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.

Back of the Bus – For MLK Jr.day


Title:Back of the bus
Author: Aaron Reynolds
Illustrator: Floyd Cooper
Publisher: Philomel
Age group:4-8

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.

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?

An Ode to a baby

Lullaby – Etymology From Middle English lullen, to lull + bye. First recorded circa 1560, says an online resource.

Some lullabies, I think, are intentionally devoid of logic. Some are intelligently crafted to educate. While some are soaked in love, some others are plain funny. But interestingly most lullabies carry meaningful particulars of the land and its culture.

The books below are well enjoyed by my toddler and me, so much so that when read at times other than bedtime, he typically wants to at least lie down for a bit after our session.

Title: Hush Little Baby
Author & Illustrations: Sylvia Long
Published by: Chronicle Books

Disturbed by the materialistic attitude of the lyrics of the traditional American lullaby “Hush little baby” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hush,_Little_Baby), award-winning artist Sylvia Long has reworked it for a more nature-centric version. This one oozes warmth and lulls the listener and singer, in the same stillness of the night that Mama bunny and her baby in the book share.

The adorable details in the ink-and-watercolor drawings of Long, still urges the eye to wander in search of them. Like carrot prints on the curtains, bunny doodles on the lampshade and a quilt with a patchwork of playful things. Mama bunny points out to some of nature’s wonders around her porch and bedroom ( a humming bird, a lightning bug, a shooting star, a cricket and finally the moon), before kissing goodnight to her baby.

I sometimes tend to think that this version might still leave some of us promising our child the impossible, but I resort to the fact that nothing can be more calming than nature’s precious little things. Or as Sylvia Long claims in her note to readers at the end of the book It seems much healthier to encourage children to find comfort in the natural things around them…

Title: A Norse Lullaby
Author: M.L.Van Vorst; Illustrator: Margot Tomes
Published by: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books

A Norse Lullaby. That was reason enough for me to bring this home from the library. The book gave me the story later. The lullaby first appeared in January 1897 in a children’s magazine. When illustrator Margot Tomes discovered it, she wanted to paint the wintry Scandinavian landscape herself to go with the lullaby.
A family awaits the arrival of the father. The father is rushing on a sled to the “warmth” that is waiting for him at home. The children are playing. A baby is trying to retire for the night. Hush Hush in your little nest, And mother’s voice is singing.

The artwork is amazing. The greys and whites of a snowed in landscape juxtaposed with the reds, browns and greens gives us that perfect feel of the far North and its culture. Details of a traditional household are aplenty. The wood in a barrel near the huge fireplace, the rocking reindeer toy, the hurricane lamps, the clothes, the small wooden crib all transport us to the home that stands amidst mounds of snow, with the wind whistling on a wintry evening.

Title: Hush – A Thai Lullaby
Author: Minfong Ho ; Illustrator: Holly Meade
Published by: Orchard Books

This book stole my heart. And my little boy’s. Sometimes even our sleep.

The setting is a very remote Thai village. With native flora and fauna generously encompassing the small hut, a mother goes great lengths to assure her child of the quietness she needs for a peaceful sleep.

A blue cloth hammock carries a baby. Traditional Thai basketry, prints, fabrics and architecture take us to a Thai household. The mother begins her rounds by hushing a mosquito. She moves on to the cat, the mouse by the rice barn, the leaping frog, the pig, duck, monkey, even an old water buffalo and even…even…the great big elephant! Not surprising considering what the illustrations portray. Cut paper and ink illustrations of lush forestry in warm earth tones and a bold orange-red outline makes the images come alive.

Interestingly, we notice the baby getting out of the hammock and wandering in the background, just as her mother turns her back to her. My own baby took upon himself the task of finding his counterpart’s tiny depiction in every page. It was also immensely refreshing to hear and make rather new animal sounds, “uut-uut” for the pigs , “ghap-ghap” for the ducks and “jiak-jiak” for the monkeys!

As all living creatures wind down, Mother is also falling asleep. However the closing spread shows the baby wide awake on the blue hammock! As for us, the onomatopoetic verses in question and answer format are sedating enough to go down.
While some sing it by rote, some others make it a bonding experience. But lullabies, from Scandinavia or Asia or from America, are all delightfully hypnotic. A mother’s care for her child’s sleep transcends cultures.

Pictures Courtesy: Author and Bookstore websites.

Baseball Saved Us


Title: Baseball Saved Us
Ages: 5+
Author: Ken Mochizuki; Illustrator: Dom Lee
Published by: Lee & Low Books

Baseball is an all American thing, the national sport and pastime. It is almost a cultural identity and its own epic is often burdened with American history in the background. Standing testimony to this is how a Japanese-American boy regains dignity and acceptance at the ballpark, post World War II. Written by Ken Mochizuki, whose parents were camp internees in Idaho during the world war, this book makes you cheer our little hero, while holding off that drop of tear that has already arrived.

The voice is that of a Japanese boy, an American citizen who is pulled out of school one day by his mother. His family is sent with many more Japanese families to live in barracks in an internment camp established in the desert, in the middle of nowhere in 40s USA. A soldier with a gun stands on a tall tower at the camp monitoring the group every second, every day. With no basic amenities and no work to do, kids and adults idle around. There is pent up anger, frustration and boredom. This is when the boy’s father takes the initiative to come up with a baseball diamond. Soon, with collective and creative efforts (and no interference from the guard) many games are being played on that field encompassed by barbed wire fences and armed watchdogs.

However, the boy’s track record at school, before camp, is not very impressive. Tarnished by experiences of name calling because of his smallish stature which was even more accentuated amidst American boys, he is diffident and shy at his game. He was Shorty back home. But now at camp, he does not feel different in the company of Japanese boys like him. With this feeling of normalcy and the motivation to impress the guard staring at his game all day, he buckles up and performs. Daily sessions then on hone his bat-ball skills.

The war is over and he is back at school. But he feels worse. The boys don’t even talk to him now. This is when America had been at war with Japan, when the U.S Government seemed to suspect the loyalty of immigrants in the country and hate was running high. The Jap’s no good, Shorty, Easy out, the boys scream at him, when it is his turn to bat at the ballpark in school. He stares at the pitcher and sees the guard on the tower in him. A dramatic finish to the game and to the book is the last page showing the American boys in the winning team lifting Shorty up with pride and joy. Baseball sure saved – helped his people survive the camp and helped him become a hero.

The illustrations are in sepia, in tones of brown and black reemphasizing the depressing mood in the desert. The author has also restricted some of the darker details to a few sprinkles, without going overboard about wartime camps. While it can be hard for some of us and our children to directly relate to those times, the issues are still part of what every “different” child experiences under varying circumstances today – it boils down to the battle to fit in and to feel accepted.

This book provoked questions about war in my six something year old. She could not fathom being uprooted and seemed very curious about ways in which normal life is disturbed when a country is at war. The story can also set the stage for sensitive and meaningful discussions about tolerance and oneness. It can also make children value the better times of today, that some of them enjoy. While critics might think that a home run might not be the answer to discrimination, it still works for a child’s understanding is my personal thinking. The deeper virtue might be courage; courage of the kind that the short Japanese boy who played America’s game amidst racist gibes had. This book inspires in more than one way.

Picture Courtesy: Lee & Low Books.