Music, Drawing, and Anthropology!

Two picture books in the past couple of years have explored the possible ways that humans first discovered music and drawing. These titles would make a great starting point for students studying early humans and their world or just a fun read aloud for families.

First DrawingThe First Drawing by Mordecai Gerstein; Little, Brown; 17.00; Ages 3-7

Mordecai Gerstein sends the reader back in time with his first images and sentences in The First Drawing, about a boy living “…thirty thousand years ago.”  In present tense sentences that give a sense of immediacy, Gerstein sketches the reader’s life back then: “You live in a cave with your parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers…and your wolf Shadow.” “You love to watch animals.” Illustrations with bright color and scratchy line quality show how the protagonist (you) looks at clouds and stones and sees animals there, that no one else in the family can see. After an encounter with a woolly mammoth, while sitting by the fire, the young artist finally finds a way to show the rest of the family these visions–in drawings on the cave wall. After initial panic (the father throws a spear at the wall, expecting the drawing of the mammoth to charge) everyone agrees that “It’s MAGIC!” which, of course it was. And still is. In his author’s note, Gerstein points out that children are much more likely to draw than adults…so it makes sense that the first person to invent drawing was probably a child. Read this book and then do some drawing, of woolly mammoths or whatever you like!

Kalis SongKali’s Song by Jeanette Winter; Random House; 16.99; Ages 3-7

Jeanette Winter imagines a somewhat similar tale about discovering music in Kali’s Song (complete with another woolly mammoth on the cover.) Kali is familiar with drawing, as his mother paints animals on their cave wall and tells him “soon you’ll hunt and kill animals like those.” Kali’s father gives him a bow so that he can practice shooting, but Kali soon discovers another use for the weapon: plucking the string to make music. As in Gerstein’s book, family members are astonished by this new idea and honor Kali for his talents. This book would be fun read aloud for young musicians, kids interested in history or anyone interested in wondering a little about the past.



The Aviator’s Wife

I read so many books for children and teens, that sometimes I feel like the only grownup books I read are for book clubs. The Aviator’s Wife is a novel my book club will definitely enjoy.

Most of us know some aspect of the Lindberghs’ story, whether it is the aviation hero we learned about in elementary school, or the tragic kidnapping of their baby, or the darker, more unsavory subjects that were revealed in later decades. The Aviator’s Wife shows us yet another side of that story. Melanie Benjamin has crafted a thoughtful novel from the perspective of Anne Lindbergh that chronicles her rise to fame, her personal aviation success, and her tumultuous marriage.

This celebrity couple captivated the world’s attention, and Anne’s growth from a timid youth to fearless aviator to independent woman will captivate readers. The prose is precise, yet descriptive, and the pace is contemplative, but not too slow. The history, the emotional storyline, and the writing make The Aviator’s Wife a great book for discussion. All in all, it’s just an enjoyable read.


The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin; Delacorte Press; $26.00

Newbery Titles to Try

We look forward with great excitement every year as the Newbery and Caldecott winners are announced, but it’s also a pleasure to read (or re-read) past winners.  Cecilia tells us about a few of her favorites:

If you like historical books or old-fashioned classics, try…

Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs

invinciblelouisaThis biography of Louisa May Alcott reads like a novel, and even if you haven’t read Little Women, you’ll be drawn in by the story of this author’s struggle with poverty. Alcott had an unconventional childhood moving from place to place with her family, and her early writing attempts, games with her siblings and schemes to earn money are all detailed here. A timeline and index are included and the lovely cover by Jane Dyer is a nice additional touch.  Little Brown Books for Young Readers, $7.99

The Good Master by Kate Seredy

goodmasterThe plains of Hungary are the backdrop for adventures in this tale of cousins Jancsi and Kate. Jancsi has low expectations for a girl when he hears that cousin Kate is coming from the city, but he soon learns that she is an energetic tomboy with the same enthusiasm for horses, village fairs and gypsies as himself. The regional customs of Hungarian ranchers are depicted in loving detail and Kate in particular is a bright, engaging character.  Puffin, $5.99

Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer

rollerskatesKate would find a common spirit in Lucinda Wyman, the protagonist of Roller Skates. Set in New York City of the 1890s, it follows Lucinda through a year of living with family friends, as she struggles with her prim-and-proper cousins, experiences thrills and disappointments and makes friends with everyone from policemen to tramps to fruit sellers. References to unfamiliar things like hansom cabs and pinafores go hand in hand with games of theater and dress-up that children still love today. A great read for lovers of old-fashioned classics like Anne of Green Gables or the Little House series.  Viking Penguin, $5.99

If you like folklore and fantasy, try…

The Moorchild by Eloise McGraw

moorchildMoql is half Moorfolk and half Human without key Folk traits such as the ability to shape-shift or disappear. As a result, she is banished and sent to live among humans as a changeling named Saaski. In the human world, she also faces rejection from the villagers who fear her differences. The only place she feels safe and at home is out on the moors, playing her bagpipes. As she grows up and slowly comes to understand the tangled relationship between the Folk and the humans, she becomes determined to find the real child of her human parents and bring her home. This is a great read for fans of Franny Billingsley and other authors who write fantasy based on folktales and legends.  Aladdin, $6.99

The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope

perilousgardAn ambitious mix of history, ballad lore and fantasy, this story begins with Kate Sutton being exiled to the remote castle known as the Perilous Gard. There she gets pulled into a series of encounters with the Fairy Folk who live underground and eventually must use what she knows of the Tam Lin ballad to save her friend Christopher, as well as decide what she truly wants her life to be. This is a slightly creepy adventure with a strong heroine and wonderful details of fairy lore and legend.  Sandpiper, $6.99

Megan K.’s Pick of the Day: Worst of Friends

 It’s always a challenge to find excellent historical picture books. All too often, fun is sacrificed on the altar of historical accuracy, or, on the other hand, you’ll find an engaging, kid-friendly book that’s just too simplistic to capture the nuances of the era. I’m delighted to report that Suzanne Tripp Jurmain’s book on one of my favorite subjects, the unlikely friendship of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, strikes the perfect balance of fact and fun.

Jurmain does a fantastic job of explaining the differences between Adams and Jefferson in a way that kids can understand, without oversimplifying their political philosophies. Take this one-sentence description of Jefferson’s fears about a centralized government: “In fact, said Tom, an extra-superstrong and bossy president might even try to make himself a king!” Larry Day’s hilarious illustrations are as essential to understanding the two presidents’ very different personalities as the text: my favorite illustration shows the two men in the middle of a chess game, Adams red-faced and speechifying, and Jefferson imperiously trying to shush him.

Jurmain also weaves actual quotes from the era into the story, which I love. What better way to dispel the notion that history is a dry and boring subject than to quote the Federalists calling Jefferson “’a scoundrel’ who ate ‘fricasseed bullfrogs?’” This is only one of many colorful insults found throughout the book, which definitely puts our modern contentious politics into perspective.

Although Worst of Friends is loaded with valuable information about the colonial period, the friendship between the two Founding Fathers is definitely the crux of the story. Here were two men who were opposites in every way, who lived through years of bitter political and personal opposition, and yet managed to reconcile and end their lives as dear friends. If that isn’t an encouraging message for any time, I don’t know what is.

Great as a classroom read-aloud, or a present for the little history expert in your life!

Worst of Friends: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and the True Story of an American Feud by Suzanne Jurmain, illus. by Larry Day, Dutton Children’s Books, ages 7-10

Hooray For Thanksgiving Books!

With Turkey day just around the corner, it’s time to pick up some fabulous Thanksgiving stories at Hooray For Books!

I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie. By Alison Jackson; Puffin Books, Ages 3-6.   

Alison Jackson’s silly story I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie is the perfect book to read or sing aloud on Thanksgiving day! Her lyrical, rhythmic verse can be sung to the tune of “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.” In Jackson’s rendition, one very hungry old lady eats every Thanksgiving staple you can think of, and then some! After inhaling pie, cider, squash, salad, turkey and more, will this old lady ever be full? Find out in this delightful, hilarious story!

The Turkey Ball by David Steinberg. Price Stern Sloan Publishing. Ages 2-6.

“Gobble-gobble.” Learn how to speak turkey in Steinberg’s funny story about a group of turkeys off to dance the night away at the Turkey Ball! Follow these party animals as they travel in the turkey bus, strut down the cranberry red carpet, and dance “till their feathers meet the morning light!” Steinberg’s goofy text accompanied by Liz Conrad’s bold, fun illustrations will have you enjoying this book all Thanksgiving night long!

This Is The Feast by Diane Z. Shore. Harper Collins. Ages 4-8.

For those of you looking for a Thanksgiving book rich in history, we highly recommend This Is The Feast. The rhyming prose, sometimes solemn and sometimes rollicking, carries the reader through the Pilgrims’ journey, from the struggle of a barren winter to the joyful relief of the harvest. The illustrations are as colorful and vivid as the prose: “These are the maples, in forests ablaze, where wild turkeys run and golden deer graze.” This book is also packed with historical details, gracefully woven into the writing: did you know that the pilgrims ate lobster at Thanksgiving? Great for a classroom read, or for any child curious about the origins of Thanksgiving.

Turkey Riddles by Katy Hall. Puffin Books. Ages 5-8.

Does your early reader have a fowl sense of humor? Then they’re sure to gobble up Turkey Riddles! Packed with groan-worthy puns, your beginning reader will love reading these goofy jokes to you. Why did the turkey stuffing go on strike? Because it wanted a higher celery, of course! Why did Tom Turkey climb into the vegetable bowl? Well, you’re just going to have to come in and find out!

Toulouse on the Loose by Kimberly Thompson. Little Pigeon Books.

Check out Hooray For Books’  previous blog about Toulouse  here.  A word of caution however, this loveable turkey may make you think twice about eating a certain type of bird this holiday season.

These are just a few of our favorites, but be sure to swing by the store to explore our full collection!