Every fall, Jews around the world come together to celebrate Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, also known as the High Holidays. Five days after Yom Kippur is over, another holiday starts again, this time, it is the wonderful holiday of Sukkot.
Sukkot celebrates the fall harvest and the exodus from Egypt. Many families build their own sukkahs or have one at their synagogue. A sukkah is a temporary hut topped with branches and decorated with autumnal, harvest, or Judaic themes. One mitzvah of sukkot is to share a meal in the sukkah. Another is to shake a lulav and etrog and rejoice before God. The lulav is actually made up of branches from palm (lulav), willow (aravot), and myrtle (hadassim) trees and the etrog is a citron fruit. The four items are meant to represent the various personalities that make up the community of Israel, whose intrinsic unity is emphasized on Sukkot. More than anything, sukkot is a holiday of coming together.
Since Sukkot is a holiday of community, it is a great time to come together and read a book to understand the many meanings of the holiday. Continue reading →
At the beginning of summer one of our local libraries held an event where the children saw books about fairy and gnome houses and then were able to make them themselves. It was a marvelous activity that really got their creative juices flowing. The houses were made with all natural items and intended to be left in the green areas behind the library. My daughter teamed up with a friend and they came up with a wonderful little house hidden under a miniature weeping willow-like tree.
Of course seeing them do this project, especially sponsored by the library, got the wheels spinning about all of the cool books out there that talk about fairies and encourage kids to use their creativity while still living in a world where fairies really do exist.
An ideal place to start learning about building a fairy house is in Tracy Kane’s book, Fairy Houses. This sweet story is about a little girl who spends the summer building fairy houses in Maine in the hopes of catching a glimpse of a fairy. The only rule in the woods where she is building is to not use artificial or living materials, much like the rules when we were building. As the little girl builds and adds to her house, you see how all of the animals are lured to it. The fairies leave her a note about how special her house is for that very reason. The back of the book gives ideas about what to use every season to make a fairy house.
In true Pinkalicious style, the “I Can Read” series offering of Pinkalicious Fairy House shows the magic of fairies seen through the eyes of a true believer but is shorter and easier for a younger reader to follow than Fairy Houses. In this book, Pinkalicious believes that fairies come into her yard and sprinkle fairy dust to make the plants grow. She longs to see the fairies so she and her brother build them a house. While she never actually sees fairies, as a true believer, she catches glimmers of light in the morning sky and believes they are fairies. A great encouragement for younger girls to build their own fairy houses.
I don’t normally review craft books, but since I’m talking about the idea of making fairy houses, this seemed appropriate. Fairy World Crafts, by Kathy Ross, is a great book that is absolutely do-able (said the very not crafty person). Staying with the theme of fairy houses, this book shows step-by-step instructions on things like toadstools, snail friends, fairy log houses, and a leaf table and bed.
The Hidden Folk, by Lise Lunge-Larsen, is a wonderful collection of stories about fairies, dwarves, gnomes, selkies, river sprites, and other hidden beings. As Lunge-Larsen explains, “for as long as there have been people, there have been stories about beings whose presence we feel but cannot see.” An excellent addition to books about fairies and other magical beings with an international point of view.
Most of the time we think of fairies as sweet little sprites. But many cultures tell stories of fairies who are not so sweet and instead are rather quite mischievous. Heather Forest retells an old Scottish story in The Woman who Flummoxed the Fairies that my 6 year old absolutely adores. In this story, the fairies come out at night and dance on dinner tables and feast on the crumbs people leave behind. But the fairies are never given a chance to taste the crumbs from the bakerwoman’s cakes because they are always eaten down to the last bite. The king hatches a plan to trap the bakerwoman in the fairy world, but she has a few tricks up her own sleeve. A fun story that kids love.
Too Many Fairies, by Margaret Read Macdonald, also looks at the idea that fairies might look sweet and innocent, but are not always so in real life. An old woman hates cleaning her house, but when fairies come to help her, she gets more than she bargained for. A great story showing the other side of fairies as well as highlighting that it is better to look on the bright side than to constantly complain.
Finally, for a true story about fairies, check out Shirley Raye Redmond’s Fairies! A True Story. This book tells about how different cultures all have different stories about fairies and how they each do different things. Over time, many people have told stories about actually seeing fairies, but most of these have been pranks. The second half of the book deals with the most famous fairy prank. In England in 1917, two cousins took pictures of themselves with cutout paper fairies. By moving the fairies while they were taking the pictures, it looked like they were real. This is a very interesting look at a make-believe subject and how it has permeated our history for so long. (Apparently this was also made into a movie in 1997)
My daughter and her friend had an absolute blast with the craft at the library. Here are some photos of them getting down to business, their finished product and one of the other houses made that day.
Folktales are such a wonderful part of children’s literature. There are so many tales that have been passed down through the generations and we have learned so many valuable lessons from them. One of the things that I find especially fascinating is reading folktales from a wide variety of cultures to see how similar situations are handled differently and how each culture tries to educate its children on how they are supposed to behave. The list could go on and on, but here are ten that we have recently read that are completely non-traditional for mainstream western world and quite wonderful.
One of the things that seems to be happening in many of the public schools, at least in my neck of the woods, is that there is such a focus on test scores, reading levels, and facts that we are spending less time encouraging our children to think and create. Childhood is a time where many children still believe in the power of stories and where their imaginations run wild. But between the presence of technology and the odd over-scheduling we can’t seem to escape from, kids often don’t get to experience the creative bursts that come from boredom. Richard O’Neill and Katharine Quarmby’s story, Yokki and the Parno Gry, is a tale that highlights the power and wonder of a child’s imagination.
Yokki and the Parno Gry is a tale about the Romani people and the power of storytelling. In the same way Evan Turk’s book, The Storyteller, has the art of telling a story as the item that saved a people in their time of need, so too does Yokki’s story save his family. What sets this book apart from anything else I’ve seen is that it focuses ono the Romani culture and traditions, something we rarely see presented in books in a positive light. Continue reading →
My younger daughter’s current favorite book is the Usborne Illustrated Stories of Princes and Princesses. We are big fans of the Illuustrated Stories series in general because of their gorgeous illustrations and ability to take well known stories and bring them to younger audiences at an age appropriate level (Shakespeare for an 8 year old!). What sets this particular book apart is the fact that it brings forth many lesser known fairy tales from a variety of cultures and it is a book focusing on princesses, but without that common thread of princess needs saving from prince.
E found this book in our catalog and started begging for it, so of course I bought it, since I’m a sucker for that desire. We were quickly surprised by the content of the stories. Many are well known tales like Cinderella, The Princess and the Pea, Sleeping Beauty, and the Frog Prince. But then there are stories that have never made their way into my fairy tale loving family – The Princess and the Glass Hill, Princess Nobody, and the Seven Ravens, for example. Each story is beautifully told with illustrations and an easy to read font. Continue reading →
We learn many things from folk stories and fairy tales. Once passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth and then in written form, they are becoming less of a staple in the stories that are read to children. An important message that flows through many old tales is that good things come in small packages and that riches are often found in items not worth a lot of money.
Take the traditional story of Beauty and the Beast. In it, Beauty’s father sets off for a trade ship to see if there is anything that he can sell and asks his children what gift they would like him to bring back for them. Of his three daughters, the first two ask for clothing, jewels, and the finest dresses possible while his youngest asks for a rose. The father unfortunately picks a rose in the Beast’s garden after being graciously hosted the previous night and seals Beauty’s fate, but we know how the story resolves in the end.
In Priceless Gifts, by Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss, we are swept into the time of the old spice trade, where merchants traveled to distant islands to get precious spices in exchange for other goods. They would trade fine items for things that we take for granted, such as cinnamon or nutmeg.
On one of Antonio’s journeys to the spice islands, he is invited to the King’s Palace for dinner. Antonio is confused when he see servants holding sticks ready to strike and discovered that they were there because the palace was infested with rats who come out of hiding the moment that food is served. In order for people to eat in peace, there needed to be guards ready to beat off the rats. Antonio gives the king two cats from his ship to deal with the problem. He wants nothing in return, but the King is so grateful that he gives him a chest of jewels.
Another Italian merchant hears of Antonio’s experience and gathers up fine items of his own in hopes of getting his own supply of jewels from the King. The King of the island is stunned by the treasures that Luigi brings. Luigi is certain that he will be given a chest of jewels at least 20 times as large as Antonio’s. After a long discussion with his advisors over what they should give Luigi in return, the King gifts him with something truly priceless – a kitten from a litter born from Antonio’s cats. Luigi returns to Italy with the kitten. He didn’t return a rich man, but “he was certainly a wiser one.”
This is a wonderful example of how every person values things differently and that simple items that make your life a little easier and better can bring more joy than riches.