Renato loved his home in Florence, Italy.
He loved the people there. And the food there.
But he especially loved the art there.
It was everywhere.
This is how Barbara DiLorenzo begins her beautiful book, Renato and the Lion. Through beautiful watercolor images, DiLorenzo brings Florence, Italy to life. This gorgeous book sends us back to Florence during World War II, seen through the eyes of young Renato, who not only loves his homes, but especially loves the art work found throughout the magnificent city.
Renato’s father works at an art museum. As soldiers start to take over the city, men like Renato’s father encase famous sculptures in brick to protect them from damage. Renato’s favorite sculpture is a lion in the Piazza della Signoria who he desperately wants to protect. The lion weaves into Renato’s dreams and in the end, he does manage to help save the sculpture. 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 →
I often pick up books at the library simply because they have that enticing yellow “new” sticker on them. I’m not sure exactly what drew me to “The Branch” by Mireille Messier and Pierre Pratt, but this is a wonderful book to share.
What is extraordinary about this book is that it shows a special multi-generational friendship between the little girl and her neighbor, and it encourages children to up-cycle a cherished item by turning it into something else.
When an ice storm snaps a small girl’s favorite branch from the tree in her yard, she’s crestfallen. The girl’s mom says it’s just a branch. But not to her! “That was the branch I sat on, jumped from, played under. It was my castle, my spy base, my ship . . .” Luckily, her neighbor Mr. Frank understands. He says the branch has “potential.” “What’s potential?” she asks. “It means it’s worth keeping.” And so, with imagination and spirit, and Mr. Frank’s guidance and tools, the girl transforms the broken branch into something whole and new, giving it another purpose, and her another place to treasure.
Many cultures have notions of who can do certain jobs. There is a long-standing history of women being expected to be housewives and caretakers. We have seen, however, that many men excel in that role and there have been times when women excel in historically male dominated professions.
In Alma Fullerton’s new book, Hand over Hand, we are told a simple story of a young girl who wants to fish with her grandfather, but who is repeatedly told that a fishing boat is no place for a girl. Continue reading →
There is a special place in my heart for books that champion the relationship between a grandparent and a grandchild. There is much to be learned by having a special bond between generations. The relationship between parent and child can be difficult at times, and often the grandparent is able to have a very special relationship because they don’t have to be the disciplinarian. In this The Not-So-Faraway Adventure, by Andrew Larsen and Irene Luxbacher, children get a glimpse of the relationship between a grandfather and granddaughter, as well as the joys of exploration and adventure.
Young Theodora loves looking through her Poppa’s old trunk full of mementos from his past adventures. Whenever she looked in it, she would find something interesting and it inspired her to explore the world as well. As her grandfather’s birthday approaches, she ponders what she could get him. In talking, she realizes that going on an adventure with him and having a special birthday meal would be the best way to celebrate.
The two plan out a path, take public transportation, and make it to the beach. “Theo felt like she was stepping into one of Poppa’s postcards.”
Together they explore the beach finding treasures and taking pictures. Then they enjoy lunch at a restaurant sharing new treats. On their way home, Poppa explains that his favorite part of taking an adventure has always been coming back home. This time, there is a party waiting for him. Theo puts memories from their not-so-faraway adventure into Poppa’s trunk so he can always remember them, and so can she.
This very sweet story encourages young children to explore the world around them and to treasure the history and stories of their family members. In the overly commercial world that we live in, we often forget that the best gifts can simply be the gift of spending time together and making memories. It was also a nice added touch to see a wide array of cultures portrayed in the pictures as they went on their adventure.
“Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa. Amazing Africa.”
So starts every Anna Hibiscus book. These books, written by Atinuke and illustrated by Lauren Tobia, tell the story of young Anna Hibiscus as she tries to maneuver through some of life’s challenges. They take place in Africa, but really they could be anywhere. They are a multicultural, multi-generational family, which is something we don’t see a great deal of.
We first discovered Anna Hibiscus in picture book format, but there are also chapter books for young readers available.
In “Double Trouble for Anna Hibiscus!” Anna’s mother has just given birth to twin boys. The day that the babies are born, Anna struggles with the fact that her normal routine has been completely upended by their birth. Anna’s cousins had teased her that boys were trouble and now Anna feels that they were right – her new brothers are nothing but double trouble.
The problem that Anna is facing is that no one seems to have time for her because everyone is focused on the new babies. When she finally breaks down and cries, her father finds her and explains that she will now have to share the family with her brothers, but that everyone still loves her. At that same time, miraculously, everyone finally has time for Anna. She realizes that her brothers aren’t so bad, it will just take some time for everyone to adjust.
This is a marvelous book for any child who is about to get a new sibling. Change can be very difficult, but the message is clear that while that first day is very far from normal, your family will continue to love you and be there for you.
In “Splash,” Anna and her family are enjoying a hot day at the beach. All Anna wants to do is splash in the waves, but no one wants to join her. She invites everyone, but they are busy playing in the sand, playing with their phones, braiding hair or simply napping. Anna gets very frustrated because she really wants someone to play with her, but no one wants to do what she wants.
She finally gives up on everyone else and dips her toes in the water. Her family might be too busy, but she realizes that the waves are jumping and splashing and they want someone to join them! She fully enjoys splashing in the water. Her laughter carries over the sand and entices her family to join her. Everything else is hot, but the water is cool and inviting.
This book surprised me because it was the first Anna Hibiscus book that I read and not only was it about Africa, but it focused on the beaches of Africa instead of the safari or desert. In terms of lessons, it is all about persistence and perseverance. Anna knows what she wants, tries every angle, and when she doesn’t get her family to get in the water, she goes in by herself and shows everyone how amazing it is.
Moving away from picture books, there are also chapter books aimed at younger children that feature Anna and her family.
In the first of the series, the book is made up of four short stories about Anna Hibiscus’s life in Africa. Join her as she splashes in the sea, prepares for a party, sells oranges, and hopes to see sweet, sweet snow! The stories move smoothly and comfortably through life in Africa. The reader learns a lot about a different culture almost without being aware of it. The reader quickly learns to like Anna Hibiscus and her extended family. The delightful illustrations beautifully compliment the stories.
In book 2 of the series, “Hooray for Anna Hibiscus,” Anna taking a big step: she has become old enough to attend school. As her father reminds her, growing-up children need to go to school so they can work to make Africa a better place. Anna certainly has her work cut out for her when she is selected to sing a solo for a visiting president from another country. However, she gets a major case of stage fright. Her learning also progresses outside of school, especially when she accompanies her aunty and uncle on an errand to another part of the city where children beg and scavenge through trash to survive.
There are a total of 4 books of the chapter series available at Usborne Books and More, but these two are a great place to start!
From time to time I read a book and just say “wow” when I am done. When my four year old requested that I read Mrs Katz & Tush for bedtime one night, I really wasn’t sure that she would enjoy it. The story is pretty long and Ms. Polacco tends to write about some deep topics. I’m sure that she didn’t get the full meaning of the story, but she did enjoy it and I hope that we read it together more.
Mrs. Katz and Tush really tells the story of Mrs. Katz and Larnel. Mrs. Katz is a recent widow who lives on her own. Larnel lives in her building and his mom stops by her apartment on a regular basis to check in on her. One day she cries about being alone for the holidays. The next day, Larnel returns on his own and brings her a kitten that had been born in the basement of the building. She agrees to take care of the cat, but only if Larnel comes to help her with it.
As expected, Mrs. Katz warms up to the cat, who she names Tush because it is missing a tail. Larnel and Mrs. Katz also forma bond as he visits her every day after school. Mrs. Katz tells her story of coming to America from Poland. She also tells him of their vacation in the Catskills – “a borscht resort, you know, a place for Jews to stay.”
What starts then is a deepening of the story to focus on how the history of the Jews isn’t so different from African Americans. Larnel is surprised by Mrs. Katz telling him that Jews couldn’t stay anywhere they wanted, but he tells her that his grandmother told him of places that she couldn’t stay either. Mrs. Katz explains to Larnel that “your people and mine are alike, you know. Trouble, we’ve seen. Happiness, too. Great strength we’ve had. You and I are alike, so much alike!”
Their friendship continues to grow in beautiful ways. They dance to Polish music. Larnel learns the Jewish tradition of placing a stone on a headstone. He learns the laws of kosher and eats a lot of kugel. As Passover approaches, Mrs. Katz recalls all of her times with family and is sad that she will be alone. Larnel asks to have Passover dinner with her and she teaches him the holiday traditions.
Like your people, my people were slaves too. They lived in a country where they didn’t want to be. They wanted freedom so much that they prayed to God to help them. So he sent an angel – an angel that brought death and sadness to the houses of our captors. But the angel did not visit our houses.
So, Larnel, we have a big feast to celebrate, but we also remember those who had to suffer so we could be free.
Mrs. Katz and Larnel become each other’s family. When she dies, he says Kaddish for her and leaves a stone on her headstone which reads “Mrs. Katz, our bubbe…such a person.” (Bubbe is Yiddish for grandma).
As a Jew, this story touched me as a beautiful way to share our traditions and to show that we all have common experiences. We have been oppressed as have many other cultures. It is our collective strength that has brought us to where we are today. People of different backgrounds might think that they are so very different, but at the heart of it, the differences often slip away.
This story is even more profound in light of all that is currently happening in France and even with the upcoming Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. We are not so very different. Thank you Ms. Polacco.
As I mentioned in my last post, there was recently a blog sharing event about picture books that I completely enjoyed. I’m still trying to make my way through all of the outstanding entries. Carrie Gelson of There is a Book for That posted a great list of books that showed connections across generations. I really enjoyed that list, in part because we had recently discovered this gem – How to Take Your Grandmother to the Museum.
This book is told from the perspective of a little girl who loves spending time and exploring with her grandma. Grandma exposes the girl to all sorts of “interesting places,” but it turns out that grandma has never been to the Museum of Natural History. The little girl has just been there on a class field trip and now she would like to share something new with her grandmother.
What follows is a marvelous adventure through the Museum of Natural History. From Dinosaur Hall to the dioramas, from the Hall of Ocean Life to rocks and gems and from bugs to human biology, this is an awesome tour of the museum for those who are unable to get there themselves. Since we are also planning a NY trip, this is a great way for J to be excited when I suggest going to this museum.
What makes this book even more wonderful is that it was written by a grandmother/granddaughter team. Lois Wyse has written many adult books about being a grandmother, but her grand-daughter Molly got the idea about the story as she enjoyed the museum and her grandmother truly had never been. Molly was 10 at the time (1998). J read this book multiple times when we got it from the library and I hope it will be on her mind when we visit the actual museum too.