Snow Day!

Author – Lester L. Laminack
Illustrator – Adam Gustavson

I can still remember the thrill of waking up to my parents calling up the stairs,

“No school today! Boy, did it ever snow last night!”

from Snow Day

from Snow Day

My sisters and I would race, wide-eyed, to the window and gaze out at a winter wonderland, squealing with delight at what vast possibilities this ‘snow day’ would hold.  Reading Snow Day! brought back this rush of excitement. You’ll be transported into a frigid, icy playground as the family dreams of enjoying a winter’s day.  The vibrant artwork only adds to the magical wonder of this delightful book, which will have readers of all ages wishing they could be whisked away into enjoying their very own snow day!

Two other excellent books about snow days, which are also beautifully illustrated:
Snow Riders by Constance W. McGeorge
SNOW by Uri Shulevitz

Booklist Review
After hearing the weatherman forecast snow, two young children gleefully fantasize about various activities they can do if it snows enough to close school. Each activity snuggling on the sofa with hot chocolate, building a snow fort filled with a zillion snowballs, sledding seems to include their father.

Unfortunately, the snow doesn’t appear, leaving the family members rushing through their morning routines so as not to be late for school. Then comes the surprise: the narrator is the father, who happens to be a teacher. The illustrations, in muted oils, show the jubilant family anticipating the snow and the activities that they would undertake. The figures fill the pages giving a sense of intimacy, and the scenes are viewed from a variety of perspectives, adding to the excitement and chaos. Children (and parents) will identify with the strong wish for a day away from the routine, as well as the mad rush when things don’t pan out.

Night Tree

Author:  Eve Bunting
Illustrator:  Ted Rand

In my autographed copy of Night Tree Eve Bunting wrote, “The woods are filled with wondrous secrets!”

Indeed, you may find yourself almost whispering as you read and turn the pages of this starry, moonlit story. As the young boy and his family make their way deep into the woods, carrying their special box and big red lantern, you’ll witness the wondrous secrets they see along the path. When, at last they arrive at “their Night Tree”, the box is opened and a special and heartwarming tradition begins to unfold.  After the tree is properly adorned, the children choose carols to sing.

Later that night, as the young boy lies in bed gazing up at the moon, he  thinks of what might be happening deep in the forest.  He knows that his family has brought Christmas in an unusual way to the forest animals, and wonders if they might be singing their own songs around the Night Tree.

Mary Kline

Publisher’s Weekly Review

A refreshing alternative to the tinsel and sugarplum commercialism of many Christmas offerings, Bunting’s arrestingly simple tale resonates with genuine warmth. A boy recounts his family’s annual Christmas Eve outing to a nearby wood, where they decorate a special tree (“It has been our tree forever and ever”) with fruit, seeds and strings of popcorn for the animals. Rand’s ( Knots on a Counting Rope ) atmospheric watercolors create a mood of hushed excitement as they enhance the festivity of the occasion–apple-cheeked figures exude a homey cheerfulness, their brightly colored caps and blanket sparkling against the deep tones of a nighttime forest. After a mug of cocoa in front of their masterpiece and heartfelt renditions of favorite songs, the family returns home, keenly aware of “the secrets all around us” and pleased with the notion that the animals have a place to celebrate Christmas. Parents will take heart at this uplifting book that celebrates the spirit of the season without undue moralizing.

Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree

Author:  Gloria Houston
Illustrator:  Barbara Cooney

grid-cell-30502-1386098620-6

1918: the Christmas Ruthie has longed for all her life and the Christmas she will never forget.

This is the year Ruthie’s family has the honor of giving Pine Grove its tree. Last spring before he left for the war, Papa chose the prefect balsam tree from high on a rocky crag. But now, as Christmas draws near, Ruthie and Mama wait impatiently for the Appalachian mountain train to bring Papa home. Even with news of the Armistice there’s no word from Papa. Soon it’s Christmas Eve, and Ruthie and Mama can think only of seeing Papa again. But despite that, Papa promised the townsfolk a tree, and now–with Papa or without him–Mama will see that his word is kept.

imgres-3

Gloria McLendon Houston’s story of the courage and power of a family is as joyful and timeless as Christmas itself. And exquisite, jewel-like paintings by two-time Caldecott Medal recipient Barbara Cooney capture all the story’s warmth and mountain flavor.

imgres-4

This is a lovely old-fashioned Christmas story with exquisite illustrations by one of my favorite illustrators, Barbara Cooney.   It’s a must if you are collecting Christmas books for your home library.

Ruthie, a young Appalachian girl,  has the honor of playing the angel in the Christmas Eve play at the village church but has no dress worthy of the occasion.  Ruthie’s mother stays up all night sewing a beautiful angel dress out of her own wedding dress and making a small angel doll to match with the scraps and the silk stocking Ruthie’s father sent as a Christmas gift from the war.

This is a lovely story with beautiful illustrations and both can be used to encourage conversations with your child(ren).  If you are not comfortable using conversations to extend critical thinking skills, below are some questions to get you started.   Choose one or two and see where the discussion takes you.  Listen carefully and simply give responses that encourage continued discussion.  Don’t answer the question for your child and don’t look for what you consider to be a correct answer.  You are helping your child(ren) develop deeper thinking skills and that takes time, maturity, and practice.  Keep reading great books aloud, asking open-ended questions, and listening for thoughtful responses.

Oh, and if you have something nearby and can record your discussion without it hindering the flow – do it!  It is sure to be a treasure in the future.  I promise!

Deni Corbett

Some conversation starters:

  1. How was the season different when Ruthie and Papa first went in search of the perfect Christmas tree? Look for clues in the pictures. What kinds of things were going on during this season? (Beehives, etc.) Talk about how what you do differs from Ruthie’s experience.
  2. When Mama and Ruthie reach the train station, how do you think they feel? How do you think they feel when they see all the men getting off the train?
  3. What did Ruthie’s family do for a living? What was Papa’s job? What kind of hardships did Ruthie’s family endure because of the war? What was Mama and Ruthie’s dilemma on Christmas Eve? How did Mama and Ruthie solve the problems they faced on Christmas Eve?
  4. How did Ruthie and Papa find the perfect tree? Where did they go to find it? How did they mark it so they would know which one to get when they came back? Why couldn’t they just cut the tree down right then and there?
  5. When Mama and Ruthie went up the mountain to get their tree, Ruthie became frightened. How did Mama help her get over her fears?
  6. Where do you think Mama found the cloth to make Ruthie’s dress and her doll’s clothes? What do you think Mama used to make Ruthie’s doll?
  7. If you were to describe Mama, what words would you use? How about Ruthie? Or Papa?
  8. Why do you think the people in church laughed when St. Nicholas gave all the deacons a lump of coal and a willow switch?
  9. What did Ruthie get from St. Nicholas? What surprise was waiting outside the church? Which gift do you think was the best one? Why?
  10. Can you tell who was telling the story by the end of the book? Is it someone different than you predicted at the beginning? How do you know who is telling the story?
  11. Besides being a gift to Ruthie, what part does her doll play in the story? (i.e., could it be a symbol for hope, love, tradition, faith, triumph, etc.) What does the family do with Ruthie’s doll every Christmas from that time on?

 

 

Book review: Charlotte’s Web

Author: E.B. White
Illustrator: Garth Williams

It’s ironic that I chose this book as one of my favorite children’s books, being that the heroine is the very thing I fear the most – a spider! And yet Charlotte has become a cherished friend over the years, more so with each reading of this endearing story.

As a first grade teacher, I gathered my students on the carpet after recess each afternoon and for weeks read this book aloud to them.  We sectioned off our room to make room for our (gallon milk cartons painted pink) “pigs,” and hung “spiders” from the ceiling. Why? Having grown up in Iowa, around farms, pigs, haylofts, and county fairs, I yearned for my students to gain an insight into this totally new world.  By the time we had finished the book, most of the kids were wanting pigs for pets. Wilbur had certainly become more than just “SOME PIG”  to them.  Even Templeton, the rat who never did anything for anybody unless there was something in it for him, learns about friendship. It is the story of the magic of childhood on a farm, of Fern, the little girl who understands the language between the animals.

Will Charlotte’s clever plan to save Wilbur’s life work? Let’s just say both the book and the ending are “TERRIFIC!”

 

Mary Byrne Kline