George Washington Carver has completely captured by imagination, so it is fitting that I picked up a volume of poems about his life this National Poetry Month. I hardly know what to say about it. It is good–really good, in that sharp-intake-of-breath kind of way. It’s written from a multitude of perspectives, from the man hired to rescue George Washington Carver and his mother, also a slave, from their kidnappers to a white school teacher who was apparently in love with Carver (and was rumored to have committed suicide years after they parted ways) to “an Alabama Farmer” who solicits Dr. Carver’s instruction on “what maid [his] cotton grow.” One of my favorites is titled “Clay.” Here’s an excerpt:
To Carver’s eye, the muddy creek banks say
Here to be dug up, strained, and painted on,
is loveliness the poorest can afford:
azures, ochres. . . Scraps of discarded board
are landscapes. Cabins undistinguished brown
bloom like slaves freed to struggle toward self-worth.
Beauty is commonplace, as cheap as dirt.
One of Carver's own paintings, done with paint made from Alabama clay
Marilyn Nelson holds Carver’s life up to the light in this volume and shows what a multifaceted jewel it is. Reading this Newbery and Coretta Scott King honor book has made me hungry to know more about this man. Highly Recommended. (Front Street, 2001)
More about George Washington Carver at Hope Is the Word:
After a night of broken sleep, punctuated by severe weather alerts that rival air raid sirens in their ability to induce panic in us shell-shocked Alabamians, I got up this morning to watch the ALA Youth Media Awards presentation live via the internet. I always mean to do this but always also manage to let it slip by unnoticed until I read the re-hash on someone’s blog. It was nice to have something to look forward to this morning after a rough night, though.
I’m usually surprised at how few of the award winning books I’ve read. A quickly counted sixty some-odd winners, not including the many books of the authors or illustrators who won a lifetime achievement type award. I think I’ve read five or so of them. Here are the ones I’ve read, linked to my reviews when possible:
Caldecott Medal: A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka–I “read” this one but never reviewed it because I have such a hard time reviewing wordless picture books. I really, really need to bone up on what makes illustrations great, both because I’m interested in it and because it would make my book reviews much better!
They usually sneak up on me, but not this year! The Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, and a dozen plus more awards will be announced at 7:45 a.m. CST on Monday, January 23. Here’s a little video clip that I received from Open Road Media honoring a couple of Newbery Medal winning authors to whet your appetite. It’s a little commercial there at the end, but the first 2 minutes or so are interesting. It’s too good not to share.
I’ve been so consumed with the Cybils that I haven’t given the ALA awards too much thought, but I’m guessing there will be some overlap.
I’m giving myself three favorites in this category because the list is long and it’s my blog. ;-). I loved Forge and can’t wait to read the next book in the series. It made a big impression on me–I still remember sitting in a certain restaurant (alone!) and reading it and later sharing the Valley Forge experience with anyone who would half-way listen. It’s my number one pick. My number two pick is Heart of a Samurai. I loved Manjiro’s voice in this book and how Margi Preus captured his enthusiasm for life and how he adapted to the different homes he had. I learned a lot about life aboard a whaling vessel, too. Honorable mention goes to Turtle in Paradise, although to be fair I think I probably fell in love with this book partially because of the audiobook readers’ pitch-perfect voice.
There are actually three subcategories in this category: plain old fantasy, fantasy-with-anthropomorphized-animals, and realistic fiction with fantastical elements. Of the first kind I read three books:
This is a tough, tough category in which to pick favorites for me. I loved every single one of these books with the exception of Fairest, which I thought was just okay, and Keeper, which contains content that I just can’t personally reconcile myself to in children’s literature. (The writing in that one is superb, though.) Picking one book from each subcategory that gives me the most warm fuzzies, here’s what I come up with:
I love Andrew Peterson’s wordplay, creatively drawn characters, and story with lots and lots of heart in On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness. (Plus, Andrew Peterson includes a very sly nod to one of my favorite authors in this book, so how can I not love it?) Richard Peck’s creation of a complete mouse society and his sophisticated sense of humor (always!) drew me in immediately in Secrets at Sea. When You Reach Me is just once of those books that makes you say breathlessly at the end of the last page, “Wow!”
With the exception of The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, every one of these novels is a problem novel. The only other title that I would consider even partially a light, happy story is Lucky for Good, although I get the sense that the reason for that is Lucky has already faced her problems in the previous books in the series; now she is capable of helping others face theirs. Problem novels are really not my favorite type to read, especially when they seem agenda-driven. I came by most of these through the Armchair Cybils challenge. Bullying is a prevalent theme this year, at least among Cybils nominated titles. I’ll be interested to see how these books fare in the Cybils and the Newberys. Still, I’m mostly glad I spent some of my reading time this year in this genre. Of course I love the Penderwicks, but since I tend to think of the books in this series as a collective whole (read my review for my thoughts on this), here are my three non-Penderwickian realistic novel picks:
For a realistic novel to be realistic, the protagonist’s voice has to ring true, and Emma’s does in Camo Girl. I enjoy reading novels about austistic children, so I was predisposed to like Mockingbird anyway, but it is a heart wrenching story with a tie-in to TKM, points which made me like it all the more. As I already mentioned, Lucky for Good is a problem novel with a light touch, and the characterization is really, really good.
I suppose this title will do for novels written during a different time period that we’re still reading today, right? I suppose I could call them classic novels since most of them have stood the test of time. Anyway, you know what I mean, right? Here’s the trio I read:
Hands down, my favorite of this category is Emily of Deep Valley. This lovely story just blew me away! Of course, I am also a die-hard L.M. Montgomery fan, but I have to hand it to Maud Hart Lovelace and Emily–I think it might even rival Anne and the other Emily for my affection!
I think I can truly say that this was the year for juvenile literature for me! I really didn’t read a book this year I didn’t like at least a little bit, so any of the titles I’ve listed get at least a half-hearted recommendation from me; many of them get a Highly Recommended. I also recognize that my categories are somewhat arbitrary; I’d actually like to share some other lists that highlight ways these books are alike, but that will have to wait for another time.
Of course, I read many, many books to my children this year, too. I plan to share our chapter book read alouds and top picks on Read Aloud Thursday this week, so be sure to check back!
What’s the best kids’ or YA book you read this year?
I’m resurrecting an old project here at the tail-end of the year with this book. Way back in 2009 I decided to read through the alphabet by picking a book from the fiction As, then Bs, and so on. I kicked it off with Laurie Halse Anderson’s Fever 1793 back in 2009, and since then I’ve read
For the Gs, I decided to read something by Nikki Grimes because we enjoyed her Christmas book, Voices of Christmas, so much. Grimes is obviously a very talented author who is capable of handling a variety of genres; Voices of Christmas is poetry, while The Road to Paris is a realistic middle grade novel about a girl, Paris, who learns to trust and love through the care of a loving foster family. We follow Paris and her brother Malcolm as they experience neglect and abuse at the hands of their mother, their stepfather, and foster parents. The two are eventually separated, and Paris goes to live with the Lincolns, a family with a “permanent” foster daugher, two natural sons, and lots of stability and love to offer her. Paris stays in one place long enough to grow a friendship, as well as experience rejection because she is biracial. In the end Paris grows into her own skin; instead of just being a kid who has to do whatever anyone tells her to do, she realizes that she does have some sort of say-so about her life. Most importantly, she learns from the Lincolns that she can ”keep God in her pocket”–that God is close by her as long as she allows Him to be.
This is a simple book with short chapters, one that can be read quickly. It’s not complicated or even particularly beautifully written. What it is, however, is a book that gets right to the heart of what it is like to be a foster child: unsure of what the future holds; torn between the “real” mother and the one who actually cares for you; dependent on a sibling as the only dependable person in your life (and then he’s torn from you, too); projecting the behavior of an abusive person onto everyone else, expecting even those who care for you to mistreat you, too; and so on. Paris’s thoughts here sum it up perfectly:
I wish there were two of me. That way, both of us could have the family we want. (130)
Although this is a very difficult subject, Nikki Grimes handles it with a light touch, making this book appropriate for even youngish middle graders. I have relatives who have cared for children through foster care for many years; this book sheds light on what such children feel like, making it possible for me to have just an inkling of the pain and trauma of their young lives. I would never presume to know how such a child might feel, but the author biography on the jacket flap states that Grimes lived with a foster family herself in Ossining, NY, the same place that Paris lives with the Lincolns. This leads me to believe that the book must at least be inspired by Grimes‘s own life. If you’re looking for a book to broach this difficult subject with a child, this is a good one. While I can’t say I exactly enjoyed reading it, I did find Paris’s story compelling enough to keep me turning pages long after I should’ve turned the lights out. I can see why it was awarded a Coretta Scott King author honor award in 2007. (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2006)
I have been absent from the virtual world this week, with the exception of rather voraciously reading blogs and message boards at odd hours, like 3 a.m. when I was up with a sick DLM. Yes, a plague descended upon the House of Hope sometime this Sunday past, and we only yesterday emerged from the haze. Although it only affected Louise, the DLM, and me, Steady Eddie has borne the brunt of the work–lots of getting up through the night with a congested baby, even though he had to drive distances for his job the following mornings, etc. He has also done his fair share of housework this week. (Really, though, there’s nothing unusual about that!) I appreciate my husband, friends.
So what has this to do with Read Aloud Thursday? Well, I’ve had this stack of books in the computer cabinet, just waiting for review. I pulled them out on Tuesday night and re-read them to my girls since it had been a long while since we were first introduced to them, and only then did I realize what a coincidence it is that my favorite of the lot, this year’s Caldecott Medalist A Sick Day for Amos McGee has me and the protagonist of the tale in the same predicament: sniffly, groggy, and not quite up to our normal task of taking care of all the critters we’re responsible for.
The best word I can use to describe this story is gentle. The story opens in much the same way as an episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood:
Amos McGee was an early riser. Every morning when the alarm clock clanged, he swung his legs out of bed and swapped his pajamas for a fresh-pressed uniform.
Amos McGee, the slight zoo keeper, loves his job; in fact, although he has a lot to do at the zoo, “he always made time to visit his good friends”: he plays chess with the elephant, races the tortoise (‘though he tortoise always wins), reads the owl a bedtime story, and just sits quietly by the bashful penguin. When the day arrives that he is too sick to go to work, his friends wait for and worry about him, until they decide to take matters into their own hands (hoofs? flippers? wings?) and ride the city bus to his home and check on him. At his home, they are able to show him the caring and solicitous concern he has always shown them. Of course, this is a Caldecott Medal winner, so the illustrations are par excellence. This book is written and illustrated by husband-wife duo Philip C. and Erin E. Stead, and I have to say that I love the story every bit as much as the illustrations. (Can you tell?) The illustrations are something, though. Made using a painstaking woodblock printing/stamping technique (which you can see here on her blog), the illustrations are both simple and detailed. There is nothing extraneous or messy about any one of these pictures. I love that the colors are muted and grainy (not really grainy, but I can’t think of a better work–incomplete? maybe. . . ) I love this book for so many reasons, and I even told Steady Eddie that the next time he feels compelled to buy me a book, this one is it. This is my top pick of all the recent award winners that I’ve read, and I give it a Highly Recommended.
Shark vs. Train by Chris Barton is one of those Cybils nominees that got a lot of press, at least on the blogs I read, so I bought myself (ourselves? Really–these picture books are for my children, aren’t they?!?) a copy. This is one of those books that I find difficult to read aloud, but I did it. It has a lot of cartoonish “talking” between the shark and train using speech balloons and I’m never sure whether or not read that part aloud. Without it, though, much of the charm of this book is lost. Okay, maybe I should back up and explain the premise. This book is a competition between a shark and train–which one would win, for example, a diving competition? a ping pong game? sword fighting on a tight rope? The title page has this exchange between the shark and train: Shark says, “I’m going to choo-choo you up and spit you out”, to which Train replies, “Ha! I’m going to fin-ish you, mackerel-breath.” That’s funny, but I think it takes a certain level of maturity to get the humor. My girls didn’t love this one, but Louise did spend some time studying Tom Lichtenheld‘s colorful illustrations. I’m going to make a sexist statement here, so beware. I wonder if this book would appeal more to the masculine gender. I don’t know, but lots of people have loved it, so there must be something to it that maybe we just didn’t quite get. C’est la vie. This one was a Cybils shortlisted title, too.
Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein is similar to Shark vs. Train in one way–this is a book that really can’t be read in a linear fashion; the whole premise is that the little red chicken constantly interrupts his papa’s attempts to read him a bedtime story. However, we clicked with this one a little more; the premise is very funny, and since we have our own Interrupting Chicken around here (whoshallremainLOUISEnameless), we can relate. This book won a Caldecott honor this year for its vivid and memorable illustrations of these talking chickens. This is an endearing book that is good for a laugh; if you like jokes with swift punchlines (that are repeated often), you’ll like this one. Jennifer @ Jean Little Library points out that the book pages that Papa is reading look suspiciously like Paul Galdone renditions of fairytales, a nice little detail I failed to notice. The really neat thing about such lavishly illustrated stories is that there’s always something new to see. Interrupting Chicken won the 2010 Cybils award for best fiction picture book.
Speaking of interruping, I interrupted Lulu’s obsession with all things Ramona (she was reading Ramona Forever for what must be the umpteenth time!) to have her read Bink and Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee aloud to Louise (while I not-s0-subtly listened in). It had been a while since we read it, and I didn’t think at the time that we had taken the time to properly appreciate it. Lulu moaned and groaned a bit at first, of course, but by the time she had finished reading the first little story in this volume, she was smiling and giggling as she read. Need I say more? This is such an endearing tale (really, a collection of short-but-related tales)–we couldn’t help but be drawn in by this pair who are oh-so-different from one another and yet who are obviously the best of friends. Bink’s the one up there with the wild hair; Gollie is her taller, more reserved buddy. Bink loves big words; Gollie loves colorful socks. I’ll bet you know a pair like this one; we have a pair like this at the House of Hope, which makes the story all the more enjoyable for the mama. I first read about this book here on Melissa Wiley’s blog, Here in the Bonny Glen, as if its being co-written (is that a word?) by the wonderfully talented Kate DiCamillo wasn’t enough of a recommendation. (I love her books, you know. I’ve written about them here, here, here, and here.) Tony Fucile’s illustrations bear mentioning because he has captured the essence of these two characters so perfectly in his drawings. I’m curious as to why this one wasn’t nominated for a Cybil last year, unless it was released too late to get in under the deadline. If that’s the case, it should make this year’s list, for sure! It has already won the 2011 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award given by the ALA/ALSC for books for beginning readers.
I saved this one for last because no matter how many times I asked my girls to pick their favorite, they always chose this one. Dave the Potter : Artist, Poet, Slave contains so much of what my girls love in a story–historical detail and pathos that grips the heart. It’s the true story of Dave, a slave in the nineteenth century U.S., who left his mark on our world through the pottery he produced. Laban Carrick Hill‘s prose borders on poetry; it’s sparse but evocative:
The shoulder and rim
as the jar took the shape
Dave knew was there,
even before he worked
the raw mound on his wheel.
Bryan Collier‘s watercolor illustrations are gorgeous and garnered this book a Caldecott honor. My girls were really taken in by this story, and every time we read it they requested that I also read the historical note at the end of the story. In addition to being nominated for a Cybil, Dave the Potter also won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award. Highly Recommended
If you’ve read this far, I thank you. This is a long post that looks even longer since I’ve included these humongous images of the bookcovers. Amazon has gone and changed things up again for the Associates links, and I can no longer put a nice little clickable book cover image in my posts. Thus, I am including the above widget, just in case anyone actually wants to click over to Amazon.
Have you read any of these award winners with your children? What are their favorites? Talk to me! Oh, and don’t forget to link up your Read Aloud Thursday posts in the comments, too!
I’m not much of a hot-topic, controversial issue person. However, I do love a good story, and if the story is peopled with memorable characters, I like it all the better. One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia might feel like one of those forced, pedantic, let’s-talk-about-this-time-period-in-history-now-students stories, if it weren’t for Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern. Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern are the Gaither sisters, and they are put on a plane in NYC (Brooklyn, to be exact) and flown across the country for a month-long visit with their run-away mother, Cecile. Delphine, age eleven, only has a foggy memory of Cecile, and her younger sisters really don’t remember her at all. That’s okay, though–they have their daddy, Big Ma (their grandmother), and Delphine, the most responsible of big sisters. However, once the girls find themselves in Oakland, California, they find that their mother still isn’t much of a mother. What’s more, she’s involved in a political movement that Delphine knows only from watching the news with Big Ma: Cecile is involved with the Black Panthers, somehow. Cecile essentially kicks the girls out of the house every morning with the instructions that they are to breakfast at the community center and return home in time to eat their supper and go to bed. That’s what the girls do, but not without learning more about the movement (of course) and eventually, about their mother.
Honestly, I don’t like conflict, and I don’t really even like it in books. (You understand when I say conflict, I mean man vs. man, specifically. ) What won me over in this book are the voices of Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern. They are perfect. Perfect. I can just imagine these three little black girls who have been loved, cared for, and protected by their daddy and Big Ma, landing in California to no parental supervision whatsoever, and their reactions to this puzzling situation. (Of course, like Sherry, I have to suspend my disbelief that their daddy and Big Ma would actually send them west to begin with.)
This is Delphine:
I’m used to doing what’s hard. Like three days’ worth of homework in one night to catch up from being out of school sick. Like forty-six push-ups in sixty seconds to win a bet with a boy. Like standing mean mouthed over Vonetta and Fern until they swallow a tablespoon each of hard pine cough syrup. But saying “please” without actually saying it to someone you don’t want to say “please” to in the first place tops the list of hard. (53)
Rita Williams-Garcia has the big sister-middle sister-little sister relationship down to a T. Delphine bosses both girls, knows her middle sister Vonetta too well (Vonetta is “showy and crowy”), and babies Fern. She takes this admonition from Big Ma to heart:
Big Ma taught me to be a hard washboard scrubber. To not accept dirt, dust, or stains on clothes, floors, or walls, or on ourselves. “Scrub like you’re a gal from a one-cow town near Prattville, Alabama,” she’d tell me while Vonetta and Fern ran around and played. (95)
Of course, Delphine does come out of herself a little bit in the story, but I would like to have spent more time with her. The story ends somewhat abruptly, with the girls leaving California to return to New York. They get to know their mother just a little bit, but really, there is no love lost between them. There is no weepy reconciliation, but again, there is a lot of good characterization in this story.
This book has won a host of awards: a Newbery honor (2011), a National Book Award finalist designation (2010), and a Coretta Scott King Award (2011), and it was nominated for a Cybils award. The writing is top-notch, no doubt about it. The story just doesn’t feel finished to me, and honestly, I can’t imagine many middle-grade kids being interested in the political climate of California and the U.S. in the 1960s, but maybe that’s just me. Of course, the real strength of the story is in its characterization, so maybe that would be enough to spark interest. Incidentally, there is a sideways reference to abortion in the story, but it goes over the head of Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern, and I think it would go over the head of most middle-grade readers. The bottom line: this is a compelling story because of the characters, and perhaps (dare I say it?) even in spite of its setting. I have a feeling I’d like to Delphine wherever I met her.
I realize that since this past Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday and a holiday is celebrated in our country in his honor, I’m about a week late with this post. As I’ve said so many times before, just consider this extra early preparation for next year’s holiday, or a little advanced preparation for Black History Month next month, whatever floats your boat.
Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport probably doesn’t even need mentioning, with all the accolades it has to its credit. I just happened to remember it when I went to the library last Friday and snagged it off the biography shelf, where it sat amidst a handful of longer works about Martin Luther King, Jr. The Civil Rights movement isn’t something I’ve ever intentionally brought up with my girls, but since we live in a state that gained so much notoriety during that period, I thought Monday’s holiday would be a good opportunity to begin the dialogue. Martin’s Big Words is a beautiful picture book that gives an overview of the movement and MLK, Jr.’s part in it. Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parkes, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Nobel Peace Prize, and the Memphis garbage collectors strike–they’re all mentioned, but it’s Martin and his “big words” that take center stage. The cadence of Martin’s speech is echoed in this story, a refrain that Rappaport uses repeatedly in the course of this picture book:
Martin walked with them and talked with them
and sang with them and prayed with them.
Bryan Collier‘s Caldecott honor-winning watercolor and cut paper collage illustrations work with the text both in terms of sound and sight. The illustrations capture the spirit of the text, but the text itself communicates the importance of Martin’s “big words,” since quotes from his sermons and speeches appear on almost every page, and they are differentiated from the text of the story by the color and size of the typeface. I think my girls, at 6.5 and 5 years, are at a good age to begin to grasp this particular era in our nation’s history, and this picture book couldn’t be a better introduction. I am eager to seek out Rappaport’s other historical picture books. You can see what else she has written by visiting her websitehere. Highly Recommended.
Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey has been languishing in my to-be-reviewed pile for months upon months. The nice folks at Lerner Publishing Group sent it to me in exchange for my honest review, but I kept it on the back burner because I thought it would be above my girls’ understanding. I meant to read it myself, but I just never got around to it. After reading Martin’s Big Words on Monday, I was inspired yesterday to pull it out of the stack and give it a go, cold. (How many of you know this can be a dangerous thing to do?) Well, I am so glad I did! The Ruth in this story appears to be not much older than my girls, so there was an immediate connection. She and her family are traveling to Alabama (of course!) from Chicago to visit her grandmother, there’s connection number two. Ruth takes along her beloved Brown Bear, and since both my girls still have “loveys,” there’s connection number three. Score! The problem in this story is that because of the skin color of Ruth and her family, they are forbidden from being served at gas stations and restaurants between Chicago and Alabama. The further south they go, the worse the situation grows. However, Ruth’s daddy’s old soldier buddy, with whom they stay in Tennesse, tells them that Esso service stations are the ones to watch for, since these service stations would serve customers without regard to race. They stop at an Esso station and purchase (at the suggestion of the gas attendant) The Negro Motorist Green Book, a pamphlet which lists businesses that welcome blacks. Having this little booklet makes all the difference to their journey, and at the end it made Ruth “feel like [she] was part of one big family” of people helping each other. Floyd Cooper‘s illustrations are lovely–they have a certain 1950s luminosity (Is that a word? Yes, it is!) that is beautiful. They have a slightly grainy appearance, which really helps to give them an historical feel. The only quibble I have with this book–and it’s a tiny one–is the typeface/font used. It’s some sort of sans-serif font, which I think gives the book an unpolished look. This is merely my opinion, though, and is probably influenced by the years I’ve spent grading essays in Times New Roman. I couldn’t have “accidentally” had a better story to introduce my girls to the idea of racial segregation, and I thank Lerner Publishing Group for the chance to review this book. You can go here to access all sorts of additional information to go along with this story.
Do any of you have any books that you’ve used with your children to discuss difficult topics like the Civil Rights Movement? Do share in the comments! Whatever you’re reading together, link up your Read Aloud Thursday post, or simply tell us about it in the comments. Be sure to come back tomorrow for a R.A.T. Links post!
This week’s Read Aloud Thursday post is thematic, something that I don’t usually do. This week we took a break from our normal school routine and did a lightFive in a Rowweek. Although we really didn’t do many of the activities in the actual FIAR instructor book, we captured the spirit by reading a book from volume one and reading several “go-alongs.” Every one of the books we read is a winner, so I wanted to share them here, of course. This week’s FIARtitle is The Clown of God by Tomie dePaola. I feel like I’m maybe the last to the party where this book is concerned; after all, it was reissued in the 1970s and is a retelling of an old French legend. I was tickled to snag a copy on PaperbackSwap for our home library. This book is just beautiful, and my girls were as captivated as I was the first time we read it. For those who are unfamiliar with the legend, it is the stor of Giovanni, an orphan boy who joins a traveling goup of players as their juggler. Giovanni hones his craft and becomes very good at what he does–so good, in fact, that he juggles before royalty. He lives a full life, but in the end old age steals his talent from him and his life would have ended in brokenness and dejection, were it not for his very last performance. I don’t want to give away the ending, but just know that this is a three or four hanky story for sure! DePaola set the story in Italy, not France, in case you’re wondering about the name Giovanni. The illustrations are trademark DePaola. There’s a whole lot to love about this book.
Thanks to the FIAR manual and its suggested booklist, I found these books that also deal with the elderly in literature. Most of these are even more obviously about the elderly than Clown of God, since that book covers just about all of Giovanni’s life, not just his latter years. This is a topic that’s really dear to my heart because I grew up around a lot of elderly people. The church of my childhood, teenage, and young adult years was made up of mostly elderly people, so I’ve always spent a lot of time around them. My own grandmother lived to be 90 years old, but only Lulu was born when she died. Thankfully, Steady Eddie’s grandmother is still living, so my girls (and the DLM, too, I hope!) will have wonderful memories of her. Anyway, respect for the elderly, and more than that, valuing of the elderly, is very important to me and something I want to pass on to my children. These books are a great way to begin that conversation:
Gramma’s Walk by Anna Grossnickle Hines is the sweet story of a little boy named Donnie and his grandmother. Gramma is wheelchair-bound, but this fact doesn’t keep her and Donnie from enjoying a “walk” together along the seashore. The fact that the “walk” occurs only in their imaginations makes it all the more poignant and sweet. This story is told with lots of onomatopoeia and great descriptions of the beach. Of all the books I’ve found, this one is the most appropriate for younger readers/listeners. My girls enjoyed this one and didn’t think it odd at all that Donnie and Gramma never actually left her home for their walk, a fact that I find encouraging. Uncle Jed’s Barbershop by Margaree King Mitchellis another three- or four-hanky story. Told through the eyes of a young girl named Sarah Jean, it is the story of Uncle Jed, a traveling barber who postpones his dream of owning his own barbershop some day in order to help those in need. After years of saving and setbacks, Uncle Jed finally gets his barbershop at the ripe old age of 79. This story is set in a black sharecropping community in the South around the time of the Great Depression, so segregation is discussed lightly. James Ransome‘s illustrations won this book a well-deserved Coretta Scott King honor designation, and it is those illustrations that truly make generous and loving Uncle Jed come to life. Reading this book is like visiting with your own well-loved uncle. This is simply a beautiful story.
A post about picture books with elderly characters wouldn’t be complete without one by Patricia Polacco, one of my favorite children’s book authors/illustrators. (I’ve written about her books before here, here, and here.) Like many of Polacco’s books, this one has an elderly Polish woman as one of its main characters. Mrs. Katz is a lonely widow, but she is fortunate to have Larnel, a young black boy, and his mother as her friends. They visit her frequently, and she becomes Larnel’s stand-in bubee. She teaches him so many things–mostly about being Jewish, and particularly about the similarities between the Polish Jewish experience and the black experience in America. Larnel and his family provide companionship in more ways than one: they also give Mrs. Katz her very own cat–the Tush mentioned in the title. This sweet, sweet story is just about the value and richness that cross-generational relationships add to the lives of those involved. If you need three or four hankies for the books above, you need an even half dozen at least for this one.
Okay, that’s it for today. I don’t think I could stand any more heart-warming, heart-rending tales, anyway. Link your Read Aloud Thursday posts up below!