Like many families, every year at the Thanksgiving meal we are supposed to list the things we are thankful for. I hate this tradition. If you don’t say “family” and “health” you sound like a tool. But hearing everyone at the table list off “family” and “health” is super boring and seems kind of fake to me. Also, we list the things we are thankful for, but often forget to actually give thanks for them. Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning
Message by Chief Jake Swamp and illustrated by Erwin Printup (Lee&Low Books, $8.95) is an excellent alternative and I would like to suggest that reading it around the table become our family’s new tradition. The text is based on the Thanksgiving Message, which is a message of peace and appreciation of Mother Earth and her inhabitants. According to the introduction, the words are traditionally spoken at ceremonial gatherings of the Iroquois or Six Nations — Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga, Onodaga, Senecca, and Tuscarora. The invocation begins, “To be a human being is an honor, and we offer thanksgiving for all the gifts of life” and unifies both recognition and appreciation. The illustrations beautifully capture the majesty of the text and convey the joy of the physical and spiritual world.
For younger children, Tomie dePaola’s My First Thanksgiving (Grosset & Dunlap, $5.99) introduces the Thanksgiving story and ends with a
contemporary image of the family gathering. The book is simple; it presents the core concepts without imparting the oppressive instructional quality that is (far too often) a staple in any holiday book. dePaolo’s illustrations, as always, are a perfect complement.
Finally, for slightly older children, there are two excellent non-fiction books about pilgrim children that balance information and entertainment. Sarah Morton’s Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl and Samuel Eaton’s Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Boy, both by Kate Waters (Scholastic, $6.99), contain photographs by Russ Kendall of children in the Plimouth Plantation village. Volunteers recreate 1620, and sometimes children volunteer with their parents (but not always and once I did kind of piss off a pilgrim by asking where the children were). The village is carefully researched and the inhabitants meticulously maintain their character. Besides visiting the Plantation itself, these two books are the next best thing for learning about daily Pilgrim life.
Yesterday I alluded that publishers had gotten quite smart about the dual reader phenomenon. The best example is Treasure Bay’s “We Both Read” series ($4.99). The books, divided into reading levels (K, K-1, 1, 1-2, 2, and 3), are written for two readers. Unlike yesterday’s recommendations — You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You — these books contain a clear hierarchy. The left page is meant for an advanced reader and often contains one or two sentences in small type-face. The right page is for emerging readers and contains one word or the final few words in large print of the adult reader’s story, giving the emerging reader a chance to ‘finish’ the sentence. The higher levels contain one or two complete sentences for the new reader.
Overall, I think this is a great idea and I recommend this series a lot. It allows for physical closeness as the adult and child are reading from one book, and it gives children an opportunity to participate in the reading experience, while still having the luxury of listening. The series also contains a range of fiction and non-fiction. My problem with the series is that the illustrations aren’t that great and the stories themselves seem a bit boring. Why even bother recommending them? Well, see the first part of this paragraph. The reading experiences that these books produce, for me, trump their quality. And it’s not to say that they are *that* bad, but let’s face it, there are far better books out there for young readers.
Today is my final post on non-fiction for the week, and I must admit this topic was much harder than I expected, probably because I don’t read a lot of non-fiction myself. I know there are some great series out there, but I am starting to agree with the Guardian article that non-fiction just doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
Today’s recommended series is thanks to a tip I received from a customer. A boy, about 11 years old, came into our store one day asking about books on physics, technology, the periodic table. I had no idea what he was talking about, but finally discovered the Basher series. The books are written by various authors but illustrated by Simon Basher (Kingfisher, $8.99). This particular young customer had bought a few of these books the day before and wanted to know what else we had from the series. I’ve never seen a kid so enthusiastic about books on grammar, music, chemistry, math, or punctuation, but as I gathered the series from around the store, he got increasingly excited and had a really hard time deciding which one to take home. I started to see the appeal. Simon Basher is an internationally recognized artist, and this series contains delightful, vibrant illustrations. Each book is narrated by relevant characters; according to the website description of Astronomy: Out of this World!, “The universe is an enormous place. Imagine it as the home of a crowd of cool cosmic characters, each with their own personality. This book is your essential guide to these out-of-this-world beings who make the universe tick.” The books are quirky, humorous, and informative and the website is engaging and interactive, with games, activities, and further information on the series’ topics. I was a little sad that the customer didn’t choose the grammar book, but his parents did remind him several times that they could come back for more books later. Mollified, he selected two: Physics and The Periodic Table. What an endorsement for this excellent series!
Crabtree Publishing Company has an excellent series, by Bobbie Kalman, about various countries, including China. The series contains three books for each country on The People, The Land, and The Culture ($8.95). Comprised of quality research and images, this series is a valuable resource for teachers and any late-elementary or middle-school enthusiast starting to be interested in China. Younger readers will enjoy China ABC’s (Picture Willow Books, $7.95), which is beautifully illustrated and edited for ages 4-6.
Ed Young, author/illustrator of Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China and The Lost Horse: A Chinese Folktale, has written and illustrated an auto-biographical picture book entitled, The House that Baba Built: An Artist’s Childhood in China (Little, Brown, $17.99), which describes the encroaching war in China through the lens of a child and artist. Marco Polo, by Demi, is a lavishly illustrated history book (Marshall Cavendish, $19.99) and discusses Marco Polo’s explorations, including his two years in China.
For older readers, there are two poignant autobiographies that illuminate very different interpretations of childhood in China. In Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter (Delacorte, $8.99), Adeline Yen Mah describes her childhood in Hong Kong and tells of the psychological abuse she endured at the hands of her step-mother. Conversely, Jean Fritz, in Homesick: My Own Story, describes her childhood experiences growing up as an American expatriate in China. Homesick (Paperstar Book, $5.99) was a Newbery Honor book in 1983.
The Guardian published an article over the weekend on the decline of non-fiction, so I thought I’d dedicate this week to this genre.
H. A Rey published a book called Find the Constellations (Houghton Mifflin, $9.99) back in 1954, but it’s still in print and has excellent illustrations, as you might have guessed. Incidentally, it’s always amusing to me how many people say, “oh, it’s by Curious George,” when I show them this book.
Seymour Simon’s books about space — Destination Space, The Universe, Destination Jupiter, Stars, Comets, Meteors, and Asteroids, Earth: Our Planet in Space, The Moon, Destination Mars, Our Solar System, (HarperCollins, $6.99) — have phenomenal photographs. This series contains solid research and is well-designed. Kids ages 5-10 are known for soaking up facts and information and they will get a ton of both from these books.