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:

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Amazing Sunflowers

"Keep your face to the sunshine 
and you cannot see the shadow.  
It's what sunflowers do." 
Helen Keller

Emmy and I recently explored an amazing sunflower field at Colby Farm in Newbury, MA. This field is planted annually and tended to by the Colby family.  The sunflowers were absolutely gorgeous.  Emmy couldn't believe how tall the flowers were and how many of them were in the field. We estimated in the 1,000's.  There were so many honey bees busy at work collecting pollen to take back to their hives and beautiful butterflies resting on the sunny heads of the flowers. We spent a long time exploring this field taking in the beauty and relishing the quiet.

After our visit, I was inspired to show Emmy Vincent Van Gogh's paintings of sunflowers.  This allowed us to talk about Van Gogh's technique of using vibrant colors and swirling brush strokes (post-impressionism) as well as still life painting.  Emmy and I will be working on our own still life paintings of a vase of sunflowers and will share them at a later time.
Still Life: Vase With Twelve Sunflowers 1888

Emmy has always been interested in Van Gogh's paintings especially his most famous work The Starry Night (1889).  In a previous post, I talked about how we kept a picture frame in Emmy's bedroom that held a different postcard each week of a famous painting. She always wanted The Starry Night to be in the frame.  With our renewed interest in Van Gogh, we decided to check out a book about Van Gogh from our library.  I had learned of a series of books by Laurence Anholt (Anholt's Artists Books For Children) that focused on stories of real children who had actually met famous artists. There are nine books in the series and we would like to read them all, but we began with Van Gogh and the Sunflowers.  This story focuses on Van Gogh's time spent in Arles, France. A young boy named Camille befriends Van Gogh when he moves into the yellow house at the end of his street.  Camille brought sunflowers to his new friend and watched him paint.  Others in the town thought that Van Gogh was odd and that Vincent and his paintings didn't fit in with the town.  Emmy and I appreciated Camille's father's explanation,
"People often laugh at things that are different, 
but I've got a feeling that one day 
they will learn to love Vincent's paintings." 
Not only are Anholt's illustrations wonderful to look at, but the book also includes reproductions of works by Vincent Van Gogh.   For another recommendation of a book about art, check out this post.  

A wonderful book celebrating sunflowers is Eve Bunting's Sunflower House.  This story shares the lifecycle of the sunflower beginning with a boy planting sunflower seeds into a circle which creates a sunflower playhouse to the flowers wilting and the seeds dropping to the ground.  The story is told in rhyming verse and the illustrations, by Kathryn Hewitt (who also illustrated Bunting's book Flower Garden), are exquisite. Emmy's favorite part is when the boy and his friends sleep in the sunflower house.  She is determined that she will plant a similar house and have her friends over to sleep among the giant flowers.  

Whenever the topic of gardening with children comes up, I always suggest Sharon Lovejoy's books as resources. In her book, Sunflower Houses: A Book for Children and their Grown-Ups, the pages are filled with terrific suggestions of flowers to plant and projects to make and also with Lovejoy's beautiful drawings and whimsical poems. I remember making clover chains and firefly lanterns when I was a child.  I also remember picking dandelions for my mom. Emmy and I enjoy stringing dandelions together to make crowns to wear and bouquets to give.  Gardening is not something that is easy for us as we live in an apartment building in town, but I am determined to create an indoor garden with Emmy.  If you are interested in other books about gardening, check out the following posts:

Here's a song that Emmy and I have been enjoying since our visit to the sunflower field...
Sunflower ~ written by Neil Diamond and recorded by Glen Campbell in 1977.