Read On!

Mrs. Farquharson’s musings about books for children and young adults

Seasons Readings

December7

Trees

As I was going through my archives, I found this post that I published on December 6, 2013. This author and these books are as important today as they were then, and I’m confident that they will be just as charming in the future

One of my favorite authors to share with children is Patricia Polacco. She writes from her heart directly to her readers’ hearts. This is certainly the case with her holiday-themed books.

Many of Polacco’s stories are based on her own family’s stories and background. When Patricia was a child, her parents were divorced. She spent the school year living with her mother and summers with her father. Her mother’s family celebrated Hanukkah, and one of Patricia’s masterpieces is The Trees of the Dancing Goats. In this poignant tale, the author tells about a year when her family demonstrated the true meaning of giving when they made Christmas happen for their neighbors.

ChristmasAnother of Polacco’s tales that transcends both Hanukkah and Christmas is The Christmas Tapestry. In this book, the author shares the story of a minister and his family who revitalize a crumbling church. Just before Christmas, they buy a tapestry to hang in the sanctuary. When they share a wintery ride with an elderly woman, they are reminded of the persecution that others experienced during WWII because of religion.

In the following clip, Polacco talks about listening to her family stories.

Season’s Readings

December7

Author and illustrator Matt Tavares has produced one of the best picture books that celebrate Christmas in 2017. Red & Lulu (Candlewick) is based around an annual Christmas tradition, the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.

Red and Lulu are a pair of cardinals who nest in a majestic tree in a yard. They enjoy all of the seasons, but especially the Christmas season when the family always trimmed their tree with lights. One morning, Red was returning from finding food when their tree was cut down and hoisted onto a truck. Lulu was nesting in the tree which was being driven away. Red chirped to Lulu to stay in the tree, and he would find her. Unable to keep up with the truck, Red arrived in New York City and searched everywhere. His heart ached for Lulu until days later, he was attracted to Rockefeller Center. There stood the tree, glittering with lights. There was Lulu on their favorite branch. At the end of the holiday season, Red and Lulu found a new home in Central Park.

This touching tale not only celebrates the season, but also, the bond that the two cardinals share.

The head gardener at Rockefeller Center is responsible for choosing the perfect tree. Almost every year, the variety chosen is a Norway spruce. This tree is not native to the United States, so it isn’t often found in a forest. Instead, the gardener chooses one that had been planted in a private yard years ago.The Rockefeller Center tree is the height of an eight-story building. Over 45,000 multicolored lights are strung on it, and the star on the top weighs 550 pounds. When taken down, the tree is donated to Habitat for Humanity, so that the lumber from the tree will be used to build a home.

This video shows the 2017 tree being hoisted onto the truck.

Seasons Readings

December16

Every fall, publishers tout their new holiday books for children. Some years, there are a plethora of wonderful titles while in other years, the quality varies. In my opinion, this year is one of the leaner publishing years, but there are a few titles that I would like to share for your family’s holiday reading. The first two books mentioned below are for the younger set.

nonnaNonna’s Hanukkah Surprise by Karen Fisman, illustrated by Martha Avilés (Kar-Ben) is a delightful story of a young girl who looks forward to sharing the traditions of Hanukkah with her extended family. When she forgets her special menorah on the plane, she worries that Hanukkah will be ruined. Her Nonna comes to the rescue.

lightsEllis Paul celebrates the season with his title The Night the Lights Went Out on Christmas (Whitman), and it is illustrated by Scott Brundage. One family began putting a few holiday decorations in their yard and on their house. Then their neighbors joined in, and a friendly competition began. Before long, the neighborhood became a seasonal destination for folks to see the lights. One night, one light too many is lit and then…

mazelMisha, a poor artist, has no one with whom to celebrate Hanukkah until he discovers a hungry cat in his barn. In A Hanukkah with Mazel by Joel Edward Stein, illustrated by Elisa Vavouri (Kar-Ben), readers learn that there are many ways to appreciate the generosity and wonder of the season.

bootThe extraordinary art of illustrator Jerry Pinkney is featured in The Christmas Boot by Lisa Wheeler (Dial). Hannah Greyweather’s life is changed when she finds a magic wish-granting boot in the forest outside her home.

Seasons Readings

December11

Readers of all ages enjoy holiday picture books. Even our most sophisticated and older readers want to revisit old favorites and check out new titles.

 

santaWhen Santa Was a Baby by Linda Bailey & Genevieve Godbout (Tundra, 2015) has become one of this year’s favorites. Santa’s parents are like all parents because they think that their new baby is very special. When his first baby sounds are Ho! Ho! Ho!, they are surprised. Santa continues be unique when he gives away his presents, only wears red, and has a special friend who enjoys making toys. This is a fun title to pair with Santa Retires by David Biedrzycki (Charlesbridge, 2012).

 

clickDoreen Cronin has partnered with illustrator Betsy Lewin to bring us back to the zany farm that she has featured in other books. (Click, Clack, Moo being the most memorable.) This time, the animals try to rescue the crazy duck that gets stuck in the chimney just before Santa arrives in Click, Clack, Ho! Ho! Ho! (Atheneum, 2015)

 

An older title for which I’ve been having a number of requests is Snowmen at Christmas by Caralyn Buehner, illustrated by Mark Buehner (Dial, 2005). This talented husband and wife team describe a celebration by the snowmen on Christmas Eve, when all of the people are asleep.

snowmenSuch fun snowmen have!

But there’s still one more thing –

With hearts full of joy

They hold hands and they sing.

 

While the fiddler plays,

And sweet silver bells ring,

They sing songs about snow,

And the birth of a King.

Holiday Tales

December12

There have been many memorable holiday books published in 2014. There are often new titles by celebrated authors like Eric Kimmel (Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Tale, Hyperion, 2014) and Jan Brett (The Animals’ Santa, Putnam, 2014). It’s always a pleasure to discover titles that are new gems and revisit some stories that are old favorites.

O. Henry’s short story, “The Gift of the Magi”, was first published in The New York Sunday World on December 10, 1905. It has now become a classic tale of a young couple that secretly sell their most treasured possessions in order to purchase a holiday gift for each other. Jim sells his grandfather’s pocket watch to buy a set of jeweled combs for Della’s waist length hair. On the same day, Della cut and sold her hair to purchase a platinum fob chain for Jim’s prized watch.

borisDara Goldman brings this story to children with her picture book, Boris and Stella and the Perfect Gift (Sleeping Bears Press, 2013). Boris and Stella are bears who feel blessed to have found each other. The picture book depicts a year when the last night of Hanukkah happens to be on Christmas Eve. Boris sells his dreidel collection that he brought from his homeland, Russia, to buy a magnificent glass star for Stella’s potted tree. Stella sold the tree that had been started by her family in Italy to buy Boris a special dreidel. As in “The Gift of the Magi”, the characters understand that the most precious gift is their love for each other.

redThis year is the 50th anniversary of the television Christmas special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. There is a “Deluxe Anniversary Edition” of Rudolph that is based on the show. Robert Lewis May wrote the original Rudolph story about growing up being different. He worked for Montgomery Ward as an advertising copywriter, and in 1939 the company asked him to write a “cheery” book for their stores. Rudolph was born. May wrote to sequels, that were published posthumously, Rudolph’s Second Christmas and Rudolph to the Rescue. Gene Autrey recorded the musical version of May’s work, and now Rudolph has “…gone down in history”.

Seasons Readings

December12

giftA special book that celebrates the holiday season is The Carpenter’s Gift by David Rubel, illustrated by Jim LaMarche (Random House, 2011). While this picture book is a work of fiction, it is based on facts about the tree at Rockefeller Center.

Construction workers who were digging the foundation for the project in New York City erected the first tree in 1931. They were grateful that they had jobs during the Depression, and they wanted to show their appreciation. After pooling their money to purchase the tree, their families decorated it with garlands and handmade ornaments.

The official public viewing of the annual tree began in 1933 when visitors made special trips to see the decorated tree that the property owners erected annually. To this day, the tree at Rockefeller Center is an important New York City holiday tradition. To choose a tree for the display, those in charge travel by helicopter over New Jersey, New York, and New England. When they spot a candidate, they mark the coordinates and make a trip to view the tree from the ground.

Since 2007, the Rockefeller Center tree has been milled, and the wood is donated to Habitat for Humanity. That wood is then used as part of a house that is built by that worthy organization. What a way to celebrate the true meaning of the holiday!

The following clip features the family who donated this year’s tree.

 

Seasons Readings

December6

TreesOne of my favorite authors to share with children is Patricia Polacco. She writes from her heart directly to her readers’ hearts. This is certainly the case with her holiday themed books.

Many of Polacco’s stories are based on her own family’s stories and background.When Patricia was a child, her parents were divorced. She spent the school year living with her mother and summers with her father. Her mother’s family celebrated Hanukkah, and one of Patricia’s masterpieces is The Trees of the Dancing Goats. In this poignant tale, the author tells about a year when her family demonstrated the true meaning of giving when they made Christmas happen for their neighbors.

ChristmasAnother of Polacco’s tales that transcends both Hanukkah and Christmas is The Christmas Tapestry. In this book, the author shares the story of a minister and his family who revitalize a crumbling church. Just before Christmas, they buy a tapestry to hang in the sanctuary. When they share a wintery ride with an elderly woman, they are reminded of the persecution that others experienced during WWII because of religion.

In the following clip, Polacco talks about listening to her family stories.

Seasons Readings

November22

Elijah's AngelOne of my favorite books for the holiday season (or any other time) is Elijah’s Angel by Michael J. Rosen, illustrated by Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson (HBJ, 1992). This story appeals to me on so many levels. Families who celebrate Chanukah and Christmas can all relate to the meaning of their holidays. As a fan of folk art and outsider art, I enjoy introducing Elijah Pierce (1892-1984) to our students.

Elijah was a woodcarver, barber, and deeply religious man. During his lifetime, this humble craftsman was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. His woodcarvings are owned privately and in museum collections.

Michael Rosen, the author, met Elijah Pierce as a youngster, and he has shared his friendship with Elijah in this story. As a young friend of the woodcarver, Michael was enthralled with Elijah’s work. However, when Elijah gave Michael the gift of an angel during the Christmas season, Michael was conflicted. He didn’t feel that he could accept it because Michael was Jewish, and his family didn’t own “graven images”. Michael’s supportive parents helped him celebrate the true meaning of Chanukah, Christmas, and friendship.

The illustrator of Elijah’s Angel also knew Elijah Pierce. Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson became his friend and student. Her illustrations are in a folk art style.

In the following trailer, Elijah describes his craft.

Season’s Readings: Non-Fiction

December15

Every year there are new holiday books published to entertain young readers, but there are only a few that entertain and educate them. Franklin and Winston: A Christmas That Changed the World by Douglas Wood, illustrated by Barry Moser (Candlewick Press, 2011). Douglas Wood chronicles December of 1941 when Winston Churchill braved a trip across the Atlantic to spend Christmas with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. During that visit, the two leaders forged a strong friendship and plotted their strategy as their countries engaged in WWII. The illustrations that accompany the text are vintage Barry Moser, as he genuinely captured the personalities of the two leaders.

Check out this clip of Churchill’s visit to Washington, D.C. The first 15 seconds are silent, but after that, there are excerpts of his address to Congress.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWMdFbVKNsI

Season’s Readings: The Twelve Days of Christmas

November22

“The Twelve Days of Christmas” is widely known because of the song that has been recorded by numerous performers throughout the years. These festive days begin December 25th and end on January 5th, and this time is called Christmastide or Twelvetide. While the tradition is rooted in Christianity, during the Middle Ages in England, the days were filled with feasting and merrymaking that ended with Twelfth Night. One of William Shakespeare’s most famous comedies is named Twelfth Night and takes place during this festive season.

 

Many authors have written picture books based on this holiday song. Jan Brett’s version was first published in 1986 (The Twelve Days of Christmas, Putnam), and the illustrations feature her characteristic style.

 

Irene Trivas came up with a delightful twist when she started off with the well-known lyrics in Emma’s Christmas (Orchard Books, 1988). In her story, a prince woos Emma and resends her the previous days gifts. Trivas’ sense of humor is evident when she describes the twelfth day:

“And so it was that Emma and the prince, in the company of 12 lords, 22 ladies, 30 drummers, 36 pipers, 40 milking maids and their cows, 42 geese, 42 swans, 36 calling birds, 30 French hens, 22 turtle doves, 12 partridges, and Emma’s father and mother, exchanged 40 golden rings and were very happily married.”

 

There are two notable editions of this timeless song that were published in 2011. Laurel Long describes the origins of the verse in The Twelve Days of Christmas (Dial). Her beautiful oil paintings contain elements of the religious roots to the song.

 

Jane Ray’s version, The Twelve Days of Christmas (Candlewick Press), is set in the 1920s, and her mixed-media illustrations are colorful and detailed. Readers will enjoy spotting the shy “true love”, and they will delight in the clothes and decorations of the era.

 


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