One-Minute Book Reviews

November 15, 2008

A Nonfiction Book That Explains Thanksgiving to Children

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From the Pilgrims to the Rocky and Bullwinkle float in the Macy’s parade

Thanksgiving: A True Book. By Dana Meachen Rau. Grolier/Children’s Press, 48 pp., varied prices. Ages 7 and up (for independent reading), younger for reading aloud.

By Janice Harayda

My parents once required my younger brothers to wear homemade Pilgrim hats, fashioned from rolled black construction paper, while my grandmother carved our holiday turkey. So it’s probably safe to say that they spared few visual effects to help their children understand the meaning of Thanksgiving.

But my parents didn’t prepare us for at least one ironclad tradition: As soon as the meal ended – and sometimes before it ended – all the men in our family would get up from the table and go into living room to watch a football game. And many children’s books approach Thanksgiving as my parents did: Their explanations focus on the Pilgrims, turkey and pumpkin pie, and giving thanks with family and friends.

Dana Meachen Rau casts a wider net in her documentary–style Thanksgiving: A True Book, which uses archival images and color photographs to introduce the holiday. She begins with the story of the Pilgrims and Indians at Plymouth Colony (and includes a picture of Plymouth Rock as it appears today). Then she tells how Thanksgiving became a national holiday and describes modern traditions associated with it: going to church, playing touch football, watching the Macy’s parade. In the last pages, she shows volunteers serving a holiday meal at a homeless shelter – a nice reminder that there’s more than one way to express gratitude.

Thanksgiving: A True Book is intended for elementary-school students, but some preschoolers may enjoy the photos, especially a full-page picture of Rocky and Bullwinkle in the Macy’s parade. Rau takes a straightforward, no-frills approach to Thanksgiving, apparently intended for classroom use, that may help children doing their first school units on the holiday.

Published: 2000 Thanksgiving: A True Book is out of print but available online and in libraries. You may also want to read the Nov. 18, 2007, post about documentary picture books on Thanksgiving that remain in print www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/11/18/.

Best line/picture: The photo of volunteers, including children, serving Thanksgiving dinner out of big aluminum-foil pans at a homeless shelter.

Worst/line picture: Families who see Thanksgiving as a strictly secular holiday may want to skip the photos of people saying grace and singing a hymn in church. But those pictures may appeal to families whose celebrations have a religious component that picture books rarely acknowledge so directly.

Furthermore: Rau also wrote Christmas: A True Book, Kwanzaa: A True Book and Halloween: A True Book.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

November 8, 2008

A Thanksgiving Limerick for Children

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Marsha Cutler’s Thanksgiving limerick “There Once Was a Turkey Named Gus” takes a light-hearted look a turkey trying to stay alive until December. It begins:
There once was a turkey named Gus.
Each November he’d raise a big fuss.

For copyright reasons, I can’t quote the entire limerick, but it appears in Thanksgiving: Stories and Poems (HarperCollins, 1994), edited by Caroline Feller Bauer, available in many libraries. Feller’s book also has more than a dozen other Thanksgiving poems. Among them: Jack Prelutsky’s “The Thanksgiving Day Parade,” a bouncy, 20-line poem about the fun of watching a big parade on TV, as seen by a young viewer: “Great balloons are floating by, / Cartoon creatures stories high.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

November 1, 2008

Children’s Poems About November by J. Patrick Lewis and John Updike

The words May and June are easier to rhyme. But November has inspired its share of poetry, including children’s poems by J. Patrick Lewis and John Updike that build toward a Thanksgiving meal.

Lewis celebrates the joys of the month in “November,” a 16-line rhyming poem collected in Thanksgiving: Stories and Poems (HarperCollins, 1989, ages 7 and up), edited by Caroline Feller Bauer and illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott. He writes of pumpkin pies, “the thank-you bird” and other seasonal pleasures:

Red squirrels, busy packing
Oak cupboards for weeks,
Still rattle the branches
With seeds in their cheeks.

The meaning of that quatrain is clearer than the first lines of the poem: “The bottoms of autumn / Wear diamonds of frost.” Are the lines talking about part of the natural landscape, such as the low areas next to rivers known as “bottoms”? Or are they referring to the patterns left on our clothes when we sit on frost-covered park benches?

John Updike’s more eloquent “November” is among the 12 poems, one for each month, collected in A Child’s Calendar (Holiday House, 32 pp., $6.99, paperback, ages 4 and up), a Caldecott Honor book beautifully illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. His “November” is a quiet poem, written in iambic meter – the closest to natural speech – instead of high-stepping anapests and dactyls. But it’s so thoughtful, you wish it were also available in a chapter-book format, too. Updike’s “November” describes a region — it looks like northern New England — that by Thanksgiving has lost more than the leaves on the maples and the birds in the air: “And yet the world, / Nevertheless, / Displays a certain / Loveliness.”

Updike suggests that in the barren trees of November, we see the world exposed to the bone, the way God must “see our souls” – an extraordinary subtle idea compared with so much of the pap that publishers fling at 4-to-8-year-olds. Older children – who might see more of the layers in his poem — might snub it because it appears in a picture book. Teenagers would have another reason to give thanks if Updike produced a young-adult book that combined all the poems in A Child’s Calendar with those in his earlier collections.

To read about A Child’s Calendar and see the cover if you can’t see it here, visit the Holiday House site. holidayhouse.com/title_display.php?ISBN=978082341445

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

October 25, 2008

Good Thanksgiving Poems for Children

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:41 am
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Apple pie,
Pumpkin pie,
turkey on the dish!
We can see
we can eat
everything we
wish, wish, wish, wish.

From Else Holmelund Minarik’s “Apple Pie”

Merrily Comes Our Harvest In: Poems for Thanksgiving. Selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Illustrations by Ben Schecter. 32 pp., varied prices and editions. Ages 3 and up.

By Janice Harayda

Thanksgiving has resisted the tarting up that has tarnished other holidays, and this book is for families who want to keep it that way. Lee Bennett Hopkins has collected on its pages 20 short and poems, most with strong rhymes, by writers including Marchette Chute and Myra Cohn Livingston. And Hopkins’s upbeat selections give the book a warm and nostalgic air.

In simple and often witty language, these poems celebrate traditional pleasures such as turkey, pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, grandparents and honoring the bond between the Pilgrims and Indians. “Simple” does not mean “dumbed-down.” Hopkins gives children credit for being able to understand metaphor by including Alice Crowell Hoffman’s “November’s Gift,” which begins: “November is a lady / In a plain gray coat / That’s very closely buttoned / Up around her throat.” He ends with Aileen Fisher’s alliterative acrostic poem, “All in a Word,” which expresses gratitude for things that begin with the letters in “thanks”: “T for time to be together, / turkey, talk, and tangy weather.”

A few poems subtly mention God in their last lines, a radical act by the ideological standards of contemporary picture books. And Ben Shecter enhances all the entries with gentle brown-black line drawings, many cross-hatched, depicting eras that range from Pilgrim to Victorian times. His picture for “November’s Gift” casts the “lady” in the first line of the poem as a larger-than-life figure who hovers above a village as leaves fly, suggesting Mother Nature in a bonnet.

Best line/picture: Else Holmelund Minark’s “Apple Pie” isn’t the best poem in the book. But very young children may find it the easiest to remember because its opening lines have the rhythm of a jump-rope rhyme: “Apple pie, / pumpkin pie / turkey on the dish!”

Worst line/picture: Dean Hughes describes a holiday with: “Turkey toes and turkey beaks, / Turkey claws and turkey cheeks” and “Turkey juice and turkey leathers, / Everything, but turkey feathers.” Nice, jaunty rhythm, but that “turkey leathers” seems to be there only for the rhyme.

Caveat lector: Merrily Comes Our Harvest In is out of print and hard to find except at libraries. But you can read two of its poems for free at sites described under “Furthermore” below. And some of its poems appear in other books. “The Pumpkin” is also in Sing a Song of Popcorn. “All in a Word,” “A Thanksgiving Thought” and “The Little Girl and the Turkey” appear in Thanksgiving: Stories and Poems.

Published: 1978

Furthermore: Merrily Comes Our Harvest In includes “Harvest,” or “The Boughs Do Shake,” available for free at www.bbc.co.uk/schoolradio/earlylearning/listenandplay_spring05_programme03.shtml. The book also has “Thanksgiving Time,” posted at www.thanksgiving-day.org/thanksgiving-day-poems.html (along with weaker poems). Among poems not in the Merrily Comes Our Harvest In: NetHymnal makes available for free the text and music for 50 Thanksgiving and harvest hymns, or poems set to music, for anyone looking for religious poems for older children or teenagers. Search www.nethymnal.org for “Thanksgiving” and or click here to find all 50.

Reviews of books for children or teenagers appear every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews. To avoid missing these reviews, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

December 28, 2007

Junior Kroll Celebrates New Year’s Eve and Other Special Days in Witty, Rhyming Poems for Children for Ages 4 and Up

  

Junior Kroll had a date

With Grandfather Kroll to celebrate

New Year’s Eve, home alone,

Just two guys on their own …

 

Junior Kroll. By Betty Paraskevas. Illustrated by Michael Paraskevas. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 36 pp., varied prices.

By Janice Harayda

In the realm of picture books, New Year’s Eve is an outcast, perhaps because publishers think that 4-to-8-year-olds should be in bed by the time the fun starts. And yet, young children often do celebrate the day, either in their own way or their parents’.

Betty Paraskevas acknowledges this in Junior Kroll, a collection of 15 witty, rhyming poems about a mischievous little rich boy who lives in monied seaside enclave resembling the present-day Hamptons. By the give-me-camouflage-or-give-me-death standards of many children, Junior Kroll is a fashion anachronism: He wears a bow tie, white shirt, navy-blue short-pants suit, and the sort of bowl-shaped haircut that used to be called a Buster Brown (which, to judge by his infectious smile, he never minds). In the poem “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” he adds a paper hat, and he and his grandfather spend a lovely evening together eating pizza and watching W.C. Fields on the VCR as the year ends:

The pizza arrived along with the sleet

That tapped on the windows and danced on the street.

In paper derbies they watched TV,

And they dined with the king of comedy.

Other poems in Junior Kroll have a rhythm just as lively, and though they are about people with money, they aren’t materialistic: They celebrate warm and often amusing ties to family and friends. Junior Kroll cheers up an ailing neighbor in “The Old Lady Who Lived Down the Lane.” And in “The Thanksgiving Day Guest,” he gets to know his mother’s perhaps underappreciated great-aunt Flo:

She told him of traveling to Istanbul

On the Orient Express,

Long ago when women reporters

Were rare with United Press.

 Junior Kroll was popular and well-reviewed when it first appeared more than a decade ago, so it’s easy to find online and in libraries if not in bookstores, and it’s worth tracking down in the new year if you can’t find it by the time you break out the noisemakers on Monday night. “The Thanksgiving Day Guest” ends with Flo’s departure on the day after the feast:

The next morning her cab was waiting

Under a cold gray sky.

From the doorway Mrs. Kroll watched Junior kiss

A remarkable old lady good-bye.

Published: 1993 (first hardcover edition)

Furthermore: The adventures of Junior Kroll appeared in comic-strip form in East Hampton’s Dan’s Papers and in Hemisphere magazine on United Airlines. Betty and Michael Paraskevas are a mother-and-son team who have written more than a dozen books and produced several animated television series en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Paraskevas. They created the Tangerine Bear, the subject of two poems in Junior Kroll and an ABC home video Christmas special.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

November 21, 2007

Listen to Thanksgiving Hymns and Others for Free at Cyber Hymnal — Downloadable for Free, Too, If They’re Out of Copyright

Further update at 7:45 p.m. Dec. 1: The Cyber Hymnal site is back up. I just listened to the Doxology and “The Snow Lay on the Ground,” the carol often used as an anthem (the first I remember singing with youth choir at my childhood church). But I’m leaving up the Nov. 29 update because you may want to use Hymn Site as a back-up if Cyber Hymnal goes down again. Jan

Update at 5:25 p.m. Nov. 29: The Cyber Hymnal site seems to have crashed — let’s hope temporarily — since I posted this. The link worked without problems for days. But at this writing you can’t reach Cyber Hymnal either from here or the link on Google. Until the site is up again, you can hear the music and find the words to hymns at HymnSite www.hymnsite.com. HymnSite isn’t as easy to search as Cyber Hymnal and may have fewer hymns, but has many of the same elements. Jan

Update, Nov. 2010: Cyber Hymnal is now NetHymnal, and the links in this post have been changed to reflect it.

Today I was looking for facts to add to a quote of the day about a Thanksgiving hymn and found a site called NetHymnal that lets you listen for free to the music of more than hymns and Gospel songs.  NetHymnal also has the words and background of tunes, pictures of authors or composers, a few musical scores and more. It offers 29 hymns by J. S. Bach alone, including such chart-busters as “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and “Von Himmel Hoch.” The site is just what its name implies — the online equivalent of a hymnal you might find slotted into a pew except that it lets you listen to the music instead of reading the scores. And you can download for free anything that’s out of copyright.

So this is the place to go if you’d like to hear the Thanksgiving hymns “Now Thank We All Our God,” “For the Beauty of the Earth” and “We Gather Together” (the only one of the three that’s non-Trinitarian in all verses). Cyber Hymnal also lets you listen to Christmas carols and patriotic songs such as “O Canada,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” (the Navy Hymn). And if you’re getting married in a church soon, you can hear any hymn that could be played at your wedding. Be sure to listen to the traditional — and best — version of the classic wedding hymn “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” on Cyber Hymnal before somebody talks you into the alternate setting that has become popular without my consent. (Are you going to invite me to the wedding?)

If you don’t care for Thanksgiving hymns but want to hear to some of the most stirring music ever written, use the title search tool on Nethymnal to look for “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” (the Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony), “Thine Be the Glory” (“See, the Conqu’ring Hero Comes” from Handel’s Judas Maccabeus) and “Be Still, My Soul” (“The Song of Peace” from Sibelius’s Finlandia). Like the Colorado Rockies, that quote of the day that I planned to post will have to wait till next year, because I’m off to Cyber Hymnal to listen Beethoven’s “The Heavn’s Resoundeth” (“The Heavens Are Telling”), nearly as glorious as the “Ode to Joy.”

The picture above from the old Cyber Hymnal shows Catherine Winkworth (1827-78), who translated “Now Thank We All Our God” (“Nun Danket”) from the German.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

What to Say When Uncle Elmer Burps at Thanksgiving Dinner – And Other Holiday Dilemmas Resolved by Judith Martin, Miss Manners

The syndicated etiquette columnist tells how to deflect rudeness without being rude

Miss Manners’ Basic Training: The Right Thing to Say. By Judith Martin. Crown, 179 pp., $17.

By Janice Harayda

Judith Martin has written more than a dozen etiquette books under her nom de guerre of Miss Manners, but this is the one you need this week. The Right Thing to Say is a brisk field manual for anyone who wonders how to parry to all those rude questions and insensitive remarks that can occur in any season but peak at events like Thanksgiving dinner. As in her syndicated column, Miss Manners typically offers ideas that are witty, apt and polite, all dispensed in a question-and-answer format.

Are you single and wondering what to say to say when Cousin Herman asks you why you haven’t married? Miss Manners suggests, “Oh, Cousin Herman, you know I’m waiting for someone just like you.” Would you like to know how to silence an aunt who tells you that you’ve gained weight or gone gray? Miss Manners recommends, “Oh, thank you; how kind of you to notice.” Or perhaps you’re pregnant again and have heard too many comments like, “I’m glad it’s you and not me!” Miss Manners advises you to try, “I’m sure you mean to wish us the best.” And if you don’t know what to say when Uncle Elmer says “Excuse me” after burping, she offers the comforting: “No reply is appropriate.”

Miss Manners’s answers are entertaining even if you haven’t weathered the insults heaved at her correspondents. And if you get through Thanksgiving needing her advice, just wait. The office Christmas party is coming up.

Best line: “Why would anyone say ‘Congratulations’ to a couple who has just announced an engagement or the expected birth of a child? Congratulating people is what is now done at funerals. Anyone who has suffered a loss can expect to be told: ‘It’s really a blessing, you know’ … Those who are most skillful at comforting the bereaved with such congratulatory statements are able to go for a second round, Miss Manners has observed. When they have elicited a fresh outburst of woe, they congratulate the mourners again, this time for ‘dealing with’ or ‘working through’ their grief, or tell them what stage of grief they are at, as if grief were a subway stop. Thus they have the enormous satisfaction of having done something for their friends. Driven them to tears.”

Worst line: None, but the structure of the book is confusing. Instead of being grouped together, for example, related questions about dating and marriage appear on pages 79 and 109. And the index is so inconsistent, it’s all but useless.

Published: May 1998 www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_Martin

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

November 18, 2007

Good Picture Books About Thanksgiving for Children Ages 4 and Up

Popular authors show how Pilgrim boys and girls — and their parents — lived

By Janice Harayda

A lot of families must have given thanks for The Pilgrims’ First Thanksgiving (Scholastic, $4.99, paperback, ages 4–8), because this lively picture book is still selling well on Amazon www.amazon.com and elsewhere after more than three decades in print. And no wonder. This may the best book for anyone who is looking for a traditional Thanksgiving story that touches all the familiar bases – the voyage of the Mayflower, the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, the help the settlers received from Squanto, and the feast that marked the successful harvest of 1621.

Ann McGovern www.annmcgovern.com tells an engaging story salted with details easy for children to grasp. The Mayflower was “as big as two trucks,” and its passengers had little tableware after they went ashore: “There were no forks. The Pilgrims used shells for spoons.” And unlike some recent books that expunge all references to the early settlers’ faith, McGovern makes clear in a low-keyed way that this is partly a story of religious freedom: The Pilgrims, she says, “left their old country because they could not pray the way they wanted.” Elroy Freem, the pen name of a veteran picture-book artist, illustrates the book with warm tones that help to make this an upbeat story despite hardships of life in the Plymouth Colony.

Kate Waters takes a more contemporary approach in her deservedly popular Sarah Morton’s Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl, Samuel Eaton’s Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Boy and Tapenum’s Day: A Wampanoag Indian Boy in Pilgrim Times (Scholastic, about $5.99 each, paperback, ages 4 and up) www.scholastic.com. In these appealing books she uses documentary-style color photographs to describes the lives of a Pilgrim girl and boy and a Native American boy of their era.

Waters’s books about Pilgrim times are popular in schools, particularly in the second and third grades, so by searching the Web you can find teachers’ guides with related activities you can adapt at home. Their stories have a natural appeal this week, but don’t forget them next year when you want to get children excited about a trip to a historical museum or village.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

November 18, 2006

Emily Arnold McCully’s Wild West Thanksgiving Story for Children

A Caldecott Medalist casts Butch Cassidy as a Victorian-era Robin Hood

An Outlaw Thanksgiving. By Emily Arnold McCully. Dial, 32 pp., $15.99. Ages 4–8.

A few days ago, I stopped by a good suburban library to see which children’s books the staff was recommending this week besides Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims, that perennial dish of cranberry sauce on school reading lists. A librarian handed me An Outlaw Thanksgiving by Emily Arnold McCully, who won the Caldecott Medal for Mirette on the High Wire. No surprises there. Librarians are always promoting books by American Library Association award-winners.

The surprise came when I went to www.amazon.com to see if there was a paperback edition and found, along with the expected rave from a librarian, a couple of attacks by parents on the poor moral “value systems” of the book. Let’s try to sort out the clashing views of this tale, which was inspired by a real holiday meal in Brown’s Hole, Utah, in the 1890s.

McCully casts bank robber Robert LeRoy Parker — alias Butch Cassidy — as a Victorian Robin Hood in this story of a young girl’s cross-country trip by rail. When a blizzard stops their train, Clara and her mother must have Thanksgiving dinner with strangers, including the man played by Paul Newman in the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Clara recognizes Butch from a “Wanted” poster she has seen. But she doesn’t turn him in, despite several opportunities, because she’s heard that he is good-hearted: “Gives some of what he steals to needy folks.” Clara also thinks her mother would “faint dead away” if she did. It doesn’t increase her motivation to turn informer when Butch, realizing that she recognizes him, gives her a silver dollar that could be construed as hush money.

You can see why some parents are furious. They’ve warned their children not to take candy or other bribes from “bad people” and to “tell an adult” right away if this happens. Then a Caldecott Medalist comes along and portrays sympathetically a girl who looks the other way when face-to-face with criminal. And another aspect of McCully’s tale might irk some parents: This is one of those books in which the child is smarter — or at least braver — than her parent. Clara isn’t intimidated by Butch, but believes her mother would be.

But the librarians who like this book have a point, too. As usual, McCully uses lush watercolors to tell a dramatic story. Something is always rushing forward – a train, a horse-drawn wagon, travelers at a railway station. Many people see watercolors, the neglected stepchild of painting, as a relatively static medium best suited landscapes or still lifes. McCully shows how dynamic the form can be in the right hands.

So this book is a judgment call for parents. It may give children at the younger end of its age range ideas that conflict with what they have learned at home. But it could give parents of older ones a way to test whether their children been paying attention to all those lessons about “bad people.” What should Clara have done when she recognized Butch? The question could launch a fascinating intergenerational conversation after Thanksgiving Dinner.

Best line: McCully includes an afterword about Butch Cassidy and the Old West that has colorful facts such as this one: “Snow was a problem for six or seven months of the year on the prairie. Passengers could perish in a blizzard. ‘Snowbucker’ plows rammed into drifts at 65 miles per hour.”

Worst line: After Clara arrives in Omaha: “Her mother hurried into the station to freshen up.” The euphemism “freshen up” sounds odd in context, if not anachronistic. And why did only the mother and not Clara need to use the bathroom after a long trip?

Recommended if … your children are old enough not to take the heroine’s behavior as a model for how to act when a stranger offers a bribe.

Published: 1998 (Dial hardcover), 2000 (Picture Puffins edition. For information on McCully en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emily_Arnold_McCully/.

Posted by Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com
© 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

One-Minute Book Reviews is an independent literary blog created by Janice Harayda, an award-winning journalist who has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor and critic for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. Please visit www.janiceharayda.com to learn more about her comic novels, The Accidental Bride (St. Martin’s, 1999) and Manhattan on the Rocks (Sourcebooks, 2004).

 

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