If you happen to be Rose Howard, life has some extra rules.
Like, no blurting out the prime numbers marching through your head.
And, no reminding your teacher or your dad or anyone that flea and flee are homonyms and your name Rose (rows) is, too (to, two) .
Also, it is not okay to shriek, “Stop!” to the bus driver unless it is a true emergency. Which, apparently, it is not an emergency if the driver in front of you does not use her directional before turning even though it is against the rules in the New York State driver’s manual.
It seems unfair that Rose’s extra rules are so sternly enforced, when other people break rules right and left. Life gets messy and frightening when people don’t follow the rules.
Rose’s mother didn’t follow the rules; she ran away when Rose was small. Rose’s father did not follow the rules when he found a dog out in a rain storm and gave her to Rose without checking to see if anyone had just lost a dog.
That dog, though, whom Rose names Rain (reign, rein) follows all the rules for being a Good Dog. She keeps Rose company during the long, lonely evenings while her father is at the bar, drinking. She welcomes Rose home from school and comforts her when she’s upset, resting her doggy head on Rose’s shoulder and breathing her doggy breath on Rose’s cheek.
So, when Rose’s father breaks the rules again, and lets Rain out during a hurricane without her collar, and Rain is lost — Rose is shattered. Her best friend is gone. Why did her father do that? Why did he break the rule? There is no answer from him. Just dark, scary anger.
Rose must use her own compulsive, systematic ways to put things right. Mercifully, Uncle Weldon is a steady source of help, as well as her teacher. But putting things right will be far more costly than Rose ever dreamed.
This touching new novel revolves around Rose Howard, a fifth-grader with high-functioning autism. Rose’s obsessions and idiosyncracies are challenging to be around, yet she is a stunning heroine, resilient, interesting, and courageous.
It’s an incredibly emotional novel, with deep seams of brokenness, neglect, abuse, and sorrow, as well as rich portraits of understanding, empathy, and love. Pain and loss mark Rose’s life like grafitti scrawled upon a fine painting. Her journey begins to lead toward healing; her life gains a comfort level she’s never known. But sensitive readers will realize that some wounds leave permanent scars.
Bottom line, this is an insightful story about belonging; of being in a place of home and among people who know and love you. So much strength stems from that. Rose is committed to bringing Rain back where she belongs, and as we accompany her, we all long for her to find such a haven, too.
But no kidding, there’s a lot of pain here, so you’ll have to judge if it’s a good fit for your child. I’d say, ages 1o or 11 and up. Adults — it’s for you, too.
In the Wood
by Eileen Mathias
Bleak winter’s in the wood,
The birds have flown
Leaving the naked trees
Jane, the Fox, and Me, by Fanny Britt, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, translated from the French by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou
published in 2012 by Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press
Hélène is a thoroughly-average, thoughtful, bookish young girl who for reasons incomprehensible to her and us has recently become a social pariah.
The mean girls decide these things. One day you’re in. The next minute you’re the butt of the joke.
The very school buildings are now an open wasteland with no place to hide, where laughter and cruelty gray the atmosphere and smother Hélène’s confidence. Snuff it right out.
Salvation comes by immersing herself into a good book. The story is Jane Eyre. Oh, to be like Jane, the tormented orphan who grows to be self-assured and conversational and who wins the heart of the dashing and brooding Mr. Rochester. Hélène feels more like a squat, fat sausage. She has absorbed the idiotic insults scrawled on the bathroom walls and they have become her reality.
But now, her worst nightmare comes true in the form of a class trip to nature camp. Four days and nights with her tormentors. Great. Buying a new swim suit for camp. Even better. A lonely bus ride. A spot in the tent for outcasts. Are we having fun yet?
Two things happen at camp, though, that are beacons in Hélène’s world. An electrifying encounter with a fox. And meeting Géraldine, a girl generously supplied with duck feathers, who lives and loves in a wonderfully disarming manner, and who thinks Hélène is a peachy friend. Imagine!
This quiet story is honest to the bones. It throbs like a toothache in places, flickers with hopefulness in others as Fanny Britt’s calm, measured words pull us along. At first I thought the holidays weren’t the right time to post this, but a second later I realized it’s quite possible to feel like “nothing but a sad sausage” precisely at this time. In the end, Jane is able to hear the truth about herself from people who have their heads on straight, and her world begins to brighten.
Isabelle Arsenault’s artwork is just so cool. Her rough, scratchy images of Hélène’s saggy existence contrast with the sharp, rosy illustrations of Jane Eyre’s storybook life. Beat-down-beige, gray, and black contrasts with brilliant persimmon, robin’s egg blue, and watermelon. The hand-lettering, too, varies, from generic, uneven capitals, to handsome penmanship in perfect lines as we move from Hélène’s mundane world to Jane’s romantic saga.
I must say, I also love the mother in this story. She’s a single mom, and her unflagging love is partially appreciated by Hélène. Her conspiratorial work in the swim suit department, her pushing past fatigue to accomodate Hélène… Hélène acknowledges these, but she doesn’t comprehend yet how much her mother knows of the world and its sorrows, so she keeps her secrets to herself. As I look on, I feel how much more Hélène’s mom sees and bears than her daughter realizes.
There’s lots more to say, but you should just read it for yourself. It’s a compelling graphic novel for ages 11 and up. Adults will definitely appreciate it as well.
My Grandfather’s Coat, retold by Jim Aylesworth, illustrated by Barbara McClintock
published in 2014 by Scholastic Press
An old Yiddish folk song tells the tale of a little overcoat grown old. Tra la la — what to do? Make that overcoat into something new!
Jim Aylesworth has now recast that song into a truly charming immigrant story. I’m quite smitten with it.
Our narrator tells of his grandfather sailing into Ellis Island with “little more than nothing at all” who becomes a tailor, falls happily in love, and sews himself a handsome, long, wedding coat. As the years go by, full of hard work and a growing family, the coat frays. So, snipping and clipping and stiching away, he turns it into a shorter jacket, then a vest, then a tie to wear for his daughter’s wedding.
Time flies. Cloth frays. Where will it all end? The unfolding story uses pleasantly repetitive bits that will lure children into chanting along. Very upbeat.
What I really fell in love with are McClintock’s charming illustrations tracing the passing years. The handsome young man’s hairline slowly recedes and tinges with gray. Fashions change immensely and sewing machines modernize as new generations come into the picture.
Besides that, the re-purposing of tired belongings which our parents and grandparents were so good at, is affirmed as well. Author and illustrator have written sweetly-personal notes about their connections to this work, a lovely story to read again and again with children ages 3 and up.
The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night, illustrated by Peter Spier
Originally published in 1961; Revised Edition published in 2014 by Doubleday Books for Young Readers
Foxes get rather a bum rap in a lot of children’s books. They steal those featherbrained chickens, of course. And ducks. And eat them. We are supposed to be on the side of the poultry and shake our fists at the sly old fox.
But not in this story.
The text of this book, which won a Caldecott Honor when it was first published in 1961, is the lyrics to an old folk song. Mr. Fox raids old John Giggle-Gaggle’s farm snatching a grey goose and a fine duck and carrying them off with “their legs all dangling down-o, down-o down-o!”
Here’s where we usually glare at the fox, but you see — that fox has a family to feed. He’s got two heavy birds weighing him down as he flees Farmer John, who’s chasing after with his rifle. Poor fellow! Why should his darling fox kits go hungry?
And they don’t. They have a tasty dinner, and in a deliciously-shocking ending, “the little ones chewed on the bones-o, bones-o, bones-o!”
Peter Spier’s artwork is in a class all by itself. I love every book he’s drawn. These gorgeous watercolors of a New England countryside aflame in autumn glory, the hills silvering beneath a full moon, and a cozy fox home with its own wall-sized New England hearth and heaps of fox kits tumbling about — well, it just doesn’t get any better.
Well, actually it has gotten better, because when Spier originally created this book, it was too expensive for all the illustrations to be colored. Half were his still-glorious black and white drawings. Now, more than 50 years later, he has gone back to these pictures and finished painting them. Every page in
And almost my favorite part of this book is Spier’s sweet, personal recollection of how the book originated, and the process of adding color in last year at the age of 86. His lengthy Author’s Note is truly lovely.
Music is included. Don’t miss this classic book, reborn. Enjoy it with wide-eyed children ages 3 and up. Note that the poor images in my blog do not nearly do this work justice.
Moms can become jaded and weary at Christmastime, but for children it’s a magical, happy season. Let’s soak up some of their exuberance and delight. Grab a stack of merry stories and mugs of peppermint cocoa, snuggle together, and read :)