Sunday, March 15, 2015

St. Patrick's Day - Part 3

My last St. Patrick's Day installment...for this year :)  These three gems come to us from 3 well-known children's authors: Teresa Bateman, Eve Bunting and Patricia Polacco.


Let's start with Harp O' Gold, written by Teresa Bateman, illustrated by Jill Weber.  Tom is a wandering minstrel who envisioned for himself a life of leisure, sharing his musical talents with the rich and famous.  His music is beautiful and his audiences love it, but he and his wooden harp entertain the common folk and his livelihood depends on them sharing their food and offering him a place to stay for the night.  Tom is confident that if he had a finer looking harp, his life would change.

He gets the chance to find out when a leprechaun trades him a fine, gold harp for his battered wooden one.  Despite the fact that the strings make his fingers sore and the harp produces a hollow, tinny, soulless sound, but his new audiences - the rich and famous - applaud him loudly.  He finds that it isn't all he hoped it would be - the nobles and their friends don't really care about music, they just like showing off the golden harp and having another underling to boss around.

The king hears about the golden harp and the musician who plays it and Tom soon finds himself living in the king's castle, entertaining the king on demand.

He realizes after a few days that he is actually a prisoner in the palace, so he disguises himself and flees to the forest to find the leprechaun and regain his harp and his freedom.

Tom finds the leprechaun and gets his worn, wooden harp back.  As he begins to play,  "the sound resonated and filled an empty place in his heart."  Tom is content to play for those who appreciate his beautiful music as much as he loves playing it.

Bright, colorful pictures created with acrylics and acrylic-based watercolors add to the happy feeling of this tale.  The story is written simply, but includes rich vocabulary for young ones.  The message is clear - be careful what you wish for ;)


St. Patrick's Day in the Morning, written by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Jan Brett is a sweet tale of little Jamie who is not old enough to participate in the village parade to the top of Acorn Hill.  He wakes up early and sees the rest of the family's parade clothing laid out and decides to don a piece of each family member's clothing and hike Acorn Hill alone because, "what do they know?"

He and his dog, Nell, walk through the town, stopping to visit with townspeople along the way.  He makes it to the top of Acorn Hill and heads back down as the sun peeks over the hill.

He returns home and curls up in the rocking chair and falls fast asleep.  His family wakens to find him sleeping soundly and as his brother comments that he must be sad that he is too little to walk in the parade, Jamie smiles to himself and thinks, "what did he know?"

Jan Brett's 4-color illustrations (green, yellow, white, and black) are charming and prove yet again, that Jan Brett knows how to draw the wonder of childhood.  She shows the town's preparations for the holiday with a light touch, keeping the focus on Jamie's determination.

Eve Bunting deftly tells the tale a young boy's determination to prove he's not too little to do something he really wants to do. While the holiday is the underlying theme, it doesn't dominate the story, but is acknowledged mostly through the illustration.

A fine tale, indeed, for a St. Patrick's day morning.


Last, but definitely not least, is Patricia Polacco's Fiona's Lace.  Polacco's stories are treasures - heartfelt, homey, rich and touching - she writes about the things that are important to her and her love for the characters is palpable on every page.  Published last August, it is her latest book and well worth a trip to the library.

Fiona and her little sister love to hear the story of how their mother made the most beautiful lace in all of Ireland.  Her father wanted to court her, but none of her workmates would tell him where she lived.  One day, he discovers that bits of lace are tied to tree branches, fence posts, and other landmarks and he follows them all the way to Annie's home.  They marry and now their daughter's are learning to make Irish lace while Annie's hands are suffering from arthritis.

The little family leaves Ireland when the closing of the mill makes it difficult for anyone to survive in their village.  They sign a contract to work for a wealthy family in Chicago until their passage is paid off, so they pack the belongings they are able to take with them and the long journey begins, with Fiona making lace the entire time.

When they arrive, they discover they are not living in quarters at the home of the wealthy family, but in a tenement filled with other immigrants who have to work 2 or 3 jobs to survive because they don't receive their first paycheck from the wealthy family until they have paid back their passage.  While their parents work day and night, Fiona continues to make lace and a local dressmaker is so impressed, he offers to pay "a pretty penny" for as much as she can make.

Before the family can save enough money to buy their own hone, the Great Chicago Fire sweeps through the town and Fiona and her sister must run to safety.  With mother and father away at their second jobs, the girls fear they will never see them again.  The story of their parents' courtship pops into Fiona's mind and she quickly begins to tie bits of her lace onto everything she can find to mark their path.  They run until "they tasted blood in the backs of their throats" and hide in a basement through the night, hoping that their parents are alive and will be able to find them.

It is everything you would expect from a Patricia Polacco book.  Need I say more?

Friday, March 6, 2015

How Emily Blair Got Her Fabulous Hair



Ever had Hair Envy?  First grader Emily Blair hates her hair.  It's just too darned straight!  She ties grapevines tendrils to to head, eats carrot curls, rubs heads with a poodle, makes a wish on the tail of a pig, and makes a wig our of macaroni, but nothing works. Even when she puts it in rollers, it won't hold a curl, so when she finds a new friend, Pamela Paine, "whose whole head rippled with golden waves," she is in pretend beauty parlor heaven.

Emily creates a whole set of gorgeous hairstyles for Pamela, each to match a different glamorous personality. But when Pamela asks for a braid, Emily can't quite make it work because Pamela's hair is TOO curly.  So Pamela offers to braid Emily's hair and they discover that Emily has perfect hair for braiding.

Emily learns to braid her own hair and creates intricate braids to match her many personas - and voila - Emily loves her very straight hair.

Little girls will love this story - the whimsical illustrations put the reader right in the center of the first grade beauty shop chaos.  Parents will appreciate the light lesson that the grass isn't always greener on the other side.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

St. Patrick's Day, Part 2


This is the St. Patrick's Day Girl Power edition!

O'Sullivan Stew - written and illustrated by Hudson Talbott
Kate O'Sullivan is a resourceful girl with a gift for storytelling.  The trouble starts when the village won't help the witch when the king's soldiers take her horse.  Their reasoning is that she's not one of them.  This ticks her off and she curses the village with a famine.

Kate decides she's had enough of starvation, so she proposes that she and her father and brothers go to the castle and steal back the horse.  They are reluctant, but she convinces them with this logic - "We're facing death in either case, by the hangman's rope of the empty plate.  Which way do you prefer to go?"

They get caught thanks to her clumsy father and are scheduled to be hung. But Kate's talent for storytelling with more than a touch of blarney earns them their freedom, one fantastical story and one family member at a time.

Once Kate has returned the horse, the witch lifts the curse and the village celebrates.  The king can't get Kate out of his mind, of course, so he comes to the village to find her and ask her to be his wife.  I won't spoil it, but her response is completely awesome.

Three of my favorite things about this book:  1)  Kate's utter confidence,  2)  her response to the king's proposal, and 3) the sign hanging above the village's celebration that reads "Everyone is One of Us."

There's something to be said for the continuity that comes when an author illustrates his own books. Talbott's illustrations are perfect for this story. - just the right blues and greens for an Irish village by the sea, the red hair is just the right tone, each picture is detailed, realistic and bright without being overwhelming.

Fun facts - Hudson Talbott traveled to Ireland to do research for this book.  His traveling companion was an O'Sullivan and they stayed with the O'Sullivan clan in Crookhaven.  You won't find these facts fun until you read the book, so I guess you need to do that. :)

Brave Margaret: An Irish Adventure - written by Robert D. San Souci, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport
San Souci, who passed away less than three months ago, is known for his adaptations of various forms of folklore.  One of his strengths is painting a vivid verbal picture of his characters and he has done that well with Margaret.

Margaret longs to see the world and when a prince docks his ship in the cove below her farm and comes to her asking for some of her livestock, she agrees to let him take her cattle IF she can travel with them.

A few days into the trip, they run into a sea serpent who demands they throw Margaret overboard or he will devour them.  While the men prepare to fight the serpent, Margaret rows out to meet the serpent and kills him.  She is tossed ashore and hits her head, falling unconscious.  When she comes to, she finds a small cottage and asks the old woman living within for shelter.

She stays for a few days, waiting for the storm to stop and as she is leaving, the price arrives.  When they try to leave together, they are unable to and soon discover that the old woman is a hag of sorceries.

This is where the story gets a little bit crazy, so I'm going to stick with the bare essentials. The hag sends Simon on a mission to slay a giant and he fails.  Margaret saves the day and Simon.  They are rewarded for accomplishing the mission and head for home.

A favorite line:  "I am the champion you have waited for!  What fools we are for thinking it must be a man who slays that great, dirty giant!"

This story is definitely for upper elementary ages, little ones will lose interest quickly.  San Souci uses rich vocabulary, a weaves an intriguing tale of courage and perseverance.

The illustrations, done in pastel, are beautiful, and have a dream-like quality to them.

Please include these books in your St. Patrick's Day collection!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving



Laurie Halse Anderson has been making some noise in the YA lit world for years thanks to her passion for discussing tough topics so that young people know they are not alone in their struggles.  Did you know that she also writes picture books?

Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving is the story of Sarah Hale's (Anderson's ancestor, BTW) thirty-eight year campaign to have Thanksgiving become a national holiday.  Hale accomplished a great deal in her lifetime.  She was an author, magazine editor, teacher, publisher, and proponent of playgrounds, education for girls, and historical monuments.  She also wrote the song, "Mary Had a Little Lamb" when a lamb followed a student to school and waited outside all day for it's owner.  She raised five children on her own after her husband passed away while she was pregnant with their fifth child.  Superhero, indeed.

The text is conversational, interesting, and easy to follow, so younger readers will stay with it.  The information is well-researched, one of Anderson's strengths.  Be sure to read the Feast of Facts at the end of the book to learn more Thanksgiving, Sarah, and U.S. History during her lifetime. The messages are unmistakable and meaningful - one person can make a difference, the pen is mightier than the sword - but the star of this show is the illustrations by Matt Faulkner.  They sweep through the early history of our country with both detail and simplicity, leaving lasting images in the reader's mind.

This pair also teamed up to write and illustrate Independent Dames, another nonfiction book for young readers that is worthy of your time.  Anderson has also written several other picture books and and the Vet Volunteer series is aimed at young readers as well.

I had the opportunity to hear Anderson speak at BYU's Books for Young Readers Symposium several years ago.  She is charismatic and fervent in her desire to use her talents to not only entertain her readers, but provide hope and courage to those suffering in difficult situations - abuse, eating disorders, rape, bullying, etc...  and has written some heartfelt and heavy-hitting books to address these topics.

I highly recommend her young adult books, especially for young adults and teens who may be in need of some bibliotherapy, but parents of teens should read ahead of time to determine if they feel the content is appropriate for their teen - she deals with substantial issues in straightforward and sensitive ways.

Anderson is another fan-friendly author - she accepts friend requests on Facebook, writes a blog, and keeps her website up-to-date.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

St. Patrick's Day, Part 1


When I was a little girl, on the night before St. Patrick's Day, my dad would remind me (in his best Irish accent) that the leprechauns would be visiting that night.  Not just any leprechauns, mind you, but O'Shaunessey, O'Toole and O'Day.  They would tiptoe into my room and leave a small gift on my bed and I relished this tradition.  With my own children, I colored all of our food and drink green on St. Patrick's Day.  I can still picture Michael's little face, peeking into the pan as I prepared Cream of Wheat for breakfast.  I would add the grain to the milk, wave my spoon over the pan and say the magic words, "Bibbidi bobbidi boo!" and stir.  The Cream of Wheat would turn green and he would be delighted.  Sigh.

Despite the fact that every single holiday is now blown completely out of proportion - who ever thought that teachers would be making leprechaun traps with their students, making green eggs and ham, teaching math with Lucky Charms, and sprinkling glitter and stamping tiny footprints all over their classrooms - I love reading holiday books with my students.  It brings a playful element to the classroom that is too often missing as we spend our days preparing them for test after test after test, and they spark some interesting conversations.

Today I want to introduce the first four books in my St. Patrick's Day series:

St. Patrick's Day - written and illustrated by Gail Gibbons
Gibbons specializes in nonfiction for children and she has it down!  This book gives simple, factual information about the origins of St. Patrick's Day and the different ways in which it is celebrated.  The last few pages contain brief synopses of the various legends about Saint Patrick.  Her illustrations are bright and clean, perfect for young readers.  If I could add one thing to this book, it would be pronunciations for the Irish words.

The Leprechaun Under the Bed - written by Teresa Bateman, illustrated by Paul Meisel
Loner leprechaun Brian O'Shea likes peace and quiet, so he is understandably distressed when Sean McDonald builds a home right on top of his comfortable burrow.  Over time, the two develop an unlikely friendship that benefits both of them.  I enjoyed the fact that the main character doesn't become a greedy tyrant once he figures out a leprechaun is living under his bed.  He considers it to be luck he can't afford to lose, so he begins to feed the leprechaun and the mischief comes from outside the walls of their home and that's a nice twist.  Click here to read an interview with author Teresa Bateman.

That's What Leprechauns Do - written by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully
A group of leprechauns see a storm coming and set off to move their pot of gold to the end of the rainbow.  They can't resist playing some tricks along the way, of course, but they get the pot of gold in place just in time.  Sadly, no one comes to find it and the leprechauns rebury the pot and head home.  The plot is weak - in fact, the strongest part of the text is the About Leprechauns page at the end of the book.  The illustrations of the leprechauns, however, are darling and I can imagine a child staring at them for quite a while, imagining what it would be like to encounter one.  Click here to watch an interview with Eve Bunting (born in Ireland, BTW).

Too Many Leprechauns or How that Pot o' Gold Got to the End of the Rainbow - written by Stephen Krensky, illustrated by Dan Andreason
Irish scallawag Finn O'Finnegan returns home from a walkabout to find that his village is a mess.  Nothing is getting done and everyone is exhausted because the leprechauns have invaded the village to cobble fairy shoes and the tap-tap-tapping of their tiny hammers keeps everyone awake.  Finn came home specifically to be spoiled by his mother, so he is highly motivated to fix this situation.  He cleverly tricks the leprechauns into bringing all their gold to the village square and then hides it.  The leprechauns agree to leave Dingle forever if he will return their gold.  They strike a bargain and when Finn restores the gold to the rightful owners, he introduces the leprechauns to the idea of keeping their pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  Clever story, rich illustrations, worth your time to find it at the library or online.

More St. Paddy's books coming soon!