Monday, March 29, 2010

Some Passover Tales to Consider

Monday night is the first night of Passover, and Jews around the world will gather together to celebrate and tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. There are many wonderful books out there for families to read together. Here are a few books you might want to consider (in order from the youngest readers to the oldest).

My First Passover Board Book (My 1st Board Books)
Published by: DK Preschool
Recommended Ages: 4-8

Even though you typically think of board books as books for the youngest readers (2 and 3 year olds), this one is packed with information much more suited for a slightly older child. My First Passover Board Book is a very comprehensive book about Passover, with lots of text and beautiful photos. It includes the story of the Exodus from Egypt, describes the seder and the symbolic significance of the food, explains chametz and even has a song page to practice Ma Nishtana. If you have children in this age range and can only buy one book, this is a good one to start your library.

The Matzah That Papa Brought Home (Passover Titles)

Written by: Fran Manushkin
Illustrated by: Ned Bittinger
Recommended Ages: 4-7

This is a beautifully illustrated book that young and old will appreciate. In rollicking verse (reminiscent of the Had Gadya song), the story of Passover is told while a family is sitting down and sharing the seder. Anyone who has ever participated in a seder with mixed ages will appreciate this lively rendition of the Passover story. Plus the illustrations really are works of art.

Too Many Cooks: A Passover Parable

Written by: Edie Stoltz Zolkower
Illustrated by: Shauna Mooney Kawasaki
Recommended Ages: 4-7

This is a fun book that shows all of the preparation that goes into getting ready for a seder. All of the family is gathered as they prepare for the big meal. It's a lively read, and one that enhances the story of Passover. Perfect for a family that wants to add a Passover book to their growing collection.

Matzah Ball: A Passover Story

Written by: Mindy Avra Portnoy
Illustrated by: Katherine Janus Kahn
Recommended Ages: 4-8

Matzah Ball
tells the story of a boy who is not very pleased when he's told by his mom that he has to bring his kosher-for-Passover lunch to the Major League ball game he's going to with his teammates. He's even less happy when his friends eat all his matzah and then go off to the concession stand. Suddenly an old man appears and tells him the story of his youth when he used to go to Ebbets field during Passover. It's a great story for kids and addresses some of the difficult choices one has to make as a Jew in a very age-appropriate way. The fact that it's also about baseball is an added plus for sports' fans.

Passover Around the World

Written by: Tami Lehman-Wilzig
Illustrated by: Elizabeth Wolf
Recommended Ages: 7-10

This book shows how Jews celebrate Passover in eight different countries: U.S., Gibralter, Ethiopia, Morocco, Turkey, Israel, India and Iran. There is a map of each country, and a brief history telling when and how the Jews settled there. The illustrations are eye-catching and families will enjoy learning the different traditions. A big plus are the recipes from around the world. It would be fun to incorporate one or two new traditions and recipes in your seder each year.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Penderwicks

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy (Penderwicks (Quality))

Written By: Jeanne Birdsall
Recommended Ages: 8-12

The Penderwicks is exactly the kind of book I would have loved as a little girl. It has unique characters, an intriguing setting and an air of mystery about it. It stars four sisters and their devoted, but conveniently absent, father as they go on a three-week vacation to a rented cottage in the country. The book has a fun, old-fashioned feel to it that makes it a timeless story. I think it would be a perfect read-aloud for a family or classroom to share together.

The Penderwick sisters and their father arrive at their rented country cottage for a three-week holiday. They are amazed to discover that the "cottage" is much bigger than they thought, and is part of a much larger estate--Arundel--which houses the very rich and "interesting boy" of the title. The personalities of each girl is introduced and developed early on throughout the book. There's twelve-year-old Rosalind, who is motherly to her sisters and on the verge of adolescence. Eleven-year-old Skye is headstrong and opinionated, with a penchant for doing and saying exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time. Ten-year-old Jane is the dreamer, who is often caught fantasizing about the next story in the adventure book she's writing. Finally there's shy Batty, the four-year-old with no memory of her mother, who wears butterfly wings and talks to the family dog.

During the course of the three-week holiday, the girls explore Arundel and have little adventures along the way. They meet the teenage boy who helps with the gardens, and Rosalind develops her first crush. They also form a strong friendship with Jeffrey, the young master of Arundel, who has an intimidating, unpleasant mother. She, along with a doltish fiancee, wants to send him away to a military school. What enfolds is a series of mini-adventures, funny moments, and mostly believable situations that kids will relate to.

As I mentioned before, Birdsall does a nice job developing each of the girls. It's one of the strengths of the book. They are three-dimensional characters, with unique personalities. I found their relationship with one other to be loving and realistic. One moment they are furious with each other and the next moment they're the best of friends. They call emergency MOPS (meeting of Penderwick Sisters) to discuss the various predicaments they find themselves in. The adults are fairly peripheral to the story, even in the case of Jeffrey's evil mom. Yes, she's one-dimensional, and yes you won't like her (or her dreadful fiancee). But it's what the girls do to help Jeffrey that will warm your heart and keep you turning the pages. For the Penderwick sisters are the reason you read the book; and in the end, it's the sisters you care about. I am happy to report that a sequel came out in 2008 called The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, and it's supposed to be equally as wonderful.

BookNosher Tidbit:
The Penderwicks won the National Book Award in 2005.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Picture Book about Jacob Lawrence

Story Painter: The Life of Jacob Lawrence

Written by: John Duggleby
Paintings by: Jacob Lawrence
Recommended Ages: 9-12

Welcome to Nonfiction Monday! Last week I wrote a post about two Diego Rivera books, and today I'm reviewing a Jacob Lawrence book. Personally, I think picture book biographies about artists serve as wonderful introductions to kids about artists, the art they create and the world they live in.

Story Painter: The Story of Jacob Lawrence
is a fairly comprehensive biography of Jacob Lawrence. The book begins by describing the setting that Lawrence was born into in 1917. His parents, like many other African-Americans, left the South to move to the North where they felt there was more opportunity. Unfortunately work was scarce, and for years his family shuffled between Atlantic City, Easton, and Philadelphia in search of employment. Finally when he was 13, they settled in Harlem--a place that in young Jake's mind was "the heart of the African-American world." And while he struggled in school, it was in an after-school program called the Utopia Children's House that young Jake began to emerge as an artist.

Lawrence spent his teen years working on his technique at the Utopia Children's House under the guidance of Charles Alston, who early on recognized the young man's talent. He also regularly attended lectures at the local YMCA where he began to learn about the rich and troubled history of African-Americans, a theme that continually emerged in Lawrence's paintings throughout his long life.

In Story Painter, Duggleby writes about Lawrence's life from his time in Harlem as a teenager through his participation in President Jimmy Carter's inauguration. There are 25 full-color reproductions from his Migration series, Touissant L'Overture, Harriet and the Promised Land and others. Lawrence was known for being a storyteller, and this is evident in all of his paintings. Whether he was telling the story of the Underground Railroad (Harriet and the Promised Land series) or the migration of African-Americans from the South to the North (Migration of the Negro series), Lawrence painted stories that would appeal to everyone. There are also accompanying photographs and quotes from contemporaries like Langston Hughes and Martin Luther King that help frame the story. In Story Painter: The Life of Jacob Lawrence, the flowing, easy-to-read text and bold, vibrant paintings create a natural partnership that give us a glimpse into the life of an important 20th century artist.

BookNosher Activity: The Whitney Museum has a lesson plan on the art and life of Jacob Lawrence for grades 4-6. "Students will understand cultural perspectives in art through study of and understanding of the work of Jacob Lawrence. Based on that understanding, students will create artwork by developing ideas in a sketchbook, and use those ideas to create a series of drawings which tell the story of a special event in their lives." For more information, please visit their website.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Two Picture Books about Diego Rivera

Here are two picture book biographies about the famous Mexican artist/muralist Diego Rivera. Both books are written in both Spanish and English, and focus on different areas of his life. For kids who like biographies and/or have an interest in art, these books should pique their interest.

My Papa Diego and Me/Mi papa Diego y yo: Memories of My Father and His Art/Recuerdos de mi padre y su arte

Written by: Guadalupe Rivera Marin
Illustrated by: Diego Rivera
Recommended Ages: 7-10

My Papa Diego and Me is written by Diego Rivera's daughter-Guadalupe Rivera Marin-lending a nice personal touch to the biography. Marin has gathered 13 of her father's paintings and written her own recollections of them. The artwork, as you might imagine, is lush and colorful and does a wonderful job introducing Diego Rivera's work to young readers. Marin's narrative gives us a glimpse into rural Mexican life at the turn of the century. Here's an example where she describes a drawing of a cover of a book called Fermin.

My father created this drawing for the cover of a book called Fermin. This book was used in rural schools of Mexico. It told the story of Fermin, the boy you see in the center of the drawing.

Fermin was a peasant boy who worked hard in the hot sun of the countryside. He went to school, read books about history, and eventually became a revolutionary leader. The story of Fermin was very important to my father. He wanted to show that all children, even those who grow up with very little, can become leaders. (p. 14)

The endplates on My Papa Diego and Me feature one of his most famous murals-Sueno de una tarde dominical en la Alameda. In it you see Diego as a young boy with an adult Frida Kahlo standing directly behind him. There are also some very sweet photographs of Diego and his daughter.


Written by: Jeanette Winter
Illustrated by: Jonah Winter
Recommended Ages: 5-10

Diego is a much more straightforward biography that focuses on Diego Rivera's early life. The sentences are clear and concise, so that early readers will be able to follow along. We learn that he showed artistic promise at an early age, and that his parents supported him in his endeavors. Little things that happened to him as a child are described and give us an idea of his early childhood influences.

Diego didn't like everything he saw. That's why he helped the poor people fight their war for equality. They were fighting for fair wages and a better life. Diego loved his people more than anything, almost...
The thing he loved most was painting.

The illustrations are done in bold, vivid colors, and are very reminiscent of Rivera's style. If you want to expose young readers to art, both of these books will do that and more. Their world will open up with the story and art of Diego Rivera.

BookNosher Activity: After reading about Diego Rivera, kids might want to attempt to paint or draw their own murals. I recently came across a website called Art Projects for Kids that has some really terrific templates of murals for sale for $5. This particular one focuses on Haiti, although there are many other templates available that are described off to the right.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

National Ambassador for Young People's Literature

Did you know that we have a National Ambassador for Young People's Literature? You might not have known this since this venerable position was just created in 2008 by the Library of Congress, the Children's Book Council and the Library of Congress's Center for the Book. What exactly does an ambassador do? According to their website: "The National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature raises national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education and the development and betterment of the lives of young people."

The first ambassador was Jon Scieszka. He did an admirable (and often hilarious) job traveling the country and talking about something near and dear to many of us--children's books. If you are familiar with Jon Scieszka (The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, Knights of the Kitchen Table (Time Warp Trio)and Robot Zot!) you know, that he is a funny guy. I had the opportunity to see him twice during his tenure, and he brought just the right amount of hilarity and gravitas to the position. His mission was (and still is) to get boys to love reading, and in fact, he created a whole website called Guys Read. Check it out. It's got some really wonderful book recommendations that are geared towards boys. This isn't to say that girls aren't going to love these books too, but research tells us that it's often harder to get boys to pick up books. Scieszka has done a good job compiling a list of books that are geared towards making life-long readers out of boys.

Scieszka's term was up at the end of 2009 and there was a lot of discussion about who the next ambassador would be. In January, Katherine Paterson was appointed as the second National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, and she is bringing her own style to the position. Her slogan for the program is "read for your life." She recently wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Daily News, which I think is worth reading. She talks about the role of technology, and gives us hope that books (especially children's books) will prevail. Here's the article.

Katherine Paterson is the author of Bridge to Terabithia (one of my favorites, which I will blog about soon), The Great Gilly Hopkins (a wonderful, difficult book about a child in the foster care system), Jacob Have I Loved and many, many others. Her newest book is called The Day of the Pelican and deals with a Muslim immigrant family in the aftermath of 9/11. Paterson's books don't shy away from difficult subjects, and are often read over and over again. I'm very excited to see what she brings to the most venerable position of children's lit ambassador. Here's a calendar of her speaking engagements in the coming year.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

Written by: Phillip Hoose
Recommended Ages: 12 and up

Last year, when I started The Book Nosher, I had to make a decision about what books I was going to review. I decided to focus on picture books through middle grade, and not delve into young adult novels. There were just too many of them, and I had to draw the line somewhere. Today, however, I am going to write about the young adult book Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice. It is just too compelling and important a book to leave out. And while I'm not suggesting that kids younger than 12 read it (unless with a parent or teacher), I do think it's an important book for middle-schoolers on up to read.

Nine months before Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her bus seat in Montgomery Alabama, teenager Claudette Colvin also refused to give up her seat on a crowded Montgomery city bus. She was arrested and dragged off the bus. But Civil Rights Leaders thought her youth, class and somewhat volatile temperament didn't make her an ideal candidate to become the poster child for organizing a mass boycott of the Montgomery bus system. So she was left with a police record, shunned by many of her high school classmates, and a few months later ended up pregnant. Yet Colvin's story is extraordinary, and readers will appreciate the courage it took for her (a mere teenager) to take a stance against segregation.

Through a series of interviews with Colvin (who now lives in the Bronx), Hoose brings her story alive and shows us what it was like to be black in the 1950's in the South. The daily humiliations that she and all blacks faced were truly despicable. It's important for young readers to understand the role that the vile Jim Crow laws played on a day-to-day basis. For example, kids weren't allowed to try on shoes in a store, instead parents would have to take a traced outline of their child's foot into the store. By understanding the climate that Claudette Colvin grew up in, we understand when she finally has had enough, and refused to leave her seat:

"Rebellion was on my mind that day. All during February we had been talking about people who take stands. We had been studying the Constitution in Miss Nesbitt's class. I knew I had rights. I had paid my fare the same as white passengers. I knew the rule--that you didn't have to get up for a white person if there were no empty seats left on the bus--and there weren't. But it wasn't about that. I was thinking, Why should I have to get up just because a driver tells me to, or just because I'm black? Right then, I decided I wasn't gonna take it anymore. I hadn't planned it out, but my decision was built on a lifetime of nasty experiences." (page 30)

Hoose has supplemented the engrossing text with photographs and newspaper clippings of the period. There are sidebars throughout the book, which further illuminate and enhance the story. We learn that Claudette served as one of the four plaintiffs in the Federal lawsuit Browder v. Gayle, the case that eventually abolished segregated bus seating in Alabama. And even though history forgot the role that she played in the Montgomery Bus boycott, Hoose has introduced Claudette Colbert to a new generation who will applaud her efforts. She serves as a reminder that one person can make a difference, no matter your age.

BookNosher Tidbit: Phillip Hoose won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature for Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice. It was also a Newbery Honor book for 2010.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Rabbit's Gift

Rabbit's Gift

Written by: George Shannon
Illustrated by: Laura Dronzek
Recommended Ages: 3-7

This is a wonderful picture book that shows the beauty of giving in a way that even the youngest of readers will appreciate. Based on an ancient folktale, which possibly originated in China, this story nestles its way into your heart leaving you with a warm feeling after you've closed the book.

The story begins with Rabbit in search of food on a cold and snowy day. He soon finds two turnips, and he rolls them home. As he nibbles away on one, his thoughts turn to his friend Donkey, and he wonders if she has enough to eat. So he pushes the turnip up the hill to Donkey's house and leaves it by the front door. As he leaves, his tracks are covered up by the falling snow. When donkey discovers the turnip, she realizes that she has enough to eat, but perhaps Goat doesn't, and she decides to bring the turnip to him. The story goes on like this, with each animal gifting the turnip to another animal friend. The turnip is eventually returned-full circle-to Rabbit, who knows exactly what to do with it. The last picture shows Rabbit, Donkey, Goat and Deer sharing the turnip.

The illustrations by Dronzek are simple and engaging. There's just enough detail so that even the youngest reader will be drawn to the page. One interesting thing she did is draw the Chinese symbol for each animal when they are first introduced.

But it's Shannon's telling of the story which is so pitch perfect. The language is refreshingly simple, making it a great read aloud. I can see that this will be one of those books that children will want to hear over and over and over again.

BookNosher Tidbit: In 2008, Rabbit's Gift was the recipient of the Washington State Book Award for Children.

Monday, March 1, 2010

We are the Ship

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball

Words and Paintings by: Kadir Nelson
Recommended Ages: 8 and up

Sitting down to write about We are the Ship, I am struck by the fact that I may not be able to do this book the justice it rightfully deserves. It is a big, beautiful tome that lovers of the game of baseball should add to their collection. It's an important book that captures the history of the Negro League, and leaves you wanting more. Our family owns Ken Burn's 18-hour documentary on baseball, and while I have seen it in its entirety twice, I am going to watch the section on the Negro Leagues again, just because it's such an important chapter in the history of America's game. Nelson has added his unique voice to the mix.

We are the Ship
tells the story of the Negro Leagues' inception in the 1920's, through its end when Jackie Robinson went over to the Majors in 1947. It has a foreword by Hank Aaron, which serves as a reminder that it really wasn't that long ago that black players weren't allowed to play in the Majors. While many of us remember when Aaron finally broke Babe Ruth's home run record in 1974, we may not know that he started off in the Negro Leagues playing for the Indianapolis Clowns. Aaron gives a moving tribute to the men in the Negro Leagues who paved the way for him and others.

We are the Ship is divided into nine innings (chapters) and is written in a breezy, narrative voice that begs to be read out loud. It's full of facts and personalities that leap out of the page at you. The first inning tells the story of Andrew "Rube" Foster who is credited with organizing the many Negro baseball teams that were already playing, into one league. He was determined to create a league that would be as good as, or better, than the Majors "so that when it came time to integrate professional baseball, Negroes would be ready." This was in the beginning of the 1920's.

Each chapter goes on like this, introducing us to the men who made up this amazing league. Yes, there are stories about players you have heard of (Satchel Page, Josh Gibson and Buck O'Neil), but there were so many more players that fill the pages of this book. The way they barnstormed around the country in old buses, showing up in small towns and playing in pastures, all for the love of the game.

Now a word about the pictures. This is the part where I'm not sure I can adequately convey the absolute beauty of the artwork. Nelson has managed to capture both the time and personalities of the period, in a way that is somewhat reminiscent of Norman Rockwell. What Nelson manages to do with his book is sweep you back into history so that you are right there with the players. You feel their hardships, the segregation and bigotry that surrounded them, and most of all their love for the game. It is his tribute to these outstanding men who played baseball their way, and it works. While this is children's book, I believe it's a book for anyone who has a love of baseball.

BookNosher Tidbit: We are the Ship was named the 2009 Coretta Scott King Book Award Recipient. I also discovered that there is a traveling exhibit of the 33 paintings and 13 sketches. Click here for more information.