Archive for September, 2008

The High-Rise Private Eyes by Cynthia Rylant

I’m having an author crush on Cynthia Rylant. More so than any other author right now, she is making a difference in my life. (Sorry Anna Levine but I do still love you!)

The issue is carpool. I carpool 5 kids between the ages of 4 and 9. They are a mix of boys and girls with different interests and ideas of what is appropriate carpool talk and different feelings about carpool with no Disney radio. They are lovely children but they sit in my car for about 30+ minutes three times a week and sometimes I think seriously about dropping them off at the nearest school rather than the school they actually go to.

Enter Cynthia.

The High-Rise Private Eyes

The High-Rise Private Eyes

Last year I started going to the library and borrowing books on tape to listen in the car. They were successful, but I also had fewer kids and a narrower age range in the car. I’ve reintroduced the stories this year but I started them off with The High-Rise Private Eyes, a mystery series that Rylant (trying to be professional here) wrote for young readers. So far, I believe there are about 9 books in the series but our library only has 2 of them. The kids are addicted. There is no difference between the older ones and the younger ones, they are all really into the (inane) mysteries that detectives and best friends Bunny Brown and raccoon Jack Jones try to solve. (Bunny is the brains, Rylant says, Jack is the snoop…)

Yes, the mysteries are inane. The dialogue is often silly. But it’s cute and the kids love it and they listen to it over and over again and they are quiet for the 30 minutes it takes me to drive them to school. And my son and his best friend often play the High-Rise Private Eyes where they make up little mysteries and try to solve them. And because of all this, I love Cynthia Rylant.

Here are some of the books in the series. I actually really like the audio version, there’s a great narrator:

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Somewhere Today by Shelley Moore Thomas

I’m really into books about peace for young children. I think that no matter how much you believe in striving for peace or searching for peace or finding peace, it’s a concept that is really hard to explain to young children. The great thing about these children’s books is that not only are they good at explaining the concept, they are good about explaining it in terms of how we create peace and specifically, how children can create peace.

Somewhere Today

Somewhere Today

So, another book I’d like to add to my list is Somewhere Today: A Book About Peace by Shelley Moore Thomas. With the backdrop of vivid photo montages, Thomas is able to give concrete examples of what making peace looks like — much like Todd Parr’s The Peace Book. Each double page spread starts with the familiar “Somewhere today.” Her first example is one of my favorites:

Somewhere today… someone is being a friend instead of fighting.

And then after  a series of wonderful examples, Thomas ends with:

Somewhere today… someone is reading a book about peace and thinking about making the world a better place.

Perfect, isn’t it?

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A Sack Full of Feathers by Debby Waldman

There are some folktales that are centered around the need for a heroine to ignore ugly old people who want to stop them from marrying their dashing prince. They are tiresome and should be replaced at all costs by The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munch.

And then there are folktales that can actually offer good teachable moments. Sadly, they are often ugly, printed on cheap paper, with poor illustrations and lots of words on every page. The kind of book you only want to read if your child already has his/ her eyes closed.

A Sack Full of Feathers

A Sack Full of Feathers

And then there is A Sack Full of Feathers by Debby Waldman. While it takes place in an Eastern Europe shtetl, it has more colors than you can shake a stick at and is not parochially Jewish. What it is, is a great story that addresses children where they are at. Yankel is a storyteller — a child with a gift for telling stories and capturing his listeners attention. The problem is, his stories aren’t his own: they are stories he overhears and thinks he is repeating properly, with no concept of discretion or the subtleties around the truth. Basically, he is like many of my carpool kids, and my 5-year old, who repeat things not maliciously but because they don’t really know better. Enter the rabbi who wants to teach this boy a gentle lesson with a practical lesson on what happens to feathers (stories) when you let them loose.

It’s funny, it’s beautiful, it’s magical and it’s great for kids lacking discretion (and their parents too).

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Amazing Machines by Tony Mitton and Ant Parker

So, I’m a mom of two boys. And as much as they’ll read good quality picture books with interesting stories, at the end of the day, they adore books about trains, fire trucks, boats, planes, rockets and the like. I know more about the different parts of a train or the different planets in the solar system than I’ve ever known. And, I’ll even admit it, I’m kind of into it. (Much better than having to read another Star Wars or Superman book.)

Flashing Fire Engines

Flashing Fire Engines

One of my favorites for this genre are the books in the Amazing Machines series by Tony Mitton and Ant Parker. The rhymes are good, there aren’t too many words on the page, and the illustrations are vivid and engaging. Best of all, I can read them over and over again without wanting to pull out my hair, which is important for books like these. I also really like how they introduce hard words: at the end of Flashing Fire Engines (read last night, twice), they write:

At last the fire’s extinguished.

The flames are all put out.

Lower the ladder. Roll the hose.

“Hurray!” the fire crew shouts.

Terrific Trains

Terrific Trains

See, it’s cute and has explained the term “extinguished” before I even had a chance to worry about what I would use instead. All in all, they aren’t high literature but are a lot of fun to read, if you are into reading about machines that is.

 

Here are some of the individual books in the series:

You can also get a full miniature set.

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Freefall by Anna Levine

I’m so excited about Freefall by Anna Levine for a number of reasons:

  1. It’s written by an author I love
  2. It’s a great YA read
  3. It takes place in modern day Israel
Freefall

Freefall

Freefall tells the story of Aggie, an 18 year old girl getting ready to start her compulsary military service. But while she’s at it, she’s also falling in love, discovering her personal strength and learning who she is.

Anna Levine does a great job of making this first and foremost a story about an 18 year old girl, with Israel, the 2nd Lebanon War and the issues it bring up in the background. When I was 18, I don’t think I could have made the choice Aggie is faced with. As much as I would have wanted to jump on a train to the North to help out while rockets were flying, I’m just not sure that I would have done it. And I certainly wouldn’t have been able to make the choice to become a soldier instead of doing national service, as girls like Aggie choose between. But that’s the difference between living in North America and living in Israel and that’s what makes this book such a good read: it’s easy to close your eyes and picture yourself right beside Aggie, making the same choices, falling in love.

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The Friday Nights of Nana by Amy Hest

The Friday Nights of Nana

The Friday Nights of Nana

It’s almost Shabbat and I’m thinking of the millions of things I won’t have time to do. Unlike the characters in Amy Hest’s The Friday Nights of Nana, I don’t spend the day getting ready: tidying things up, taking a nice walk to get flowers, baking an apple pie and putting on special clothes. But I really, really wish I did.

There is something so soothing about this classic story of a girl and her grandmother. I love reading it at bedtime and taking the time to really sink into Hest’s lyrical descriptions and illustrator Claire Nivola’s exquisite illustrations. I love the description of the moment when Jennie and Nana finally light the candles:

“Is it time?” I ask.

“Now,” Nana says, and finally it’s the best time. Nana is lighting candles and our dresses are touching and she is whispering Sabbath prayers and no one makes a peep. Not even Lewis.

And I love the ending, when the family is all together (with the mom discreetly breastfeeding at the table!):

Outside, the wind howls. Snow whips up in great white swirls.

But here inside, the candles flicker. A Sabbath song is in the air. It’s time for pie and we’re all here together on the Friday nights of Nana.

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Picture Books About Peace

In honor of September 11th, I wanted to offer a few suggestions on great picture books that teach about the amorphous subject of peace. Here are some of my favorites:

 

The Peace Book

The Peace Book

The Peace Book by Todd Parr

Child-friendly, appealing to all ages, like the rest of Todd Parr’s books, The Peace Book is an excellent conversation starter. From lofty goals (“Peace is everyone having a home”) to realizable goals (“Peace is offering a hug to a friend”), this book offers big steps and small steps to help everyone make this a better world.
 

 

26 Big Things Small Hands Do

26 Big Things Small Hands Do

26 Big Things Small Hands Do by Coleen Paratore

26 Big Things Small Hands Do links every letter of the alphabet with a good thing that can be done. As the book’s first page states: “Your hands are small, but they do BIG things that make this a wonderful world.” Some letters are better (F: “Small hands feed.” and H: “Small hands help.” are favorites of mine) but either way, every letter is a good way to start a conversation about all the wonderful things even small hands do!

 

 
When I Grow Up, I Will Win the Nobel Peace Prize

When I Grow Up, I Will Win the Nobel Peace Prize

When I Grow Up, I Will Win the Nobel Peace Prize by Isabel Pin  

This is a book all about intentions, which is fantastic for all those kids (and grownups) who have lofty goals but sometimes don’t quite get there. Luckily, everything is couched in “When I grow up…” like “When I grow up, I will love my neighbor” right beside a beautiful illustration of a boy not loving his neighbor. Intentions are important, and this is a fun book that can help in a discussion of changing behaviors, if that is possible.
 

I Will Make Miracles by Susie Morgenstern

I Will Make Miracles

I Will Make Miracles

This is another book about a small child with lofty ambitions. Against illustrations similar to those of Maurice Sendak, the child in this oversized book has a lot of answers to the question: “When you get older, what will you be?” In addition to thoughts of being “a plumber, or pilot. Or dance the ballet!” he says: “I’d make the world stop fighting! / I’d get it in writing! I’d shout it far and near. / And everyone would hear.” and “I’d lock the bad guys up in cages / And turn them into wise old sages.”

 

Fundamentally though, the only way that these books will be successful is when they are springboards to discussions. That’s the hard part.

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