Archive for November, 2008

I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato by Lauren Child

I suspect there will be a lot of Lauren Child postings to come. She is one of my favorite picture book writer/ illustrators for young kids and each book I read is more fun, and more appropriate to my family, than the last.

I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato

I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato

So, for those who have yet to meet Charlie and Lola, welcome to two youngsters who you will quickly realize are versions of your children. In I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato, we meet Charlie and his younger sister Lola. Charlie is sometimes in charge getting Lola to eat, which is no easy task because Lola really doesn’t like to eat anything at all. So, as only an inventive older brother can do, Charlie recreates all the food into different foods. You see, you may think that carrots are, well, carrots, but in fact, according to Charlie, they are orange twiglets from Jupiter. Lola doesn’t eat carrots, but she certainly is interested in orange twiglets. You get the idea. 

However, in a sweet little twist, by the end of the book, we’re clear that Lola isn’t quite as gullible as she appears. Neither, I suspect, are my fussy eaters.

The good news is that once you fall in love with this book, which you will, there are many more to keep you happy and your children entertained. Check out I Absolutely Must Do Coloring Now or Painting or Drawing or I Am Not Sleepy and I Will Not Go to Bed for starters and then we’ll talk about Clarice Bean

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Rivka’s First Thanksgiving by Elsa Okon Rael

So, it’s still a couple of weeks until Thanksgiving but I’m realizing that when I give book suggestions about a holiday, doing it a day or so before the holiday doesn’t help folks who want to buy the book, or get it from the library. So, with that in mind, this is a great book for getting your kids ready for Thanksgiving.
Rivka's First Thanksgiving

Rivka's First Thanksgiving

Rivka’s First Thanksgiving by Elsa Okon Rael is a real winner. The story takes place on the Lower East Side on NY around 1910. Rivka and her family have recently moved to the U.S. from the old world and, at school, Rivka learns about Thanksgiving. She comes to her grandmother and asks whether they could celebrate Thanksgiving. Not sure, her grandmother heads to her local rabbi who says: NO! And for me, this is the best part: Rivka doesn’t feel good about this decision and so she decides to do something about it. She decides to write a very respectful letter to the rabbi to explain why it would seem to her that they should be able to celebrate Thanksgiving — after all isn’t the story of running from persecution a familiar one to the Jews of the Lower East Side? Celebrating the freedoms afford to one in America was something she felt should be mandated, not disputed.

And, at the end of the story, the rabbi listens to her reasoning and admits he made a mistake. She has to get up in front of their beit din (rabbinic court) and explain her position (it’s a great illustration or this little girl in front of all these men with white beards and black coats) — which she does. It’s a story of standing up for something you believe in. It’s a story about respecting your elders. It’s a story of working within the system for change. Basically, it’s a great story.

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The Flag With Fifty-Six Stars by Susan Goldman Rubin

Today is Remembrance Day (or Veterans Day) and so I’m thinking of the tremendous heroism and sacrifice of the members of the military — now and in the past.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields

Having grown up in Canada where people put poppies on their coats today, and where there is a minute of silence at 11:11 a.m., I wanted to recommend a book about soldiers — preferably one that incorporates In Flanders Fields, the haunting poem we were forced to memorize as children. Sadly, while there is such a book — In Flanders Fields by Linda Granfield — I have to admit that I haven’t read it and so it is difficult to recommend it (though if you try it out, let me know what you think).

However, this week also marks Kristallnacht, or the Night of the Broken Glass, a night that some point to as the first major act of the Nazi government against the Jews in Germany. So in memory of both of these events, I wanted to recommend a really special, albeit it painful, book.

The Flag With the Fifty-Six Stars

The Flag With the Fifty-Six Stars

The Flag With Fifty-Six Stars by Susan Goldman Rubin is a haunting portrayal of the last days of WW2 when Jewish prisoners in the Mathausen concentration camp have heard that the American army is on their way to liberate them. Despite the fact that the prisoners are sick, having eaten virtually nothing for years and filthy from the squalor they’ve been forced to live in, they decide that they want to give a gift to these American soldiers who are coming to help them. And so, scrimping and saving and looking for scraps, they heroically find enough supplies to create an American flag to greet their saviors. However, while they get the requisite number of stripes right, they wind up creating a flag with fifty-six stars. It’s the true story of the creation of the flag and the incredible courage of the prisoners and the soldiers that Susan Goldman Rubin retells in this fascinating book.

It’s not a story for the faint of heart, but an important story nonetheless as we remember not only the Jews and other nations that were killed in the Holocaust, but also the brave troops that fought, and died, to liberate them.

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Half a World Away by Libby Gleeson

Having moved a number of times in my life, I have often felt very far away from my very best friends. However, the worst was when my childhood best friend Rachel moved across the ocean to England when I was 13.

I think about that a lot these days now that Rachel and I are back in touch, more than 20 years later, and talked on the phone, still across the ocean from one another. It’s in that spirit that I want to recommend another delightful gentle book, Half a World Away by Libby Gleeson.

Half a World Away

Half a World Away

It’s a quiet book, beautifully illustrated in soft but vivid colors by Freya Blackwood. It’s the type of book that makes you sigh when you are done, that makes you feel peaceful — perfect for that last book before bed. In it, Amy and Louie are best friends — children who do everything together, who climb through the fence between their backyards every day, who call each other to play by calling: “Coo-ee Am-ee” or “Coo-ee Lou-ee.” But then Amy, like Rachel many years ago, moves with her family to the other side of the world (presumably from the illustrations, New York) and they are separated.

Louie is despondant and wants to call out “Coo-ee Amy” but everyone tells him that she won’t hear it, that when it’s day for him, it’s night for her. Finally, his grandmother says that maybe Amy would hear it and Louie takes the chance. And that night, in a dream, Amy can hear Louie calling across the ocean: “Coo-ee Am-ee.” Soft and delightful and hopeful — a wonderful bedtime read.

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Zen Ties by Jon Muth

I love all the Stillwater books. I love how beautifully they are illustrated. I love how quiet they are. I love how they teach subtle messages and how you feel good after you read them. I love that each one screams QUALITY.

Zen Ties

Zen Ties

But more than all of the others, I love Zen Ties by Jon Muth, the newest installment in the adventures of Stillwater the panda, Addie, Michael and Karl. In Zen Ties, Stillwater brings the children to visit Miss Whitaker, the cranky old lady who lives on their block. The children don’t want to visit her — she doesn’t seem to like them and yells a lot. But Stillwater insists and while they are there, they learn that under a cranky person is often a lonely person. And they learn that spending a little time can make the difference in someone’s life. And finally they learn that old people have a lot to offer — in this case, a superb understanding of spelling that assists Michael in his spelling bee.

The Zen series is always wonderful but this book goes above and beyond the usual quiet lessons to teach a powerful message about our responsibilities in our community. More than that, it provides an opportunity for an important discussion with your children.

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Mommies Don’t Get Sick by Marylin Hafner

Sadly, I heard that the lovely Marylin Hafner, a great children’s book illustrator and writer, died on Oct. 31st. She illustrated over 100 books in addition to the back page comic strip in Cricket Magazine. While she was in her 80s, she was still working and drawing, and I think it’s a great loss to children’s books.

Mommies Don't Get Sick

Mommies Don't Get Sick

So, in honor of Marylin Hafner, let’s give a big shout-out to one of my favorite of her books, Mommies Don’t Get Sick, which she both wrote and illustrated. It’s out of print so hard to find, but it’s worth looking for a copy on a used book site or at the library. Every so often, we parents do get sick, and this book tells what happens when the inevitable occurs.

Pick it up, it’s delightful. Or look for her other books — it’s well worth the trip to the library or the money on the credit card!

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Abraham’s Search for God by Jacqueline Jules

In synagogues around the world, Jews will be reading about Abraham this Saturday, so I thought I’d provide a nice, kid friendly Abraham book. The problem with Biblical stories is that if you aren’t a true believer or deeply religious, chances are, you feel a bit conflicted about the “truth” of the story. So, do you read the story to the small child as a story just like Leonardo the Terrible Monster? Or, do you make a point of saying this is real or this happened or this is something I/we (kind of) believe in?

Abraham's Search for God

Abraham's Search for God

I’ll let you figure that all out, but in the meantime, here’s a nice story that won’t make you cringe. Based on the midrashim (stories written to fill out gaps of information in the Bible), Abraham’s Search for God by Jacqueline Jules deals with how Abraham “discovered” God. It’s filled with great examples of deductive reasoning and offers a nice way to talk about God (even for those who aren’t sure what they think of God). Possibly best of all, it’s beautifully illustrated with art by Natascia Ugliano.

So here’s the gist: it’s a Bible story that won’t make you squirm, with pictures that are outstanding, on a topic that you probably want to introduce to your child, even if you aren’t a true believer. It might sound like faint praise, but for a Bible story, it’s quite amazing.

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