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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Unspoken: A Story From the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole

Unspoken: A Story From the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole is a most gorgeous book.  I gave it to my nephew, Douglas, who just turned seven years old.  The most unusual thing about this book is that it's a storybook with no words.  Douglas can now read, but even if he couldn't, this book could still convey the story clearly though the amazing artwork.  Luminous and fine pencil drawings are visually quiet, but succinct in their storytelling.    On a small farm in Civil War Era Virginia, someone incredibly brave is hiding in the barn.  You can guess from the title who it might be, but don't worry, this little history lesson is suitable for small children.   I also like the way the young girl does the right thing, even against the implied wishes of powerful men.  A happy enough ending is perfect for introducing children to literature in a way that shows them one must sometimes use a little bit of their own imagination.   Ages 4-8

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins

I bought this book for my nephew Douglas' upcoming birthday.  This is a cool book for a kid who likes science and nature, or just fun facts.  The author-illustrated artwork is colorful and kind of amazing, with torn-and-cut-paper collages of each different type of beetle.   Kids will learn that one out of every four living things on this planet is a beetle, and why beetles are so interesting.    The fun facts come across in simple and direct language, and even the scientific anatomy of a beetle is easy to understand.  Silhouettes throughout the book are life size, but it's really the colorful pictures that capture the imagination.  As the jacket says, there are beetles that stink, beetles that bite, beetles that walk on water, and squeak and glow, and many more!  Ages 4-8

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Stellaluna by Janell Cannon

If you're looking for a kid's book that teaches good, important lessons in a non-obvious way, the classic Stellaluna by Janell Cannon is one great option.  Yes, it's about friendship and adaptation, but just as importantly, it also teaches compassion for those who are different from us, for those who are often misunderstood.  Bats are becoming more and more endangered, and they're unfairly stereotyped and associated with things like a fear of the dark, and vampires.  In fact, a single bat can eat between 2000 and 6000 mosquitoes in a single night, they re-seed forests and rainforests, and are the only flying mammal on earth.  The artwork is gorgeous, there are funny moments for children, and we all learn that we're more alike than we are different.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Ten White Geese by Gerbrand Bakker

When I finished this novel, I wasn't sure if I liked it or not, but I realized that I had said several times while reading it that it was good, and I looked forward to reading more each night.  And then  I kept thinking about it after it was over.  So, I enjoyed it.  One of the brilliant elements in this book, perhaps the best element, is the inclusion of bits of poetry by The Belle of Amherst, Emily DickinsonThis book is translated from the Dutch, giving it a European feel that I like.  The main poem begins, "Ample make this bed.  Make this bed with awe; In it wait till judgement break, Excellent and fair."  There's a second verse that's just as good.  I had never heard this poem before, and I checked my own little volume of Dickinson poetry, but it wasn't there.  So right in the beginning, we are given the gift of this exquisite little verse.  When the book opens, we can tell the main character is female and that she's in a rural area of Europe (it turns out to be Wales).  Like Dickinson's poetry, there's a lot of symbolism in this novel, such as a stone circle, black sheep, white geese, and roses.  The farmhouse itself calls forth the past, with its claw-foot bathtub, worn floorboards, fireplaces and wood-burning stove.  Just as Emily Dickinson hid from society, our main character Emilie has run to this place to do the same.  Emilie is a scholar of Dickinson, and so the poetry is infused even into her thoughts.  It's November and the days are getting shorter (time is getting shorter), and the geese are disappearing one by one.  Emilie begins to smell, emanating from herself, the odor of the dead widow who had lived in this farmhouse, and the elegiac nature of all these omens is expressed in another short stanza of Dickinson's:  Presentiment is that long shadow on the lawn, Indicative that suns go down. . . (I won't tell you the rest).  Men come and go in Emilie's life, and like most women, she has to fend off a few who are toxic.  She is grieving and experiencing loss, and we know this because she cuts her hair off.  She begins to reject eating animals, and in her new, stripped-down life,  finds her own compassion.  If you're like me, this book will haunt you a little, and things will click into place in your mind later.  Why is she seeing butterflies in December?  If she's so homesick, why doesn't she call home?  This is one of those books that bears a second reading someday.

If you are now intrigued by Emily Dickinson, you may like this other historical fiction novel I read some years ago:  The Sister by Paola Kaufmann.  It delves much more into the poetry and everyday life of the enigmatic Dickinson.

In closing, here's a Dickinson stanza that I would have included in this book:  Because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me. The carriage held but just ourselves and Immortality. . .