The Hundred Dresses



by Eleanor Estes and illustrated by Louis Slobodkin
Ages: 7+
Realistic Fiction

Polish-American Wanda Petronski is the target of ridicule in her school, mostly for her name. But more significantly for wearing the same shabby blue dress to school every day. However, when picked on, Wanda claims to have a hundred dresses lined up in her closet. Popular classmate Peggy is in the habit of grilling Wanda about this every morning for harmless pleasure. The silent accomplice to this, Maddie, on the other hand can see how the ritual can impact Wanda. However she chooses to do nothing, to simply stand and watch. Until one day Wanda and her family move away to the big city where they think they will be better accepted. When the "hundred dresses" finally surface, Maddie     feels awful. Sleepless and restless she wishes she could have done something. Maddie and Peggy go on a mission to let Wanda know how they truly feel, and in the process are in for a surprise!

Robi Dobi


By Madhur Jaffrey, Illustrated by Amanda Hall
Age:7+
Fantasy, Adventure

It starts off with Kabbi Wahabbi (the mouse) running around frantically for help. It's understandable considering he is drenched in smelly orange paint so much so that he is unrecognizable! And who did it? The wicked Slimey Kimey. Robi Dobi, the genial elephant, promises to help him. And that's how an exciting adventure gets kicked off! An escapade in which a horde of engaging characters join the caravan, like Kamla-saurus (The Great Painter) and Maya Wishkaya (of The Dancing Butterflies). There is also an edge-of-the-seat segment when the entire team joins General Aman and his Great Parrot Army to rescue Princess Tara from The Wicked Purple Panthers. The journey continues steadily with two more brave rescues enroute, and that of course includes the downfall of Slimey Kimey!

Junonia

By Kevin Henkes
Age:8+
Realistic Fiction

It is a tradition for Alice to vacation in winter and celebrate her birthday with other regulars, in a seaside cottage in Florida. But on her 10th birthday things are a little different. Some of her "extended family" is missing. Instead, 6 year old Mallory enters the scene, and makes everything less perfect for Alice. But Mallory's own story has a tinge of sadness. Henkes authentically brings out Alice's struggle, swinging from girlhood to adoloscence - a trip into the internal psyche trying to balance genuine conflicting emotions. Wrapped tightly around all of this is Alice's passion for shells and the hunt for the rare junonia shell she covets. Kevin Henke's writing - choice of words, similies, simplicity, and style of language. The beach backdrop filled with sky, sea gulls, sun, pelicans, dolphins, cottages, sand and shells!

Picture:HarperCollins

Island of the blue dolphins


By Scott O'dell

Age:10+
Based on a true story
Newbery Medal in 1961


Riveting. Powerful. Moving. Classic. Timeless.
Twelve year old Karana who jumps off a ship to rescue her little brother, only to find him dead on the shore. While the ship and her clan sail away for safer shores, Karana is left stranded on the desolate island for several years. Her survival saga is shrouded in hope, loneliness, courage, perseverance and strength, to stay alive and live beyond!
Scott O'dell is a master - a three time Newbery award winner and the recipient of the highest global honor, the Hans Christian Anderson Author Award. Need I say more?
Picture: Author Website

Paddle-to-the-sea

By Holling.C.Holling
Age:7+
Geo-fiction
Caldcott Honor in 1942


 I am grateful to destiny for leading us to this book. I am duly presenting it here. As my 7 year old promptly adds Paddle-to-the-sea to her list of favorites, I see us both recommending and reading this book several times in the future, and not many books are thatcompelling.

The book was published in 1941. It was a Caldecott Honor Winner. The movie version was an Oscar nominee as well. Holling.C.Holling is generous with natural details in the story and fluent in writing it with a geographic pitch.

A young native American boy carves a wooden man-figure on a canoe and names him Paddle-to-the-sea. After addressing the mechanical needs, he etches the words Please put me back in water – I am Paddle to the sea, along the underbelly of his “toy”. He sets him on a mound of snow in the wild, in Nipigon country in Canada. He hopes and waits for Paddle to start his travel when the ice thaws in spring and the stream takes him along. It is an innocent escapade born out of the boy’s longing for nautical travel and adventure.

Thus begins Paddle’s aquatic journey. The destination is the ocean, Atlantic Ocean. The small river where he sets off eventually leads him to the Great Lakes – the five lakes - Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario. Transiting through the St.Lawrence river to Newfoundland, he journeys to the ocean. Each chapter celebrates an encounter, a gamble, a risk. Sometimes it is a slow struggle. Sometimes it is a quick squirm out. Most times Paddle is just plain lucky. Interspersed are passages of serenity, nothing but the quietness of the still water or the murmur of a brook.

It is not an easy ride for Paddle. He rides a log into a saw mill and escapes by the skin of his teeth. He gets trapped in a marsh. He weathers wind and rain and storms to keep sailing. Sometimes he is washed ashore and later tossed back into the lakes. He even finds himself netted. Passing many pairs of human hands, the message underneath constantly evolves. Paddle also spends a winter with a coastguard. Then there is the wrong detour and the forest fire... he even nosedives in the Niagara Falls. Rivers, lakes, streams, creeks, beaches and bays – Paddle meets every body of water on his trip.

What makes this book wondrous is that every textual page on the left carries informative black-and-white diagrams. Sometimes with little hand written notes and markings. This helps a lot with mastering the topographical details of the lakes and the region, and with visualizing the details of Paddle's intricate risks – be it a saw mill, a canal lock, a lake freighter or a buoy. All these also fuel a sense of proximity to the chaos that we often see on a dock or by the pier. Like these aren’t enough to get ourselves entangled with Paddle and his nail biting water adventures, the pictures on the right burst with color, in striking images of the sky, lakes, wilderness, woods, boats, birds and Paddle himself.

A chapter runs a page, making it a great transitional book for younger readers. It is an engaging resource for learning about the Great Lakes and thus makes wonderful classroom material. The visual support we get through maps, trail markings, one-liner-facts and detailed drawings with named parts is invaluable. It is great literature, in print for generations to learn and enjoy. Offer it to a child who is ready for this kind of a package. More of Holling's geo-historic fiction that tell the story of a journey while celebrating nature are SeabirdMinn of the MississippiPagoo and Tree in the trail.

But was all the drama that Paddle survived worth it at the end? Does Paddle finally make it into the Atlantic ? Does the Indian boy know it? Where is he now? Does he get to see Paddle again? Where is Paddle now?

And in the same vein, has my review done justice to the book? I doubt it. But I feel good, the kind of feeling-good that comes from sharing. And sometimes from discovering something magnificent and glorious. Like the waters of the deep oceans and the dark seas....
Picture: Paperbackswap

Sarah, plain and tall


By Patricia Maclahan
Age:7+
Realistic Fiction
Newbery Medal in 1986


Sarah, plain and tall, comes to join the family in the Prairies, in response to Jacob's ad for a wife, for a mother to his two motherless children Anna and Caleb. However Sarah misses her own home back in Maine - the smell of the ocean, the gulls, and the mist over the cliffs. The children fall in love with Sarah but are soon overcome by fear of being abandoned once again. At one point, it seems like Sarah might never come back. However Sarah comes back and reassures them how much she'll miss them (even more than Maine!) if she left. Narrated in the voice of Anna, this is a story of love and hope in small children,  it is gentle and heartwarming.

Skylark, Caleb's Story, More perfect than the moon, Grandfather's dance, all belong to a series following this book. Patricial Maclahan has several wonderful novels to her credit.

Picture: Wikipedia

Charlotte's web



By E.B White, Illustrated by Garth Williams
Age: 8+
Fiction
Newbery Honor in 1953


The realization that he is going to be slaughtered for a meal one day, leaves Wilbur, the naive and fun loving little pig, in a stupor. While the other gabby animal neighbors are supportive, Charlotte an affectionate and wise spider, goes to great lengths to protect friend Wilbur. She promises to save him. And she keeps it up by making him an overnight celebrity. Wilbur soon becomes the pride of the Zuckermans' and the talk of the town. But Charlotte's passes on doing what she does best - weaving magic words that keep Wilbur alive! A heartwarming tale about friendship and commitment.

Picture:HarperCollins

Mood swings - Books on Wind and its moods for every age!



Title: Gilberto and the Wind
Author & Illustrator: Mary Hall Ets
Publisher: Puffin Books
Age group: Preschool or 4-8 yrs

Little Gilberto runs outside with a balloon hearing the wind call him you-ou-ou. But Wind snatches his balloon away and leaves it on top of a tree. Just like he takes away the clothes from the line or the umbrellas in the rain. Or sometimes Wind is so moody that he wouldn’t even help his kite go up high! But then we also read of all the good times, of how Gilberto and Wind play together with paper sailboats, bubbles and pinwheels. The book ends with a picture of Gilberto flat, with face to ground saying,
Oh Wind! Where are you?
Sh-sh-sh-sh
, answers the Wind, and he stirs one dry leaf to show where he is.


A small boy, a list of fun things, and the friendly breeze thrown in – what more to lift the spirits in a child? Sketches using just three colors, the illustrations more than “capture” the invisible friend for us. Personifying wind with all its temperaments opens up a relationship even for us . Winner of several awards, Mary Hall Ets enables this very gently, playfully and beautifully.

Picture Courtesy: www.librarything.com



Title: The Wind Garden
Author: Angela McAllister
Illustrator: Claire Fletcher
Publisher: Lothrop Lee & Shepard
Age group: 5-8 yrs

The finesse that is evident in the narration probably comes from authoring many dozens of books for Angela McAllister. And Claire Fletcher’s sweeping illustrations of oil paintings in soothing colors (of the invigorated wind, windy places and windblown things) mesh perfectly well!

Ellie pots a few seeds on a city rooftop for old Grandpa who misses walking in the park. But the wind stifles the sprouts. She even tries the strongly stemmed sunflowers. But again the wind ruins it all, crushing Ellie’s desire for a rooftop garden. This leaves an upset Ellie wondering why the wind would do such a thing. But the night she spends at Grandpa’s, something magical happens - she is airlifted and deposited on a lush mountaintop. There she sees a big tree festooned with everything that the wind has carried away for itself, like balloons, lost laundry, Ellie’s lost kite, hats and hankies! Back to reality, Ellie knows what to do. She sets up a wind garden for Grandpa. The two string together windmills, flags and bells. And when the wind blows, it glitters, chimes, shines, rustles, swings and shimmers, enough to make Grandpa very happy!

I love the story for the ending, of how Ellie eventually figured out something that embraces than rebels. It also demonstrates how children can solve in creative ways. Besides, it reminds me to be more accepting of the nature of nature (and to not whine when my pickled lemons don’t get sun-dried on a cloudy afternoon!)

Picture Courtesy: www.abebooks.com



Title: Make Things Fly: poems about the wind
Edited by : Dorothy M. Kennedy
Illustrator: Sasha Meret
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Age Group: 9-12 years

We surge and soar with the wind blowing in every mood in every poem. From rocking a cradle to lifting people off the ground! Snatching things away and rattling doors. There is also a poem for every kind of wind - a tornado, the May wind, the autumn wind and wind on the hill.

The poems are all simple and sized right. There is a pleasing variety that encompasses the different ways in which wind manifests and affects. Sasha Meret’s line drawings in sepia carry the apt quality of imagination and dynamism.

There is also a good mix of poets - American poets like John Ciardi, Margaret Hillert, William Stafford – poets of African-American descent like Countee Cullen, Sundaria Morninghouse, and of Asian descent like Kazue Mizumura. Personally, some brought nostalgia like Christina Rossetti, A.A.Milne and R.L.Stevenson, while some others were new discoveries. Overall, this anthology of 27 poems, suitable for both adult and children, turned out great for read-aloud and was definitely a delight! Here is a sample (an excerpt), and one that we enjoyed -

From "Conversation with a Kite" by Bobbi Katz -
Where are you going my beautiful kite,
flying so high in the sky?
I’m going to visit the lost balloons
that made little children cry.
When I hold your string, oh my magical kite,
why do I feel the wind in my hand?
The wind is a taste of the sky, my young friend,
that I give to a child of the land.

Picture Courtesy: www.amazon.com

A Tree is nice



Title: A Tree is nice
Author: Janice May Udry
Illustration: Marc Simont
Publisher: Scholastic
Age Group: 4-8
Picture : Wikipedia

A Tree is nice seems rather too plain for a title for children. Nothing fancy or funny. But its this quality that's held in all earnestness up until the end that also makes the book enjoyable, without laboring to interpret or analyze.


The book is a Caldecott winner and this calls for dissecting the illustration. Color and black-and-whites alternate; ink drawings draped in gray, follow and precede beautiful watercolors. Especially the watercolors, they glorify the foliage in varying seasons with splurges of warm greens, sometimes with flaming reds and bright yellows in their midst. The book is 11x7 inches in size. This allows for generous detailing of the trunks and twisted branches in varying dimensions, in browns that remind us of barks of dark chocolate. Something about the book gives us that warmth - the thick dirty white paper with rawness resembling recycled material, and the uncomplicated content of the drawings and writing, I think. The fact that is was published in 1956 connects the dots.


Trees are very nice. They fill up the sky.
Every detail about a tree that might seem insignificant or intuitive to the adult fills up the pages alongside illustration that obediently portrays the discussed detail. The text will suit a read-aloud to the little ones, without fuss or frolic. The writing will also make it an encouraging experience for an early reader.


Even if you have just one tree, it is nice too.


Perfect for a swing, a playhouse, as a pirate ship, for nests, for shade, for picnics, or to even rest a hoe - gathering and presenting the obvious truths in succession makes my preschooler nod mirthfully with a new found appreciation for something taken granted. He sometimes pauses his play in the backyard to enlist nice things about a tree, with confidence and care.


A tree is nice to plant......
....
....
You say to people, "I planted that tree."
They wish they had one so they go home and plant a tree too.


Without much ado, we celebrate our planet that bears the trees.

Earth Mother



Title: Earth Mother
Author: Ellen Jackson
Illustrator: Leo & Diane Dillon
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers
Age Group: 4-8
Picture:

Mother Earth is Bhoodevi, bejeweled and fertile, in Hindu mythology. She is a young African woman in this book. Both epitomize Earth, like a mother - gentle, beautiful, giving.


Earth Mother wakes up and walks across deserts and mesas, touching the lives of bugs, flowers and birds. Soon she meets Man. Man is preparing to catch a frog for breakfast. He thanks Mother for Frog. But he goes on to complain about the Mosquito that annoys him. Nonchalantly, Earth Mother moves on to savannas and plains, tending and caring for her creations on the way.


She filled the water holes and sharpened the thornbushes. Her hand guided a sunbird to a blossom sweet with nectar.


In the north, Earth Mother powdered the trees with snow. Tiny crystals gleamed in the air like diamond dust.


The depth and beauty with which the writing evokes calmness and vigor, that ultimately creates a sense of wonder (for nature), is accomplished in childish simplicity in this book.


Moving on, Mother meets Frog biting into an insect. Frog while thanking her for the Mosquito, whines about Man. Interspersed with these encounters is Earth Mother devoutly "touching" things and lives, in different forms and places. The final meeting with the Mosquito follows the pattern. But Mother walks on unperturbed.


Then she went to sleep....And the world, in its own way, was perfect.

The illustrations meet the standards of the text with an additional quality of mystique. Colorful but in a muted way, a plethora of geometric patterns work in harmony with many diverse landscapes and creatures.

Ellen Jackson's talent is distinct in her attempt to keep the subtle humor intact and apt in the midst of an overwhelming serenity. The circle of life cannot be more interestingly explained to children. And when a book leaves one convinced and spell bound, it is a good piece of work.

There is more information, educational stuff and ideas for Earth Day celebration for children on the author's website here.

Salutations to Earth and her children - man and all things living and lifeless. May we share her and protect her in kind ways. Happy Earth Day!



P.S:
This book reminded my family of a lovely Native American chant we learnt at a music class, that also ended up as a lullaby for a long time for us. You can listen to, or watch it here. I have also added the lyrics below.

The Earth is our Mother
adapted from a Hopi chant

The earth is our mother, we must take care of her (2x)
Hey yana ho yana hey yan yan (2x)

Her sacred ground we walk upon, with every step we take (2x)
Hey yana ho yana hey yan yan (2x)

The earth is our mother, she will take care of us (2x)
Hey yana ho yana hey yan yan (2x)

The sky is our father, we must take care of him...
The rivers are our sisters, we must take care of them...
The trees are our brothers, we must take care of them...

Back of the Bus - For MLK Jr.day


Title:Back of the bus
Author: Aaron Reynolds
Illustrator: Floyd Cooper
Publisher: Philomel
Age group:4-8

Last year my daughter and I had read Woodson's "The other side" during the week of MLK Jr. day. It had served our intent very well, while ensuring that we stayed in the comfort of Subtlety, and the warmth of a story of two little girls in the countryside. I remember how the girls of different skin tones, afraid of crossing "boundaries", had rightfully chosen to sit on the fence together. I had immediately reviewed it here.

This week we brought home a few books celebrating MLK Jr or what he stood for. Among them I found a gem. It was perfect for us, in that, it helped me inch forward in the right direction on the same subject. This, it did, in two solid ways. For one, we read about actually "crossing a boundary" this time around. Secondly, it was more than subtle. It carried a bit of history and eased me into introducing civil rights and the fight for it. Yet, it was not too big a leap because we still stayed with a boy her age, his perspective and a simple narration of a true incident.

A child is riding the bus that Rosa Parks rode on December 1, 1955, Montgomery, Alabama. And the last trail of italicized words is how the book begins - verbatim. The combination of a boy's perspective of the historical incident while the boy is a piece of fiction, makes it a good book for young children.

We're sittin' right where we we're supposed to - way in back.

The boy's words allowed me to give her the background. The boy is seen peeping out the window of a bus on a wintry morning. That morning ( she later learned) witnessed a solitary act of defiance that sparked a movement, that later changed America. Quite immediately we seem to be looking at a playful boy slouched on the backseat, rolling his marble on a groove on the floor of the bus. In fact Mrs.Parks sitting upfront returns his runaway marble for him. More people get in. The bus is now packed. But in a little while, the boy senses tension. The driver is arguing. It is getting very humid inside because the crowded bus is not moving. The boy's mama does not let him distract himself with his marble, so he sends it back into his pocket. But soon, he gets a grasp of what's happening - of Mrs.Parks not willing to give up her seat for Mr.Blake, the white rider.

But she's sittin' right there,
her eyes all fierce like a lightnin' storm,
like maybe she does belong up there.
And I start thinkin' maybe she does too.


Beside this is a portrait of the lady, her chin up and looking out the window. This is probably the right time to glorify the illustrations. They are generous in earth tones and are extremely realistic and beautiful. They bear the quality that takes us back in time - whatever that is! Floyd Cooper's work is amazing.

Getting back on track, the debate ends inside the bus. The boy sees a handcuffed Rosa Parks being escorted by a policeman. His mama murmurs something to herself and also reassures him that everything is alright. But he feels different, in a good stronger way. He takes his marble from its hiding place and holds it against the sunlight.

That thing shines all brown and golden in the sunlight,
like it's smilin', I think.
'Cuz it ain't gotta hide no more.


I did not labor to explain the marble metaphor to her. The incident was already simmering the idea. History imparted with a childish attitude was very helpful. There was also a lyrical quality to the text that made the read-aloud powerful. The language was African-American and that added authenticity. I had pointed out how, many basic rights, now taken granted, were once forbidden. We went over areas that might have been segregated, like schools and transportation. We went on to predict what now seemingly normal practices carried the potential to be protested one day.

I read elsewhere that Rosa Parks was probably not the first to be arrested for such a "crime", but she was the first prominent figure to have disobeyed, and that probably influenced and motivated many in the nation. Martin Luther King Jr. initiated and continued the bus boycott that Rosa Parks' act had triggered. He was eventually instrumental in bringing social change in America, adopting Gandhian principles.

The other books that we are reading to celebrate history and change, in the context of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday are -
Our Children Can Soar: A Celebration of Rosa, Barack, and the Pioneers of Change by Michelle Cook

Dad, Jackie and me by Myron Uhlberg.

GIRL WONDER



Title: Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings
Author: Deborah Hopkinson
Illustrator: Terry Widener
Age Group: 4-8
Publisher: Atheneum/Anne Schwartz Books
Pictures: Amazon (front and back cover images)

When the Independent's crusty old coach took one look at her long, blue skirt, he spit hard on the ground. "Go home missy. You're a girl - and this is baseball".

Athletes and sports figures, and their stories are always inspiring. They are invariably people of determination and hard work. But if they are also people who have fought for change, then to say that their stories are empowering almost becomes an understatement. And I am caught up in such a predicament to describe this book.

Alta Weiss was the first female pitcher in an all-men semipro baseball team in 1907 in Ohio. This book has been inspired by her life. The story itself is laid out as nine "innings", pointing to various time segments in her life.

Baseball was in her blood, clearly demonstrated by an incident of hurling a corncob at a pesky cat in the barn when she was only two. By six, she was throwing ball for hours. And mostly she was bang on target. Those who witnessed it knew she was a "girl wonder" right then. Nothing stopped her. She would wake up just to practise in the barn during the wee hours. Throwing a ball with skill and style came to her quite naturally , be it with the boys in town or amidst grown men on the field.

One day, Alta met the coach of the town's semi pro team, the "Independents". He did nothing but doubt her, and her gender. Desperate to find a place in the team, she reminded the coach of the crowd her female presence in the game would draw. The ticket-sales pitch worked and Alta joined the team! Rest of the story is how she made jaws drop at the ball park. The crowd exploded in shock and excitement as she pitched for the first time during the summer of 1907, while she was still a teenager.

Alta Weiss went on to become a doctor, like her dad. But she never ceased to share her story or play ball with any little girl who had a cap pulled down and overalls full of mud.

The book carries illustrations in bold and bright acrylics. The drawings have exaggerated features and dimensions that bring in more power and drive to the narration. This book won the Parents Choice Gold Award in 2003. Also, both the author and the illustrator have many wonderful books on their resume.

My own little girl's gross motor skills are not sometimes good enough to catch a forceful ball. I would not be surprised if girls like her shy away when the boys at the park or on the street come out with a ball. Reading this book might help. All the more since the back cover of the book (see below) held her attention for quite sometime.

When Mommy Was Mad


TITLE: When Mommy was mad
AUTHOR: Lynne Jonell
ILLUSTRATOR: Petra Mathers
AGE GROUP: 3-5 yrs
PUBLISHER: G.P.Putnam's Sons
Picture: fantasticfiction.co.uk

Don't some of us, sometimes, hang up on an annoying telemarketer and carry over the frown to the innocent one demanding a snack? Or nod in affirmation to an interrogative from the little one while we are pensive or depressed. Or realize we just said yes to using the permanent marker while we were busy playing back in our head an incident from work! For a multitude of reasons, and sometimes not involving kids, we just don't seem to be our usual selves. And to make it worse, we are made to realize this by our own children.

Picture books are wonderful when the child can relate to it. This book accomplishes that and more - it actually makes the parent and child exchange perspectives. While it can be difficult to see how parental moods impact children, it can also be important for children to see how it can be a struggle for parents to suppress situational emotions and act normal.

I fell in love with the stick-figured illustrations in crayon coloring, outlined and framed with sharpened color pencils I suppose. It complements the child-centric incident with ease. The text, kept simple and casual, works in unison as well. For the issue dealt in this book, I would imagine it would be hard to stay away from a serious tone or a counseling approach. But neither happens here. The text, font inclusive, works well with the voice and mind of a child.

She burned the toast. She banged the pots and pans. And she forgot to kiss Daddy good-bye.

The book introduces Mom as not being in her usual mood. And her boys Robbie and Christopher are quick to sense that. The little ones are often the first to sense and react to aberrations in the household. And this book lightheartedly discusses the discomfort that children face when parents are just different at certain times or certain days.

Now, Robbie, the younger one, questions his own behavior. Guilt is one of the primary emotions. Having crossed that out, Robbie and Christopher try to impress Mom, who still seems retracted. The boys are confounded. After a while, Robbie gets frustrated and turns cranky himself. Mom's mood is rubbing off on him. But not for long - his funny ways finally win Mom over. She smiles and jokes - Mom is back! She even plants that overdue kiss on Dad when he walks in sullen that evening.

Normalcy is almost a need for growing children. And as parents it can be harder for some of us, to remind ourselves that the effect of our moods (or body language) can extend and encompass those in our aura. I liked this book because of how the emotions, while still being naked and honest, seemed lighter and upbeat in spirit. No tensed drama or drudgery. A book-next-door (book) if I can say:)

More of Robbie can be found here, on Lynne Jonell's website here.

Tacky and the winter games - Winter Sports II


TITLE: Tacky and the winter games
AUTHOR: Helen Lester
ILLUSTRATOR: Lynn Munsinger
AGE GROUP: 4-8
PUBLISHER: Sandpiper
Picture: Amazon.com

Penguins in training for the Olympics. Of course it has to be the winter Olympics! Add loads of wit. And we have an entertaining, educational and athletic package!

Some of us are probably familiar with Tacky - Tacky the penguin. And this one belongs to the same series of books. It begins with Tacky's friends declaring The winter games are coming, we must must must be in shape to win win win.And that's when the riot starts! The next few pages show fluffy creatures with sharp beaks jumping ropes in a row, lifting weights, and even doing sit-ups. But not Tacky. He is digging into his junk food and watching too much TV while his counterparts are loading up on 'training meals' and good sleep. Its soon time for the opening ceremony and the athletes walk in with their chests thrust out. The anthem is played (which by the way goes With our beaks held high and our bellies held low...) And the medals are on display - not bad, pretty good, big winner.

The first event is the bobsledless race and our team is called Team Nice Icy Land. Tacky carries the team on his belly and slides down to reach the finish line in record time only to hear the official say This is bobsledLESS race. The ski jumping event follows. Picture helmet-ed penguins with frozen fish skis, and that's exactly what you will see. But Tacky, of course, is tumbling and crumbling - simply because his "skis" thawed when he was "warming up" near the fireplace right before the game. By now, we get the idea that Tacky is not helping his team win, at all, and his friends are annoyed with him. Is the riot over? Not as yet. In fact it peaks further down when Tacky actually swallows the baton during the relay race and ends up going under the x-ray machine!

But wait.
Had Team Nice Icy Land really won?
Did Tacky have the baton?
Without the baton, Team Nice Icy Land would be disqualified.


Suspense mounts and smiles fade away. Not for us. But for the little ones, it is a nail-biting finish.
Lynn Munsinger's illustrations are detailed, brimming with humor and intelligence, a combination that carries the story with ease. A light-hearted and yet glorious introduction to routines of official gaming events, training for games, the Olympics and particularly the winter Olympics. A gold winner shall I say?

Snowboard Twist - Winter Sports I


TITLE: Snowboard Twist
AUTHOR: Jean Craigbead Geroge
ILLUSTRATOR: Wendell Minor
AGE GROUP: 4-8 yrs
PUBLISHER: Katherine Tegen Books
Picture: Author website.

I picked up this book because, considering how books on sports and outdoor activities are relatively rare to find, one that involved snowboarding was hard to pass. The little one is taking lessons in ice skating and we do live just a few hours away from some generously snow covered ski slopes. These should qualify us I thought. I also succumbed to the seasonal temptation of a book sporting icy blues and whites, with evergreens all around. The more important rationale was to expose the little girl to adventure sports - to learn and enjoy the subtler details and experiences of such a sport while we safely resorted to accomplishing this through a picture book. At least for now:)

Axel is on his way to Glory bowl in the Teton mountains with his dad Dag and his dog Grit. The place has just received heavy snowfall and it seems perfect to bring out the skis and snowboards. But fresh snow with its weak slushy older layers beneath could trigger an avalanche. Dag is a snow patrol officer in the mountains and is testing the slopes for avalanche signs before the skiers came in. Kelly, Axel's snowboarding rival joins them there. Axel and Kelly start showing off their snowboarding moves, neglecting the potential for disaster around them. Just then, an unimportant event gets a snowball rolling, setting off an avalanche. However, Grit leaps into action and ensures that all ends well.

What we actually took away from the book was an interesting insight into ski slopes, snow conditions and the science of avalanches. Just the backdrop of the tall mountains and pines, piles of slush and snow brought out through impressive artwork left us thirsty for ruggedness. However, considering how the stage was set with all the action, the text as we approached the end seemed to be lacking in zest.

Jean Craigbead George has many books encompassing nature, for children and young adults, to her credit. But she still claims - "The list is not really long when you consider that there are almost 250 million beautiful plants and animals on this earth that I could have written about." This book is third in line, following two of her other "outdoor adventures" books called "Cliff Hanger" and "Fire Storm". If I were to come a full circle and jot down one more excuse, it seemed like a good book to celebrate another amazing form of nature and how giving it is. Inspired by the book, we are now reading up more on how the sport came about and about serious snowboarding races. And we like this book for having initiated just that. Also, Jean Craigbead George, Newbery medal winner (Julie of the Wolves), has an energizing website: http://www.jeancraigheadgeorge.com/. Now where is that backpack?

An Ode to a baby

Lullaby - Etymology From Middle English lullen, to lull + bye. First recorded circa 1560, says an online resource.

Some lullabies, I think, are intentionally devoid of logic. Some are intelligently crafted to educate. While some are soaked in love, some others are plain funny. But interestingly most lullabies carry meaningful particulars of the land and its culture.

The books below are well enjoyed by my toddler and me, so much so that when read at times other than bedtime, he typically wants to at least lie down for a bit after our session.

Hush Little Baby

Title: Hush Little Baby
Author & Illustrations: Sylvia Long
Published by: Chronicle Books


Disturbed by the materialistic attitude of the lyrics of the traditional American lullaby “Hush little baby” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hush,_Little_Baby), award-winning artist Sylvia Long has reworked it for a more nature-centric version. This one oozes warmth and lulls the listener and singer, in the same stillness of the night that Mama bunny and her baby in the book share.

The adorable details in the ink-and-watercolor drawings of Long, still urges the eye to wander in search of them. Like carrot prints on the curtains, bunny doodles on the lampshade and a quilt with a patchwork of playful things. Mama bunny points out to some of nature’s wonders around her porch and bedroom ( a humming bird, a lightning bug, a shooting star, a cricket and finally the moon), before kissing goodnight to her baby.

I sometimes tend to think that this version might still leave some of us promising our child the impossible, but I resort to the fact that nothing can be more calming than nature’s precious little things. Or as Sylvia Long claims in her note to readers at the end of the book It seems much healthier to encourage children to find comfort in the natural things around them…

A Norse Lullaby

Title: A Norse Lullaby
Author: M.L.Van Vorst; Illustrator: Margot Tomes
Published by: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books


A Norse Lullaby. That was reason enough for me to bring this home from the library. The book gave me the story later. The lullaby first appeared in January 1897 in a children’s magazine. When illustrator Margot Tomes discovered it, she wanted to paint the wintry Scandinavian landscape herself to go with the lullaby.
A family awaits the arrival of the father. The father is rushing on a sled to the “warmth” that is waiting for him at home. The children are playing. A baby is trying to retire for the night. Hush Hush in your little nest, And mother’s voice is singing.

The artwork is amazing. The greys and whites of a snowed in landscape juxtaposed with the reds, browns and greens gives us that perfect feel of the far North and its culture. Details of a traditional household are aplenty. The wood in a barrel near the huge fireplace, the rocking reindeer toy, the hurricane lamps, the clothes, the small wooden crib all transport us to the home that stands amidst mounds of snow, with the wind whistling on a wintry evening.

Hush, A Thai Lullaby

Title: Hush – A Thai Lullaby
Author: Minfong Ho ; Illustrator: Holly Meade
Published by: Orchard Books


This book stole my heart. And my little boy’s. Sometimes even our sleep.

The setting is a very remote Thai village. With native flora and fauna generously encompassing the small hut, a mother goes great lengths to assure her child of the quietness she needs for a peaceful sleep.

A blue cloth hammock carries a baby. Traditional Thai basketry, prints, fabrics and architecture take us to a Thai household. The mother begins her rounds by hushing a mosquito. She moves on to the cat, the mouse by the rice barn, the leaping frog, the pig, duck, monkey, even an old water buffalo and even…even...the great big elephant! Not surprising considering what the illustrations portray. Cut paper and ink illustrations of lush forestry in warm earth tones and a bold orange-red outline makes the images come alive.

Interestingly, we notice the baby getting out of the hammock and wandering in the background, just as her mother turns her back to her. My own baby took upon himself the task of finding his counterpart’s tiny depiction in every page. It was also immensely refreshing to hear and make rather new animal sounds, “uut-uut” for the pigs , “ghap-ghap” for the ducks and “jiak-jiak” for the monkeys!

As all living creatures wind down, Mother is also falling asleep. However the closing spread shows the baby wide awake on the blue hammock! As for us, the onomatopoetic verses in question and answer format are sedating enough to go down.
While some sing it by rote, some others make it a bonding experience. But lullabies, from Scandinavia or Asia or from America, are all delightfully hypnotic. A mother’s care for her child’s sleep transcends cultures.

Pictures Courtesy: Author and Bookstore websites.

Baseball Saved Us

Baseball Saved Us
Title: Baseball Saved Us
Ages: 5+
Author: Ken Mochizuki; Illustrator: Dom Lee
Published by: Lee & Low Books


Baseball is an all American thing, the national sport and pastime. It is almost a cultural identity and its own epic is often burdened with American history in the background. Standing testimony to this is how a Japanese-American boy regains dignity and acceptance at the ballpark, post World War II. Written by Ken Mochizuki, whose parents were camp internees in Idaho during the world war, this book makes you cheer our little hero, while holding off that drop of tear that has already arrived.

The voice is that of a Japanese boy, an American citizen who is pulled out of school one day by his mother. His family is sent with many more Japanese families to live in barracks in an internment camp established in the desert, in the middle of nowhere in 40s USA. A soldier with a gun stands on a tall tower at the camp monitoring the group every second, every day. With no basic amenities and no work to do, kids and adults idle around. There is pent up anger, frustration and boredom. This is when the boy’s father takes the initiative to come up with a baseball diamond. Soon, with collective and creative efforts (and no interference from the guard) many games are being played on that field encompassed by barbed wire fences and armed watchdogs.

However, the boy’s track record at school, before camp, is not very impressive. Tarnished by experiences of name calling because of his smallish stature which was even more accentuated amidst American boys, he is diffident and shy at his game. He was Shorty back home. But now at camp, he does not feel different in the company of Japanese boys like him. With this feeling of normalcy and the motivation to impress the guard staring at his game all day, he buckles up and performs. Daily sessions then on hone his bat-ball skills.

The war is over and he is back at school. But he feels worse. The boys don’t even talk to him now. This is when America had been at war with Japan, when the U.S Government seemed to suspect the loyalty of immigrants in the country and hate was running high. The Jap’s no good, Shorty, Easy out, the boys scream at him, when it is his turn to bat at the ballpark in school. He stares at the pitcher and sees the guard on the tower in him. A dramatic finish to the game and to the book is the last page showing the American boys in the winning team lifting Shorty up with pride and joy. Baseball sure saved – helped his people survive the camp and helped him become a hero.

The illustrations are in sepia, in tones of brown and black reemphasizing the depressing mood in the desert. The author has also restricted some of the darker details to a few sprinkles, without going overboard about wartime camps. While it can be hard for some of us and our children to directly relate to those times, the issues are still part of what every “different” child experiences under varying circumstances today - it boils down to the battle to fit in and to feel accepted.

This book provoked questions about war in my six something year old. She could not fathom being uprooted and seemed very curious about ways in which normal life is disturbed when a country is at war. The story can also set the stage for sensitive and meaningful discussions about tolerance and oneness. It can also make children value the better times of today, that some of them enjoy. While critics might think that a home run might not be the answer to discrimination, it still works for a child’s understanding is my personal thinking. The deeper virtue might be courage; courage of the kind that the short Japanese boy who played America’s game amidst racist gibes had. This book inspires in more than one way.

Picture Courtesy: Lee & Low Books.

Jazzmatazz!

The multitude of books that carried the glossy sticker “Jazz collection” in the children’s section at the local library piqued my interest. I thought it might be interesting to read a couple of picture books about this musical form to my children. As we read them, we absorbed a distinct flavor, me more consciously than them. And soon I realized that this flavor was unfailingly delivered in every picture book that we later devoured.

Jazz Baby
Title: Jazz Baby
Ages: 0-2
Author: Carole Boston Weatherford; Illustrator: Laura Freeman
Published by: Lee and Low Books Inc.


It starts out with an assembly of ethnically diverse children ready to make music and dance. Some of them swing and sway, jiggle and wiggle, bounce and boogie while the rest are working the instruments. The verses are small and catchy. They mention the trumpet, drum, piano and bass – the simplest introductory presentation of the most important components of Jazz music. The last spread shows a tired group plopped on the floor with droopy heads and stretched out legs. The author writes - When I wrote this swinging nursery rhyme, I set out to write a jazz pat-a-cake. And I hear the diaper and toddler find the rhythm infectious. Yes! Just saying Jazz baby Jazz baby is energizing for all ages!

Bring On That Beat
Title: Bring On That Beat
Ages: 0-8
Author & Illustrator: Rachel Isadora
Published by: G.P.Putnam’s Sons


Sparing in words can be very powerful. That is exactly what this book is - a visual celebration of Jazz and Harlem in the 1930s. Rachel Isadora is a Caldecott winner and the work that brought her the award has already been reviewed here.

Isadora’s black and white oil paintings hold digitally rendered streaks and shapes in vibrant colors, a bold visual statement, strong enough to see Jazz as a force that transformed music and people. It is Harlem drenched in music. Three men playing Jazz under a streetlamp draw a crowd. Children and adults pause, stay and dance. Things heat up. Every roof top is soon humming and grooving and the town is Jazz-ing! Each spread carries a rhyme, probably kept simple to not distract the reader from the tempo the visuals are building. Duke Ellington, a Jazz icon is also included in the drawings, as a tribute. The book closes with the verse –

When you rap and you rhyme,
Remember that time –
When cats played the beat,
It was jazz on the street.


On the side are three present day youngster boys seated on the stoop in the Harlem neighborhood.

Cool Bopper's Choppers
Title: Cool Bopper’s Choppers
Ages: 4-8
Author: Linda Oatman High; Illustrator: John O’Brien
Published by: Boyds Mills Press


Logic aborted, this is hilarious! And you’ll see how.

Cool Bopper plays Jazz on his sax in a night club. He easily gets people swinging with his groovy music. But one day, during his act, his dentures fly out of his mouth and land on a bee-hive like wig of a dancing lady, from where it drops into the toilet bowl, gets flushed away and ends up deep under the ocean. Cool Bopper loses his magical music, groans and moans. Fired by his boss, he goes to the seashore where he hears his own tunes coming out of the waves. He finds his choppers and gets back his upbeat music!

Free flowing ink and watercolor illustrations also seem to sway and groove, aptly supporting the crazy incidents in a musician’s life. The highlight is the jazziness the verses carry to neatly lay out the details of the story of a jazz player that began like this - Cool Bopper was a bebopper in the Snazzy Catz Jazz Club.

A-BOP-BOP-BE-BOP, A-BOP-BOP-BOP!

Willie Jerome
Title: Willie Jerome
Ages: 5-8
Author: Alice Faye Duncan; Illustrator: Tyrone Geter
Published by: Macmillan Books for young readers


It is summer in the city. Willie Jerome plays hot bebop style jazz with his trumpet, on the rooftop all day long. And his sister Judy bops to his music all day long too. But everyone else calls it noise! The shop keeper, the other brother, the neighbor and even their mother! Willie Jerome, I just wish I knew another somebody who loves and understands your sizzlin’ hot jazz the way I do, Judy screams out to her brother who never gives up and continues to blow his horn on the rooftop. When Mama tries to put an end to the “noise” that evening, Judy begs her to stay calm and listen. Does Mama agree?

Perseverance to succeed amidst resistance, is the beautiful message. Pastel acrylics paint the picture of a hot day in an urban African-American neighborhood. The language that is typical to the people, lends authenticity to the story of Willie Jerome.

All these books imparted a very convincing musical attitude and at the same time transmitted a distinctive cultural vibe. The combination is intriguing and at the end, very satisfying.

Pictures Courtesy Publisher / Author / Book store websites. Thanks!

TO SCHOOL, TO A NEW SCHOOL, BACK TO SCHOOL OR JUST ANOTHER DAY AT SCHOOL

We certainly can't prepare ourselves or the little ones enough, to let go and step out. Back to school or in the thick of it, we can always turn to books, picture books, for substantial help.

OWL BABIES by Martin Waddell gives the much needed reassurance to toddlers and preschoolers. Mother owl is away. The babies wonder and worry. Mama swoops in asking What's all the fuss ? You knew I'd come back. The images of the petrified owlets later found flapping in joy is a sheer delight - thanks to Patrick Benson and his wonderful touches with crosshatching to rope in texture and depth. Read the more detailed review here: http://www.saffrontree.org/2006/12/soother.html. Published by Candlewick.


THE KISSING HAND is similar in its intent to reassure. But incorporates a little ritual to get through the first few days of school. Or even moments of sadness on an ordinary day. Now, whenever you feel lonely and need a little loving from home, just press your hand to your cheek and think Mommy loves you says Mrs. Raccoon after embedding a kiss on Chester Raccoon's hand. Audrey Penn's story oozes warmth, especially when Chester makes sure mom has a kissing hand too while he is away. Ruth.E.Harper and Nancy M. Leak have successfully evoked the same fuzzy feeling of warmth with their illustrations in muted tones set mostly in night time. Just the right book to calm the anxieties while saying adieu to the very young during camp, school, day care or sleepover. Published by Child & Family Press


They probably don't need books with gentle promises. They love school! They can't wait to go to school! But that's only because they think school is always fun. Not anymore. Not always. Sometimes things could go wrong, very wrong. Stuff like when people with big hair sit in front of you or when the tattoo you got as a prize comes off in the bath water. We get the picture but we unfortunately can't do much for their childish predicaments. This is where IT'S A BAD DAY comes in handy. Every little school going kid can relate to it and that's the simple beauty of it. Of course its a bad day when the biggest bubble pops without anyone seeing it! A catalog of simple and honest mishaps from May Ellen Friday, that ends with reassurance - But hey, I'm okay. And tomorrow is another day. The typeface of the text is as if handwritten by the little reader. And the exaggerated illustrations of multi ethnic kids in these "situations" will make any child guffaw with a stamp of approval! Published by Rising Moon.


She or He has singled out a friend in class and even seriously labeled her or him "best friend". The two do everything together and create memories for that slice of life on or off campus. There is not a conversation at home without bringing in the counterpart's name. Simply put, this book is about best friends. The layer of interest is that Monifa is African American, and her friend is Mei Jing, whose grandmother had immigrated from China. Their individual cultures dictate their experiences. Narrated in the first person by Monifa, the account is casual, true and very school-centric. Sprinkled with instances of cultural exchange during play dates, at school, and at home, Anna McQuinn's MY FRIEND MEI JING is a great pick to celebrate multicultural friendships, a wholesome experience during the growing up years. Illustrations are by Ben Frey and photographs inside are by Irving Cheung. Published by Annick Press.


There is that naughty side now. Something up their sleeves all the time. No place better than classroom to showcase the antics. Giggles galore. Everything seems funny, rather hilarious. And just when your child begins to appreciate humor of the tongue-in-cheek sort, its good to grab MISS NELSON IS MISSING. It can well be used as a quick refresher as the lazy summer comes to an end and when school is around the corner. May even lighten things up when he comes home with trouble from school. The children of Room 207 make it very difficult for Miss.Nelson. She disappears. They now have Miss. Viola Swamp who is intolerant to their noise and nuisance. She is portrayed mean and dressed like a witch. The children, now appreciative of Miss.Nelson, yearn for her to come back. She does reappear. But where is Miss Voila Swamp now? Did I mention they even hire a detective? Read it to solve the mystery! With simple text, amusing visuals and quirky humor, it is amazing how it eventually manages to be didactic as well. Miss Nelson is missing is authored by Harry Allard and illustrated by James Marshall. A classic and a joy to read for slightly older elementary school kids, check out the audio versions of the book and the sequel too. Published by Sandpiper.

Most definitely a journey - from fear and anxiety through reassurance and warmth, to when they get comfortable (a little too comfortable in fact), books of all sorts find their way and become part of the experience. With good books, let the journey continue...

Pictures courtesy Amazon.com.

Where is the Green Sheep?



Title: WHERE IS THE GREEN SHEEP?
Author: Mem Fox
Illustrator : Judy Horacek
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Age Group: Pre-K to Gr 1 (as per Amazon)
Picture Courtesy: Amazon.com

I always find hand-picking books for babies and toddlers very interesting, and challenging. While its bulls eye most times for the older age groups with the knowledge of their acquired likes and dislikes, it could be more of a gamble with the unknown, for the fries. The eye scans for something more than instructional concept books, for a gush of creativity that makes us hopeful of reining in the wandering little mind. Texture or bold colors, sounds or pop-ups, pulling tabs and pushing buttons often come to the rescue.

None of the above physical or mechanical attractions in this book. And yet it can hold the child in rapt attention. What is it that does the trick? Repetition - a binding word that puts the child in the comfort zone and belts him up for the ride. The "hiding" game intact. The confluence works like magic! All said, it is still a concept book.

This is how Mom Fox, a Saffron Tree favorite, starts the fun and word play in this book -

Here is the blue Sheep.
And here is the red sheep.
Here is the bath sheep.
And here is the bed sheep.
But where is the green sheep?


Clever, I tend to think. Clear ink-and-watercolor illustrations keep things simple for the young. Appropriately placed, pictures of different sheep - scared sheep, far sheep, moon sheep and the like support the text further along. Not to forget the adorable portrayals of the sun sheep on the beach or the train sheep peeping out the window. The use of opposites, colors and patterns add value, and rhyme sustains the momentum. Blank white pages periodically appear questioning But where is the green sheep? and the excitement mounts to find our missing friend. The finale is when the anticipation builds in the couple of pages leading up to the "eureka" moment on the last spread! And that's when, I'd surmise, the exceedingly satisfying moment for the reader and the listener would also arrive.

There is an elaborate writing on Mem Fox's website on how she collaborated with Judy Horaceck on the book and how the book evolved - http://www.memfox.net/green-sheep-secrets.html. The photograph included at the bottom says it all!
Here is Judy Horacek's website, http://horacek.com.au/, where her banner includes our colorful sheep friends as well. Amongst other things the back cover of the book also lists the accolades that it has received.

I'd hate for my 20 month old toddler to grow up to discover "Where is the green sheep?" not featured on Saffron Tree! Because that's how much he loves this book...we love this book!

The Other Side


Title: The Other Side
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrator: E.B.Lewis
Publisher: G.P.Putnam's Sons, NY
Picture Courtesy - Amazon.com

"There is no school on Monday, no mail on Monday. And do you know why?", began the teacher. I was at my daughter's kinder room when it was my turn to help out, and I overheard the teacher beginning to read a book on Martin Luther King. I could not take my eyes off of the little ones' faces, curious to know how they would absorb it all. They listened with intent. Silence ensued. And then they dispersed. I felt cheated when I could not comprehend what went through their minds. That afternoon I walked back home wondering how I could talk to my daughter on what Martin Luther stood for and how I could present the historical significance that surrounds him. The customary discomfort that preceded talks (with her) on "unhappy" truths, was again telling me that I was soon going to be guilty of adulterating the innocent mind. Even though, in most cases, the terminating message was good.

So, when I was at the library this weekend, I nonchalantly scanned the shelves for something besides King's biography, and something that did not scream strong language or characters. The Other Side turned out to be the kind of book that would be an ally in my mission. In fact, it won me over to find a spot on Saffron Tree to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. today!

The opening spread, in stunning yet soft water colors, takes us to a flowery patch amidst lush greenery and scattered houses. A lengthy fence catches the eye in the middle of the rural scene. Just as we warm up to the narrative of a little African-American girl, Clover, we get involved in the incident that occurred one summer, when she noticed a white girl on the other side of the fence, staring at her. The fence is a repeating detail in the illustrations on most pages. Annie, is the lonely girl across the fence yearning to be included in the outdoor games Clover and her little group play all day. Clover also finds herself admiringly looking at Annie's free-spiritedness. And then one day, things change. Clover and Annie exchange smiles and names. Annie invites Clover to join her on the fence. The girls exploit the technicality that their mothers' never opposed their sitting on the fence. A fence like this was made for sitting on, we hear Annie say. By the end of that summer a friendship is born. It is not long before Annie is seen playing together with the rest of Clover's gang. And the book ends with this -

"Someday somebody's going to come along and knock this old fence down", Annie said. And I nodded.

"Yeah," I said. "Someday".


Yes, the fence is the metaphor. But the literal meaning sufficed. There was no need to mention civil rights or segregation. A warm setting, with girls her own age or older brought the much needed comfort, and kindled curiosity in my 5 yr old. I embraced the subtlety and capitalized on the situation. I mentioned King. She stared at the portrayals of Annie and the girls carelessly sitting on the fence and told me a few things. I think she will understand his context now.

The book reminded me that children have the power to make a change. Innocence is probably the secret. The story in The Other Side, I thought, brought Matin Luther King's dream closer to reality.

Jacqueline Woodson's another book "Coming On Home Soon" has been reviewed earlier, read it here - http://www.saffrontree.org/2007/05/coming-on-home-soon-by-jacqueline.html

Monsoon Afternoon


Title: Monsoon Afternoon
Author: Kashmira Sheth
Illustrator: Yoshiko Jaeggi
Publisher: Peachtree
Age Group: 4-8 years


Soft watercolors all over, stroked elegantly to reveal pleasing sights of peacocks, cows, and paper boats. A city drenched in monsoon. And that is not the only picture this book paints, there are images that bear the warmth of a special relationship.

This book helps kids get acquainted with an Indian setting and partake in the experiences that stem from the smell of moist terrain typical of monsoons in India. The story also unravels a treasured bond between a boy and his grandfather. The little boy is looking around for familial playmates, just as the first drops of rain hit the earth. His efforts in vain, we see grandpa appear from behind with a tempting offer to sail paper boats. A monsoon afternoon well savored - swinging from aerial shoots, witnessing a peacock's glorious spread, and hopping on to dadaji.

Our little friend, now comfortably settled on his old man's shoulders, turns inquisitive. Did monsoon come when you were little? he asks. Will monsoon come when I become a dadaji? Our eyes drift to the corner in sepia where dadaji as a little boy is swinging from a banyan tree. I closed the book with a good read of the author's notes on her monsoons in India, what the rains meant to her and what they brought with them - the mango season, time for indoor games, and the season for sicknesses too. A great way to talk to children about ways of life when seasons change in a land different from their own. Rains always excite children, and in this book they can find joy in knowing how other kids spend their rainy afternoons in faraway places.


Rechenka's Eggs

TITLE: Rechenka's Eggs
AUTHOR & ILLUSTRATOR: Patricia POLACCO
PUBLIHSER: Philomel Books
AGE GROUP: 4-8 years.

While Patricia Polacco needs no introduction to those of you who have been enjoying her stories, rest of you book lovers deserve to experience the warmth that her books generously ooze out. And that is why I chose Rechenka's Eggs.

From my Russian background my stories are kind of ethnic, primitive, Eastern European — that's one type of voice I write in, says Patricia. Set in Moskva in pre-revolutionary Russia, that is exactly the voice we hear in this book.

Babushka (Russian for grandmother) is a kind hearted old woman who spends the cold and dark winter days painting eggshells in her country home. She has a reputation for her beautifully designed eggs and she plans on taking them to a contest for the Spring Festival in the city. On a snowy day that winter, even as she is greeting a herd of caribous outside of her home, an injured goose separates from its flock and falls on her lap. The good Samaritan Babushka is, heals the goose and gives it a cozy corner in her own home. Babushka lovingly names her Rechenka and the bird lays an egg for her every morning. Thus a friendship is born.

However, an accident that ends the serenity and goodness that we have gotten used to so far, also leads to a chain of magical events. A clumsy Rechenka overturns paint jars and even breaks Babushka's gorgeous eggs. Babushka is upset. But the next morning, her usual breakfast egg from the goose is not an ordinary one, but an exquisitely painted one! A dozen more follow. "A miracle",thrilled, Babushka whispers. It is soon spring, time for the festival. Also, the time for Rechenka to move on and migrate with her clan. Time for adieu. Babushka leaves for the city with her (Rechenka's) eggs. The eggs win her accolades. Back home, curled up loney with her book in bed, Babushka hears something. Following it, she finds a glorious egg left in the basket Rechenka rested. But this one moves....jumps..rolls...and there lies Rechenka's special gift!!!

The reader swallows a lump in the throat. A sigh. Beautiful does not describe it. And I am not saying it just for the story but for all those pictures that whisked us off to old Moscow. The Moskva women in ethnic attire, the onion-domed architecture, the eggshells - a dozen of them with intricate folkloric art, even the wrinkles and folds of skin on Babushka's face and limbs, all do their bit in binding us to the story.

There is also this balance in the elements of reality and imagination - while the backdrop of wintry Moscow, the festival and the contest, the caribous and a warm-hearted Babushka ground the story, the painted eggs from the bird and the element of surprise impart a fairy-tale like magical quality that children will love. With her eye-catching illustrations, richness in flavor, lucid writing and a touching storyline, Patricia Polacco is truly a wonderful writer and artist. You need to read the book, to experience the joy!

Mrs.McCool And The Giant Cuhullin - An Irish Tale


TITLE: Mrs.McCool and the Giant Cuhullin
AUTHOR & ILLUSTRATOR: Jessica Souhami
PUBLISHER: Henry Holt and Company
AGES: Good for "Read Aloud" and "Read it Yourself".

The joy of folktales is something that we recently discovered at our home. Stepping aside from classics and contemporary humor , we seem to embrace folktales, quite effortlessly. The book that I have with me is an Irish folklore, bearing a tale very similar to the ones that were orally passed on to me while I was growing up.

The central characters in this tale are legendary giants Cuhullin and Finn McCool. Mrs. Oona McCool is the one with the brains and quite intuitively, also the one to save her husband oftentimes from Cuhullin. Now, Cuhullin has a magic finger that makes him strong and Finn has a magic thumb that bestows upon him, the power to foresee things. Finn uses his magic thumb and announces (in jitters of course) the impending arrival of Cuhullin. Mrs.McCool to the rescue! A simple story you think, buckle up for a good dose of slapstick humor! Children will be laughing boisterously as they see fun illustrations and hear goofy dialogues.

Mrs.McCool is quick witted. She drops Finn with a bonnet in a cradle and welcomes Cuhullin for tea. She makes unreasonable, rather unrealistic (not that there is realism to worry here) requests that demand extreme brawn from Cuhullin. And this she does, so nonchalantly that Cuhullin is led to believe that the tasks are all a routine in the McCool household. Just look at the front cover - there is Cuhullin trying to lift the house so Oona can broom off the dust underneath! Here is also a sample of silliness to taste - "Goodness!" exclaimed Cuhullin. "Look at the size of him! Look at the moustache! If this is the baby, what must Finn be like?" , as Cuhullin mistakes Finn for a real baby. He also ends up sticking his finger in the "baby's" mouth, only to have his magic finger bitten off! Petrified, the shrinking Cuhullin runs amok, leaving a cheery couple dancing!

"It was nothing, dear Finn," said Oona."Big is Big. But brains are better!" . Probably the profound truth that this story intended to convey to little children and just as the message drives home, you are still not really far from the jocund moments. The magic of folktales it is. Loony and wacky, oh yeah! But did you also realize the feminist undercurrent, the portrayal of the woman endowed with brainpower, the one to thwart a giant - amazing to think of it when there is still so much gripe in contemporary children's literature about the roles women or girls are given! Quick paced with bright collage like illustrations, this book is wonderful to be read aloud to children!

There is never enough said about folktales. Flavorful, informative and historic, with so much room for imagination. These hand me downs from wonderful storytellers, sometimes didactic and sometimes just for laughs. Timeless.

My Gandhi Scrapbook



I saw Google incorporate the face of Gandhi into their logo first thing this morning. I was reminded of this book. Her aunt had given it to her on her birthday. I pulled it out of my saved-for-later stash and turned to look at the back cover. For all ages it said. I flipped through to make a quick judgment of the content before I presented it to her. I smiled and beckoned my little one.



My Gandhi Scrapbook, compiled by Sandhya Rao at Tulika Publishers, India.



A very warm and casually written introductory note from Sandhya talked in simple terms about scrap booking and went on to encourage children to add to the collection in the book. We flipped and we saw Gandhi everywhere! I can’t help but verbalize a scrapbook here, now that I actually saw one, a well-made one. Photographs and images of currency and postal stamps bearing his visage were splattered all over. Tags, comments and labels floated near them with little details. She took her finger here..there. Mine followed hers. She then took the book closer to read finely printed letters on a vintage photo. Colorful art, monochromatic photographs and handwritten patches carried tidbits of his life, style and work.



Beyond the images of currency, were a bunch of thematically assembled photographs. All were sightings of places (streets, squares roads, parks) from around the world, carrying placards with his name. We turned the page, and saw more caricature. On this page, was a tip to create a quick Gandhi doodle. She giggled. But then came a spread of vintage black and white photographs of Mohandas, in his boyhood and adolescence (and of the bald old man we all love). Another couple of pages showed how omnipresent he is, even today. This was conveyed through images of magazine covers, child art and hoardings. Beside these were little bubbles loaded with bite-sized facts about the Mahatma. The neat bonus was a few sheets left blank for the child to collect more such wonderful scrap!



You get the idea now, I suppose. And so did my 5 year old. I watched her hold on to the book and gaze at the photographs even as I walked away thinking that every kid reading this book is sure to find him cool just as she did!
Digestibility. We all look for this attribute when it comes to presenting history, religion or mythology to our children. And this book takes good care of this.



Live simply that others may simply live – M.K.Gandhi. I pull this out from a yellow blob in this book, as we celebrate a hero’s birthday today!

Best Friends, for EARTH DAY


Its EARTH DAY today everyone! As always it calls for a celebration here at Saffron tree! And what better way to do it than through a good book? That is why I have here with me BEST FRIENDS, written by Nina Sabnani; a neat blingual production from Tulika Publishers, India. No contemplation preceded the choice of this book. And it cannot be more befitting for today - the celebration of a little girl's friendship with a tree.

We are introduced to little Tamanna playing in the garden. We see her talking and sharing stories from her school and home to the big tall beautiful Kuchi. The sounds of nature had led her to believe, when she was a baby, that the tree actually spoke. Shhhuunnn! Muuuunnnn! was the language her companion spoke, she thought, and thus a friendship was born. However, her chatty friendship becomes a subject of ridicule and mockery amongst her human friends and that prods her to rethink her relationship. Pragmatism wins and her delusion ends.

Years roll by and we see her reading a book to her daughter. Shhhuunnn! Muuuunnnn! Something beckons her. Running out into the garden she sees a man with an axe. Stop! Don't touch Kuchi! screams the woman, our Tamanna. The closing image is that of a little girl in a swing suspended from one of Kuchi's branches. The friendship is passed on.

I turn the book and read "Based on a real friendship between Nina Sabnani's niece and a tree....". Deeply touched.

The author is also the illustrator. The text is oddly simple and the reasoning for this would be its ability to support multiple Indian languages. But the profound thoughts that the simple text can transmit impresses me. Trees, like water, symbolize our giving earth in its (her) full glory. Irrespective of whether we choose to talk about deforestation or recycling or about simply closing the pipe while brushing, amongst us and to our kids, the importance of our environment, the generosity of nature and the beauty of our home, the earth stands. Happy Earth Day!