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Archive for December, 2010

It’s vacation, but what am I doing?

Looking for books, of course. This time it’s all about stories that will catch my nieces’ and nephews’ imaginations, regardless of age. It also goes without saying that I usually find something in the speculative field, since that’s what I write personally. Luckily for me, we don’t have that kind of genre distinction in children’s literature.

However, there are exceptions, and I don’t always buy books with any kind of a plot–as evidenced by my recent purchase for one of my young nieces: Cookie Count by Robert Sabuda.

Robert Sabuda is the king of pop-up books in my opinion. He’s got a number of them out–just search his name on Amazon, and they’ll all appear.

The premise of this one–counting cookies, with the help of little mice–makes for a visual treat. The colors are bright and appealing, the cookie choices interesting, and the mechanics of the pop-ups amazing. Pinwheel cookies on a silvery fork that twirls? You can’t beat that for craft.

I initially purchased this for a three-year old who loves it, although she needs someone beside her to ensure she’s careful enough. But another copy is going to find a home in my read-alouds just for sheer joy. It’s semi-Christmas themed, if you consider gingerbread houses Christmas-related, but not so directly that I can’t include children with religious beliefs that do not include holidays.

Plus, it would be fun to make cookies after reading this–and how hard can that be after we’ve made individual pumpkin pies, latkes, and tamales? I’m certainly willing to squeeze in one more food-related activity.

Cookie Count makes a lovely gift for a child, but it’s also a treat for the reader. Particularly if the reader is any kind of engineer and needs to discover the intricacies of pop-ups for him- or herself. This one’s amazing.

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A piece of the social studies curriculum at kindergarten level is to explore other cultures and places. I integrate a lot of fiction to support the curriculum, and Christmas provides an opportunity to look at Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. The community where I teach is fairly unicultural and mostly those of Hispanic descent. It’s a real eye-opener for some children to realize there are those who don’t celebrate Christmas.

So Ll week–lights–I bring out all my Hanukkah- and Jewish-themed literature to share. One of my favorites, which has absolutely nothing to do with the holiday, is Something From Nothing by Phoebe Gilman.

This book is a Jewish folktale and beautifully illustrated. It begins with a wonderful blanket that Joseph’s tailor-grandfather made him when he was born and follows Joseph as he grows–and how the blanket ages with him.

Children all have loved objects, and every single one of them can identify with Joseph’s emotional ties to his blanket and his fierce trust in his grandfather to fix it. When his mother begins her rhyming chant and ends with the words “it’s time to throw it out”, he rushes to Grandfather.

Each time, his grandfather transforms his blanket into something else, breathing new life into the object.

The end, for me, makes the tale, because it draws in the nature of writing and authorship, and how writing is all about making something from nothing.

In addition to the larger illustrations, there’s an entire alternate story told in smaller illustrations at the bottom of the pages. That’s the story of a mouse family who lives under the floorboards at Grandfather’s house and how they utilize the scraps of Joseph’s blanket each time it’s remade. The mouse family grows as Joseph does, and the blanket’s final transformation ends up, of course, in their house.

It’s a warm, delightful tale, with illustrations set in the 19th-20th century era of Eastern Europe, and those tempera paintings bring Joseph’s home and village to life. Definitely recommended, if only as a library checkout–but I’d add it my collection and consider myself the richer for the book.

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