My sister had, for many years, a farm in the idyllic greenness of Kentucky, where she raised sheep. Visiting her in springtime meant enjoying lambing season –hearing the low, urgent bleating of the ewes; watching those wobbly, spindly lambs with their tails twiddling furiously as they suckled. Marvelous.
Lambs are all of a piece with springtime, as well as central to the Passover and Easter stories. These two sweet stories from the UK will please you anytime, but I thought they were especially suited for this season.
Smudge, the Little Lost Lamb, by James Herriot, illustrated by Ruth Brown
published in 1991 by St. Martin’s Press
The sweeping vistas of Yorkshire with its green fields stretching out in undulating folds, and ancient stone walls meandering endlessly, is the setting for this story.
Smudge is one of a pair of twin lambs born onto young Harry Cobb’s father’s farm and given to Harry by his father.
Smudge is a restless lamb, determined to squirm out of the fences meant to protect him, as so many sheep are prone to do. Not so smart, sheep.
When Smudge succeeds, his triumph is short-lived. Hunger, a fierce dog, a massive bull, speedy cars, and a sudden Yorkshire snowstorm frighten, harrass and endanger the forlorn lamb. Is there any chance for Smudge to survive and return to his mama?
James Herriot, the famous Yorkshire vet and storyteller, wrote a number of books especially for children. They are rich, authentic stories, and Herriot does not talk down to his audience whatsoever. In fact, for a picture book, they are fairly lengthy stories, best for ages 5 or older. We have loved sharing them with our children over the years. Ruth Brown’s gorgeous paintings capture the landscapes, bulky animals, old-fashioned farms and schoolhouses of the era, in rich, warm splendor.
I think the individual books are out of print, but the James Herriot Treasury for Children is in print and contains all of them.
Little Baa, written and illustrated by Kim Lewis
published in the U.S. in 2001 by Candlewick Press
Little Baa loves cavorting and frisking about the field with his fellow lambs. Even when the rest grow tired and rejoin the flock, Little Baa keeps running.
Eventually he settles down for a nap, but he’s so far off, that when his Ma begins to call for him, she gets no reply.
A mother ewe knows her lamb’s voice and smell. Ma searches and sniffs and bleats and bleats, but to no avail. It’s up to the shepherd and his trusty border collie, Floss, to find Little Baa and reunite him with Ma.
Kim Lewis has written a number of really lovely stories set in rural England where she lives on a sheep farm. I like them because they are true-to-life, and sweet, and full of the quiet pleasures of the outdoors. This one captures the behavior of sheep and the life of a shepherd beautifully.
Her colored pencil artwork glows with the soft light and pastoral scenes of the wild hills and dales of England’s sheep country, as well as the gamboling lambs and curling-horned Swaledale sheep. It’s an enchanting read for ages 2 and up.
Posted in fiction, picture books | Tagged book reviews, children's literature, England, james herriot, lambs, sheep, shepherds, spring, Yorkshire | Leave a Comment »
I don’t feel qualified to assess stories about the Jewish faith, yet this year I did want to include some books for Passover. These two seemed excellent to me. If there are other titles you particularly enjoy, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.
Passover: Celebrating Now, Remembering Then, by Harriet Ziefert, paintings by Karla Gudeon
published in 2010 by Blue Apple Books
This gorgeous book begins by telling the story of the Ancient Israelites’ sojourn in Egypt which is remembered in the symbolism of the Passover celebrations.
Page by page, Ziefert highlights the preparations and elements of the seder, one at a time. Each part of the seder is tied to its historical counterpart. This is what we do — because of what the Israelites experienced then. Her explanations are succinct, clear, and full of solemn respect.
The pages are dominated by Gudeon’s beautiful paintings. Her rich, vibrant colors pop against the handmade, wheat-colored paper. Each page shows the present-day seder elements, then by unfolding a flap, a large scene from the Old Testament story is revealed showing the historical context.
As I said, it’s a gorgeous book, with folk art borders, caligraphy, paintings, and narrative all contributing to a warm, celebratory, yet bittersweet understanding of Passover. Ages 5 and up.
The Passover Lamb, by Linda Elovitz Marshall, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss
published in 2013 by Random House
Miriam lives with her family on a small farm. Today is an exciting day because it’s time to celebrate the Passover seder at her grandparents’ home, and for the first time, Miriam will be the one to sing the Four Questions.
When one of the family’s ewes unexpectedly delivers triplet lambs in the morning, though, travel plans need to be called off. The ewe has rejected one lamb, and it needs round-the-clock care to survive.
Miriam is initially heartbroken, but her clever thinking makes it possible to care for the lamb and attend the seder.
Inspired by a true story in the author’s family, this gentle story will not help an unfamiliar person understand Passover, but it sheds a nice light on the significance of the seder tradition from a child’s point of view. The use of names relevant to the Passover account, and a story revolving around a lamb, also tie things together well. Ages 3 and up.
Posted in fiction, non-fiction, picture books | Tagged Ancient Israelites, book reviews, children's literature, Jewish holidays, lambs, Passover, seder, spring | Leave a Comment »
I’ve posted a few Easter titles in past years which you can locate at these links — both religious and egg-y titles.
I don’t find many Easter-themed books compelling, honestly, but I have gathered five more, ranging from religious to whimsical, that stand out from the crowd.
Jesus, written and illustrated by Brian Wildsmith
published in 2000 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
Brian Wildsmith is a brilliant illustrator, whose kaleidoscopic color, exuberant lines and spattering and detail, have won him prestigious awards as well as the affection and admiration of so many of us. You should visit his website to see more of his titles to explore.
Here he traces the life of Jesus — his birth, his visit to Jerusalem at age 12, his baptism and temptation, a number of his miracles, the transfiguration, his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, his trial, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost.
Each of these is narrated quite briefly, and illustrated in those exquisite bursts of color Wildsmith is known for. He’s set each scene in a golden window frame, as though they are stained glass windows in a cathedral. Gorgeous work, with the story of Jesus’ life presented plainly, without commentary.
Chicken Sunday, written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco
published in 1992 by Philomel Books
Drawing on a childhood memory, master storyteller Patricia Polacco wrote this warm story, full of generosity, kindness, a love that reaches across all kinds of divides… and fried chicken.
Miss Eula is neighbor and surrogate gramma to Patricia, and oh how Patricia loves her. Loves Miss Eula’s singing voice “like slow thunder and sweet rain” and loves her mouth-watering Sunday dinners — a banquet of fried chicken, greens, spoon bread and more.
Easter is coming, and Miss Eula has been powerfully admiring the beautiful hats in Mr. Kodinski’s shop. How can Patricia, Winston, and Stewart earn enough money to buy one for her? And how can they convince old Mr. Kodinski that they are not the mean kids who threw eggs at his door?
Pysanky eggs and chutzpah — that’s the solution. And tenderness and understanding. All of it comes together just in time for Miss Eula’s Easter Sunday solo. This is a very sweet story. Polacco’s rich, human figures and faces add immensely to the beauty of it.
I Wonder as I Wander, by Gwenyth Swain, illustrated by Ronald Himler
published in 2003 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
The Appalachian folk song, “I Wonder as I Wander” is sung as a Christmas carol, and that makes sense given that one of the verses is about Jesus’ birth.
The song begins and ends, though, with a wondering about how Jesus, the King, would come to die for “poor orn’ry people like you and like I” and that seems to me to be an invitation to make use of this in our Easter celebrations as well.
The song was brought to us through the work of John Jacob Niles who traveled Appalachia transcribing these traditional melodies. He heard it sung by a young girl named Annie Morgan.
This fictitious story pleasantly, poignantly imagines the origins of Annie’s song and her encounter with Mr. Niles. It’s a beautiful slice of Americana, and a dear story of a young girl, the daughter of an itinerant preacher, whose mother has recently died. Her questions and wonderings about God, death, grief, and poverty, and her father’s measured answers, find their way into this haunting song.
I just came across this book, and I really like it. Himmler’s handsome, evocative watercolors are a perfect complement. Ages 5 and up.
Peter’s First Easter, by Walter Wangerin, Jr. illustrated by Timothy Ladwig
published in 2000 by Zondervan
Here’s a first: I’ve never put a book on Orange Marmalade that I’ve not read cover to cover. But I haven’t even seen this one!
It’s a title that my friend Haley highly recommends, though, and she’s blogged about it over at Aslan’s Library, where she covers “theological books for kids.”
It’s the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection as told by his disciple Peter. The one who brashly said he would not turn his back on Jesus come what may, then flatly denied knowing him three times in one swift evening. Haley calls it “a book about the power of God’s forgiveness” and I’ll just link you to her review of it over at her blog.
Easter Parade, written and illustrated by Mary Chalmers
published in 1988 by Harper & Row
Mary Chalmers is the illustrator of many charming little animal stories for preschoolers.
This is a sweet little romp of a parade, with Easter Chickens coming over the mountains in a golden, sort of hot-air-balloon-carriage, and Easter Bunnies pouring from the springtime woods, and Easter Ducks sailing across the lake in pastel boats, all convening at the Easter Farm where they load up the farm wagons with jolly, beribboned baskets of colored eggs and deliver them to happy bunnies and kittens and mice and skunks.
So darling! When they’re done, and every little cute child has a basket, they discover there’s one basket left over. Who did they miss? They will not rest until they find this person, no matter how tiny she may be! How nice.
Such a happy story, so full of springtime beauty and thoughtfulness and Easter celebration.
Still to come this week, I’ve got some lamb-y stories and a couple of Passover titles to consider for your Holy Week collections.
Posted in fiction, non-fiction, picture books | Tagged appalachia, book reviews, children's literature, easter, easter bunny, folk music, Holy Week, Jesus, John Jacob Niles, kindness, ukrainian eggs | Leave a Comment »
Baseball Is…by Louise Borden, illustrated by Raúl Colón
published in 2014 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
From the first cry, “Play ball!” and the opening pitch. Through the crack of the bat, the line drive, a runner sliding into home plate, the umpire’s arms flashing “Safe!”
From vendors hawking peanuts to the seventh-inning stretch. Pennants and popcorn. Dugouts and double plays.
Baseball is our American pastime, and Louise Borden has written what has to be the quintessential homage to it in this book.
She loves this game. That breathes through her entire, free-verse text. This is a romance, an ode.
She knows this game, and she knows what you love about it, too. It’s all, remarkably, here. History and atmosphere, stats and stadiums, the sounds, the sights, the tangibles and intangibles, everything you adore about baseball.
Raúl Colón’s always-stunning illustrations capture the nostalgia, the personalities, the feel of being a fan in the stadium, perfectly.
I must say, I haven’t been much of a baseball fan since the 60s when we’d hang over the wall of the old Met Stadium in Bloomington to get some Twins’ autographs — and still — this book worked its magic on me.
I know plenty of folk who are mad about baseball, and for any of you — this is a gem you don’t want to miss. Ages 5 to 100! I’m hoping this one will get some awards this year.
Posted in non-fiction, picture books | Tagged baseball, book reviews, children's literature | 1 Comment »
What We Found in the Sofa and How it Saved the World, by Henry Clark, illustrated by Jeremy Holmes
published in 2013 by Little, Brown and Company
“I have news,” Fiona announced, and sat down between us. “It turns out,” she said, “there are people out there who collect crayons.”
“Yeah,” said Freak. “They’re called five-year-olds.”
“No, they’re called adults, and some of them might pay good money for the zucchini crayon we found…I looked up zucchini crayon on the Internet. It’s one of over two dozen colors the crayon company doesn’t make anymore. It’s very hard to find. There were only five hundred made, for a special limited-edition box of crayons called Victory Garden…But the new machine…left out the zucchini crayon and put in two rutabagas instead…Most of the zucchini crayons wound up in a tray, and the tray got left on a radiator, and most of them melted.”
“So,” I said, “any zucchini crayon that survived the meltdown would be worth something? We could sell it through an Internet auction site.”
“That’s what I was thinking,” agreed Fiona.
Fiona, Freak, and River are an unlikely trio of middle-schoolers.
One day, quite out-of-the-blue, the three come upon an old sofa sitting alongside the road at their school bus stop. In its green cushions, they find an odd assortment of rubbish, including one crayon labeled zucchini green.
Little do they know that crayon marks the beginning of an extraordinary liason with an eccentric loner named Alf in an all-out race to save the planet from the diabolical plans of a guy named Edward Disin.
They’ll need the aid of a Double Six domino, Compulsive Completist Disorder, a jump rope, a cat named Mucus, and more wits and bravery than they realize they possess to outsmart, outrun, and outmaneuver Disin and his treacherous armies. In the end, it’s the ability to think for themselves, to creatively problem solve, that makes all the difference.
This sci-fi adventure is a crazy, compelling read for ages 11 and up. In addition to portals and other worlds, nanotechnology, creepy spies and almost certain death, there are nice underlying themes of friendship, and the power of individuals who think for themselves. A large helping of humor and three vivid personalities make us care about these kids from the opening pages.
I really enjoyed this novel. It’s fast-paced, entertaining, full of weird gizmos and off-beat solutions from an author who has written for MAD magazine if that gives you any hints. Lovely nods to A Wrinkle in Time are incorporated. There are sad backstories, glimpses of an alcoholic, abusive father, and gobs of danger, so consider these elements …yet predominantly it’s a thrilling, fun ride.
Posted in fiction | Tagged adventure stories, book reviews, children's literature, friendship, science-fiction | Leave a Comment »
In my annual Christmas lists, I’ve mentioned a few of my favorite-ever board books — those would be Farm Animals by Phoebe Dunn, and the Helen Oxenbury set — Tickle, Tickle, All Fall Down, Clap Hands, Say Goodnight.
It’s harder for me to get my hands on new board books because of how they’re handled at my library, and truth be told, I think many board books are better as regular books with pages.
But here, today, are five jolly selections for giving at baby showers, buying for a grandchild, purchasing for the children’s wing of a hospital…
One, Two Three… Climb, by Carol Thompson
published in 2013 by Child’s Play
Multi-racial roly-polies scrabbling up the pillows and people in their world. So happy and charming.
This has a similar vibe to the Helen Oxenbury series I mentioned up top. Sweet, simple, with content for the 6-18 month crowd. There are three more titles in this lovable series, coming out of the UK.
Big and Small, by Britta Teckentrup
published in 2013 by Barefoot Books
Britta Teckentrup is brilliant with these concept books for the teeny ones, so look for her name and find some more gems for yourself.
Big and Small features seven pairs from Nature — a lion and a cat, a tree and an acorn — showing the largeness and smallness of the world around us.
Knock-your-socks-off color, cheery as a robin, pleasing design, and a more interesting vocabulary than many books for this age group.
A companion book, Fast and Slow, contains pairs of vehicles — rocket and hot air balloon, truck and wheelbarrow. Love these.
Alphablock, by Christopher Franceschelli, art by Peskimo
published in 2013 by Abrams Appleseed
I fell for this the moment I came across it — such fun!
First of all, it is Hefty! It feels like you’ve got your hands on something mighty important!
Then, the cover — oh so snazzy. Doesn’t it make you want to see what’ inside?!
Each letter has a two page spread, with a die-cut letter that hinges in the middle. You can see how that works here:
At first you just catch a glimpse of something beginning with “M.” Flip the letter and you get the whole moon.
Look what starts with letter C!
Smart graphic design, sweet colors. A whole lot of fun to look at, even if you have no idea what the alphabet is all about.
The Swing, by Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by Julie Morstad
published in 2012 by Simply Read Books
Here’s Julie Morstad again (author/illustrator of How To), bringing her amazing talents to bear on Stevenson’s classic poem.
A lovely poem,
treated sublimely by this Canadian artist.
Just…lovely is all.
How Hippo Says Hello! by Abigail Samoun, illustrated by Sarah Watts
published in 2014 by Sterling Children’s Books
Want to raise a polyglot? Or at least a world-aware child? Might just get started now with this friendly hippo who travels to France, Russia, Egypt, India, China, Japan, and Argentina.
Everywhere he goes, he greets one new friend – Hello! — in the new language.Charming illustrations provide ambiance and setting, and there’s a pronunciation guide so you can figure out how to say “Al Salaamu Alaykum!” properly.
A companion book, How Gator Says Goodbye, visits all the same countries, teaching us how to bid a fond farewell.
Posted in board books, poetry | Tagged alphabet books, book reviews, books for babies, children's literature, concept books, foreign language for children, robert louis stevenson | Leave a Comment »
The Long, Long Journey: The Godwit’s Amazing Migration, by Sandra Markle, illustrated by Mia Posada
published in 2013 by Millbrook Press
A bar-tailed godwit is a long-legged wading bird.
Godwit chicks hatch out in June when the welcome sunshine spills over the Arctic landscapes of Alaska. The downy chicks grow strong very quickly as they gobble insects and clams and practice their flying.
It’s essential that these birds get plenty to eat and become mighty independent, because the young birds are about to undertake a herculean journey. Without their parents to guide them, they fly straight through for eight days and nights, migrating 7,200 miles, to the estuaries of New Zealand.
Sandra Markle describes these remarkable birds in engaging text suited to early elementary children and up, then adds some quick facts and plenty of resources to learn more.
Mia Posada’s paper collages are full of gorgeous textures, and seaside colors, and personality.
The return migration to Alaska from New Zealand has likely just taken place. It’s a great time to read about this record-breaking long-distance traveler.
Posted in non-fiction, picture books | Tagged alaska, bar-tailed godwit, birds, book reviews, children's literature, migration, new zealand | Leave a Comment »