Thank you to Capstone Publishing for providing me with a review copy of this book and for being a Silver level sponsor of Multicultural Children’s Book Day. All opinions are my own.
Having a 1st grader, I’m always on the look out for great books that are right in that sweet spot of great readers for K-2. So I jumped at the chance to read the newest Katie Woo book, Katie Woo, We Love You! by Fran Manushkin, which is being publishing this February. This is actually our first time reading Katie Woo, but E enjoyed the book we got so much that she read it repeatedly and quickly checked out another at the library.
Katie Woo is a young girl, probably in 1st or 2nd grade. The book itself is made up of 4 stand-alone short stories with lots of full color illustrations. This particular book has The Best Club, Katie’s Spooky Sleepover, Katie Blows her Top, and Daddy Can’t Dance. As a whole, the books works nicely as a transitional chapter book helping younger readers gain confidence to move to the next level. Continue reading →
Every year as the winter holidays roll around I’m always on the lookout for new Hanukkah books. We of course have our long-time favorites, but finding new books is always a great adventure. Since Hanukkah begins tonight at sundown, I wanted to finally get my collection up.
While not a new book, Stephanie Spinner’s It’s a Miracle! A Hanukkah Storybook, is new to us. We found this one at our school’s book fair and it is a great little gem. This book manages to tell a little bit about the story of Hanukkah while also showing how it really is about spending time with and appreciating your family. Young Owen is getting to light the Hanukkah candles himself for the first time. Each night, after the candles are lit, his grandmother tucks him into bed and tells him a story about someone in their family, without actually saying who the story is about. Owen is learning about family history while also spending quality time with his grandmother. The book ends with a simplified telling of the Hanukkah legend. This is a great book for younger elementary aged children to listen to around the holidays.
This year’s book from the PJ Library was Little Red Ruthie: A Hanukkah Tale, by Gloria Koster. This super fun story takes the beloved story of Little Red Riding Hood and joins it with the story of Hanukkah. Little Ruthie is on the way to her grandmother’s house to make latkes when a wolf steps into her path. Ruthie couldn’t let on that she was scared, she needed to “be as brave as the Maccabees.” Smart girl convinces the wolf to let her be because she will be much more delicious after 8 days of latkes. But he still goes off to grandma’s house, though she is out. He occupies himself by putting on her clothing. When Ruthie gets there, she still manages to stall him by making him latkes and telling him the story of the Maccabees. Her resourcefulness saves both herself and her grandmother and listeners get a wonderful telling of the Hanukkah story. A super fun book and one that I plan to use when I go into classrooms to share Hanukkah! Continue reading →
My 7 year old adores audio books. She falls asleep to them every night and sometimes does art projects while listening to them. My 10 year old has enjoyed them since she was about the same age, but she only listened to books she had already read whereas my younger child likes to listen first. We have quickly made our way through all 6 Land of Stories books, the Ramona books (Stockard Channing!!!), and quite a few others. But sometimes, finding a series that she likes can be a challenge. Enter Katie Kazoo, Switcheroo.
This series, by Nancy Krulik, was published from 2002-2011, but we have never read it before. It just wasn’t on my older daughter’s radar, for whatever reason. E is adoring the series and I’m rather impressed myself. The concept of the series is that young Katie Carew makes a wish after an exceptionally bad day asking to be anyone but herself. Now when a special wind blows, she becomes someone else, even the class hamster! Within about 70 pages, she manages to learn something about others, or other situations, by walking in someone else’s shoes.
Katie Kazoo offers a great option for those ready to read longer chapter books, but not quite ready for the likes of Harry Potter. There are still illustrations that keep them engaged and while the stories are silly and fun, Katie learns that bad behavior doesn’t work – for example, in book 5 she thinks having no rules would make everything better, but realizes that we need some rules to avoid mass chaos. Continue reading →
Recently I was given the opportunity to review Leo’s Gift, by Susan Blackaby and Joellyn Cicciarelli, through the Kid Lit Exchange. The book moved me in a number of ways. I am a sucker for books about music, but also, since I freelance for OutreachNC, a magazine that often covers topics about caring for those with dementia and other memory issues, a book that illustrates how “music carves a memory” is something I feel strongly about.
There are so many pieces to this wonderful book! First off, the illustrations, by Carrie Schuler, are top notch. She captures so many emotions and concepts beautifully and it all feels so fresh. The story itself touches on a variety of topics from finding your passion to sharing your personal gifts with others. Young Leo doesn’t know what his gift is, but all children are encouraged to figure out their own special talents through this moving story.
The story itself starts with Meredith practicing piano and complaining about it. But her music touches her young brother, Leo, and Meredith manages to teach Leo some basics only to discover that Leo has a natural gift for the piano. Meredith’s true passion is basketball, and while she stays late to practice with the team, Leo finds the music room and his own time to practice. Continue reading →
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.
We live in a confusing world. I can only imagine what it must be like to be a child these days with the proliferation of digital media and the constant information stream. It is hard to turn it off and focus on the right in front of us. Not only that, but there is so much hatred in the world right now and I don’t think it is possible to shield our children from it. But we do have the power to acknowledge the hate that is out there and to promote a world of kindness. To promote going high when they go low. To promote loving everyone. I’ve taken a look at books about kindness in the past, but when I was given the opportunity to check out two new books from the Peace Dragon series, I jumped at it.
Author Linda Ragsdale encourages everyone to view the world through the eyes of peace. Her Peace Dragon project started after she survived a terrorist attack in Mumbai in 2008. The Peace Dragon’s mission is to set peace and love as the natural response in any situation. Her books Words and Not Opposites help show children how words can empower and encourage us, and create change in our lives and the world around us. Continue reading →
At the end of April, Jews across the world will take a special moment to pause and reflect about the Holocaust on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Passover, another Jewish holiday that started Monday night, is also a time where we often focus on commemorating and retelling the tragedy of the Holocaust and the amazing efforts that many Jews took to escape the Nazis and start a new life.
There are many truly amazing books for younger readers about the Holocaust. While a number of them are what you might consider middle grade fiction, and sometimes non-fiction, there are also some picture books that tell the story very well. It is a difficult topic to touch on, so all good books have to tread somewhat lightly and focus on the resilience and perseverance of a nation of people rather than on the tragedy itself. Here are a few of the books we have managed to read.
Out of heartbreak can come amazing strength.
Helen Frances Theresa Delaney Martini was an ordinary woman living in New York. When her first baby died and doctors said that she couldn’t have any more children, her heart broke. So did her husband’s. To ease that pain, her husband, Frank, followed his heart and got a job at the Bronx Zoo. Two years later, he brought home an abandoned lion cub and Helen’s life changed forever.
In Mother to Tigers, George Ella Lyon tells the amazing story of Helen Martini. When her husband brought a lion cub named MacArthur home, he told her to “do for him what you would do for a human baby,” and she did. She fed and cared for the lion cub in her living room. When she helped her husband bring three tigers back to the zoo after nursing them at home, she realized that not only did the cubs still need her attention, but that there would always be zoo babies in need and yet there was nowhere at the zoo to take care of them.
She begged the zoo to give her a room and on her own she created the first zoo nursery. For a time her work was unpaid and then in August 1944 she became the first woman keeper in the history of the Bronx Zoo. She helped many baby animals survive and her concept of a zoo nursery soon spread. Her work was monumentally important in the lives on many animals and it is about time her achievements were shared.
I have been encouraged by the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy to post about a nonfiction title each week. While I wouldn’t classify this book as a nonfiction picture book, most of the books that I post on Wednesdays will be. Please check out Kid Lit Frenzy for an amazing resource of nonfiction picture books.
Over the years, many have told the story of Stone Soup in which hungry strangers trick a town into feeding them by making soup from a stone. As with many folk tales, the story changes with each retelling, but the backbone stays the same. A hungry stranger, or two, enters a town. When the locals refuse to help him he proceeds to make some form of stone soup. The natives are curious about how you could possibly do this and set about watching him. They are then wisely tricked into providing the actual sustenance and the town shares a meal together. It is a tale in which people are initially unwilling to help a stranger, but in the end, realize that kindness and sharing make everything better.
A very fun version of the story is Fandango Stew, by David Davis. In this telling, Luis and his grandfather are dead broke, but as they ride into the town of Skinflint, they have a plant to make Fandango stew for the town, with one tiny bean. They slowly get people to offer up ingredients, playing on the fact that the folks of Skinflint don’t want to be out done by any of the other town that Luis and his abuelo have been to. The town comes together, as all do, and make a fine fandango stew. When the sherriff asks where he can find a fandango bean, they explain that they are just simple pinto beans – “Any bean makes a fine fandango stew. Just add generosity and kindness.”
In a very similar style, Eric A. Kimmel brings forth his version in Cactus Soup. Per his author’s note, Kimmel sets his version in the time of the Mexican Revolution, somewhere between 1910 and 1922. When a group of hungry soldiers ride into San Miguel, the townspeople don’t want to share their food. They hide their tortillas, tamales, beans, and flour and put on torn clothes to look poor. But the Capitán is not fooled. He asks for a cactus thorn to make some cactus soup, and before long he has tricked the townspeople into giving him salt and chilies, vegetables, and a chicken as well! He goes a step further and tells the town that cactus soup always tastes better if you have something to go with it, and soon a full fiesta is thrown with tamales, chorizo, camotes, and several fat roasting pigs.
Linda Glaser takes us to the village of Chelm, known in Jewish folklore as a village of fools, in Stone Soup with Matzoh Balls. When a poor stranger arrives as Passover is about to start, even though it is a part of the Passover tradition to welcome the stranger, the village encourages him to go elsewhere. No food? No worries. He will make the most delicious matzoh ball soup from a stone. He of course tricks them into bringing the specific ingredients, but Yenta is unconvinced because there are still no matzoh balls. Oh yes! “That stone of mine makes the best matzoh balls in the world – so big and heavy they’ll sit in your belly like rocks all 8 days of Passover.” Very few people like heavy matzoh balls and most claim theirs are the lightest and fluffiest. The women of Chelm step up and say they make the best matzoh balls ever and make hundreds to add to the soup. The town must hold their seder in the synagogue for it is the only place in town that will hold everyone, and that Passover, everyone in Chelm had a fully belly and a full heart.
Jon J. Muth retells the story with three monks who are contemplating what makes one truly happy as they come upon a village that had been through many hard times. The villagers had become distrustful of strangers and even of other villagers. When the monks entered the village, all inhabitants pretended not to be there. “These people do not know happiness, but today we will show them how to make stone soup.”As with all stone soup stories, the monks trick the villagers into adding extras. “Something magical begins to happen among the villagers. As each person opened their heart to give, the next person gave even more and as this happened the soup grew richer and smelled more delicious.” The town was able to enjoy a wonderful feast together, and as the monks got ready to leave, the villagers thanked them for making them realize that “sharing makes us all richer.”
Heather Forest takes the stinginess to a different level in her rendition of Stone Soup. Two hungry travelers arrive at a village expecting to find a household that will share a bit of food, as has been the custom along their journey. They come to the first door and kindly ask the woman, “Please, we are hungry. Do you care? will you share? do you have any food?” To their surprise, villager after villager refuses to share, each one closing the door with a bang. As they sit to rest beside a well, one of the travelers observes that if the townspeople have no food to share, they must be “in greater need than we are.” With that, the travelers demonstrate their special recipe for a magical soup, using a stone as a starter. They explain that the soup would be better with a carrot or onion, but knew that they had asked before and everyone had nothing to share with them. However, before long, everyone in the town had been able to give just a little and it soon became a lot. The town was amazed that the travelers had made such a delicious soup out of a stone. But it was not just a stone, it was “out of a stone and a magical ingredient…sharing.”
In Bone Button Borscht, by Aubrey Davis, a hungry beggar comes to a poor town on a cold and snowy evening. No door is opened to him until he sees a light and enters the synagogue. The caretaker, the shamas, does not answer his greeting so the beggar takes the five buttons off his coat and asks for one more in order to make Bone Button Borscht. Bowls, cups, ladles, and a pot wouldn’t hurt either, he explains. As the shamas goes from door to door seeking the ingredients, the incredulous townspeople gather round and provide the food that will make the soup just a little more tasty. Such a miracle. Such a joyous feast. They don’t need a single button to make a soup. In times of scarcity, they need each other. And that, writes Davis, is “.. the real miracle the beggar left behind.”
No matter which version you choose, this is a timeless story that encourages children to think of the bigger society instead of just themselves. Soup, and food in general, always tastes better when it is shared with others. Now I’m off to make some more soup here before the snow hits.
Adults are familiar with the work of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, but in our efforts to heal our wounded world, our children need to hear his message. Fortunately, Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams have come together to write “Desmond and the Very Mean Word” about the hurt that words can cause and the power of forgiveness.The first powerful moment of this book came in the form of an introductory letter from Tutu to the child reading his book. In his book, he speaks to children urging them to consider what it would be like if someone told you that a group of people was better than another group just because they had some physical feature, which they had no control over.
The story itself is simple. Young Desmond is excited about his new bike and wants to show it to Father Trevor. On his way, however, he encounters a gang of boys. He doesn’t want to stop for fear that they will steal his bike. But as he rides through, one boy shouts out a very mean word. What that word is doesn’t matter, it just cuts Desmond to the core.
Desmond wants to get back at the boys. Father Trevor explains why that won’t solve anything – “You will get them back, and then they will get you back, and soon our whole world will be filled with nothing but ‘getting back.'”(ain’t that the truth!)
Desmond tries to get past it, but can’t, a wonderful reminder that he is a kid. When he sees the boys again, he shouts the meanest word he can think of at them. At first he feels proud for getting back at them, but then he realizes that the mean word has “left a bitter taste in his mouth.”
Desmond realizes that while he has figured out a way to hurt the boys, hurting them actually hurts him too. This is a lesson many children’s books have tried to get across, most notably, How Full is Your Bucket.
What finally frees Desmond is his ability to apologize for his own ugly words and to forgive the red-haired boy for his. In that moment, “Desmond felt a little stronger and a little braver and stood up a little taller.”
When we were children we were taught the mantra that sticks and stone may break your bones but words could never hurt you. In reality, words leave a much more lasting impact on us. It is far easier to hold on to the one negative comment than to remember ten positive ones. What Tutu learned as a child, and hopes to impart to children everywhere, is that we can only raise ourselves up and hope to raise up others by promoting a world of kind words and deeds. Hate speech has never gotten us anywhere, but love, love has the power to heal. As we enter 2017, I hope that we can all learn a little something about kindness and love to all.