Themed Third Thursday: Princess Possibilities

While many parents are tired to death of princesses and all the fancy, frilly fripperies that go with playing princess, there is far more to be found in the princess line than just your basic Disney princesses. To expand your child’s horizons, try out some of these books…with nary a musical number in sight!

Princess Baby, Night-NightPrincess Baby, Night-Night, by Karen Katz (2009, infant/toddler): As Princess Baby (which appears to be the nickname of a very normal toddler (wearing a crown and sparkly shoes)) is supposed to be getting ready for bed, her parents call out to her with questions about her progress. We can see Princess Baby avoid outright untruths as she skirts their questions or gives vague answers while she continues to play with her toys. However, when her parents come to put her in bed, she has already fallen asleep among all her toys, and her parents wish her goodnight.

I Want My Present!: A Lift-the-Flap Book, I Want My Present!by Tony Ross (2005, preschool/early elementary): A very crabby-looking little princess in her nightgown goes around the castle demanding her present. Each person she encounters (from her parents (or so I gather from their matching crowns) to the palace cook) looks and finds something of his or her own instead. (There’s even a cat looking and a little mouse who shows up on each page.) Finally, her nursemaid comes running with a box…a box that contains a paper crown. The formerly grumpy princess is finally satisfied as she hands her present (the one she made especially!) to her nurse.

Princess WannabePrincess Wannabe, written and illustrated by Leslie Lammle (2014, early elementary): The opening page starts with the line, “Is it story time yet?” Fern’s babysitter realizes that it’s too late for stories before bedtime, and she tells the little girl that princess stories “all end the same way” so there’s no need to read this one. Fern is determined, however, to find out for herself how her book ends, so she sits down to read it herself, and magically gets drawn into the book. When she finally encounters the princess, she discovers that–just like Fern wishes she could be a princess–the princess just wants to be able to relax and read with her friends all day, just as Fern can. Fern returns home via fairy dust just in time for bed, and her babysitter gets a whiff of fairy dust as we get the implication that her babysitter will get a surprise as she carries off the book.

The Paper Bag Princess, The Paper Bag Princessby Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko (1980, early elementary): Elizabeth is a proper princess who is going to marry a proper prince named Ronald. However, a dragon destroys her castle (and all her lovely clothes!) and carries off Ronald. Elizabeth dons a paper bag (remarkably, the only thing in the castle left unburnt) and follows so she can try to rescue Ronald. Elizabeth tricks the dragon into using up all his fire and then to wear himself out flying so that he falls asleep, and she enters his cave. Ronald is there, but he tells her to come back when she looks like a real princess again. Elizabeth tells him that although he “look[s] like a real prince,” he’s really a bum. (My third-graders laughed hysterically at this line–which was the author’s toned-down version! His original oral story involved the princess punching the prince in the nose. :) ) And they don’t get married.

Princess PigstyPrincess Pigsty, by Cornelia Funke, illustrated by Kerstin Meyer (2007, early elementary): Princess Isabella, the youngest of three prim and proper princesses, has finally had enough of the pampering and boredom of her prim and proper life. One morning, she throws a proper fit and tosses her crown into the fishpond. Her father, the king, is very angry at her for her defiance and orders her to the kitchen until she is willing to get her crown out of the pond and behave properly again. When that doesn’t work (she loves working in the kitchen and has new and interesting things she’s learned), he tries banishing her to the pigsty, but she also enjoys that experience. He finally realizes that he loves and misses his little girl and wants her to return to the castle, so he returns her crown to her and asks her to come back and do the things she wants to do because all he wants is for her to be happy. As they return to the castle and Isabella shares some of her plans, her father shows an interest in trying new things and learning with her.

The Princess Knight,The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke, illustrated by Kerstin Meyer (2001, early elementary): Princess Violetta’s mother dies when she is born, and the king–whose three sons have been raised just as he was raised (and have acquired some decidedly haughty tendencies to boot)–decides to raise his tiny princess in the same way. Her three older brothers taunt her and boast about their prowess in all the areas where poor little Violetta struggles. So Violetta begins to practice in secret, “in her own way, without shouting and without using her spurs.” She becomes so good that her brothers stop harassing her. However, when she turns sixteen, her father proposes a tournament to celebrate, but–instead of getting to participate–she is to be the prize for the winner! On the day of the tournament, she disguises herself as Sir No-Name (and her veiled nursemaid as herself) so that she can compete. She wins, and she chooses her own prize–that “no one will ever win Princess Violetta’s hand in marriage without first defeating Sir No-Name.” She rides off on her horse and only returns after “a year and a day,” and her father and brothers show her the respect that her skill deserves. (And she marries the gardener’s son when she is good and ready.)

Princess Posey and the First Grade ParadePrincess Posey and the First Grade Parade, by Stephanie Green, illustrated by Stephanie Roth Sisson (2010, early elementary): This first book in a simple chapter book series tells the story of Posey (aka, Princess Posey (when she’s wearing her ratty pink tutu and the confidence boost it gives her!)) as she prepares to enter first grade. Posey’s pretty nervous in particular about one thing: drop-off. She doesn’t like the idea of having to walk into the school and her classroom on her own, and she longs to wear her tutu to give her some courage. A chance meeting with her soon-to-be teacher in the grocery store results in a conversation that gives Miss Lee the idea to have a first grade parade–wear your favorite clothes!–on the first day of school to help the new first graders feel more at ease as they transition from kindergarten into first grade.

The Princess in Black, The Princess in Blackby Shannon Hale and Dean Hale (2014, early/middle elementary): Princess Magnolia gets a surprise visit from Duchess Wigtower, and Duchess Wigtower makes it perfectly clear that she’s there to find out what is up with Princess Magnolia since everyone has secrets. Princess Magnolia does have a secret–a very big secret–and she doesn’t want anyone to know. Princess Magnolia is also the Princess in Black, a pony-riding, masking-wearing, monster-fighting force to be reckoned with! While she is entertaining Duchess Wigtower, she receives a monster alert on her glitter-stone ring and has to rush away to deal with the problem. Duff, the goat boy, watches in alarm and admiration as she defeats the monster and sends him back home. He can’t help but be reminded of Princess Magnolia, but he brushes off the idea until later, after he has put the goats to bed. He is inspired to create a disguise for himself, the Goat Avenger, and vows to practice and get stronger so that he, too, may one day fight alongside the Princess in Black (whoever she is!). Duchess Wigtower, who has been snooping, has found a pair of black stockings in a closet. She determines that–since princesses don’t wear black–Princess Magnolia’s secret is that she has really filthy stockings. Princess Magnolia is relieved that her true secret is still safe. I really like not only the silliness of the story but the fact that Princess Magnolia and Duff are both drawn as round-faced, decidedly average-looking children! Very accessible book, and clearly open to potential sequels! (For anyone who doesn’t know, Shannon Hale writes non-traditional princess stories, many based on fairy tale characters, for older readers, too.)

The Rescue Princesses: The Secret Promise (Book 1)The Rescue Princesses: The Secret Promise (Book 1), by Paula Harrison (2012, elementary): As Emily and the other 9-year-old princes and princesses from around their world gather at the castle of Mistburg’s King Gudland, they are excited to meet one another and to attend the ceremonial Grand Ball where they will be formally introduced to the other royal families. Emily and the other princesses come together to rescue an injured deer and to discover who has been setting illegal traps in the forest. When they discover the plot and disable all the traps, they are able to give evidence against the poacher. They decide to team up and become the Rescue Princesses with the help of the special communicator jewels one of the princesses designed for their rings. (I have to note that GirlChild adores these books. Reading them, to me, feels like reading something I would have written myself when I was a kid–one part fan fiction, one part science fiction, one part ninja training, and one part serious wish fulfillment–but that means that it absolutely would have been a book series that I would have loved as a young reader as well. Product DetailsThe princesses are modern (Emily’s family took a plane to Mistburg and there’s a zipline on the castle grounds), but their courtly expectations and old castles don’t make it overly obvious, and it actually helps explain their independent, modern child behaviors more than the anachronistic behaviors in some supposedly realistic period pieces.)

A Little Princess,A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, illustrated by Tasha Tudor (1905, upper elementary): Sara Crewe, an intellectually and emotionally precocious seven-year-old girl born in India to wealthy Captain Crewe and his French wife, is brought to London to a distinguished seminary for girls in order to receive her education. Her mother died when she was born, leaving Sara as the “little missus” of her home for a long time, and her self-assured manner and inventive mind endear her to many at the school while others (like the headmistress, Miss Minchin) feel threatened by her superior character and envious of her wealth. When her father dies and leaves her penniless, now eleven-year-old Sara is relegated to the attics and given the most humbling tasks Miss Minchin can conceive as a sort of revenge on Sara for her “airs” and for saddling her with her expenses (as though that were Sara’s fault). Sara uses her imagination and her aspiration to always behave graciously, as a princess would, to get through the trials that she faces in her new situation. In the end, after two long years, an amazing circumstance causes many wrongs to be righted, and Sara is seen for the strong, loyal, gracious child she is–a true princess at heart. GirlChild is too young yet to read this on her own, but I have immediate plans to read it aloud to her because I think it’s such a good story with such insight into humanity!

The Royal Diaries on AmazonThe Royal Diaries (A Dear America book series, upper elementary/middle school): I have to preface this with the statement that I have not actually read any of these books (although I have read a few Dear America titles). The publication information pages have a note that says, “While The Royal Diaries are based on real royal figures and actual historical events, some situations and people in this book are fictional, created by the author.” The books are written as diary entries by the main character, and they assume that the reader will either know some background information, will seek it out while reading, or will have the patience to deal with the ambiguity of waiting for clarity as the story unfolds. Featuring such varied princesses (or queens) as Elizabeth I (England, 1544), Lady of Ch’iao Kuo (Southern China, A.D. 531), and Nzingha (Angola, Africa, 1595), each book contains the diary portion, Product Detailsan epilogue, a historical note that includes a family tree, maps, photos, and illustrations, a glossary of characters/places with fictional characters marked, an about the author section (with author notes about writing the book), and acknowledgements (including citations for the included art).

Unfortunately, I ran out of time to read and review all the biographies (from picture books about Ka’iulani and Pocohontas to your basic nonfiction about Cleopatra and others. I also didn’t get around to The Tale of Despereaux, The Hero and the Crown (YA), and the Enchanted Forest Chronicles (YA) or any of the Wonder Woman books I found! If you want a chance to discover a hidden gem of a book about princesses (and you’re willing to wade through a catalog full of Disney-pink covers!), use “princess” as a keyword in your catalog search!

(Another couple that sound good that I found while searching for cover images on Amazon: Not All Princesses Dress in Pink and the Do Princesses…? series (both preschool/early elementary)!)

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Themed Third Thursday: My Bin of Books

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So, illness and vacations kept us away from the library this past month, but that doesn’t mean that we didn’t have plenty to read! This month, I’ll give you a glimpse into my living room where there is always a bin of child-chosen books ready to read! (There’s not enough space in a single blog entry to cover the books on the shelf in the kids’ closet or the giant IKEA shelving unit in my bedroom…)

Knuffle Bunny, by Mo WillemsKnuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, by Mo Willems (2004): The first book we purchased for GirlChild while she was still in utero, Knuffle Bunny’s tale of a beloved stuffed animal, mundane family tasks, and a child’s first words pretty much makes me cry every time still. GirlChild reads it to BoyChild now, and he chimes in for the “WAAAAA!” and points out facial expressions. We have three Scholastic videos of Mo Willems’ works (including this one), and the book and video remain favorites.

Margret & H.A. Rey’s Curious George’s Curious George's First Day of SchoolFirst Day of School, illustrated in the style of H.A. Rey by Anna Grossnickle Hines (2005): George goes to school on the first day to be a special helper, and he does help with many things. When he “helps” mix the paint, though, he makes a big mess. George feels bad about the mess, and the children feel bad for George, so they all chip in to help clean up the mess. George is invited to come back any time.

Alphabet RescueAlphabet Rescue, by Audrey Wood and Bruce Wood (2006): Charley’s Alphabet decides to take a trip to Alphabet City (where they were made) while Charley takes a trip to visit his grandparents. The lower case letters set out to try to rescue things with a little firetruck they fix up (after their first attempt at practicing fire-fighting with the capital letters fails), and they help M, u, and d wash a car and rescue c, a, and t from a tree. When the capital letters in their firetruck blow a tire as they head toward a fire at the letter-making factory, the little letters invite the capitals on board their truck and race to the fire. They rescue all the trapped letters, and the city throws a celebratory parade in their honor. They then return home to Charley to help him write his thank-you note to his grandparents for a good trip.

Alphabet Under Construction, Alphabet Under Construction, by Denise Flemingby Denise Fleming (2002): Mouse is very industrious, and he goes through the alphabet doing things like airbrushing the A, carving the C, and erasing the E. Uses a good variety of craft and construction related verbs with illustrations to help show the meaning of the words. The art is unusual in that it was “created by pouring colored cotton fiber through hand-cut stencils.” The last page shows Mouse’s work schedule calendar on which he has crossed off all the letters.

Barbie: Horse Show ChampBarbie: Horse Show Champ (Step Into Reading, Step 1, Ready to Read), by Jessie Parker, illustrated by Karen Wolcott (2009): Barbie gets out of bed on the day of the horse show, eats a big breakfast, and brings an apple to her horse, Tawny. Barbie prepares Tawny and herself for the show and tells her she hopes they win a blue ribbon. Tawny does well until she shies at a jump, but she tries again for Barbie and makes it. They end up with a white ribbon and a trophy.

How Do Dinosaurs Learn to Read?, How Do Dinosaurs Learn to Read?by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague (2003): Although learning to read can be frustrating and requires following some basic book-care rules, little dinosaurs who stick with it and treat books respectfully learn to love to read!

Product DetailsWhisper the Winged Unicorn: Journey to Julie’s Heart, concept by Amber Milligan, written by Christopher Brown and Jill Wolf, illustrated by Tom Kinarney (1986): Although this was published when I was but a wee lass, I have to admit that I do not recall having read this book. (It belonged to GirlChild’s aunt and came to our house with a collection of other old books from Grandma and Grandpa Florida [not their real names, clearly].) GirlChild, however, loves it enough to keep it upstairs with the books for frequent perusal, and I’m betting that the fact that 1980s cover illustration might make a little girl’s heart feel all warm and snuggly, along with a winged unicorn as a main character and Julie’s father being a veterinarian like GirlChild’s probably round out the reasons why a not-too-picky reader would choose this one as a current favorite. (The image here is not the same book, but it is the same series. If you click the image, though, it will bring you to a customer image of the actual book we have!)

Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovelby Virginia Lee Burton (1939): It doesn’t matter to BoyChild that steam shovels have gone out of style…he loves any books about diggers! In this classic title, Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel, Mary Anne, look for jobs to do when steam shovels are being replaced by electric and gasoline and Diesel shovels, and they find one in Popperville digging the cellar for the new town hall. They work faster and better as they collect an audience, and as the sun sets, they finish…but find themselves deep in the cellar without a way to get out. The people of Popperville decide to let them stay, Mary Anne converted to a furnace for the town hall and Mike as the janitor, and they live happily ever after right where they did their last digging job.

Lalaloopsy: Chasing RainbowsLalaloopsy: Chasing Rainbows, by Jenne Simon, illustrated by Prescott Hill (2014): Several of the inhabitants of Lalaloopsyland are spending a rainy day indoors when the rain stops and a rainbow appears. They have heard that there are surprises at the ends of rainbows, so they go out looking. Each time they think they’ve found the end of the rainbow, they encounter another friend who joins them as they see that the rainbow actually continues. Eventually they run into Bea, the resident librarian, and she tells them that a rainbow is actually a circle, so they’ll never find the end. (This, contrary to other things Bea finds in her library, is actually true.) They decide to celebrate the rainbow with a picnic even though they never found the end.

Cars 2: Travel Buddies, Travel Buddiesillustrated by Andrew Jimenez, Harley Jessup, and Jason Merck (2012): Lightning McQueen and Mater take a “shortcut” on the way home from the race in London, and they end up visiting ten different countries before finally arriving back on the mainland and home.

Doggies, by Sandra BoyntonDoggies: A Counting and Barking Book, by Sandra Boynton (1984): Ten different dogs (and one cat!) and a variety of different dog noises make up the pages of this silly counting book by my favorite board book author! BoyChild, despite aging out of the board book crowd at age three and a half, still loves to hear me woof my way through this one!

My Big Book of Trucks & Diggers, My Big Book of Trucks & Diggersby Caterpillar (2011): It might be clear that BoyChild is the one home most often to read books in the living room by this selection of titles, and this book is no exception. Each spread shows a different work vehicle with four smaller images of different labeled parts of that digger or truck on the facing page. Nothing makes BoyChild happier than knowing the specific words for obscure things, and this book is the reason that “ess-cuh-vay-tor” was one of his first multi-syllabic words after turning two!

Mele the Crab Finds the Way OutMele the Crab Finds the Way Out, written by Gail Omoto with Jan and Judy Dill, illustrated by Garrett Omoto (2007): Financed by a grant from the United States Department of Education and as a publication of the Partners in Development Foundation, this Hawaiian book is a story-with-a-moral. It tells of Mele (“merry”) the Crab who is used to getting her way by force, and she doesn’t care who she hurts to do it. When she gets caught by fishermen and put in a bucket with other crabs, she is frightened because they fight against her escape. When she remembers what her grandmother taught her about putting others first, she comes up with a plan to help the others out first, then escape herself. When she learns to put others first, she discovers the joy of friendship and taking turns. This book was purchased by GirlChild’s globe-trotting aunt (the same one with the winged unicorn book in her childhood library) while she was in Hawaii and comes with an audio cd of the story as well (which helps since Hawaiian words aren’t all easy to pronounce!).

Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!, Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!, by Mo Willemswords and pictures by Mo Willems (2006): The preschool-like Pigeon is supposed to be getting to bed, but he comes up with all kinds of excuses and reasons why he doesn’t need to…until he conks out mid-explanation! Like every Mo Willems book, tons and tons of fun for little listeners–my children like to read this one together.

Llama Llama Misses MamaLlama Llama Misses Mama, by Anna Dewdney (2009): GirlChild got this one almost two years ago, but they like hearing Llama Llama read aloud almost as much as their mama likes reading it! Llama Llama is dramatically upset about being left for the first time at preschool, but he comes to realize that it’s okay to like school and your mama!

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, Product Detailsby Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld (2011): Quite possibly BoyChild’s favorite book (he found it at the library at the same time as he found the Trucks & Diggers book, and we had to get them both for him at Christmas that year because the library’s copy was always at our house!), this story tells about the diggers getting ready for bed after a hard day’s work at the construction site. He can quote vast sections of it as he pages through on his own due to frequent rereadings with anyone he can snag!

Mudshark, by Gary PaulsenMudshark, by Gary Paulsen (2009): This book was a gift from Santa at GirlChild’s Breakfast with Santa at school, and we haven’t read it yet. It’s not in the same vein as Hatchet and many of Paulsen’s other works, but this one seems funnier and less dramatic than those and well suited for a younger readership (but probably still older than my kids) than some of those intense titles. We’ll give it a whirl before it gets relegated to the boxes with my boxes of fifth grade classroom books, though!

Viking Ships at Sunrise (Magic Tree House #15), Viking Ships at Sunrise (Magic Tree House #15)by Mary Pope Osborne (1998): I’ve not actually read this one (it was another gift from Santa at GirlChild’s Breakfast with Santa), but, like every other Magic Tree House book, it uses fantasy and time travel to help young children explore history and legend. Peppered with facts and trivia and with an extra list of facts at the end, if a child is particularly interested in a topic in one of these books, many of them have associated research guides for further factual information! I haven’t yet gotten GirlChild into these books, but I’m hoping to do so…historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, and fantastical historical fiction is a great way for kids to ease into the craziness of history!

Besides the books, we also have several magazine subscriptions in the bin: American Girl, Clubhouse Jr., Highlights, and High Five!

While you may not care for all the titles we have here (and you can probably tell which of these aren’t my personal favorites!), it’s always great to have a selection of books for browsing out and available so your children get used to the presence of books in their lives and it’s easy to just grab something and get sucked in!

 

 

 

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Themed Third Thursday: An Incidental Christmas

We’ve covered a variety of straight up Christmas books, but what about all those books where a chapter about Christmas just sneaks up on you and gives you a little insight into the Christmas traditions of other places and times past? That, my friends, is an incidental Christmas, and here are some books where you’ll find them!

Emma, by Jane AustenEmma, by Jane Austen (1816): Set in the early 1800s in Highbury (Surrey), England, Christmas appears in the form of the disastrous Christmas Eve party at the Westons’. With wintry weather beginning and Harriet unavailable for the evening’s festivities due to a bad cold, Emma is forced to endure Mr. Elton’s obsequious attentions and evident lack of care for the absence of his presumed beloved, and his real inclinations toward her are revealed as they travel together on the trip home afterwards. Apart from Emma’s uncomfortable thoughts and experiences, the evening seems to consist of a good deal of conversation in small groups interrupted only by dinner and again by the weather threatening to make travel difficult. It is also suggested that, were it not for the weather and her father’s subsequent objections, they would have attended church on Christmas morning.

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott (1868): Little Women, by Louisa May AlcottSet during the Civil War in New England, the book actually opens with Christmas preparations. The four girls are gathered together bemoaning the fact that they aren’t going to have gifts at Christmas this year because their father is serving as a chaplain on the front lines of the Civil War and their mother doesn’t feel it’s right to spend money on pleasures when the soldiers are lacking so much. They first debate buying themselves what they want before deciding to use their money to buy gifts for their hard-working mother instead, and they make big plans for a theatrical production on Christmas night. After reading a letter from their father, they resolve to work to make themselves better to make him proud. On Christmas morning, their mother asks them to join her in giving away their special breakfast to a poor immigrant family nearby. They and some (unidentified) friends put on the play (somewhat disastrously), and a wealthy neighbor rewards their good deed of the morning with an elaborate Christmas dinner surprise.

Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls WilderLittle House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1932): Set in the late 1800s in the woods of Wisconsin, the Christmas portion of the story takes place relatively early in the book. Pa spends a lot of time carving an ornate shelf to give to Ma for Christmas, and Ma and the girls work at the festive foods (including molasses candy made in the snow). Their aunt, uncle, and cousins come to spend Christmas with them, and the cousins teach them the Big Woods version of snow angels–climb on a stump, then fall face first into the snow to make a snow “picture” of themselves. They go to bed early–all the girls in one big bed–to sleep and wait for Santa to come, and they hang their stockings by the fireplace. Pa plays for them on his fiddle to get them to sleep, and they wake to find mittens and a peppermint stick in each stocking. Laura also receives a rag doll she names Charlotte. The adults exchange their own homemade gifts (“Santa Claus had not given them anything at all. Santa Claus did not give grown people presents, but that was not because they had not been good. Pa and Ma were good. It was because they were grown up, and grown people must give each other presents.”) After chores, Ma makes pancakes shaped like little men for the children, and the children spend the day looking at pictures in the Bible and animal pictures in another book. Their parents allow them to indulge at Christmas dinner, and then the cousins have to bundle up to head back home in the bobsled, and Laura reflects that it was a very happy Christmas. (This Christmas story and others from the series can be found in the anthology A Little House Christmas: Holiday Stories from the Little House Books.)

Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery (1908): Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. MontgomerySet in the late 1800s in a small town on Prince Edward Island, Canada, the Christmas part of the first Anne story doesn’t really talk much about Christmas itself at all! Anne and her classmates are preparing for a fundraising concert on Christmas night, and Anne will have several significant pieces to perform. Matthew notices that Anne isn’t dressed like all the other girls, and he decides to buy her a nice dress with puffed sleeves for Christmas, and their neighbor, Mrs. Lynde, helps by choosing the fabric and sewing the dress to surprise her. Anne wakes on Christmas morning to snow on the ground (“I’m so glad it’s white! Any other kind of Christmas just doesn’t seem real, does it?”) and Matthew’s surprise gift which brings her to tears. (No other gifts or special celebrations are mentioned, and that seems fitting with Marilla’s spartan way of approaching life.) The performance, which has nothing to do with Christmas, goes well, and both Matthew and Marilla are proud of Anne and begin to see that she has gifts that will need more than a local school to fully cultivate. (Anne, with her zest for life and the kind of personality that I envy, was my favorite literary character growing up–I even gave my GirlChild her name as a middle name!)

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C. S. LewisThe Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis (1950): Set in the English countryside during WWII and then, of course, in Narnia, the Christmas story in the land where there is “always winter and never Christmas” takes place in the chapter called “The Spell Begins to Break.” Now that the White Witch’s spell is failing, Father Christmas arrives and distributes useful gifts and a fully prepared tray of tea things to Mr. and Mrs. Beaver and the children. He is not just “funny and jolly” like he is depicted in our world, but his true self was “so big, and so glad, and so real that they all became quite still.” The episode is a short one, but it is a vital turning point in the story.

Ramona and Her Father, by Beverly Cleary (1977): Ramona and her Father, by Beverly ClearySet in Oregon in the middle of the 20th century, the Quimby family is experiencing hard times around Christmas because of Ramona’s father losing his job. Ramona is willing to give up a lot to make Christmas easier for her family, but having to wear a pair of faded pajamas as her sheep costume in the church pageant because her mother is too busy with work to sew her a proper costume is almost more than she can bear. A big girl steps in and saves Ramona’s confidence by painting a little black nose on her with eyeliner, and Ramona looks at her parents in the audience and sees her father’s love and once again feels secure despite the difficult times they’re coming through.

Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, by J. K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling (1997): Set in England in the 1990s, this Christmas episode is the first positive Christmas experience Harry has had. Staying behind at Hogwarts is by far more pleasant than returning to the Dursleys and their hand-me-down “gifts.” Hogwarts is decorated festively with holly and mistletoe and evergreens decorated magically. Expecting nothing but the celebratory food and fun on Christmas morning, Harry is delighted to find that he has received gifts from Hagrid (a hand-carved wooden flute), Mrs. Weasley (a hand-knitted sweater and homemade fudge), Hermione (a box of Chocolate Frogs), and the Cloak of Invisibility from an unknown giver. The Christmas dinner includes turkey, potatoes, chipolatas (pork sausages), peas, gravy, and cranberry sauce, and there are special “wizard crackers” (wizard versions of the classic British party favors). Dinner is followed by Christmas puddings and snowball fights outside.

 

A couple other books with Christmas events that I didn’t have a chance to read thoroughly to summarize:

In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, by Jean Shepherd (1966): Unclear if memoir or fiction, an adult book set in Indiana sometime in the early-mid-twentieth century–A Christmas Story (the “You’ll shoot your eye out!” movie) was adapted from a segment of this book.

The Dark Is Rising, by Susan Cooper (1973): Part of a fantasy series, set in modern (at the time) England.

The Giver, by Lois Lowry (1993): A dystopian novel set in the future.

If you know of any others, please feel free to leave the title in the comments!

 

 

 

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The Twelve Reviews of Christmas, 2014 Style: The Wrap-Up

Here’s are links to all the twelve reviews of Christmas for this year in one handy list!

12. O Holy Night: Christmas with the Boys Choir of Harlem, illustrated by Faith Ringgold
11. Santa’s Secret Helper, by Andrew Clements
10. Snowed Under and Other Christmas Confusions, by Serge Bloch
9. The Amazing Christmas Extravaganza, by David Shannon
8. The Very Fairy Princess: A Fairy Merry Christmas and Sparkles in the Snow, by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton
7. Listen to the Silent Night, by Dandi Daley Mackall
6. Marvin’s Best Christmas Present Ever, by Katherine Paterson
5. A Pirate’s Twelve Days of Christmas, by Philip Yates
4. Big Fun Christmas Crafts & Activities, by Judy Press
3. Christmas Day in the Morning, by Pearl S. Buck
2. Natalie the Christmas Stocking Fairy, by Daisy Meadows
1. Bright Christmas: An Angel Remembers, by Andrew Clements

Keep your eyes open for the December Themed Third Thursday: An Incidental Christmas! And have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

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O Holy Night: Christmas with the Boys Choir of Harlem, pictures by Faith Ringgold

O Holy Night: Christmas with the Boys Choir of Harlem

O Holy Night: Christmas with the Boys Choir of Harlem, pictures by Faith Ringgold (2004)

Here are five traditional English Christmas carols on this twelfth day of Christmas book reviews, performed by the Boys Choir of Harlem and illustrated by the inimitable Faith Ringgold!

The book begins with the text of Luke 2:1-20 from the King James Version (the one I memorized growing up!) in block text just as an introduction. Then it moves into the illustrated carols, and the rest of the text is written as song lyrics, so they look more like poetry than prose (as they should) and, after the first few lines, are printed in white on a gold box with a character from the story illustrated at the top of the box. “Silent Night” is the first song, and you’ll notice that a verse from the performance is missing in the text and that the verse that is printed is not sung. There is an adult female soloist for this song, and it is not the traditional arrangement. “O Come, All Ye Faithful” is next, and it is recognizable as the standard arrangement performed with a traditional choir sound. There is one verse printed in the book that is not performed on the cd. “O Holy Night” is a somewhat subdued gospel choir arrangement, and this one is actually my favorite! I love the voice of the soloist on the “sweet hymns of joy” section, and I love the joy and energy of the whole arrangement as well as the experimentation with volume and voice groupings. It sounds as though it may have been recorded live. The last two songs, “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” and “Joy to the World” seem to be pretty traditional renditions, and the lyrics match the performances. My favorite part of these two is that they seem to have trumpet accompaniment (or maybe even full orchestra–but years of playing trumpet makes my ears tune in most to that!) and fanfares.

Since she earned the Caldecott in 1992 for Tar Beach, Faith Ringgold’s work has been a familiar part of most picture book collections. (The one with which I’m most familiar is Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky–it was a trade book that came with a reading series my school used when I taught fifth grade.) I am no art expert, so I’m unsure if the paintings are done in oil or acrylic, but they start in the endpapers with Mary and Joseph arriving at the stable and end with them leaving it. (It should be noted that these are the only times that Mary is shown not wearing the blue outer garment with white and gold spots that identifies her in all the other illustrations. Joseph always wears an orange robe with gold accents, and Jesus is in various styles of clothing but always white with blue. They also all have the traditional halo circle behind their heads.) Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and most of the other characters have skin tones that are varying shades of brown, but some of the angels and a few other people within groups have lighter skin tones and hair. I wonder if Ms. Ringgold was rendering an actual group of people and not just a variety of random faces, particularly among the angels; the features and hairstyles just seem too unique and detailed to be fully dreamed up in the artist’s mind! (I’m thinking particularly of one male angel with curly red hair, a long nose, and a distinctive mustache…) While the paintings don’t seem to refer specifically to the song they illustrate, they all depict either a scene from the nativity or Jesus (sometimes without his family and sometimes with Mary or Mary and Joseph) partially out of context (so you can’t really identify if a specific scene is intended). Jesus is also shown at various ages from infant to adult. Some other elements that caught my eye were the setting-less backgrounds (except in the endpapers) and the appearance of a variety of unexpected animals (like the black and white bulldogs at Mary’s feet and a pinkish animal on the title page that I couldn’t quite identify) and large crowds of brightly dressed people (who can’t be identified specifically as shepherds or wise men), sometimes adoring Jesus (who sometimes wears a crown), sometimes offering gifts. The colors are bright and rich, and the pages are full of detail to explore.

GirlChild and BoyChild’s Reactions: GirlChild read the book independently before we realized there was actually a cd with it, but she knew some of the songs, and she made up tunes to sing with the others! When I realized she was singing randomly, I joined her to teach her the actual tunes of the ones she didn’t know. When I had them listen to the cd, she noticed right away that “Silent Night” wasn’t the arrangement we’re used to hearing, but she said it was her favorite of all of them anyway. BoyChild looked at the cover and said, “Did their skin change colors?” This is why I like to choose Bible stories and nativity books with a variety of illustrations! I had the chance to explain to him that no one knows exactly what Jesus looked like, so people imagine him and draw him in a lot of different ways, including different skin tones. I don’t know exactly how to recommend using this book–it’s not really the kind of book most kids would sit down and read through (although, of course, GirlChild did just that despite the unfamiliar vocabulary present in the songs), but it would be hard to read it aloud because of the singing element. What I ended up doing was setting the book up at the table while the kids were eating (so they wouldn’t have to sit through twenty minutes of music with nothing to occupy their hands) and played the cd for them while I turned the pages to stay with the lyrics. Because some of the lyrics don’t match the music, that could be confusing, though. I think, perhaps, it would be a perfect book to have available in a listening corner (they still have those in younger grades, right?!) during the Christmas season or during a unit study of Faith Ringgold’s works (or just at your own house for quiet rest time!). It’s definitely the sort of book that you can just sit and look at the pictures without worrying about the complex text, and the musical accompaniment would make it that much more enjoyable!

 

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Santa’s Secret Helper, by Andrew Clements, illustrated by Debrah Santini

Santa's Secret Helper

Santa’s Secret Helper, by Andrew Clements, illustrated by Debrah Santini (1990)

For this eleventh review, we’ll read about Santa’s eleventh hour assistant that helps him get the job done!

The elves are extra busy getting two sleighs, two teams of reindeer, and two red and white suits ready…because Santa has a secret helper this year! Santa’s secret helper and Santa split up and head east and west to deliver toys and treats all around the world. Santa’s secret helper does all the things Santa would do, from eating cookies and leaving notes to say thank you, giving the reindeer a rest when they get tired, and waving and calling, “Merry Christmas!” to a few parents who see the sleigh from their windows. When the last gift is delivered in the wee hours of Christmas morning, Santa’s secret helper heads back to the North Pole and gets ready for bed. Surprise–it’s Mrs. Claus! Santa wants to know all about her night, but she’s too tired from her busy trip, so she just puts on her nightcap, says her prayers, and goes to sleep…”just what Santa would have done.”

I believe the art is done in watercolor (as are the other books illustrated by Debrah Santini that have a similar appearance), and the story starts right inside the front cover with a full-spread illustration of many elves busy at work in the reindeer stable on the 24th of December (according to the wall calendar), packing bags and harnessing the reindeer. The first page of the actual story brings us back to the 23rd as the elves are preparing two sets of everything, and each illustration gives plenty of things to notice: the changing calendar, elves doing unusual things (or usual things in an odd way), stray pieces of candy, Santa’s secret helper’s feet disappearing up a chimney, or hoof prints and sleigh tracks on roofs in the background. The attention to detail doesn’t clutter the page, but it certainly allows for new discoveries with every reading. I found myself looking for clues to Santa’s secret helper’s identity and not finding any! (I also read back through and realized that no pronouns were used for the secret helper, so there was no hinting about she versus he!) The back endpapers are my favorite of the illustrations; they show the aftermath of Christmas Eve in the reindeer stable: yawning reindeer, strewn paper, drooping lights, and napping elves scattered all about!

GirlChild and BoyChild’s Reactions: GirlChild didn’t even think to question the identity of the secret helper (she really needs to think more as she reads instead of just enjoying the reading and not processing the story…), so I tried piquing BoyChild’s interest as we read it, but he was, of course, more interested in the illustrations than the story. (He is really cued in to facial expressions (a result of early hearing problems from frequent ear infections), and the style of the painting didn’t lend itself well to clear faces, so he was confused a few times about why a person would be feeling angry (because of a resting frown and defined eyebrows–his indication of anger) or some other nebulous expression. If he were to pay attention to the text, he might be really good at using pictures for context clues!) I read it to both of them together, and a reread seemed to help GirlChild notice more of what was actually going on. She even self-selected it to read again later! The book never says why Mrs. Claus helps Santa out this year, so a great inference activity might be to have students come up with a backstory about what was going on that year that led to what happens in this book (like maybe there were a lot of extra kids on the nice list, or maybe Mrs. Claus just wanted the experience, or maybe Santa was training her as a backup because he almost missed Christmas the last year because of an injury or sickness or something). I tried this with GirlChild, but she might still be a little young for that level of thinking (or maybe just needs more practice!), and she couldn’t think of any reason why. Maybe next year. :) I couldn’t find a publisher-recommended reading level, but I think that preschool to early elementary (the Santa-believing years) would be a good choice, and judging from GirlChild’s weak interpretation, I think a read-aloud is probably the best way to share the book with its intended audience. (For the inference activity, you can probably go a little older–they’ll probably be more creative about what might have led up to the story anyway!) If you’re into doing Santa with your kids, this story might help you explain why there are different “Santas” all around–he’s just got a lot of secret helpers!

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Snowed Under and Other Christmas Confusions, by Serge Bloch

Snowed Under and Other Christmas Confusions, by Serge Bloch (2011)

Metaphors and idioms and Christmas, oh my! This tenth review features samples of grammar inside.

This book tells the story of one family’s Christmas Eve preparations. A young boy and his dog spend the day misinterpreting everyone’s idioms and metaphors, like his mother saying they are going to be feeding an army and his grandma asking him to help trim the tree. It goes from first thing in the morning (and the author missed an opportunity to showcase “rise and shine”!) when his mother tells him that they’re very busy (“have to work our tails off”) all through the day and night until first thing Christmas morning when the boy sees that Santa has come and he “[lights] up like a Christmas tree!” (using a simile of his own). Every page features a different figure of speech (in colored font to distinguish it from the rest of the text) and a pen and ink drawing depicting a literal translation of the phrase. Realistic collage accents, like the photographed hats and scarf (complete with shadow) on the cover, provide color (usually red and green) to an otherwise plain page. The author has written several other punny gems including You Are What You Eat and Other Mealtime Hazards and Butterflies in My Stomach and Other School Hazards. While it’s not the most engaging storyline ever written, the pictures are clever, and the whole purpose of the book is to showcase the phrases anyway. Although the publisher recommends the book for preschool to middle elementary, I would actually recommend it as a teaching tool and for sharing with the grammar-lovers in your elementary school classroom.

 GirlChild and BoyChild’s Reactions: I read this aloud to BoyChild with some reservations; I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to get across to him the meaning of all these unfamiliar phrases, and I was afraid he would get bored of it. Turns out that it didn’t matter. Not only did the strange phrases not throw him at all (I suppose the fact that I pepper my conversation with antiquated phrases and bizarre idioms helps him deal with ambiguity in meaning (I seriously said, “I’ll be there in two shakes of a lamb’s tail!” when I sent him off to nap!)…), but he thought that all the pictures of the dog were funny (“Dat funny dog! He wearing a hat! Hahahaha!”), so he stayed put the whole time I was reading it. GirlChild read this on her own first, but when I asked her what she liked about it, she couldn’t be any more specific than just that she liked the story. (She *was* able to summarize it, oddly enough, despite not catching on to what was going on between the pictures and words at all.) When I pressed to find out what was funny about it and she still couldn’t answer, I figured I’d better read it to her. Now, although she seems incapable of applying reading comprehension strategies independently, she was full of questions when I read it to her (and BoyChild again)! I had to explain every single phrase to her (which didn’t seem to lessen her enjoyment of the story any), and BoyChild kept turning to Daddy and saying, “Daddy, you gotta see dis!” about all the funny pictures. I definitely think this is a book that can be enjoyed best with a discussion element, either one-on-one or in a group where figures of speech are being introduced with the opportunity for kids to volunteer what they believe the phrase means (and could be a springboard for simile/metaphor/idiom art projects). For older kids who are familiar with some of the phrases (and can figure out what the unfamiliar ones mean) and find grammar humor funny, independent reading would be good as well.

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