Posts Tagged ‘generosity’

Long, candlelit evenings and no school in the morning.
Cocoa topped with whipped cream and peppermint candy flakes.
New Christmas jammies.
And a good book.

Sounds like a pretty great way to revel in some hygge during these darkest days of the year, right?
If you’re looking for a read-aloud perfect for that kind of holiday season, consider these old and new titles. Starting with books for the youngest listeners…

Have Fun, Anna Hibiscus, written by Atinuke, illustrated by Lauren Tobia
first American edition 2010 by Kane Miller Books; 109 illustrated pages

One of my favorite little gals, Anna Hibiscus, travels from her home in Nigeria to spend the Christmas holidays with her Canadian grandmother.

It’s their first meeting and Anna’s first snow. In fact, there’s newness everywhere Anna turns, from Grandma’s quiet household instead of her boisterous, extended family, to dogs that live inside houses and chocolate cereal for breakfast!

Although Anna does miss home, she quickly feels happy and comfy in this new, cold land and has quite a merry time on her Canadian holiday. It’s a joyous read. Ages 4 and up.

A Toad for Tuesday, written by Russell E. Erickson, illustrated by Lawrence Di Fiori
originally published in 1974 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard; 64 pages

I adore Warton and Morton, two very likeable toad brothers who keep house together in a fabulous old series of early chapter books.

Morton makes an especially delicious Beetle Brittle. Warton, the more adventurous of the two, determines to deliver a batch to Aunt Toolia despite the fact that it’s mid-winter. He bundles up, straps on a pair of spiffy, homemade skis, and sets out.

Hygge, toad-style.

Alas! Shortly he is captured by a hungry owl! The owl decides not to consume Warton immediately, saving him until Tuesday, his birthday, for a special treat. That’s five days away. Will Warton’s pleasant conversation and cups of tea soften the heart of this grumpy owl? 

An ace story, plum full of high adventure, great suspense, plus lots of little mice on skis! Di Fiori’s drawings are brilliant. 4 and up.

Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, written by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban
originally published in 1971 by Doubleday Books for Young Readers; this edition, 2017; 48 pages

Dear Emmet Otter and his mom eke out a meager living in their Froghollow home by taking in washing and doing the odd job here and there. Emmet is young, but he shoulders a bushel load of responsibility with grace and determination, and the two of them lighten many an evening for one another by joining their voices in song.

Just now, times are even leaner than usual causing both Emmet and Mrs. Otter to daydream of having money enough to give the other a splendid Christmas gift, even just once. When a talent show is announced with a sweet prize for best in show, both of them risk everything to make that dream come true.

Russell Hoban was an enormously gifted children’s author. Here he presents an impoverished family with dignity, hope, and love. Lillian’s charming artwork enlivens the entire community of woodland personalities. 5 and up.

The True Gift: A Christmas Story, written by Patricia MacLahlan, illustrated by Brian Floca
published in 2009 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers; 82 pages

Lily and Liam are always eager to head to their grandparents’ farm to spend the Christmas holidays. This year, however, Liam is immediately distracted by the apparent loneliness of Grandpa’s solitary cow. The rest of the herd is gone. Even the donkey’s been sold. For Liam, it’s an untenable situation. He determines in his own, quiet way, to remedy White Cow’s sorry state.

Patricia MacLachlan spins this unusual plot masterfully, incorporating community and a lovely spirit of giving into this quiet, tenderhearted story. 5 and up.

The Story of Holly and Ivy, written by Rumer Godden, illustrated by Barbara Cooney
originally published in 1958; this edition 2006 by Viking Books for Young Readers; 32 pages

Rumer Godden’s story of the Christmas wishes of one little orphan girl, one china doll, and one childless couple, has been in print for almost 60 years now. It’s an old-fashioned story full of elegant dolls, telegraphs, brown paper parcels and hot chestnut vendors.  I have to say it also shows its age with some cringeworthy comments from Mr. Jones, who responds to his wife’s wistful feelings by chiding, “Don’t be daft,” then leaves the house for his overnight beat calling, “Have a good breakfast waiting for me” in the morning. Yeesh. 

Nevertheless, Rumer Godden’s heart for the lonely, her understanding of the longing to belong, are apparent and this poignant story will touch the hearts of children able to accommodate the vintage atmosphere and abundance of dolls. One villainous toy owl, plus Barbara Cooney’s precise artwork with its solemn, colonial New England sense, help avoid treacly sentimentality. Although it’s only 32 pages, the text is much longer than an average picture book and would easily break up into more than one sitting. 5 and up.

The Family Under the Bridge, written by Natalie Savage Carlson, illustrated by Garth Williams
first published in 1958; this edition 1989 by Harper Collins; 128 pages

I unabashedly love this book!

Unattached, responsible for no one but himself, Armand is a happy, old, tramp who knows his way around Paris, enjoys many friends, and glories in his carefree life. He is not on the lookout for a settled home, but for adventure. Above all, Armand wants to avoid children. Starlings, he calls them. “Witless, twittering, little pests.” His dear friend, Mireli, accuses him of being afraid of children. “You’re afraid the sly little things will steal your heart if they find out you have one,” she says.

So, on this cold December day, when Armand meets three, ragged children tucked under a bridge he considers his own, he feels decidedly grumpy. He wants nothing to do with them. Yet the Calcet children aren’t afraid of Armand’s gruff exterior. Before Armand knows what’s happening, these children have indeed wormed their way into his heart, and Armand is working overtime to help make their Christmas wishes — for a home of their own — come true.

This 1959 Newbery Honor title spills over with humor and heart and as a bonus, it’s illustrated by the one-and-only Garth Williams. 6 and up.

The Lion in the Box, written and illustrated by Marguerite De Angeli
originally published in 1975 by Doubleday Books for Young Readers; out of print; 63 pages

Sadly, this sweet story is out of print but if you live near a large library you may be able to find it.

Mama and her young family live in New York City at the turn of the century where she struggles to earn a living plus raise her five children. She relies greatly on her oldest three daughters to look after the others, and the whole crew is well trained in household chores. Even so, as a single mother she works tremendous hours cleaning offices, then setting the bread dough to rise or the soup bones to simmer after returning home at midnight.

It’s a happy household despite the deprivations. Still, little Lili longs for a real doll rather than her pinned-together tea towel, and wishes Ben had an actual toy train instead of the pickle bottle he chug-chugs around the floor. In her wildest dreams, though, she could never have imagined the strange surprises in store for them this Christmas, especially the huge wooden crate delivered to their door in the night causing such a commotion and fright.

Based on a true story told to the author by the real Lili, this story shines with contentment and a loving family, with the mutual support of immigrant neighbors and the incredible outpouring of generosity by one woman towards another. Illustrated with Marguerite De Angeli’s delicate pencil drawings. An afterword tells about the real Lilli. 6 and up.

Heartwood Hotel: The Greatest Gift, written by Kallie George, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
published in 2017 by Disney Hyperion; 176 pages

Mona the mouse works as a maid at the Heartwood Hotel. It’s situated in a great tree with root floor space for moles and voles, branch floors for chipmunks, twig floors for birds, and a kindly badger as innkeeper. Mona is quite happy in her charming community of woodland friends and ready for a bit of ease while most hotel guests settle in to their hibernation suites.

The winter is anything but peaceful and dreamy however! One petulant rabbit duchess arrives, one bumbling bear threatens their safety, and another hair-raising difficulty arises to test the pluck of Mona and the Heartwood staff.

These stories are delightful. They’ve got a bit of a tiny-animal-Downton-Abbey feel with all the gossip and goings-on among the hotel staff, lots of charming descriptions of acorn soufflés and moss carpets, and darling illustrations. This is the second of a series. 7 and up.

Odd and the Frost Giants, written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell
published in 2016 by Harper; 120 pages

This is the epic story of Odd, a young boy in medieval Norway who is fairly down on his luck. With his father drowned during a Viking raid, his leg lamed via a logging accident, his mom remarried to a lazy lout, and a long sluggish winter ahead cooped up with cranky villagers, Odd determines to hike into the forest and live independently in his father’s old hunting lodge.

Sooner than you can say Thor’s Hammer, though, Odd encounters a curious threesome — a fox, an eagle, and a bear. These three are definitely more than meets the eye. In fact, they’re Norse gods, transformed and deposed by some cunning, evil, Frost Giants. Journey with Odd and his companions to Asgard to right the wrongs in this heroic tale brimming with cups of mead and tricksters tricked, frozen landscapes, and the relentless pursuit of Beauty. Neil Gaiman spins his saga magnificently while Riddell’s ink drawings are enchanted and mythical. Ages 7 and up.

The Thirteen Days of Christmas, written by Jenny Overton, illustrated by Shirley Hughes
originally published in 1972; reissued in 2013 by Oxford University Press; 154 pages

It’s Christmas-time in Tudor England. Annaple, eldest in the Kitson household, has burned one too many dinners to please her kindly father and harassed siblings. They’d like to see her married off and done with their cooking detail. Francis, a wealthy nobleman is besotted with Annaple, but she won’t have him, preferring her romantic notions of country living. It’s up to Annaple’s siblings to coach Francis in the art of wooing. “Do something fanciful,” they encourage him.

And so he begins with a miniature pear tree, occupied by one plump partridge, delivered Christmas Day. Annaple is charmed. The next day, an ornate, gilded cage housing two cooing turtledoves arrives and, surprisingly, another potted pear with partridge. As Francis’ gifts become more elaborate and more embarrassingly conspicuous, Annaple’s brothers and sister fear their plan has gone seriously awry!

Such a funny story that also incorporates real and fanciful traditions for keeping each of the twelve days. Illustrated by Shirley Hughes in black ink drawings. Ages 8 and up.

Winter Holiday, written and illustrated by Arthur Ransome
originally published in 1933; paperback 2014 by David Govine; 336 pages

Winter Holiday is the fourth book and one of my favorites in the Swallows and Amazons series. It does help if you’ve met the Walker and Blackett kids in the first book, but you can read this one as a stand-alone and fare decently well I think.

It’s winter school break and these great friends are together again in the Lake District, hoping against hope for an unusually great freeze to ice over the whole lake and accommodate their epic Arctic expedition plans. Stir in a couple of new friends, sneaky adventures by moonlight, Nansen’s Fram, astronomers, mumps, and ice sledges racing across the lake at untenable speeds…and you’ve got the makings for excellent adventures, near disaster, and a fabulous, lengthy read-aloud for ages 7 and up.

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, by Karina Yan Glaser
published in 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 293 pages

The Vanderbeeker family — Mom, Dad, five children, three pets — fill their Harlem brownstone with liveliness and love. So much liveliness! Too much, it appears, for their reclusive, curmudgeonly landlord living on the top floor has given notice he’ll not be renewing their lease. They’ve got to move out, and right at Christmastime, too.

Unable to fathom living in a different home and neighborhood, the five children set out to change their landlord’s mind. Kill him with kindness, so to speak. Some of their ideas are good, some definitely not-so-good, yet as the few days before Christmas tick by, none of their plans go as intended. Instead, they only make things worse. What is curdling the heart of that landlord anyway? And how can they win him over?

This is a contemporary story with a lovely glow of old-fashioned, big family, warmth. In addition, it features a biracial family, a needed bit of diversity in the canon of children’s Christmas literature. If you like the Penderwicks, or even some older books like Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy family series, you’ll love this, with at least one sequel promised. Ages 9 and up.

The Coat Hanger Christmas Tree, written by Eleanor Estes, illustrated by Susanne Suba
published in 1973 by Atheneum; 75 pages

Here’s another out-of-print title and quite an unusual story. It takes place in Brooklyn when ethnic neighborhoods each held their distinct personalities, and features a young girl named Marianna, her older brother, and her deeply unhappy mother.

If that doesn’t sound like the recipe for a Christmas story, you’re right — this is not your average Christmas story. Marianna’s mom doesn’t really permit Christmas to enter their home. No Christmas trees, is the rule. But Marianna longs for a tree and this story witnesses her determination to change her mother’s mind.

Eleanor Estes was a wondrous story teller. Her books about the Pye family and the Moffats glow with warmth. This story, on the other hand, allows her to explore the longings of children in more difficult circumstances, the bonds they forge with one another, and the hidden wounds some parents carry. It’s thought-provoking and deeply satisfying for the right audience. You can read more in my longer review here. Ages 9 and up.

The Greenglass House, written by Kate Milford, illustrated by Jaime Zollars
published in 2016 by HMH Books for Young Readers; 400 pages

Finally, this longest read, a mystery adventure with a gothic twist that won some hefty awards last year.

It’s Christmas break. Milo and his parents sigh with happy relief as they look forward to a period of no guests in their rambling old Greenglass Inn. Perched as it is atop a precipitous cliff, just getting there in the midst of the current blizzard is nigh unto impossible, so they believe, until one by one an odd assortment of folk land on their doorstep fairly bursting with dusky secrets and… there goes Christmas.

Adding to Milo’s discomfiture at giving up his holiday is a mysterious map one of the guests seems to have dropped which Milo would very much like to puzzle out. And a series of thefts. And the cook’s daughter who annoyingly shows up and insists Milo join her in a role-playing game to solve these baffling events — not Milo’s normal cup of tea. And the Inn’s history as a haven for smugglers. And before you know it, we’re entangled in a fantastical, dangerous, adventure!

Running throughout the story is Milo’s unease as an adopted child who dearly loves his parents but yearns to know his birth parents as well. As you can tell, while this book is set during Christmas, it has very little actually to do with Christmas. Nonetheless, for older listeners who may want to enter a more sinister world together by candlelight, it could make a good, lengthy holiday read-aloud. Ages 10 and up.


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Coming up a week from today, Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving.

Carl Larsson “Potato Harvest”

A fitting response to gratitude is generosity towards others, and Thanksgiving finds cooks everywhere preparing ample, artistic feasts for gatherings of family, friends, neighbors and strangers…

… while a myriad churches and community groups work to fill up food banks and dish up meals for the homeless.

I love the connection between giving thanks and goodwill. Today I’ve got three grand picture books that link these for us beautifully. Starting with one that’s brand new:

Thanksgiving in the Woods, written by Phyllis Alsdurf, illustrated by Jenny Løvlie
published in 2017 by Sparkhouse Family

Author Phyllis Alsdurf based this book on an incredible, 20-year tradition for one family in upstate New York who annually host an outdoor, woodland, Thanksgiving feast attended by a couple hundred relatives, friends, and newcomers. 

Experience the whole day through the eyes of one young boy, from gathering kindling for the bonfire, to watching the throngs come bearing pots and platters of food, to listening to the fiddling and singing under the stars.  It’s a lovely tribute to community, common ground, sharing, and celebrating the simple gifts of life together. Ages 2 and up.

And a couple older favorites:

The Thanksgiving Door, written and illustrated by Debby Atwell
published in 2003 by Houghton Mifflin

Here’s another story of welcoming.

Ed and Ann are alone for Thanksgiving this year and unfortunately, Ann has just the thanksgiving door illustration debby atwellmajorly burned their dinner. 

As black smoke curls from the oven, Ed suggests they try the little restaurant down the street. The doors are open, and a long Thanksgiving-looking table has been set, so all seems well.

What they don’t see is the ruckus they’ve caused in the back kitchen as the restaurant owners — an extended family of Russian immigrants — debate what to do about these folks who have wandered into their private family gathering.

the thanksgiving door illustration debby atwell

Leave it to Grandmother to step up and extend an Old World welcome.  3 and up.

How Many Days to America?: A Thanksgiving Story, written by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Beth Peck
published in 1988 by Clarion Books

This ever-relevant story traces the harrowing flight of a group of refugees towards peace.

Fleeing from an ominous threat of soldiers, a family of four hurries out in the night. Secrecy, fear, an overcrowded boat, a miserable journey are all part of the ordeal. Finally they arrive to the welcome arms of strangers, and it just happens to be Thanksgiving Day. Clearly the giving of thanks for safety in a new land has double meaning for this particular dinner party.

how many days to america illustration beth peck

Beth Peck’s beautiful illustrations portray these seekers handsomely, with dignity, throughout their plight. Ages 4 and up.


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I don’t know about you, but lately my heart feels as though someone has been scouring it with steel wool.

Raw. Abraded. Grieving over violence and suffering, abuse of power and abuse of Earth, caustic tongues and acrimony, overwhelmingly loud day after day.  

As we move towards a series of holidays celebrating gratitude, light, and love, I want to share some powerful titles that console me with their messages of generosity, kindness, and working to alleviate suffering.

These books suit ages 2 through teens. Pick one or two, read them together, and dream of ways you can help mend the brokenness in our world.

At the end of the post, I have links to a couple of non-profits where your gifts can make a difference to people in extreme need.

You Hold Me Up, written by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Danielle Daniel
published in 2017 by Orca Books

Page through this gem and feel your heart glow with the warmth, strength, and richness of community, family, togetherness. 

You hold me up. I hold you up. That’s the bottom line, isn’t it? Monique Gray Smith quietly illuminates humanity’s best self with her minimal, just-right words.

Daniel’s striking palette and touching scenes mean each page delivers a wallop of goodness, all with that beautiful First Nation’s flavor. A total delight from our good neighbors in Canada that’ll woo readers of all ages toward being holder-uppers.


Love the World, written and illustrated by Todd Parr
published in 2017 by Little, Brown and Company

Todd Parr’s jubilant colors and relentless optimism radiate from every page in this simple call to love for the very young.

Love yourself! Love the world! Mix and repeat. What a great recipe! A warm-as-a-hug book for ages 18 months and up that fills minds and imaginations with smiles, welcome, and kindness. 


Can We Help? Kids Volunteering to Help Their Communities, by George Ancona
published in 2015 by Candlewick Press

Children engaged in knitting hats for homeless families, harvesting vegetables for soup kitchens, delivering meals to the elderly, training assistance dogs, skiing down mountains with physically-disabled kids, picking up trash along highways, and more, briefly describe their activities…

…all accompanied by copious color photographs. No glitz. Just ordinary kids pitching in to help their neighbors. Heartening and inspiring. Ages 3 and up. What can you think of to do together?

It Takes a Village, written by Hillary Rodham Clinton, illustrated by Marla Frazee
published in 2017 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

In her Author’s Note, Clinton says “this book is meant to spark a conversation with our youngest about what children can do to help make the world what they hope it will be.”

Short phrases comprise the text, some more meaningful than others. The main theme is almost completely borne out by Frazee’s ever-tender, inclusive illustrations… 

… a sequence of vignettes showing folks banding together to build a prime playground. A neighborhood gathering place. You can’t miss the vibe of hope, collaboration, and warm community shining through here, a lovely antidote to weariness and cynicism. Ages 3 and up.

Letters to a Prisoner, by Jacques Goldstyn
published in Canada in 2015 as Le prisonnier sans frontiéres; English edition 2017 by Owlkids Books

A powerful, wordless story unfolds when one man and his young daughter (could be a son) set off to protest a powerful regime. Soldiers attack and the father is thrown into prison. 

As his hope dwindles, a little bird flies through the prison window and delivers a letter. So cheering! But it’s confiscated by an angry guard. More letters come, only to be burned. The plight of this prisoner becomes known around the world, however, and all manner of individuals write letters — fortress-loads of letters. What is the result?

It’s a wordless story, vibrant, poignant, triumphant, taking its inspiration from Amnesty International’s letter-writing marathon and seeking to inspire participation in this annual event. What a wonderful movement to take part in! Ages 4 and up.

The Happy Prince: A Tale by Oscar Wilde, illustrated and adapted by Maisie Paradise Shearring
original edition 2016; published in 2017 by Thames & Hudson

Shearring retells Oscar Wilde’s famous short story featuring the ornate, bejewelled statue of a happy prince and a swallow who alights on it. 

The prince, so oblivious of others’ needs throughout his life of opulent wealth, sorrows now from his heights as a statue, for he can see the ugliness and misery of the world from this new vantage point. Both the prince and the swallow are thus moved to sacrifice themselves for the good of the destitute in this fairy tale-esque story.

Shearring’s masterful artwork won the prestigious Bologna International Award for Illustration and you will easily understand why. Her emotive color palette and stunning compositions are utterly captivating. Wherein does true happiness lie — in hoarding or in laying down one’s life for others? Compelling ideas for ages 5 and up.

Manjhi Moves a Mountain, written by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by Danny Popovici
published in 2017 by Creston Books

As I read this story, I found myself thinking the author might have toned down the preposterously-inhuman task she relates — that of one poor Indian man digging, spadeful by spadeful, a gap through an actual mountain — if she wanted it to be at all believable.

Then, I turned to the back of the book and discovered that the story is true! Oh! 

Dashrath Manjhi lived in a small, impoverished village in India, separated by a mountain from a village equipped with “running water, doctors, a school, and jobs.” Manjhi keenly felt that if only a roadway could be opened up between these two communities, his own neighbors would be so much better off. Thus, with chisel and hammer, he spent 22 years (!) cutting a road through the mountain.

Read this astonishing story of perseverance with children ages 4 or 5 and up, then ask as Churnin does in her Author’s Note: What kind of “mountain” can you move to make things better in your community? 

Twenty-two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank, written by Paula Yoo, illustrated by Jamel Akib
published in 2014 by Lee & Low Books

In 2006, Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for demonstrating that “even the poorest of the poor can work to bring about their own development.”

This is the story of Yunus’ life, from his childhood in India when he was awakened to the distress of poverty, to his encounter with a woman named Sufiya who needed just twenty-two cents for bamboo to build the stools she sold for a living. Forced to borrow these small sums from lenders who took unfair advantage, Sufiya and thousands of women like her could never escape grinding poverty.

Yunus dedicated his life to re-thinking money, banking, and lending, and in 1977 launched the first of his village banks which give microcredit to groups of women. His story and the fruits of his work for millions of women around the world are encouraging and inspiring to say the least. This bio is accessible to children ages 9 and up.

Philanthroparites!: A Party-Planning Guide for Kids Who Want to Give Back, by Lulu Cerone
published in 2017 by Aladdin and Beyond Words, Simon & Schuster

I believe there are tens of thousands of middle-grade and high-school kids whose heartbeat is to make a positive difference in the world. Sometimes, though, it’s really hard to figure out just how to do that.

Then, there are the born organizers of the world, God bless them. Lulu Cerone is one of them. As a ten year old, hearing the news of the 2010 Haitian earthquake, she organized lemonade stand wars with kids from her school who wound up raising thousands of dollars for charity. 

This book is a solid collection of 36 great party ideas whose purpose is to raise money for charity or directly infuse kindness into communities. Organized by month to correlate with nationally observed days, Lulu’s creative, fun party plans include tips for success, decorations, themed food ideas, and more. She also includes planning-ahead checklists for a smooth, successful philanthroparty, and lists of organizations she supports in case you need a place to start.

I can easily see how this book would have inspired and instigated my kids to host philanthroparties. Do you know anyone ages 10 and up who would love to be a changemaker? Check out this book!

Inspired to help but don’t know where to start? I have two funds I’d love to see Orange Marmalade readers support:



To help provide fresh fruits and vegetables to malnourished Syrian and Iraqi refugees sheltering in a neighboring country, click here.

Just $25 provides enough fresh produce for one family for one month. This is a faith-based program in great need of donations to continue this feeding program, and I can vouch for the integrity of those administering it.

For those who prefer to donate to a non faith-based fund, I suggest Save the Children’s fund for Rohingya refugees, which you can access here.  These children have fled horrific violence and need water, food, shelter, and protection in Bangladesh.


Thanks for spreading kindness! 

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I have a new Musings post up today.

I’m musing about my dear Grandma Runa who is a strong, steady, happy inspiration for me…

…and my recent “Aha!” moment when I realized something surprising about her that’s been staring me in the face all along…

…and what that can mean for our own flourishing.

Click here, or search the Musings tab to read “as green as my grandmother.” 


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if you plant a seed kadir nelson cover imageIf You Plant a Seed, written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson
published in 2015 by Balzer + Bray

Bunny and Mouse are gardening buddies. Into the rich earth they tuck some tiny seeds and after an arduous wait — voila! A magnificent crop!

But just as they’re enjoying their first juicy tomatoes and crunchy carrots, down swoops a line-up of birds. They stand and stare hopefully. Their gleaming eyes feast on the lush vegetables. They. Want. Them! Rabbit and Mouse aren’t about to give up their goods. Soon, a shouting match is underway and even an all-out brawl!

Clearly — if you plant a seed of selfishness it grows into a heap of trouble. 

But what happens if you plant a seed of kindness?

Kadir Nelson uses few words to convey the benefits of generosity. if you plant a seed illustration kadir nelsonInstead he relies on his stunning oil paintings. We’ve been used to his brilliance in his noble portraiture in histories and biographies, but lately he’s taken us on a new ride. These luminous scenes are bathed in the light of high noon — blazing bright color, zoomed in to the action. The figures look real enough to reach out and touch. His perspectives, compositions and characterization are just crazy good. Wow.

And he does not wallop us over the head with a moral lesson. He woos us with sweetness. An absolute gem for ages Under-Two and up.

up in the garden and down in the dirt cover imageUp in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, by Kate Messner, with art by Christopher Silas Neal
published in 2015 by Chronicle Books

Nana and her granddaughter stand in the garden. The snow is retreating and the promise of spring fills their heads with dreams of a new planting season.

It’s not quite time yet to plant. Too wet. But deep in the earth, there are a host of critters already at work, helping them in their gardening efforts. Earthworms break up clods. Pill bugs break down last year’s leaf litter. A few enemies lurk there as well, like the tomato hornworm whose larvae can wreak havoc on the leaves of the tomato plants. (Booo!)

Walk through the gardening year with these two, and learn all about the bustling activity under the ground and amongst the leaves of the garden, until winter descends again, and the garden and its residents settle to sleep.

Kate Messner gave us a lovely glimpse of what happens Over and Under Snow, and now she’s back with this loving look at gardening, just right to share with little mud-grubbers ages 2 and up. She beckons us to observe, appreciate, and enjoy the seasons, produce, and camaraderie of gardening, and learn of the “smaller gardeners” working in the dirt alongside us.

up in the garden and down in the dirt messner and neal

Neal’s mixed media illustrations are handsome, tremendously appealing, ingenuously letting us see multiple levels at the same time. They communicate a refreshing love of the outdoors as well as homey friendliness. An illustrated guide to each of the animals in the book is in the end pages, with more information about them.

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Since we’re on a breakfast theme this week, I’ve got this vintage, full-of-pancakes, Newbery-Honor novel for you:

pancakes-paris cover imagePancakes — Paris, by Claire Huchet Bishop, illustrated by Georges Schrieber

He had just rounded the corner when he heard big footsteps behind him and somebody calling, “Charles! Charles!” and it was Jerry Brick, and he put a box in Charles’s hands, and John O’Connor, who had caught up with them, laughed and said, “Pancakes! Jerry got two packages of them this morning from home. And he gave me one….I’ve been lugging it around all day!…And now we give it to you.”

Of course, he said all this in English, and Charles did not understand a pancakes-paris illustration georges schreiber 001word of it except that the box was for him…But Jerry Brick said slowly, “Pancakes…crrêppes…”

After they had gone, he leaned against the wall in the black street, propped up a knee, and opened his schoolbag and slipped the package into it, so that nobody could see it as he climbed the stairway of the house. As he walked slowly up the rickety stairs he kept thinking of all Louise and Rémi had said about BEFORE, and suddenly he remembered about the crêpes! But that was what the American had been trying to say when he had given him the box!…Could it be possible that the box he had given him could make crêpes? It sounded fantastic. But you never knew with Americans. There was always magic with them…Well, he would not talk to a soul about it. Not even to his mother. It would be a secret. And a surprise.

Charles Dumont is 10 years old, living in post-war Paris. That’s just barely old enough to remember what life was like BEFORE the war; to believe, even, the older children’s tales of warm homes and shoes, milk and eggs, and luxuries of bananas and oranges and cocoa which they claim were enjoyed by everyday persons!

pancakes-paris illus2 georges schreiber 001Charles lives with his mother and little sister Zézette. His father died during the war. Life is acutely difficult. Food is meager. Charles bears far more responsibilities than any Social Services agency would stand for in our day. 

One spring afternoon, Charles meets two American soldiers — Jerry and John — who need his help finding their way in his neighborhood. Charles refuses payment; his mother has taught him never to accept charity. Yet when they  hand him a mysterious package, jabbering something in English, Charles is left the proud owner of…what? 

Turns out it’s American pancake mix. Now 1930s Aunt Jemima BoxCharles is hatching a grand plan to surprise his mother and sister with crêpes for Mardi Gras, just as all Parisians would have done BEFORE. Only, he can’t read the English directions. The measurements are unintelligible.  He has no milk, and not even the tiniest bit of fat to grease the pan. 

Charles’ determination is met, in the end, by a tremendous outpouring of generosity, love, and jovial friendship from Jerry and John, all adding up to a pancake feast to rival any of the BEFORES!

Claire Huchet Bishop won a Newbery Honor for this novel, written in 1947. As an American born and educated in France, Bishop uniquely conveys both a cherishing of Paris, a fondness and aubervilliers 1947 by Stettner from jacksonfineart dot comrespect for the French people of this era, and an equal dose of American pride. This poignant story portrays the gnawing poverty experienced by so many living in post-war Europe, as well as their courage and strength; the matter-of-fact resolve of the children and their adaptation to austerity, alongside the spilling-over joy that comes from sharing with those in need and providing abundance in place of privation.

Numerous lithographs in brown-white-and-black by artist George Schreiber bring the children and Parisian architecture, G.I.’s and American Embassy workers to life. His robust line and lively figures remind me of James Daugherty, and he manages to capture Charles’ emotions and world beautifully.

At just over 60 pages, it’s a great read-aloud for ages 7 and up. There’s a bit of French tucked in, with place names and phrases, so although it’s short, it would need a stout independent reader. I think a dish of delectable crêpes are called for now, don’t you?!



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I’m back after a long, wonderful holiday break with my family, with five books that make my heart happy because they lovingly, disarmingly, artistically beckon towards lifestyle choices that I love.  Here’s to fresh starts!

hello hello cover imagehello! hello! written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell

Here’s a book I wish every Orange Marmalade visitor would read!

The main character is a young girl.  As we open the book, we see her living in a comfortable house surrounded by the standard array of electronic gadgets whose purposes are to entertain.  But it’s a grayish world, and the gadgets do not satisfy.

She goes in search of her family, real people to connect to.  Alas, Mom is busy at the computer, Dad is absorbed in his smartphone, even baby brother is transfixed by an ipad.  Home is lonely, everyone isolated by technological tools; things are looking bleak, when…

…swish.  One, small, orange leaf quietly swirls through the open door.

It’s like an orange beacon, luring her outdoors…

…where an entire treeful and breezeful and groundful of colorful leaves await her.  And that’s just the appetizer!  For there’s a whole, fascinating, lively, world out here —  pastel butterflies fluttering, Crayola-bright fields flowering, sun beaming from a blue sky.  There’s running through the grass to do, there’s drinking up the magnificent hugeness of sky to do.  What’s more, there’s no limit to the exuberant, vigorous, riotous fun to be had, unfurled by her imagination.  So. Much. Happiness!!

hello hello illustration matthew cordell

The exhileration is abruptly cut short with the ring-ring of her cell phone.  It’s Mom and Dad, none-too-pleased that she’s gone off without notifying them.  When she returns home, though,  the color and wonder of Nature waft in with her as she greets each one with a fragile piece of loveliness — a leaf, a flower, a bug — and soon, they are stepping out all together to companionably enjoy the Real, the Wonder all around them.

Magnificent.  Thank you, thank you, Matthew Cordell for creating this book, for crafting such a positive appeal — nothing heavy-handed here — regarding replacing electronic entertainment with creative, imaginative pursuits of juicy reality in our households.  Cordell’s illustrations in a multitude of media morph from gray wash to brilliant color, while the compositions move from small cameos swimming alone in large white spaces to full-page extravagant color with animals and people who crowd and mingle together; likewise, his lettering progresses from a digital-display look to a hand-lettered style, reflecting the humanizing effect of this journey.

Buckets of love for this book!

more cover imageMore, by I.C. Springman, illustrated by Brian Lies

Magpies, as you probably know, love to collect colorful, shiny objects.

The magpie in this tale begins with a large, empty nest.  He has…nothing.  So when his friend the mouse offers him a glassy, cat’s-eye marble with it’s zippy swish of color inside, the magpie is quite pleased to fly with it up to his lofty nest.  Now he has…something.  Ahh.

Soon, the magpie is happily finding his own treasures — a fire-engine red Lego, an old copper coin, keys, beads, zebra-striped sunglasses.  The magpie collects more, and more, and more.  Now he has…lots!  His belongings have far outgrown his original nest; an entire community of nests, in fact, are now scattered among the tree branches, each one more illustration brian liesbulging with more and more stuff.  It’s more than enough.  In fact, it’s plainly too much.

The magpie, though, simply cannot resist adding to his stores until, inevitably, he adds one trinket too many and c-c-c-rash!  Everything comes tumbling down; a raucous heap of baubles and foofrah lies on the ground with the magpie ignominiously at the bottom.  His friends, the mice, now come to the rescue, patiently hauling away and distributing the wealth until just two tiny items are left.  And…it’s enough.

This is a nearly-wordless book.  Just a morsel of words are used to label each page, each step, of this greedy magpie’s doomed accumulation.  It works brilliantly, minimal words underlining the call to self-control, quietly building the tension, drawing our attention to  lack, excess, and finally sensibility.  I resonate deeply with the call to simplicity and contentment of this wise story.  Brian Lies’ striking illustrations in acrylic and colored pencil on handmade paper move from a lone magpie in a large, blank space, to a plethora of black-and-white wings hurrying nest-ward, beaks crammed with all manner of ridiculous objects, and to nests piled higgledy-piggledy with an astonishing assortment of stuff.  Great details invite a slow turning of the pages, allowing the insights of this brilliant book to seep in.

my heart will not sit down cover imageMy Heart Will Not Sit Down, by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Ann Tanksley

In 1931, in the midst of the Great Depression, when desperate men strove to provide for their families by selling apples on the streets, a gift arrived from the country of Cameroon.  It was a gift of money, given to help feed the hungry in New York City.  The amount?  $3.77.

As in the Biblical story of the widow and her mite, this gift, though not large, represented an uncommonly generous spirit in the hearts of the Cameroonian people.  This warm book tells the fictional story of a girl named Kedi, depicted as the one to rally her fellow villagers for this cause.

Kedi loves her teacher, a friendly American man, so she is deeply troubled when one day he tells the students about the calamity in America.  Kedi my heart will not sit down illustration ann tanksley 001knows hunger intimately, and empathizes with the starving children in New York.  She asks her mama, her uncle, the old men and young women of her village, to give money to these far-off strangers, but truly,  nobody has any money to give.  One by one, though, out of extreme poverty, the villagers each find a way to give a coin or two, which Kedi collects and brings to her teacher to send across the sea to the children in America.  Only then will her heart sit down in peace.

This rich story is beautifully told, filled with details that plant it firmly in African soil — expressions, customs, foods, and tasks authentic to Cameroon, including the eloquent phrase “My heart will not sit down.”  Ann Tanksley’s bold illustrations in flaming orange,  tropical green, magenta, and biscuit brown, flood the pages with equatorial heat and vivid life.  A lengthy Author’s Note describes life in New York and Cameroon, and lists several other beautiful, true examples of generosity pouring forth from those poor in  material possessions, yet rich in kindness.  It ‘s a sweet summons to each of us to sacrifice for the well-being of others.

a good night walk cover imageA Good Night Walk, written and illustrated by Elisha Cooper

It’s nearly bedtime, but there’s still a few minutes left to enjoy an incredibly sweet routine — an evening stroll through the neighborhood.

As mother and child meander down the street, the common, ordinary, goings-on which are mostly overlooked in the daily rushing about, are enjoyed — the puttering of a neighbor in her garden,  swaying branches in the evening breeze, squirrels cavorting, delicious smells wafting from kitchens, the homely drone of a lawnmower, the quieting of birds, and a rising moon.

Simple, basic pieces of life, that finally have a chance to seep through the a good night walk illustration elisha cooperpores, due to a walking pace.  A breath of air, an acquaintance with the neighborhood, a quiet togetherness, the calming reassurance that these lovely mundane bits will be there, just the same, tomorrow.  Then, it’s time for bed.

Elisha Cooper has beautifully captured the pleasure of a walk in this brilliant little book.  His limited, quiet phrases, the particulars he has chosen to attend to, the gentle, walking pace of the storyline — create a text that is mesmerizing.  He pairs this with his superb watercolors — jeepers, I love his work! — in which we seem to walk down the street, passing houses and front porches, neighbors and spreading oak trees.  We catch glimpses into windows and doorways to see what folks are up to, and we watch the sky gradually, darken, the moon brighten, the neighborhood retire.   I deeply appreciate this book.

I’ve loved walking since I was a young child, taking evening strolls around the tiny northern Minnesota mining town where I’d spend a week each summer with my grandmother.  Slowing our pace to a walk is an excellent way to spend time together, noticing,  appreciating, pondering, releasing rush and embracing peace.

the reader cover imageThe Reader, by Amy Hest, illustrated by Lauren Castillo

I’ve reviewed this fabulous title before, but I just could not encourage five fresh paths for a new year without one of them being:  Read!  Read aloud to your kids, especially.  Here’s a reader who understands just what a magical bond is forged when we read together.

“The reader” is a little, stouthearted boy, armed with a “sturdy suitcase” an old-fashioned red sled, and accompanied by a friskity, frolicsome, puppy. These two are on some kind of trek. What can it be? Where are they headed so determinedly? While the puppy bounds joyously, “the reader” trudges through snow, plods ever onward, pulling that heavy sled, up, up, up to the top of the hill, while snow swirls and cold winds blow. Uff da. Can you feel how ambitious this is?!

Finally, they arrive. Hurrah! All alone, with snow curtaining off the rest of the world, they enjoy some well-deserved goodies — cocoa and toast. Mmmm! It’s so quiet; a blanket of snow hushes all the world. Then…snap! click! go the hinges on the important brown suitcase and out comes…a book. It’s the culmination of the whole trip. Amid the dreamy snowfall, on the top of the world, the boy settles in and reads a story to his dog. Magical!

Amy Hest captures the proud sweetness of being an independent reader in her understated, yet strong, joyful story.  The cherry on top, though, is the fact that this Reader doubles his pleasure by reading with one he loves.   Reading is not just a solo activity.  The warmth that comes from sharing a story is hard to beat.


Lauren Castillo has fabulously illustrated it, of course.  Her solid, rosy-cheeked, plucky boy and his energetic pup win our hearts from page one, while the snowy landscape,  the jolly red accents of boots and buttons and sled against the white-and-gray icy chill set a perfect stage for this small drama.  I adore the utterly natural postures and footprints of this capable duo.  Pour up some hot chocolate, build a blanket fort, squinch inside, and make your own bit of magic by Reading this book — together!

Here are Amazon links for these exceptional stories:
hello! hello!
My Heart Will Not Sit Down
A Good Night Walk
The Reader

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