By Kevin Henkes
By Kevin Henkes
By Scott O’dell
Based on a true story
Newbery Medal in 1961
Riveting. Powerful. Moving. Classic. Timeless.
Caldcott Honor in 1942
The book was published in 1941. It was a Caldecott Honor Winner. The movie version was an Oscar nominee as well. Holling.C.Holling is generous with natural details in the story and fluent in writing it with a geographic pitch.
A young native American boy carves a wooden man-figure on a canoe and names him Paddle-to-the-sea. After addressing the mechanical needs, he etches the words Please put me back in water – I am Paddle to the sea, along the underbelly of his “toy”. He sets him on a mound of snow in the wild, in Nipigon country in Canada. He hopes and waits for Paddle to start his travel when the ice thaws in spring and the stream takes him along. It is an innocent escapade born out of the boy’s longing for nautical travel and adventure.
It is not an easy ride for Paddle. He rides a log into a saw mill and escapes by the skin of his teeth. He gets trapped in a marsh. He weathers wind and rain and storms to keep sailing. Sometimes he is washed ashore and later tossed back into the lakes. He even finds himself netted. Passing many pairs of human hands, the message underneath constantly evolves. Paddle also spends a winter with a coastguard. Then there is the wrong detour and the forest fire… he even nosedives in the Niagara Falls. Rivers, lakes, streams, creeks, beaches and bays – Paddle meets every body of water on his trip.
And in the same vein, has my review done justice to the book? I doubt it. But I feel good, the kind of feeling-good that comes from sharing. And sometimes from discovering something magnificent and glorious. Like the waters of the deep oceans and the dark seas….
By Patricia Maclahan
Newbery Medal in 1986
Title: Gilberto and the Wind
Author & Illustrator: Mary Hall Ets
Publisher: Puffin Books
Age group: Preschool or 4-8 yrs
Little Gilberto runs outside with a balloon hearing the wind call him you-ou-ou. But Wind snatches his balloon away and leaves it on top of a tree. Just like he takes away the clothes from the line or the umbrellas in the rain. Or sometimes Wind is so moody that he wouldnât even help his kite go up high! But then we also read of all the good times, of how Gilberto and Wind play together with paper sailboats, bubbles and pinwheels. The book ends with a picture of Gilberto flat, with face to ground saying,
Oh Wind! Where are you?
Sh-sh-sh-sh, answers the Wind, and he stirs one dry leaf to show where he is.
A small boy, a list of fun things, and the friendly breeze thrown in â what more to lift the spirits in a child? Sketches using just three colors, the illustrations more than âcaptureâ the invisible friend for us. Personifying wind with all its temperaments opens up a relationship even for us . Winner of several awards, Mary Hall Ets enables this very gently, playfully and beautifully.
Picture Courtesy: http://www.librarything.com
The finesse that is evident in the narration probably comes from authoring many dozens of books for Angela McAllister. And Claire Fletcherâs sweeping illustrations of oil paintings in soothing colors (of the invigorated wind, windy places and windblown things) mesh perfectly well!
Ellie pots a few seeds on a city rooftop for old Grandpa who misses walking in the park. But the wind stifles the sprouts. She even tries the strongly stemmed sunflowers. But again the wind ruins it all, crushing Ellieâs desire for a rooftop garden. This leaves an upset Ellie wondering why the wind would do such a thing. But the night she spends at Grandpaâs, something magical happens – she is airlifted and deposited on a lush mountaintop. There she sees a big tree festooned with everything that the wind has carried away for itself, like balloons, lost laundry, Ellieâs lost kite, hats and hankies! Back to reality, Ellie knows what to do. She sets up a wind garden for Grandpa. The two string together windmills, flags and bells. And when the wind blows, it glitters, chimes, shines, rustles, swings and shimmers, enough to make Grandpa very happy!
I love the story for the ending, of how Ellie eventually figured out something that embraces than rebels. It also demonstrates how children can solve in creative ways. Besides, it reminds me to be more accepting of the nature of nature (and to not whine when my pickled lemons donât get sun-dried on a cloudy afternoon!)
Picture Courtesy: http://www.abebooks.com
Title: Make Things Fly: poems about the wind
Edited by : Dorothy M. Kennedy
Illustrator: Sasha Meret
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Age Group: 9-12 years
We surge and soar with the wind blowing in every mood in every poem. From rocking a cradle to lifting people off the ground! Snatching things away and rattling doors. There is also a poem for every kind of wind – a tornado, the May wind, the autumn wind and wind on the hill.
The poems are all simple and sized right. There is a pleasing variety that encompasses the different ways in which wind manifests and affects. Sasha Meretâs line drawings in sepia carry the apt quality of imagination and dynamism.
There is also a good mix of poets – American poets like John Ciardi, Margaret Hillert, William Stafford â poets of African-American descent like Countee Cullen, Sundaria Morninghouse, and of Asian descent like Kazue Mizumura. Personally, some brought nostalgia like Christina Rossetti, A.A.Milne and R.L.Stevenson, while some others were new discoveries. Overall, this anthology of 27 poems, suitable for both adult and children, turned out great for read-aloud and was definitely a delight! Here is a sample (an excerpt), and one that we enjoyed –
From “Conversation with a Kite” by Bobbi Katz –
Where are you going my beautiful kite,
flying so high in the sky?
Iâm going to visit the lost balloons
that made little children cry.
When I hold your string, oh my magical kite,
why do I feel the wind in my hand?
The wind is a taste of the sky, my young friend,
that I give to a child of the land.
Picture Courtesy: http://www.amazon.com
Title: A Tree is nice
Author: Janice May Udry
Illustration: Marc Simont
Age Group: 4-8
Picture : Wikipedia
A Tree is nice seems rather too plain for a title for children. Nothing fancy or funny. But its this quality that’s held in all earnestness up until the end that also makes the book enjoyable, without laboring to interpret or analyze.
The book is a Caldecott winner and this calls for dissecting the illustration. Color and black-and-whites alternate; ink drawings draped in gray, follow and precede beautiful watercolors. Especially the watercolors, they glorify the foliage in varying seasons with splurges of warm greens, sometimes with flaming reds and bright yellows in their midst. The book is 11×7 inches in size. This allows for generous detailing of the trunks and twisted branches in varying dimensions, in browns that remind us of barks of dark chocolate. Something about the book gives us that warmth – the thick dirty white paper with rawness resembling recycled material, and the uncomplicated content of the drawings and writing, I think. The fact that is was published in 1956 connects the dots.
Trees are very nice. They fill up the sky.
Every detail about a tree that might seem insignificant or intuitive to the adult fills up the pages alongside illustration that obediently portrays the discussed detail. The text will suit a read-aloud to the little ones, without fuss or frolic. The writing will also make it an encouraging experience for an early reader.
Even if you have just one tree, it is nice too.
Perfect for a swing, a playhouse, as a pirate ship, for nests, for shade, for picnics, or to even rest a hoe – gathering and presenting the obvious truths in succession makes my preschooler nod mirthfully with a new found appreciation for something taken granted. He sometimes pauses his play in the backyard to enlist nice things about a tree, with confidence and care.
A tree is nice to plant……
You say to people, “I planted that tree.”
They wish they had one so they go home and plant a tree too.
Without much ado, we celebrate our planet that bears the trees.
Title: Earth Mother
Author: Ellen Jackson
Illustrator: Leo & Diane Dillon
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers
Age Group: 4-8
Mother Earth is Bhoodevi, bejeweled and fertile, in Hindu mythology. She is a young African woman in this book. Both epitomize Earth, like a mother – gentle, beautiful, giving.
Earth Mother wakes up and walks across deserts and mesas, touching the lives of bugs, flowers and birds. Soon she meets Man. Man is preparing to catch a frog for breakfast. He thanks Mother for Frog. But he goes on to complain about the Mosquito that annoys him. Nonchalantly, Earth Mother moves on to savannas and plains, tending and caring for her creations on the way.
She filled the water holes and sharpened the thornbushes. Her hand guided a sunbird to a blossom sweet with nectar.
In the north, Earth Mother powdered the trees with snow. Tiny crystals gleamed in the air like diamond dust.
The depth and beauty with which the writing evokes calmness and vigor, that ultimately creates a sense of wonder (for nature), is accomplished in childish simplicity in this book.
Moving on, Mother meets Frog biting into an insect. Frog while thanking her for the Mosquito, whines about Man. Interspersed with these encounters is Earth Mother devoutly “touching” things and lives, in different forms and places. The final meeting with the Mosquito follows the pattern. But Mother walks on unperturbed.
Then she went to sleep….And the world, in its own way, was perfect.
The illustrations meet the standards of the text with an additional quality of mystique. Colorful but in a muted way, a plethora of geometric patterns work in harmony with many diverse landscapes and creatures.
Ellen Jackson’s talent is distinct in her attempt to keep the subtle humor intact and apt in the midst of an overwhelming serenity. The circle of life cannot be more interestingly explained to children. And when a book leaves one convinced and spell bound, it is a good piece of work.
There is more information, educational stuff and ideas for Earth Day celebration for children on the author’s website here.
Salutations to Earth and her children – man and all things living and lifeless. May we share her and protect her in kind ways. Happy Earth Day!
P.S: This book reminded my family of a lovely Native American chant we learnt at a music class, that also ended up as a lullaby for a long time for us. You can listen to, or watch it here. I have also added the lyrics below.
The Earth is our Mother
adapted from a Hopi chant
The earth is our mother, we must take care of her (2x)
Hey yana ho yana hey yan yan (2x)
Her sacred ground we walk upon, with every step we take (2x)
Hey yana ho yana hey yan yan (2x)
The earth is our mother, she will take care of us (2x)
Hey yana ho yana hey yan yan (2x)
The sky is our father, we must take care of him…
The rivers are our sisters, we must take care of them…
The trees are our brothers, we must take care of them…
Last year my daughter and I had read Woodson’s “The other side” during the week of MLK Jr. day. It had served our intent very well, while ensuring that we stayed in the comfort of Subtlety, and the warmth of a story of two little girls in the countryside. I remember how the girls of different skin tones, afraid of crossing “boundaries”, had rightfully chosen to sit on the fence together. I had immediately reviewed it here.
This week we brought home a few books celebrating MLK Jr or what he stood for. Among them I found a gem. It was perfect for us, in that, it helped me inch forward in the right direction on the same subject. This, it did, in two solid ways. For one, we read about actually “crossing a boundary” this time around. Secondly, it was more than subtle. It carried a bit of history and eased me into introducing civil rights and the fight for it. Yet, it was not too big a leap because we still stayed with a boy her age, his perspective and a simple narration of a true incident.
A child is riding the bus that Rosa Parks rode on December 1, 1955, Montgomery, Alabama. And the last trail of italicized words is how the book begins – verbatim. The combination of a boy’s perspective of the historical incident while the boy is a piece of fiction, makes it a good book for young children.
We’re sittin’ right where we we’re supposed to – way in back.
The boy’s words allowed me to give her the background. The boy is seen peeping out the window of a bus on a wintry morning. That morning ( she later learned) witnessed a solitary act of defiance that sparked a movement, that later changed America. Quite immediately we seem to be looking at a playful boy slouched on the backseat, rolling his marble on a groove on the floor of the bus. In fact Mrs.Parks sitting upfront returns his runaway marble for him. More people get in. The bus is now packed. But in a little while, the boy senses tension. The driver is arguing. It is getting very humid inside because the crowded bus is not moving. The boy’s mama does not let him distract himself with his marble, so he sends it back into his pocket. But soon, he gets a grasp of what’s happening – of Mrs.Parks not willing to give up her seat for Mr.Blake, the white rider.
But she’s sittin’ right there,
her eyes all fierce like a lightnin’ storm,
like maybe she does belong up there.
And I start thinkin’ maybe she does too.
Beside this is a portrait of the lady, her chin up and looking out the window. This is probably the right time to glorify the illustrations. They are generous in earth tones and are extremely realistic and beautiful. They bear the quality that takes us back in time – whatever that is! Floyd Cooper’s work is amazing.
Getting back on track, the debate ends inside the bus. The boy sees a handcuffed Rosa Parks being escorted by a policeman. His mama murmurs something to herself and also reassures him that everything is alright. But he feels different, in a good stronger way. He takes his marble from its hiding place and holds it against the sunlight.
That thing shines all brown and golden in the sunlight,
like it’s smilin’, I think.
‘Cuz it ain’t gotta hide no more.
I did not labor to explain the marble metaphor to her. The incident was already simmering the idea. History imparted with a childish attitude was very helpful. There was also a lyrical quality to the text that made the read-aloud powerful. The language was African-American and that added authenticity. I had pointed out how, many basic rights, now taken granted, were once forbidden. We went over areas that might have been segregated, like schools and transportation. We went on to predict what now seemingly normal practices carried the potential to be protested one day.
I read elsewhere that Rosa Parks was probably not the first to be arrested for such a “crime”, but she was the first prominent figure to have disobeyed, and that probably influenced and motivated many in the nation. Martin Luther King Jr. initiated and continued the bus boycott that Rosa Parks’ act had triggered. He was eventually instrumental in bringing social change in America, adopting Gandhian principles.
The other books that we are reading to celebrate history and change, in the context of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday are –
Our Children Can Soar: A Celebration of Rosa, Barack, and the Pioneers of Change by Michelle Cook
Dad, Jackie and me by Myron Uhlberg.
Title: Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings
Author: Deborah Hopkinson
Illustrator: Terry Widener
Age Group: 4-8
Publisher: Atheneum/Anne Schwartz Books
Pictures: Amazon (front and back cover images)
When the Independent’s crusty old coach took one look at her long, blue skirt, he spit hard on the ground. “Go home missy. You’re a girl – and this is baseball”.
Athletes and sports figures, and their stories are always inspiring. They are invariably people of determination and hard work. But if they are also people who have fought for change, then to say that their stories are empowering almost becomes an understatement. And I am caught up in such a predicament to describe this book.
Alta Weiss was the first female pitcher in an all-men semipro baseball team in 1907 in Ohio. This book has been inspired by her life. The story itself is laid out as nine “innings”, pointing to various time segments in her life.
Baseball was in her blood, clearly demonstrated by an incident of hurling a corncob at a pesky cat in the barn when she was only two. By six, she was throwing ball for hours. And mostly she was bang on target. Those who witnessed it knew she was a “girl wonder” right then. Nothing stopped her. She would wake up just to practise in the barn during the wee hours. Throwing a ball with skill and style came to her quite naturally , be it with the boys in town or amidst grown men on the field.
One day, Alta met the coach of the town’s semi pro team, the “Independents”. He did nothing but doubt her, and her gender. Desperate to find a place in the team, she reminded the coach of the crowd her female presence in the game would draw. The ticket-sales pitch worked and Alta joined the team! Rest of the story is how she made jaws drop at the ball park. The crowd exploded in shock and excitement as she pitched for the first time during the summer of 1907, while she was still a teenager.
Alta Weiss went on to become a doctor, like her dad. But she never ceased to share her story or play ball with any little girl who had a cap pulled down and overalls full of mud.
The book carries illustrations in bold and bright acrylics. The drawings have exaggerated features and dimensions that bring in more power and drive to the narration. This book won the Parents Choice Gold Award in 2003. Also, both the author and the illustrator have many wonderful books on their resume.
My own little girl’s gross motor skills are not sometimes good enough to catch a forceful ball. I would not be surprised if girls like her shy away when the boys at the park or on the street come out with a ball. Reading this book might help. All the more since the back cover of the book (see below) held her attention for quite sometime.