Archive for December, 2012


Caldecott Challenge

There are a lot of bloggers out there doing a Caldecott Challenge this year. I found this out after starting my own in May, but I’m not a part of the official movement. I am always reading and I figured since I planned to read a lot to my son anyways, it might as well be award-winning books. Plus it is always better, as a librarian, to have a wider range of books to choose from when you are recommending on to anyone, parent or child. Granted, I don’t agree with all the choices made by the award committee, but that is true with any award. I had read about 57 before I started this, which seemed like a lot, until you realize there’s a total of 307 books from 1938 – 2012. And the Caldecott Award committee is convening in January to announce the 2013 winners, which means that’ll be another 2-6 additional books. So I’m going to try hard to finish it in 2013. I started in May, originally at the top of the list (i.e. the more recent winners) and then decided to go from the bottom up. For any reviews, you can check out past book review posts by typing in “reviews” in the search bar on the blog or checking out mine on Goodreads.

Total Read in 2012: 107

Favorite books from the 1930s: 

I’ve read all but Wanda Gag’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

1939 Honor: Wee Gillis by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson

Wee Gillis

1938 Honor: The Seven Simeons by Boris  Artzebasheff.

Seven Simeons drawing

Both had awesome illustrations.

Favorite books from the 1940s:

I’ve read all the books from 1940 – 42, but the rest of the decade is a little spotty due to age of the books and therefore most are in special collections.

1942 Honor: Paddle-to-the-Sea by Holling Clancy Holling; for originality

Paddle-to-the-sea

1947 Winner: The Little Island by Golden MacDonald (aka Margaret Wise Brown), illustrated by Leonard Weisgard;  for originality and illustrations

The little islandstrawberries from The Little Island

Honorable mentions going to:

1943 Honor: Marshmallow by Clare Turlay Newberry, for illustration

Marshmallow and Oliver

1940 Honor: Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans, for illustrations and rhyme

Madeline

Favorite books from the 1950s: 

There are even more reading gaps in the 1950s due to the age of the books and the fact I can’t read them outside the library.

1951 Honor: Dick Whittington and His Cat by Marcia Brown, for originality and illustration (cut-linoleum prints)

Dick Whittington and His Cat

Honorable Mentions for illustrations:

1954 Winner: Madeline’s Rescue by Ludwig Bemelmans (I loved this one better than the original)

Madeline Rescue - Genevieve and puppies

1957 Honor: 1 is One by Tasha Tudor

a page from Tasha Tudor's 1 is One

Favorite books from the 1960s:

I haven’t read much from the 1960s or 70s, as I had been concentrating on the upper and lower ends of the awards and these decades are smack in the middle.

1963 Winner: The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.

The Snowy Day illustrations

The weirdest story in the history of the Caldecott, in my opinion, comes from the book Sam, Bangs & Moonshine by Evaline Ness.

Favorite books from the 1970s:

I had read about 8 books from this decade before starting the Challenge, so that made up the bulk of my reading here in general.

1975 Honor: Jambo Means Hello: A Swahili Alphabet Book by Muriel Feelings, for originality and getting to learn fun new words in other languages

Jambo Means Hello

1979 Honor: The Way to Start a Day by Byrd Baylor, illustrated by Peter Parnall (for Parnall’s fantastic gorgeous illustrations and Baylor’s poetry)

parnall_the_way_to_start_the_day

Before the Challenge, my favorite book was

1971 Honor: In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak (I know a lot of people are uncomfortable with this book because of the child’s nudity, which is most of the reason it’s been banned, but I have always loved this book)

In the Night Kitchen - Mickey and the Bakers

Favorite books from the 1980s:

Again, I had read the most books from this decade before the Challenge, 12 this time.

1984 Honor: Little Red Riding Hood retold by Trina Schart Hyman, for her brilliant illustrations (since I recently used one of her illustrations on my Grimm Brother’s post, I’ll skip this image).

Favorite books from the 1990s:

I managed to get quite a few read from this era, in fact all of 1992, ’96 and ’97. However there are still a few that I could only find in special collections or were not available at all.

1990 Honor: The Talking Eggs: A Folktale from the American South retold by Robert D. San Souci, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (great retelling on a folktale I’d not heard before, plus of course Jerry Pinkney’s fabulous illustrations)

The_talking_Eggs

1999 Winner: Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, for a very interesting biography

Snowflake Bentley-Jacqueline Briggs Martin

Favorite books from the 2000 – 2012:

I’ve managed to read all the 2001 – 2008 , 2010 – 2012 but have two books I can’t find so that I’ve read all 12 years.

2007 Honor: Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (as I said in my review, stunning illustrations plus the text is well done)

Moses

2010 Honor: All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee (love the poetry and illustrations)

All the World

2011 Honor: Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein (both me and my son found it funny, plus all parents who read to their kids can relate)

Interrupting Chicken

2012 Honor: Grandpa Green by Lane Smith (great story and illustrations)

Grandpa-Green 2

The Booker Award

the-booker-award1

So apparently I was awarded the Booker Award, courtesy of Asha Seth, over at this book blog. I must say that it came as a complete shock, but I am very honored to be considered anyone’s favorite book blog (although I do blog about other things like parenting and art, this blog is primarily about my love of books and wanting to share that with others). The blog link above explains more about the award. As a result of winning it, you have to provide answers to several questions, which I’ll do below.

 Top five favorite books (in no particular order):

  1. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
  2. Heartless by Gail Carriger (book 4 from The Parasol Protectorate series)
  3. The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman (book 3 from the His Dark Materials series)
  4. Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates by Tom Robbins
  5. Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

I would just like to say that the above list was insanely hard to limit down to five, but I think it is a pretty good list.

Most favorite author/writer and why I love them:

  1. Neil Gaiman: The man is a genius. His books are both thought-provoking/think outside the box, masterfully written and hilarious. I like his comics (which I haven’t finished reading yet), novels and kid’s books. My friend Derek introduced him to me and I’ve been hooked for years.  I read him before he won the Newberry and got all mainstream popular. I’m sure I would go all crazy fan-girl if I actually ever got to meet him or get his autograph. 
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien: He’s probably the reason I love fantasy books so much. I read The Hobbit in about 8th grade and even had a dragon necklace I secretly named Smaug (I know that makes me totally nerdy and I’m okay with that). I’m dying to see the new Peter Jackson version of The Hobbit. I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy in college when the first movie in the trilogy came out. I have been obsessed with Tolkien ever since. I’ve tried to read The Silmarillion at least 3 times, but can never get through it. Plus the man was a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford and friends with C.S. Lewis, whose work I also like. ‘Nuff said.
  3. Ariana Franklin: pen name for British writer Diane Norman, who unfortunately passed away in Jan 2011. She wrote four fabulous historical fiction mystery thrillers, set in the time of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, that got me hooked on mysteries again.
  4. Jason Goodwin: history/historical fiction mystery writer (yes another Brit); I discovered his Yashim the Eunuch series by accident at my local public library and absolutely fell in love with his first book, The Janissary Tree. I love writers that pay attention to detail, and his novels are full of rich historical detail that only someone who has truly studied Istanbul and its history would know (which he does and wrote a book about it, which is on my to-read list).

I have many more favorite author/writers but don’t want this post to be too ridiculously long.

 

First edition of The Hobbit, wish I owed one.

TheHobbit -First Edition

Favorite Genres:

  • Fantasy/Sci-fi (esp Steampunk)
  • Historical Fiction
  • Mystery
  • True Crime
  • Mythology/Folktale/Fairy Tale
  • Biography

Why are books special in my life?

Books have always been an escape for me, which is probably why I read so much fantasy and sci-fi, as they are especially good at letting you travel without leaving your seat.  They are a special part of my me-time now, which is usually in pretty short supply with a toddler to take care of. Going to library to pick up new books is the highlight of my day, and makes me happy, no matter how crappy the rest of my day may have gone. I learned early how to read and I’ve loved it ever since. Part of the reason I’m trained to be a librarian is that I love to be able to share that with others, especially children.

Other book blogs that I think should get this award:

Sadly I really don’t read a whole lot of other book blogs. Most of the ones I follow are either food, librarians or parenting blogs or any combo thereof. So I apologize for this part of the post. Anyone have any recommendations of a book blog that should get it?

So anyone today who has seen the awesome Google doodle will notice that it is a comic strip of the Grimm’s Fairy Tale, Little Red Riding Hood. If not, you can always see it on this website after today. I’d like to first introduce you to this article on the Brothers, which I found interesting and informative. Since I am currently reading Philip Pullman’s Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Translation (the American version of the book), I figured it was rather fitting to write a little blog post on them. So as you can figure out, the first volume/edition of Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales) first came out in 1812, with a second volume two years later. They had six more editions, with the final coming out in 1857 and is the one most used by everyone, including translators. The Grimm Brother’s Fairy Tales include classics such as CinderellaHansel and GretelSleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, Rumpelstiltskin, Rapunzel, and Snow WhiteBeauty and the Beast is apparently a French tale. According to this website, the reason the Brothers Grimm had so many editions is because the stories themselves were not necessarily child-friendly. “The imagery was often, well, grim, and the stories were crammed with plenty of violence. The concept of a “happy ending” was not one that the Grimms really bought into. Fairy tales and folkloric stories had originated as teaching tools, attempts to warn children of all the dangers they might face in the world through allegory and symbols.Many of the fairy tales were full of blood, gore, sex, evil, vindictive fairies, and some other things you might not want to expose your children to.”

Grimm's_Kinder-_und_Hausmärchen,_Erster_Theil_(1812).coverGrimm's Fairy Tales book cover

I have loved listening to and reading fairy tales since I was little. My aunt used to read my cousin and I the original Grimm fairy tales when I was visiting her house. We used to love to hear them, even the creepy ones. To this day, one of the creepiest stories I’ve heard is The Juniper Tree (aka The Almond Tree), which still gives me the shivers. Fairy tales are something that my best friend and I have in common. We love to read them. They are an escape for us. I have not watched the latest fairy tale shows, Once Upon a Time and Grimm. I do however love the TV series The 10th Kingdom and the movie Ever After (even if they fudged some of the facts), which were ones that me and another friend bonded over. And I loved the Disney movie Tangled. I also love the novels, picture books and comics based on a variation of fairy tales like Shannon Hale’s Goose Girl and Rapunzel’s Revenge series, Paul O. Zelinsky’s Rapunzel (for which he won a Caldecott Medal for in 1998), Trina Schart Hyman’s Little Red Riding Hood (for which she won a Caldecott Honor in 1988), Bill Willingham’s Fables series and Frank Cammuso’s Max Hamm: Fairy Tale Detective series.

Red Riding Hood with mother

Although I love the Disney fairy tales, I know now that their endings are severely edited to make them child-proof. They’re still fun though. For years, my favorite Disney movie was Snow White. I think it was mostly because it was the first full-length Disney film, and she always seemed the less conceited of the princesses. I also like the newer version of the movie, Mirror Mirror with Lily Collins and Julia Roberts. Yes, the movie is corny (I think it’s supposed to be) but the dwarves were hilarious and Julia made for a convincing queen, aka not one that would necessarily kill to get what she wants, but definitely one who is vain, selfish and power-hungry. I’ve not seen Snow White and the Huntsman with Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron, but I’m sure the acting is just as terrible as it is in the Twilight movies (no disrespect to Charlize as I think she’s brilliant).   I have a very love-hate relationship with Twilight as the books were alright and the movies, ok yes they made some parts of the book better. And I am a Team Jacob fan.

Well the original version of Snow White  is very different from the version most of us know. In the original the wicked stepmother takes the boar’s heart from the huntsman sent to kill 7 yr old Snow White in the woods, and eats it. After she discovers that Snow White is still alive (not sure how many years go by but let’s assume she’s probably just a teenager), she dresses as an old peddler woman and sells the child some lace and laces her up so tightly that she “takes her breath away and she fell down as dead.” So the queen goes away, and the dwarves find Snow White later that night, and cut through the laces and she is saved. So the next day, the queen (as a different old woman) comes again, but Snow White won’t let her in. The Queen shows her a beautiful comb, which she has poisoned, and Snow White loves it and gets the woman to comb her hair. She is almost instantly poisoned and then falls down unconscious. The dwarves discover her that night, pull the comb out and she is fine. The queen, infuriated that she is still alive, creates a poisoned apple and dresses as an old peasant woman to give it to her. The queen/peasant knows that Snow White will be wary of poisonous things, so she made the apple so that the white part of it is not poisoned but the red part is. That is the part she gives to Snow White. “But no sooner had she taken a morsel of it into her mouth than she fell to the earth as dead.” The dwarves can do nothing to save her, so they wash and dress her and put her in a clear glass coffin. One day, a prince comes riding by and convinces the dwarves to let him have the coffin. While the coffin is being moved, they jostle Snow White and the piece of apple comes flying out of her mouth and she wakes up. The prince and her are married, and the Queen dances at her wedding in red-hot iron shoes as a punishment for her evil doings.

Last Book Review of the Year

While I am not quite done reading books for the year, this will be my last book review for 2012. I have managed to surpass my reading totals three or four times this year. I started wanting 365 and now am up to 415. This is what my totals look like -see chart below (granted there is a little bit of overlap in categories). The categories on the left side are fantasy/sci-fi, young adult, cookbooks and food, Caldecott, and birth to five years.

book chart

I am currently on hiatus when it comes to audiobooks as I primarily listen to them in the car and my car is not working. But when it is finally working again, I hope to finally finish Doomwyte by Brian Jacques. And I’m hoping to pick up my latest library hold, The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan on audiobook. I am currently reading Philip Pullman’s latest book Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version. On to the book reviews. As always, I rate things from 1 – 5 stars, one being the lowest and 5 being the highest. The Caldecott Challenge is my attempt to read all of the Caldecott Honors and Award winners from 1938 – the present.

Children

Trunks All Aboard: An Elephant ABC by Barbara Nichol

I found this book in my local library’s ABC collection. It is actually a pretty cool book because the illustrations are from a wealthy early 20th century Canadian businessman, named Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, who liked to draw elephants and sent this set of hand-drawn postcards to his grandson in Montreal. Feeling very inspired by them, the author Barbara Nichol, wrote these little ABC verses to go with them. I loved the illustrations and the verses are rather clever. Recommended for ages 1-6, 3 stars.

A Cowgirl and Her Horse by Jean Ekman Adams

Ever since I discovered this local author/illustrator, I have been trying to get my hands on her books. I absolutely love her bright, colorful and very kid-friendly illustrations, and this book is also really cute to boot. The book is about what a cowgirl’s responsibilities are when taking care of a horse, i.e. it’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it. Recommended for ages 1-6, 3 stars.

Zelda the Varigoose by Sebastian Loth

As I enjoyed his other kid’s book, Remembering Crystal, which was about death and friendship (I especially liked the illustrations), I jumped at the chance at a new one of his books. This book is all about the power of imagination, aided in this case by transparencies of whatever animal Zelda the goose is pretending to be. My favorites were the GooseyBee, GooGiraffe, and Goosey Peacock for the illustrations and the Butterfloose for the name. Highly recommended for ages 1-6, 4 stars.

Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton

After reading Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and The Little House, I jumped at the chance to read another of Virginia Lee Burton’s books. This book was a cute story about Katy, a tractor who transform into a bulldozer, as well as a snow plow. One day, there is a huge snow storm in the city of Geopolis, where Katy lives and works, and she must save the day. While the story dragged on for awhile as Katy rescued literally everyone in the town, Burton’s detailed illustration more than make up for it. Recommended for ages 1-6, 3 stars.

The Story of Christmas, illustrated by Pamela Dalton

I liked that the older version of the King James Bible was used as it went along with Pamela Dalton’s gorgeous paper-cut illustrations. The technique called “Scherenschnitte,” is according to the inside front dust jacket: “rooted in Pennsylvania-German folk art and steeped in an intimate appreciation of medieval and Renaissance Italian art.” It makes it look like a medieval manuscript, very detailed and just gorgeous. It really brings out the beautiful humbleness of the birth of Jesus (I hope that makes sense). Recommended for ages 1-7, 4 stars.

I Don’t Want to Be a Pea (Hugo and Bella, #1) by Ann Bonwill

I’m not sure if this was the intention, but the first thing I thought about this book when I read it is that it reminds me a lot of Elephant and Piggie books, except wordier. Hugo the Hippo and Bella the bird are going to attend the Hippo-Bird Fairy-Tale Fancy Dress Party and can’t decide what costume to wear. Originally they were going as the Princess and Pea, but Bella decided she didn’t want to be the Pea and then a huge argument broke out and they leave mad. But then both decide it is not worth it to stay mad at each other and both come as a Pea. Absolutely adorable illustrations, they just needed to get the story a bit more succinct. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

Mrs. Armitage: Queen of the Road by Quentin Blake

I love Quentin Blake’s illustrations for Roald Dahl and Michael Rosen, but I had no idea he was an author in his own right. So when I saw this book in the children’s section, I knew I had to read it. The book is about Mrs. Armitage and her dog Breakspear who inherits a car from her uncle and proceeds to drive it around time. It falls completely apart until she is left with just the frame, tire, seats and engine. Then she runs into her uncle and his motorcycle gang who spruce it and her up and then they go for drinks. Rather random, but it works, especially with Blake’s scribbly painted illustrations. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

Miriam’s Cup: A Passover Story by Fran Manushkin

It is the Biblical story of the prophet Miriam, her brother Moses and Exodus as seen through the eyes of another young girl named Miriam during Passover. The girl is about to get ready for the Seder meal when her mother takes her aside to tell her about her namesake and her Passover gift, which is a crystal goblet meant to symbolize Miriam’s Cup (the story of which is explained in the author’s note in the back of the book). “Miriam’s Song,” based off the book of Exodus itself and written by Debbie Friedman, is included on the back cover of the book with music. Gorgeous watercolor illustrations are done throughout the book, and the background of each page and text is made to look like a sheet of papyrus. Recommended for ages 4-8, 4 stars.

The Sandman: The Story of Sanderson Mansnoozie by William Joyce

I’ve been waiting months for this book to come out, and was incredibly frustrated when it took 2 months after the fact for the library to finally process a copy. But enough of that. I loved the book, though a little bit less than The Man in the Moon. It does feature William Joyce’s amazing illustrations, which frankly I would buy the book just for them. The Sandman, or Sandy as he is plainly called in the beginning of the story, is commissioned by the Man in the Moon to protect Earth’s children from nightmares, which he does with his Dream Sand. He operates off The Island of Sleepy Sands, which used to be the star that he drove through the galaxy before it crash-landed safely (thanks to the wish of the young Man in the Moon) on Earth. I like it when Sandy uses this mantra to get rid of nightmares: “You are not real. You are not true. You are nothing.” My absolute favorite part of the book is Sandy’s official title, which reminded me of L.Frank Baum: “His Nocturnal Magnificence, Sanderson Mansnoozie, Sandman the First, Lord High Protector of Sleep and Dream.” I read this to my son, who managed to pay attention for it, probably because of the illustrations, despite it being a little too long for him. Recommended for ages 4-8, 4 stars.

Toothiana: Queen of the Tooth Fairy Armies (The Guardians #3) by William Joyce

Normally it would take me a few hours to read a book like this, but I was reading it to my son for the first week so it took longer than usual. I enjoyed this third full-length book in The Guardians series, though I was frustrated a bit at the ending (it was a cliffhanger). In this volume, we are left wondering if Pitch was really and truly vanquished in the previous book or is he hanging around somewhere? Katherine, the youngest of The Guardians is growing up, and she has just lost her last baby tooth. This means a visit from Queen Toothiana, and we learn all about her story from Mr. Qwerty, the bookworm. Only Toothiana’s visit is cut short by the Monkey King and his minions, who it seems are working for Pitch. This book was a lot darker than the other books in the series, but it does bring up a lot of stuff about growing up and how we tend to be darker as we grow older, so this made sense. Now I can’t wait to see what happens in the next book! Highly recommended for ages 9-12, 4 stars.

Caldecott Challenge

Barkis by Clare Turlay Newberry

This book won a 1939 Caldecott Honor award, the first of four for the author. “Barkis” is the story of a nine year old boy named James and his birthday presents. The best one is from his Uncle Jim, who brings him a soft fluffy brown cocker spaniel puppy named Barkis. Because of the puppy, there is instant sibling rivalry between James and his sister Nell Jean. Even his sister’s cat Edward and Barkis do not get along at first. Barkis goes outside the house for the first time the day after James’ birthday and falls in the cold stream, only to be rescued and cared for by Nell Jean. After this, James agrees to share Barkis with his sister. This book has her awesome charcoal and painted illustrations. I like that she was influenced by Japanese painting techniques, especially the artist Hokusai. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

My Mother is the Most Beautiful Woman in the World by Becky Reyher

This was a very interesting book. It had fabulous brightly-colored endpages in yellow with butterflies, roosters, peacocks, roses, cherries, and architecture, in a charming folk art style. The illustrations are in the same folk art style of the end pages, and vary between black & white and full color.

The story itself was based off a Russian folktale and proverb, which was as follows: “We do not love people because they are beautiful, but they seem beautiful to us because we love them.” The book is about Varya, a small Ukranian girl who works in a wheat field with her parents and five brothers and sisters. It is time for the harvest festival, and they have a feast and talk about the food they are preparing, the people that will be attending and what they will be doing (dancing and playing music). On the second harvest day, Varya falls asleep and wakes up to find her parents gone. She goes to the village to find them, and says she is looking for her mother, who is “the most beautiful woman in the world,” even though she turns out to be the most plain woman there. Basically it is a lesson in beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I loved this post and this blog post written about the book. Recommended for ages 3-7, 3 1/2 stars.

The Way to Start a Day by Byrd Baylor, illustrated by Peter Parnall

Peter Parnall collaborated with Byrd Baylor on eight more books, two more of which he won Caldecott honors for, in addition to this one in 1979. I have been in love with his artwork for awhile, and owned another of his books as a kid, called Apricot ABC. For his complete bibliography of illustrated books, see this website. The author grew up in the Southwest and lives near the Arizona-Mexico border.

This book, written in free-verse poetry, is about sunrises and how many cultures all over the world worship and praise the sun. Cultures such as the cavemen, Ancient Egyptians, Native Americans, Peruvians and Africans are featured. It is about thanking the sun for bringing forth a new day by greeting it every morning. I found these lesson plans on the book. As Seth D. Webb commented in this blog post, “In the push for digital literacy we cannot forget and forgo the importance of children feeling the world around them. It is not enough to show; we must provide experiences for them to do: to touch, to smell, to listen, to taste, to be still and to know.” And this book does just that. Highly recommended for ages 4-9, 5 stars.

In My Mother’s House by Ann Nolan Clark

The book contained a series of 29 poems about the Pueblo people, as told through the viewpoint of a Pueblo child. They talk about the child’s home that he/she lives in and that his parents built themselves, the things they eat and grow, their community and work. My favorite poems were “Juniper”, “Lakes”, and “Indian Tea”. There were black and white illustrations as well as color, which I believe were paintings. My favorite ones were the horse pictures, as there were so many different kinds of horses depicted. This book won a 1942 Caldecott Honor award.

The coolest part about this book are the author and illustrator. Ann Nolan Clark and Velino Herrera were both born in New Mexico, and Herrera was a Zia Pueblo Indian artist (also known as Ma Pe Wi). Herrera went on to give his version of the Zia people, in illustrated form – it means sun in Indian languages, to the State of New Mexico (which did not endear him to his people). The book was apparently created for the Bureau of Indian Affairs as educational materials, which makes sense as the author worked as a teacher of Native American students for 25 years. Because the schools she worked in did not have good instructional material, she started making her own (this book being one of them). She also won a Newberry Award for her book Secret of the Andes. I love this quote that I found here, in which she describes how a good book should affect a child “The story must be vital to him. He must be able to live it as the pages turn. It must enrich the world he knows and lead him into a wider, larger unfamiliar world. The experience of having known it must have been an adventure and a delight…. A good book has an inner quality that may have a deep, personal, special meaning for some child, somewhere. It is an unfortunate adult who does not remember certain books of his childhood that he will hold forever dear.” This quote makes me wish all children’s books were like this.

Noah’s Ark by Peter Spier

Honestly when I saw that this won a Caldecott, I wasn’t looking forward to reading it as my Caldecott Challenge religious theme books haven’t been that great. This 1978 Caldecott winner was unique and different, which impressed me. Instead of telling the traditional straight-from-the-Bible story, the author translated a Dutch poem from a 17th century Calvinist theologian entitled “The Flood” as the only text for the book and put it right in the front. The rest of the book tells the story through pictures, with some very amusing details like Noah’s wife hiding from the mice that come aboard, Noah struggling to get a donkey on-board and the chaotic mess left by the animals after the ark is evacuated. This books makes me want to check out his other books to see if they are as good as this one. Recommended for ages 1-7, 4 stars.

Four and Twenty Blackbirds: Nursery Rhymes of Yesterday Recalled for Children of Today compiled by Helen Dean Fish

I’ve been trying to get a hold of this book for awhile, as it was the last book from 1938 (a Caldecott Honor) that I needed. It is a collection of nursery rhymes, which are explained in the table of contents and the introduction by the compiler Helen Dean Fish. Most of the rhymes are put to song, and the melodies are listed in the back of the book. I feel like the rhymes are either too morbid, random, or violent, but maybe that was the norm in the 18th and 19th centuries, when these rhymes were collected and/or written. Two of the most violent were “The Robber Kitten” and “The Tragic Tale of Hooty the Owl,” neither of which I had heard of before. Some of the most random ones were “Old Crummles” (which I enjoyed) and “Joe Dobson,” (which I didn’t much like). Overall, it was an interesting collection of old and mostly new nursery rhymes, illustrated by the fabulous Robert Lawson. Recommended for ages 4-7, 2 1/2 stars.

Little Lost Lamb by Golden MacDonald

Written under the pseudonym Golden MacDonald, this 1946 Caldecott Honor winning picture book by Margaret Wise Brown is my least favorite of hers so far. While I loved Leonard Weisgard and Margaret Wise Brown’s collaboration the following year for the Caldecott winning book The Little Island, this book just didn’t work for me. The story was way too long and boring. The book is about a little black lamb who wanders away from the flock and the shepherd, but is later rescued by the boy and his dog from a mountain lion and brought safely home. Recommended for ages 4-7, 2 stars.

The Desert is Theirs by Byrd Baylor, illustrated by Peter Parnall

Once again, Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnall have hit a home-run with this book! Using Parnall’s simplistic but gorgeous illustrations, Byrd Baylor weaves an expressive story, told in poetical form, about the Pagagos (called the Desert People throughout the book) and the way in which they interact and work with the local flora and fauna of the desert. Each respects the desert and knows their role. As the author still lives in the Arizona desert near the Mexico border, she knows what she is talking about and has probably observed the animals and plants that she discusses in the book. My only complaint is that it was a little too long. This book won a 1976 Caldecott Honor, and rightly so. Recommended for ages 5-10, 4 stars.

The Ageless Story by Lauren Ford

This is another book I probably never would’ve picked up if it weren’t for the fact that it is a 1940 Caldecott Honor award winner. It is a very unusual book in many ways. First off, as another reviewer has said on this blog post, it is a full-color book, something that was rare for that period in time, when most books only had every other or a couple of pages illustrated in color. Also it is made to look like an illuminated manuscript. It is very clear from the letter to her goddaughter Nina, at the front of the book, that the author is very against the Renaissance and its humanist approaches to life and religion. She is, however, very much for the medieval age as exemplified by her artwork and subject matter. She has chosen to create a “manuscript” with Gregorian chant in Latin, which explains the life of St. Anne (mother of Mary), the Virgin and Jesus’s early life. The main picture, facing the chants, show the participants in a contemporary setting of 1939 New England. The setting is incongruous with the medieval feeling to the rest of the book. If you check out the above blog, you can hear the blog poster’s mother singing one of the chants from the book, which is pretty cool. Recommended for ages 7+, 3 stars.

Sing Mother Goose compiled by Opal Wheeler, illustrated by Marjorie Torrey

I originally picked this volume up for the Caldecott Challenge, actually had to get it via inter-library loan as my library didn’t have it in their special collections. Luckily managed to find it at Arizona State University in Tempe. It won a 1946 Caldecott Honor. I enjoyed this collection of Mother Goose rhymes set to music, although it was way too long (103 pages). I never knew so many of these traditional rhymes, most of which I had heard of before, included music. Honestly most of the reason this book got three stars instead of two is because I absolutely loved Majorie Torrey’s illustrations. Sad to think all of her illustrated books are out of print. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

Sing in Praise: A Collection of the Best Loved Hymns compiled by Opal Wheeler, illustrated by Marjorie Torrey

This book won a 1947 Caldecott Honor award, and that is the reason for me checking it out. Apparently the author made a point of creating songbooks about famous composers, and these hymns are no exception. It is interesting that she includes a story about the composer and why they wrote the song. I had heard of some of the songs. Once again Marjorie Torrey’s illustrations make a boring book better, but I preferred the illustrations for “Sing Mother Goose” more than this. Recommended for ages 7+, 2 stars.

Mei Li by Thomas Handforth

This book won the 1939 Caldecott Award, which makes me think they were still trying to iron out the kinks with the award itself. It was an interesting book, but not one I was overly fond of. I think Wee Gillis should’ve won that year, though I’ve still not read Wanda Gag’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and that might be better. This book is about a young Chinese girl named Mei Li, her mother, her brother San Yu, and Uncle Wang who are about to celebrate New Years. Mei Li goes with her brother and uncle to have fun in the capital and she sees all kinds of wonderous things, including an acting troupe, circus performers, and animal-shaped paper lanterns. I realize that this book is one of its time and that the message is meant well, but having little girls be unable to do the same things as boys because of their sex and expecting them to be homemakers only in profession just irked me. The hand-drawn illustrations by the author were very good and I enjoyed them. Recommended for ages 4-7, 2 stars.

Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin by Lloyd Price

I’ve been wanting to read this book for ages, but never got around to it. It won a 1996 Caldecott Honor award, and rightly so. This book is very creative, with its rhyming text, and is a nice way to introduce musical instruments and groups to young children. Plus I just love Marjorie Priceman’s whimsical and colorful illustrations! It starts out with one lone trombone and by the end of the book we have a whole orchestra. Even my son liked it. Highly recommended for ages 1-6, 4 stars.

Tops & Bottoms by Janet Stevens

This trickster tale reminded me of the West African Anansi stories and Brer Rabbit. In this story, Hare is the tricky fellow who needs to find food for his growing family. He has lost his farm to Bear’s father, but plans to get it back from Bear, as he is lazy. Hare offers to plant crops for Bear and split them 50/50, but he fudges a bit. He takes only the bottoms of root vegetables, then the tops of above ground veggies, then  the middle of corn stalk. Therefore giving him all the produce and Bear gets nothing. He earns enough from the sales of the veggies to open his own produce stand. And Bear has learned never to go into business with Hare again. Great illustrations by Janet Stevens, made cooler by the fact the story was vertical instead of horizontal. Recommended for ages 3-7, 3 stars.

The Faithful Friend by Robert D. Sans Souci, illustrated by Brian Pinkney

I loved San Souci’s book The Talking Eggs, so when I found out another of his books won a Caldecott Honor in 1996, I had to check it out. This time brilliant illustrator Brian Pinkney helped make this story great in scratchboard and oil. The book is a retelling of a traditional French West Indies story about two best friends named Clement and Hippolyte, who grow up together. Clement falls in love with a local girl and goes with his friend Hippolyte to propose to her, which she accepts but her uncle plots to kill the lovebirds with the help of zombies (more like witches). Hippolyte overhears their plans and saves them three times, only to be accused of jealousy, by the perfidious uncle after his plots failed. Hippolyte finally tells the truth but turns to stone, as warned by the zombies if he ever revealed their plans. A mysterious stranger saves the day, and the newly married couple and Hippolyte and his future wife grow old and happy together and have lots of kids. Recommended for ages 5-10, 3 stars.

Alphabet City by Stephen T. Johnson

While I thought it was a clever concept, using everyday architectural objects to create an alphabet book, I’m not sure most kids would actually be able to pick out the letters unless they were pointed out. Although, it would be a great book to use as part of an art project for older kids. I’ve actually done something similar for a college photography project. The illustrations, done in pastels, watercolors, gouache and charcoal on hot pressed watercolor paper is so realistic, it’s sometimes hard to remember that they are illustrations and not photographs. It won a 1996 Caldecott Honor award. Recommended for ages 4-7, 2 stars.

Young Adult

Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery

Although I really enjoyed this, it wasn’t full of Anne hijinks like the last one. I understand that the last book was over six years, while this was over two, but it just didn’t have the oomph of the first book. This book covers Anne Shirley from ages 16 – 18, after she finishes teaching certification and becomes the new school teacher in Avonlea. She is going to school by mail with Gilbert, who is pining for Anne, but will not admit it. She meets several new people including Mr Harrison and his foul-mouthed parrot Ginger (and later Mrs Harrison), Paul Irving (who becomes her favorite pupil) and Miss Lavendar Lewis. Marilla ends up adopting two of her cousin’s children, the twins Davy and Dora. Davy is a handful and Dora is the well-behaved one. Ms Lewis’s story was probably one of the most interesting, as she was previously engaged to Paul’s father but they had a falling out and he left town and married another. It’s 25 years later and they renew their love and get married at the end of the book. Anne and the other young teachers in the area organize AVIS, the Avonlea Village Improvement Society, and there are many good and bad things that come out of that project. Rachel Lynde’s husband Thomas dies and she decides to move in with Marilla, so Anne decides to go to Redmond College. The best thing of the whole book was Anne finally seeing Gilbert in the way he sees her, “Perhaps, after all, romance did not come into one’s life with pomp and blare…perhaps it revealed itself in seeming prose, until some sudden shaft of illumination flung athwart its pages betrayed the rhythm and the music, perhaps…perhaps…love unfolded naturally out of a beautiful friendship (pg 393).” Recommended for ages 12+, 3 stars.

Soulless: The Manga, Vol. 2 (The Parasol Protectorate Manga #2) by Gail Carriger, illustrated by Rem

I read this in a few hours the day after I finally picked it up from the library hold shelf. Although I loved the actual Parasol Protectorate book series, the manga almost makes it just a little bit more awesome. For those who haven’t read the books, this is book two in the series, called Changeless. It’s weird because this wasn’t my favorite book, but the manga was better. I especially liked Madame Lefoux and Ivy, although I think they both looked a bit different than how I imagined them. The ending is just as annoying though. Sucks that I have to wait 6 months for the next manga. Highly recommended for ages 16+, 5 stars.

Adult

Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi

I’ve been wanting to get a hold of this one for awhile, but the library either didn’t stock it or it was always checked out. This was worth the wait alone for the photos. Any cookbook that can make eggplant, which I normally hate, look amazing and delicious deserves some credit in my book. I’ve not read the first cookbook or the “Jerusalem” one yet, but they are definitely on the to-read list now. The man knows how to cook veggies and make them just as exciting as meat dishes. I’m a sometimes vegetarian, and I’m always on the lookout for fabulous cookbooks and this is definitely a great one. With recipes like Carmelized Garlic Tart (with two kinds of goat cheese), Marinated Mushrooms with Walnut and Tahini Yogurt, and Mushroom and Herb Polenta, how can you go wrong? 4 stars.

Baked Elements: The Importance of Being Baked in 10 Favorite Ingredients by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

As I enjoyed their first cookbook Baked, this one has been on my to-read list for awhile. This one is even better than the first one. Lewis and Poliafito take ten of the best ingredients: peanut butter, lemon/lime, caramel, booze, pumpkin, malted milk powder, cinnamon, cheese, chocolate and banana and make some pretty amazing desserts. I enjoyed all the little factoids at the beginning of each section. I was surprised that I didn’t much care for the Peanut Butter section, even though that is one of my favorite flavors ever. There were some really unique recipes in here, like the Triple Rum Black Pepper Cake (which I’ll admit sounds weird until you read the description), Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls (where have you been all my life?!), and Holiday Spice Cake with Eggnog Buttercream. The back of the cookbook has a resources list, as some of the ingredients or equipment may be hard to find. Highly recommended, 5 stars.

The New Southern-Latino Table: Recipes that Bring Together the Bold and Beloved Flavors of Latin America & The American South by Sandra A. Guitierrez

I wasn’t honestly sure how well these two cuisines would mesh together, although I realized as I read the cookbook that they have a lot of similarities such as preference for pork and pork-based products, corn, pickled food, mayo, potatoes, fried chicken, and apparently vegetable cooking techniques (boil the hell out of it). The author, who was born in the US and raised in both Guatemala and the US, has a unique perspective on the two cultures. She makes some interesting concoctions such as the Peach and Bourbon Tres Leches Cake, Sweet Potato and Plantain Casserole, Kale Canelones with Country Ham and Mushrooms, Sweet Corn Soup with Cinnamon Hushpuppies, Lime and Chipotle Roast Chicken with Chorizo Dirty Rice, and the Miami Guava and Cream Cheese Empanaditas. 4 stars.

I figured since I hadn’t yet posted on anything related to Christmas (and it is 2 weeks away), now was as good a time as any. I picked the Nativity, or the Birth of Jesus Christ, as my theme. For information about how it might’ve been at the actual birth of Jesus, told from the viewpoint of a modern-day midwife, check out this website. The Nativity has been pictured in art since at least the 4th century, though it didn’t become really popular until St. Francis set up the first Nativity scene in 1223. According to this webpage, “Francis decided that he wanted to make the extraordinary experiences of the first Christmas more accessible to ordinary people. The scene featured a wax figure of the infant Jesus, costumed people playing the roles of Mary and Joseph, and the live donkey and ox that were loaned to Francis. Local shepherds watched over their sheep in nearby fields, just as shepherds in Bethlehem had watched over sheep on the first Christmas, when the sky suddenly filled with angels who announced Christ’s birth to them.” Turns out, Francis also helped to introduce the world to Christmas carols, which he created around the same time as the Nativity scene. Some more modern “artistic” examples can be seen here in the form of Star Wars figurines and here with Mr. Bean. Ok not really artistic, but just fun.

Now to the artwork. I’d like to start with Robert Campin’s Birth of Christ. As I’ve said before in this post, I love Campin’s work. His paintings are so detailed with such rich colors, as exemplified by the gorgeous gold and white folded robe of Mary and the bright robes of the angels. The subject matter comes from Luke 2:7, but more specifically from St. Brigit. According to this website,  “[St. Brigit] claimed Mary described to her how she kneeled in prayer, the shining child before her. Joseph was said to be holding a candle, and angels were singing. The two women on the right are midwifes. According to an apocryphal book, Joseph had summoned them to assist his wife, as was the custom where he was from.” It is interesting to note that Mary still looks pregnant in this painting, but is dressed in virginal white to show her purity. Baby Jesus looks small and shriveled, as if he had literally just been born. Joseph looks older than he is usually painted.  This article tells us that the two midwives were called “Zebel and Salome. The ‘Golden Legend’ tells that the one probably whose face we do not see, Zebel, recognized Mary’s virginity despite the birth. The other, Salome, the prouder one, refused to believe this. So her hand withered. An angel told her to touch the child and she was healed and recovered her hand completely. Both these women are splendidly dressed, as if she were women of a court,” perhaps the Burgundian court where the painting was originally commissioned. The shepherds are behind Joseph, inside the crumbling barn. Aside from the Nativity scene, the background landscape is also excellently done with great detail, with a long windy road leading to the town.

Robert Campin, The Birth of Jesus, c. 1425-30

Robert Campin - The Birth of Christ

The next painting I would like to look at is Sandro Botticelli’s Mystic Nativity. I must admit, I had never seen this one before I went to research this post today. Though I know he has done some religious artwork, most of what he is famous for are his Greek mythology or Roman literature paintings. This painting, however, is unique. Though the main subject is the Nativity,  it also illustrates the Book of Revelations and the Last Judgement, as signified by the demons that appear in the left, center and right bottom portions of the painting. As this blog post says,

“Botticelli seeks to reinforce the contemplation of not only Christ’s arrival, but also his eventual return as outlined in the Book of Revelation.The question needs to be asked – what had happened to Botticelli in 1490s [for him to go from light playful Greek mythological scenes to this overtly religious and fairly heavy-handed work]? The answer is simple – the Dominican Monk, Girolamo Savonarola. The delightful angels encircling towards the heavens in Mystic Nativity are wonderfully executed. Time had faded the inscriptions on many of the ribbons they carried – obscuring the direct link between this painting and Savonarola’s teachings.Subsequent infra-red analysis of the angels’ ribbons revealed the inscriptions – they corresponded exactly with the 12 mystical properties as delivered in Savonarola’s sermon. Hence, ‘Mystic Nativity’ was not just a devotional work – it was also a statement of Botticelli’s personal allegiance to Savonarola and his teachings.” I won’t go more into Savonarola, but the rest of the blog post is very fascinating, if you’re interested in the topic.

I will continue with more analysis of the painting. The Virgin and Child are the most important part of the painting, therefore Botticelli made them the largest and right smack in the center. As the National Gallery of London (where the painting currently resides) explains, “The cave replaces the stable, reminding us of the tomb in which Christ was later buried.” An ox and a donkey are depicted behind the Virgin Mary, though they were not mentioned in the New Testament. The donkey reminds us of the one that Jesus later used to ride into Jerusalem before his crucifixion. Joseph, to the left of baby Jesus, is depicted very old and seems to almost be at a loss as to what he should be doing. The Three Wise Men are on the left of Joseph and are wearing olive wreaths because “of an edict from a recent ruler of Florence. Savonarola had declared that ‘Christ alone was king of the Florentine Republic.’ There are three angels on the roof, dressed in white, green and red, which may represent the three Cardinal Virtues: faith, hope and charity. They wear crowns of olive, and two of them carry olive branches. They are holding an open book, which could possibly be the Book of Revelations.” The bottom part of the painting has three angels embracing three men wearing olive wreaths and proclaiming “Peace on Earth Goodwill to Men.” The angels and men embracing each other is usually only shown in Last Judgement paintings.

Sandro Botticelli, Mystic Nativity, c. 1500

Sandro Botticelli - Mystic Nativity

Now to go a totally different route, I’d like to discuss the Post-Impressionist work Bebe (The Nativity) by Paul Gauguin. It is definitely a very different take on the subject. I found a poem inspired by the painting on this site. Gauguin lived in Tahiti from March 1891-June 1893 and again from July 1895 – Sept 1901. He had decided to go there, according to this website (translated from the French)”to discover and cultivate his primitivism.” Gaugin used his teenage mistress as the inspiration for the wet nurse/Virgin Mary. I’m not sure which one she is, to be honest. There’s not a lot of documentation on the painting that I could find anyways and the stuff I could find was conflicting, so I figure it is up to your own personal interpretation. She is holding the infant Jesus with his small green halo. His mother lies exhausted on the other side of the room, having just given birth to him. It could be that the woman in the top of the painting is Mary before and the woman at the bottom is Mary after the birth. A green-winged angel watches over the infant while his mother recuperates. The whole scene is set in a stable, complete with cows and pigs. There is no Joseph in this painting like in most versions. The bright yellows and oranges remind me of Van Gogh, and it has been proven that the two artists influenced each other after living together for two years in Southern France. The greens and purples seem to be colors that Gauguin frequently used while painting pictures in Tahiti.

Paul Gauguin, Bebe (The Nativity), 1896

Paul Gaugin - Bebe (The Nativity)

The last piece that I wanted to discuss was Nativity by Brian Kershisnik. Never seen it before today but I liked this very captivating interpretation of the scene. The original is apparently an enormous 17 feet long  x 7 feet high! I agree with another woman who said that she liked this because the Holy Family looked the most natural. Mary looks exhausted but happy as she is breastfeeding her baby Jesus. The two midwives, as referenced in the Campin painting above, are waiting on the Virgin. Joseph is looking much younger, but just as equally blown away and overwhelmed by the entire situation. A host of angels crowd over them to see the baby and some, on the right end, look as though they are singing. There is also a dog with a puppy watching all the action. According to this press release from BYU ‘s Museum of Art (where the painting is currently residing), “Kershisnik said the painting was inspired by his work teaching art students at BYU. He wanted the angels to be the main piece of the painting to show a bigger picture of Christ’s birth. Mark Magleby, Director of the BYU Museum of Art, said people respond to Nativity “because they recognize the authenticity of the experience of childbirth in the holy family and the realities of motherhood across the animal spectrum. He said people also relate to the angels because we see that they are each individuals and not just a big host of angels that all mesh together.”

Brian Kershisnik - Nativity

Another great artwork is the Nativity window located at Saint Stanislaus College, Tullaberg in Ireland, created by stained glass Irish artist Evie Hone. For more information on her, check out this webpage.

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