Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Princess and the Peacocks

Linda Merril and Sarah Ridley 1993
illustrated by Tennessee Dixon

This book is for a new PenPal who loves peacocks.  It's about the artist Whistler (who I admit I don't know much about- aside from the famous White Girl and Whistler's Mother). 

It's a true story about when Whistler was commissioned by his patron Frederick Leyland to paint a room in his house.  Apparently he went over the top and created an outrageous masterpiece which caused a quarrel between the two men.  (He painted over very expensive leather walls).  Whistler sounds like quite a character- hosting parties in the room while Leyland was away, and pretty  much doing what he wanted and disregarding Leyland's wishes.  The whole story and some additional pictures are here.


Madeleine really liked that the last page in the book has photographs of what the room looked like.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Jolly Postman

Janet and Allan Ahlberg 2001

 As my friends can attest I am a frequent letter writer.  I'm even a card carrying member of the Letter Writers Alliance.  I love sending mail, and getting mail (though my friends are hardly faithful writers, cough, cough).  I love the postal service- postmarks, airmail stamps, old mailboxes.  That's why I loved this children's book by the Ahlbergs.  The Jolly Postman goes round to various nursery rhyme characters giving them their mail and having a cup of tea- the wicked witch, the three bears, jack and the beanstalk, the big bad wolf, Goldilocks.  He delivers letters, a party invitation, a catalogue (that's my favorite), even a legal letter.   All of which can be taken out of the envelopes and read separately.  It's been a chore trying to keep all the pieces together and in the proper envelopes (and we have a few tears in the pages) but it's very fun to read.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cracked Corn and Snow Ice Cream

Nancy Willard 1997
illustrated by Jane Dyer

This book is a treasure chest!  Nancy Willard and Jane Dyer combine family history, photographs, artwork, old stories, quotes and historical facts and figures into a beautiful Family Almanac. 

When I was a child the only place more exciting than Oz was Iowa.  My grandmother grew up on a farm there, in a place called Deep River, and I heard plenty of stories about corn so tall you could get lost in it and wolves so intelligent that if you met one, you could turn it aside with a prayer.  But what about the stories my grandmother didn't have time to tell me?  A few years ago I asked my relatives from Iowa and Wisconsin to tell me what life was like for them when they were growing up on the farm.  This book passes on to you what they told me.  - NW

I was surprised to catch Henry reading it one day- I wouldn't have thought he would be drawn to it based on the cover art.  But he likes books that have an unconventional layout (that's why he loves the Eyewitness books) and snippets of interesting information.  Did you know beans do well when planted in a mixture of soil and hair?

The book encourages everyone to collect their own family's history.  We hope you will write down the stories you hear from the people in your own family.  And with Thanksgiving around the corner when homes are filled with family members old and young, I think this is the perfect time.

(I was also particularly pleased to see the book open with a quote by Willa Cather:  There are all those early memories; one cannot get another set...)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Pioneer Women

Not a children's book, but this was a good follow up to reading O Pioneers and talking about that period of American history that shaped our country and people so much.  It focuses on the women who headed out west (out of desire or necessity) and the incredible things they had to do to survive and care for their families.

Linda Peavy 1998
Ursula Smith

Fortunate country, that is one day to receive hearts like Alexandra's into its bosom, to give them out again in the yellow wheat, in the rustling corn, in the shining eyes of youth! -Willa Cather

There are lots of wonderful photographs and period illustrations.  There is a section that covers brothels and "married life" so not for younger kids.  What I loved the most were the actual diary entries or letters from the women settlers expressing in their own words what their life was like.  Fascinating!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Elsie's Bird

This summer Madeleine and I read "O Pioneers" by Willa Cather (I followed it up with "My Antonia" which I loved even more and heartily recommend).  Cather was inspired by Walt Whitman's poem by the same name.

All the past we leave behind;
We debouch upon a newer, mightier world, varied world,
Fresh and strong the world we seize, world of labor and the march,
Pioneers!  O pioneers!

The writing in Cather's book is simple but at times very beautiful.  And she writes so lovingly of the land, the prairie out west.

Everywhere the grain stood ripe and the hot afternoon was full of the smell of the ripe wheat, like the smell of bread baking in an oven.  The breath of the wheat and the sweet clover passed him like pleasant things in a dream.  He could feel nothing but the sense of diminishing distance.  It seemed to him that his mare was flying, or running on wheels, like a railway train.  The sunlight, flashing on the window-glass of the big red barns, drove him wild with joy.

Jane Yolen 2010
illustrated by David Small

 Elsie's Bird is about a little girl who goes west with her widowed father.  At first the trip is an adventure, but the wild prairie is unlike Elsie's old Boston home and she is fearful of the land.  When she has to rescue her bird- the one thing from back East that brings her comfort- she learns to love and see the beauty in their new surroundings.

Jane Yolen is of course a wonderful writer and David Small's illustrations are a joy to look at.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Washington Irving

Madeleine and I just recently watched the movie Sleepy Hollow.  Even though it's pretty gory, I love this movie.  I love Johnny Depp in it (Madeleine did too!), the costumes, the art, the Tim Burton-ness of the whole thing.  Of course, it doesn't quite follow the original story by Washington Irving.

I heard somewhere that Irving's stories, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle are the American equivalent to the old European Fairy Tales.  We have one book each of Rackham's illustrated versions.

Washington Irving
illustrated by Arthur Rackham 1928

Washington Irving
illustrated by Arthur Rackham

And then a combined book of old pictures by Fritz Kredel.  How beautiful are these pictures?

Washington Irving
pictures colored by Fritz Kredel