2016 was a fun Christmas. We threw a holiday party at the store, for which I got put in charge of the decorations. I ought to have done more, but I had fun with what I did do. I underestimated the amount of decorations needed to make the whole store look grand. I made one of our wreaths though, as I’d seen my mother do at home. This year’s book tree was Hollins green and gold.
What Do You Do with a Chance? by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom. Compendium, 2018.
I am a fan of this series. I am particularly a fan of Mae Besom’s artwork. The text continues to be inspiring but vague in its description, anthropomorphizing an idea—in this case a chance. The protagonist at first misses that chance, afraid to capture it, but then he catches another one later.
Stories of Immigration
Paddington by Michael Bond and illustrated by R. W. Alley. HarperCollins, 2014. First published 1998. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.
This one was a little long for my audience, but they made it. It was very British—understandably British as its written by Brits—but there were words that my audience didn’t know. Overall, it’s a sweet story—but I hesitate on this one. On the one hand the language used to describe Paddington is worrying. He is from “Darkest Peru” and though polite, he does not understand some basic concepts of “civilized” British society (he climbs on tables to reach food and does not understand modern plumbing, leading to not only a giant mess in the bathroom but also to his near-drowning). The cabbie wants to charge extra for driving a bear and even more for a sticky bear. Paddington is depicted as needing to be taken care of by the British family because he’s incapable of taking care of himself—even though he’s traversed half the globe on his own with nothing but his wits and a jar of marmalade. I want to rate this story highly, because if I don’t think about it, it’s quite a wonderfully British, wonderfully fun adventure story of a bear who finds himself suddenly a part of a kind, suburban British family, but….
Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat and illustrated by Leslie Staub. Dial-Penguin Random, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 5-8.
This is an important story, particularly now, of a Haitian American family torn apart by an immigration detainment center. The jailors are cruel, and un-empathetic to young Saya’s tears, threatening not to allow her to visit if she can’t keep from crying when asked to leave. Her mother sends cassettes home with Saya’s father of stories of Haitian folklore or her own imagination for Saya to listen to at bedtime, but of course its not enough. Saya and her father write letters to plead her mother’s case, and Saya’s letter to the newspaper gains the media’s attention and the public’s support, ultimately reuniting her family. Saya’s story ends happily, where so many others do not, but Saya fights a battle that no child should have to fight. This one nearly made me cry in the store. Be warned though that it’s a long story. It’d have a hard time keeping the attention of my young story time audience.
Stories of Love
Love by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Loren Long. G. P. Putnam’s Sons-Penguin Random, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.
So many beautiful people and families are depicted in this bright, colorful picture book! The text is lyrical, poetic, and deeply moving. There’s an image that was controversial around the time of its publication of a child hiding beneath a piano in a room with overturned furniture, a nearly finished glass of scotch, and two fighting adults, the woman crying because sometimes love is hard and sometimes love doesn’t last. This is an important book. This is an important book for children who are struggling because a family’s love has burnt out or for whom fear has come from a newscast. This is an important book of hope, of finding love in everyone and in everything. There is a message of sending you out into the world, which will make this an alternate graduation recommendation from me when all everyone wants is Oh! The Places You’ll Go!. This one also made me nearly cry in the store, and I know it touched the hearts of several coworkers too.
Santa’s Husband by Daniel Kibblesmith and illustrated by A. P. Quach. HarperDesign-HarperCollins, 2017.
This one is shelved at Barnes & Noble in the adult section under humor, but there’s nothing that makes it inappropriate for children—and frankly I didn’t it find it very humorous–deeply touching, yes, but not laugh out loud. Santa and his husband have a wonderfully loving marriage and cozy home in the North Pole—though each year the North Pole seems to grow just a little warmer. They help one another, Santa’s husband being especially supportive of Santa with his difficult job, and though they sometimes have disagreements, they always kiss and make-up. Santa is portrayed as an older black man who is living happily with his husband David (not named till the last page), an older white man, who helps Santa with his heavy workload, negotiating benefits packages with the elves, cooking, even going to shopping malls sometimes to impersonate Santa for the children. I’m sorry I found it only so late after Christmas. Next year will be another year.
You! by Sandra Magsamen. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2015.
There’s no story to this one, and the text all seems pretty trite. The text rhymes. The illustrations are all very simple, solid-colored figures and shapes on solid-colored backgrounds with graphics of question marks, hearts, and stars. There’s loopy text on one page and an illustration on the facing, no clever layout. The text tells me I can be everything I want to be—including someone who lives in a tree. That’s my favorite bit, because it’s the most imaginative, though it’s very possible that that line is included to have made the rhyme (“I think this line’s mostly filler”). I just don’t see the appeal of this book really.
Not So Small at All by Sandra Magsamen. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2017.
My favorite part of this book was the facts and photographs at the end of the book about bees and butterflies and ants and hummingbirds—though I was more interested in those facts than was my story time audience; I did try to read them, and I read them excitedly. From my review of You!, you might have realized that Magsamen is just not my jam. This one doesn’t have a story either, but it seems less trite for having a more unified theme to its platitudes and reminders: that being little does not prevent you from doing great things. If you’re looking for a book with the same moral, though, let me point you to Little Elliot, Big City.
Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. HarperCollins, 2007. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.
Nancy’s family is getting a dog—and Nancy hopes it’ll be a Papillion, a fancy little puppy like her neighbor’s dog. To convince her family that a fancy puppy like Mrs. DeVine’s is what they need, everyone agrees to let Nancy and her family puppy-sit for Jewel. Her friends bring their dogs for a doggie play date, but Jewel hides behind Nancy and is quickly exhausted. Jewel is scared by Jojo’s fun. Nancy realizes that maybe a Papillion like Jewel isn’t the right dog for her family, and she’s feeling quite down. The family stops by the shelter, where the woman introduces the family to Frenchy, a big dog of indeterminate breed that jumps right into Nancy’s arms and likes it when Jojo hugs her. Their dad says that Frenchy is a very unique breed—and Nancy realizes that unique is maybe even better than fancy.
Fancy Nancy: Stellar Stargazer by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. HarperColllins, 2011. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.
Nancy and Jojo are having a night out beneath the stars. “Can you wish on the sun?” “Hmmm… well, it is a star, so why not?” Framed by having Nancy explain to Jojo, the book is peppered with lots of simply explained scientific “stellar facts,” like that the sun is a star but that the moon is not and how long it takes a spaceship to reach the moon using current technology. The two pretend to visit the moon. Nancy sports Leia’s buns and invents a new legend for a new constellation, a story about a princess who runs away to marry a man below her station. This is the most fun non-fiction book I think that I’ve stumbled upon since The Magic School Bus books of my youth. It actually reminded me a great deal of The Magic School Bus books but for a younger audience.
Fancy Nancy: Oodles of Kittens by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. HarperCollins, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.
This is a good story for families with new siblings or new pets. Nancy and Bree find a mother cat—a queen—with new kittens. Mrs. DeVine takes the family in, and Nancy and Bree keep a close eye on the young kittens. Bree and Nancy keep Sequin and Rhinestone after the other kittens have found homes. Frenchy is jealous and feeling ignored as Nancy pampers Sequin with lots of attention. Frenchy is an excellent stand-in for an older sibling where Sequin is the new child and Nancy is the new mother. After her parents point out to Nancy that Frenchy might be jealous, Nancy is sure to pay attention to Frenchy too, and she slowly introduces her dog to her cat, explaining too that Sequin is only a baby and not mature like Frenchy. The two become friends, and Frenchy even helps to find Sequin when Sequin goes missing. This one got a little bit long, comprising of several plots strung together: Nancy finding the kittens, Frenchy being jealous of the kitten, and the kitten being lost and found. But overall, I enjoy the story.
These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.
This is my third book in the Enderverse. I found the rereleased hardcover at Barnes & Noble and got so excited. It was nearing Christmas when I did, and I am a sucker for Christmas fanfictions, so a canon Christmas novella in a world that I’m just falling in love with was near irresistible. So I ran to the library.
This happens mid-Ender’s Game/Ender’s Shadow, when Ender is newly transferred to Rat Army, but the majority of the novel does not revolve around Ender.
Zeck Morgan is rescued from his ultra-religious father, a Puritan minister who whips Zeck to make him more pure. Zeck has a perfect memory, which his mother believes is from God, though she warns Zeck to hide that memory from his father, whom she thinks will believe it from the devil. The IF sees that memory as a useful asset in a soldier—and it seems implied that the soldier who comes for him believes that he is rescuing Zeck from his abusive household, though Zeck resents being drafted.
In Battle School, Zeck maintains his father’s preached pacifism and won’t fire his weapon, though he enters the Battle Room and does the school work for Battle School. He is disliked by the students.
A homesick Battle School student, Flip Rietvald, sets his shoes out on Sinterklaas Eve, and Dink Meeker, noticing the childlike gesture, gives him Sinterklaas gifts, a silly poem and a pancake shaped into a F.
Religious observation is banned in Battle School and Zeck’s father has preached that Santa Claus is a manifestation of Satan, so Zeck complains to Commander Graff about the Dutch boys’ observation of the holiday. The punishment that Flip and Dink receive spurs Dink to begin an underground celebration—not in the name of Christmas, but in the name of Santa Claus (in all his forms), whom he argues is not a religious figure but a cultural icon, his day celebrated even by the atheists of countries where he exists, and nationality impossible to ban. Children begin to give one another gifts with a sock attached so that the gift is known to be in Santa’s name.
The battle brews. Zeck stirs up trouble by convincing one Pakistani soldier that prayer is a national observation as much as is the celebration of Santa because Pakistan was formed as a Muslim nation, and so Muslim identity is national identity. When this results in several Muslims being led away in handcuffs for religious observation, the Santa Claus celebration stops; the fight becomes too serious, the consequences too dire; it ceases to be fun, and the celebration ceases to be in the spirit of Santa Claus, “compassion and generosity […] the irresistible urge to make people happy […] the humility to realize that you aren’t any better than the rest of us in the eyes of God” (78).
Because this series is Ender’s story more than any of the others’, it is Ender who gets to give the last Santa Claus gift of the book and demonstrate the team-building prowess that makes him such an astounding leader. He corners Zeck and convinces him of the error of his father’s protestations, battling Zeck Bible verse for verse and sharing secrets about his home-life and his abusive brother.
This story mostly provides an interesting platform to discuss national observations versus religious observations, particularly around the Christmas holiday but around all religions—though only Christianity and Islam are discussed—the intersection and dissonance of nationality and religion, religious tolerance, and the fake religious proclamations of those whose words are not reflected in their actions.
It ends on a happy note, which I almost require of my Christmas fanfiction but has even more substance than I’m used to expecting from a good Christmas ficlet—for which I was not ungrateful. I like more of a Christmas meal than Christmas fluff.
Ultimately, this was a good diversion while I prepped and then survived the Christmas holiday. It was good food for thought. It was not the cleanest and tightest of Card’s writings, but it was interesting to spend more time with Dink and more time with some of the previously nameless Battle School students.
Card, Orson Scott. A War of Gifts. New York: Tor-Tom Doherty-Macmillan, 2007.
This review is not endorsed by Orson Scott Card, Tor, or Tom Doherty Associates, LLC. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.
River Rose and the Magical Lullaby by Kelly Clarkson and illustrated by Laura Hughes. HarperCollins, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.
River Rose is so excited to be going to the zoo the next day. Her mother tucks her in and sings her a lullaby. That night, magic balloons show up outside her bedroom window and transport her to the zoo, where she has a party with the animals, none of whom are confined to their compounds. I like that at some point in the night she asks her friend, Joplin the dog, what he wants to do. At the end of the night, when the polar bears tell her that they need sleep, she snuggles up with the bears and sings the lullaby that her mother sang to her to the bears. She ends up back in her bed, glad for her adventure, but glad too to be home. Was it a dream? Was it real? Does she go again to the zoo the next day and is she disappointed when she sees the reality of the zoo in the daylight? The book doesn’t say.
Everything Is Mama by Jimmy Fallon and illustrated by Miguel Ordóñez. Feiwel & Friends-Macmillan, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 1-3.
Like with Fallon’s first book, there’s not a lot here. In this, presumably mostly maternal animals try to teach their children new words, only to have them reply “mama,” with a reversal at the end with the trite ending “but you are everything to mama” (expect to fit the rhyme, the sentiment is phrased more awkwardly than that). I think very little of it, but I caught a mother reading it to a young child at the store, and the child giggled at every page, so there is an audience for this, and maybe neither my story time toddlers nor I are not it. My audience lately has comprised of children 4 and older.
Lessons in Sharing
Clifford Shares by Norman Bridwell. Cartwheel-Scholastic, 2012.
There’s not much to this little board book either, just a few pages and a few sentences in total, but Clifford is a familiar friend. Clifford shares his water. He shares a bench. And then everyone shares with Clifford at a picnic. There’s just not much here to rate. There’s nothing remarkable about this book, really, good or bad. There’s a vague idea of reciprocity: Clifford shares so others share with Clifford, but the book’s real draw is Clifford.
The Berenstain Bears Give Thanks by Jan Berenstain and Mike Berenstain. Zonderkidz-Zondervan, 2009.
This was a long story time book, but one of my regulars showed up early, and I promised to read one book—whatever book she picked out. The prose in this book is prettier, more descriptive, the story more fleshed out with detail than what I usually read for story time, which was a nice change.
But this is a problematic book, relying too heavily on whitewashed history and doing little if anything to correct or clarify the narrative. Papa trades some furniture for a turkey from Farmer Ben—a living turkey. Ben’s named the turkey Squanto after “a Native Bear who helped the Pilgrims plant their corn when they settled in their new home.” I mean, I guess, Ben. Sister Bear doesn’t like the idea of meeting her Thanksgiving dinner while he’s alive. She wants to keep Squanto as a pet. She visits him at the farm as the weather grows colder. To distract Sister from the idea of eating Squanto, Mama Bear proposes a costumed show of the legend of Thanksgiving. “We’ll need feathers for the Native Bears’ headdresses.” No you won’t, Mama Bear. Honey Bear represents Squanto the Native Bear with a full headdress of turkey feathers and speaking broken English: “Me, Squanto!” her only line. Admittedly, Honey Bear is not portrayed as speaking good English, and I suppose the cast is limited to the preexisting characters, but…. “He speaks English! What a miracle!” Miracle it is not, Cousin Fred, though maybe there is some miracle in Squanto finding his way back to his own land if not his own village after all his trials. The whole legend of Thanksgiving as told in this story is the whitewashed imagining that we hear “in school over and over again every November” (or we did when I was in public school; I hope today’s tellings are a little more nuanced, a little more accurate) with no discussion of the horrors visited on Native Americans by the European invaders.
That doesn’t even begin in on the problems of reminding children that our Thanksgiving feast features a once-living bird, and that it might be possible to persuade their parents to skip the bird and to keep the bird as a pet instead because Squanto the Turkey survives, is given a new pen in the Bears’ backyard. Parents should be prepared to answer questions that Sister Bear’s feeling for Squanto might stir.
It’s difficult to avoid religion when discussing the First Thanksgiving, and this book does not, the Bears’ prayer even included in the text.
Plush by Louise Myers. Tiny Tales-Whitman, 1949.
A friend bought me this pocket-sized paperback because the pony Plush looks a quite a bit like my own pony. The animals of the farm (all anthropomorphized, though Plush less so than the others) take a pony cart, pulled by Plush, to the Fair to sell their goods and spend the money that they make. There’s an element of an animal sounds primer in the text, with the pony’s hooves clippety-clopping, the hen cackling, the duck quacking, the lamb baaing, and the pig oinking. The friends all buy gifts for Plush with their money. It’s a sweet story of gift-giving, expressing thanks, and retail.
Christmas and Wintertime
River Rose and the Magical Christmas by Kelly Clarkson and illustrated by Lucy Fleming. HarperCollins, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.
Of the two River Rose books, this one my audience unanimously liked better. Now admittedly, we read this story December 16, just 9 days from Christmas morning, so I’m sure that timing and the already swelling excitement for the holiday tinged their reactions to the story. I’m going to be recommending the other more frequently because it is far less seasonal and far more universal. Not every child is excited for Christmas (not all of them celebrating the holiday), but I think that most children are excited to visit a zoo—particularly a zoo without enclosures and with no supervision but a polar bear mama as is the one in the first River Rose book. In this River Rose sneaks down the stairs to hand-deliver her letter to Santa, but she’s missed him. Instead the magical balloons from the previous book are waiting in her living room. She and Joplin take the balloons to the North Pole where they are greeted by the elves and Mrs. Claus, who plies River Rose with a wealth of sweets, the book becoming a numbers primer. She is near sleep when Santa returns. Santa makes one last trip to bring River Rose home, and she hand-delivers her letter to him—which is not a list of requested gifts, but a simple thank you, which touches Santa. This new illustrator does a good job continuing in the tradition of the previous. I didn’t notice the difference, and don’t think I’d have noted it expect that I write these reviews and am always sure to credit the illustrator too. Fleming’s palette is maybe a little more muted and her lines a little crisper than Hughes’.
Outside by Deirdre Gill. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.
Deirde Gill illustrated Trains Don’t Sleep, which I read and loved in October. I went exploring to see what else she had done, and found this story, written and illustrated by Gill. A bored boy leaves the house and explores the snowy outside. His brother won’t join him outside, so he makes himself a friend—an enormous snowman, who comes to life to help him build a castle. And what do castles attract? Dragons of course! This one is thankfully friendly. His brother finally does come out to play, after the boy’s adventure in the snow is done, and together they make one last snowman. Because the brother stays inside staring at screens, he misses his younger brother’s adventures. There’s as much a lesson about leaving screens to play outside as there is a lesson about the wonders of the imagination and the outdoors and free play. These illustrations are everything I hoped for. The colors, the landscapes, the characters are amazing! There’s not a great deal of text, most pages comprising of only a sentence or two. Some have only a sentence fragment, and some have no words at all.
A Loud Winter’s Nap by Katy Hudson. Picture Window-Capstone, 2017. Intended audience: Grades PreK-1.
The friends from Too Many Carrots are back, this time with Turtle as the protagonist. I feel this turtle on a personal level. He doesn’t like winter. He just wants to hibernate through it. But his friends are having fun in the snow and being noisy nearby no matter where he makes his nest and despite his sign. Eventually he accidentally stumbles into some winter fun of his own, not realizing his newest napping spot is a sled primed at the top of the hill. He enjoys racing downhill, and in the end joins his friends on the iced-over pond where his sled stops, skating and drinking hot cocoa and generally enjoying the winter with his friends.
Santa’s Magic Key by Eric James. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2017.
I don’t think that I ever truly believed in Santa Claus, but I did grow up in a house without a chimney, and I wasn’t unaware of the myths surrounding the man. I think I questioned less how Santa would get into our house when we had no fireplace and more how we would communicate in J. K. Rowling’s wizarding world without a fireplace to connect to the Floo Network. How Santa did all that he was supposed to do were more for me questions of filling in gaps in the story than worries about whether or not I would receive any gifts.
The tagline for this book suggests starting a new family tradition—which makes it sound as though Eric James is hoping to appeal to the same audience as participate in the Elf on the Shelf tradition. As far as new holiday traditions go, I’d be far more willing to go along with James’. A) It requires action only one night out the year. B) It does not require me to suggest that an inanimate doll is 1) animate, 2) always watching and judging my child’s behavior and 3) reporting that behavior to a boss who will reward or punish a child based on that behavior. James’ story is less preparation for a police state and more assurance that your house can be visited by Santa despite your house lacking an element seemingly present in every Santa myth.
James’ book is long, but better written, and his illustrations are beautiful, hazily but realistically rendered full-page spreads rather than the cartoonish characters lacking much setting that accompany the Elf on the Shelf.
Despite all this, James is not likely to create the empire that Aebersold, Bell, and Steinwart have because he doesn’t self-publish and he didn’t create a character who can be dressed in different outfits, have pets, and have accessories, and whose pets can have accessories.
Olaf’s Night Before Christmas by Jessica Julius and illustrated by Olga T. Mosqueda. Disney, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 6-8.
Frozen’s Olaf becomes the protagonist of Clement Moore’s The Night Before Christmas, and Julius rewrites Moore’s text for Olaf. Familiar lines of Moore’s are echoed in the new text. Anna and Elsa make guest appearances, Olaf mistakes the “eight tiny reindeer” for “eight little Svens,” and at first he thinks that Santa might be Kristoff. There’s a lot more humor in this new version, the language is more modern and simpler than Moore’s (“His boots were all black and his pants were all red. But where was the rest of him? Where was his head?”). Olaf, a simple snowman not familiar with Christmas traditions, makes a delightful new narrator for this twist on the classic tale. The illustrations are bright with nods to the film in the style and in the details, but plenty of familiar, traditional Christmas details in them to almost erase the fact that this is a Disney product. There’s tradition, there’s extra sweetness, there’s the familiarity of Disney characters.
These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.
This year no tree was built till the holiday arrived, and so this is a more modest construction and a solo effort. It was also the first year since I started building book trees that a cat was in the house, so I had to carefully consider which ornaments to display and which to leave in the box on the top shelf of the closet in which they were safely stored.
One of my friends called this a “pine tree” because you may pine for the books at the bottom. Bah-dum-tshhh. I told my friends that year that I had no ornaments of my own to decorate with at Christmas. They delivered in care packages and Christmas presents. I have the best friends.
I think my photoblogging days might be coming to a close. For a year I posted a photo or happy thought almost every day at Nine Pages Every Day. I haven’t yet decided whether I will continue that blog or save my pictures for myself and my Facebook friends and my records of something beautiful everyday to a Word document I’ve been adding to since January 31 (and using since then to generate posts for Nine Pages Every Day).
That being said, I like photography, and I like sharing my photography, however mediocre it might be, because photographs are a captured instant, a captured space, a condensed memory.
But you’re here for books and storytelling.
Today, I can’t provide you any fresh book reviews; I haven’t any I could get done before midnight. There are–you know–many weeks like this. More than I care for there to be.
So I’m proposing this: When I can’t provide you with new bookish text, let me provide you with bookish photography. I’ve combed back through my photos, a set in this library ranging back to early October 2012, and found all the shelfies I’ve taken (before I knew the word shelfie).
Let me share with you these snapshots of my life, this story of my life as captured by books.
I’m guessing if you’re here, you probably like looking at books and photographs of books too. And you probably understand the insight that a shelfie can offer.