Sunday, March 18, 2012

My Final Post: Tear Soup

It's been 18 months since I last wrote a review on The Book Nosher. Eighteen months without any explanation as to my silence. Only now do I feel I have the energy to explain the deep tragedy that happened to our family.

At the end of September of 2010, our oldest son Matthew phoned us from his university up in Bellingham to say that he had been quite sick and had been to the emergency room twice. They had ruled out various things, but he still wasn't feeling well. We decided to go up and get him, and thus began the most difficult three weeks of our lives. What initially masked itself as a severe case of pneumonia, was in fact a virulent form of strep that attacked his bi-cuspid aortic heart valve, which necessitated valve replacement surgery. But when they actually went in, they found the damage was far more extensive than they thought. And while Matthew survived the surgery (mostly due to his youth), he never regained consciousness. He spent the last week of his life in a coma, before he died on October 22.

I realize that this comes as shock to most of you who read The Book Nosher. And my silence has weighed on me more than you can know. Now, seventeen months later, I feel like I'm getting my voice back and I'm starting up a new blog called Grief & Gratitude. It's brand new, but here's a link if you want to check it out.

In closing out The Book Nosher, I wanted to have my final post be about a special book. The book I have chosen to write about is a picture book that is for both adults and children. It was given to me by a dear friend who has been a NICU nurse for the last 30 years, in the same hospital that Matthew died. She deals with life and death situations on a day to day basis. Tear Soup by Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen deals with the subject of grief in a way that few "adult" books do. It's a wise book that gently explains how different people grieve in different ways.

In the story, Grandy has lost someone (unnamed) very dear to her and sets about preparing tear soup. "Grandy winced when she took a sip of the broth. All she could taste was salt from her teardrops. It tasted bitter, but she knew this was where she had to start." The book goes on as Grandy goes through the difficult stages of grief, always at her own pace, not someone else's. For me, this book summed up so many of the complex feelings that surround grief. It spoke to me when I first read it many months ago, and it continues to speak to me now. While I don't think this is a book for very young children, I do think that school-aged children would find it very helpful if dealing with a significant loss. The pictures are quite lovely, and the words very meaningful. Here's a sample from the last page as Grandy explains what she's learned from making her tear soup:

"I've learned that grief, like a pot of soup, changes the longer it simmers and the more things you put into it. I've learned that sometimes people say unkind things, but they really don't mean to hurt you. And most importantly, I've learned that there is something down deep within all of us ready to help us survive the things we think we can't survive."

Wise words indeed.

Thank you to all of you who read The Book Nosher. I still think children's books are the best!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

David Wiesner

Art & Max

Written and Illustrated by: David Wiesner
Recommended Ages: 4-8

If you are not already familiar with David Wiesner, I highly recommend hightailing it to the nearest bookstore or library and checking out his children's picture books. He has received the Caldecott Medal three times (for Tuesday, The Three Pigs and for Flotsam), and is only the second person in history to do so. His newest book Art & Max will be released on October 4, and it's definitely worth checking out.

Art & Max is the story of two desert-dwelling, art-loving lizards. Arthur is the larger, more dignified lizard with a real talent for painting. His smaller, more frenetic companion Max desperately wants to paint too, but lacks ideas. When Art suggests that he paint him, Max takes it literally and then the fun begins. The story that follows is an adventure filled with silly moments, as well as a study of the creative process. In the end, one of the nice touches is that Arthur (the teacher) manages to learn something from Max (the student).

While I'm sure your kids will enjoy Art & Max for the sheer fun of the story, it's the pictures that make it such a special book. After I read through it the first time, I found myself going back and studying every picture he created. Each page is a work of art, and there are lots of little details to study when you go through it a second or third time. With their expressive faces and zest for life, Art and Max are lovable lizards your kids will be happy to welcome into their lives.

For an interesting look at the creative process involved in the evolution of Art & Max, here's an interview with David Wiesner. It's fascinating to see how his mind worked as he experimented with different media and even more interesting to see how he came up with the idea of the two lizards as the two protaganists.

For people who live in the Seattle or Bainbridge Island area, David Wiesner will be at Eagle Harbor Books on Sunday, October 10 at 3:00 pm. It should be an informative and entertaining talk. Here's a link with more information.

Here's a complete list of books written and illustrated by David Wiesner:

by David Wiesner. 2006
Three Pigs by David Wiesner. 2001
Sector 7 by David Wiesner. 1999

June 29, 1999 by David Wiesner. 1992
Tuesday by David Wiesner. 1991
Hurricane by David Wiesner. 1990
Free Fall by David Wiesner. 1988

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Smells Like Dog

Smells Like Dog
Written by: Suzanne Selfors
Recommended Ages: 8-12

Smells Like Dog is a delightful book that will appeal to boys and girls alike. There's a timeless feel to the book that reminds me of some of my favorite reads as a child. Roald Dahl, in particular, comes to mind.

Homer Pudding is a fairly ordinary, slightly pudgy farm boy who dreams of being a treasure hunter like his dashing Uncle Drake Pudding. Unfortunately, one day he and his family get the horrible news that Uncle Drake has been killed by a killer tortoise. The news also comes to them, via the law office of Snooty and Snooty, that he has left all of his worldly possessions to Homer. These worldly possessions consist of a pair of boots (all that was left of poor Uncle Drake), a Bassett hound who can't smell, and a mysterious coin attached to the dog's collar with the letters L.O.S.T. on it. While Homer is honored that his uncle left everything to him, he also begins to think that things look slightly suspicious. After he accidentally burns down the town's library while researching the origins of the coin, he decides to do some investigating.

Homer takes off for The City (a place where, his father warns, bad things happen) to find out what type of coin he has, what L.O.S.T. stands for and to locate a treasure map of his uncle's. Along the way, Homer meets some fantastic, eccentric characters, all of whom add to the delicious twists and turns he encounters. There's the giantess Zelda, the wacky inventor Ajitabh, and the little orphan girl Lorelei. But the most delectable character of all is Madame La Directeur. She is over-the-top evil and a great nemesis for Homer to face.

Smells Like Dog is quite a romp, with parts that are laugh out loud funny and parts where you will be holding your breath wondering how exactly Homer is going to get out of a pickle. Homer and Dog quickly warm their way into your heart, so that the whole time you are rooting for their success.

I think Smells Like Dog would be a wonderful book for a third or fourth grade class to read aloud. Girls and Boys will be enthralled by Homer's adventures and it will appeal to even the most reluctant of readers. Oh did I mention that it's the first book of a trilogy? So the adventures of Homer Pudding and Dog continue on. I can't wait to see what and who they come up against!

BookNosher Activity: On Suzanne Selfor's website she has a page for teachers which contains curriculum ideas, art activities and worksheets. It's definitely worth checking out.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Kids Care: 75 Ways to Make a Difference for People, Animals and the Environment

Kids Care!: 75 Ways to Make a Difference for People, Animals & the Environment

Written by: Rebecca Olien
Illustrated by: Michael Kline
Recommended Ages: 7-12

The simple premise of Kids Care is that kids really do care and want to make a difference in the world. The book offers suggestions for bringing some great ideas to fruition, and most projects can be done individually or in a group. Kids Care is a great resource for a classroom or a family to have on hand, if only to give a little nudge.

The book is divided into 5 sections, so children are able to migrate towards those areas they are most drawn to. The sections include:
  • Kids Care About People
  • Kids Care About Pets
  • Kids Care About Wildlife
  • Kids Care About The Environment
  • Kids Join Together

Here are some of the projects I particularly liked:

The Boredom Buster Box is designed for someone who is sick and has to stay quiet. Kids decorate (and personalize) a cardboard box and fill it with items designed to keep the recipient busy. The book offers all sorts of fun activities kids can make themselves such as mazes, word searches and dot-to-dots. It also suggests putting in an extra surprise such as a deck of cards or a bottle of bubbles. The list is endless, and stresses that the recipient can be an adult too. The Boredom Buster Box is a caring gesture that a class could put together for a sick classmate or teacher, or an individual could put together for a friend.

Hosting a Dog Wash was another idea that resonated with me. Kids advertise the event ahead of time and sell tickets. Proceeds from the dog wash can go to a charity of their choice (humane society, pet rescue organizations etc.). The book outlines the steps one takes in organizing the event, as well as a section called "How to Wash a Dog." I, for one, would be eager to come across a group of kids offering their services to wash my dogs.

The Better Than New Toy Shop suggests that many kids have perfectly good toys they no longer play with, that just need a little fixing up so they can be donated to those in need. Many toys just need a good washing, while others may need new paint or some mending. Wouldn't this be a great classroom project to take on just before the holidays? I think there would be a lot of enthusiasm for this particular project, and it's a great way to introduce the concept of recycling.

There are 72 other worthwhile projects in Kids Care. Just browsing through the book will help kids understand the many ways (big and small) they can help others.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Anastasia's Album: The last tsar's youngest daughter tells her own story

Anastasia's album

Written by: Hugh Brewster
Recommended Ages: 10 and up

When I was around ten years old, I became fascinated by the story of the Romanov family. I read everything I could about that particular time in Russian history, and was especially intrigued with the youngest daughter Anastasia. For at the time there was a woman living in Canada who claimed that she was Anastasia, and to my ten-year-old imagination it was the perfect ending to the otherwise tragic story of the Romanovs. Anastasia's Album is a great introduction to the story of Nicholas, Alexandra and the entire Romanov family.

Anastasia's Album
is designed to look like a scrapbook, and is, in fact, filled with actual photographs taken by different members of the royal family, but most especially Anastasia. These photos and other personal effects were long hidden in Soviet archives. The book opens with the birth of Anastasia, the fourth daughter of Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra. While disappointed at first that she wasn't a boy (they needed a male heir), she quickly warms her way into their hearts. There are marvelous pictures of her and her sisters in all manner of clothes such as sailor suits, old-fashioned striped bathing suits and of course dressier fare. Three years later, her brother Alexei is born, and the family is complete.

Besides the photographs, which are very clear and remarkably preserved, there are narratives from actual letters Anastasia and other members of her family and friends wrote. For instance, the children's French tutor wrote in regards to Anastasia:

"She was the imp of the whole house and the glummest faces would always brighten in her presence, for it was impossible to resist her jokes and nonsense."

The text by Hugh Brewster is clear and does a very nice job articulating the Romanov children's lives. Yes, it was privileged. They lived in a winter palace and attended balls, concerts and ballets. But they were also expected to make their own beds and their mother wanted the daughters to be educated more than what was usual for upper class girls. They studied four languages-Russian, French, English and German, and had private tutors. But they also played together as a family, and there are old photos of them bicycling and playing tennis. There are also pictures of Anastasia's artwork sprinkled throughout, which show her to be quite accomplished at an early age.

The book ends tragically with a description of the massacre of the family that took place in 1918. It also talks about the woman who came forward a year later in Germany, claiming she was Anastasia. While this mystery was never completely solved, it should pique the reader's interest. I think Anastasia's Album is quite a special book, perfect for a research paper or just an interesting read.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Two New Picture Books to Consider

I just came across two new picture books that are worth taking a look at.


Written and Illustrated by: Loren Long
Recommended Ages: 4-8

Otis is a visual delight. The illustrations have a delightful old-fashioned feel to them that immediately draw you in. The story is about Otis, a little tractor who works hard on the farm by day, and plays equally hard after work. One evening the farmer brings a new baby calf into the barn. The calf is homesick for her mother, but the gentle putt puff sounds coming from Otis lull the calf to sleep. Otis and the calf soon become fast friends, as they play and just sit together under the apple tree (this particular illustration reminded me of Ferdinand).

Soon a big, shiny, new tractor is introduced and Otis is forgotten. I won't go into the whole story of how Otis re-emerges from his exile, but it's a sweet story of determination, friendship and love. Plus there's just the right amount of action on each page to keep even a young child interested.

If you have a child who is fascinated by heavy equipment (my oldest son went through this stage), then you will love Otis. But I think all kids will love Otis's story about an unlikely friendship. The artwork gives it a timeless feel, and the expressions on Otis's face are priceless. This is a story that should emerge as a classic.

City Dog, Country Frog

Written by: Mo Willems
Illustrated by: John Muth
Recommended Ages: 4-8

City Dog, Country Frog
is another book about friendship. City Dog arrives in the country for the first time in the spring. While out running the countryside (without a leash!), City Dog meets Country Frog. The two start playing together, as Country Frog teaches City Dog all sorts of Country Frog games like jumping, splashing and croaking. And that's the way they spend the spring.

The book moves through the seasons, and their friendship deepens. They each teach the other special tricks, and sometimes they just sit together on their rock. The watercolor illustrations do a wonderful job depicting the passage of time. Winter comes and City Dog goes looking for Country Frog, only to find him not on his rock. There's a beautiful two-page spread of City Dog sitting forlornly on the rock overlooking the snow-covered field. I will warn you, it is sad and you should probably be prepared for some questions from your child. But when spring rolls around again, and City Dog is sitting on the rock "waiting for a friend," he meets Country Chipmunk. The story ends on a hopeful note and offers a nice reflection of remembering old friends while making new ones.

So there you have it. Two new picture books about friendship that are definitely worth checking out. Both books would make wonderful gifts for a pre-schooler.

BookNosher Activities: Loren Long has a page of activities tied into Otis.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Wordless Picture Books

Wordless picture books are a wonderful genre for you and your child to explore. Without words on the page, young children are able to tell YOU the story in their own words. Language and creativity are unleashed as a child relates the story that unfolds before them, often becoming more and more elaborate with each retelling. I've written before how I used to use wordless picture books in my family literacy classes. For parents for whom English wasn't their first language, it allowed them to tell a story in their own words to their children. For parents with low literacy skills, they were able to "read" the story to their child with a fluidity that wasn't always possible with regular picture books. I picked up three wordless picture books at the library last week that are definitely worth sharing.

The Adventures of Polo

Illustrated by: Regis Faller
Recommended Ages: 4-10

The Adventures of Polo is a magical book that transports you (and Polo) to many different worlds. Polo is a dog in a red jacket and purple pants who in the course of a day goes up into the clouds, down to the bottom of the sea, to an icecap where he rescues a trapped snowman and on and on. There's a lot on each page, so that each time you read it more details will crop up. I think that even the youngest child will enjoy Polo and the many encounters he comes across. If it's a hit in your house, there are five other Polo books available.

The Red Scarf

Illustrated by: Anne Villeneuve
Recommended Ages: 4-10

The Red Scarf does start off with the words: "Another gray day, says Turpin, the taxi driver," but after that it's all pictures. Turpin is a little white mole that drives a taxi. It seems to be an ordinary day until one of the passengers (a man in a black cape) leaves his red scarf behind. Turpin runs after him trying to return it, and from there the adventure begins. The trail leads to the circus and there are encounters with a frog on a unicycle, a bear on roller skates, a hungry lion and a mischievous monkey. Kids will love the scrapes that Turpin gets himself into, and will turn each page wondering what will happen next. It's a fun-filled romp that is sure to please young readers.


Illustrated by: Suzy Lee
Recommended Ages: 3-7

Wave is a quieter book than the previous two, but equally stunning. It shows a little girl at the beach as she runs back and forth where the waves break, as seagulls hover nearby. The wave soon becomes her friend and the two of them play with each other with a back and forth intensity that can only end in a big splash. It's playful and your senses are awakened so that you truly feel like you can smell the ocean and taste the salt.

So the next time you are at the library give a wordless picture book a try. You may be amazed at the story that comes out of your child's mouth as the pictures set free their imaginations.