Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Poetry Break!

Circle of Sun  by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

(from Here's A Little Poem by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters, originally published in Lemonade Sun and Other Summer Poems by Rebecca Kai Dotlich)

I'm dancing.
I'm leaping.
I'm skipping about.

I gallop.
I grin.
I giggle.
I shout.
I'm Earth's many colors.
I'm morning and night.
I'm honey on toast.
I'm funny.
I'm bright.
I'm swinging.
I'm singing.
I wiggle.
I run.

I'm a piece of the sky
in a circle of sun.

I've always liked this poem, but I think the clincher to make this my favorite was an experience that happened about a year ago. Dancegirl was asked to introduce Cupcake to the Young Women's Program at our church at a "New Beginnings" event in January. Dancegirl was fourteen and Cupcake was eleven and would enter Young Women's several months later (when she turned twelve). Dancegirl talked a little about Cupcake's interests, and then said, "I have a poem that will show you what my sister [Cupcake] is like." Then she read this poem aloud to the group. It fits Cupcake so well. I was quite "chokey" (I really try to avoid crying in public, but sometimes I just don't quite make it)   . . . here was a child I love, talking about a child I love, reading a poem I love from a book I love about a sister that she loves  . . . definitely a favorite memory forever.

My favorite children's poetry book is Here's A Little Poem by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters. (And it is hard for me to every say "my favorite" when it comes to books.) It's the illustrations that do it for me. I love reading this with my children and looking and the large illustrations . . . one per poem, one poem (usually) per page.  I ADORE the illustrator, Polly Dunbar. I read from it everyday when my two youngest babies were little.  It brings back such a happy time for me.

We have memorized almost all of the poems inside, just from sheer exposure. I love that the compilation includes classic children's poems like Halfway Down by A.A. Milne, as well as new ones like The No NO Bird by Andrew Fusek Peters. Jane Yolen and Andrew Peters have teamed up again to create a gathering of bedtime poems. I like the "sequel" . . . we read poems at bedtime, and I try to close with a bedtime poem. Brian Karas (who illustrates often for our favorite children's magazines from Cobblestone Publishing--Babybug, Ladybug and ASK) is the illustrator. 

Out there in "kidlitosphere" there is something called "Poetry Friday." Hurrah! I love children's poetry. I'm going to try to post a poem every Friday. .. it's the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, but it feels like Friday around here . .  .

Monday, November 19, 2012

The False Princess by Eilis O'Neal

The False Princess by Eilis O'Neal is on the nominee list for the Beehive Book Award in the Young Adult Category this year (2012).  (And not to be confused with the False Prince by Jennifer Neilsen which will likely be on next years list, as it's on the long list right now, and is AWESOME!)

I've been reading it over the course of a month or two . . . meaning I started it a while ago, but had a ton of other books more pressing (homeschool, book clubs, etc.) that I never seemed to make it back. It was a nice story, but then just before the halfway book, there was a twist I didn't expect and I finished in one day. (I'm a fast reader when I'm determined!)

The princess Nalia is informed, just after her 16th birthday that she really isn't the princess. She is a commoner named Sinda. An oracle gave a prophecy at the birth of the true princess and revealed that she was in danger of being killed before her 16th birthday.  A commoner's child was put in the princess' place to avoid that risk, and the real princess was raised in a convent. The danger now passed, the real princess was to be reinstated, and a cursory thank you given to Sinda as she was sent out the door to live with an aunt.

The story is adventurous, but also gives thought to the questions "Who am I and What makes me, me?"

I thought it wasn't really true to life for parents, even royal parents, to just oust a child they had raised for the past 16 years for a replacement they didn't know even if the child was of royalblood, but the book uses that point later in the book to show that the current royalty is out of touch with the needs of the common people. My concerns about this were addressed later in the book. (The queen misses Sinda, but feels it is her duty to support the restored princess.)

The twist in the storyline occurs just about halfway through the book, and causes the action to pick up . . . Sinda discovers she has magic, that she is the only one who can defeat a sixteen year old plan to replace the current family line with another royal family line.

There is a bit of romance (which i often don't like, especially in YA books, because it so quickly becomes inappropriate.) But this romance was helpful to the story, and not too much so that overpowered the true story.  Warning: there is a paragraph that says one boys motive for befriending Sinda was to "bed" the girl that had been a princess. But Sinda avoids that consequence and recognizes with relief that she could have fallen prey to that unscrupulous plan. When she falls in love, or realizes she is in love, it is realistic and appropriate.  (Note: This book has a relationship triangle . . . but it isn't a romantic triangle.)

Fairly quick read, fun . . . I'd call it a beach read or a summer read if it were forty degrees warmer!

I'd read this with my daughters age 12 and up. (Before that I'd be uncomfortable with "what does 'bed the princess' mean, Mom?")

(Three means I liked it . . . it sounds like a bad review, but it isn't. Not a book I would read again, but a book I could recommend to others.)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Christmas Picture Books: Our Family Favorites!

"What are your favorite Christmas picture books that we read every year?"
The girls didn't miss a beat. Cupcake called out, "A Wish for Wings that Work, I'll Be Home for Christmas, The Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitcher, Auntie Claus, An Orange for Frankie . . ."
Dancegirl said, "The Red Ranger, The Last Straw, Auntie Claus, The Littlest Angel, The Nutcracker."

But, there were some other books that they couldn't quite remember the titles . . . "What's the name of the one with the reindeer and the troll girl?" Dancegirl asked. The girls asked The Boy to run down and get the Christmas book box out of storage. Then the fun truly began. I asked them to choose their top three to five books. It was hilarious and very gratifying as they pulled out books and squealed with delight. (My son prefers me to note: The Boy didn't squeal.) I had to make a rule that they couldn't read the books, just look at the titles (so we can keep the anticipation alive for our Christmas Book Countdown).  I thought it was interesting that they didn't keep with many their off-the-top-of-their-head choices.

Here are the books they fought over:
Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera
The Red Ranger Came Calling by Berkeley Breathed
A Wish for Wings that Work by Berkeley Breathed
The Wild Christmas Reindeer by Jan Brett
The Amazing Christmas Extravaganza by David Shannon
Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree by Robert Barry

This is Cupcake absconding with Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera

So starting with the oldest child,  here are their favorites:

The Boy:

The Other Wise Man  by Henry Van Dyke is the story of a selfless man who sees the Star in the East and begins to follow it, hoping to meet up with his friends, three other wise men from distant lands. Throughout his journey he is met with challenges and opportunities to help others. He strives to do what he believes the new King would want him to do, but in all of the serving, he loses his opportunity to see the Infant King and worship him. This wise and generous man is rewarded at the end of his life when he learns that his generosity and kindness have been seen of the true King. 

Christmas in the Trenches by John McCutcheon is based on the true story of soldiers in WWII who put aside their differences and celebrate the birth of the Savior across enemy lines.

Santa Calls by William Joyce is one of my favorites, too. This is an adventure story, a story of Christmas wishes coming true, but most of all the story of a relationship between a brother and his little sister.

I must admit, seeing The Wild Christmas Reindeer by Jan Brett on more than one child's favorites list was a surprise to me. This is the story of Teeka who is given the job of preparing Santa's reindeer for the big night. I love Jan Brett's intricate illustrations on every page that give a glimpse of the storyline yet to come. This is the story of a young girl learning how to co operate and work hard, and learn to put other's needs above her own in order to accomplish an important work.


Yes, Virginia There is a Santa Claus
(Oh no! It wasn't in the box. Last year I tried to glean and asked around what books the children liked ... I think Cupcake said it wasn't one she thought anybody liked, and I think I might have given it away. Dancegirl might forgive me if it doesn't turn up, but only if I promise to get a replacement! But there aren't any examples that look the same on Amazon. Oh no! I may be in big trouble.)

Room for a Little One by Martin Waddell is a sweet story of the animals in the stable making room for the little King that is sleeping in their stable. The animals contribute their individual means of comforting the new baby.

It was no surprise that Red Ranger Came Calling by Berkeley Breathed was named as a favorite of many. The book has a bit of a surprise ending that never fails to delight. The story seems a little long to me at times, but it is a great story of a child not getting quite what he wants for Christmas, yet learning to be grateful for the giver behind the gift and the joy that giving can bring.

I'm so glad Why Christmas Trees Aren't Perfect by Richard Shneider made Dancegirl's list. The dance world often demands perfection and leaves little room for appreciation for individual shapes and sizes. This book tells of a the desire for perfection, but one little tree showing that the real value of an individual doesn't come from one's outside appearance, but comes from the heart.

Cupcake struggled with ranking her books. The middle three were especially difficult to put in a certain order.

A Christmas Dress for Ellen by Thomas S. Monson is the sweet story of a girl who has lost her belief in Christmas and in her fellow man. She has been hungry and poor for much of her life, but the generous love of her family and neighbors helps restore her faith in the goodness of others.

Look Alikes Christmas by Joan Steiner is a book that takes hours to enjoy. We love to peer over it looking at the creatively amazing uses of everyday objects turned into surprising art senses.  We have had this book for years and years and still find new things to appreciate every year.

Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree by Robert Barry is the classic Christmas story of a man's unwitting purchase of an overlarge Christmas tree brings joy to those smaller and less fortunate throughout his neighborhood.

Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera may be everyone's most favorite Christmas book. It's the story of a girl (who has quite a close familial relationship with Santa Claus himself) learns that it is better to give than to receive. It also shares the story of a sister's love for her brother and the extent she will go to see that his Christmas wishes can come true. The other two Auntie Claus books are fun, but not quite as appealing as the original. (But if you LOVE the first books, you will appreciate the next two.)

The Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitcher made many a favorite list, but we had to give it to Cupcake because she loves baking (and cookies!) so much. This is a fun story of sharing the joy of Christmas with others and the happiness that sharing can bring to your life.


I think Coconut had the least overlap with one individual, but the most overlap with multiple individuals. The Last Straw is only kind of the favorite book . . .  the best part of the story is listening to my mother read a mimeographed (yes, purple ink and before Xerox) two page folded up paper version of this story. When I saw it in book format, I had to get it for my mother. (And I think three of my five sisters gave her this book the year it came out as well.) It is a great story, but the book leaves out the very best line. " . . . and I hate Kelly!" The story of siblings learning to love each other as they learn to find joy in serving each other and serving Jesus makes this timeless and endearing.

Olive, heard her name on the radio, and just knew that Santa needed her at the North Pole or Christmas would be lost. She responded to the call to Olive, the other Reindeer, and her Christmas adventures begin. A silly, quirky, fun, giggly Christmas book.

Christmas in the Trenches by John McCutcheon (who is married to our favorite storyteller, Carmen Deedy) is an amazing story. I described it above in the Boy's favorites, but Coconut insisted that it show up on her list, too.

Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo tells the story of a girl who is missing her soldier father during the Christmas season. She is going to be in the church's Christmas play, and invites a street performer and his monkey to join her. A beautiful story of acceptance and love through the eyes of a child. My Coconut is good at seeing other's needs, and has a tender heart for the less fortunate, so I can see why she likes this book.

A Wish for Wings that Work was a book many of the children "fought" over, but they let it end up on Coconut's favorites. It's the story of the cartoon character Opus, who wishes for wings to fly. But his unique talents of "flying" underwater are just what is needed to save Christmas . . . and yet he gets his Christmas wish, too.


Elise Primavera is a favorite. (Lala and I especially like her Thumb Love book, a book that helped Lala determine she wanted to try to end her thumbsucking habit.) The Auntie Claus series is great fun, but still captures the Christmas spirit of love, family and giving.  

Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitcher by Robert Kraus was a "fought over" book. The Snitcher takes all of the Sprinkles for himself, but eventually learns to share. I can't quite figure out why the children like it so very much. (Cute, but not amazing . . . ) This was one of the first "new" Christmas books we bought many years ago when I decided we would wrap Christmas books and unwrap them as a Christmas Countdown. The story is fun but I think the association with the Christmas Advent tradition is what puts this in the favorites category. Everyone cheers when we unwrap and read it every year.

The Amazing Christmas Extravaganza by David Shannon teaches that Christmas shouldn't be about competition or outdoing others, it should be about celebrating family, love and kindness. It's so fun to drive around and see the Christmas light displays around our city, and hear the children say, "Happy Birthday, Jesus!! Look at that amazing Christmas Extravaganza!"

The Christmas Witch by Steven Kellogg is by a favorite, maybe even adored author. We read this at Halloween and at Christmas. The story of a little witch who just can't be mean and brings Christmas joy back to a feuding nation is a delight.

What are your favorites? I'm always looking for new treasures to add to our countdown . . . We have several new ones coming this year all ready, but there is always room for more! We may have to start the countdown earlier . . . Labor Day maybe? But you won't catch me complaining!

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