We have recently started encouraging our daughters to get into the “old fashioned” concept of writing letters to pen-pals. J has started writing to a cousin and some of E’s closest friends will be moving away this summer. With that in mind, finding Josh Funk’s new book, dear Dragon, has been an absolute delight.
The story is that two young boys, George Slair and Blaise Dragomir, go to two different schools and have been assigned to be each other’s pen pals. Their entire classes have teamed up as a class project and their letters have to be written in rhyme as it is also for their poetry project. What they don’t know is that one school is for dragons and one school is for humans. Much hilarity ensues. Continue reading →
The Story of Ann Cole Lowe is not one that I probably would have ever heard of if not for the new biography, Fancy Party Gowns, by Deborah Blumenthal. Her story, however, is important in the world of fashion, women, and African-American history.
Ann Cole Lowe learned how to sew from her mother and grandmother who were both dressmakers in Alabama. When Ann was 16, her mother had been working on a dress for the governor’s wife when she died. “Ann thought about what she could do, not what she couldn’t change.” So Ann finished the dress.
Ann continued to work hard and in 1917 was sent to a design school in New York, but she had to study alone, in a separate room, because of the color of her skin. This image alone in the book is exceptionally powerful to help get the notion across to children just how unfair laws and practices were when it came to segregation. This didn’t stop Ann, if anything, it might have made her stronger. Continue reading →
National Library week occurs every year towards the beginning of April. I may have missed the actual celebration this year, but in my mind, we should always be celebrating the librarian, so I’ve put together a few outstanding nonfiction picture books about librarians for this week’s nonfiction picture book challenge.
One of my all time favorites is Miss Moore Thought Otherwise, by Jan Pinborough. This book tells the story of how Anne Carroll Moore created libraries for children. It is hard for children today to comprehend that we live in a world where girls are not expected to just stay home and take care of the children. It is also hard for children, and adults for that matter, to comprehend a time when children were not welcome in libraries. When librarians didn’t want kids to touch books for fear that they would hurt them (a la The Library Dragon). It was not until 1896 that the first library room designed for children was even created, and Miss Moore was given free rein to implement her ideas about how it should be run, including a pledge for kids wanting to take out books, story times, and the removal of “silence” signs. Miss Anne Moore was a major force behind publishing companies seeing the sense in publishing more books aimed at children and to make sure that they were quality books. This book is full of wonderful history about Miss Moore and about the public library system. Continue reading →
To celebrate the release of One Good Thing About America by Ruth Freeman (3/14/17), blogs across the web are featuring exclusive content from Ruth and 10 chances to win a copy of One Good Thing About America, as well as a chance to win a Skype visit with Ruth in the Grand Prize Giveaway!
by Ruth Freeman
I happen to believe it’s really important to discover what makes us happy. I’ve learned to pay attention and look for those things that make me smile on the inside. More on them in a minute, but first: Anaïs.
In my book, One Good Thing About America, Anaïs is upset and homesick when her grandmother Oma (back home in Congo) asks her to find one good thing about her new home in America every day. “This is a very hard job,” writes Anaïs, “or maybe impossible!”
But, slowly, Anaïs does start to discover things in America that make her happy. Like her new black backpack, her beautiful cursive writing and her new friend Jenna. As she moves through her first year in America she finds more and more good things (snow! ice cream! the library!) until, at the end, her teachers and friends tell her SHE is One Good Thing About America!
I will admit that many of Anaïs’ One-Good-Things are things I love, too. I’m a sucker for ice cream, potato chips and jelly doughnuts because I don’t eat them very often. Like her, I also love stars, libraries and the first snowflakes of the winter. I even love snowstorms because there is nothing better than a snow day!
Of course, there are my wonderful students who make me smile and laugh every single day. And I can’t forget my two sons. And how about dogs? I grew up with a basset hound we named Miranda. What a face!
A few more things I thought of: the first time in the fall when I put flannel sheets on my bed is, mmm, pure delight. The sound of waves and the smell of the ocean. And I love trees, I don’t know why exactly, but especially in the winter when their branches are black and tangled against the sky. And there’s something beautiful about the sound of a car going by on a rainy night.
I’m sure I could think of more things, but this is a start. You may love some of these things, too, or you may absolutely hate them and think I’m crazy. But I hope you’ll think of your One-Good-Things. I’ve really enjoyed making this list. It makes me happy just to sit here and read it over. And there are plenty more wonderful things out there….like BOOKS!
Stop by Chat with Vera tomorrow for the next stop on the tour!
ONE GOOD THING ABOUT AMERICA is a sweet, often funny middle-grade novel that explores differences and common ground across cultures.
It’s hard to start at a new school . . . especially if you’re in a new country. Back home, Anaïs was the best English student in her class. Here in Crazy America she feels like she doesn’t know English at all. Nothing makes sense (chicken FINGERS?), and the kids at school have some very strange ideas about Africa. Anaïs misses her family . . . so she writes lots of letters to Oma, her grandmother. She tells her she misses her and hopes the war is over soon. She tells her about Halloween, snow, mac ‘n’ cheese dinners, and princess sleepovers. She tells her about the weird things Crazy Americans do, and how she just might be turning into a Crazy American herself.
About the Author: Ruth Freeman grew up in rural Pennsylvania but now lives in Maine where she teaches students who are English language learners, including many newly arrived immigrants. She is the author of several acclaimed nonfiction picture books. One Good Thing About America is her first novel..
GRAND PRIZE GIVEAWAY
- One (1) winner across the whole blog tour will receive a signed copy of One Good Thing About America for their personal collection, as well as a 30 minute Skype visit with Ruth Freeman to the school of their choice and a signed copy for the school’s library.
- Enter via the rafflecopter link below
- US Only
- Ends 4/23 at midnight ET
ADDITIONAL BOOK GIVEAWAY
I am also able to offer one reader of my blog a copy of the book.
- Get an entry by commenting on my blog post.
- Get another entry by tweeting about the giveaway and put a link to your tweet in the comments.
- Get another entry by following me on Facebook and comment that you did that.
- US Only
- Ends 4/23 at midnight ET
This coming Monday I am part of a blog tour for the release of Ruth Freeman’s new book, One Good Thing About America. Blog tours are awesome because you get to learn a wide variety of information about the book straight from the author. In the case of this book, Ruth Freeman has written 10 outstanding posts about how she wrote the book and about immigrant life. Please come back on Monday to check out the blog tour and enter to win a chance to receive a free copy of the book!
One Good Thing About America is a wonderful book about Anaïs, a young girl who has just immigrated to the United States from the Congo. Her mother and younger brother are with her in Maine and trying to adjust to life in the United States. Unfortunately, her father is in hiding from the Congolese government and her brother has also stayed behind.
The book follows Anaïs as she navigates 4th grade in a new school where she struggles with the language, even though back home she had been top in English. The book is written as letters that Anaïs writes to her grandmother, Oma, back in the Congo. Her grandmother requires her to write her letters in English so that she can practice the language, and the fact that she has trouble with grammar and spelling make her situation more relatable and realistic. It also allows the reader to grow with her as she figures things out. 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.
A few weeks ago, my family visited New York and took a trip out to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. It is such an awe inspiring place and I wanted my girls to understand the importance of the immigrant in American society. I’m not sure exactly when they really start getting in to the meat of American history in school, but there is such value in going to places and seeing it yourself and, of course, reading about history in wonderful books.
April is also National Poetry Month. While we don’t read a ton of poetry, there are some amazing books and one of the books below focuses on the history of Emma Lazarus’ famous poem that helped pay for the pedestal of Lady Liberty.
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.
“There is a unique kind of magic that comes from hearing a story told. With only the power of a voice, an entire world can be created. Suddenly, the audience becomes the hero, the villain, or the magic djinn commanding the desert sand storm.”
So says Evan Turk in the author’s note to his book The Storyteller. Apparently, it is also an old Moroccan saying that “when a storyteller dies, a library burns.” I thought that sharing this book on Read Across America day was especially important.
There is power in telling a story, especially to an audience. While we now have easy access to books, television, movies and so on, we have historically learned from tales passed down orally from generation to generation. Stories teach us the ways of our cultures and feed our souls. Evan Turk shows that feeling in a literal way through this vivid tale.
Long ago, the kingdom of Morocco was formed on the edge of the great, dry Sahara. It had fountains of water to quench the thirst of the desert and storytellers to bring the people together. But just like everywhere else, modernity came and people soon forgot their storytellers and the land soon became parched.
As a young boy walks home, searching for water, he is given a brass cups from a water seller in the hopes that he might just be lucky enough to find something. What he finds is an old storyteller who calls out to him, assuring him that his thirst will be quenched if he listens to a story. The storyteller spins a tale of the terrible drought and how one family always had enough water to share. The young boy is enthralled, and by the time the old man has finished speaking, the boy’s cup is miraculously filled with cool water.
Through the power of a magical brass cup and the voice of a storyteller, a young boy once again learned the history of his people and slowly brought water back for his own parched thirst. What he didn’t realize was that not only was he physically thirsty for water, he was spiritually thirsty as well.
At the same time that the storyteller is weaving the story for the young boy, a sandstorm is forming. Just as the boy is quenching his thirst with the power of the story, the sandstorm comes to destroy the city in the form of a djinn. He has the power to destroy the city because the fountains have run dry and the fountains have run dry because the people have stopped listening to the storytellers. The boy, realizing the power that the story holds, tricks the djinn into listening to a story before destroying the land. It takes him multiple days to tell the story, but through the power of his tale and the fact that he is telling it in front of an ever expanding audience, the boy refills the city’s fountains and quenches the physical and metaphysical thirsts making the djinn powerless.
As the author notes, “Morocco, like countries all over the world, including the United States, is at a crossroads where the future threatens to eclipse what is beautiful about the past.” Evan Turk gave us a beautiful reminder to keep the past alive through the power of a good story.
The Storyteller was a beautiful book with haunting illustrations. You can also get a sense of it from the following trailer. May we continue to shine a light on the power of the story.
This past December my daughter was getting ready for her school’s holiday music celebration when we decided to get a lesson on inclusion. Their music teacher was having them sing a variety of Christmas songs, but had failed to consider other faiths. Enter E, a very strong willed, opinionated, proud little Jewish girl. She decided that singing only Christmas songs wasn’t very inclusive since she doesn’t celebrate Christmas and asked that they also sing a Chanukah song.
So about a week before the performance, she comes home all excited about the new words to the end of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” – now the words have become “we wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a Happy Chanukah, we wish you a loving Ayyám-i-Há and a Happy New Year.” Say what? I couldn’t really understand what she was saying, I thought it was more like a loving Yamaha, but that didn’t make much sense either, so I texted her friend’s mom. Turns out Ayyám-i-Há is a Bahá’í holiday celebrated in late February, but is a time of small gift giving and the closest thing to Christmas that they celebrate.
According to Wikipedia, “during the Festival of Ayyám-i-Há, Bahá’ís are encouraged to celebrate God and his oneness by showing love, fellowship and unity. In many instances Bahá’ís give and accept gifts to demonstrate these attributes, and it is sometimes seen as a “Bahá’í Christmas”, but many Baha’is only exchange small gifts because gifts are not the main focus. It is also a time of charity and goodwill and Bahá’ís often participate in various projects of a humanitarian nature.”
I needed to find a book about it, so I asked my daughter’s friend for some help. They loaned me a wonderful book that I now share with you.
As the day progresses, Maggie find winds to do wonderful acts of kindness. She breaks open her piggy-bank to get at the money she has saved to purchase birdseed and make her own feeder. She bakes cookies with her brother and leaves them as gifts for two elderly friends. She leaves flowers and notes for her parents, brother, and teacher. Then she returns home to meditate.
I think this holiday is absolutely wonderful. The book even includes information about the holiday, about what Maggie did each day and why, and shows children how to make the bird feeder that she makes as one of her gifts. It was really wonderful for my daughter to see that there are other minority religions out there as well and that we should all take pride in our beliefs and learn to share them with those around us.
While I believe that this particular book might be out of print, there is a brand new book that came out in January about the holiday – Celebrating Ayyam-i-Ha Around the World, by Melissa Lopez Charepoo. This book apparently shows a wide spectrum of families around the world celebrating this wonderful holiday.
I love that we learned something new this year and we continue to learn about their faith and experiences. For all of those who will begin celebrating Ayyám-i-Há this weekend, may you have a loving and joyous holiday!