Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Children of All Lands Stories

Baldface Books ~ Dover, NH
Just the other day I walked into a used bookstore and walked out with a treasure!  I discovered the author Madeline Brandeis and brought home one of her beautiful books Little John of New England from her series The Children of America Stories.  I would have liked to have brought home the entire collection found on the shelf as it also included books from her other series The Children of All Lands Stories, but the wallet only allowed for one this time around.

With a bit of research, Emmy and I learned that Madeline Brandeis wrote works of fiction about children from the United Stares and from Europe that were interspersed with facts about these areas.  Her inspiration for her writing about children from many lands came from reading books with her daughter Marie.  They realized that many of these books were written many years ago and didn't portray children in modern times.  With her daughter in tow, Ms. Brandeis took photographs on her reflex camera, nicknamed Ref, of the various regions as well as of actors who portrayed the characters she was writing about.  Marie offered important insight to her mother.  Brandeis said, "It was Marie who guided my footsteps along the right road towards child understanding while the trusty camera made possible the illustrations."

Although the books in Brandeis' series were written in the late 1920's and the 1930's, we still feel their relevance.  I chose to purchase the book Little John of New England since this is the area where we live. Emmy enjoyed hearing the story of John who lived in Boston, but was left to live with his Aunt and Uncle in Maine while his parents went on a "motor trip."  The story includes letters from John's mother telling of her New England adventures with his father.  Emmy and I were both thrilled whenever she talked about a place where we have been.  We both enjoyed John's relationship with the teacher at the one room country school.  Miss Wells helped John come up with a plan to keep his dog Pal close by when his Aunt and Uncle sent the dog away to live in town due to his mischievous behavior.

Whenever Emmy and I are in a second hand bookstore, we will look for Brandeis' books.  It will be like a scavenger hunt to us and when we find one, we will celebrate!  We hope that you, too, will look for her beautiful books especially if you are searching for interesting chapter books to read with your child.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Christmas Books

Advent Calendar with Emmy's
elf Graham Cracker
Opening book #1
As the seasons change, so do the books in the basket we keep in the living room.  We have collected books about autumn, winter, spring and summer.  As a holiday approaches, one of our favorite things to do is to display our collection of holiday books in a separate basket.  Last Christmas we decided to made an advent calendar using our books.  Emmy chose 24 books from our collection of Christmas books and then wrapped each one.  We numbered each book as we wrapped and put them into a basket in numerical order.  Each night we opened a book at bedtime and read it together as a family.  We enjoyed this advent calendar better than any other that we have tried and plan on doing the same thing this Christmas.

We recently added two new books to our Christmas collection and Emmy asked that I share them with you.  So here it goes...
Fletcher and the Snowflake Christmas by Julia Rawlinson illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke (2010)
Emmy and I first fell in love with Fletcher, or Ferdie as he is known in the United Kingdom, when we read Fletcher and the Falling Leaves. Rawlinson has created four Fletcher stories - one for each season.  Each of these stories about Fletcher and his forest friends has an underlying theme of true friendship and how giving brings just as much joy as receiving.

In the story Fletcher and the Snowflake Christmas, Fletcher is worried that Santa Claus will not be able to find the rabbit family's new home and so he works with his friends on creating a stick path leading from their old burrow to their new burrow. They are invited into the Rabbit's home to share blackberry pie and sing Christmas Carols.  While they are enjoying the Christmas Eve festivities, snowflakes begin to fall and the sticks are buried under the snow.  Fletcher worries all the way home and decides that there is only one thing a true friend would do - stay awake all night to tell Santa the news.  Fletcher settles down to wait but can't help falling fast asleep.

When Fletcher wakes up on Christmas morning and sees the gifts left for him under his tree, he rushes to the Rabbit's burrow to apologize only to find them opening their Christmas gifts.  Santa found his way!

A Christmas Tree for Pyn by Olivier Dunrea (2011)
It's no secret that Emmy and I LOVE Olivier Dunrea whose series of books about some adorable goslings are still read around our house (read our post about Ollie the Stomper).  We admire his illustrations that are simple yet full of emotion.  When we came across A Christmas Tree for Pyn, we knew that we had to add it to our Christmas book collection.  This book isn't about Santa Claus or presents, it's about the true emotion of the season ~ that Christmasy feeling that we all look for. With each rereading, this book endears itself to me and Emmy more and more.
Oother, and his small daughter Pyn, live in a cottage "on top of a steep, craggy mountain." Oother is a "big, gruff man" who doesn't say much and when he does, it usually sounds like this,"Umphf." Oother loves his daughter very much, but he is a "bearlike mountain man who did not soften for anyone.  Not even Pyn."  Pyn's "Good morning, Papa" is always followed by "My name is Oother."  And so she would correct herself and say "Good morning, Oother."  Pyn is cared for and is happy as is evident in the work she does around the cottage as Oother goes into the woods to work, but you can sense a loneliness admist the text and illustrations.  Dunrea enlightens us to this feeling when Oother thinks to himself, "How very much like her mother she is."  There is no mother around and it is now evident that Oother is still adjusting to her absence.  When Pyn suggests getting a Christmas tree, Oother gruffly responds, "No Christmas tree."  

With gentle determination, Pyn keeps asking until she gets a "We'll see." response.  Pyn finally sets out on her own to chop down a tree, but finds herself stuck in the snow.  Oother is there to rescue her and they then set off together to find the perfect tree. Emmy and I both love how Oother and Pyn bow their heads to give thanks to the tree before they cut it down.  Once the tree is home, Pyn dashes around the cottage finding all of the special things that she has been collecting from the forest (acorns, berries, abandoned birds' nests and birds' feathers) and adorns the tree with her treasures.  Reluctantly, Oother begins to help Pyn place the items amongst the tree branches and when they are finished they stare in amazement at their beautiful tree.  

The finishing touch...Oother goes into the cellar and brings up a small package and says "For your Christmas tree.  It belonged to your mother."  Inside the package is a beautiful handmade bird for the top of the tree.  Now that space has been made in their lives for Pyn's mother, Oother's heart softens and when Pyn thanks him "Thank you, Oother." He corrects her and says "My name's Papa."
Emmy admires Pyn's determination to bring a Christmas tree into her home and calls Oother "A big softy."

This very gentle reminder of the spirit of Christmas is just what Emmy and I need.  With all of the hustle and bustle, the meaning of Christmas is often forgotten.  We will pause and appreciate the beauty of the season from the twinkling lights to the smell of pine to the festive music.  And we will be mindful to bring peace and happiness to those that we meet.  With that thought, we will end this post with these words from Longfellow's poem Christmas Bells.

"I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thank You, Sarah

The pen is mightier than the sword."  
Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Emmy and I recently discovered a very persistent woman in history who helped to save Thanksgiving for all Americans - Sarah Josepha Hale.  This discovery was thanks to author Laurie Halse Anderson and her funny and inspirational book Thank You, Sarah The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving.  Anderson has written many children's and young adult books based on American history with an upcoming book in the works about one of her heroes Abigail Adams.  With lively illustrations by Matt Faulkner that often resemble caricatures, the story of Sarah Hale comes to life as a woman who means business.

"Way, way back, when skirts were long and hats were tall, Thanksgiving was fading away.  
Sure, the folks up in New England celebrated it.  They'd roast a turkey and invite 
the relatives when the harvest came in.  But not in the South, not in the West, 
not even in the Middle Atlantic states.  More and more, people ignored the holiday.  
Thanksgiving was in trouble.  It needed...A SUPERHERO!  No, not that kind.  
Thanksgiving needed a real superhero, someone bold and brave and stubborn and smart.  Thanksgiving needed Sarah Hale."  

I love the message that putting pen to paper is a way to create change by getting others to hear your point of view and perhaps persuade them to change their way of thinking.  It took Sarah Hale thirty-eight years and thousands of letters to persuade our top leaders to declare the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving.  Four presidents denied Hale's request, but not Abraham Lincoln.  In the year 1863, President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday.
If you are interested in reading Hale's letter to President Lincoln, you can find it here

And so Emmy and I give thanks this Thanksgiving to Sarah Hale for using her pen to stand up for what she believed in and creating change.  Sarah Hale's life has made a tremendous difference in the culture of our country.  Both Emmy and I have enjoyed getting to know who she was.  These are the facts that Emmy would like everyone to know:
*  She was the first American female magazine editor.  The Ladies' Magazine was where she published fashion, household and educational articles alongside poems and short stories that she wrote as well as some of the most famous authors of her day...Edgar Allan Poe, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Nathaniel Hawthorne to name a few.  She then went on to become editor for the magazine Godey's Lady's Book where she worked for forty years.
* She wrote the popular nursery rhyme Mary Had A Little Lamb in the year 1830 after a lamb followed one of her students to school one day.
* She pushed hard for the education of girls and for women's colleges and helped found Vassar College
* She strongly believed in play and physical education and helped to build playgrounds
* She raised money to preserve and build monuments honoring historical figures and events such as George Washington's Mount Vernon plantation and Bunker Hill in Boston, MA.

We both highly recommend the book Thank You, Sarah as it helped Emmy to realize that children have a great deal of influence.  By writing letters to the head of school, the city council, the mayor and newspaper editors, she can make her opinions heard and perhaps create change.

To give you a little taste of the book, here is Emmy reading the first few pages.  Enjoy!

To read our other posts about Thanksgiving click on the following: