Archive for September, 2013

PUPPY LOVE

Pippy and Beth

Written by Graham Denny

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This book explores the devastating issue of loss confronting a family when a pet dies. Denny writes a powerful tale to illustrate that journey of  a child named Beth, the young protagonist we meet at the beginning of the story who shares a wonderful relationship with her dog, Pippy.  The reader is introduced to Beth’s sad family at the vet’s office where they have brought Pippy to be put to sleep. Beth is distraught and has a tummy ache from eating too much of the ice cream at the fancy restaurant her parents have brought her to in an effort to distract her. Once back at home, Beth kisses Pippy’s picture and finally falls asleep.

Beth is soon awakened by a scratching sound. At first she thinks it is Valerie and Shelley, those horrible twins who make her life miserable at school. As she yells at them to go away, Beth realizes that Pippy is in the room and that he is TALKING TO HER! He warns her to hurry and leads her out the sliding door into the night. Pippy introduces Beth to other talking animal friends including sparrows, mice, a fox, a badger, rabbits and two cats. All of these are dressed eloquently like humans and act as if they were human. Beth finally gets the courage to ask Pippy if he knows that he has died. He explains that of course he does and continues to lead her through the woods to a grassy clearing. After eating a huge breakfast, they reach the top of a hill shrouded in mist. There is music, dance and laughter as Pippy walks down to the other side after saying his goodbyes.

Beth is saddened. What does all this mean? She does not know how to go on. But her parents have a solution, and Beth will eventually find the strength and courage to deal with Pippy’s death and all her other problems at school.

This book is a wonderful read as simply a love story between a child and pet, but it is such a valuable resource to help a family cope with loss turning that tragedy into a vehicle to make themselves stronger. Parents and teachers can use it as a guide for discussion on a very difficult topic.

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MUCH MORE THAN A SWIMMING GAME

HISTORY FOR KIDS:AN ILLUSTRATED BIOGRAPHY OF MARCO POLO

Written by Charles River Editors

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Many children who live in the 21st century like to play a game in the pool called Marco Polo. The man who lived from 1254-1324 certainly knew a lot about water because he was born and raised in Venice. His father Niccolo and uncle Maffeo traveled world-wide as successful merchants. It appears that Marco did not even meet his father until he was a teenager because due to his father’s long absences from home. When Niccolo returned to Venice in 1270, he did not know that his wife had died nor that she had bore a son. Marco accompanied Niccolo when he left on the next business trip in 1272. The journey would take them to Jerusalem, Persia, Armenia, Turkey and the Mongolian Empire where Marco met Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan.

Few Europeans could imagine the palace of Kublai Khan who dressed in robes of silk and gold and lived in a building so large that 40,000 people could dine at the same time. Marco and he became good friends. Marco became an official royal messenger and tax collector for the Emperor traveling to Indonesia, India and Africa. He learned how to use native weapons like the bow and arrow, discovered how coal could be used for fuel, and used their paper currency for trade. Polo became fluent in the Mongolian language. His journals describe exotic animals like the rhinoceros, peacock and rhinoceros unknown to the Western world.

The Emperor was generous to his people, but eventually a war with Japan caused unrest. Polo could not leave without the Emperor’s permission. When he finally returned to Venice at age 38,  they were at war with Genoa. Polo was imprisoned. There he met another prisoner named Rustichello who encouraged him to record his world -wide journeys. By the time he got out of prison, Polo had inherited his father and uncle’s fortunes. Europe was about to enter the age of exploration. Sailors and cartographers based their calculations on his journals. Christopher Columbus decided to sail west to get to China discovering a new continent in the process.

As you see, this concise biography is not written simply to explain one life but to show the influence and future consequences of his fascinating life. The editors say that the book is aimed at the 7-10 age group and I feel that they are on target. The illustrations help to visualize the textual descriptions and the maps give a flavor of the knowledge of the period. I believe that most of the information is accurate though there is a dearth of written documentation. Both children and adults can use this book as an introduction to a study of religions, trade and culture of regions not well known to the Western world in the thirteenth century. Children may have a better understanding of just what they mean when they say, “Marco….Polo” in the pool.

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A DIFFERENT SIDE OF SYRIA

Syrian Folktales

Written by Muna Imady

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For more than a year, Syria has been in the news due to the horrific civil war that has torn it apart and inflicted misery and suffering upon its civilian population. In Syrian Folktales, the reader is introduced to a different perspective. Muna Imady grew up in Syria. She  presents the tales of her oral heritage beginning with the words “once upon a time…” ( Kan ya ma kan), that were passed down to her by her grandmother. (Tete) The author provides the reader with a glossary of Syrian terms for reference.

In the overview, Imady informs us that Syria is a country with a population of eighteen million spread out into fourteen distinct administrative units called Muhafazat. The Syrian Arab Republic lies at the crossroads of trade routes linking Africa, Asia and Europe. Turkey lies to its north, Iraq to its east, Jordan and Palestine to the south, and Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the east.

The author divides the book by these fourteen areas. Not only does she present a folktale or two for each of them, she entices us with recipes, riddles, street peddler songs, and a Hadith.

What is a Hadith? It is a saying from the Holy Prophet of Muslim. Here is one of the riddles: I come from water and I die in water. What am I?

I will retell a folktale from Dara’a, a province that contains many archaeological sites which date back to Roman times aptly titled, The Sky is Raining Meat. The tale tells of a farmer and his wife who live an ordinary but comfortable existence. There is one big problem. The wife talks too much. One day the farmer finds a jug full of gold coins. He is afraid that the landlord will discover his good fortune so he buries the jug. Then he secretly kills and cooks a sheep. Next he ascends to the roof of his dwelling and throws chunks of meat from the roof. His wife observes his strange behavior but happily runs to gather up the meat. Later, the farmer takes his wife to the place where he buried the coins and tells her of their good fortune. Sure enough, the wife begins to spread the good news. The landlord arrives to demand the gold. When the wife informs him, they found the gold the same day that the sky was raining meat, the landlord decides she must be crazy! After that day no one believed anything the wife said. The farmer and his wife lived happily ever after.

Many of the tales from Syria bear similarities in characters and themes to those of Western culture. There are tales of the raven and the fox, a wicked stepmother, the sly fox, a woodcutter, dragons, witches, and  three pigs. While reading though them, I was reminded of The Frog and the Prince, Snow White, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast. Imady has done an admirable job in presenting the traditions of this region which date back to the fourth millennium B.C. Parents and teachers who want to explore what Syria is really about should take a look. Appropriate for children age ten and above.

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WISHFUL THINKING

The Day I Met Dr. Seuss

Written by Anne Emerick

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Most readers do not find themselves standing on middle ground when it comes to the work of Dr. Seuss; they either love it or hate it. This work of historical fiction is based on the author’s real experience in attempting to visit Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel). In 1989, she wrote him a letter requesting an interview. His secretary politely declined. Emerick persisted  in her admiration for the author by writing an imaginary tale reminiscent of Geisel’s work.. She mailed him the manuscript in 1990 to ask if he objected to it. Geisel gave her permission to publish it.

In her story Emerick makes a long journey to the home of Dr. Seuss. She meets Mister Hupp who tells her that Ted is quite normal, but no one understands the thoughts in his head. The author is determined to see Dr. Seuss and continues to wait outside. She keeps knocking at the door, but no one will let her in. Then she converses with an old man who informs her that Dr. Seuss might be in. Soon after he ushers her inside the house. He shows her the author’s workroom and says that when he is really stuck he tries on one of his thinking caps because writers must imagine worlds. “When people work hard at what they do best, we often think of them as unlike the rest. But they aren’t really different than others you meet, just every day people who accomplished some feat.”

I think that this quote exemplifies Emerick’s experience. Like Theodor Geisel she worked long and hard to make her book successful. Publishers rejected this work until she decided to publish it on her own recently. Many writers find themselves in her position. Emerick includes copies of the original letters that she wrote to Geisel though she places the setting of this story a few years earlier in 1985. She includes authentic characters like his neighbor, Burt Hupp, and secretary, Claudia Prescott. While Ermerick’s verse is sometimes a bit off in cadence, it is written well and cleverly.

Who is the real Dr. Seuss? An answer may be found in his own words about the way children perceived him. “When I show up, they look at me and say, “ What are you doing here? Where’s Dr. Seuss?” The children expect him to be just like one of his characters.  My conclusion is that Dr. Seuss is all of us; he exists in everything that we can imagine. Children and adults who are fans of Dr. Seuss will thoroughly enjoy this book as a fitting tribute to the author who passed away in 1991 but lives on in the hearts and minds of millions of readers.

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PROCEED WITH CAUTION

Rather Unpleasant Cautionary Tales for Ill-Mannered & Immoderate Children
Written by Ima Bratt

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This title is quite a mouthful, but the short 60 page e book packs quite a punch. The author states in the preface that the characters in the stories to follow will have no happy ending.  In fact, they could not end more dreadfully. Bratt defines ill-mannered  as having bad or poor manners; impolite, discourteous or rude. By immoderate she means one who is unreasonable; exceeding normal limits or bounds, going too far. Now that we are all on the same page let’s begin to discuss the tales and what they teach us.

All of these stories are written in verse which the author has very carefully crafted to match the story line. Each one of the characters exhibits a major flaw. The verse which follows teaches a moral lesson explicitly stated at the end of the tale. For example, Marjorie Pearl is pretty to look at. Once you get to know her you discover that she spits, swears, lies and is always “contrary.” Her teddy bear has no head; the family dog and cat hide in fear from her. Her parents say they feel “like prisoners of war.” One day Marjorie works herself up into such a fit of rage that she explodes in a cloud of steam. The author jokingly explains that the moral is to behave or you might go up in smoke!   Reggie the Rude is the kind of person who lets you know right away whether he likes you or not. One day he makes the mistake of sticking his tongue out at the principal and giving him the raspberries. What a surprise he has in store for him when his father takes him on a fishing trip! I won’t give away the other stories but some of the other children have flaws like refusing to obey, being stuck up and unreasonable, and the inability to get along with others. The last character is unlike the others. Candy Von Tweet is always in a good mood. How is she connected to the other characters and what does lesson does she have to teach the reader? I will simply tell you that the author cautions us, “There can be too much of a good thing.”

Parents and teachers might want to read these tales before presenting them to their children. While all the stories are fun to read, sensitive children could be upset by some of the outcomes. There are valuable lessons here ; the book is cleverly put together and certainly not malicious. Adults will surely chuckle and perhaps find a bit of themselves in the characters. This is an e book so it could be broken up into parts if needed as a basis of discussion on one or two of the lessons. I must say that this book is very different, but at the same time clever and refreshing.

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HOW DO YOU SEE IT?

Good Morning World!

Written by Mrs. D

Illustrated by Eladziem

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This new book by Mrs. D is a study in contrasts. The young generation versus the old, the optimist versus the pessimist and realism versus make believe. This story is dedicated to Baby Thomas and his grandfather Patrick, who are the models for the two main characters. At the end of this story, Mrs. D provides summaries and links to both her current books and those projects that are in the planning stage so that we readers know what is in store for us.

The setting is a comfortable family living room. Baby Thomas is playing on the floor while Grandma is watching from her chair as Grandpa is snoozing on the couch. When the baby gestures toward his stroller, Grandma places him in in and urges Grandpa to get up and go out for a walk to the park on this beautiful day. Grandpa reluctantly begins pushing the stroller, but the look on his face tells you he is none too happy.  On the other hand, Thomas is glowing with smiles and happiness as he engages with the world around him.

The author personifies all the forces of nature. The sun, the clouds, the trees and the wind have exquisite faces exemplifying their emotions. In addition, the author sprinkles her sentences with alliteration examples like “silly stroller” and sounds like “croak, craake. As they journey on, Grandpa complains with analogies comparing the sun to a boiling pot and  the sun baking us up like cupcakes.The park is too noisy, the path is too crowded, the skies too buggy, his shoes got too dirty and so on. Baby Thomas sees nothing but the positives as he greets the frogs, the birds, the wind, the lady bugs and the passers-by. Thomas enthusiastically greets the little girl and her mom that they meet on the path. The little girl feels as Thomas does; her mother is too busy talking on the phone all the time. When Thomas and his grandfather arrive home, Grandma is surprised to see that Thomas is still not sleepy, while Grandpa heads straight to the couch to resume his nap.

The illustrations by Eladziem are masterfully done and provide a study in contrast as well. The personifications look like human faces expressing emotions. Grandpa’s facial expressions are priceless. You want to hug and squeeze Thomas because he is so cheerful. The pot belly on Grandpa and the I love my Grandpa shirt worn by Thomas are great personal touches. Throughout the story, Eladziem alternates between pages drawn realistically in vivid, bold color, and soft nature scenes done in muted pastel colors.

It is wonderful to see the beauty of the world expressed through the eyes of a young child. How often we adults forget! Take a look at this exquisite book with your young child or grandchild and give yourself the opportunity to remember!

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A WALK THROUGH TIME

A Rainbow of Thanks

Written by Kathleen J. Shields

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Kate Silverton is an eleven year old about to celebrate her birthday. Her teacher Mrs. Guffey, who she likes to call Mrs. Tuffey, has given them a weekend homework assignment to write about another culture. After being disappointed by her relative’s birthday gifts, Kate heads out to the backyard with her backpack. Suddenly, it begins to rain and she takes refuge. When the rain stops, Kate is surprised to find a rainbow which she walks through. On the other side, she meets a Navajo boy named Little Elk who is sitting on a rock in Arizona during “the week of silence.” He asks her where she came from explaining that Navajos believe the God travels on a rainbow and that a rainbow is a bridge between the human world and the other side. Rainbows also carry heroes between earth and heaven. Kate is mystified; she informs the boy that she is simply an American from Ohio who walked through a rainbow to the other side. How did she get to Arizona? Realizing that she must walk back through the rainbow to the other side before it disappears, Kate pulls out the walkman  radio from her backpack and gives it as a gift to Little Elk to ease his time of silence.

Things get even stranger when Kate emerges from the rainbow in the jungle listening to the sound of elephants and seeing a little girl named Chicktow who is searching the ground for grubs to eat. Kate is now in Victoria Falls. She presents her new friend with some oatmeal cookies stamped with Kate’s name and address labels. Kate descends with her friend to the bottom of the Falls where they locate the remnants of the rainbow. Chicktow  tells her that the rainbow arch frames the Queen of Heaven. Kate quickly steps into the arch.

Kate is disappointed to find herself in Dublin, Ireland when she emerges. The Flanagan boys greet her. In Ireland the rainbow is considered the hem of God’s garments. They tell her that leprechauns believe there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but all Kate wants is to return to Ohio. She presents them with the old video player she received as a gift before she departs. Kate must still journey to Germany, Russia, Polynesia, Croatia and Scotland before she lands back in the United States. In California, she meets a medicine man of the Mojave who tells her that the rainbow is a charm the Creator uses to stop a rain storm. Finally, she walks through the rainbow one hour later to find herself at home in Ohio.

Wow! What a journey! Kate writes her report immediately before she forgets her adventure. Her mother is puzzled by her strange behavior. Mrs. Guffey gives her an A on her report, but asks why she did not choose one culture. The next week, Kate draws a stunning, accurate portrait so real that her teacher goes to her home for a talk with Mrs. Silverton because she fears that Kate is delusional.

How will Kate prove her story? A mysterious visitor will provide the answer.

This e book is available on Smashwords. A paperback version can now be found on amazon. Recommended for children ages eight and up, but adults will love it as well.

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