a list of…five warm-hearted books about giving

Giving, written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes

Lots of lovely giving is going on here…giving presents; giving kisses; giving piggy-back-rides, smiles, tea parties and hugs.  Also, some not-so-lovely giving, such as the cat giving a scratch, the baby giving his sister some soggy bread crusts, and unfortunately, the same baby giving his sister’s block tower a swipe.  Parents and grandparents, siblings and strangers, pets and dollies…there are many bestowers and recipients of giving, lots of variety in what can be given, and what should not be given…including what a young child must resist giving at times! 

This is one of Hughes’ Nursery Collection books, featuring a busy pre-schooler and her baby brother in a warm family setting.  Minimal text, yet flooded with warm, people-saturated, colorful pictures, this is perfect for toddlers.  Hughes, as always, is a genius at getting inside a child’s world, understanding the facets of giving from a small person’s point of view.  A true gem.

A Present for Mrs. Kazinski, written by Marilynn Reynolds, illustrated by Lynn Smith-Ary

There is an old house on Grant Street, full of all sorts of interesting people.  Frank is a little boy who lives there with his mom, and together they rent out the kitchen, back bedrooms, and attic.  A waitress named Rose lives in one…and there’s an old military man who waxes his moustache…a cat occupies the secret space under the front porch…and dear Mrs. Kazinski has the attic apartment where she looks out over the whole neighborhood every day, splendidly old and wrinkly.  She and Frank are the best of friends.

So, when Mrs. Kazinski announces that she is celebrating her eightieth birthday with a party, complete with scrumptious apple strudel and scads of candles, Frank is determined to give her an especially wonderful present.  What should it be?  Frank’s mom and the others in the house are full of good ideas, but none is just what Frank is looking for.  Until…Frank happens upon the perfect present.  He knows it will be the best present in the world. Trouble is, by the time the party comes around, Frank has grown quite attached to the present himself.  Will he really  muster up the courage to part with his gift? 

I really like the intergenerational, interesting friendships in this story.  I like its honesty — sometimes it is hard to give something you’d very much like to have for your own — and the warm, yet non-saccharine solution to Frank’s difficulty.  Smith-Ary’s vibrant pastel illustrations with their Van Gogh-like perspectives, give a bright, yet very human quality to the story.  Coming out of Canada, this is quite a nice read.

Music, Music for Everyone, story and illustrations by Vera B. Williams

Do you know the story A Chair for My Mother?  Here is a sequel to that lovely book.

Sadly, the beautiful, rose-printed chair is sitting empty these days.  Grandma is sick and confined to her bed.  The big money jar is empty, too, with all those extra coins spent on Grandma’s doctor bills.

Sad times bring out the best in givers, however.  Aunt Ida and Uncle Sandy and Mama and Rosa take turns caring for Grandma.  Rosa carries up bowls of soup, waters her plants, sits on her bed and chats…and best of all, when her friends come over, they take out their musical instruments — Rosa’s  accordian, Leora’s drums, Mae’s flute and Jenny’s fiddle — and play dance music for Grandma. 

This gives Rosa the bright idea to create the Oak Street Band with her friends and earn money to fill up the big money jar.  Lots of practice, help from music teachers and neighbors, and a gig at Leora’s great-grandparents’ golden anniversary party follow.  When the big moment comes, the girls are not sure they are brave enough to play, but when they do, lovely music, glowing lanterns, and happy dancers fill up the night, providing wonderful memories for all.

Lots of intangible giving in this book:  love, care, and the delightful gift of music.  Williams’ gloriously colorful watercolors swirl and dance and splash and glow from the pages, bringing out the rich emotions of the story.

Alfie Gives a Hand, written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes

Alfie  has been invited to his friend Bernard’s birthday party, but!…his Mom and little sister Annie Rose are not attending with him…which means he is going alone!…which is…scary.  Therefore, Alfie decides to bring along his old blankie.  Mom doesn’t think that’s such a good idea, but Alfie is not letting go.  He doesn’t put it down with the other children’s coats.  He doesn’t put it down while everyone jumps about popping bubbles.  He doesn’t even put it down while the guests all enjoy a very sticky, crumbly, birthday lunch. 

Towards the end of the party Bernard’s mom announces a game of Ring-a-ring-o’-roses, and all the children have to join hands.  Bernard grabs his buddy Alfie’s hand.  Alfie’s blanket is firmly clenched in the other.  However, shy little Min, who has been having great difficulty managing the rambunctious rowdiness of Bernard, refuses to join the circle unless she can hold Alfie’s hand, too.  What will Alfie do?

Alfie Gives a Hand is a favorite title of ours.  Hughes’ realistic portrayals of the trials of birthday parties, including over-excited, out-of-control guests of honor, and the heroism of a timid little boy, are spot-on, and are accompanied by her typically brilliant illustrations.   Not to be missed!

Flicka, Ricka, Dicka and the Strawberries, written and illustrated by Maj Lindman

Flicka, Ricka and Dicka are three Swedish sisters who look like three blonde peas-in-a-pod and who play, bake, plan and visit, always all together, in a series of picture books written in the 40s in Sweden.  I read all of these books over and over again when I was young and have a number of them tucked in my library shelves.

In this story, the three girls agree to pick wild strawberries for their Mom, who wants to cook up some yummy strawberry jam.  Mom says she will pay the girls for their baskets of berries, which definitely sweetens the deal.  In order to earn top dollar (or krona!) they set out to find as many berries as possible.   In their search for fabulous berry patches, however, the girls get a bit turned around.  Tuckered out and bewildered, they are very glad to happen upon a little cottage in the woods.  A peasant woman lives there with her little girl, just about their age, and baby boy.  They are poor, but very kind, and give the girls a nice cool drink of water as well as guiding them back home. 

Flicka, Ricka and Dicka are paid handsomely for their heaping baskets of berries, but decide among themselves that they’d rather spend the money on presents for the family in the cottage than on themselves.  Off they go to town, choosing a bright red dress for the girl and a sweet teddy bear for her baby brother.  Mom loads up a basket with oranges, milk, cookies, and of course, some of that fresh strawberry jam.  The girls happily deliver the goods to the cottage, where Flicka overhears the little girl say in quiet joy, “I shall love wild strawberries as long as I live.”

Ahh…such a sweet story, spilling over with old fashioned kindness.  And, nicely, the “poor” family is treated with dignity.  Lindman’s illustrations burst with retro goodness — crisp white blouses with Peter Pan collars, red anklets and brown t-strap shoes,  pink-and-white striped pajamas, and Mother, working in the sunny kitchen in her high heels and nylons-with-seams.  Fantastic!

Speaking of giving…

Diane, at Barefoot in Rochester (http://barefootinrochester.blogspot.com/) is giving away an adorable travel journal designed for kids ages 5-11.   I bet kids older than 11 would enjoy this, too!  Click on the link before New Year’s Eve and see what she has going on there.

Okay, and here are Amazon links for today’s books:
A Present for Mrs. Kazinski
Music, Music for Everyone
Alfie Gives a Hand
Flicka, Ricka, Dicka and the Strawberries