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.

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: Late Fall Community-Based Learning through Engagement

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: November Segment
Late Fall Learning with Hilltown Families Cultural Itinerary

Hilltown Families and Mass Appeal (a weekday, hour-long lifestyle program on NBC) have teamed up to offer a live monthly segment on WWLP 22News!  Each month, Hilltown Families’ Founder & Executive Director, Sienna Wildfield,  joins Mass Appeal hosts to talk about ways to engage in your community while supporting the interests and education of your children (and yourselves!).

This monthly segment continued on Tuesday, November 1, 2016. This month Sienna and Seth talked about ways to engage in our community in the late fall. Reviewing the newest edition of Learning Ahead, Seth and Sienna talk about learning through the lens of the food, habitat and culture found in the Nov/Dec issue of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western MA:

Click on the video to watch.
Download a copy of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western MA. (38 page PDF) for the holiday season.


Mass Appeal is a live weekday program that airs at 11am on 22News (Springfield, MA).  Our next visit to the Mass Appeal studios will be the week after Thanksgiving.

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Learning Ahead: Nov & Dec Cultural Itinerary for Western MA

Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for
Western Massachusetts
Seasons: November & December

Who am I? Where am I? These are the fundamental questions proposed by the humanities. Inquiries related to local history, literature, and education, inspire us to think deeply about the places where we live and how our identity fits into the context of our community and the seasons.

Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts is a 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.

With these downloadable seasonal itineraries, self-directed teens, lifelong learners, and families are encouraged to engage together in cultural opportunities that support similar interests, resulting in a shared history, strengthening sense of place.

Looking through a seasonal lens, our Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for November and December includes:

  • Learn about FOOD preservation: Harvest, Butchers & Museums
  • Veterans Day as a CATALYST for learning: Literature, History & Music
  • Looking through the LENS of Thanksgiving: Poetry & Painting
  • VALUE based engagement: Handmade &  Non-Commercial
  • Local HABITAT connects us to myth & nature: Christmas Trees
  • PLACEMAKING with annual events: Holiday Strolls & Caroling
  • Experience other CULTURES through the holidays: Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa & Three Kings Day
  • Mark the SEASON by sharing & connecting: Winter Solstice & Storytelling
  • Engage in New England TRADITIONS: First Night & First Hikes

Click here to download PDF (38 pages).


Mass Humanities This program is funded in part by Mass Humanities, which receives support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and is an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Special thank you to sponsors of this issue, including: ♦ Montague BookmillNew England Air MuseumDowntown Northampton AssociationSpringfield Museums.

Literature Spotlight: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: October Cultural Itinerary

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal:
Foliage, Pumpkins & Hauntings

Hilltown Families and Mass Appeal (a weekday, hour-long lifestyle program on NBC) have teamed up to offer a live monthly segment on WWLP 22News!  Each month, Hilltown Families’ Founder & Executive Director, Sienna Wildfield,  joins Mass Appeal hosts to talk about ways to engage in your community while supporting the interests and education of your children (and yourselves!).

This monthly segment continued on Monday, September 26, 2016. This month Sienna and Seth talked about fall foliage, pumpkins and haunted history featured in the October section of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western MA:

Click here to see video clip.

Click here to see video clip.

Download your very own copy of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western MA. (38 page PDF) for Sept/Oct (FREE).  Read the rest of this entry »

Who Were the Fireside Poets?

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: Debut of Seasonal Cultural Itinerary

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: August Segment
Debut of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western MA

Hilltown Families and Mass Appeal (a weekday, hour-long lifestyle program on NBC) have teamed up to offer a live monthly segment on WWLP 22News!  Each month, Hilltown Families’ Founder & Executive Director, Sienna Wildfield,  joins Mass Appeal hosts to talk about ways to engage in your community while supporting the interests and education of your children (and yourselves!).

This monthly segment continued on Monday, August 29, 2016. This month Sienna and Lauren talked about agricultural fairs, fall festivals, one room schoolhouses and apples featured in the debut of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western MA:

Download a copy of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western MA. (38 page PDF) for the fall season.


Mass Appeal is a live weekday program that airs at 11am on 22News (Springfield, MA).  Our next visit to the Mass Appeal studios will be September 26th, 2016!

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Learning Ahead: Sept & Oct Cultural Itinerary for Western MA

Learning Ahead:
Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts
Seasons: Sept & Oct

Who am I? Where am I? These are the fundamental questions proposed by the humanities. Inquiries related to local history, literature, and education, inspire us to think deeply about the places where we live and how our identity fits into the context of our community and the seasons.

Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts is a new 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.

With these downloadable seasonal itineraries, self-directed teens, lifelong learners, and families are encouraged to engage together in cultural opportunities that support similar interests, resulting in a shared history, strengthening sense of place.

Looking through a seasonal lens, our debut Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts is for the months of September and October and includes:

  • Participation in local CULTURE: Agricultural Fairs and Fall Festivals
  • PLACEMAKING through annual events: Guided Tours and Plein Air Paint Outs
  • Gathering and preparing seasonal FOOD: Apples and Pumpkins
  • VALUE based engagement: Intergenerational, Skillsharing, and Community Meals
  • Marking the SEASON with annual events: Back-to-School and Halloween
  • Engage in local HABITAT: Nature Trails and Fall Foliage
  • INTEREST based learning: Domestic Arts, Pastry Arts, and Paranormal

Click here to download PDF (38 pages).


Mass Humanities This program is funded in part by Mass Humanities, which receives support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and is an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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Learning Through the Lens of Shakespeare and His World

Williams College Chapin Library Displays Exhibition on William Shakespeare

From now until Oct. 11, Williams College’s Chapin Library will host an exhibition marking the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare: “‘While Thy Booke Doth Live’: Shakespeare and His World.”

Amazingly, Shakespeare’s poetry and plays from the 16th and 17th century are still read and analyzed regularly, and appear on required reading lists in high school and beyond. The world seems to agree that he is one of the greatest writers of all time. What makes Shakespeare so universally popular?

Teaching Shakespeare in literature classes opens up possibilities for discussing several other topics. From a literary standpoint, Shakespeare’s plays are narrative and poetic, therefore allowing for analysis of both theater and poetry. The topic can be approached biographically, exploring Shakespeare’s mysterious life and his marriage to a woman eight years his senior. His plays also teach us about history. The plot lines and character’s behaviors represent renaissance values, raising issues of gender, sexuality and family obligation.

In spite of the rigid gender roles of the time, Shakespeare wrote many complex, powerful female characters. A number of those female characters cross-dressed as men in order to usurp power or gather information. In Shakespeare’s time, all parts were played by young boys. This adds another interesting layer, since some of these young boys were playing the parts of adult women dressing as men.

You can learn more about Shakespeare’s life and work at the exhibition, “‘While Thy Booke Doth Live’: Shakespeare and His World.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Children’s Literature Supports a Sense of Place through Local Connections

Community Resources Support Place-Based Explorations of Children’s Literature

Drawing inspiration from the pages of a favorite picture book, families can embark on place-based studies of children’s literature, local history, and the local landscape.

Thanks to western Massachusetts’ incredibly high concentration of resident children’s authors and illustrators, as well as the many picture books set in the area, the region is chock full of opportunities to engage in place- and community-based studies of exciting and engaging children’s literature.

From landmarks to landscapes, museums to meet-the-author events, families can utilize local resources in order to deepen their understanding of stories, explore the role of the local landscape in specific children’s books, and learn about the methods employed by local authors and illustrators.

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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 »

10 Resources for Literary Learning in Western MA

Readers Rejoice! Community-Based Educational Resources for Literary Learning Abound

Luckily for literature lovers, western Massachusetts is a treasure trove of opportunities to engage in community-based learning about literature, literary history, and the process of creating writing that is inspired by a local community or the local landscape. Made up of landmarks, historic homes, museums, trails, and real-life human beings, western Massachusetts’ connections to the world of literature are strong.

Berkshires

Berkshire Gardens- The Mount, Edith Wharton's Home, Lenox, MA; photo credit David Dashiell- FlowersHome to beautiful hills and winding rivers (with quaint towns nestled amongst them), Massachusetts’ Berkshire region has been a favorite locale for artists and authors alike for centuries. Among the most notable literary greats to call the Berkshires home is Edith Wharton, whose self-designed home The Mount now serves both as a monument to Wharton’s career and as a year-round cultural center. Located in Lenox, The Mount offers opportunities to learn about Wharton’s remarkable literary achievements (40+ books in 40 years and a Pulitzer Prize), experience art and cultural events, and to learn about life in the early 1900’s.

Arrowhead, PittsfieldIn nearby Pittsfield, Herman Melville’s Arrowhead offers opportunities to learn about the author’s American Renaissance career. Made up of Melville’s historic home, beautiful grounds, and a working farm, Arrowhead offers opportunities to learn not only about Melville’s life and significant works, but the lives of all those living in the Berkshires during the 19th century.

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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 »

Open Sesame: 4 Summer Bedtime Stories

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Summer Bedtime Stories: Four New Picture Books Teeming with Animals

Summer nights come alive with the sounds of nocturnal creatures, with shadows moving through the dark, with the scent of night-blooming flowers and the pungent perfume of skunks.  It is the season to spy fireflies in the dewy meadow and Luna moths under the porch light, to be surprised by rabbits and frogs and deer that leap across the road in front of car headlights, and to search for the glint of eyes in the beam of flashlights. In these four new picture books, readers will find pages teeming with animals at night. Some are trying to fall asleep at the end of the day, while others are waking up to explore the nighttime world. Some are humorously portrayed, while others appear in their natural habitat. If you’re looking for a new story to read to your child at bedtime, especially a child who loves animals, try tucking in with one of these.  Read the rest of this entry »

Open Sesame: 4 New Books to Welcome Summer

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Four New Books to Welcome Summer

Welcome Summer! Welcome glorious season of long days and warm nights, perfect for swimming and ice cream and going to the circus and gazing at a sky of shimmery stars. Here are four new books – three picture books and a middle grade novel – that revel in these summer delights.

Pool by JiHyeon Lee is a beautiful example of wordless storytelling at its finest. The book opens at a public pool, where a boy waits beside the water. By the time he jumps in, the pool is full of other swimmers. He dives below the crowded surface to the depths where he meets a girl. The black, white, and gray line drawings of the surface juxtapose a world below, where colors shift and change and become brighter in colored pencils and pastels. The new friends share an aquatic adventure as they encounter fish and other interesting creatures in an imaginative, watery landscape. When they swim to the surface, all of the swimmers (drawn in black and white) leave the pool, and only the friends remain, in color. The book’s large format allows readers to dive into the wondrous illustrations and experience the feeling of being underwater and the pure joy of friendship.

  • Pool by JiHyeon Lee. Published by Chronicle Books, 2015. 56 pgs.  ISBN: 978-1452142944

Read the rest of this entry »

Summer Reading Quick Picks for Middle Schoolers

A Dozen Quick Picks for Middle Grade Summer Reading

It’s almost officially 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: Summer Reading List for Middle Schoolers.

Open Sesame: Poetry Springs Forth

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

April is for Poetry: Six New Books for Kids

April is National Poetry Month! And if ever there were a month for spontaneous outbursts of snowdrop-covered verse and dandelion rhymes – it’s now. After a long, grueling winter, to see the ice recede and flowers push up and bloom, to hear birdsong in the morning and to leave heavy coats behind, is poetic glee. Spring itself is living poetry. What a glorious time to share some couplets with a couple of kids, so here are six new books for young bards.  Read the rest of this entry »

Family Friendly Fun at Easthampton BookFest

Community-Based Literacy Opportunities!

Celebrate all things local and book-related at the first annual Easthampton BookFest! Created by Easthampton City Arts+, and supported by countless literary folks from the community, the event is chock-full of book- and story-themed events that encourage learning and creativity. This is an opportunity that is not to be missed!

Residents of western Massachusetts suffer no shortage of independent bookstores, and there are wonderful authors and illustrators residing throughout. Easthampton City Arts+ – along with a great many local business, artists, and authors – celebrates the region’s rich literary culture with the first annual Easthampton BookFest! Held on Saturday, April 11, 2015, at locations all over Easthampton, the event highlights local authors and illustrators, as well as storytellers, bookbinders, translators, zine artists, and book-centric locations throughout the city.

Made up of many different independent workshops, presentations, hands-on activities, celebrations, performances, and other happenings, Easthampton BookFest will take place from 10am-10pm, filling the city with all things literary all day long. Read the rest of this entry »

Open Sesame: Celebrating Women’s History with Children’s Picture Books

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Women In History: Three New Books

For more than thirty years, the National Women’s History Project has been devoted to “writing women back into history.” They created a national clearinghouse of multicultural women’s history, which includes information, materials, resources, referrals, training and strategies to anyone interested in learning about women’s roles in American history. Their successful lobbying efforts led Congress to recognize March as Women’s History Month, which has become a time to celebrate the bold and beautiful, courageous and curious, strong, smart, and compassionate women in our collective history. We have so much to learn from their example, which is why we need to keep getting books about these women into children’s hands. Here are three new books that recognize girls with big dreams. But first, recognition of a local woman who left her imprint on American history and on our own local history… Read the rest of this entry »

Open Sesame: Celebrating Black History with Children’s Picture Books

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

10 New Books Celebrating Black History

In celebration of Black History, here are 10 new books for children of all ages and the grown-ups who love them. Full of inspiration, incredible acts of heroism and bravery, and striking illustration, these are needed books not just in February, but in every month of the year.

Love Will See You Through: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Six Guiding Beliefs (as told by his niece) presents the principles of nonviolence that “Uncle M.L.” practiced and lived by. Each principle, presented in oversized font and bold, mixed-media illustration – have courage; love your enemies; fight the problem, not the person who caused it; when innocent people are hurt, others are inspired to help; resist violence of any kind; and the universe honors love – is further explained with specific actions and events of Martin Luther King Jr. ‘s life, from peaceful protests to rousing sermons.

Read the rest of this entry »

Open Sesame: 7 Picture Books That Celebrate Winter’s Whimsy

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Snowmen Stories: Picture Books That Celebrate Winter’s Whimsy

“Do you want to build a snowman?” is a question kids have been asking for far longer than the song made popular by the movie, “Frozen.” And kids will continue to ask whenever the snow falls, because building a snowman is a quintessential act of winter whimsy. One that is working in layers, whether the creator realizes it or not. At its most basic, building a person out of snow is just good, plain fun. When you add a friend or two or three into the mix, building a snowman becomes a cooperative effort, an exercise in teamwork. It requires a playful attitude and an artistic eye. And it never hurts to believe in a bit of magic. For if the stories are true, snowmen do come to life! It also calls for a certain acceptance of impermanence. As even the youngest builders discover, snowmen do not last forever. And as such, the snowman becomes the perfect symbol for the cycles of love, loss, and renewal. With snow in the forecast, isn’t it time to build a snowman? Read the rest of this entry »

Open Sesame: 11 Notable Kids’ Books of 2014

One Last List: A Few More Notable Kids’ Books of 2014

2014 saw the publication of many brilliant books for kids. My family and I were smitten with fantastic new characters and imaginative stories – many of which I reviewed here in this column.

As we ready to turn the page on another year, I have one last parting list of notable books – a few picture books, a few novels, a bit of nonfiction – to herald out 2014. Find a moment, with or without a cozy companion, and open a book today. Read the rest of this entry »

Open Sesame: 8 Picture Books Celebrate Canny Turkeys

Talkin’ Turkey: Eight Picture Books That Keep Their Tail Feathers

Turkeys are part of our living landscape. We see them almost everyday throughout the year. In spring, we admire the big toms displaying their feathers in full regalia, and in summer, we delight in the fuzzy babies wobbling after their mothers. We watch big flocks pecking in stubbled cornfields during fall, and in winter, we follow their claw marks in the snow, hoping to find one of their long, magical feathers. We can’t help but mimic their gobble gobble, and are always surprised to see their plump bodies fly up into the trees to roost. A symbol of the Give-Away, the turkey carries historical and cultural significance, and for many, is the epicenter of the Thanksgiving feast. But in these picture books, there are no roasted turkeys. These birds aren’t dressed with stuffing and chestnut glaze, but instead wear ridiculous costumes and hatch crazy ideas to escape human plates. Vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike will appreciate the comedic feast and avian affection found in these eight picture books, where talkin’ turkey means keeping your tail feathers.  Read the rest of this entry »

Open Sesame: Florida Backdrop Provides Canvas for Chaotic Caper

Skink – No Surrender
New Teen Novel By Carl Hiaasen

When Malley runs away with a guy she met online to avoid going to a New Hampshire boarding school, her cousin Richard knows she’s in trouble. With the help of an ex-governor-turned-wild-renegade named Skink, Richard sets out on a crazy recuse mission deep into the Florida swamps.

Skink–No Surrender, the new novel by author Carl Hiaasen, delivers a fantastic story from start to finish. High-risk adventure spiked with laugh-out-loud humor ensues as Richard and Skink track Malley and her kidnapper. Action, drama, suspense, surprise, outrageous characters, and a heroic journey – the book has it all. Even a landscape full of its own set of dangers. From breezy, ocean beaches to steamy, buggy swamps, the Florida landscape plays a multi-dimensional role, serving as backdrop for the story, providing both beauty and tension, and producing threats like intense heat, fierce storms, killer pigs, and hungry gators. It may even reveal the extinct ivory-billed woodpecker. Read the rest of this entry »

Open Sesame: 9 Picture Books Capture the Great Beauty of Fall

Autumn’s Paintbox: Picture Books That Feature Foliage

It’s that time of year when sweaters come out of hiding, and soup bubbles on the stove, when the cold descends and wood smoke rises, when morning fog gives way to crisp afternoons and long, star-filled nights. It’s that time of year when pumpkins smile from porches and apples pile up in the kitchen. It’s a time of change and preparation, of magic and mischief, of quiet and camaraderie. It’s fall in New England, and the signs of the season are abundant. Just look to the trees, the lure of leaves, where autumn’s paintbox hangs on every deciduous limb. This month’s selection of picture books, featuring one newly published book and a handful of perennial favorites, is an ode to autumn leaves, those fiery, smoldering, golden bursts of color before the landscape pales and freezes.

Fall Leaves, written by Loretta Holland and illustrated by Elly MacKay, is a brand new picture book celebrating the changing season. From the onset, the book pulls you right into its ethereal setting: an image of an autumnal forest with two children playing at the edge of a pond. While soft yellow and orange light filters through the trees, their reflection on the water shows a much different winter scene. Opening the book, readers find a multi-layered experience. The light-box illustrations were cut piece by piece from yapo (plastic) paper and set up in a three-dimensional mini theater, into which light was shone from different angles. The effect is stunning and luminescent, and captures that golden, autumnal light of the season. Throughout the scenes, the two children move in time with nature, playing, bird-watching, biking, and dancing, until fall itself leaves, and the orange, red, and umber turns to the gray, lavender, and blue of winter. Two-word lines in large print play on the meaning and usage of the words, fall and leaves, creating a poetic context for what is happening in the pictures, such as “Fall arrives/Birds leave/Leaves twist/Rain falls/”. Below these pieces of poetry, is a nonfiction component that explains what is happening in nature from a scientific standpoint. While these explanations may be too wordy for young enthusiasts, older naturalists will appreciate the information. A beautiful book to herald the season. — Published by HMH Books for Young Readers, 2014. ISBN: 978-0544106642. Read the rest of this entry »

Open Sesame: 5 Picture Books For Kindergarteners

School is the New Frontier: 5 Picture Books For First-Timers

The first day of school is a huge leap for many young children. The world of school is different than the world of home. Excitement, anxiety, curiosity, fear, and uncertainty are feelings shared by all petite pioneers as they head into the big, new territory of school. Sometimes a good story is all that’s needed to calm a fear, tickle a nerve, boost confidence, and generate joy.

Here are five new picture books for young adventurers getting ready to explore school for the first time. You’ll find an astronaut, a cat, a panda, monsters, and even a Norse goddess, venturing into the unknown, finding fun, friends, and their own brand of special… Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for S.D. Nelson’s “Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story”

Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story
by S.D. Nelson

Written by S.D. Nelson, Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story opens readers’ eyes to life in a Native American village in the Dakotas. Based on Waheenee: An Indian Girl’s Story, told to an anthropologist by Buffalo Bird Girl herself, the story follows Buffalo Bird Girl through a full year’s worth of seasonal changes and activities, teaching readers about Hidatsa culture and the ways in which the seasons dictated their lives.

The book begins in the spring, with Buffalo Bird Girl helping to prepare fields and process meat from animals hunted by the village’s men. In the summer, readers learn about Buffalo Bird Girl’s responsibility to protect corn fields from animals, and her adventures berry picking and tuber-harvesting. During the fall, the entire village harvested crops and celebrated with a feast and dancing. In the winter, cold weather drove Buffalo Bird Girl’s village to migrate to a place with a milder climate, so as to be spared the harsh winter of the Dakotas.

The rich story teaches readers a wealth of information about Native American life and culture. The fact that the story’s protagonist is not an adult allows young readers to develop connections to her life more easily – they, too, can imagine doing seasonal tasks as chores to sustain their family and they, too, can relate to capturing rare free moments to play with friends. It is in connecting to Buffalo Bird Girl that readers will do most of their learning for, though they may find many similarities between their lives, the cultural divide between our lives today and that of Buffalo Bird Girl is deep and wide. Though here in western Massachusetts, the seasons dictate many of our activities, they do not force such drastic change upon our lives as they did upon the lives of members of Native American cultures. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Rebecca Stead’s “When You Reach Me”

When You Reach Me
by Rebecca Stead

What grows when it dies, but eats when it drinks? This and other riddles provide an intriguing and puzzling pre-read warmup for Rebecca Stead’s Newbury Medal-winning book, When You Reach Me. Classified as a science-fiction mystery novel for young adult readers, the story is a riddle-filled puzzle that will intrigue and fascinate savvy tweens and almost-tweens.

When You Reach Me is set in New York City in 1978, and is centered around the mysteries filling the life of a girl named Miranda. Miranda’s favorite activities are watching The $20,000 Pyramid, reading her favorite book (A Wrinkle in Time), and adventuring through her Manhattan neighborhood with her best friend, Sal – who helps her navigate the surprising and sometimes slightly scary things that they encounter nearby. The story truly begins when Sal and Miranda drift apart, which begins after a mysterious boy punches Sal in the stomach while they walk down a street together. After losing her best friend, Miranda encounters some other strange events – the spare key that she and her mother keep hidden is stolen, and Miranda gets a strange note from a mysterious source. Though she and her mother change the locks and assume the trouble is over, Miranda keeps getting notes – and must stay silent, though she knows not who is writing them or what they are pushing her towards.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Mildred Pitts Walter’s “Alec’s Primer”

Alec’s Primer
by Mildred Pitts Walter

Alec’s Primer is a story of freedom – a true one. Based on the real-life experiences of a man named Alec Turner, the book follows a young boy born into slavery through childhood on a plantation, fighting for the north during the Civil War, and finding freedom in Vermont. Though born a slave and forbidden to learn literacy skills, young Alec learned to read with the help of the plantation owner’s granddaughter – who insisted that Alec learn the alphabet despite the trouble that he would be in if he were to be found out. In learning the foundation of reading and writing the English language, Alec gets his first taste of freedom and dreams of someday escaping to Vermont – though he does suffer punishment for learning to read. Read the rest of this entry »

Open Sesame: New Picture Books Explore Rich Themes

A Wave of New Picture Books

It’s summer! One of my family’s favorite seasons to jump into the pages of a good book. Lucky us, there’s a wave of new titles rolling off the presses. Here are eight picture book picks for young readers. You’ll find bulldogs and poodles, a panda and a pilot, a dragon, a ninja, barefoot critters, a home on wheels, and an imaginary friend. Hold on to your little ones and jump in – the story’s fine!

Have You Seen My Dragon? by Steve Light, invites readers on a city prowl and counting expedition as they help a boy find his dragon somewhere in lower Manhattan. Detailed cityscapes drawn in mostly black and white provide an urban playground for young adventurers. Numbered maps on the end papers show the story’s route through the city and add more interactive appeal. Fun seek-and-find picture book. (Candlewick Press, 2014   ISBN: 978-0763666484)

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