Posts Tagged With: children’s books

Enrich Your Christmas Season With Special Stories

Christmastime offers us more than scrambling for appropriate gifts for everyone and hurrying to get our homes decorated in time for holiday festivities. Our hearts long for meaning and heart-stirring stories to inspire and bring us together. Many movies provide spiritual and emotional sustenance, but books, too, turn our eyes toward deeper themes. Three of my favorites to share with my readers are The Gift of the Magi , How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and The Story of the Other Wise Man.

Gift of the Magi

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry is a short story set in New York City at the turn of the 20th century. A husband and wife are scraping by in their early years of marriage and seek to find a meaningful Christmas gift for each other. Money is certainly an object and there is literally not enough to buy even a single gift. Their story of sacrifice and generosity strips the gaudy materialism off American Christmas gift giving and shines a light into the heart of loving through sacrificial giving. Hopefully, O. Henry’s message will take the poor and rich on the same journey because it is not about “what’s in your wallet”, but about how one chooses to show love. Here is the ending, but I entreat you to read the story, too, to understand the profundity of this lovely language:

“The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.”

How_the_Grinch_Stole_Christmas_cover

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss is a well-known Christmas story that is only fifty-seven years old, but still resonates with us today as we face a holiday that is a very mixed bag of holy and holly. It is funny and outrageous and profound; within its pages hides the answer to what is wrong with us Americans at Christmastime.

It opens with the Grinch up on his solitary mountain looking down, literally and figuratively, on the Whos as they prepare to celebrate Christmas with traditional and extravagant noise, gifts, food, and singing. Dr Seuss masterfully captures so many of our Christmastime difficulties: too much feasting, too much spending, and too many social encounters, but he turns the problems on their heads and teaches us that the heart is at the center of the solution:

“And what happened then…? Well… in Who-ville they say that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day! And the minute his heart didn’t feel quite so tight, he whizzed with his load through the bright morning light and he brought back the toys! And the food for the feast! And he…. HE HIMSELF…! The Grinch carved the roast beast!”

When our hearts are ready to experience the good in Christmas then we can participate, like the Grinch did, in the joy: time with friends and family, generous giving that delights others, and fun in the traditions and events.

OtherWiseMan

The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke is an old story, originally published in 1895, with a deep moral theme summed up at the end of the book with a quote from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25:

“The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

The main character of Van Dyke’s fictional account is a fourth wise man, Artaban, who misses the rendezvous with his three friends as they set off on the arduous trek through the Arabian desert to the birthplace of the Messiah. Artaban also earnestly desires to follow the star and offer his valuable gifts, but is continually waylaid by the needs of desperate people and, in the end, gives away all the treasure that was meant for the Christ Child. This precious story is told with a Middle Eastern voice, eloquent and mystical, and would be best read to younger children due to its complex sentence structure and vocabulary. The poignant ending of Artaban’s pilgrimage imparts a message to us all that the seemingly unimportant aspects of our lives can be sacrifices to God.

I hope you can add a little deep and touching reading to your Christmas busyness.

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Categories: Children's Books, Classics, Inspiration, Read Aloud | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Madeleine L’Engle: A Wrinkle in Time and 59 Other Titles

Twentieth-century author Madeleine L’Engle, best known for A Wrinkle in Time, a young adult novel that won the Newbery Award in 1963, wrote sixty novels during her lifetime (1918-2007). If you haven’t read A Wrinkle in Time ever or recently, I highly recommend it whether you are young, middle-aged or older: “It was a dark and stormy night. In her attic bedroom, Margaret Murry, wrapped in an old patchwork quilt, sat on the foot of her bed and watched the trees tossing in the frenzied lashing of the wind.”

Teen protagonist Meg Murry is distraught because her father, experimenting with time travel and the fifth dimension, has mysteriously disappeared. Now the time has come for Meg, her friend Calvin O’Keefe, and her young brother, Charles Wallace, to rescue him. They must overcome the forces of evil, but they discover that intelligence is no match for the brainwashing power of IT.

Like JK Rowling in her more contemporary “Harry Potter” series, Madeleine L’Engle focused on the power of love to overcome darkness. Beloved little brother Charles Wallace has been been mentally and emotionally “hijacked”, and his sister cannot reach him with reason. This novel is not a cold science fiction adventure, but a warm-hearted call to familial connection set in a fascinating mixed-up setting of real life and intergalactic fantasy.

Did you know that A Wrinkle in Time is the first in a series of five books? Recently, I went back and re-read the first three and then, read the fourth and fifth for the first time, since I missed them as a young adult reader. (A Wrinkle in Time Quintet titles in order of publication: A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, An Acceptable Time).

I would like to add a brief comment that the movie, “A Wrinkle in Time”, released in 2003, although not exactly bad, certainly doesn’t have the emotional impact of the book.

Madeleine L’Engle

Many years ago, I saw Ms. L’Engle in person when she was awarded an honorary degree at my alma mater, Wheaton College, Illinois. Her rich and interesting life included a childhood in New York City, time in France at boarding school, living with her wealthy grandfather in South Carolina, acting, supporting her actor husband, Hugh Franklin, in Manhattan’s theatre circles, and running a general store in rural Connecticut.

I just finished re-reading A Circle of Quiet, the first volume in The Crosswicks Journals, an autobiographical series full of enjoyable and thought-provoking personal anecdotes, culled from her own writer’s journals. Several times as I read this book at my bedtime, I threw back the cozy quilt and hurried barefoot to my teen daughter’s room to read her an excerpt. I referenced A Circle of Quiet in my everyday conversations and found myself inspired to keep writing in my imperfect way:

 “A great painting, or symphony, or play, doesn’t diminish us, but enlarges us, and we, too, want to make our own cry of affirmation to the power of creation behind the universe. This surge of creativity has nothing to do with competition, or degree of talent. When I hear a superb pianist, I can’t wait to get to my own piano, and I play about as well now as I did when I was ten. A great novel, rather than discouraging me, simply makes me want to write. This response on the part of any artist is the need to make incarnate the new awareness we have been granted through the genius of someone else.” (A Circle of Quiet) (The Crosswicks Journals in order of publication: The Summer of the Great-Grandmother, The Irrational Season, Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage)

Now I am on to Meet the Austins, the first of the five Austin Chronicles, one of which received the Newbery Honor Medal (A Ring of Endless Light). I welcome your comments about Madeliene L’Engle or any of her novels.

Pineneedles and Papertrails Propaganda moment: Do you want your kids to be readers? According to Patrick Jones, author of Connecting with Reluctant Teen Readers, parents must model reading behavior and allow kids to see that parents “waste time” in nonessential pleasure reading. This helps the child to allow himself the same luxury.

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Beatrix Potter: The Tale of Peter Rabbit … and His Many Friends

I think I must have English vocabulary on my mind since my children are in the SAT taking years. We have many resources to augment our own vocabularies and those of our kids. One such treasure trove is the work of Beatrix Potter. Over one hundred years ago, an English gentlewoman named Beatrix Potter pioneered in the field of children’s literature as both an artist and storyteller.  Miss Potter brought animal characters to life with exquisitely detailed watercolor illustrations that gave them unique anthropomorphic personalities and quaint, creative little outfits. Her stories pulse with gentle humor, vivid word choices, and complex plots, all of which are elements of children’s literature that we still need to treasure and emulate today.

Our children and children’s children will benefit from each tale with its moral lesson and rich English vocabulary. I chose my five favorites and furnish an illustration, quote, and moral lesson for each.

#1 The Tale of Peter Rabbit (published by Frederick Warne in 1902) – Peter disobeys his mother and ventures into Mr. McGregor’s garden to filch vegetables. The suspenseful chase through the garden patch is designed to strike terror into the heart of the child reader, but the intensity is mellowed by the help Peter receives from other animals, as well as his eventual escape.

Beatrix Potter #1 “Peter gave himself up for lost, and shed big tears; but his sobs were overheard by some sparrows, who flew to him in great excitement, and implored him to exert himself.”

Implore (v.): to make a very serious or emotional request to someone

Moral lesson: Listen to those wiser than we are about danger. Disobedience has consequences.

#2 The Tale of Jeremy Fisher (1906) – Jeremy Fisher the frog faces danger after he punts out on his lily pad boat to fish in his pond for minnows to offer to his dinner guests. A predatory trout swallows him whole but spits him out again after tasting his macintosh.

“And while Mr. Jeremy sat disconsolately on the edge of his boat – sucking his sore fingers and peering down into the water – a much worse thing happened; a really frightful thing it would have been, if Mr. Jeremy had not being wearing a macintosh!”

Disconsolately (adv.): dejectedly or in a downcast manner Beatrix Potter #2

Moral lesson: Dangers lurk, but we are often spared. Be careful when taking risks, think things through, and be grateful for the safety of home.

#3  The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse (1910) – Mrs. Tittlemouse keeps an exceptionally tidy house as a result of her diligent, slightly obsessive effort. Her cleaning day is disrupted by several uninvited guests who dirty her house and cause her distress. After she shoos them out, the little mouse creates an environment in which to offer hospitality on her own terms, treating even her most impolite intruder with kindness.

“Mrs. Tittlemouse was a most terribly tidy particular little mouse, always sweeping and dusting the soft sandy floors.”

Particular (adj.): having very definite opinions about what is good or acceptable Moral lesson: Having boundaries in one’s personal space and with belongings is very important, yet one can set boundaries without being harsh or unkind.

Beatrix Potter #3 #4 The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck (1908) – Jemima Puddle duck is very naive and foolishly trusts the “foxy gentleman” who offers to help her achieve her heart’s desire to lay and hatch her own eggs. (The farmer keeps taking them away.)  Jemima even allows the gentlemen with the whiskers to arrange a duck feather bed in his shed as her nest.

“He led the way to a very retired, dismal-looking house amongst the fox-gloves.”

Retired (adj.): secluded

“Jemima Puddle-duck was a simpleton: not even the mention of sage and onions made her suspicious.”

Simpleton (n.): a person lacking in common sense Moral lesson: Choose carefully who to trust and pay attention to warning signs of untrustworthiness in the behavior of others.Beatrix Potter #5

#5 The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies (1909) – Peter Rabbit’s cousin, Benjamin Bunny, grows into an irresponsible adult and starts a large family he cannot support.  Benjamin takes his hungry children to Mr. McGregor’s rubbish heap to eat a charity meal of old vegetables.  After the father and children fall asleep, Mr. McGregor discovers them and captures them to give to his wife as the ingredients for a rabbit pie. With the help of Mrs. Tittlemouse, they are rescued.

“They had a large family, and they were very improvident and cheerful.”

Improvident (adj.): not providing or saving for the future : not wise or sensible regarding money

“The little rabbits smiled sweetly in their sleep under the shower of grass; they did not awake because the lettuces had been so soporific.”

Soporific (adj.): causing or tending to cause sleep

Moral lesson: Being sensible about money and planning for the future have great value because irresponsibility has clear negative consequences. However, we often have second chances and the help of others even after we have made poor choices. Beatrix Potter #4

Did you receive an education from author Beatrix Potter in both imagination and English turns of phrase? I contend they are not out-dated, even though they may be old-fashioned. Let’s enjoy these timeless tales and pass them on to the next generation. I welcome your comments about your favorite Beatrix Potter stories and the lessons you see embedded in them.

I recently discovered Apply Dapply’s Nursery Rhymes and Cecily Parsley’s Nursery Rhymes, two little volumes of charming poems.

Movie Moment: I enjoyed the 2006 film, Miss Potter (PG), starring Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor about the author’s personal and professional life. Her love of the Lake District in England led to land conservation efforts that have preserved thousands of acres. All of Beatrix Potter’s cherished animal friends still have their holes, stream banks, forests, and meadows to inhabit.

Categories: Classics, Girl Fiction, Humorous, Inspiration, Read Aloud | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Newbery Medal – Creative Children’s Literature

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In 1922, the Newbery Award became the first children’s book award in the world.  Named for 18th-century English bookseller John Newbery, the award fulfills the following purpose: “to encourage original creative work in the field of books for children. To emphasize to the public that contributions to literature for children deserve similar recognition to poetry, plays, or novels.”

A valuable aspect of the award is the honor it gives librarians, recognizing their life work to serve children’s reading interests. The panel of judges is made up of children’s librarians from pubic and private schools (members of the American Library Association). They choose the most distinguished American children’s book published the previous year. Although only a single book wins each year, several runners-up, listed as “Newberry Honor Books”, receive high marks and embossed seals on their covers as well.

The focus of the award – “original and creative work” – highlights two values I personally esteem in literature.   Writers and book publishers inundate children with copycat stories that get churned out in an attempt to follow the popularity flow. Movie producers often pursue the same “follow the leader” strategy to insure high box office sales in the film medium. In contrast, the Newbery Medal offers originality.

The first winner of the Newbery Medal was a history book, The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon. Next up was the whimsical fantasy,The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting that won in 1923. Two stories which are more current and accessible due to recent book-to-movie efforts are the 1999 Winner: Holes by Louis Sachar and the 2004 Winner: The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo.

I recently re-read the 1972 Newbery winner, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM by Robert C. O’Brien. This fantasy tale brings the reader into the lives of lab rats who escape their scientist captors and seek to establish their own society, one built upon self-reliance. The central tenet of their Great “Plan” is to live without stealing, unlike their rat ancestors.Mrs. Frisby

Mild-mannered Mrs. Frisby, the widow of lab mouse, Jonathan Frisby, steers her difficult course by the compass of familial love and finds unlikely allies in the rats of NIHM.

Mr. O’Brien wove a fantasy story that charms more than it scares the young reader. The author died only a few years after the publication of Mrs. Frisby, which makes me wonder what more he would have written given the opportunity. The ending of the book left me with several questions: What happened to the rats of NIMH; did they make a success of their new home in Thorn Valley? Did the Frisby mouse children grow up to do great exploits like their heroic father?

As I researched the Newbery Award for this blog post, I read the list of 92 winners out loud to my teen daughters and was chagrined to find that they only recognized 10% of the books on the list. I myself have missed out on numerous titles since I only read the Newbery books that were published when I was a child and then later those winners promoted on homeschool curriculum book lists.

Better get cracking!

Check out link to the Newbery list and send me a comment with your favorite winner! I would like to send out a prize – my first ever on pineneedlesandpapertrails- to the reader with the most Newbery titles read, so shoot me a total (honor system).

Update:  Winner Winner Chicken Dinner to blogger Susan Lea  of http://mimiswardrobe.wordpress.com who has read 76 of these titles!  Wow! Here is her response to this contest:  “I have read (or at least have them in our kids’ library) 76 of them. I noticed that there were several winners for Laura Ingalls Wilder, Susan Cook, and Madeline L’Engle. All of their books are favorites of mine, but my very favorite from that list has to be Forgotten Daughter by Caroline Snedeker. I imagine it’s one of the least-known (and hard to find), but I fell in love with it as a high school student, and my copy is highly-prized and will never be lent out! ”

http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/newberymedal/newberyhonors/newberymedal

http://ww.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/newberymedal/newberymedal

Categories: Children's Books, Classics, Fantasy, Girl Fiction, Historical Fiction, Humorous, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Use Your Voice: Share a book by reading aloud

“Next to being hugged, reading aloud is probably the longest-lasting experience of childhood.”
Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook

read aloud

My maternal grandfather read to us  faithfully when we were young.  He owned the complete set of Beatrix Potter tales in old green-cloth hardbacks.  At bedtime,  I was given the privilege of choosing which one we would read. I can still remember the joy of running to the miniature bookshelf in the upstairs hallway which housed the treasures and the closeness I felt leaning against my grandfather as he read to us.

Years ago when my children became independent readers, I was inspired by the words of author Gladys Hunt to continue reading aloud: “What most parents do,… is stop sharing books as soon as a child can read alone. That makes reading a solitary happening, with no chance to talk about a book or discuss what it is saying. ” (Honey for a Teen’s Heart, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2002).

Steve Demme, an inspirational homeschool speaker and founder of Math-U-See curriculum read at night to his four sons by positioning a chair in the hallway within earshot of his boys’ rooms and reading from there. I vividly remember when I was called on during a babysitting job to read aloud to five children at bedtime. They lined up on the couch and listened attentively while I read them the next chapter of their Narnia book. They knew where their mother had left off and they didn’t want to miss a night

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis may be a prime example of a book that is a pleasure to read aloud, and one that appeals to many age levels. I hold nothing against the movie version of this classic tale, but I do want to point out that they edit the original book. C.S.Lewis was a master of the English language.

Good literature is a pleasure to read aloud.  It rolls off the tongue and provides a wonderful opportunity for children to hear English used artistically and vividly.  It is vitally important to share your favorite childhood stories with your children.  By example, you can teach them to read with expression.  Let the younger ones participate and experience literature above their own reading level when you read something for the older children.

Another benefit of listening to books is the development of the imagination.  Encourage children to use the descriptions of place and plot to make a mental movie of what is happening in the book.  Doing the voices of the characters can be fun if there is interesting dialogue.  Also, the family member who is the usual narrator can take a break when other family members take a turn reading aloud.

During a recent school break, I pulled our family together with Dad as the reader, a practice we had neglected.  Our teen daughters participated, with some foot-dragging.  It was well worth it when my 14-year old said to her father: “Daddy, I love the sound of your reading voice.”  Trips, vacations, and sick days are all wonderful times to put in extra reading moments.

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” Emilie Buchwald

honey for a child's heart

Read-Aloud Resources:

Hunt, Gladys M.. Honey for a Child’s Heart: The Imaginative Use of Books in Family Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.

Hunt, Gladys M., and Barbara Hampton. Honey for a Teen’s Heart: Using Books to Communicate with Teens. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.

Trelease, Jim. The Read-aloud Handbook. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1982.

Categories: British novels, Children's Books, Classics, Fantasy, Humorous, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Laugh Out Loud: Humorous Stories for Kids

Laughter is good medicine and kids stay so healthy because they take huge doses of it daily. The two series recommended in this blog post offer a cure for adults as well, since they are designed to delight young and old. Listen and read with the young people in your life and have a blast as you LOL.

“Jungle Jam and Friends” began as a radio program, with humorous plots teaching fundamental life lessons such as sharing, friendship, procrastination, and facing fear. About twenty years ago, creative giants Phil Lollar (of “Adventures in Odyssey” fame), Nathan Carlson, David Buller, and Jeff Parker collaborated in an effort to create colorful audio stories of an imaginary jungle world populated by animals with memorable voices and personalities which first aired in 1993.

A parallel set of characters and stories is set on Razzleflabben Island to which human children, Marvy Snuffleson and his sister Katie, are sent to learn life lessons the funny way with the help of the island’s endearing and whimsical inhabitants. Our family listened to every Jungle Jam story and we are still quoting favorite characters years later. An added bonus in the Jungle Jam experience is the musical contribution of songwriting team Buddy and Julie Miller.

Jungle Jam fans wrote in the website guestbook: “My favorite character from Jungle Jam and Friends the Radio Show is Millard J. Monkey. He is to Jungle Jam what Daffy Duck is to Looney Tunes: egotistical, self-absorbed, and hilarious. I love how he makes such a good foil to the mild-mannered, sweet-natured, naive Sully the Aardvark.” Rebecca

“My favorite character is Sully – his funny dialogue with the other characters, his naiveté. We love “Where the Bears Are”. My husband & I laugh a lot at that episode and are always taunting each other Gruffy/Sully style when we play a game (“You’re goin’ down, Bear”, “You’re gonna cry in your lemonade, Aardvark”). We’ve listened to Jungle Jam in the car for ages, but now that our son is old enough for the stories, we listen to them as part of bedtime routine.” Tammy

It is my understanding that the stories are only available now as downloads online, although some CD sets may be still floating around for purchase. These stories are a must for children 4-12 years old and their parents and grandparents. I can not comment on the quality of the books that were produced after the audio stories, since we never read them. Suffice it say that the vocal talents and witty dialogues of the audio stories must not be missed! My favorite stories are: “ Sully Makes a Friend”, “Pogo A-Go-Go & The Terrible Truth About Lying”, and “The Great Coconut Clunking Debate”.www.fancymonkey.com

In my opinion, the best endorsement of this audio series comes from Katie, a mom of four active boys, who says: “…my favorite thing is that no one is fighting or talking because they’re listening to Jungle Jam!” Enough said.

Another wonderfully funny children’s book series stars “Little Wolf”, the goody-goody nephew of Uncle Bigbad (aka The Big Bad Wolf). Melissa Mcavoy reviews the first in the series, Little Wolf’s Book of Badness in goodreads.com and provides this summation: “Little Wolf is sent away by his parents because he has not been behaving badly enough. In disconsolate and hilarious letters home, Little Wolf chronicles his journey to Uncle Bigbad’s Cunning College For Brute Beasts and his efforts to learn the Nine Rules of Badness. Ross’s ink drawings perfectly capture the charm of Little Wolf as he struggles to be bad enough to come home. Whybrow’s text is full of great real, and imagined, vocabulary. This is one of the funniest, most irreverent and charming stories I’ve read. Kids will adore the humorous reversals of a world where parents want their cub to be bad. Little Wolf’s resourceful and mischievous responses to his adventure are perfectly complimented by Ross’s illustrations.”

I would add that the series continues to captivate the heart, as Little Wolf’s letters, cunningly strewn with misspellings and ink splotches, ooze his perspective and personality onto each page of the series: Little Wolf’s Book of Badness, Little Wolf’s Diary of Daring Deeds, Little Wolf: Forest Detective, Little Wolf: Pack Leader, Little Wolf: Terror of the Shivery Sea, Little Wolf’s Hall for Small Horrors, Little Wolf’s Handy Book Of Poems. How impressive that author Ian Whybrow has published over 100 children’s books since 1989. May he continue to delight children for years to come. If you want more from the delightful Little Wolf, check out his blog complete with illustrations, misspellings, and his own brand of quirky humor.http://littlewolfwrites.com
P.S. Ian Whybrow kindly mentions this post on his website. Authors have feelings too and need to be appreciated! http://www.ianwhybrow.com/2013/10/01/october-1st-2013-reasons-to-be-cheerful/

Categories: Humorous, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Funny and Family-Oriented: Hank the Cowdog

John R. Erickson

Meeting an author in person is always a delight.  John R. Erickson, best known as the creator of the Hank the Cowdog series, walked out in front of the crowd of parents and kids at our conference with a banjo slung over his shoulder and an honest-to-God BIG Texan cowboy hat.  His seminar on writing and creativity was a long-series of tales and songs that had the entire crowd laughing.

Mr. Erickson embodies the writer’s adage to “write what you know”, having been raised in the Texan panhandle and worked as a ranch hand.  His quirky animal and human characters are based on dogs, horses, and people that he has known and they thrum with life.

And his stories are funny, funny, funny!  Hank the Cowdog, as head of ranch security, takes his job VERY seriously.  His sidekick, Drover, loyal and long-suffering, helps him out and doesn’t criticize Hank’s many bloopers.

Sixty-one great tales make up the Hank the Cowdog series at present.  Even more impressive is the fact that John Erickson himself reads the stories for the audio books and he is GOOD.  All the voices and accents!

For those of us who are aspiring writers, Mr. Erickson stands as a model for integrity, independence, perseverance and excellence.  At the beginning of his efforts to bring his authentic, humorous stories to publication, no East Coast publishers would bite: “too provincial”, they said.  Millions of copies later, they have eaten their cowboy hats. 

Mr. Erickson, with the support of his good wife, Kris, started Maverick Books in his garage and the rest, as they say, is history.  Viking/Penguin now publishes the books, while Maverick Books retains the audiobook manufacture.

More on this fascinating writing and publishing story is found in his book, Storycraft, published in 2009 by Maverick Books, a collection of Mr. Erickson’s reflections on faith, culture and writing.

I read it cover to cover this summer – riveting!

In the chapter “Hank and Theology”, he comments: “In humor, the impact of the message is never quite under the author’s control.  When the audience laughs, we’re never sure whose face has caught the pie.  This makes humor a risky medium…Humor is a gift from author to audience, and once it’s passed along, it can’t be called back.  Writers who insist on controlling the message will never feel comfortable taking such a risk.” (p. 96, Storycraft. Perryton, TX: Maverick Books. 2009).

 Don’t we crave good, wholesome humor?  This series possesses it in spades, both for adult and child.  I recommend the audio versions of the stories with original songs performed by the author.  If you haven’t experienced this world yet, you are in for a treat.

Are you a bonus features fan like I am? If so, the author’s website will delight and amaze.  It is chock full of audio commentary, author biography, links to articles by the author, games and contests for kids, and lots of colorful illustrations:http://www.hankthecowdog.com

Categories: Children's Books, Humorous, Inspiration, Music, Read Aloud, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

 Dr. Theodore Geisel, the real “Dr. Seuss”, wrote this classic Christmas tale after looking at own reflection in a mirror on December 26 and seeing “the Grinch” looking back at him:   “I was brushing my teeth on the morning of the 26th of last December when I noted a very Grinchish countenance in the mirror. It was Seuss! Something had gone wrong with Christmas, I realized, or more likely with me. So I wrote the story about my sour friend, the Grinch, to see if I could rediscover something about Christmas that obviously I’d lost.” (December 1957 issue of Redbook magazine).

This wonderful book, first published in 1957, still resonates with us today as we face a holiday that is a very mixed bag of holy and holly!  I find the expectations, the increased activity, the spending decisions all conspire against me to rob the season of its joyful celebration of Christ’s entry into earth for our salvation.  This year I re-read the Grinch several times and found in it – of all places – the answer to what was wrong with me at Christmastime.  In the opening of the story, the Grinch is up on his solitary mountain, looking down, literally and figuratively, on the Whos as they celebrate Christmas with excessive noise, material gifts, food, and singing.  I identify most, especially before the holiday, with the  Grinch’s protest of the “Noise! Noise ! Noise!  Noise!” I begin to crave solitude and the calmer pace of life – including less traffic and crowded stores!  Dr Seuss is a master at capturing our Christmastime difficulties: too much feasting, too much materialism, too many parties and social encounters.  

But I found my answer  on the last three pages of the book:  “And what happened then…? Well… in Who-ville they say that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day! And the minute his heart didn’t feel quite so tight, he whizzed with his load through the bright morning light and he brought back the toys! And the food for the feast! And he…. HE HIMSELF…! The Grinch carved the roast beast!”   

 I am happy to report that my “tight heart” loosened up BEFORE the actual Christmas Day arrived and I saw with great clarity that it is our hearts that matter.  Are the things we do, buy, and say at Christmastime coming from LOVE? The heart is the key.  How did Theodore Geisel get it so right?  

 So I wish you all a “Loving” Christmas and  “Loving” New Year in 2013!

 

 

Categories: Children's Books, Classics, Humorous, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Read Aloud – A Christmas Carol

Good literature is a pleasure to read aloud.  The words roll off the tongue and provide a wonderful opportunity for children to hear the English language used artistically.   A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens may be a prime example of a book that is a pleasure to read aloud, and one that appeals to many age levels.  I hold nothing against the many movie versions of this classic tale, but I do want to point out that they all cut out great bites of the original book.  Charles Dickens is a master of the English language and although that can be daunting to the average reader, most of his vocabulary words can be understood in context.  As an example, Dickens describes Scrooge at the outset of the story as: “… a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire…” (p. 10).  I get this, don’t you?  Scrooge is miserly, cold-hearted, and loveless.

One Christmas vacation, I read A Christmas Carol in its entirety (88 pages unabridged) to my husband as he drove the long tedious I-70 highway from Denver, Colorado to his hometown near Kansas City, Kansas.  My fourteen-year old has re-read the book twice during her Christmas break.  She is hoping to read it a third time this year.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, author Gladys Hunt encourages us to keep reading aloud even when our children can read independently: “What most parents do,… is stop sharing books as soon as a child can read alone.  That makes reading a solitary happening, with no chance to talk about a book or discuss what it is saying. ” (Honey for a Teen’s Heart, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2002).  Steve Demme, an inspirational homeschool speaker and founder of Math-U-See curriculum read at night to his four sons by positioning a chair in the hallway within earshot of his boys’ rooms and reading from there.  I vividly remember when I was called on during a babysitting job to read aloud to five children at bedtime.  They lined up on the couch and listened attentively while I read them the next chapter of the third Narnia book.  They knew where their mother had left off and they didn’t want to miss a night!

We can teach our kids to read with expression by our own example.  We benefit from listening to books also in the development of our imaginations.  Books with “boring bits” describing places are just opportunities to make a “mental movie” of what is happening in the book.  Doing the voices of the characters can be fun, especially when there is interesting dialogue between well-drawn characters.  To mix it up, the family member who is the usual family narrator can take a break while others take a turn reading aloud.  It’s important to switch genres of books to accommodate the tastes and ages of different family members.  Vacations, trips, and sick days are all wonderful times to put in extra reading moments.

Family closeness is precious and we value it even more at Christmastime.  I am beating the same drum as I “requote” Jim Trelease, the author of the Read-Aloud Handbook: “Next to being hugged, reading aloud is probably the longest-lasting experience of childhood.”  Read aloud and build closeness!

Other resources with wonderful read aloud book lists:

Sonlight Curriculum catalog

Hunt, Gladys M.. Honey for a Child’s Heart: The Imaginative Use of Books in Family Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.

 

Categories: British novels, Children's Books, Classics, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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