Wednesday, December 26, 2012

I Placed FIRST!!!!

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU to all who voted.  I'm thrilled to have placed FIRST with my holiday story Humphrey the Humbug.  If you haven't read it yet, just scroll down :)  And read all the other terrific entries HERE

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 17, 2012

What if a Humbug was really a bug?

Have you heard? Susanna Leonard Hill's 2nd Annual Holiday Contest is underway!

The Rules: Write a children's holiday story beginning with any version of "Dashing through the snow in a one horse open sleigh." ... not to exceed 350 words....

(This post takes the place of my book list this week and I'm taking time off until 2013! One of my resolutions is to start a children's literature book club for adults in the new year.  I'll hope you'll join me when I get it off the ground.  Happy Holidays, Everyone.)

Here is my entry:

by Laura Renauld
(347 words)

Dropping through the mail slot in a BAH-Mobile, came Humphrey. Humphrey was no ordinary bug. He was a Humbug. And being a Humbug, Humphrey had to follow one simple rule: ‘Make Christmas cheer disappear.’

It was Christmas Eve. Humphrey’s well-trained eye zeroed in on the slightly tilting Christmas tree. “All I have to do is give that tree a push, knock over the glitter, and let the cookies burn and the Holly Household’s Christmas cheer will soon melt into the Grinchy grumps,” Humphrey said to himself.

But I can’t wreck another Christmas, thought Humphrey. The truth was, Humphrey was a half-hearted Humbug. He secretly liked everything about Christmas: the tree, the lights, and especially the music.

He poked his head out of his BAH-Mobile.  The coast was clear. First, he made his way to the tree but, instead of giving it a push, he made it stand taller, tightening the bolts in the stand.  Next, he took the jar of glitter and tightly screwed on the lid. Finally, he set the kitchen timer so the Holly’s would take the cookies out of the oven. 

Humphrey settled down inside his BAH-Mobile, happy for the first time. I spread Christmas cheer this year, he thought, as he drifted off to sleep.

Humphrey awoke to a laugh. “Ho, Ho, Ho,” chuckled Santa. “I’ve caught a Humbug!”  He gently placed Humphrey on his knee.

“I know I’m on the Naughty List, Santa, but let me explain,” started Humphrey.  Santa held up his hand.

“You are mistaken, Humphrey.  You are on the Nice List this year.”

“I am?”

“You, my friend, have had what is called a ‘Change-of-Heart.’

“Yes!” said Humphrey. “I don’t feel like a Humbug anymore.”

“Did you know,” asked Santa, “that Humbugs are very musical?”

“I do like to hum,” said Humphrey.

Santa handed Humphrey a small package. “My first present!” he shouted. Tearing it open, Humphrey found a book of Christmas carols. “Oh, thank you!” he beamed.

Now, at Christmastime, Humphrey, the humming bug, follows his own rule: “Hum carols far and near to make Christmas cheer appear!”  

Friday, December 14, 2012

Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: Sosu's Call
Author/Illustrator: Meshack Asare
Publisher/Date: Kane/Miller Book Publishers /2001
Genre/Audience: Fiction/Grades 1-4
Themes: Physically handicapped, courage, dogs, storms, Ghana, Africa

Opening: "Somewhere on a narrow strip of land between the sea and the lagoon, there is a small village. Some say it used to be bigger, but with every crashing wave, the sea claims a little more of the land."

Synopsis: From School Library Journal - "Unable to walk and considered "bad luck" by the villagers, (Sosu) is forced to stay at home with only a dog for company while his brother and sister attend school and his parents go to work. But when a storm causes the sea to overflow, threatening the lives of the young and the old, Sosu conquers his fear and, led by his dog, crawls through the "howling wind" and "churning water" to the drum in the chief's house. His drumming brings help, and in gratitude for the lives saved, the villagers provide Sosu with a wheelchair. African designs grace the endpapers, and Asare's pastel-hued, impressionistic watercolors aptly depict life in an African fishing village: the blue sea, swaying palms, thatched huts, and villagers going about their daily chores. When Sosu is thought to be a spirit, accusing neighbors loom over him in black gray shadows in a particularly eerie spread. The lengthy text contains some lyrical descriptions and evidence of the author's love of the land. While there is never any doubt that Sosu will save the day, and some of the dog's actions stretch credibility, this story of overcoming a serious physical challenge and achieving acceptance may offer hope and inspiration to young readers." -Marianne Saccardi, Norwalk Community College, CT

Why I Love This Book:
This is a lovely book that shows the validity of every child, even those differently-abled.  Some traditions carry superstitions that make it difficult for those with disabilities to become productive members of society. Or to even get basic medical help or access to tools, such as wheelchairs, that can improve their quality of life.  Bravo to Meshack Asare for openly writing about his culture's ingrained discrimination in a way that brings a hero to life and a change of heart to the villagers.

Learn more about Ghana.

A resource for parents about children with disabilities.

Drummers from Ghana on YouTube.

For more links to Perfect Picture Books, a collection of bloggers who contribute at Susanna Leonard Hill’s site, click here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Sentimental, Tugging-at-your-Heartstrings Christmas

I love sentimental Christmas stories that illustrate the true meaning of the season; of miracles, generosity, and changes of heart; of family togetherness, simpler times, and by-gone days.

My boys are still too young to enjoy these stories.  As my eldest says, "Mommy, that was a LONG book." Their attention spans and maturity are not yet ready for my favorites.  Thank goodness I can share them with you!  Here are my favorite picture books of the season. May yours be Merry and Bright!

December by Eve Bunting; Illustrated by David Diaz - The dazzling artwork of David Diaz, combined with the hope-filled storytelling of Eve Bunting, gives this book a place on my list.  December is an angel torn from a calendar and hanging on the cardboard wall of Simon's house.  He and his mom are homeless, but their generous spirit incites a miracle.  This book reminds me of the Bible verse: "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" (Matthew 25:40, NIV)

A Christmas Like Helen's by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock; Illustrated by Mary Azarian - I am a Vermonter and a distant relative of the Helen written about in this book.  The opening lines transport me to another time: "To have a Christmas like Helen's you'll need to be born on a Vermont hill farm, before cars, or telephones, or electricity, and be the youngest of seven children." The story goes on to describe farm-life, keeping the spirit of Christmas all year long, and the importance of family. Mary Azarian's gorgeous woodcut illustrations add to the charm and old-fashioned feeling of this lovely Christmas book.

The Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco - Patricia Polacco is well-known for her memoir-like picture books, and this one is no exception.  She recalls a Hanukkah when all of her neighbors fell ill with scarlet fever and couldn't celebrate Christmas.  Her family took it upon themselves to decorate trees and bring food to their neighbors and it was remembered by all as the year when "Santa really did come." Another time-honored treasure of friendship and generosity, I liked to use this book in my third grade classroom since it highlighted both Hanukkah and Christmas and offered an opening to discuss what it means to have a giving spirit.

Great Joy by Kate DiCamillio; Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline - When Frances discovers that the organ grinder and his monkey sleep on the street, she is very troubled.  Her dismissive mother is only worried about Frances' role in the Christmas pageant.  On their way to church, Frances invites the man to come. When it is her turn to say her line as an angel, she is still so distracted by the organ grinder's plight, that she can't speak. Until the door opens and the man and his monkey arrive.  Now her lines have meaning: "'Behold!' she shouted. 'I bring you tidings of Great Joy!'"

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski; Illustrated by P.J. Lynch -  Jonathan Toomey is an unhappy man with no family, but he is the best woodcarver around. When he is asked to carve the figures of a Nativity scene, Mr. Toomey's life is turned upside down by the frequent presence of a polite, but opinionated boy and his thoughtful mother. In a character conversion similar to that of Ebenezer Scrooge, Jonathan Toomey learns a lesson of love, healing, and generosity. This modern classic has been made into a movie and you can get a copy of the book with a CD of the story read by James Earl Jones.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: Baby Bear's Big Dreams
Author/Illustrator: Jane Yolen/Melissa Sweet
Publisher/Date: Harcourt, Inc./2007
Genre/Audience: Fiction/Preschool-Grade 1
Themes: Growing up, independence, making choices, imagining the future

Opening: "When I grow up in about a year, my special friends will move in here. We'll play all day and stay up late, and never go to bed by eight."

Synopsis: From Booklist - "Yolen and Sweet follow up Baby Bear's Chairs (2005) and Baby Bear's Books (2006) with a picture book exploring the little bear's optimistic plans. Written in first person from his point of view, the simple text puts forth Baby Bear's dreams of becoming a big bear. At first, his thoughts lean to the immediate, consisting of playing with friends all day, leaving their toys about, and staying up past eight o'clock. But as he thinks about it, the dreams become a little more far-reaching, with a tree house, a camping trip, and a triumphant poetry reading in his future. Full of action, and illustrated with fresh colors and pleasing details, the artwork creates Baby Bear's world as an appealing, even cozy place that children will want to explore visually while listening to the rhythmic, rhyming verse. Written with a good sense of the way young children think and express themselves, the text has a childlike air and reads aloud well. A fine new picture book for Baby Bear fans." Phelan, Carolyn

Why I Love This Book:
What child doesn't dream of what they will do when they possess freedom and independence?  Yolen's playful rhyme seizes child-like dreams of staying up late and not cleaning up the toys, and then the dreams become bigger and more involved, mirroring a child's dramatic play.  The repetition of "When I grow up in a year or two" (three, four, five) and then "When I'm ALL grown, I'll come back home and read aloud my growing poem" brings the book full circle to show the child's love and security at home. This is a sweet read-aloud with fantastic illustrations to explore. The third Baby Bear book on which Yolen and Sweet have collaborated is, in my opinion, the best of the bunch!

Visit Jane Yolen's author site for her words about this lovely title.

Use the phrase "When I grow up..." as a writing prompt.  Connect it to a communities study in the early elementary years as children learn about jobs.

Explore Melissa Sweet's artwork.

For more links to Perfect Picture Books, a collection of bloggers who contribute at Susanna Leonard Hill’s site, click here.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Happy Hanukkah

The holiday season is upon us.  I was planning on posting Christmas books today, but after I looked at my calendar, I realized that Hanukkah books are a bit more timely!  Happy Hanukkah to all those who celebrate!

Latkes and Applesauce: A Hanukkah Story by Fran Manushkin; Illustrated by Robin Spowart - When a blizzard arrives on the first night of Hanukkah, it brings with it unexpected guests.  A Hanukkah miracle occurs when these guests lead the family to the ingredients they need for their traditional feast of latkes and applesauce.  This heartwarming story includes a reference section that describes Hanukkah, includes a recipe for potato latkes, and gives the rules for playing dreidel.

Runaway Dreidel! by Leslea Newman; Illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker - In this Chanukah version of The Night Before Christmas, a runaway dreidel spins fast and far as the whole family chases it from their city apartment, through the countryside, and all the way to the ocean.  What happens next is another Chanukah miracle.  The oil and cut paper illustrations give this book its charm.

The Chanukkah Guest by Eric A. Kimmel; Illustrated by Giora Carmi - Ninety-seven year old Bubba Brayna makes the best latkes in the village.  But she doesn't see or hear as well as she used to.  As she prepares for her guests, she hears a knock on the door, and on seeing the Rabbi, welcomes him in.  But is it the Rabbi or an imposter?  In the end, it doesn't matter. Everyone has a happy Chanukkah.