Mood swings – Books on Wind and its moods for every age!

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 wouldn’t 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 – what more to lift the spirits in a child? Sketches using just three colors, the illustrations more than “capture” 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


Title: The Wind Garden
Author: Angela McAllister
Illustrator: Claire Fletcher
Publisher: Lothrop Lee & Shepard
Age group: 5-8 yrs

The finesse that is evident in the narration probably comes from authoring many dozens of books for Angela McAllister. And Claire Fletcher’s 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 Ellie’s 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 Grandpa’s, 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, Ellie’s 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 don’t 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 Meret’s 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 – 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?
I’m 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

A Tree is nice

Title: A Tree is nice
Author: Janice May Udry
Illustration: Marc Simont
Publisher: Scholastic
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.

Earth Mother

Title: Earth Mother
Author: Ellen Jackson
Illustrator: Leo & Diane Dillon
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers
Age Group: 4-8
Picture:

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…

Girl Wonder

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.

When Mommy Was Mad


TITLE: When Mommy was mad
AUTHOR: Lynne Jonell
ILLUSTRATOR: Petra Mathers
AGE GROUP: 3-5 yrs
PUBLISHER: G.P.Putnam’s Sons
Picture: fantasticfiction.co.uk

Don’t some of us, sometimes, hang up on an annoying telemarketer and carry over the frown to the innocent one demanding a snack? Or nod in affirmation to an interrogative from the little one while we are pensive or depressed. Or realize we just said yes to using the permanent marker while we were busy playing back in our head an incident from work! For a multitude of reasons, and sometimes not involving kids, we just don’t seem to be our usual selves. And to make it worse, we are made to realize this by our own children.

Picture books are wonderful when the child can relate to it. This book accomplishes that and more – it actually makes the parent and child exchange perspectives. While it can be difficult to see how parental moods impact children, it can also be important for children to see how it can be a struggle for parents to suppress situational emotions and act normal.

I fell in love with the stick-figured illustrations in crayon coloring, outlined and framed with sharpened color pencils I suppose. It complements the child-centric incident with ease. The text, kept simple and casual, works in unison as well. For the issue dealt in this book, I would imagine it would be hard to stay away from a serious tone or a counseling approach. But neither happens here. The text, font inclusive, works well with the voice and mind of a child.

She burned the toast. She banged the pots and pans. And she forgot to kiss Daddy good-bye.

The book introduces Mom as not being in her usual mood. And her boys Robbie and Christopher are quick to sense that. The little ones are often the first to sense and react to aberrations in the household. And this book lightheartedly discusses the discomfort that children face when parents are just different at certain times or certain days.

Now, Robbie, the younger one, questions his own behavior. Guilt is one of the primary emotions. Having crossed that out, Robbie and Christopher try to impress Mom, who still seems retracted. The boys are confounded. After a while, Robbie gets frustrated and turns cranky himself. Mom’s mood is rubbing off on him. But not for long – his funny ways finally win Mom over. She smiles and jokes – Mom is back! She even plants that overdue kiss on Dad when he walks in sullen that evening.

Normalcy is almost a need for growing children. And as parents it can be harder for some of us, to remind ourselves that the effect of our moods (or body language) can extend and encompass those in our aura. I liked this book because of how the emotions, while still being naked and honest, seemed lighter and upbeat in spirit. No tensed drama or drudgery. A book-next-door (book) if I can say:)

More of Robbie can be found here, on Lynne Jonell’s website here.

Tacky and the winter games – Winter Sports II


TITLE: Tacky and the winter games
AUTHOR: Helen Lester
ILLUSTRATOR: Lynn Munsinger
AGE GROUP: 4-8
PUBLISHER: Sandpiper
Picture: Amazon.com

Penguins in training for the Olympics. Of course it has to be the winter Olympics! Add loads of wit. And we have an entertaining, educational and athletic package!

Some of us are probably familiar with Tacky – Tacky the penguin. And this one belongs to the same series of books. It begins with Tacky’s friends declaring The winter games are coming, we must must must be in shape to win win win.And that’s when the riot starts! The next few pages show fluffy creatures with sharp beaks jumping ropes in a row, lifting weights, and even doing sit-ups. But not Tacky. He is digging into his junk food and watching too much TV while his counterparts are loading up on ‘training meals’ and good sleep. Its soon time for the opening ceremony and the athletes walk in with their chests thrust out. The anthem is played (which by the way goes With our beaks held high and our bellies held low…) And the medals are on display – not bad, pretty good, big winner.

The first event is the bobsledless race and our team is called Team Nice Icy Land. Tacky carries the team on his belly and slides down to reach the finish line in record time only to hear the official say This is bobsledLESS race. The ski jumping event follows. Picture helmet-ed penguins with frozen fish skis, and that’s exactly what you will see. But Tacky, of course, is tumbling and crumbling – simply because his “skis” thawed when he was “warming up” near the fireplace right before the game. By now, we get the idea that Tacky is not helping his team win, at all, and his friends are annoyed with him. Is the riot over? Not as yet. In fact it peaks further down when Tacky actually swallows the baton during the relay race and ends up going under the x-ray machine!

But wait.
Had Team Nice Icy Land really won?
Did Tacky have the baton?
Without the baton, Team Nice Icy Land would be disqualified.

Suspense mounts and smiles fade away. Not for us. But for the little ones, it is a nail-biting finish.
Lynn Munsinger’s illustrations are detailed, brimming with humor and intelligence, a combination that carries the story with ease. A light-hearted and yet glorious introduction to routines of official gaming events, training for games, the Olympics and particularly the winter Olympics. A gold winner shall I say?

Snowboard Twist – Winter Sports I


TITLE: Snowboard Twist
AUTHOR: Jean Craigbead Geroge
ILLUSTRATOR: Wendell Minor
AGE GROUP: 4-8 yrs
PUBLISHER: Katherine Tegen Books
Picture: Author website.

I picked up this book because, considering how books on sports and outdoor activities are relatively rare to find, one that involved snowboarding was hard to pass. The little one is taking lessons in ice skating and we do live just a few hours away from some generously snow covered ski slopes. These should qualify us I thought. I also succumbed to the seasonal temptation of a book sporting icy blues and whites, with evergreens all around. The more important rationale was to expose the little girl to adventure sports – to learn and enjoy the subtler details and experiences of such a sport while we safely resorted to accomplishing this through a picture book. At least for now:)

Axel is on his way to Glory bowl in the Teton mountains with his dad Dag and his dog Grit. The place has just received heavy snowfall and it seems perfect to bring out the skis and snowboards. But fresh snow with its weak slushy older layers beneath could trigger an avalanche. Dag is a snow patrol officer in the mountains and is testing the slopes for avalanche signs before the skiers came in. Kelly, Axel’s snowboarding rival joins them there. Axel and Kelly start showing off their snowboarding moves, neglecting the potential for disaster around them. Just then, an unimportant event gets a snowball rolling, setting off an avalanche. However, Grit leaps into action and ensures that all ends well.

What we actually took away from the book was an interesting insight into ski slopes, snow conditions and the science of avalanches. Just the backdrop of the tall mountains and pines, piles of slush and snow brought out through impressive artwork left us thirsty for ruggedness. However, considering how the stage was set with all the action, the text as we approached the end seemed to be lacking in zest.

Jean Craigbead George has many books encompassing nature, for children and young adults, to her credit. But she still claims – “The list is not really long when you consider that there are almost 250 million beautiful plants and animals on this earth that I could have written about.” This book is third in line, following two of her other “outdoor adventures” books called “Cliff Hanger” and “Fire Storm”. If I were to come a full circle and jot down one more excuse, it seemed like a good book to celebrate another amazing form of nature and how giving it is. Inspired by the book, we are now reading up more on how the sport came about and about serious snowboarding races. And we like this book for having initiated just that. Also, Jean Craigbead George, Newbery medal winner (Julie of the Wolves), has an energizing website: http://www.jeancraigheadgeorge.com/. Now where is that backpack?