny story that packs a big punch! Clementine is small, very small. She doesn’t think Santa knows how tiny she is because he brings her gifts that are too big. So she sets about to let him know her actual size. Then one year he brings her the biggest gift of all… a giant dollhouse… just perfect for Clementine!

*****

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Maple & Willow’s Christmas Tree

written and illustrated by Lori Nichols

Nancy Paulsen Books, 2016

Sisters Maple and Willow spend the day choosing just the right Christmas tree. It’s the best tree in the world, but Maple is allergic. The tree ends up outside and both girls are disappointed. Then in the middle of the night, Willow gets a great idea. She gets up and decorates a most unusual ‘tree’ in their living room.

*****

1762447The Christmas Boot

written by Lisa Wheeler and illustrated by Michael Glean Monroe

Mitten Press, 2016

Beautiful book! Artwork and story work together to tell a wonderful tale of Christmas magic. A lonely old woman finds a single boot in the snow. The one boot becomes two and soon she has everything she needs and more, until the owner of the boot returns. He takes his boot but gives her exactly what she needs.

*****

Run out to your bookstore or library and find a few new favorites of your own.

Merry Christmas and Happy Reading!

 

 

 

Hispanic Heritage Month

4 Oct

Thirty days between September 15th and October 15 are dedicated as National Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States and are observed in North and South America. It was first established as a one week period by President Lyndon Johnson and later expanded to a one month period by President Ronald Reagan.

Follow this link to a Calendar of Events for 2016.

“September 15 to October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month
The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum join in paying tribute to the generations of Hispanic Americans who have positively influenced and enriched our nation and society.”

The celebrations began with a recital played on a spanish guitar commemorating the 400th anniversary of the death of spanish author Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote.

So I thought it was only fitting that I share some of my favorite recently published picture books celebrating hispanic heritage. Pick up a few to share with your favorite niños.

 

MARTA BIG AND SMALL (Roaring Brook Press, 2016) Jen Arena and Angela Dominguez seamlessly name animals and their characteristics in both english and spanish as Marta compares herself to the jungle animals.

OLINGUITO, DE LA A A LA Z, FROM A TO Z! (Children’s Book Press, 2016) Lulu Delacre speaks first in spanish then in english as she takes the reader in search of the newest mammal discovered in the Andes rainforest, the olinguito.

FLUTTER AND HUM (Henry Holt and Company, 2015) Julie Paschkis delights us with her art and poetry. Enjoy this collection of animal poems in both english and spanish.

MANGO, ABUELA, AND ME (Candlewick, 2015) Meg Medina and Angela Dominguez tell a lovely story about the relationship between Mia and her abuela who learn to speak each other’s language.

MAYA’S BLANKET  (Children’s Book Press, 2015) Monica Brown and David Diaz wrap you up in the magical blanket Maya’s abuelita made for her when she was a baby. As she grows the blanket frays and becomes different articles of clothing until the last remaining piece is the story.

 

 

 

 

 

Back to School

26 Jul

It’s almost back to school time here in my little piece of the midwest. It’s a time simultaneously dreaded and celebrated by teachers, students, and parents. The end of July marks the start of back-to-school sales, the last days of summer vacation, and the final hours of personal freedom. Although I’ve been retired for three short years now, my teacher’s soul still aches for the beginning of a new school year.

For me, July is a time when I really start to value the gift that is summer vacation. The minutes of extra sleep in the morning, the carefree hours of dilly-dally, the days and weeks of unfettered sojourn. One of the most precious gifts of summer vacation has always been the endless supply of library books and hours upon hours of relaxed reading enjoyment. I never understood people who didn’t love reading. As an educator, I studied this alien phenomena. Why did so many children hate reading? Why did they avoid reading? Why did they find it so laborious?  Kids are not born hating reading. As a matter of fact, I’ve never met a kid who didn’t enjoy sitting on someone’s lap and listening to a story. Even as they got older, toddlers and preschoolers still enjoy hearing a story from the criss-cross position on the floor, so it’s not just the human touch of the lap which makes reading enjoyable. Actually most kids don’t start disliking reading until school-age. Which begs the reason so many kids dread the beginning of another school year. Do they equate school with achievement in reading, writing, math, or failure, embarrassment, and boredom? I made reading success my mission. What could I do to foster a love of reading in every child I met? How could I make reading an enjoyable activity? How could I turn reluctant readers into successful readers?

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So, contrary to popular beliefs, I and countless other teachers across America spent July and August preparing for the next school year. Before the first #2 pencils hit the sales rack, I attended classes and workshops dedicated to helping me be a better teacher. Prior to the last days of vacation, I spent days researching new titles and finding just the right books for my students. In lieu of the last hours of personal freedom, I scoured thrift shops and discount stores for things to make our reading time special. Because for me, nothing was more important than helping students find their own joy and self-worth in a book. And although I won’t be joining you in another adventure this school year, I will always value and respect the passion and dedication of teachers everywhere.

Tradition holds the back to school time as a season in and of itself. The end of July marks the beginning of a clean slate for a new year, the hopefulness of new or renewed friendships, the promise of fresh ideas and discoveries, and the anticipation of a precious gift. Wishing all my young and young-at-heart friends the gift of a wonderful school year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Valentine’s Day

13 Feb

A word to the wise, when shopping for Valentine’s Day picture books check out the newest publications in addition to your old favorites. And, by check out, I mean your library shelves first. Then, check out your local bookstores before ordering online. Why? Because this year I found three terrific new books at my library went to the bookstore for my local shopping AFTER I did my online shopping for my out-of-town valentines. To my disappointment, only ONE of these brand-new books was available at the brick and mortar store. And since I waited until two days before Valentine’s Day, I couldn’t get my top picks for my hometown valentines. It turned out okay though, because I was able to pick up some wonderful titles anyway.

Click on the titles for a link to my Goodreads review of each book.

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Be A Friend

written and illustrated by Salina Yoon (2016)

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Here Comes Valentine Cat 

written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Claudia Rueda (2015)

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Worm Loves Worm

written by J.J. Austrian and illustrated by Mike Curato (2016)

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Hedgehugs

written by Steve Wilson and illustrated by Lucy Tapper (2014)

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Penguin in Love

written and illustrated by Salina Yoon (2013)

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I Wish You More

written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld (2015)

A Birthday Cake for George Washington

19 Jan

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A Birthday Cake for George Washington

written by Ramin Ganeshram

illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Scholastic Press, January 2016

 

Amid the controversy of this particular picture book, my copy was sitting on a holds shelf at the library waiting to be picked up. I was anxious to see if it was still there, or if it had been pulled from the shelves as it had been pulled from Scholastic’s inventory.

“The children’s literature world has been stirred up by Scholastic’s announcement on Sunday that they are pulling A Birthday Cake for George Washington from their line-up and offering full return credit for unsold copies. The nutshell for anyone new to this issue is that a picture book for young readers was published, and then recalled because it ended up altering and reinterpreting history in ways that made slavery seem like a sometimes proud and happy experience, without sufficient accuracy and context in the story itself for its young readers to understand the reality of that experience (though there is a note in the back matter clarifying some of the license taken).

-Turning Diversity Flare-Ups into Opportunity
Elizabeth Bluemle, Publisher’s Weekly January 19, 2016

You can read the whole article and additional links  HERE

 

The story itself, is about the making of a birthday cake for the president of the United States when there is no sugar in the house. The head cook is a slave named Hercules who is well-known and respected for his talents. The story is told through the voice of Hercules’s daughter, Delia. The tension rises because there is a storm and no one can be sent out for more sugar and Lady Washington arrives to check on the proceedings. Hercules is in an uproar and no one knows what to do. In the absence of sugar, Hercules uses George Washington’s favorite treat, honey, as a suitable replacement. Dinner is prepared by Hercules, a French chef, and the kitchen slaves. Everything is done just in time and enjoyed by the president’s guests. At the end of the evening, the president comes to congratulate his cook for a wonderful meal.

The rest of the story, as they say, is told in the afterwords of the author and the illustrator. These are obviously stated to enrich open discussion, but are not a part of the story itself.

Author’s Notes:

  • The cake made in this story is actually from a recipe from Martha Washington’s cookbook. It was marked as a family favorite, and so it can be assumed that it was made often by Hercules. It is called Martha Washington’s Great Cake and the recipe is included at the end of the book.
  • The Washingtons owned more than 300 slaves  who lived both at the Mt. Vernon plantation and the house in Philadelphia.
  • Slaves were often shuttled back and forth between Philadelphia and Mt. Vernon because there was a law stating that any slave living in Philadelphia for more than six months was automatically free.
  • Hercules did have a daughter named Delia, but she lived in Mt. Vernon and would not have been in Hercules’s kitchen in Philadelphia.
  • Hercules escaped from Mt. Vernon on February 22, 1797, George Washington’s 65th birthday.
  • On his death, George Washington freed his slaves through his last will. However, Delia was owned by Martha Washington and was not freed in George Washington’s will. She therefore remained a slave until Martha Washington’s death, and from then we do not know her fate.

 

Illustrator’s Notes:

  • The artist mixed media to tell the story. There are photographs of actual kitchen items placed among the drawings.
  • Although there would have been no leafy greens at that time of year in Philadelphia, however, they were a popular crop during that time period and included in the artwork for visual appeal.
  • The artist chose to portray the slaves as happy people because as slaves in George Washington’s kitchen they took great pride in their intelligence and culinary ability.

 

 

 

Newest Christmas Picture Books of the Year

17 Dec

The library and bookstore shelves have been looking very festive for quite a while now.   Many are filled with classics we still adore… A Christmas Carol, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Polar Express, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and T’was the Night Before Christmas, to name a few. But right up front you’ll find the pick of the season… the brand-new releases. Browse the titles. Drink in the artwork. Taste the flavor of the text. I bet you’ll go home with one or two new favorites this year.

Happy Reading!

Below are six new picture books I summarized for you, along with a few fun activities you can do with your little readers for each story. Be sure you click on the title of each one for the link to that page.

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The Christmas Quiet Book 

by Deborah Underwood and Renata Liwska

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Dear Santa, Love Rachel Rosenstein

by Amanda Peet, Andrea Troyer, and Christine Davenier

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How to Catch Santa 

by Jean Reagan and Lee Wildish

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The Knights Before Christmas

by Joan Holub and Scott Magoon

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Over the River & Through the Wood

by Linda Ashman and Kim Smith

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Waiting for Santa

by Steve Metzger and Alison Edgon

20691400When Santa Was a Baby

by Linda Bailey and Genevieve Godbout

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