Picture Book Spotlight: Henry Hikes to Fitchburg

March 9, 2005 @ 12:28 pm | Filed under: , ,

Henry Hikes to Fitchburg by D.B. Johnson.

One summer day, Henry and his friend decided to go to Fitchburg to see the country.

“I’ll walk,” said Henry. “It’s the fastest way to travel.”

“I’ll work,” Henry’s friend said, “until I have the money to buy a ticket to ride the train to Fitchburg. We’ll see who gets there first!”

So begins this charming tale based on a passage written by Henry David Thoreau. “One says to me,” Thoreau wrote, “‘I wonder that you do not lay up money; you love to travel; you might take the cars and go to Fitchburg today and see the country.’ But I am wiser than that. I have learned that the swiftest traveller is he that goes afoot.”

D.B. Johnson brings Thoreau’s message to life in the adventures of the amiable bear, Henry. While Henry’s friend works his tail off filling Mrs. Alcott’s woodbox (10 cents) and weeding Mr. Hawthorne’s garden (15 cents), Henry enjoys a long tramp across the countryside, pressing ferns, marveling at birds’ nests, and snacking on honey from a bee tree as he goes. His friend may earn the money that buys the fastest ride to Fitchburg, but Henry’s journey is the one that enriches the soul.

Lots to explore in this lovely book (including the identities of the neighbors who employ Henry’s friend at various odd jobs). We’ve had a soft spot for Thoreau around here every since Jane, as a tiny girl, adopted a pocket-sized copy of Walden. Enchanted by the novelty of a toddler-sized book full of important-looking, clearly-meant-for-grownups text, she carried that thing around until it was in tatters. At age three she would solemnly pretend to read it aloud: “New York City is a big house.” (I have no idea.) At age four, an eager reader, she puzzled her way through the bean-growing chapter and declared that Walden was her favorite book. That dog-eared little volume has long since disappeared, and her passion for Walden Pond dissipated the first time she entered Redwall Abbey, but our family fondness for Thoreau remains, and we were delighted to encounter him in the form of D. B. Johnson’s Henry the Bear.

Edited to add: there’s a follow-up to this post here.

For more recommendations, visit my Booknotes page.

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Morning Links

March 6, 2005 @ 6:32 am | Filed under:

Many thanks to MacBeth Derham for the link to this wonderful essay by the 13-year-old daughter of Allen Say, the award-winning picture-book writer and illustrator. His Grandfather’s Journey is a favorite of ours.

If the link doesn’t take you directly to his daughter’s essay, scroll down the list of authors and click on Allen Say’s name.

“My Father” by Yuriko Say

And I am similarly grateful to Julie Bogart for sharing this essay on writing by an unschooled girl who is now a college student. If you are interested in receiving Julie’s “Bravewriter Lifestyle” emails, click here.

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It’s Time to Journey North

March 2, 2005 @ 9:15 pm | Filed under: ,

Journey North is gearing up for the 2005 spring migration season. Check out this terrific website to learn about the migration patterns of everything from hummingbirds to gray whales. Jane, my resident butterfly enthusiast, is chomping at the bit to participate in this year’s Monarch migration watch. We’re getting our big wall map ready to start tracking the butterflies’ journey north from Mexico.

Their online Mystery Classes look like lots of fun, too. And they’re free!

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Picture Book Spotlight: One Day in Elizabethan England

March 1, 2005 @ 9:16 pm | Filed under: , , ,

onedayinelizabethanenglandOne day in Elizabethan England by G. B. Kirtland, illustrated by Jerome Snyder.

Zounds! It’s a pity this book, originally published in 1962, went out of print. I’m writing about it anyway because many libraries carry it, and a quick Google search turned up a number of online booksellers that have used copies in stock. My family’s copy was a library discard, and this is definitely a case of one person’s (or library’s) trash being another person’s treasure.

The title page proclaims that the place is England, the time is 1590, and the characters are: “You.” You wake up one morning, and a busy day begins as “you pull open your velvet bed curtains and pull off the cap of lettuce leaves you wore to help you sleep.”

The chambermaid comes in to draw your bath, despite your protests that you “already had a bath just this past winter”—for this is an important day, a majestical day, a fantastical day, a day which calls for special preparations. This explains why your father has dyed his beard purple to match his breeches and your sister has donned her new popinjay-blue kirtle and her pease-porridge tawny gown. Everyone is all in a dither, anxious for this important festivity, whatever it is, to begin.

“Oh, Madame,” you say; “Oh, Sir,” says your sister. “Will it soon be time to go?”

“Nay,” says your mother; “Nay, says your father.”

“Alas!” says your sister. “Alack!” says she. “I cannot hardly wait. I wonder what she will be wearing?”

“I wonder,” you say, “will there be tumblers tumbling for her?”

“I wonder,” says your mother, “will there be mummers mumming for her?”

“And I wonder,” says your father, “I wonder will you remember your grandiloquent speech for her?”

Ah, there’s the question, and it haunts you throughout the book until at last the great moment arrives. So wrought up are you that when dinnertime comes, “you are not very hungry and so you eat rather pinglingly, having only: a sip of soup, a snip of snipe, a smidgeon of stag, a munch of mutton, a bite of boar, a pinch of pheasant, and a little lark.”

I love what author G. B. Kirtland has done in this whimsical little book. The language is delicious, the style unique, and the peek at Elizabethan life is fascinating. My kids giggle the whole way through, every time (for this is a book that demands repeated readings). By my troth, ’tis the perfect compliment to a study of Shakespeare—and a majestical, fantastical, grandiloquent remedy for a humdrum afternoon.

If your local library lacks a copy (alas and alack), try this website to see what other libraries in your area carry it.

For more book recommendations, visit my Booknotes page.

Owlin’ in the Woods

March 1, 2005 @ 11:56 am | Filed under: ,

The new issue of MacBeth Derham’s excellent newsletter, WILD MONTHLY, is up on her website today. An excerpt:

“A group of students and I were once exploring some ruins. These were not ancient ruins, which are so often admired as monuments to the achievements of man, but recent ruins of maybe some 60 years, true monuments to the power of nature. These were still recognizably greenhouses, but the glass was long gone, and vines crawled up the sides and around the empty window frames. A single mature tree grew out of the middle of one of the long, low buildings, spreading its branches well beyond the limits of the former roof, while younger trees pushed their way through the floor, past potting tables, over long abandoned seedling trays, and reached for sunlight. The remains of the roofline dipped, mirroring the ground below… “

Read the rest!

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The More it Snows, Tiddly-Pom

February 28, 2005 @ 2:47 pm | Filed under:

Over breakfast this morning, while the girls ate frozen blueberries in their hot oatmeal (they always beg me not to stir in the berries—they like them cold and crunchy, ugh), I read half a dozen poems about snow and winter from our battered, treasured copy of Helen Ferris’s Favorite Poems Old and New. Shakespeare’s owl called out his merry tu-whit, tu-whoo, oblivious to the discomfort of poor red-nosed Marian and cold-fingered Dick. Robert Frost’s pony shook his harness bells inquisitively in the frozen woods—but I suspect that poem’s tone of quiet contemplation was lost on the girls, since their daddy interrupted my reading to recite it in Monty Python fashion, booming and overblown. They’ll be surprised, one day, to discover it’s a serious poem instead of the kind that makes you choke on your frozen blueberries.

Later we laughed over a poem Rose pretended to “read” out of a dictionary when she was not quite three years old:

Slip on ice?
No! No!
Me know what, me know what—
Me go eat my lunch.

I came across this little gem the other day in my file of funny kid stories, along with its prequel, Rose’s first joke.

Me: What kind of cereal do you want today?
Rose: Snow Flakes!

Obviously she has her father’s sense of humor.

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How to Keep a Roomful of Moms Occupied

February 25, 2005 @ 4:18 pm | Filed under: ,

Bring A Case of Red Herrings to the gym.

During Beanie’s gymnastics class, I pulled our trusty Red Herrings (“Solving Mysteries through Critical Questioning”) book out of my bag and read one of the mysteries to Jane. As she peppered me with yes-or-no questions in an effort to puzzle out the solution, I noticed the other mothers, one by one, laying aside their magazines and listening in. By the time Jane cried out a triumphant “I’ve got it,” even the off-duty gymnastics teacher behind the desk had given up on paperwork to get in on the fun.

Jane pleaded for a second mystery, but Beanie’s class ended before she solved it. Jane and Rose ran into the other room for their class, and I put the book away and joined Wonderboy in his game of scatter-toys on the floor. But the other moms rose up in a body and demanded to know the secret to the mystery Jane had left hanging in the air. I made them guess. Yes-or-no questions only, please.

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Picture Book Spotlight: The Scrambled States of America

February 25, 2005 @ 3:03 pm | Filed under: ,

The Scrambled States of America by Laurie Keller.

I heard of this book a quite a while ago, but we never crossed its path until last week. Hilarious! One morning Kansas wakes up bored, tired of being stuck in the middle of the country. He convinces his kindhearted neighbor, Nebraska, that they need something to liven them up—how about a party for all of the states? The ensuing shindig is a roaring success, and all the states are inspired to strike out for a new section of the country: Florida heads north, Alaska goes south, and Kansas thinks the middle of the Pacific sounds like a swell place to savor life—for a while…

My kids were enchanted by the wacky plot, the quirky artwork, and all the funny bits of dialogue scattered around the pages. Immediately upon finishing the book, Rose begged me to read it again. Afterward, the girls dug out our big USA floor puzzle and spent a happy hour assembling it, rearranging it, and narrating a convoluted continuation of Laurie Keller’s delightful tale.

Looks like there’s a board game based on the book, too—hmm, whose birthday is next around here?

For more picture-book recommendations, visit my Booknotes page.

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Now That’s Good Writing

February 24, 2005 @ 8:42 am | Filed under:

“A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.”
—Carl Reiner

A wee-hours snowstorm canceled our plans for the morning, much to the girls’ satisfaction. They’ve been waiting for weeks to try out the new sleds Scott hid in the garage, the ones they aren’t supposed to know about. (Sorry, honey—I left the garage door open one day. Oops.) Upstairs in their room an indoor blizzard is raging: mittens flying, long underwear leaping out of the drawer, layer upon layer of clothing sailing through the air en route to its exuberant young owners.

Myself, I’ve always been of the Carl Reiner school of thought when it comes to snowstorms. To me, snow is: an inconvenience, an excuse to drink hot chocolate, and a once useful but now overused basis for metaphor (in that order).

But the children of my best pal, Alice Gunther, recently gave challenge to my admittedly cantankerous point of view. Alice, inspired by Julie Bogart’s The Writer’s Jungle, asked her girls how they would describe snow to someone who had never seen it before. With Alice’s permission, I reprint parts of their descriptions here:

B (age 5) “Snow feels like a cut when it gets into your boots.”
“It is white as white paper.”

C (age 7) “Snow looks like a cluster of diamonds from a fairy tale. If you leave velvet out in the snow, you will find it covered with little snowflakes, and the points look like Celtic knots. Each one is different from the others, yet they could fit together like a mosaic or a flower. Snow looks like lace on the velvet, like a queen’s dress.”

M (age 9) “Snow feels like a very cold chick—a chick with hypothermia.”
“When you step on it, it sounds like baked taco shells.”

A (age 11) “Snow looks like frosting on a cake, with jagged peaks here and there, although it is soft in most places. Where you have walked, it is flat, and greenish brown grass peaks out. As you look ahead of you, all the ground in front of you is level and very wide, almost like a flat plain. If you pick up a scoop in your gloved hand and look closely at it, it seems to have tiny craters, almost like a sponge.”

Wow. These breathtaking bits of freewriting almost make me want to go dig up my own long underwear and venture out to see the stuff firsthand.

Almost. I think instead I’ll curl up with the aforementioned mug of hot chocolate and a copy of Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” I’ll have to read it to myself, though. The kids are all outside.

To read Alice’s Writer’s Jungle review in its entirety, visit the Bravewriter discussion in the “Living Language Arts” forum at 4 Real Learning.

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