Saturday, February 26, 2011

Of Thee I Sing

My first thought when I saw it in the bookstore was, "I wonder if it's any good, or if it's published just because of the author?"  Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters is by President Barack Obama. I'm curious if the idea originated with him.

In this picture book, Obama tells his girls how wonderful they are, and he compares their qualities to people in history who have demonstrated that character.

On the left side of each two page spread, Malia and Sasha stand with their backs to the reader and are joined by other children as the book progresses. The right side of the two page spread features a large picture of a famous person with a short verse about them underneath. The book is interesting for the biographic sketches it provides of 13 "Americans." I like the additional information about these famous people on the book's last page.

Loren Long is the book's illustrator. His picture of Sitting Bull has caused a stir, discussed on the blog American Indians in Children's Literature. In her post, Debbie Reese quotes from an email she received from Horn Book Editor Roger Sutton.

"Loren Long chose to depict Sitting Bull as a sort of landscape, with buffalo for eyes, hills and cracked earth for nose and mouth, and some pine trees placed so they form eyebrows (and, dare I say, boogers). It's the old one-with-nature stereotype, which wouldn't be so bad had all of the other subjects of the book not been depicted realistically."

In a later post, Debbie Reese shares what Sitting Bull's great grandson Eric LaPointe thinks of the book. He said,"I told her [a reporter] my great grandfather was never American. He was Lakota." Of Thee I Sing labels Sitting Bull a Sioux and an American.

LaPointe also said that he does not appreciate his great grandfather being included in a book which honors George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, because of what they did to native peoples. He gives details.

Even the quote attributed to Sitting Bull is problematic. It reads, "For peace, it is not necessary for eagles to be crows."

As Reese points out, "that line did not start with 'For peace'." She gives the full quote from Vine Deloria Jr.'s God Is Red (p. 198). "Deloria writes that this was Sitting Bull's reply to a question about why he did not surrender and return to the U.S. to live on a reservation:

'Because I am a red man. If the Great Spirit had desired me to be a white man he would have made me so in the first place. He put in your heart certain wishes and plans, in my heart he put other and different desires. Each man is god in his sight. It is not necessary for eagles to be crows.'"

While Fox News blasted Obama for including Sitting Bull in the book, they failed to check their facts. The first headline Fox Nation posted about the book read, "'Obama Praises Indian Chief Who Killed Custer." It was soon thereafter changed to "defeated." Sitting Bull, however, was not at the Battle of Little Big Horn.

There's been a lot of discussion around this one picture book. And while including a Native American was positive, it should have been done with respectful accuracy. Because of its inaccuracies, it should be pulled from all library shelves.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln is recorded as saying, “The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll give me a book I ain’t read.” On February 12, 2011, the United States celebrated the 202th anniversary of the birth of our 16th president. Here are nine books for children and teens which honor this great man.

Lincoln and His Boys by Rosemary Wells, illustrated by P. J. Lynch.
Recommended for ages 9 to 12.
Author Rosemary Wells bases this historical-fiction biography on a discovery she made while researching another Civil War era book: a 200 word fragment written by Willie Lincoln about a trip taken with his father Abraham Lincoln. In Lincoln and His Boys, Will and Tad take turns describing family life in the Lincoln household. The book is beautifully illustrated with oil paintings completed after careful study of hundreds of Lincoln images.

Abraham Lincoln Comes Home by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Wendell Minor.
Recommended for ages 4 to 8.
Following Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, Americans turned out by the thousands to honor the Civil War president as his funeral train traveled thirteen days from Washington, D.C., to his burial in Springfield, Illinois. Burleigh’s prose and Minor’s paintings record the fictionalized experience of a young boy as he shares in the Nation’s grieving.

Lincoln Shot: A President’s Life Remembered by Barry Denenberg, illustrated by Christopher Bing.
Recommended for ages 9 to 12.
The author writes in the style of newspapers of the time and includes factual information and copies of actual photographs with a chronology of Lincoln’s life, an index, and a list of picture credits at the end of the book. (Note: A problem with this book is that the author and illustrator do not provide article credits, footnotes or a bibliography. Readers are left to wonder which writings and illustrations in the book are actual reprints, and which are their own creation.)

The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary by Candace Fleming. Recommended for ages 10 to 14.
An in-depth and personal glimpse into the lives of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln, this book includes photographs, copies of documents, and highlights about the people important in Lincoln’s life and times. The author spent five years researching, and it is evident in the quality and thoroughness of the finished work. Unique to this book is the new insight into Mary Lincoln’s life provided by recently recovered personal letters.

Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: A Tall, Thin Tale (Introducing His Forgotten Frontier Friend) by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by John Hendrix. Recommended for ages 4 to 8.
Young Lincoln, age seven, and his ten-year-old friend Austin get themselves into big trouble down at Knob Creek in this historical fiction picture book.

Abe’s Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Kadir Nelson.
Recommended for ages 4 to 8.
Each two-page spread of this picture book style biography features author Rapport’s brief stanza highlighting a portion of Lincoln’s life, a related quote from Lincoln, and a painting by the illustrator. The last four pages of the book include a list of important dates in Lincoln’s life, suggested resources, and the full text of the Gettysburg Address. Unfortunately, there is no documentation in the book from when and where Lincoln’s quotes are taken.

Lincoln Through the Lens: How Photography Revealed and Shaped an Extraordinary Life by Martin W. Sandler.
Recommended for ages 9 to 12.
History professor and award-winning writer Martin Sandler documents more than 100 photographs of Abraham Lincoln’s life and times. Included in this collection is the only known pre-Gettysburg Address photograph of the sixteenth President.

Two Miserable Presidents: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn’t Tell You About the Civil War by Steve Sheinkin, illustrated by Tim Robinson. Recommended for ages 9 to 12.
Sheinkin is a former textbook writer who confesses to how boring they can be. In Two Miserable Presidents he uses real-life accounts and actual quotes – the stuff he was not allowed to use in textbooks. What results is an attention-grabbing and readable account of the Civil War, with focus on Presidents James Buchanan and Abraham Lincoln. Sheinkin ends the book with a review of what happened to the key players after the war, interesting source notes, resources for further study, and an exhaustive index. Every quotation in the book is repeated in a chapter-by-chapter list providing the source.

Stand Tall, Abe Lincoln by Judith St. George, illustrated by Matt Faulkner.
Recommended for ages 4 to 8.
This engaging picture book biography spotlights Abraham Lincoln’s childhood from birth in Kentucky to his early teen years in Indiana. The book underscores Lincoln’s perseverance through poverty and hardship, including the death of his mother when he was only nine. Prominence is given to Lincoln’s step-mother, Sally Johnston, and her support of his mostly self-education. Herself illiterate, Sally loaned Lincoln books and advocated for his attending school whenever one was available. With Sally’s love, Lincoln “gained confidence to take his sense of fairness, his careful way of thinking, his hatred of cruelty and his ability to settle quarrels out into the world.” Author St. George points out the life experiences that formed the character of the man who became the 16th President of the United States.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Long Walk to Water

Nya walks eight hours every day to bring water to her family. The trip to the watering hole isn't as bad as the trip back to the village, when the water weights the jugs.

Salva is in school when the shooting and bombing explode. His teacher tells the students to run. Salva's running turns to days and weeks and months of walking. He becomes one of the Lost Boys, walking to escape war.

Linda Sue Park weaves together the lives of Nya and Salva in her book A Long Walk to Water. Linda met Salva through his nonprofit organization, Water for Sudan. Her book is based on his life story.

A Long Walk to Water is an exceptional book for kids to read because it presents life in another culture. The story is at times frightening, but not overly done for young readers. They will be introduced to the country of Sudan, the reality of civil war and refugee camps, and the current day needs of people in other places. Through the characters of Nya and Salva, they will view perseverance and service for others. Perhaps, too, they will gain an appreciation for the water so abundantly available to Westerners through taps in our homes and schools.

A Long Walk to Water was published in 2010 by Clarion Books.  It is recommended for kids in grades 5 - 8, but also is appropriate for 4th graders who are advanced readers.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Bear of My Heart

This is not a Valentine's Book, per se, but it fits the holiday beautifully.  Written by Joanne Ryder and illustrated by Margie Moore, it's a poetry picture book recommended for ages 3 - 6.  It works well for reading aloud to a story time group.

"There are so many bears in the world, dear, but there's no other one that will do.  You are the bear of my heart, dear, and I am the one who loves you.

"I have so many stories to tell you.  I know wonderful places to see. And because we can see them together, they'll be nicer for you and for me.

"Let's race in the sun and be happy. Let's splash in the stream and drip dry. Let's roll down a hill and be silly. Let's lie and watch clouds drifting by.

"Let's sit nose to nose and share secrets. Let's wish on a star, eyes shut tight. Let's whisper our dreams in the darkness. Let's snuggle together at night.

"If you need me, I'll be there beside you.  If you're lonely, I'll hug you awhile. If you're lost, I will be there to guide you.  If you're sad, I won't quit till you smile.

"Paw in paw, we will greet every morning.  Paw in paw, we will meet every day. You are the bear of my heart, dear, and nothing can take that away.

"No matter how big you may grow, dear, or whether we're near or apart, I will love you forever and ever, for YOU are the bear of my heart."

Friday, February 11, 2011

Me, Frida

Superbly written, beautifully illustrated, and well crafted, this book about an artist is itself a work of art.  Me, Frida, written by Amy Novesky and illustrated by David Diaz, tells the true story of how Frida Kahlo came to create Frieda and Diego Rivera, the first painting she produced in what became her famous folkloric style. 

In November 1930, Frida accompanied her famous husband Diego Rivera from their home in Mexico to San Francisco. It was Frida's first trip outside her homeland.  While Diego painted murals for the city, Frida explored.  But living in a foreign country where she didn't know the language and had very few friends was difficult.  Diego was busy.  Frida felt lost.

As time passed, Frida discovered China Town, traveled across the Golden Gate Bridge, and was inspired to paint.  She painted a portrait of Diego and herself, adorning it with a pink bird and a violet ribbon on which she wrote, "Here you see us, me, Frida Kahlo, with my adored husband Diego Rivera.  I painted these portraits in the beautiful city of San Francisco, California ... in April of 1931."  Today that oil on canvas hangs in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Kindness for Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is getting a bad wrap these days. Joe Dellosa's opinion sums up what I've been hearing:
"... Valentine's Day [has] become a crassly artificial holiday that seeks to commodify our emotions and homogenize the way we express our love as a means to boost corporate profits, while fomenting awkward, hurtful feelings among couples and mopey misery among singles."  That's one way to look at it.

I like Valentine's Day because it's an opportunity to have some fun thinking of others. The tiniest remembrance -- a card, an email, a piece of candy, a single flower -- can brighten someones day.

The children's picture book Love and Kisses by Sarah Wilson, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, reminds me of the good that results from an act of kindness. When a little girl shares a kiss, it travels from friend to friend and eventually, surprisingly, comes back to her.

The Alexandria (MN) Kiwanis and Golden K Clubs are sponsoring their annual Random Act of Kindness Week, February 13 - 19, in an effort to bring awareness to the power of kindness.  Alexandria Kiwanis Club President Diann Drew says, "A simple gesture, a kind word, or a random act of kindness can go a long way in making a community a stronger, better place."

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Paper Crane

A man owned a restaurant on a busy road, and business was good until a new highway was built close by. Because travelers no longer stopped at the restaurant, the man became poor. One day a stranger with a gentle manner came into the restaurant. He did not have money to pay for his meal. Instead, he folded a napkin into the shape of a crane. "You have only to clap your hands," he said, "and this bird will come to life and dance for you." The stranger's gift was worth more than the cost of his meal, and it brought great happiness to the restaurant owner. Can you guess why?

The Paper Crane is Molly Bang's adaptation of an ancient Japanese folktale. The detailed three-dimensional illustrations are photographs of her paper cutouts. They are a wonderful accompaniment to the story.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Pair of Red Clogs

Mako, a little Japanese girl, is delighted with her new clogs. They are red lacquered and shine beautifully. When Mako walks and runs, her clogs sing: KORO KORO, KARA KARA. Mako chose these when her mother took her shopping. They are her school shoes.

But one day as Mako is playing the weather-telling game with her friends, one of her shiny new clogs cracks. No longer do her clogs sing when she walks. Mako is sad. So sad that she devises a plan that in the end just makes her sadder.

When Mako grows up and buys a pair of red clogs for her granddaughter, she remembers her own red clogs, and the important lesson she learned from them.

A Pair of Red Clogs by Masako Matsuno, illustrated by Kazue Mizumura, is a book that links well to Lunar New Year themes and Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month in May. The lesson learned by a little Japanese girl is one that children of all cultures will understand.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

New Clothes for New Year's Day

Happy [Lunar] New Year! Today is the first day of the Year of the Rabbit. Hyun-Joo Bae has written and illustrated a lovely picture book called New Clothes for New Year's Day. "It's a new year, it's a new day, and it's a new morning. It's the first day for the beginning of everything," says a young Korean girl. She is excited to dress in her new clothes for making New Year's calls.

My favorite parts of this picture book are the beautiful illustrations and the end pages providing details about Lunar New Year traditions.

This translated edition was published in 2007 by Kane/Miller Book Publishers, Inc.

"I wish you good luck."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Spring Is Coming No Matter What the Groundhog Does

Folklore has it that winter will continue for six more weeks if a groundhog sees his shadow on February 2. To me, that has always seemed counterintuitive. If the sun is out to cast a shadow, shouldn't that mean warmer weather is near? But the tradition means that the groundhog is frightened by his shadow and retreats into his den to hibernate another six weeks.

Groundhog Day originated in Europe centuries ago, and is based on the ancient belief that the emergence of a hibernating creature forecast the imminent arrival of spring. When Germans settled in Pennsylvania in the 18th century, they brought the custom with them. In Europe different animals were used, including badgers and bears. Groundhogs were plentiful in Pennsylvania, so that’s the animal that got the job there.

The History Society of Berks County in Reading, Pennsylvania, has the earliest known record of Groundhog Day in the United States. A February 5, 1841, diary entry by Berks County, Pennsylvania, storekeeper James Morris reads:

“Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.”

Candlemas is a traditional name for the Catholic Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. It is mentioned in this English poem:
As the light grows longer
The cold grows stronger
If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight
If Candlemas be cloud and rain
Winter will be gone and not come again
A farmer should on Candlemas day
Have half his corn and half his hay
On Candlemas day if thorns hang a drop
You can be sure of a good pea crop.

Other feasts and festivals also occur on or about February 2, including St Brigid’s Day and Imbolc. February 2 is one of the four cross-quarters of the year. A cross-quarter is a day approximately halfway between a solstice and an equinox.

Some in the past may have marked the beginning of spring when daylight made progress against night, on February 2, the cross-quarter. Others, as we do in modern times, marked spring on the Vernal Equinox, when on March 20 or 21 the sun shines on the equator, making day and night of nearly equal length worldwide. Groundhog Day may have originated as a compromise between the two beliefs.

Groundhog Day has long been popular in the United States, but the 1993 movie of the same name, filmed in Punxsutawney and featuring Phil, established it as an international phenomenon. Press reports estimate the biggest crowd to attend Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney was 40,000. On the morning of February 2, Punxsutawney Phil is pulled from his den by keepers dressed in tuxedos. It has become a raucous event.

Read These!

The Secret of the First One Up by Iris Hiskey Arno, illustrated by Renee Graef

Groundhog Weather School by Joan Holub, illustrated by Kristin Sorra

Groundhog Day by Margaret McNamara, illustrated by Mike Gordon

The Groundhog Day Book of Facts and Fun by Wendie Old, illustrated by Paige Billin-Frye