A Flock of New Bird Books Take Flight

A Flock of New Bird Books Take Flight

Standing in the middle of Northampton, the day before spring equinox, I looked up at the sky just as a flock of geese were veering north. The forecast may have called for freezing rain and snow, but the geese knew otherwise. They knew winter was sinking, and spring was most certainly on the rise. I love birds for that. Their return to our feeders, their songs weaving through newly budded branches, their nests taking shape under the eaves of our porch – are all signs of spring. And this year, to our delight, a flock of new bird books has landed in our reading repertoire just as the first robins have returned to our yard. A perfect complement to bird watching, here are seven new bird books to share with your own little peeps.

Mama Built A Little Nest, written by Jennifer Ward and illustrated by Steve Jenkins, is just right for the youngest bird enthusiasts. Combining a playful four-line poem with a few lines of scientific facts, the picture book introduces a specific bird and the type of nest they make for their young. Includes the weaver bird, hummingbird, penguin, falcon, woodpecker, and more. A great creative nonfiction pick for wee learners.

  • Mama Built A Little Nest written by Jennifer Ward and illustrated by Steve Jenkins. Published by Beach Lane Books, 2014. ISBN: 978-1442421165

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New Children’s Book Highlights the Pioneer Valley

Night Night Valley
Children’s Picture Book Highlights the Pioneer Valley

Night Night Valley is a community-based picture book that encourages both literacy and community engagement.

If you’re raising kids in western Massachusetts, Night Night Valley, a sweet children’s book based in and around the Pioneer Valley, is a must-read for your little ones at bedtime.  Written by Jennifer S. Page and illustrated by Rachel A. Chapman (both of Amherst, MA), Night Night Valley travels through our local landscape as night time arrives.  Your children will recognize many of the water-color illustrations that depict life in western Massachusetts.

Local food is highly valued by many families, and the book begins with a nod to our many farmers’ markets and open areas for picnicking. Subtle referencing to the Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens and the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art are made with illustrations of butterflies and “hungry caterpillars.”  Local parks like Look Park, Groff Park and Holyoke Heritage State Park will peak your child’s interests with recognition and encouragement to begin the journey towards sleep.

“The Kids at Look Park have all gone to bed. ‘We had so much fun on the train ride,’ they said.”

And if your child hasn’t yet made a visit to these locations, they have possibly seen the many landmarks this delightful bedtime story references, like Mt. Pollux, the Connecticut River, downtown Amherst & Northampton, and apple orchards.

“Downtown is so quiet, no traffic right now. The farmer has said good night to his plow.”

  • Night Night Valley. Written by Jennifer S. Page and illustrated by Rachel A. Chapman. Published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; Lrg edition (February 14, 2014). 28 pp. ISBN: 9781480079908

 

Children’s Literature & Resources that Support Math

Children’s Literature Can Make Math Fun!

Children’s literature can make math accessible and fun!

It seems as if the connections between children’s literature and topics within many academic disciplines are endless. Captivating stories introduce fascinating historical eras, animal tales for young readers share basic concepts of biology, and stories of community teach children about interacting with new people and building relationships. However, somewhat elusive within children’s literature are math concepts. Perhaps the most challenging academic subject to integrate smoothly into your family’s everyday life, math has often been taught through memorization and drilling rather than through curiosity-driven exploration. However, despite it’s elusiveness, math is very much present within children’s literature, and there are numerous resources to support families in exploring math together… and making it fun!

We asked Beryl Hoffman, assistant professor of Computer and Information Technology at Elms College in Chicopee, and a homeschooling mom living in Florence, what children’s literature she would recommend for families wanting to supplement learning (and a love) of math at home.  She had several great picture books to recommend for children that playfully explore math concepts within a story… Read the rest of this entry »

Black History Month: Six Featured New Titles Bring History Alive

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Five New Picks for Kids and One Just for Grown-Ups

In honor of Black History Month, I’ve selected five new kids’ books that bring history alive. Courageous individuals, unsung heroes, and influential, but little-known, events, reach through pages of text, photos, art, and poetry, and connect young readers to the struggles and achievements of the civil rights movement. And as a special addition this month, I have a book recommendation just for grown-ups, because I can’t help spreading the word about a wonderfully outrageous book related to abolitionist John Brown.

Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up To Become Malcolm X, written by his daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, and illustrated by AG Ford, tells the story of Malcolm’s boyhood, with a special focus on his parents, Earl and Louise Little, who raised their children with love and “unstoppable optimism and faith.” The enchanted world of his mother’s garden and the stirring speeches of his father help shape Malcolm in his early years. When his father dies and Malcolm and his siblings become wards of the state, his upbringing helps forge an indomitable self-reliance, which carries him through difficult times, and eventually helps him become a zealous leader of equal rights. Lots of emotionally wrought text and rich-hued oil paintings throughout the book’s 48 pages create an intimate portrait of Malcolm’s boyhood. A good read for middle graders and beyond.

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Three Picture Books for the Year of the Horse

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Galloping into 2014: Three Picture Books for the Year of the Horse

As the Year of the Water Snake slithers away, the Lucky Chinese Year of the Wood Horse comes galloping in with the promise of victories, adventure, travel, fiery energy, decisive action, good fortune, and free-spirited independence. In searching for books to coincide with the marking of the new year, I discovered these three beautiful picture books that portray ancient China through folktale and fantasy and feature magnificent, powerful horses.

The Race for the Chinese Zodiac

The Race for the Chinese Zodiac comes to us by way of Australia, where it was first published in 2011. Candlewick released it here in the states this past November, perfectly timed for the lead up to Chinese New Year. Author Gabrielle Wang retells the ancient story of the race to become one of the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac. When the Jade Emperor promises to name a year after the first twelve winners to cross the river, thirteen different animals accept the challenge. Each chooses their own method of crossing the river from swimming and flying to raft-building and log-floating. And each reveals their personality traits through competitive spirit, from being kind and supportive to selfish and deceitful.  The easy pacing and large print make for a good story time. And illustrations reminiscent of ancient China give the book visual appeal. Illustrator Sally Rippin used traditional Chinese ink on watercolor paper and also created linocut “chops,” or stamps, showing the Chinese character for each animal. Designer Regine Abos digitally dropped in the texture and color behind Rippin’s hand rendered illustrations to create a modernized vintage look.  Includes additional annotations on the zodiac years and symbols.

  • The Race for the Chinese Zodiac written by Gabrielle Wang, illustrated by Sally Rippin, with design by Regine Abos. Published by Candlewick, 2013. ISBN: 978-0763667788

Click here for more featured titles…

HFVS Underground Railroad Episode (Podcast/Radio Show)

Listen to Podcast:


Hilltown Family Variety Show
Underground Railroad Episode

WXOJ LP – 103.3 FM – Valley Free Radio
Northampton, MA

Featured Video: “Follow the Drinking Gourd.” According to American folklore, this song was a “musical” map which led fugitive slaves north to freedom. For a history of the song, see www.followthedrinkinggourd.org.


Archived Podcasts Radio  Facebook Twitter

PLAYLIST

Discover the Songs: Lyrics & History

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Four Picture Books to Capture the Magic of Snow

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Snowflakes Ahead!

“It’s snowflaking!” my youngest shouts every time the snow flies. There is such joy and wonder in his simple expression that I can’t help but turn my face to the sky to catch some of that magic. It’s the same magic that has called all my kids outside, bright and early, after that first snowfall, still in their jammies and wild bedhead, just to get their mittened hands on snow, to catch flakes on their tongue, to grab a sled and go barreling down the hill. Four new picture books capture a bit of that snowflake magic – the quiet, the impermanence, the beauty, the thrill. So when your rosy-cheeked children have returned from a world of winter white, have donned dry socks and are nestled in the warmth of family, share a story of snow. And remember, spring is just a season away.

Big Snow

Open SesameIn Big Snow, David awaits the coming of a winter storm, hoping for the first big snow of the season. He tries to help his mother with holiday housecleaning, but each task reminds him of snow, from the flour that goes into the cookie dough, to the suds in the bathtub, to the crisp, white sheets. His excited anticipation keeps drawing him outside to check the skies. When his mother tells him to take a nap, David dreams of a giant blizzard, with snow drifts piling up in the living room. He wakes to his Dad’s footfalls and the real storm in full swing. The straight-forward storyline and soft watercolor illustrations portray a tender and warm family life, while capturing the excitement and anticipation of the first big snow.

Big Snow written and illustrated by Jonathan Bean. Published by Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2013. ISBN: 978-0-374-30696-0

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Gratitudes and Graces: Book of Poetry, Prayers, & Songs of Thanks

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

New Book Serves Up Gratitudes and Graces

Master Eckhart, who died almost seven hundred years ago said, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you,’ it will be enough.” – From Giving Thanks: Poems, Prayers, and Praise Songs of Thanksgiving

Giving Thanks: Poems, Prayers, and Praise Songs of Thanksgiving is the newest collaboration between Katherine Paterson and Pamela Dalton. Paterson, a Newberry Medalist and author of some of the most beloved children’s books, including Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved, selected over 50 poems, prayers, and praise songs that reflect on the act of giving thanks.

The book is divided into four sections – “Gather Round The Table,” “A Celebration of Life,” “The Spirit Within,” and “Circle of Community” – and each section begins with Paterson’s personal reflections on being thankful. Universal principles of gratitude and joy are served up from across cultural and religious traditions, pulled from songs and spirituals, and echoed in the voices of people through the ages. A Vietnamese farmers’ prayer, an ancient haiku, a Shaker song, a Pueblo blessing, poems from Emily Dickinson and Wendell Berry, the words of Hildegard of Bingen and Martin Luther King Jr., are just some of the nuggets Paterson offers… Read the rest of this entry »

7 Literary Guides for Expanding Family Reading Time

Literary Guides for Expanding Family Reading Time

Our Reading Resource series was featured here on Hilltown Families this past summer, sharing downloadable guides of children’s literature from graduate students in the Integrated Learning teacher preparation program at Antioch University New England.

Looking for ways to enhance your family reading time? Hilltown Families has a wealth of resources for supporting families with kids of all ages in expanding the stories that they read together into deeper learning experiences.

Our series, Summer Reading Resource: Literary Guides for Expanding Family Reading Time, features teacher-written guides filled with lessons and activities to accompany some fantastic children’s books. Though the guides are designed to be used by educators, their contents can be easily adapted for use at home for parents looking to supplement their children’s learning. Within each guide, parents will find detailed outlines for activities and lessons to do after reading each story, as well as sets of discussion topics, suggestions for further reading with similar themes, and ideas for tying in math, science, social studies, art, and other topics into your work with the book.

The books included in the series include both picture and chapter books, and cover all of the ages and developmental capacities typically found in grades K-5, and can be divided into three categories…

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Railroads & Locomotives: Three Childrens Books About Trains

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

All Aboard!

Coming down the tracks and headed straight into the hands of young enthusiasts, are three new picture books about trains. If you have little engineers in your life, the ones who sleep with trains under their pillows, who hear the whistle from miles away, who build tracks from one end of the house to the other, then check out these exciting books. Featuring both modern and vintage trains, and artwork that transports the reader to railroads near and far, these books will have train lovers wanting to climb aboard.

Locomotive is a lush work by award winning book creator, Brian Floca. From the moment you connect with the striking portrait of a regal locomotive on the cover, you are transported back through time, to the summer of 1869. End papers set the stage with an overview of the trans-continental railroad including a map, history, and small vignettes. Then the title page reveals another more personal layer to the story – a family photo, a railroad guide, and a telegram from Papa saying all is ready in California, come soon. From the beginning, the book has multiple dimensions: it is a fictional story of a mother and her two children boarding a steam train in Omaha, Nebraska, and riding the rails all the way across the country to San Francisco; and it is a nonfictional story of the trans-continental railroad, its history and landscape, of the steam locomotive herself, her mechanical wonders and the people who kept her and the railroads running. The large size of the book enhances its full sensory effect and is worthy of housing the story of the powerful locomotive. Lyrical, rhythmic text, with lettering that often changes in size and color to help tell the story, brings the whole experience to life. Illustrations done in watercolor, ink, acrylic, and gouache are often startling in their perspective and emotional renderings. Long notes and resources at the back provide more historical information, including how the trans-continental railroad impacted Native Americans. This is an incredible piece of work and a keeper for all railroad enthusiasts, no matter what their age.

  • Locomotive by Brian Floca. A Richard Jackson Book, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2013. ISBN: 978-1-4169-9415-2

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Pair of Fall Favorite Picture Books

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

A Pair of Perennial Favorites

Here is a pair of picture books I particularly love reading in the fall. They are perennial favorites, books I come back to again and again. Just right for the younger set, though readers of any age will find powerful messages tucked into these small packages.

Here are stories that embody joy, wonder, and the deep truth of our inner nature, illustrated with lovely, emotive artwork, and spiced with two essential images of autumn – leaves and geese…

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Bedside Reading: A Collection of Five

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Bedside Reading

I always have a stack of books at my bedside – a wild assortment of fiction and nonfiction, with a handful of kids’ books thrown in the mix.  The current collection stars two picture books, a middle grade and a young adult novel, and a work of children’s nonfiction. They all captured my attention and praise, and I want to share them with you. Read one with your preschooler, or pass one off to your teen, or maybe even tuck one onto your bedside table (It’s okay, I won’t tell.)…

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Literary Guide for Astrid Lindgren’s “Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter”

Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter
by Astrid Lindgren

Our Summer Reading Resource series is coming to a close with our seventh and final installment, Astrid Lindgren’s Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter.

Originally written in Swedish, this a tale of adventure that shares themes with literary classics such as Romeo and Juliet and The Adventures of Robinhood. The story’s protagonist – Ronia – is, as the title states, the daughter of Matt, the fearsome leader of a band of robbers. Ronia is raised at her parents’ fort, the headquarters for Matt’s ring of bandits. Surrounding the fort is a vast, dense, and magical forest, which provides beautiful scenery and fodder for Ronia’s childhood adventures.

The major conflict within the story is centered around a friendship that Ronia develops with a boy named Birk, who is just about her age and is every bit as interested in exploring the forest as Ronia is herself…

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Literary Guide for Robert McCloskey’s “Make Way for Ducklings”

Make Way for Ducklings
by Robert McCloskey

Make Way for Ducklings, written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey, is our featured title this week in our Summer Reading Resource series.  Make Way for Ducklings tells the story of the Mallard family – made up of a mama duck, a papa duck, and eight little ducklings with silly rhyming names. After investigating New England’s rural landscape, the Mallards decide that the countryside is filled with too many threatening predators for their liking (and for the safety of their future ducklings). They settle, instead, in busy Boston, and hatch their eggs amongst skyscrapers and busy streets. Once the ducklings are born, readers travel throughout the city with them, experiencing all of the excitement that Boston has to offer from a duckling’s perspective, and discover – with the Mallards – that city life presents its own unique set of obstacles, just like country life. Their main problem? Cars won’t stop for the family to cross the street! Luckily, the Mallards find a friendly police officer to help them, which leads to citywide police escorts helping to ensure their safety…

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Literary Guide for Kevin Henkes’ “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse”

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse
by Kevin Henkes

This week as part of our Summer Reading Resource literary guide series, Kevin Henkes’ classic, Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse is featured. Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, a silly yet meaningful story, is the tale of a young mouse who is quite enamored with some of her most favorite possessions and has trouble containing her excitement! Lilly, an elementary school student, brings her favorite purple plastic purse to school, filled with fancy movie star glasses and three big, shiny quarters. She is eager to show of her goodies with her classmates, but isn’t able to find a way of doing this that fits with the class routine and expectations. Unfortunately, her teacher (whom she normally loves) takes away her purse and its contents until the end of day, leaving Lilly frustrated and disappointed. She even draws a mean picture and puts it in her teacher’s bag in order to get back at him.

By the end of the story, Lilly has learned a few important lessons. Able to share her prized items the next day at school, she learns the proper etiquette for bringing things from home into the classroom. She also learns to apologize, and learns that in working to curb her excitement, she can avoid such situations in the future…

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Literary Guide for Kate Banks’ “Max’s Words”

Max’s Words
by Kate Banks

Learning words can be incredibly exciting for young children, especially those who are just beginning to read and are developing the skills to decode words on their own. Kate Banks’ book Max’s Words captures this time in life beautifully, and uses a boy’s enthusiasm for vocabulary to weave together a tale of collecting, autonomy, and developing self-confidence, and is the featured title this week in our Summer Reading Resource literary guide series. Young and old readers alike can enjoy the book, but it speaks in particular to early elementary-aged students, as they likely share similar experiences with the protagonist…

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Literary Guide for Roald Dahls’ “Danny the Champion of the World”

Danny the Champion of the World
by Roald Dahl

Beloved and quirky children’s writer Roald Dahl is known for his strange yet fascinating tales that capture the curiosity and imagination of kids of all ages. Dahl’s characters are often just on the verge of being unbelievable – they are balanced perfectly in between the real world and the realm of Dahl’s imagination. Each story creates a world for the reader that features a special kind of fantasy – the events that take place could never happen within the reader’s world, yet somehow they are not out of place within a similar context in the story.

Our Summer Reading Resource literary guide series continues this week with Danny the Champion of the World, one of many Roald Dahl classics. The story focuses on Danny and his father, an oddball pair who live in a gypsy wagon behind a combination gas station/repair shop. The two are often bullied by their wealthy (and snobby) neighbor Mr. Hazell, and their mutual dislike for the man leads to the pair hatching a plan to exact revenge upon him. However, in the process, Danny ends up learning one of his father’s biggest secrets – a secret that leads to Danny grappling with a challenging moral dilemma. In the end, the two beautifully execute a hilariously sneaky (yet morally questionable) endeavor that does, in fact, satisfy their desire to teach Mr. Hazell a lesson…

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Five Picture Books That Bubble And Splash

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Into The Blue
Five Picture Books That Bubble And Splash

On these steamy, hot summer days, there is nothing my family would rather do than jump into the blue. We gravitate to water, like playful otters, seeking out cool relief, as we splash and dive and kick and paddle. So when I found a handful of new picture books featuring watery landscapes, my kids were delighted to jump in, even though they knew they wouldn’t be getting wet.

Here’s a review of 5 picture books published this year that bubble and splash:

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Literary Guide for Mo Willems’ “City Dog, Country Frog”

City Dog, Country Frog
by Mo Willems

Our Summer Reading Resource literary guide series continues this week with Western Massachusetts author Mo Willems’ City Dog, Country Frog,  a beautiful tale of friendship throughout the seasons. The tale begins in the summer, when the weather is warm, plants are green, and flowers are in bloom. City Dog visits the country, where he meets Country Frog – a curious amphibian whose habits, games, and surroundings are quite different from those of City Dog. Nevertheless, the two become great friends, and they discover that they each have much to teach the other. City Dog visits Country Frog during each of the seasons, and their activities reflect the energy and aesthetic of the transformation of their surroundings. During the summer, they focus on fun and games in the warm sun, and in the fall they decide to play remembering games – an activity that allows them to think and reflect, and to take in the beauty of the fiery fall leaves and the still, crisp air. When winter comes, City Dog takes a visit to the snowy countryside only to discover that his froggy friend is nowhere to be found. He waits for him to appear, but to no avail – Country Frog is mysteriously gone. Once spring comes and the ground thaws, City Dog visits again. Country Frog doesn’t turn up, but City Dog makes a new friend, Country Chipmunk, and the clever ending implies that they two are about to embark on a journey of friendship that will reflect the changes in season just as beautifully as City Dog’s adventures with Country Frog did.

While the text is fairly simple – making it ideal for younger students – the themes presented within the story can be accessed by students of all ages…

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Literary Guide for Jane Yolen’s “Letting Swift River Go”

Letting Swift River Go
by Jane Yolen, Illustrated by Barbara Cooney

Our new Summer Reading Resource series will be featured here on Hilltown Families every week throughout the end of August, sharing downloadable guides of children’s literature from graduate students in the Integrated Learning teacher preparation program at Antioch University New England. Each literary guide pairs a featured book with suggestions for ways to help children expand their thinking, create connections to the text, and allow their literacy skills to grow. These guides contain outlines with discussion questions, art projects, outdoor adventures, and many other activities that are designed for use in classrooms but can very easily be adapted for use at home for supplemental education. Weekly featured titles will cover a wide variety of themes, lengths, and levels of difficulty – meaning there’s something for every family, and for every reader! Some are classics, some are lesser-known gems – but all of the books present potential for helping families build upon the stories that they read together.

Our first featured title is this series of literary guides is Letting Swift River Go by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Barbara Cooney…

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New York Times Summer Reading Contest for Teens

New York Times Summer Reading Contest for Teens

For many teens, summer can be a whirlwind of activity – between outdoor explorations, visiting friends, working on hobby projects, and maybe some volunteer work or a part-time job, there often isn’t much free time left! However, many schools send students home with a list of books – some required, some suggested – that they are to read and fully digest during their break from classes. Adding some educational material to the summer isn’t a bad thing – though teens can be very busy, it’s also quite healthy for them to stimulate their intellectual curiosity. School lists can include everything from Fyodor Dostoevsky to Barbara Kingsolver, and are compiled with the students’ learning and growth in mind.

The New York Times is, for the fourth summer in a row, offering an additional way for teens to learn and grow through summer reading. However, instead of focusing on major literary works, the program uses the Times’ own content as “required” reading. The New York Times Summer Reading Contest asks teenagers to read at least one interesting news item per week, and to share a brief piece of writing about why the piece sparked their interest. Open to students ages 13-19, the contest allows for one entry per week – meaning that students are welcome to read as many pieces as they want, but that they must choose a single one to write their submission on. After the week has ended, one student opinion will be posted on the New York Times website!

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Summer Reading List for Middle Schoolers

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

A Dozen Quick Picks for Middle Grade Summer Reading

It’s summer! The perfect time to get away with a great book. Whether relaxing at the beach or the park, chilling in a tent or a hammock, traveling by car or plane, or even standing in line at the amusement park, here are a dozen quick picks for middle graders, all with the common thread of taking place during summer. These books are so good, some of you grown-ups may enjoy reading them as well…

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ZooBean: Handpicked Books for Kids

Zoobean: User Generated Curation of Children’s Book Recommendations

Sometimes, browsing the children’s department at the local library for a perfect new book to read as a family can be overwhelming. If you’ve brought your kids with you, chances are there is little time to peruse the stacks, or you might just be at a loss as to what titles will match your child’s current interests.  Librarians in the children’s department are a great resource for finding out about interesting titles, as is our monthly column, Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings & Reviews, but what if you could add to these great local resources with recommendations made by parents too?

Well, there is just the thing, and it’s called Zoobean…

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18 Story Books on Weather for Kids

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Reading the Wild Weather
Story Books for Kids

There’s a riotous energy this time of year: the mad leafing out of plants and trees, crazy bird song at dawn, unruly swarms of biting insects, the palpable freedom of school letting out for summer, and wild weather that can change from snow squalls to thunderstorms within hours. Those first spring storms are greeted with a mixture of excitement and nervousness in our home. Thunder and lightning, rain and wind, are full of edgy juxtapositions, scary and beautiful, exciting and terrifying, exquisite and destructive.

Nature’s power is clearly evident in weather phenomena, and often seems mysterious. But many weather events can be explained in scientific terms, and when packaged with pictures into the safe covers of a book, help kids understand the wild weather that impacts our lives.  Here’s a collection of kids’ books, mostly about riotous forms of stormy weather. I’ve included a short selection of nonfiction titles and a few picture books, starting with brand new work by award wining children’s book creator, Arthur Geisert…

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7 Children’s Books that Embody Peace

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Blessed are the Peacemakers

“If we are to teach real peace in this world, if we are to wage a real war against war, we shall have to start with the children.” – Gandhi

Now more than ever it seems imperative that we engage and embody and choose peace. From events that hit close to home like the Newtown tragedy and the Boston Marathon bombings, to our sisters and brothers all over the world who undergo daily violence, to the violent destruction of our very planet by over-consumption and abuse… it is essential to our future that we ignite change through peaceful means. To begin that process, it helps to know what peace is, what it feels like, what it looks like and tastes like and sounds like, and to make sure our children know too.

That is why I’ve chosen a new children’s book by award winning illustrator, Wendy Anderson Halperin, to share with you this month. The book is called Peace (Atheneum Books for Young Readers) and it unfolds around the central question of how can we, as individuals, create peace in the world.

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Recommended Fiction Titles with Autistic Characters

QUESTION AND ANSWERS

One of our readers is looking for a book recommendation written from the perspective of a child with Asperger’s syndrome or autism for their preteen reader. Any suggestions?

Dan McManmon from CIP in Lee, MA recommends AANE as a good resource in New England. They have a “fiction for children” section on their web site with a few options. Another resource is Free Spirit Publishing, recommended by Shoshona King for their survival guide type books.

Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, Thieves & Other Female Villains

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

New Book Portrays History’s Bad Girls with a Modern Twist

Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, Thieves, & Other Female VillainsDelilah. Cleopatra. Anne Bonney. Catherine the Great. Mata Hari. Bonnie Parker. Just a few of history’s bad girls. Or are they? Might they just be misunderstood girls? Smart, strong, outspoken girls? Or girls who are victims of bad circumstance?

In their new book, Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, Thieves & Other Female Villains (Charlesbridge, 2013), authors Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple present two dozen female felons to their court of readers. Starting with ancient bad girls, Delilah, Jezebel, and Cleopatra, the book moves through history and around the world to include Bloody Mary, Tituba, and Madame Popova, and ends in the 20th century with gangster Virginia Hill. Each entry includes a portrait drawn in vintage hues and a crisply written short story about the bad girl’s dangerous life, offering up information, perspective, and context so readers can judge accordingly…

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George Washington Carver: A Life in Poems

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

In honor of Black History Month I want to share an extraordinary book about an extraordinary human being:

Carver, a life in poems (Front Street, 2001) is an intimate portrait of the botanist, inventor, scientist, artist, musician, and teacher, known as George Washington Carver. Written by acclaimed poet, Marilyn Nelson, the book takes us through Carver’s life in a series of narrative poems told from the voices of the people who knew him, and from Carver himself. Wrought with emotion and meaning, Nelson gives us a biographical experience of a man whose imprint on the world is still felt today.

Born a slave in Missouri in 1864, and raised by the white family that owned his mother, Carver seemed to always have a special spark, a reverence and joy for life, a thirst for knowledge, and an independent spirit, which led him to leave home in 1877, to attend school and begin a life-long quest for learning.

Carver’s curiosity, his hunger for answers, his drive to find out why, what if, propelled him into his destiny, and Nelson captures that in the poem, “Drifter“: “Something says find out / why rain falls, what makes corn proud / and squash so humble, the questions / call like a train whistle so at fourteen, / fifteen, eighteen, nineteen still on half-fare, / over the receding landscapes the perceiving self / stares back from the darkening window.”

Carver put himself through high school and college, studying art and science, washing people’s laundry to support himself. His success was continuous. He became known for his green thumb and his artistic talent. His paintings were exhibited at the Chicago World’s Fair, he earned his B.A and M.A. degrees, and joined the faculty at Tuskegee Institute, where he stayed for the rest of his life working on ideas and inventions, from crop rotation and cotton seed to peanut recipes and paint colors. His generous nature dictated that he never profit from his discoveries, instead he gave them away for the benefit of all humankind.

In spare, lyrical language, Nelson takes us through moments in Carver’s life, some public, some private, and reveals a man of uncommon talent and faith. She shows his gifts of observation, his thirst for knowledge, his simmering, creative energy, his insights, and his deep spirituality.

And though Carver’s life was full of the complexities of science and nature, and he never lacked for work to do, the poems also show how he valued simplicity and contemplation. Poems like “Dawn Walk” and “Dimensions of the Milky Way” depict him in quiet conversation with the universe. And light-hearted poems like “The Lace-Maker,” “The Joy of Sewing,” and ”The Wild Garden” express the simple pleasures he took in doing handwork and gathering wild greens. Recurring details like the flowers Carver would wear in the lapels of his second-hand suits not only help us imagine what he looked like but are also tender expressions of his character.

Nelson’s poems do not shy from the harsh racial climate of the era. She portrays Carver’s dedication to the Negro people, and his reactions to lynchings and injustices, with powerful poems like “Goliath.” When his Bible study students ask after another lynching, “Where is God now?” Carver responds, “God is right here. / Don’t lose contact with Him. Don’t yield to fear. / Fear is the root of hate, and hate destroys / the hater … When we lose contact, we see only hate, / only injustice, a giant so great / its shadow blocks our sun. But David slew / Goliath with the only things he knew: / the slingshot of intelligence, and one / pebble of truth.”

Each poem in the book is complete and can stand alone as an exquisite piece of poetry. The poems beckon to be read aloud, and to be read over and over again, peeling back layers of meaning and nuance. Read together in a sequence that spans Carver’s life, with seamless transitions from one poem to the next, and thematic strands that connect the poems to each other, the whole collection creates a stunning portrait of Carver and illuminates the man who he was.

As the book draws to a close, Nelson is able to capture Carver’s divine message of conservation in the poem, “Last Talk with Jim Hardwick”: “When I die I will live again. / By nature I am a conserver. / I have found Nature / to be a conserver, too. / Nothing is wasted / or permanently lost / in Nature. Things / change their form, / but they do not cease / to exist … God would be a bigger fool / than even a man / if He did not conserve / the human soul, / which seems to be / the most important thing / He has yet done in the universe.”

The very last poem, “Moton Field,” connects the past and the present, and Carver to the poet herself. The year is 1943, and we see Carver at the end of his life, penning answers to the letters piled at his bedside. While outside his window the poet’s father, Melvin Moton Nelson, one of the first Tuskegee airmen, is piloting a p-40 airplane ”high as a Negro has ever been.” The book ends with the final image of airman Nelson doing a “sky-roaring victory roll.”

Carver earned over a dozen accolades and awards including the 2001 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, a 2002 Newberry Medal Honor Award, and a 2002 Coretta Scott King Honor Award. Though this was Nelson’s first book for young adults, she was already an accomplished poet with several full-length poetry collections, chap books, and translations. Since the publication of Carver she has written many more books for young people. You can read about her work at www.marilyn-nelson.com/.

Carver: A Life in Poems written by Marilyn Nelson. Published by Front Street, Asheville, NC, 2001. ISBN: 1-886910-53-7


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cheli Mennella

Cheli has been involved with creative arts and education for most of her life, and has taught many subjects from art and books to yoga and zoology. But she has a special fondness for kid’s books, and has worked in the field for more than 20 years. She is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Valley Kids and teaches a course for adults in “Writing for Children.” She writes from Colrain, where she lives with her musician-husband, three children, and shelves full of kid’s books.

3 Folktales for National Folktale Month

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Three Favorite Folktales

It’s National Folktale Month! And I’m digging into the vaults to share three of my favorites, all starring leading ladies. For me, folktales are food for the soul. And when packaged into a picture book, also provide a feast for the eyes. They are an important part of your child’s literary diet, so next time you go to the library don’t forget the folktales!

The Woman Who Outshone The Sun

The Woman Who Outshone The Sun is a bi-lingual story about Lucia Zenteno, a beautiful and seemingly magical woman who, accompanied by an entourage of butterflies, arrives in a small Mexican village. Her beauty is so sublime, the river, fishes, otters, and birds fall in love with her. But the people are frightened by her special powers and eventually drive her from the village. The river leaves with Lucia, and the village is plagued with drought. Awakening to their mistake the people search for Lucia, walking for days to an iguana cave where she has taken refuge. At first no one says a word, but then two children make the first move and offer an apology. Lucia sees the people are truly sorry and, feeling compassion, agrees to return to the village and comb the river from her hair. Her parting words to the village people are about kindness and tolerance, even for those who seem different. The last image shows Lucia as a spiritual entity, embracing the village in a gesture of protection, her long black hair full of stars.

This little-known picture book is a real gem. The story is told in crisp, straightforward language, and the illustrations are striking in their play of color and line. Bits of whimsy, such as a girl riding a hummingbird and feet poking out of treetops, hover around the central images and add to the folkloric feel of the story. This particular version of the tale is inspired by a poem written by Alejandro Cruz Martinez, a young Zapotec Indian who collected the oral traditions of his people, including this one about Lucia Zenteno. He was killed in 1987 while organizing the Zapotecs to regain their lost water rights. The book delivers a valuable environmental message, and given the state of our current climate crisis, it seems imperative that folktales like this one are kept alive.

The Woman Who Outshone The Sun from a poem by Alejandro Cruz Martinez, written by Rosalma Zubizarreta, Harriet Rohmer, and David Schecter, illustrated by Fernando Olivera. Published by Children’s Book Press, Sam Francisco, 1991. ISBN: 0-89239-101-4

One Grain of Rice

One Grain of Rice written and illustrated by Demi is a mathematical folktale from India. It opens with a self-described fair and decent Raja, who decides to collect most of the rice from each farmer’s harvest for safe keeping in the royal storehouse. The Raja promises the rice will be used in times of famine so no one will go hungry. For several years the rice harvest is bountiful, and the people give most of their rice to the Raja, with barely enough left for themselves. Then one year the harvest fails and the people have no rice to eat and no rice to give the Raja. Famine and hunger spread throughout the land. But the Raja refuses to honor his promise, and instead covets all of the people’s rice for himself. One day a girl named Rani does a good deed for the Raja and he offers her a reward. She asks for just one grain of rice, doubled each day for 30 days. The Raja, thinking it is a modest request, agrees. But as the story unfolds the Raja, and likely the reader too, is surprised by how fast Rani’s rice is accumulating. When 256 elephants bearing bundles of rice march across a four-page foldout, readers will cheer Rani’s resourcefulness. For by the end of the 30 days, Rani has turned one grain of rice into one billion grains of rice, enough to feed all the hungry people in her land.

Demi has published more than 100 books, and is well known for her multi-cultural folktales, legends, and picture book biographies. The delicate illustrations in this work were inspired by traditional Indian miniature paintings of the 16th and 17th centuries, and were created with Chinese brushes, paint, ink, and Demi’s distinctive use of gold leaf, which adds a shimmering quality to the drawings. A table in the back gives a visual interpretation of how Rani, with her understanding of multiples, outsmarted the greedy Raja. The story has a great moral, a courageous heroine, and an entertaining math lesson all bundled into a 40-page picture book: One Grain of Rice packs a lot of nutritive punch.

One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale written and illustrated by Demi. Published by Scholastic Press, New York, 1997. ISBN: 0-590-93998-X

How The Amazon Queen Fought The Prince of Egypt

How The Amazon Queen Fought The Prince of Egypt is an ancient Egyptian folktale peeled from a longer work called “Egyptians and Amazons.” Found on a badly tattered papyrus scroll, which is now housed in a museum in Austria, the story was only partly preserved. Author/illustrator Tamara Bower attests that she has stayed true to the original, and there is no denying her extensively researched picture book presents a captivating slice of ancient Egyptian art and culture. The folktale opens long ago in Khor, an area encompassing Syria and Assyria, where the Amazons lived, free of men, in a Land of Women. One day scouts alert the Amazon Queen, Serpot, that an Egyptian army and their Assyrian allies are approaching. Serpot asks her sister Ashteshyt to disguise herself as a man and spy on their camp. Because no one knows she is a woman Ashteshyt is able to infiltrate much of the camp’s inner workings. Readers will enjoy pouring over the illustrated scroll, which shows her spying on the Egyptian army in various scenes.

Queen Serpot decides to fight the Egyptians and gathers an army of women. With the goddess Isis and god Osiris leading them, the Amazon women fight fiercely, each woman fighting like “ten men.” The army drop their weapons and retreat. The Egyptian Prince Pedikhons is enraged, and challenges the queen to single combat. They rush “at each other like vultures” and attack “like panthers,” matching each other in skill and artistry. They fight through the day and as the sun sets, Prince Pedikhons, who “never believed woman could conquer man,” puts down his sword and admits that Queen Serpot is his equal.

This rare piece of folkloric history is intriguing on its own, but when placed in the context of Bower’s detailed illustrations, the full effect is mesmerizing. The Egyptian and Assyrian style paintings, rendered in watercolor and gouache on paper, fill the pages. Hieroglyphic translations of key phrases complement most of the storyline, and symbolic imagery is embedded throughout, all of which the artist explains in her endnotes. The book as a whole is a remarkable journey into the past, and offers a powerful commentary on equality of the sexes we can bring with us into the present.

How the Amazon Queen Fought The Prince Of Egypt written and illustrated by Tamara Bower. Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, New York, 2005. ISBN: 0-689-84434-4


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cheli Mennella

Cheli has been involved with creative arts and education for most of her life, and has taught many subjects from art and books to yoga and zoology. But she has a special fondness for kid’s books, and has worked in the field for more than 20 years. She is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Valley Kids and teaches a course for adults in “Writing for Children.” She writes from Colrain, where she lives with her musician-husband, three children, and shelves full of kid’s books.

The Little Drummer Boy: A Story of Humanity & Kindness

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Keats’ The Little Drummer Boy Hits All The Right Beats

Okay, I’ll admit it – I have a real soft spot for the song, “The Little Drummer Boy.” Some of you may cringe every time you hear it, and if you’ve been walking around stores this holiday season you’ve probably heard any number of the hundreds of versions by different artists – some rocking, some soulful, and some just overly synthesized and dramatic. But I can’t help it, the song has drummed its way into my heart ever since I was a little girl. The simple lyrics, potent imagery, and rhythmic beat pull me right into the essence of the song’s story, which for me revolves around the spirit of giving, shared experience, and the power of music to transcend language, race, religion, and economics.

Though I always associated the song with Christmas and the birth of Jesus, I never thought of it as a “religious” song. My experience with the song has always been more about humanity and kindness. There’s a child-like wonder to it, embedded in the child’s perspective, the presence of animals, and the honesty of emotion. The rhyme, rhythm, and repetition in the lyrics and in the constant drumbeat of “pa-rum-pum-pum-pum” have always pulled me into the song’s story. And all of this makes “The Little Drummer Boy” ideal to put into book format for young children. My favorite illustrated version is by Ezra Jack Keats, published by Macmillan in 1968. Keats brings the song alive, fills it with patterned, graphic collage and muted hues of paint. He gives faces to the characters and places them in an emotive, desert landscape with a moody sky that changes throughout the span of the day and reflects the breadth of the boy’s emotions.  Read the rest of this entry »

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