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British children evacuate London

WWII involved civilians more than any previous war, not only due to the millions killed in bombings and imprisonment, but also the wholehearted participation of those at home sacrificing for the sake of the armies, defending against attacks, maintaining farming and industry despite the absence of those away fighting, awaiting news of loved ones.

The home fronts make especially apt windows into the war for those too young or sensitive to hear about more militant aspects. Here are some excellent choices:

dianas-white-house-garden-cover-imageDiana’s White House Garden, written by Elisa Carbone, illustrated by Jen Hill
published in 2016 by Viking

Based on a true story, this book follows Diana Hopkins, daughter of President Roosevelt’s chief advisor, who lived in the White House. In 1943 she was 10 years old — old enough to want to do her part in the war effort.

Diana’s well-meaning intentions go utterly awry until FDR brings up the idea of Victory Gardens, urging Americans to grow their own food in order to provide more for the troops. Diana seizes on the notion of helping with a Victory Garden at the White House itself and the whole country takes notice.

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It’s a pleasant, entertaining story, beautifully illustrated in graceful, period styling, for ages 4 and up.

a-year-of-borrowed-men-cover-imageA Year of Borrowed Men, written by Michelle Barker, illustrated by Renné Benoit
published in 2015 in Canada; first U.S. edition 2016 by Pajama Press

Having had a daughter living in Germany for several years recently, I’ve become more attuned to the plight of the ordinary German people during the war. It’s tough to find books from that vantage point, which makes this title especially welcome.

Based on her mother, Gerda’s, childhood memories, author Michelle Barker tells the story of their family’s farm in Germany and of the French prisoners of war who were sent to help run it while their own men were away soldiering.

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Little Gerda has a tender heart towards these seven men, who are supposed to be treated as prisoners. Her mother also has a hospitable heart, yet even inviting the men to eat indoors on a severely cold night, rather than in the pig kitchen, brings accusations from snoopy neighbors, a visit from the police, questioning at headquarters, and threats of imprisonment for any further kindness.

Read this brave, kindhearted story with children ages 4 and up. Warm, homey illustrations strike a gentle tone throughout. An Author’s Note tells more about the harrowing war experiences of the author’s mother.

the-lion-and-the-unicorn-cover-imageThe Lion and the Unicorn, written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes
published in 1999 by DK Publishing

Many British children, of course, experienced the war as refugees in their own country. Evacuated from the nightly bombings of London, they were abruptly separated from everyone and everything familiar, to arrive on their own, amongst strangers. I cannot imagine the trauma.

Shirley Hughes tells the story of one of these young evacuees, Lenny, who is taken in along with several other children by Lady De Vass at her expansive country estate. Lenny’s transition is far from easy, and Hughes explores it honestly, sensitively, without any rush. How can Lenny find the courage he needs as such a young child?

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It’s a touching story, heartbreaking in places, and relatable for other children facing separation, loss, loneliness, homesickness, and the like. Illustrated in Hughes’ masterful watercolors, full of the gray shadows and peeks of sunlight in Lenny’s journey. Ages 6 and up.

my-secret-war-diary-cover-imageMy Secret War Diary: My History of the Second World War, written and illustrated by Marcia Williams
published in 2008 by Candlewick

Marcia Williams has pieced together this brilliant pseudo-journal, written by one Flossie Albright who is nine years old at the outset of her diary-keeping in July, 1939.

140+ brown-paper pages are crammed with Flossie’s schoolgirl writings, drawings, photos, and keepsakes, all telling the story of her life and world during these six momentous years.

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Flossie represents another British story, of those living in areas where they received the evacuees. At age 9, she’s already life-hardened. Her mum died of pneumonia a year ago, leaving behind a newborn baby, Boo. Now her dad’s been drafted, leaving Flossie with Uncle Colin and taking on the roles of mother, cook, and gardener’s helper. Tough times faced by a stalwart little girl.

Flossie is a thoroughly engaging character. Her bits of war history and her insider’s depiction of the deprivations in wartime England, completely drew me in, and when I handed this to my 93-year-old mother-in-law, she was hooked as well! A fantastic approach to history for ages 9 and up.

dont-you-know-theres-a-war-on-cover-imageDon’t You Know There’s a War On?, written and illustrated by James Stevenson
published in 1992 by Greenwillow

I love James Stevenson’s lesser-known autobiographical picture books. This one offers a lighthearted yet poignant look at his life as a young boy — a Henry Huggins sort of fellow — during the war years.

Stevenson’s smidgeons and snippets of narration alight on vast white space, accompanied by his genius brushstrokes of spot art. His words convey the plainspoken reminiscences of a grandfather talking about his childhood. Some of it is delivered in Stevenson’s characteristic, handscratched conversation-exchanges.

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Humorous, dry, insightful, directly from the mindset of a 10-year-old boy whose brother and father have both left to fight the war. Ages 6 and up.

barbed-wire-baseball-cover-imageBarbed Wire Baseball, written by Marissa Moss, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu
published in 2013 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

Of course, for Japanese-Americans, life on the homefront rapidly turned into a nightmare of hostility and imprisonment in the internment camps of the West Coast. Many titles are available to understand this sorrowful episode in our history. I particularly like this one.

It’s the story of Kenichi Zenimura, a talented baseball player who moved to Hawaii with his family at age 8. Zeni grew up playing ball, excelling at many positions, and went on to coach, manage, and tour Japan with other Japanese ballplayers in order to popularize the sport there.

All that happened before the infamous day at Pearl Harbor, after which Zeni, his wife and sons were sent to the Gila River War Relocation Center in Arizona, suspected along with every other Japanese-American of being disloyal and dangerous.

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Zeni turned to baseball to relieve the drudgery, monotony, oppression, and humiliation of the camp, guiding his fellow prisoners to construct an impressive ball field complete with uniforms and stands.

The courageous story leaps off the page with Shimizu’s handsome, powerful, carefully-historical illustrations. Gorgeous work. Ages 7 and up.

Throughout this week I’m going to be sharing titles related to World War II.

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We’ll be looking at life on the home fronts, the race for the atomic bomb, heroic efforts to rescue Jews from the Holocaust, racism in the military, and submarine warfare in the Pacific.

Japanese-American children in Little Tokyo, L.A.

Japanese-American children in Little Tokyo, L.A.

I wouldn’t even try to take a stab at how many children’s books exist– fiction, nonfiction, picture books, novels, graphic novels – related to WWII, with new titles cropping up continually. There is still so much to be learned from the experiences of that war – the self-sacrifice, endurance, dogged determination, courage, as well as visible and invisible damage for civilians and soldiers alike. So many great conversations can arise from these amazing books.

British children evacuate London

British children evacuate London

To start the week off, I have two child-friendly titles providing overviews of the war.

From a British point of view…

the-story-of-the-second-world-war-for-children-cover-imageThe Story of the Second World War for Children, by Peter Chrisp
published in 2015 by Carlton Kids in partnership with the Imperial War Museums

Heavily illustrated with photographs from the Imperial War Museum collections, this book features two-page spreads on a variety of chronologically-arranged topics.

Brief paragraphs of text and photographic captions offer engaging, informative introductions beginning with the lead-up to the war and continuing through to the Allied victory celebrations in 1945.

Coming from the UK, this book does a better job of covering the years 1939-1941 than U.S. books generally do. In fact, almost half the book takes place prior to Pearl Harbor making this a great addition to American bookshelves. There is more coverage of fighting in the Soviet Union and a more diverse look at the various home fronts as well.

Really well done, for ages 8 and up.

From an American viewpoint, I’ll recommend again a title I posted several years ago…

the-good-fight-cover-imageThe Good Fight: How World War II Was Won, by Stephen Ambrose
published in 2001 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

It provides an excellent overview of the war, with two-page spreads on topics from the obvious — D-Day — to the less-covered Aleutian campaign and Allied invasion of Sicily. Immensely readable. Chock full of historic photographs, maps, and bullet-point lists of interesting points to spark interest in further reading. My full review is here

It’s been about nine months since the exciting news emerged about the discovery of one final tale from Beatrix Potter and at long last, with the peculiar timing of a much-anticipated birth, this baby’s on the shelves for you to admire!

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The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots, written by Beatrix Potter, illustrated by Quentin Blake
published in 2016 by Frederick Warne

And oh, it is worth the having!

All that we adore in Potter’s tales — her storytelling mastery; grubby, flawed characters; the rapscallions; the saucy, ill-advised adventurers; the wry observations of the narrator; the wit and sophistication. And the language! It’s all here, in unabashed glory.

Additionally, for those of you well-acquainted with all the tiny tales, you’ll be delighted to run into quite a few old friends here including Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and her laundry…

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Ribby and Tabitha with their reputations for prudence, a stouter, yet still audacious Peter Rabbit…

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I’ll let you discover the others.

The story itself features Kitty, a feline with a dual personality. At home, she calls herself Miss Catherine St. Quintin:

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But when she dons “a gentleman’s Norfolk jacket and little fur-lined boots,” Kitty’s friends have a few other monikers for her.

It is in this guise that Kitty lands herself in a heap of Potter-esque trouble. As you might expect from Beatrix, things do not come to an end without considerable fur flying and other forms of injury. This is all quite deserved, according to our narrator, on account of the bad behavior of Kitty and several colleagues.

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Potter left her manuscript without illustrating it, giving Quentin Blake the task of filling in for Beatrix. I’m thankful for an illustrator with the supreme clout and vision of Blake, who did not attempt to replicate Potter’s style but employed his own, much more frenetic brushstrokes and eccentricity, while retaining enough of Potter’s style in composition, page-layout and image-size that the book still fits tickety-boo in the Potter canon.

An audio version of the story is included with the book. The narrator is none other than Helen Mirren. First thing I did on collecting my copy was to pop the CD in the player and let myself absorb the story through Mirren’s masterful voices. Superb.

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This is a deadringer for a Christmas gift for lots of folks, young and old. Thank you Beatrix, Quentin, and all those who have had a part in bringing this treasure to life.

Meanwhile, it’s still the year we’re celebrating Potter’s 150th birthday. She was born on July 28, 1866.
To that end, Frederick Warne has collaborated with 32 outstanding children’s book author-illustrators to bring us an utterly delectable collection of Potter tales, original art, and musings:

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A Celebration of Beatrix Potter: Art and Letters by more than 30 of today’s favorite children’s book illustrators
published by Frederick Warne, 2016

Gahhhhh! This book is a wonder!

Take nine of Potter’s tales – Peter Rabbit, Squirrel Nutkin, The Tailor of Gloucester, Two Bad Mice, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, the Pie and the Patty-Pan, Mr. Jeremy Fisher, Jemima Puddle-Duck, and Mr. Tod.

Add brief introductions about the inspiration and making of the original books, and excerpts of the stories with Potter’s illustrations.

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Pour in the imaginations and observations of some of today’s most talented author-illustrators – Melissa Sweet, Lauren Castillo, Wendell Minor, Brian Pinkney…I can’t list them all. It’s a powerful list!

These folks were asked to reflect on what Potter has meant to them, and choose an episode from one of these stories to illustrate with their own flair, style, vision.

What you get is a stunning collection of art and a tender, thoughtful compilation of ideas from folks whose business it is to soak in story and create story. I love every page. It’s a tribute to Beatrix Potter, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a window into these artists’ thoughts about drawing, mischief, human frailty, imagination, the out-of-doors, comfort, fear, and how Potter’s tiny tales speak to all of that.

Hear Tony Diterlizzi’s delightful ramblings about his encounter with Jeremy Fisher at the “ramshackle bait and tackle shop” he frequents:

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Or come nose-to-nose with Jen Corace’s terribly-vexed Hunca Munca, as Jen describes her childhood dollhouses and the deep, emotional investment and disappointments we, too, experience that makes us empathize with that perturbed, wee mouse.

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Potter was a brilliant artist, with her boots firmly planted in the muck of the Lake District, and we love her for that. If you’re a Potter fan, or an artist, ages 12 through adult, do yourself a favor and check this collection out.

 It hits the shelves here in the U.S. on November 1st.

Today’s set of five all made my heart feel like someone just poured in a stream of golden honey. So full of love, belonging, participation, growth, cleverness. These gems are all perfect for preschoolers. Enjoy!

sometimes-we-think-you-are-a-monkey-cover-imageSometimes We Think You Are a Monkey, written by Johanna Skibsrud and Sarah Blacker, illustrated by Julie Morstad
published in 2015 by Puffin

When my youngest child was a toddler, we often referred to her as The Goat. Yes, it was affectionately said, but with a hint of exasperation as well, for she ate so darn many things not intended for human consumption. Lipstick. Glue. Playdough. The tips of the Crayola Markers. There was no stopping her.

The comparisons in this book are much sweeter! Sometimes a baby’s mouth, opening and closing, “looking for a drop of milk,” reminds us of a little bird. A baby’s skin is so peachy soft, it feels like “brushing our fingers over the fine dust of a butterfly’s wing.”

sometimes-we-think-you-are-a-monkey-illustration-julie-morstad

But you, my dear, are not a baby bird, nor a butterfly. You are a perfect new baby.

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Blanketed in tenderness, with Julie Morstad’s brilliant illustration work – gorgeous textures, compositions, hand-lettering, and a contemporary, natural palette of ocean blues, meadow golds, apple blossom pinks –this is a phenomenally sweet book to share with your little ones.

Great baby shower gift!

sam-and-jump-cover-imageSam and Jump, written and illustrated by Jennifer K. Mann
published in 2016 by Candlewick

Sam and his lovey-bunny, Jump, do everything together. Chances are, if you have a toddler, someone like Jump lives in your household, too. Worn as the velveteen rabbit, sticky with jam, sporting a grubby, gray color, with the scent of stale milk embedded in its mattered fur. You know what I’m talking about.

sam-and-jump-interior-jennifer-mann

And you know what happens when such a creature goes missing. Sam’s Jump goes missing after a day at the beach, making Sam one forlorn little guy. But fear not, this is a story with a happy ending.

Discover how Sam and Jump are reunited and receive a bonus friend to boot in this utterly-relatable story. Mann tells it wonderfully with minimal words and enormously warm, engaging illustrations that convey all the emotions brilliantly. Charming.

lets-go-to-the-hardware-store-cover-imageLet’s Go to the Hardware Store, written by Anne Rockwell, illustrated by Melissa Iwai
published in 2016, Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company

When my kids were small, we read so, so many of Anne Rockwell’s books. Her understanding of young children is masterful. Her ability to tell a story that rivets the attention of a child, with a minimum of words — genius.

This latest book is a prime example. In it, a brother and sister are moving with their family into a new house and everything needs fixing, according to Mom. Luckily, Dad’s a great fix-it man if he’s got the right tools. He needs some new ones, he says. Convenient.

So off Dad and the kids go to the hardware store. It’s not one of those big box stores. It looks like this:

lets-go-to-the-hardware-store-illustration-melissa-iwai

Excellent. As these three meander the aisles, they see a variety of hammers to choose from and learn the keen names for them – ball-peen, framing, mallet. They buy material to fix the crack in the ceiling – spackle and a putty knife. There are so many interesting gadgets and dojiggers in a hardware store!

lets-go-to-the-hardware-store-interior-rockwell-and-iwai

Rockwell’s plainspoken, conversational tone is authentic and respectful of a child’s investigative mind. Iwai’s illustrations are friendly and chock-full of cool hardware supplies.

Can I just say I love two illustrations particularly: One shows Dad properly using his saw horse. I cannot tell you how many illustrations get this wrong, with a carpenter who should know better sawing a board right smack in-between two saw horses. The other shows Mom nursing her baby, just on the floor, in the middle of the mess and mayhem. Lovely and happy.

little-home-bird-cover-imageLittle Home Bird, written and illustrated by Jo Empson
published in 2016 by Child’s Play

It’s time for Little Bird to migrate, but wait just a minute! Little Bird loves his home! He has a favorite branch. Delicious berries. Beautiful music chinging from a wind chime in his tree. A lovely view.

Little Bird’s solution is to cart his favorite things along with him on the long journey. Seems sensible, but in fact lugging all of these precious bits slows Little Bird down to the point he’s in danger of losing the rest of the flock. What to do?

little-home-bird-interior-jo-empson

Jo Empson’s sensitive, thoughtful exploration of home, leaving home, trying to take home with us, creating new places that feel like home, speaks to all of us, from young children through adults. Her ravishing artwork spritzes and washes and floods each page with glorious color, energy, beauty, and happiness.

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It’s a great title for all, but particularly well-suited to those on the move or those third-culture-kids who consistently migrate between one home and another.

shapes-reshape-cover-imageShapes, Reshape!, written and illustrated by Silvia Borando
originally published in Italy, 2014; English edition 2016 by Candlewick

Puzzlers for little busy brains fill every page of this whip-smart book!

See these shapes? This stack of lime green squares and rectangles, bitsy ones and boxy ones? And the pile of red stripeys?

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Well, if you’re clever, you can reshape them into some JUMPY things.

Ready?

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Ta da!

Silvia Borando counts back from 10 to 1, rearranging shapes imaginatively into lots of creatures — roary ones, pinchy ones, sniffly-snuffly ones — in this fabulous book.

It’s a sparkling invitation to imagining, seeing possibilities, creating, for yourselves. If you like this, she’s got another title, Shapes at Play, bursting with the same sort of magic.

There’s a new Musings post up on my blog.

G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton

It stems from some reading I was doing this morning and a serendipitous connection I found between G.K. Chesterton’s thoughts on human longings and the stories I seek out for sharing with you all.

What longings, what ingredients for happiness, do we share with the rest of the human race? Chesterton’s response might

from Oscars Half Birthday, by Bob Graham

from Oscars Half Birthday, by Bob Graham

surprise you, as it did me, but with reflection I found it to be a sort of summary of the key ingredients in children’s books. 

See what you think, by clicking on the link here, or navigating through the Musings tab on the top of the page.

It’s no secret that I love me some quietness.

Photo by Erik Swanson from theworldinphotons wordpress

Photo by Erik Swanson from theworldinphotons wordpress

The soul-enlarging quietness of a morning at the cabin, where only the haunting call of a loon breaks into absolute stillness.

The companionable quiet of an evening, sipping tea together, each lost in a good book.

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from Journey by Aaron Becker

The drowsy peace of a deep snowfall. The deep calm of everyone asleep, breathing, in the tent together.

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by Ansel Adams

Most of us need more quiet in our lives, I think we can agree. Today’s books draw us towards stillness. Time alone, to wonder. Wild spaces that restore body and soul.

the-sound-of-silence-cover-imageThe Sound of Silence, written by Katrina Goldsaito, illustrated by Julia Kuo
published in 2016 by Little, Brown and Company

Yoshio is a schoolboy living in Tokyo, a city swirling with sounds “like a symphony hall.” Car horns and motors, rain drops, footsteps, and peoplepeoplepeople surround him.

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One distinctive sound attracts him — the “twangy and tinkling” notes plucked by a koto player. What might this elderly sensei’s favorite sound be, Yoshio wonders. Her answer is mystifying: the sound of ma, of silence.

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Yoshio is suddenly more aware of sound than ever, as he searches for silence. In the midst of his bustling, beautiful world, where might he find it?

This thoughtful exploration of sound and silence is accompanied by gorgeous, vibrant illustrations set in contemporary Japan. References to Jiro’s sushi, Pokemon, corporate Tokyo, the architecture and style of modern Japan masterfully usher us into Yohio’s world.

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An afterword extends the conversation about the intriguing Japanese concept of ma. It’s a stunning offering for ages 5 to adult, and an excellent way to increase awareness of the loveliness of silence.

a-riot-of-quiet-cover-imageA Riot of Quiet, written by Virginia Sicotte, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone
published in 1969 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston

I discovered several of today’s titles by digging back a few decades. This beauty, illustrated by Ardizzone, was written by the mother of ten children! No wonder she extolled the virtues of quietness!

The lyrical text consists of a mother’s words as she coaxes her little one to sleep. “Listen, listen,” she says, and begins to list all manner of unusually quiet sounds for her child to consider, such as “a mouse licking flour in a London tower; a minute turning into another hour.” Even “an oyster pouting.”

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The small size of the book, the old-fashioned two-color illustrations, and Ardizzone’s magnificent line and proportion all work together to create a soporific effect. Delightful, if you can get ahold of it, for ages 18 months and older.

all-alone-cover-imageAll Alone, written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes
published in 1981 by Greenwillow Books

One of my favorite Frog and Toad stories is “Alone” from Days with Frog and Toad, in which Frog happily plunks down on a spit of an island in order to spend some time alone, leaving Toad in a complete panic. Why in the world would Frog want to be alone? There must be something terribly amiss, thinks Toad!

from Days with Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel

from Days with Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel

But, no. Frog was just so happy that day, he wanted to be alone so he could “think about how fine everything is.”

The boy in this very quiet story likes to be alone sometimes, too. It gives him the chance to hear more and see more of what’s around him — trees breathing in the wind, roots a-tangle across the earth. He spends time imagining. Asking himself unanswerable questions. Thinking. Wondering.

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There is enormous strength and possibility in all of that, right? Time alone is a treasure for us and our children. The illustrations here do not look much like Henkes’ more recent work. They are sketchy and pencil-soft and pensive. It’s a lovely book, again in a smallish size, for ages 2 and up.

do-you-hear-what-i-hear-cover-imageDo You Hear What I Hear? written and illustrated by Helen Borten
originally published in 1960; this edition published in 2016 by Flying Eye Books

Thanks to Flying Eye Books, we’ve got this gem back in print.

The graphic sensibility alone makes it a prize! I wish I could show you every page!

Attend to sounds. They are everywhere. And “different kinds of sounds make me feel different ways.” Loud goes with fierce and explosive. Quiet can be cheerful, mysterious, drowsy.

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There are sounds “so quiet you can’t hear them at all.” Far off sounds. Powerful sounds. Sharp, low, grumbling, haunting, and joyful sounds. I love the language Borten uses, the keen, descriptive, sensory language, drawing us to consider, compare, become more aware.

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One has to be quiet, to hear all of this. A lovely vintage read for ages 2 and up.

the-quiet-noisy-book-cover-imageThe Quiet Noisy Book, written by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrations by Leonard Weisgard
originally published in 1950; this edition 1993 by Harpercollins Children’s Books

These two masters of children’s literature and illustration teamed up over 60 years ago to produce this exquisite work of wondering, imagination, and quiet joy.

Muffin, a wee pup, has been soundly sleeping all night long, but “quietly something woke him up. A very quiet noise. What could it be?”

Was it a bee wondering? Was it a skyscraper scraping the sky? Was it — oh mercy me! — a cow putting on her petticoat?

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Each question splashes across the pages in Weisgard’s triumphant graphic genius as our curiosity about that sound grows and grows. Such a quiet sound. “As quiet as someone eating current jelly.” That quiet. What could it be?

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Perfectly pitched for curious minds, ages 18 months and older, it’s a glorious vintage read.

finding-wild-cover-imageFinding Wild, written by Megan Wagner Lloyd, pictures by Abigail Halpin
published in 2016 by Alfred A. Knopf

Finally, this exuberant celebration of wilderness. 

I love the restorative power of untrammeled wilderness. As children’sfinding-wild-illustration-detail-by-abigail-halpin lives grow increasingly busy and increasingly restricted due to concerns over security, there is an urgent need, it seems to me, for opportunity to breathe tree-filled air, run freely, exert legs on unpaved paths, stick fingers in sap, pick burrs off wool socks, follow the beckoning shush of a cascade, see stars, do nothing.

The beauty and glory and wildness of untamed outdoorsness is sung in these pages as two kids search for wild.

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What is it? Where is it? Can they find wild, even in the city? Lovely language accompanied by tender, joyful illustration work. Get inspired to search for wild with ages 3 and up.

Looking for more quiet books? Check some posts from my archives by clicking on these links:
take time to pause…five quiet books full of wondering
a list of…five audaciously noisy and sublimely quiet books

It’s been 15 years since 9/11 which means that anyone from about the age of 19 and down will have dim or nonexistent memories of that terrible day which left an ugly gash, at the very least, in the rest of us.

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What an odd jolt it is to teach modern history to this tribe of newly-teenaged persons and realize they have almost no emotional response to those events. They don’t even know how many planes there were or that the Pentagon was hit. They can’t remember the slow creeping horror as we realized this was not an accident. The dumb shock of seeing gigantic towers crumple and a dust-covered throng of workers stumbling away, away from galloping storms of ash. They weren’t there, listening to the cell phone messages that smote our hearts or the eerie sound of military jets encircling our cities. They didn’t experience the new trauma of vulnerability. They don’t know where they were when they heard the news. All of it is just a historical event from before their time.

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It has taken some years for me to connect that sort of historical detachment to the need for children’s literature on this subject. As titles have popped up in the past, my own visceral response has been that 9/11 is too raw a subject to hand to kids. I’ve realized, though, that children are perhaps more ready and capable of hearing about 9/11 than we are of telling the stories.

Today I’ve got four books introducing children in a range of ages, through a variety of angles, to the events of 9/11.

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Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey, written and illustrated by Maira Kalman
published in 2002 by G. P. Putnam’s Sons

The title most accessible to the youngest audience is this gem by the one and only Maira Kalman, published just a year after 9/11.

fireboat-interior4-by-maira-kalman

Kalman has an uncanny knack of connecting honestly, compassionately, and perceptively with young readers. She talks to them forthrightly, in ways they can understand, without a scrap of condescension. She offers them quirky tidbits of information that would never occur to others of us to include, which act like the perfect dash of seasoning in a pot of soup. Yet she paints the entire large picture cohesively, riveting our attention and our hearts to the fortunes of one old fireboat and its heroic role on that tragic New York day.

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It’s the story of the John J. Harvey, a fireboat built in 1931, retired in 1995, destined to be turned into scrap metal, but saved and lovingly restored by a grand group of friends. Restored in time to assist in a most surprising way when the unthinkable turns into grim reality in Manhattan.

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Besides the engaging narrative, there is of course Kalman’s enormously tantalizing artwork, her bold colors and brush strokes and compositions are an outpouring of her vigorous self on every page. Magnificent. Even if you’re not purposing to introduce 9/11 to children, this is a story that begs to be shared. Ages 4 and up.

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Seven and a Half Tons of Steel, written by Janet Nolan, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez
published in 2016 by Peachtree

Another boat-ish perspective, this one with a slightly stronger expression of the tragic nature of the day.

While Kalman’s book devotes a large percentage of pages to jolly bits about the fireboat’s history and the chipper crew who salvage her, this account dives immediately into the incident.

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Maira Kalman, Fireboat

While Kalman’s book shows two planes in the sky, and two towers, there is no depiction of the impact of the planes into the buildings. Gonzalez shows one plane just as its nose strikes the tower.

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Thomas Gonzalez, Seven and a Half Tons of Steel

Both books illustrate the chaotic smoke emanating from the towers, but Kalman’s is impressionistic while Gonzalez’s illustrations are very realistic.

Kalman tells children that “two airplanes crashed into the Twin Towers. CRASHED, CRASHED, CRASHED into these two strong buildings. The sky filled with fire and smoke. The buildings exploded and fell down to the ground. Many people were hurt. Many lives were lost.” Nolan writes, “On September 11, 2001, clouds of smoke billowed into the clear blue sky. The World Trade Center towers came down. Almost three thousand people lost their lives.”

I hope that helps you judge the emotional content of these two books. Beyond those descriptions of the crash, the remainder of both books tells an entirely different story. Kalman’s tells about the fireboat. This one tells a very cool story about the repurposing of one massive beam from the towers, into the bow of a navy ship, christened the USS New York.

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It’s a terrific account, pulsing with courage and the will to move forward in the wake of tragedy.

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Gonzalez’s vigorous, factual  paintings will greatly appeal  to children, particularly those fascinated by burly stuff such as steel foundries, massive ships, military choppers, and the like. Ages 5 and up.

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America Is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell, written and illustrated by Don Brown
published in 2011 by Roaring Brook Press
64 pages

The exceptionally-talented Don Brown presents this episode in his series of books about historical events. It’s a much more complete story for ages 8 or 9 and up.

America is Under Attack

Brown doles out details with impeccably good sense, including the kinds of weapons used, specs on the towers, and the precise times at which key events unfolded that day in New York, D.C., and Pennsylvania. All of this is woven effortlessly into a narrative  that’s predominantly a collection of anecdotes following a number of people caught up in the disaster.

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Fire Chief Joseph Pfiefer and his brother. Frank De Martini and Pablo Ortiz, working high in the North Tower. Stanley Praimnath, the lone survivor located directly where the plane hit the South Tower. And others. Ordinary people caught up in chaos. Their stories are compelling. Some died. Some astonishingly survived. They acted with courage and compassion. Grave danger, destruction, injuries, and the death toll are factually presented here, yet the overarching note is of the beauty and dignity of humanity, of people bravely, kindly, helping one another through unspeakable crisis.

America is Under Attack

Emotive watercolor illustrations usher us immediately into the towers, smoke, and panic. An Author’s Note follows up with further statistics about the losses of that day.

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Towers Falling, by Jewell Parker Rhodes
published in 2016 by Little, Brown, and Company
223 pages

Finally, this middle-grade novel published this year by award-winning author Jewell Parker Rhodes.

Deja is a fifth-grader from Brooklyn. Her family has just moved into a shelter, to her embarrassment, because her dad is unable to go to work. Depression, panic attacks, and a debilitating cough seem to have paralyzed him from participation in life, cast a gray pall around the man he used to be. Deja does not understand him at all.

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Deja’s teachers have been assigned a new task this year, teaching about 9/11. It’s a subject more than usually traumatic for the personnel at this particular school. As Deja partners with her new friends Ben and Sabeen — a Muslim student — she learns more than she ever would have guessed about the events of that day, the meaning of home, the fabric of America, and why any of that matters.

I love that Rhodes’ angle on this was to peer into one small community — Miss Garcia’s fifth grade — and find out how events from the past impact who we are, the relevance of history to our lives and our neighbors. It’s a well-paced story, much more centered on the lives of these students 15 years after 9/11 than on the actual events of the day. I think it pairs exceptionally well with Don Brown’s account.

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