Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Blueberries for Sal

July is National Blueberry Month!

If any fruit deserves its own special month of honorable recognition, this little blue beauty certainly does. Native to North America, blueberries are grown in 35 out of the 50 states which means that the United States supplies roughly 95% of the entire world's crop!  With flavors ranging from puckery tart to mildly sweet, blueberries are in their prime in the month of July.  And as they are full of vitamins, fiber and antioxidants, they definitely make the healthy food list.

My little darling Emmy has an aversion to certain textures in food and blueberries are not often her fruit of choice.  However, when given the opportunity to pick her own, Emmy is much more likely to try new fruits. Fortunately for us, there are many farms in our area that offer pick-your-own so blueberry picking is one of our summer traditions.  
Before Emmy and I head out to our favorite local farm (Cider Hill Farm) to pick our own blueberries, we read Robert McCloskey's book Blueberries for Sal. This story is a classic as it has been enjoyed by generations of children and is still popular today. The endearing illustrations, rendered in dark blue ink reminiscent of the stain made by blueberries, was recognized with a Caldecott Honor in 1949.
McCloskey tells two stories side-by-side in this book, one of a little girl named Sal and her mother, who are picking wild blueberries to can for the winter, and another of a little bear cub and his mother, who are eating wild blueberries to prepare for winter hibernation. Sal's and Little Bear's paths eventually cross and then each follows the wrong mother around Blueberry Hill.  When I share this book with Emmy, her favorite part of the story is always the sound that the berries make when they hit Sal's small tin bucket "kuplink, kuplnak, kuplunk!" This sound is what makes Little Bear's mother aware that her bear cub is not behind her.  


Something else that I enjoy about this story is its old fashioned concepts.  Emmy and I talked at length about the end papers of the book that showed a 1940's kitchen and the process of canning fruit.  I know that there are those that continue the tradition of canning in their home, but it is not something that is recognizable in Emmy's or my life.  
After reading the story, Emmy and I were definitely craving a fresh pail of blueberries of our own so off we went to the farm on a very hot day!  
Emmy was thrilled with the picking, but sad that the bucket we received at the farm didn't make the same sound as Sal's tin bucket.  She did eat quite a few berries right off of the bush, but there was no convincing her that this should be a favorite fruit.  As for me, I ate many more berries than what I added to the bucket!  Overall, the pick-your-own experience was a great time for both us and one that we will repeat.

When Emmy was younger, we very much enjoyed watching many of our favorite picture books come to life through the Scholastic Video Collection.  If you have the opportunity, look for the DVD Make Way for Ducklings...and More Robert McCloskey Stories.  Included are the stories Make Way for Ducklings, Blueberries for Sal, Time of Wonder, Lentil and Burt Dow, Deep Water Man.  Although not animated as the other stories in the DVD series, the narration and music makes it a nice addition to the classic McCloskey stories.  

Emmy and I are such HUGE fans of Robert McCloskey and we hope that his post inspires others to pick up his books and read them.  We have a wonderful treasury of McCloskey classics titled Make Way for McCloskey - A Robert McCloskey Treasury that has 8 complete stories, including Blueberries for Sal, with an introduction by Leonard S. Marcus as well as photographs and original drawings by the author.

If you would like more of McCloskey, then check out our review of another one of his classics Make Way for Ducklings.  Also, look for One Morning in Maine which is considered to be a sequel to Blueberries for Sal.

To continue to inspire all things blueberry, Emmy and I would also recommend the following books:

Blueberry Mouse by Alice Low

More Blueberries by Susan Musgrave

Peter in Blueberry Land by Elsa Beskow

And if you have any blueberries left after picking, there are many delicious treats that can be made, but since Emmy loves putting syrup on her pancakes and waffles (of course freshly picked blueberries can be added to these as well), I thought we might try this simple recipe for Blueberry Syrup!

1/2 cup sugar                      1/4 cup water
1/4 cup light corn syrup     1 tbs cornstarch
2 tsp lemon juice                2 cups of blueberries

Stir together all ingredients in a large microwave safe bowl.  Microwave on full power 5 minutes. Stir and serve warm.  

Blueberry Deliciousness!

Friday, December 11, 2015

A Visit With Jan Brett

Emmy and I had the pleasure of meeting Jan Brett in Portsmouth, New Hampshire during her eighteen day cross country book tour. Jan was promoting her new book The Turnip, but to Emmy and me, she was promoting the love of books and art.  Watching the tour bus pull into the parking lot was so much fun.  We imagined traveling on this large bus with the gorgeous illustrations painted on the exterior and wondered what people's reactions were when they saw it on the road.
When Jan Brett stepped up onto the stage, the excitement in the crowd was electric.  Seeing not only the children's faces light up, but also the adult's faces is a true testament to this woman's work as an artist.  Jan's depictions of animals and human cultures are full of colorful detail.  Through her extensive travels (from Scandinavia to Africa), Jan is able to vividly create artwork that makes the reader of her books feel as if they could walk right into the book page.  As a matter of fact, Jan herself has said in several interviews that she keeps on painting until she can hear the sounds, smell the smells, and feel how soft the fur of the animal is.  She has said that it takes her an hour to draw an inch!

Emmy and I were so grateful to Jan Brett for taking the time to connect with the audience through her quiet storytelling and drawing demonstration.  Watching the Badger Girl come to life right before our eyes was absolutely amazing.


It was through Jan's travels in Russia, as well as a simple carved wooden toy of three people and a bear pulling up a turnip given to her by a friend, that the retelling of the story The Turnip was realized.  For a more detailed review of this beautifully illustrated book, check out our previous post HERE.

Luckily for us, Jan brought back a pair of birch bark shoes from Russia and has been sharing them on her tour. These shoes served as a model for the shoes worn by the badger characters in the story. She also had a surprise for us...her beloved Dutch Bantams also came along on the tour ~ Rueben her rooster and Rilke her hen!   Here is something new that we learned about Jan Brett ~ she raises chickens for show!  She has been reading tons of books about poultry genetics to try to better understand the color patterns found on chickens.

There are so many wonderful retellings of this classic folk tale, some better than others.  Emmy and I enjoyed Jan's take on this story especially with the addition of the bear family under the ground.  We hope you will pick up a copy of The Turnip to see what you think of Jan's version.

Thank you, Jan Brett, for sharing your passion with us!  
Emmy will never forget your kind words to keep her creative spirit always.  

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Costumes Inspired by Children's Books - Part Two

In my last post I shared how book characters can become very creative costumes for Halloween or for Children's Book Week.  Since that time, I sat down with my little reader and asked her to remember some of her favorite picture book characters and then we discussed which of these characters would make interesting costumes.  Here are seven of Emmy's choices:

1)  Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson

Emmy has always loved the adventures that Harold went on through his purple drawings.  She said that this costume would be easy to put together. "Well, just get a white shirt and draw on it with a purple fabric marker and then carry a purple crayon around with you." Here is a really cute image that I found on the  web that shows how this could become a family costume.

2) Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola 

Strega Nona has been a favorite character of Emmy's for a long time.  When she was very little and we were cooking butter noodles or spaghetti for dinner, she would always say "Enough, enough pasta pot!" and would blow three kisses into our magic pasta pot.  Emmy suggests wearing a long dress with an apron, a scarf on your head and carrying a pot with yarn for noodles. Here is the most adorable image of this costume idea!
3)  A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond

The friendly bear from deepest, darkest Peru with his battered suitcase and duffle coat would make a super cute costume according to Emmy.  Grab a blue coat, a red hat and a some sort of suitcase and you are all set.  Oh, don't forget to pack a marmalade sandwich!"  Here are two inspiring images for this fun costume.  

4)  The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch

I love this book for its portrayal of a strong girl character who just happens to be a princess.  Emmy loves the reversal of the princess and the prince role.  After the prince tells the girl to go home and come back when she looks more like a princess, Emmy would always exclaim quite loudly,  "That Ronald is a real bum!  I'm glad Elizabeth didn't marry him."  I agree!  Here is Emmy's advice on how to create a Princess Elizabeth costume:  wear a white or black long sleeved shirt and leggings then get a large brown grocery bag and cut out holes for your head and your arms and wear this over your clothes, be sure to make a princess crown out of yellow paper. Check out this cute image! 

5)  Olivia by Ian Falconer

When Emmy was little, we would read the book Olivia over and over again. Her favorite page was the one that showed Olivia getting dressed in all of her red outfits.  Whenever Emmy wore red she would claim to be Olivia.  If you are interested in this costume then Emmy suggests to get a headband and attach pig ears, paint your nose with a pink circle and two black slots to look like a snout, then wear black and white striped leggings, a red dress, black shoes and be sure to accessorize with a red bow and a red pair of sunglasses! Here's a picture for inspiration.

6)  Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina
Emmy would laugh and laugh at the monkeys in this book.  She loved to repeat the sound that the monkeys made and could often be found putting all of her hats on her head and saying rather loudly, "Caps, caps for sale.  Fifty cents a cap!"  Here is Emmy's idea of how to become the peddler in this story - wear grey pants and a black jacket with a bow tie, stack as many hats as you can on top of your head (use safety pins to attach them together), draw a mustache above your upper lip and carry a stuffed monkey or two around with you.

7) The Jolly Postman by Allan and Janet Ahlberg

Delivering mail was always one of Emmy's favorite activities when she was little.  She would find one of my purses and put it on like a mail bag and fill it with papers that she had drawn on.  She would then pretend to deliver the mail all over the house.  After we read The Jolly Postman, her play became a retelling of this story as she created letters to nursery rhyme and fairy tale characters and delivered them "all across fairy tale land" as she called it.  Emmy suggests that you wear a big blue coat or shirt, a red and white striped scarf, a blue hat and boots.  Be sure to fill a mail bag with letters and maybe even walk your bike with you!  Here is a photo that should get your creative juices going.  

We hope that you are inspired by our book character costumes and would love to hear your ideas, too!  Leave a comment and let's see if we can grow this list of costume ideas!