4 Books that Explore the History of Thanksgiving

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

A Slice of History
Four Non-fiction Titles for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving ties us to those colonists who nearly four hundred years ago celebrated their first harvest in a small coastal community now known as Plymouth. The holiday also ties us to the Wampanoag Indians who were vital in helping the Pilgrims survive their new world.

Every year Americans prepare their feasts of thanksgiving, each celebration an echo of that very first feast in 1621. Here are four non-fiction books that give interesting perspectives about our national holiday, dispelling some of the more romantic myths and introducing some fascinating facts. This year along with your harvest feast, go ahead and have a slice of history too.

1621: A New Look At Thanksgiving written by Catherine O’Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac, with photographs by Sisse Brimberg and Cotton Coulson. In this photo essay, the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving feast is re-enacted at Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum in Plymouth, MA.  Recorded by National Geographic photographers over three days, the book dispels the more romantic myths of pilgrims dressed in buckles and hats, and Indians wrapped in blankets. And instead gives “a new look,” a fresh perspective, to the beginning of our national holiday. Historically accurate, with full-color photos, the book brings this important piece of history to life, and in particular, gives voice to the Wampanoag Indians’ role in helping the pilgrims to survive. (Published by National Geographic Children’s Books, Washington, D.C., 2001. ISBN: 0-79-22702-74. 48 pages.)

Eating the Plates: A Pilgrim Book of Food and Manners (The pilgrims thought about food all the time. They had to!) written by Lucille Recht Penner with illustrations selected by author. This book explores the customs, manners, and eating habits of the Pilgrims, from their first years surviving in the wilderness to their later years as successful farmers and hunters. Filled with details about the Pilgrims’ struggle for survival and how smelly, messy, and perilous it was, the book portrays their daily life, while specifically focusing on food. The book also highlights how Pilgrim survival depended on the help of native peoples. Line drawings and photographs accent the information, and with chapter titles like “Bugs for Dinner” and “We All Scream for Pudding,” readers’ curiosities will be piqued.  Pilgrim menus and recipes included. (Published by Perfection Learning, Iowa 1997. ISBN: 0-75-69410-91. 117 pages.)

Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message adapted by Chief Jake Swamp and illustrated by Erwin Printup, Jr. In this children’s version of the Iroquois Thanksgiving Address, readers can hear a message of gratitude that originated with the native peoples of New York and Canada. Traditionally spoken at the beginning of each day and at special ceremonies, the Thanksgiving Address expresses a reverence for nature and recognizes the unity among all living creatures. The message stretches the idea that there isn’t just one day of the year for giving thanks, but sees every day as an opportunity for thanksgiving. The message is also written out in the Mohawk language. Bold, color-block paintings provide a vibrant landscape for reading. (Published by Lee & Low Books, New York, 1995. ISBN: 1-88-00001-56. 24 pages.)

Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving, written by Laurie Halse Anderson and illustrated by Matt Faulkner, is told in an easy conversational style and illustrated with lush drawings full of detail and historic relevance.  The book introduces a little known heroine, Sarah Hale, (who is also responsible for penning “Mary Had A Little Lamb”), and her crusade to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. Noticing how Thanksgiving was losing its importance in American traditions, Hale spent 38 years writing magazine articles and petitioning four different presidents until her perseverance and pen power finally won out. President Lincoln was persuaded by her argument that a national holiday would re-unite the union, and in 1863 he made it official. ”A Feast of Facts” outlines more information about Thanksgiving, Sarah Hale, and 1863 in history. (Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, New York, 2002. ISBN: 0-68-98478-74. 40 pages.)


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.

Literary Guide for Barbara Cohen’s “Molly’s Pilgrim”

Literary Guide for Barbara Cohen’s “Molly’s Pilgrim”

Download literary guide for Molly’s Pilgrim by Barbara Cohen.

Set in the early 20th century, Molly’s Pilgrim illuminates the multiple meanings and cultural roots of the word pilgrim. The story features a Jewish family who immigrated to the United States from Russia, likely to flee the pogroms.

Molly, the title character, has just moved with her parents to a small and culturally homogenous community. She doesn’t yet speak English fluently, and her parents are even less fluent than she is. Molly’s biggest challenge is fitting in at school. As the only Jewish student, she is teased and taunted for her difference in appearance, her accent, and her lack of knowledge about American cultural traditions – especially Thanksgiving.  Read the rest of this entry »

On the Trail: Nature and the Woodland Forests

Exploring Literature, Art & History through Nature Trails

Hiking is an engaging way to explore seasonal patterns with family and friends. It requires very little gear, just walking shoes, a water bottle, and a map! You can also bring a trekking pole to keep your footing steady. Art activities such as sketching, painting, and journaling encourage hikers to thoughtfully observe the macro and micro patterns found in their surroundings. Like Henry David Thoreau on his hike up Mt. Katahdin in Maine, take a moment to reflect on your engagement with the outdoors. Bring a notebook with you to write down your thoughts, ideas, questions, and observations. Prefer sketching to writing? Use your sketchbook and pencil to sketch the different trees, wildflowers, and water features you encounter on your path. Each time you venture outdoors, follow the same format until you have a notebook or sketchbook filled with different places and trails, filling your notebook with nature-based inspiration.

Chesterfield Gorge, West Chesterfield, MA. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Explore nature and the woodland forests through reading and literature. Here are recommended titles and poetry available through your local library:

  • Walking with Thoreau: A Literary Guide to the New England Mountains by William Howarth
  • “The Rivulet” (poem) by William Cullen Bryant
  • The Maine Woods by Henry David Thoreau
  • Wild Moments by Ted Williams

Excerpt from Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts (Seasons: Sept/Oct), a downloadable bimonthly publication produced by Hilltown Families that sheds light on embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

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16 Picture Books That Celebrate Apples

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

A Bushel of Books about Apples

‘Tis the season when orchards bear autumn fruit, and cider is poured into eager cups, and the smell of pie beckons from the oven. ‘Tis the season for apples.

Hand-picked from dozens of titles, here’s a bushel of picture books that celebrate the apple. There are a few new books, books about the life cycle of apples, apple–picking, and America’s mythic hero, Johnny Appleseed, plus some apple arithmetic, and books with apple pies baked into their stories. Enjoy!  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Natalia Romanova’s “Once There Was a Tree”

Literary Guide for Natalia Romanova’s “Once There Was a Tree”

Download literary guide for Once There Was a Tree.

Natalia Romanova’s Once There Was a Tree tells the story of life after death in nature. Beginning at the end of a great tree’s life, the book spotlights the many visitors and inhabitants who benefit from what the former tree’s stump and roots have to offer. Beginning and ending with human visitors, the chain of use includes bark beetles, ants, and even a bear! Each visitor to the stump gains something substantial from it and begins to feel ownership of it – though each, unbeknownst to them, ends up sharing it with all of the others. In the end, the stump remains and, though many have utilized it as a resource, it continues to offer itself to the world. So who then does it belong to? All of the visitors feel that it is theirs, yet each of them has taken advantage of a different part of the stump. Without realizing it, the people and creatures who feel they own the stump have actually shared it – allowing the stump to truly belong to everyone and, ultimately, to the earth itself.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Jonathan Bean’s “This is My House, This is My School”

Literary Guide for Jonathan Bean’s “This is My House, This is My School”

Download literary guide for This is My Home, This is My School

Jonathan Bean’s This is My Home, This is My School introduces young readers to the idea of self-directed learning. Centered around a somewhat chaotic household and its many inhabitants, the story points out that, for the homeschooled narrator, home and school are one and the same – making home a place for living and a place for learning. Based on the author/illustrator’s childhood, the book helps readers see the ways in which a family can use their everyday experiences to support the acquisition of almost any kind of knowledge.

Beginning with pages that repeat the story’s title, the book follows the narrator through a quick tour of his home, wherein it is learned that his siblings are his classmates, his mom is his teacher (and dad the substitute), his kitchen is his cafeteria, his back yard is his playground, his family van is his school bus, and all of the rooms of his home (as well as the outdoor spaces nearby) serve as his classrooms. Readers see family members (students!) engaged in a wide variety of activities during the tour, from traditional “school-style” activities like computer research and worksheets to less structured activities like basement science experiments, cooking projects, family music jams, treehouse building, and stream exploration. Read the rest of this entry »

Community-Based Nature Writing Opportunities this Summer

Intergenerational Nature Writing This Summer

Writing intersects with the natural world in many ways. Genres of nature writing include science writing, environmentally inspired literature, and works of environmental advocacy. Walks and hikes through the woods and mountains, journeys through rivers and streams, can inspire all types of artwork from poetry about the beauty of the natural world to imploring essays on our responsibility to preserve it.

And because of the natural beauty of our region, Western Massachusetts has a rich literary history. Famous authors such as Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Oliver Wendell Holmes all share ties to the Berkshire area. In addition, Emily Dickinson, Edith Wharton, Sylvia Plath, Robert Frost, William Cullen Bryant, W.E.B. Du Bois- all hold historic ties to Western Massachusetts.

Those interested in learning about literary history should check out our post: 10 Resources for Literary Learning in Western MA. Others may want to follow in the footsteps of these authors, many of whom drew upon the natural surroundings of the Pioneer Valley in their writing.

Here are several upcoming community-based opportunities that support your interests:  Read the rest of this entry »

Open Sesame: Must-Read YA Summer Novel

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Raymie Nightingale: A Must-Read Summer Novel

The new middle-grade novel by beloved author, Kate DiCamillo, is the must-read novel of the summer. Creator of some of the best stories for children including, Because of Winn-Dixie (Candlewick, 2000), The Tale of Despereaux (Candlewick, 2003), and Flora & Ulysses (Candlewick, 2013), she is also a former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and two-time winner of the Newberry Medal. With her newest work, Raymie Nightingale, DiCamillo gives the world a radiant story with quirky, lovable characters that will make your heart sing.

Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Molly Bang’s “Nobody Particular: One Woman’s Fight to Save the Bays”

Literary Guide for Molly Bang’s Nobody Particular: One Woman’s Fight to Save the Bays

Diane Wilson was always a strong woman. She made a living as a shrimper while raising five children, and relied on her own resilience and pure grit in order to raise her family. In 1989, shrimp became scarce in the bays of her hometown in Calhoun County, Texas. Diane worried about the size of her catch, and the future of the shrimp population in Texas’ bays. What would happen to the industry if the shrimp died out? How would she support her family?

Diane’s concerns turned into action when she learned about a connection between the lack of shrimp and the monstrous plastics manufacturing plants that dotted the coastline of her home county. At the time (1989), her county was responsible for over half of the state’s pollution – and it wasn’t just killing the shrimp. Diane saw the effects that the plants had all around her – in the local landscape and within the human community, too. And much to her horror, the companies causing environmental destruction and human health problems were not only being allowed to do so, they were about to be allowed to expand without any consideration of the environment impact that expansion would have.

Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for David Wiesner’s June 29, 1999

Literary Guide for David Wiesner’s June 29, 1999

Literary Guide for David Wiesner’s June 29, 1999

Though set in the now somewhat distant past, David Weisner’s cleverly written June 29, 1999 is part fantasy, part scientific study – pulling readers into a world where science and the (nearly) impossible intersect.

The date is May 11th, 1999, and young scientist Holly Evans has just begun her first major experiment. Holly has released vegetable seedlings into the earth’s atmosphere in hopes of studying the effects that outer space will have on the growth of her tiny plants. She shares her work with her classmates who are, understandably, quite speechless. Weeks go by without much excitement; Holly tracks the days and, we can assume, waits patiently for her seedlings to return. Finally, on June 29th, something exciting happens – the event lending itself as the story’s namesake. Read the rest of this entry »

Open Sesame: The Lure of Foxes

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

The Lure of Foxes
Two Middle Grade Novels Weave Stories of Children and Foxes

There’s something about foxes. Something magical. And beautiful. And wild. Their expressive faces, their curious, intelligent nature, their coats of fire or of smoke enchant me, and remind me of my innate connection to the natural world. Whether it’s a red flash in the snow, the playful pounce of kits in the morning sun, the silhouette of a bushy tail disappearing into the woods, or a shrill bark at twilight – every encounter with a fox lures me to my own wildness. That is why I was immediately drawn to two new middle grade novels which weave the stories of children and foxes.

Both of these stories unfold through the point of view of the human characters and also from the point of view of the foxes, and the experience of being in the foxes’ world is riveting. But these are not light-hearted stories. Emotionally compelling, achingly real, these are stories about love and loss, the costs of war, grief, soul purpose, and hope. These are stories about the relationship between humans and their environment, the spiritual connections among every living thing, and the perilous impact of humans on the natural world. It’s sensitive material, but deftly handled by the authors, these are shimmering, powerful stories for middle grade readers and up.   Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Cynthia Kadohata’s “Half a World Away”

Literary Guide for Cynthia Kadohata’s Half a World Away

Download Literary Guide for Half a World Away.

Cynthia Kadohata’s Half a World Away is a complex and emotionally-charged work of incredibly realistic fiction. Weaving together themes of family, adoption, truth, and love, the story challenges readers to consider major ethical questions as they learn about protagonist Jaden’s struggles with change and self-discovery.

Adopted from a Romanian group home at the age of 8, Jaden has never truly felt a part of his so-called family. Though his parents show him love and care for him, he struggles greatly with strong emotions and dangerous habits that he doesn’t completely understand – causing him to feel that he doesn’t truly belong in his family. Having been abandoned by his mother at a young age, he fears that something is wrong with him – something that will make history repeat itself, leading his family to eventually cast him out as well.

Jaden’s challenges come to the forefront of his consciousness during a family trip to Kazakhstan, where they are to adopt baby Bahytzan from an orphanage in the southern city of Kyzylorda. While Jaden enjoys the almost unreal quality of his experiences in Kyzylorda, his parents deal with strong emotions as they struggle to bond with the new member of their family – leaving Jaden emotionally out of the loop, as he can’t seem to be able to engage emotionally with anyone, especially not his parents or their new baby. And he can’t escape the nagging feeling that the new child is meant as a do-over, thanks to the parenting obstacles that he has presented.

Half a World Away is a powerful story of astounding depth. Readers ages 10 and older can gain insight into the complexity of human psychology and the power of experience in human development. Using our literary guide, families can work together to delve into the many layers of the story, and can take advantage of critical thinking questions and suggestions for extension activities in order to put the story into context and to develop schema to support the development of connections to the characters and their experiences.

Open Sesame: Six Novels Written in Verse

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

For National Poetry Month
Six Novels Written in Verse

April is National Poetry Month! Time to indulge in poetic forms of all kinds, and kids’ books serve up odes of opportunities. Picture books are notorious for reveling in rhyme and rhythm, but  novels can deliver a powerful poetic punch too, and ought to be a part of any reader’s well-stocked library bag. Highly accessible, novels in verse have an intimate and immediate feel to them, and often make good read-alouds, even as they are perfect for savoring in quiet. Has your family had a healthy serving of poetry today? Try one of these six middle grade novels and satisfy their cravings for couplets. Read the rest of this entry »

Open Sesame: 5 Picture Books Present Amazing Women In History

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Five New Picture Books Present  Amazing Women In History

For Women’s History Month, here are five new picture books honoring women who made a difference in art, photography, science, sports media, and education!

One of the many aspects of the picture book I adore is that they are compact vessels of information. My children and I often have the experience of discovering little-known pieces of history and fascinating people of interest while immersed in a picture book biography. And this month has been no exception.

In the five new picture books presented here, all of which honor women in history, I was familiar with only one name. What a marvelous power the picture book holds in this regard – to tell the story of important but overlooked pioneers, to share their life and work through art and narrative, and to introduce children to the idea of dreaming big.

Here are five inspiring stories about girls who made a difference, packaged ever so delightfully in the form of a picture book.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for The Black Book of Colors

Literary Guide for The Black Book of Colors

Download Literary Guide for The Black Book of Colors

Unique within the landscape of children’s literature, Menena Cottin and Rosana Faria’s The Black Book of Colors accomplishes something that no other book has yet to do: telling a story about color without actually using any true colors. Made up of pages filled with shiny black-on-black images and bright white text, The Black Book of Colors links colors to sensory experiences, managing to activate all of the senses but sight in order to describe all of the colors of the rainbow.

In addition to lacking color, The Black Book of Colors is unique in another way. The book is written with braille letters accompanying the text on each page, allowing readers to inspect and gently feel the patterns of tiny bumps that share the same meaning as the letters and words they’re used to. While the braille included in the book isn’t printed in a way that allows it to be read by blind children, its presence allows sighted readers to consider the similarities and differences between their own literacy and that of a blind peer.  Read the rest of this entry »

Open Sesame: Spotlight on Jerry Pinkney

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Spotlight on Jerry Pinkney
In Celebration of Black History and an Illustrious Career

In January of 2016, the American Library Association announced the highly anticipated Youth Media Awards, some of the most prestigious awards in children’s literature. The Coretta Scott King – Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement, which recognizes an African-American author or illustrator whose body of published work has made a significant contribution in children’s literature, was given to Jerry Pinkney. Minutes later the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, which honors an author or illustrator whose books have made a substantial and lasting contribution to children’s literature, was awarded. Also to Jerry Pinkney. The crowd cheered wildly – history had been made.

Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Maggie Thrash’s “Honor Girl”

Literary Guide for Maggie Thrash’s Honor Girl

Download Literary Guide for Maggie Thrash’s Honor Girl

Honor Girl, the debut book by graphic novelist Maggie Thrash, is part memoir, part coming-of-age story, and part critical analysis of the discovery of sexuality. This young adult story (without a doubt written for teen audiences) is set at an all-girls summer camp in the south, and follows its author through a summer of confusing emotions, unexpected challenges, alongside a slew of heteronormative, gender-based assumptions.

Maggie has attended a very traditional sleepaway camp for nearly every summer of her life. It’s so traditional, in fact, that campers wear uniforms, sleep in true canvas tents, and can only arrive at camp via barge. It almost goes without saying that Maggie’s fellow campers are overwhelmingly white and Christian, and are portrayed as epitomizing what it means to be a budding southern belle. Vanity reigns supreme, trends are set through creative use of barrettes and non-camp-issue socks, and rumors of crushes on the few males to set foot on camp grounds run rampant.

Within this microcosm of southern culture, Maggie discovers that she has fallen in love for the first time. It comes as a surprise and catches her off guard – not only because it’s the first time she has ever experienced such feelings, but because the person for whom she falls madly and deeply is Erin, a female counselor a few years her senior. Read the rest of this entry »

Open Sesame: End-Of-Year Round Up for Children’s Literature

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

End-Of-Year Round Up

2015 has been a fantastic year for children’s literature. Every week our library bag was full of amazing books, many of which I’ve shared with you here. And I can’t let the year come to a close without telling you about just a few more!

Check out these notable picture books and middle grade and young adult novels, including one of the best narrative nonfiction books I have ever read.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Patrick McDonnell’s “Me… Jane”

Literary Guide for Patrick McDonnell’s Me… Jane

Download Literary Guide for Patrick McDonnell’s Me… Jane

Offering a beautifully simple take on biographical writing, Patrick McDonnell’s Me… Jane shares Jane Goodall’s journey from young naturalist to internationally renowned primatologist. The story is told through a series of concise, rhythmic, and engaging phrases, drawing readers in through its carefully chosen and accessible language. Alongside McDonnell’s writing are charming illustrations that show young Jane – looking and behaving very much like a curious and determined child – engaging with her surroundings. Readers are even treated to a two-page spread of illustrations transferred from notebooks filled during Jane’s youth, adding proof to support the story’s claim that childhood dreams can, in fact, be pursued into adulthood.  Read the rest of this entry »

Open Sesame: 10 New Picture Books to Ring in Holiday Cheer

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

‘Tis the Season: 10 New Picture Books to Ring in Holiday Cheer

As we enter the holiday season, and it’s celebrations of light, of togetherness, of kindnesses great and small, I am reminded again how holiday cheer sees us through the darkest time of year. Here are ten new picture books that embody the wonder and love of the holiday season.

Sharing the Bread – An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving Story is a book to be read aloud. The lyrical text presented in rhyme is ideal for sharing, much like the bread this 19th century family bakes. “We will share the risen bread./ Our made-with-love Thanksgiving spread./ Grateful to be warm and fed./ We will share the bread.” The family also shares in the work it takes to create a huge Thanksgiving feast. Each person, from child to grandparent, has their own special job in helping make the holiday special. Home-spun illustrations pay ode to the time period with an old-fashioned look. A warm and cheerful read that embodies the spirit of Thanksgiving. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Leslie Connor’s “Crunch”

Literary Guide for Leslie Connor’s Crunch

Literary Guide for Leslie Connor’s Crunch

Set in a time that is an ambiguous (yet scarily small) number of years in the future, Crunch tells the story of a family and a community dealing with life in a world where gasoline has ceased to remain available. Featuring protagonist Dewey Marriss, a 14-going-on-30-year-old bicycle mechanic, the story highlights some of the uncomfortable realities of a world suddenly without gasoline without delving deep into the true societal disintegration that would likely take place should such a thing truly happen. Author Leslie Connor’s gentle depiction of a community frantically striving to achieve self-sufficiency by any means matches the worldview and developmental stage of 10- to 14-year-olds perfectly, and beautifully intertwines the themes of independence, ingenuity, and responsibility with an examination of a world in which fuel has ceased to be available.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long’s “A Seed is Sleepy”

Literary Guide for Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long’s A Seed is Sleepy

Literary Guide for Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long’s A Seed is Sleepy

Filled with beautiful, intricately detailed illustrations of fascinating seeds from around the world, Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long’s A Seed is Sleepy is a visual treat. Paired with rich adjectives that succinctly describe the unique and interesting qualities of a wide variety of seeds, the watercolor illustrations give the book an almost guide-like quality, allowing readers to examine the fine detail of each seed depicted. Readers of all ages can easily fall in love with the book which, rather than telling a story, focuses on teaching those who peruse its pages about the life cycle of seeds.

Not your average seeds-to-plants life cycle book, A Seed is Sleepy includes seeds familiar to American readers like dandelion, sunflower, pumpkin, and corn, and includes many rare and/or unfamiliar seeds from far-flung locales, including monkey’s comb, Guyanese wild coffee, hog plum, and the extinct date palm. The depth with which the science of seeds is considered within the book makes it appealing to readers of literally any age – even adults will love it!  Read the rest of this entry »

Open Sesame: New Picture Books by Carle & Henkes

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

A Pair of Irresistible New Picture Books
By Two Masters of the Craft

The Nonsense Show is the newest picture book from beloved author and illustrator, Eric Carle. The master of picture book art uses his iconic tissue paper collage to create delightfully absurd images, introducing kids to surrealism, the avant-garde movement of the early 20th century, which sought to unleash the wild imagination of the unconscious mind. Carle does not teach the concept of surrealism, rather he allows kids to experience it firsthand through his whimsical interplay of the expected and unexpected. From the cover image of a yellow duck emerging from a peeled banana and the title page with a deer sprouting a rack of flowers, to an irresistible invitation – “Welcome, friends!/ Don’t be slow./Step right up to/ The Nonsense Show!” – the crazy is contagious. Young readers will rush the stage to see the rabbit magician pull a small boy out of a top hat. In vivid color and rhyming text, a parade of illogical juxtapositions, such as a bird flying underwater, a fish swimming in a birdcage, a child in a kangaroo’s pouch, and a girl playing tennis with an apple, stretch the imagination and twist the mind. Kids will laugh out loud at the ridiculousness while pondering the possibility of the preposterous. Carle understands the inner world of children, their innate creative freedom, their penchant for play, and their ease with the silly, the strange, and the surreal. And he translates this through incomparable style and artistic genius. At 86 years old, he continues to be an innovator of the picture book and a ringmaster of entertainment. Nonsense lovers of all ages will want a first row seat at this show.

  • The Nonsense Show by Eric Carle. Published by Philomel Books, 2015. ISBN: 978-0-399-17687-6

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Literary Guide for Lucy Frank’s “The Homeschool Liberation League”

The Homeschool Liberation League
by Lucy Frank

Download Literary Guide for Homeschool Liberation League

Speaking to teenagers’ need for independence, author Lucy Frank’s The Homeschool Liberation League follows Katya on her search for an alternative to traditional public education. Katya – who until recently went by Kaity – has just returned from a summer spent in the outdoors, immersed in experiential environmental education. While away from home at camp, she recognizes how liberating it is to be in a learning environment in which she has the freedom to let her curiosity lead her learning, and how powerful it is to have adult support while engaging in self-directed learning.

Back home in Connecticut, however, Katya’s new-found independence and worldview (and not to mention name) don’t mesh well with the firm belief in public education held by her parents. Katya is able to convince her parents to let her try homeschooling, even though their idea of homeschooling looks almost exactly like school – except that it takes place in her mother’s beauty salon. While spending time with her mother’s geriatric regulars turns out to be much more educational than anyone anticipated thanks to the power of intergenerational environments, Katya still feels stifled by the predetermined curricula fed to her via daily instructional matrices.  Read the rest of this entry »

Open Sesame: 6 New Picture Books for Young Movers

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Things that Go!

Do you know a young child who is crazy for cranes? Who dreams of diggers and bulldozers? Who is a fan of firetrucks and a believer in buses and bikes? Well, these are for them!

Here are six new picture books featuring things that go, that move, that come to the rescue.

Perfect read-a-loud books with eye-catching illustrations, these books might move your little ones to park themselves right onto your lap.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Ezra Jack Keats’ “Whistle for Willie”

Literary Guide for Ezra Jack Keats’ Whistle for Willie

Literary guide for Ezra Jack Keats’ Whistle for Willie

One of many wonderful and beloved children’s books by Ezra Jack Keats, Whistle for Willie is a simple story that perfectly captures the play-based learning that is essential to early childhood. The child engaging in such play is a character named Peter, a young boy who graces the pages of six of Keats’ other stories as well.

Whistle for Willie begins as Peter is exploring his neighborhood one afternoon, wishing desperately that he could whistle. Peter observes an older boy whistling to summon his pet dog, and longs to do the same – but he just can’t seem to make his lips work properly. Throughout the rest of the story, Peter alternates between longing for the ability to whistle and engaging in creative free play using chalk, a mirror, and even an empty box that he finds on the street. Peter’s play is unstructured and driven by impulse, and echoes the play that all children engage in during early childhood. Young readers can easily relate to both Peter’s play and his desire to be just a little bit more grown up (and to prove this growth by whistling loud and clear!).  Read the rest of this entry »

Open Sesame: More Than One Side To A Story

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Multiple Perspectives:
Two New Novels Show There’s More Than One Side To A Story

I just finished two new novels which use multiple perspectives to tell a story. This technique is neither new nor unusual in contemporary kid lit, but the ways in which these authors wield it, make the stories fantastically realized and totally engaging to read. My mind had to work a little harder to piece together what was happening, because the stories are not so straightforward and have shifting points of view. But I enjoyed having to mentally “chew” on the stories in this way. Maybe you and your young people will too.   Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for George Ella Lyon’s “The Outside Inn”

Literary Guide for George Ella Lyon’s The Outside Inn

Download Literary Guide for George Ella Lyon’s The Outside Inn

Introduced to readers by a beautiful bug-laden cover, title page, and dedication, George Ella Lyon and Vera Rosenberry’s The Outside Inn is quite obviously a book about nature, and just so happens to be our next installation of our 2015 Summer Reading Resource series. The children who grace the cover and the story’s first page (with a dish-filled wagon in tow) show the story’s connection to childhood – clearly ready to engage in some creative free play, the quartet seem right at home in the muddy puddle in which they have settled at the story’s start. Just as the children begin to dig their muddy meals, narration of their invented game begins. Told in rhymes that beautifully capture children’s imagination and the possibilities for nature-based play, The Outside Inn is not only a silly story for children to enjoy, but it serves as a representation of the mind of a young child.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Farley Mowat’s “Owls in the Family”

Literary Guide for Farley Mowat’s Owls in the Family

Download Literary Guide for Farley Mowat’s Owls in the Family

Bird enthusiasts rejoice – the next installation of our 2015 Summer Reading Resource series is Owls in the Family! Inspired by true events in author Farley Mowat’s childhood in northern Canada, Owls in the Family is charming, humorous, and full of adventures involving creatures of all kinds. As the title suggests, two of the story’s main characters are Great Horned Owls who have been adopted by a human family. Set in rural Saskatchewan, the story revolves around the owls, Weeps and Wol, and Billy, their rescuer, and follows the trio through a series of adventures.

Weeps and Wol, both saved from grim fates, are the stars of Billy’s pet collection. The owls share the spotlight with snakes, gophers, and other small creatures common to the plains of western Canada. Each chapter of the book features a different story of adventure involving Billy, his friends, and either Weeps or Wol (or both, often). Readers follow Billy through the training of the owls, a community pet parade, days swimming on the banks of a river, trips to school with owls in tow, and a move to the big city of Toronto, among other things.

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Literary Guide for Mem Fox and Kathryn Brown’s “Tough Boris”

Literary Guide for Mem Fox and Kathryn Brown’s Tough Boris

Download Literary Guide for Mem Fox and Kathryn Brown’s Tough Boris

Our next installation of the Summer Reading Resource literary guide series is Tough Boris, written by Mem Fox and illustrated by local illustrator Kathryn Brown. Much more than just a run-of-the-mill pirate book, Tough Boris is a beautiful and succinct tale that teaches an important lesson about human emotions. Centered around Boris, the story’s namesake, the story begins with a wordless page filled with an ocean where upon the horizon sits a ship and upon a sand dune sits a young boy. This scene sets the stage for the tale that’s about to begin – told with few words set amongst images that speak volumes.

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