Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mama's Right, Again!

Ever hear these words: “He followed me home, Mom. Please? Please, Mom, can I keep him? Please?” Here's a clever twist. To the rescue!

CHILDREN MAKE TERRIBLE PETS by Peter Brown, Little, Brown and Company, 2010

Lucy, a little girl bear, finds a small boy lost in the woods. She thinks he is the most adorable critter in the forest, takes him home and begs her mother to let her keep him.

Mother says what all us mothers say with the added caveat that children make terrible pets. The worst.

Finally, Lucy wins Mother over, promising to take full responsibility for her new pet. She names him Squeaker because, well, that’s the only noise he makes. Squeak!

All goes well at first. But of course, that can’t last, can it? It turns out that Mother was right. Squeaker is hard to train. There are mishaps. What’s a nice bear family to do? Then Squeaker disappears. How Lucy finds him and how she makes a very tough decision will have pre-schoolers offering their own philosophies.

This is a fine way to start or end that discussion about pets. What are the best kinds of pets? Why? Who is ready to share one's home with a pet? These are your questions to pursue.

Only one question remains for me. Just where was author/illustrator Peter Brown when I needed this book for my own pre-schoolers?

Friday, April 22, 2011

What Rhymes with Earth?

Today is Earth Day. April is National Poetry Month. Here’s a book that’s a happy combination of both.

GRANDPA LOVES by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Illustrated by Kathryn Brown, HarperCollins, 2005

On Earth Day we talk a lot about preserving our planet. That’s worthy of this day of special notice and it’s increasingly necessary that we think, plan, and implement. But what makes our earth so special? What do we enjoy about it the most?

Grandpa Loves is about greening trees in spring, buzzing bees and beaches, sloshing seas, snowy hills. This earth provides a grandpa and his grandchild a huge playground for making memories all year long, not Earth Day alone.

What kinds of memories do they make? I read through several times trying to choose my favorite. Flipping pancakes. Picnics. Naps. Stomping through puddles. Finally, I decided. My favorite most of the time is reading books under a blanket beside a fire. All these things Grandpa loves. And his grandchild will remember forever.

Other books by this gifted poet: Lemonade Sun, In the Spin of Things, Poetry of Motion, Mama Loves, What Is Science? And many more.

Share the beauty of the earth or the beauty of poetry, or both. What Grandpa loves, you will love, too.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

National Bookmobile Day

On this special day of National Library Week, we honor those who drive bookmobiles and connect the farthest flung of our citizens to library materials we urban dwellers take for granted. I cannot think of a better way to celebrate the dedication of these heroic librarians than by sharing a book about them with young readers.

DOWN CUT SHIN CREEK: The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky by Kathi Appelt and Jeanne Cannella Schmitzer, Harper Collins, 2001.

Spend a day with a pack horse librarian and your appreciation for your neighborhood library will soar. Authors Appelt and Schmitzer, who is a librarian and webmaster of “Pack Horse Library,” open their thoroughly researched chronology of the Kentucky Pack Horse Library with a chapter titled, “An Ordinary Day. The Way it Might Have Been.”

These talented authors take you there. Feel the cold seeping through thin clothing, the sting of sleet against your face, the hunger gnawing at you as you make your rounds and deliver the prized and welcomed but already worn books and magazines, donated for you to deliver to eager readers on your route. You are one of these people. You live in these hollows. For your pre-dawn to dark deliver route, you are paid the grand sum of $28/month. This job feeds your family. It feeds minds too.

Pack horse libraries were considered one of the most well-liked rural outreach services. The librarians not only introduced many to books, they inspired a love of reading.

It’s possible that a pack horse librarian inspired a young Kentucky teacher who in turn played a part in making our library system what it is today. In 1956 United States Representative Carl D. Perkins from Kentucky sponsored the Library Services Act. This act made the first federal appropriations for library service and helped provide funds “to establish new libraries, build branch libraries, purchase bookmobiles, buy library collections, and hire new librarians.”

Now is a good time to contact your congressional and legislative representatives and ask them to continue what Mr. Perkins started. Hurry! Support library funding.

Here’s a phone number to get you started: Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Honoring the Human Spirit

Several writer friends talked for days about a forthcoming book with a strong message. However, although the publiction date had arrived, no one could find the book available for purchase yet. Before I post a review, I always make sure readers can order or pick up a copy at the nearest library or independent bookstore. I kept checking. The book was on order. It was in transit. It arrived! Everything else in my day went on hold so I could read. Here’s a first novel you will want to read, too.

BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys, Philomel books, 2011.

The first sentence caught me and held on tight. “They took me in my nightgown.”

It’s 1941. This is the brutal Stalin era. 15 year old Lina, her ten year old brother Jonas, and her mother–her father has already been taken away–are given only minutes to pack before the Soviet guards gather them, neighbors, townspeople, some they know and some they don’t, and throw them into a train car meant for cattle and marked for “thieves and prostitutes.” They endure a long, torturous trip from their homes in Lithuania to Siberia where they struggle with hunger, cold, and pure evil displayed daily by their captors.

I was appreciative that the author chose to deliver this story in short chapters. The drama, the human tragedy, the bitterness, the burden of emotion, are all so heavy that a reader needs time to breathe.

The author, whose mother was a Lithuanian refugee, sets out to give voice to a group nearly forgotten in the rush of historical events. Stalin’s reign of terror crushed the Baltic states before the United States joined the allies in WWII. What did we know about these horrible events that occurred before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor? We didn't have nightly newcasts with embedded journalists.

It was a long time before Hitler’s life and influences were chronicled in our books for young people. Now we are learning, in books like Hitler Youth and The Boy Who Dared, both by
Susan Campbell Bartoletti. Her books and others are eye-openers about how youth can be used and abused by tyrants who march in, kill leaders and educated people, eradicate language, overwhelm, intimidate, starve, maim, threaten, kill. Surely, we can learn from this. Can’t we?

Some reviewers are saying this book is for more than kids. It’s their way of saying adults will find this story just as gripping as young adults and older tweens who are avid readers. Each will bring a different level of understanding to the story.

The triumph here is of the human spirit. When the human spirit refuses to become what the brutes have become, there is hope for a future, even if those who so valiantly struggle against the despots die in the attempt. They leave their courage behind as a legacy. They leave others inspired to hold out for another day, and another.

And years later, an author determined to tell their story does so. Brilliantly.

That’s why so many are raving about this book. It has staying power. Its characters will live in your heart of hearts.

Hillview School Library