Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Cranberry Christmas

Cranberry Christmas
Wende and Harry Devlin ~ Parents' Magazine Press ~ 1976

Christmas in this house doesn't end until the 12th night, so I won't feel guilty dragging you off to Cranberryport even though the holiday has technically come and gone. As such, the Devlins were mainstays in children's lit throughout the 60s and 70s, illustrating and authoring two of my childhood all-time favorites, How Fletcher Was Hatched and Old Black Witch.

I'm not the number one fan of their Cranberryport stories, but it's hard to deny that the little town with the big bog has made a lasting impression.

Starting with Cranberry Thanksgiving in 1971 and spanning through nine books and six "Tales from Cranberryport" follow-up paperbacks in the 90s, this one chronicles a Christmas when an old grump almost spoiled the day.

Christmas was coming! Snow was on the cranberry bog, the smell of pine in the wind, and the fresh water pond frozen smooth. Mr Whiskers, looking out from his kitchen window, was deep in gloom. Christmas was only three days away and his pond should have been filled with skaters--skaters in bright sweaters, laughing, with their scarves flying in the wind. And he should have been there teaching them all to twirl and do figure eights.

But old Cyrus Grape had changed all that. He had moved next door to Mr. Whiskers, into the stone house on the rise, and claimed that the pond was on his land. Cyrus didn't like children. Whenever he saw them on the pond, he would hop on his sled and slide bumpily-bump down the hill. "Scat! Off my pond or I'll have the sheriff after you!" Cyrus would shout as he shook his cane and chased the skaters to the snowy banks.

What a spoil sport! Not only that, but Mr W's sister thinks he's unfit to live by himself and is coming to take him away for good. Mr. W enlists the help of the ever-faithful duo of Grandmother and Maggie, and together, they fix the sister problem and find the proof they need to get the town's children skating again.

Even though the book is out of print and often can't be found without a bloated price tag, you can still find Cranberry Christmas on TV, narrated (and sung) to saccharine perfection by the one and only Barry Manilow. Ho ho ho, friends.

Also by:
How Fletcher Was Hatched
Old Witch Rescues Halloween
Old Witch and the Polka Dot Ribbon
Old Black Witch!
The Wonderful Tree House
Cranberry Thanksgiving


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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Adventures of K'Ton Ton

The Adventures of K'Ton Ton
Sadie Rose Weilerstein ~ Jeannette Berkowitz
National Women's League of the United Synagogue, 1935

Hope everyone is enjoying their holidays. With two days of Hanukkah left, let's celebrate with a book selected by one of my favorite children's book bloggers, Ariel S. Winter, author of the fab We Too Were Children, Mr. Barrie and the forthcoming picture book, One of a Kind.

With so many excellent Jewish American children's books now available--many of which have even crossed over to a popular audience like the works of Maurice Sendak and Uri Shulevitz, or Caldecott winners such as Simms Taback's Joseph Had a Little Overcoat or David Wisniewski's Golem--it's hard to imagine a time when American Jewry had no works available for children in English. That changed with the birth of K'Tonton, the Jewish Tom Thumb, who first appeared in Outlook, the magazine of the National Women's League of the United Synagogue in 1930.

Written by Sadie Rose Weilerstein, daughter of immigrants and the wife of a conservative rabbi, K'Tonton (the name means "very small" in Hebrew) is a thumbling who gets into all of the predicaments thumblings get into: carried off by birds, riding on an arrow, dining with bugs. But K'Tonton also has adventures that only a Jewish thumbling could have: riding on a lulav (a palm frond) at Sukkot, getting closed in a hamentaschen (a filled traingular cookie) at Purim, and most pertinent here, going for a spin on a dreidel (a four-sided top) at Hanukkah.

In K'Tonton Takes a Ride on a Runaway Trendel (alternate Yiddish word for dreidel), K'Tonton is sad because his aunt and uncle and "Bobe" (the woman who predicted his birth) have come to visit but none of them, nor his parents, have remembered to give him any Hanukah gelt (coins). K'Tonton doesn't want gelt for himself, but to fill up his Palestine Box (this is well over a decade before the establishment of Israel), "to buy land, you know--for the Jewish farmers, the Halutzim." Knowing that he can't outright ask for gelt, he mopes. His uncle, wishing to cheer him up, sets him on a dreidel and sends him spinning, a merry-go-round for one. Soon the dreidel has spun off the table, out the door, and into the street. The whole family chases after the runaway dreidel and it's rider. They call to a policeman to stop him, "but the policeman was an Irishman and didn't know what a trendel was." Eventually, K'Tonton comes to rest beside a "A BIG ROUND SHINING QUARTER!" The coin reminds the whole family about Hanukah gelt and they pour all of the change in their pockets into K'Tonton's Palestine box.

This story is typical of the K'Tonton oeuvre, a small adventure that teaches a lesson about a holiday or a Jewish value. K'Tonton is the most pious, happy-go-lucky child imaginable, who never laments his diminutive size. It is just that size, and the black and white morals, that appeal to a young child, and it is no wonder that the first English language Jewish children's work is still the earliest memory I have of Jewish literature and will no doubt be one of my daughter's as well, seventy years after his first appearance.

There are some really nice essays online about K'Ton Ton and Sadie Rose Weilerstein that I consulted: K'Tonton Time by Marjorie Ingall and Sadie Rose Welerstein by Lisa Kogen. I've posted all of the full-page illustrations by Jeannette Berkowitz from The Adventures of K'Ton Ton on my Flickr as well as the complete text of K'Tonton Takes a Ride on a Runaway Trendel.

Happy Hanukkah.


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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Books Are Love

I know I've been in and out pretty erratically for the last few weeks, but family duties are heightened around these parts as of late. That said, you live life one day at a time, and you get out of it what you put into it.

Books make the world better and every minute you spend with your nose in one is a minute when you are learning and growing. And that's all we can do. Try to live better. Try to be better.

In the time it takes to read those 32 pages, you can travel to another world and take a little one along for the ride. If you allow those lessons, those little moral poems that picture books provide, to guide you through your days, you'll do nothing but bring joy to the people around you. Stories. Pictures. Words. The stuff of life itself. Happiness.

This will be my last post until after Christmas. I'll be back next week with more regularly scheduled programing. Until then, I hope everyone travels safe, has a great holiday and gets loads of books from the jolly 'ole elf.

(picture from The Great Songbook illustrated by Tomi Ungerer)


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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Selfish Giant

The Selfish Giant
Oscar Wilde ~ Gertraud and Walter Reiner ~ Harvey House, 1967

The Selfish Giant was originally published in 1888 as part of Wilde's beloved The Happy Prince and Other Tales. This illustrated version is lifted from the prize-winning film by Austrian/German animators and filmmakers, Gertraud and Walter Reiner. I was unable to find much online about the filmmakers or the film (it's not the Oscar-nominated version created in 1971 by Micheline Lanctôt), but I expect any info that exists might be in German in reference to when it was originally published in 1694 as Der selbstsüchtige Riese.

Anyone else know anything, please chime in!

Written by Wilde expressly for children, the story begins with a mess of them having a grand old time in a lovely garden.

Every afternoon, as they were coming from school, the children used to go and play in the Giant's garden.

It was a large lovely garden, with soft green grass. Here and there over the grass stood beautiful flowers like stars, and there were twelve peach-trees that in the spring-time broke out into delicate blossoms of pink and pearl, and in the autumn bore rich fruit. The birds sat on the trees and sang so sweetly that the children used to stop their games in order to listen to them. "How happy we are here!" they cried to each other.

When the giant returns after a long absence from home, he is angered to see someone enjoying his spread other than himself, and proceeds to build a wall to keep the children out, thus creating a perpetual winter in the garden.

After a few seasons of chill, the giant sees the error of his ways, befriends a small boy and breaks down the wall and the children become his most beautiful flowers of all.

As Wilde was prone to do, he interwove a religious metaphor with the end showing the giant's death many years later. A vision of the same little boy appears to him as the Christ child bearing the stigmata, and in a rage the giant roars...

"Who hath dared to wound thee?" cried the Giant; "tell me, that I may take my big sword and slay him."

"Nay!" answered the child; "but these are the wounds of Love."

"Who art thou?" said the Giant, and a strange awe fell on him, and he knelt before the little child.

And the child smiled on the Giant, and said to him, "You let Me play once in your garden, to-day you shall come with Me to My garden, which is Paradise."

Man, is the library full of forgotten treasures...


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Friday, December 16, 2011

The Night Before Christmas

The Night Before Christmas
Clement C. Moore ~ Gyo Fujikawa ~ Grosset & Dunlap, 1961

At last my room mother duties are done, and the best part is... no more homework for two weeks! YAY! To celebrate the home stretch, let's crack out the Gyo and head into the last week with happy hearts and stress levels that will soon be stabilized.

Let the holiday fun officially begin!

'Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas
soon would be there.

Happy, happy, joy, joy... and all the wonders that fall in between. As adorable as the holidays get. A dream of a Santa all jolly and quick as only Gyo could draw. One of my all time favorite versions of the classic Christmas story.

Originally published in 1961, I own the '04 Backpack edition, but it has since be re-released in a new edition by Sterling. Love it when everything old gets new again.

Also by:
A Child's Garden of Verses
A Child's Book of Poems
Let's Grow a Garden
Baby Animals
Oh, What a Busy Day!
Our Best Friends
Come Follow me
Fairy Tales and Fables
Christmas Nutshell Library ~ Hilary Knight version
The Night Before Christmas ~ Weisgard version
The Night Before Christmas ~ Charles Clement version
The Night Before Christmas ~ Corrine Malvern version


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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I Want My Days Back

I am so sorry I've been MIA. I keep thinking I'll even steal away from my day for 30 minutes to update, but goodness, do the holidays consume loads of time.

Just know, my son is getting Brixton Bros book three, more Tintin and I Want My Hat Back for Christmas. And we are in the middle of reading The Witches! Yay for yay! Hopefully I'll pop in tomorrow with a review. Until then...


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Monday, December 12, 2011

The Little Match Girl

The Little Match Girl
Hans Christian Anderson ~ Blair Lent ~ Houghton Mifflin, 1968

Sorry I've been erratic in posting, but that's what happens when you are room mom to 24 first graders in the weeks leading up to Christmas. To make up for it, I thought I'd highlight the most depressing (yet strangely uplifting) children's Christmas story of all time. Hans Christian Anderson's timeless tale has all those feel-good components you expect out of the holidays. Poverty. Starvation. Death. When the warm around us is snug and glowing with holiday cheer, it's always good to step outside and remember that not everyone is lucky enough to write and read blogs and enjoy children's books.

Originally published in 1845, it's the story of a little girl wandering the streets, selling bundles of matches. Or, at least, trying to sell matches. When no one buys her wares and she loses her shoes in the snow...

The little girl found a corner where one house projected a little beyond another and she crouched there, drawing her little feet close under her. But she was still cold. She did not dare go home, for she had sold no matches, nor earned even one penny. If she should return home her father would surely give her a beating. And besides it was almost as cold at home as it was here, for they had nothing over them but a roof through which the wind whistles, even though the largest cracks had been stuffed with straw and rags.

It gets worse from there on out. To stay warm, she begins striking the matches and in each one, she sees a fantastical vision. A blazing fire. A turkey dinner. An enchanting Christmas tree. Until at last a star arrives bringing her long-dead grandmother along who "took the little girl in her arms, and they both soared in brightness and joy above the earth, very, very high; up to where neither cold nor hunger, nor fear is ever known."

I remember crying buckets at this story as a child, and vowing always to help those less fortunate than me. Beautifully illustrated by the artist who brought us the always awesome Tikki Tikki Tembo, it's a great one to read during the holidays to inspire empathy and build traditions of giving. A heartbreaking lesson that every child should learn. (Check out Tomi's version if you've never seen it before...)


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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Watchwords of Liberty

Watchwords of Liberty
Robert Lawson ~ Little Brown, 1943

As today is the date that will live in infamy, I thought I'd share a bit of Americana I picked up at the library yesterday. Written and illustrated by Robert Lawson (the man behind The Story of Ferdinand), Watchwords of Liberty is a collections of essays written around famous quotes from American History. Chock full of inspirational battle cries and momentous moments in the founding of our nation, the book is also sprinkled with all sorts of interested yet dated political agendas. When Lawson writes on REMEMBER PEARL HARBOR, it's obvious the man was NOT a FDR fan.

In doing a wee bit of research of Lawson and the book, I read that he (along with a medley of famous and later-famous artists) were camouflage painters in France during WWI, and that strand of Internet wisdom led me to the fascinating art of "dazzle painting" ships during war.

But, of course, I digress.

Here you will find eloquent observations (accompanied by Lawson's stellar pen and ink drawings) on such illustrious quotes as...

We hold these truths to be self-evident, -- that all men were created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. ~ Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, 1776

I would rather be right than president. ~ Henry Clay, 1850

That these dead shall not have died in vain... that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. ~ Abraham Lincoln from the Gettysburg Address, 1863

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. ~ Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933

What strikes me about this book is really the idea of saying something important and meaningful in a time of need, and this is expressed beautifully in the forward where Lawson writes:

In searching through the words of our great men we find that one fact stands out strikingly. Though many of their sayings were born of war, nowhere in the words of our most honored fighting men does one find a trace of hate or venom. There is determination, but behind it lies sorrow and regret. Grant, the ruthless bulldog in combat, gave Lee's defeated armies the most generous and kindly terms; said, "Let us have peace." Sherman, who blazed a path of desolation from Atlanta to the sea, said, "War is hell." Lee, whose magnificent generalship tore the Union armies into bloody distraction, prayed for the enemy each night, counseled his ruined and embittered people to "bury contention with the war".

Men of smaller mind, in both war and peace, have screamed bitterness and vengeance-- their words and their memories have died away. The words that speak sublime courage, sacrifice, devotion to the right, live on.

Words to live by in every situation. And though every country's history is often distorted in the eyes of those remembering, one thing is clear. If you say one, true thing in the moment, the meaning will last.


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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Donkey Ride

The Donkey Ride
Jean B. Showalter ~ Tomi Ungerer ~ Doubleday, 1967

An Ungerer take on the classic tale of the miller, his son and the donkey. Wherein a miller and his son toting a load to market on their trusty ass meet stranger after stranger with no qualms about making their load weightier with criticism.

This morning, after they had been walking along the road for an hour or so, they passed a woman standing in her yard with a fat little baby.

"Good day, madam," said the man. "It is pleasant with the sun melting the dew, is it not?" He tipped his hat most cordially.

"Good day indeed!" snorted the woman. "Pleasant indeed! The sun is fairly scorching the dew, and here you are making that poor boy walk. Doubtless he is nearly faint with heat and thirst, and you, sir, should be ashamed of yourself!" And the woman stalked into the house.

Next thing you know, the boy is riding. When they happen upon another man who guilts the boy into allowing his father to ride. After another quip, they both are riding, until at last they, themselves, are actually carrying the donkey.

You can imagine that doesn't end well, and the moral is revealed... You can't please everybody, and some people are never satisfied. Here, here.

Also by:
I Am Papa Snap and These Are My Favorite No Such Stories
The Mellops Strike Oil
Zarelda's Ogre
Seeds and More Seeds
The Three Robbers
Moon Man
Orlando The Brave Vulture
Christmas Eve at the Mellops'
The Beast of Monsieur Racine
Book of Various Owls
The Hat
Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls
The Mellops Go Spelunking


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Monday, December 5, 2011

The Great Holiday Give winners

I want to thank everyone again for commenting and going out for The Great Holiday Give. Unfortunately, there can only be five winners, so here goes!

Time at the Top & All in Good Time goes to Katie

Something for Christmas goes to Meghan

Kangaroo for Christmas goes to HEC

Professor Wormbog goes to karichuckroryskylar

Christmas Eve at the Mellops goes to Elizabeth

Congrats everyone and send me your info to webe(at)soon(dot)come so I can get them out to you right away!

I am taking a break from the Great Monday Give until after Christmas, so it will return on Monday, January 2. Simply too much to do in the meantime. That said, if you haven't yet read enchanting The Invention of Hugo Cabaret to your child, get cracking. It's the first novel to have ever won a Caldecott Medal, and it is a masterpiece. Then see the movie. It was lovely, and preceded by an advert for my son's new favorite thing, Tin Tin. We are starting on volume four now, and the boy is mad for it... Perfect timing.

Also, if you weren't around this weekend and didn't get a chance to take a look at my interview with Eric Rohmann, check it out now. Happy Monday, all!


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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Meet Eric Rohmann: Part Two

Meet Eric Rohman continued from yesterday, part of our new weekend contemporary author's series...

VKBMKL: I love that many of your books feature anthropomorphic characters and star animals. My son fell in love with creatures before anything else, as I feel many children do if given the chance. In particular, he’s clung to birds so, of course, he loved your Caldecott-honor winning Time Flies. Is there a personal reason why you turn to animals for inspiration?

ERIC: I have always had a fondness for animals. I had childhood pets, spent a great deal of my time crawling through swamps, turning over logs and watching the sky for any living thing. When I got older, I had the idea of becoming a marine biologist (in Illinois), a zookeeper or a veterinarian. So it makes some sense that animals find their way into my books. Then again, perhaps I make picture books because it allows me to write stories about animals. I mean, what other art form uses animals as characters as much as kids' books?

VKBMKL: Was there a moment when you knew you wanted to draw for children?

ERIC: I have always made pictures that told stories. Not landscapes or portraits, but narrative pictures. When I had the chance to teach kids I knew they were the audience I wanted to work for.

VKBMKL: A few of your books have a spooky undertone, like the delightful Bone Dog and your previous Pumpkinhead. I believe children are naturally drawn to the strange and sometimes macabre, particularly when it is presented with a softer edge, like your books.

What kinds of reactions have you gotten from children about Bone Dog, the story of a friendship that transcends death?

ERIC: Children are such a great audience because they are willing to suspend reality and go along for the ride. With Bone Dog, some adults have commented that it may be too scary for kids--without actually realizing that kids do not share this thought. Kids are willing to suspend disbelief, but they know that it’s still a book.

Besides, I do not leave the reader with the “scary” part but in the end have tried to make them laugh and feel something about Gus and Ella’s friendship.

VKBMKL: You talk about the theme of loss and longing in other interviews, particularly when talking about Bone Dog. For me, what makes people look back so fondly on a children’s book is that nostalgic loss. That feeling of remembering the wonders of childhood and always hoping to return to it, even though you can’t go home again. Is there anything from your childhood that you pine for?

ERIC: I think I feel that way about many things, but as an adult I approach my longing and nostalgia with wariness. When we look back we see what we want to see and so I have a healthy mistrust of memory. Having said that, I tap into memory in every book. I can’t say the events are true, but the feelings are. There is sometimes a difference between fact and truth.

VKBMKL: I often wonder about 40, 50, even 100 years from now, when the world has gone totally digital (ha!) and like-minded people are still scouring the bookshelves looking for lost treasures. When someone picks up Time Flies what’s something you hope they’ll see in it?

ERIC:The books I care most about inspire me to make more books and so I hope that the my books will encourage kids to tell their own stories.

Thanks again for joining us Eric! If you wanna learn more about Eric and his work, read his books A Kitten Tale or The Last Song or read the Seven Impossible Things interview or visit his website. Happy Sunday all!


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