Monday, June 19, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Midsummer Tomte and the Little Rabbits

The summer solstice, midsummer, is only a few days away and in honor of this day I bring you this delightful picture book in which we meet a grumpy tomte. Tomtes are little gnome-like people who are often found living in human homes and on farms. If their human hosts give them a little kind consideration, the tomte will become attached to their people and take care of them in their own small way. The tomte in this story does not have a family anymore, until something happens that turns his life upside down.

The Midsummer Tomte and the Little RabbitsThe Midsummer Tomte and the Little Rabbits 
Ulf Stark
Illustrated by Eva Eriksson
Translated by Susan Beard
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Floris Books, 2016, 978-178250-244-9
Early summer has arrived and change is in the air. Grump the house tomte cleans the farm cottage, just as he does every year, even though the family has not lived there in a long time. He scrubs the floors, shakes out the linens, and polishes the gong in the hall. When he bangs the gong, memories of what the house was like when the family lived there wash over him, and he feels their loss.
   Grump’s mood does not improve when his friend the bee announces that it is time for him to leave. Grump tries to persuade the bee to stay but the bee is eager to be off and he flies away, leaving Grump all on his own. Grump feels that making friends with the bee in the first place was a mistake because it meant that he became attached to the little animal. He has been too friendly and not grumpy enough, he decides. Something has to change.
   Not far away the rabbit family members are busy doing chores and learning about plants. The rabbit children are reminded of the wonderful Christmas celebration that they shared with the tomte and they wish that they could have another festive gathering. Mother Rabbit explains that Christmas will not come around for many months, which is when Uncle Nubbin tells the little rabbits about Midsummer.
   Eager to find out what a Midsummer celebration is, the rabbits go to visit Owl. Owl tells them that Midsummer is a time for wearing hats, dancing, playing, and kissing. It is also “full of magic and love and mystery.”
   Then a summer storm hits and even the rabbits’ safe home under the big oak tree is flooded. Dozens of animals are homeless, drenched, and miserable, and there is no safe place for them to shelter. Then the younger rabbits suggest that they take refuge in Grump’s cottage, and off they go. Soon they are joined by Grump’s bee friend, who also needs a safe and dry place to rest. Grump, who does not want to form attachments, suddenly finds himself surrounded by friends.
   Midsummer is only a few days away and some of the animals think about celebrating. Then they discover that one of their own is dangerously sick. No one can think about having a party when Rory’s life hangs in a balance. Even Grump, who tries not to feel things, is sad and upset.
   This wonderful picture book takes readers into a delightful woodland world where the rabbits and their friends, and a grumpy house tomte, live. Divided into short chapters, the story takes us into the lives of the characters, and we get to watch as they discover new things about love, magic, and friendship.

                                                                                                                                                                                    

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Books of Hope - The House at Pooh Corner

I have said it before and I will say it again: these are trying times. For the most part the news is full of stories about loss, suffering, and evil-doing. It is depressing. What does one do in such times? Eating a lot of chocolate is a good place to start, but, alas, the pleasure eating chocolate gives does not last long, and the consumption of said delight inevitably leads to feelings of guilt.

I am firm believer in the therapeutic power of books, and so I always find myself turning to old book friends in times of trouble. One of my favorite book friends is the book The House at Pooh Corner. One cannot read this book without cracking a smile, which then leads to one experiencing a softening of the edges feeling. By the time the last page is read, the heart is eased, and hope starts to gather itself up once more,


The House at Pooh Corner 
A. A. Milne
Illustrator:  Ernest H. Shepard
Fiction  Series
For ages 5 and up
Penguin, 1988, 978-0525444442
It seems as if we have only just begun to get to know Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends, and yet here we are having to prepare ourselves to say goodbye already. And yet there are still a few more stories that need to be told before we leave. The stories include, among others, a tale about a Heffalump, one about the search for Small, and we hear about how Tigger comes to the forest.
   Indeed, Tigger features quite prominently in this collection of tales. He arrives in the middle of the night, full of enthusiasm and bounces. He tells Pooh that Tiggers like to eat everything, but they soon find out that this is not quite true. Tiggers do not like honey, nor do they care for haycorns. And as for thistles, well they are far too hot and have “too many spikes.” It becomes clear that it is going to be no easy task to find out what Tiggers do like to eat.
   Thankfully, Tigger does find out what his favorite food is and, to the relief of everyone, he goes to live with Kanga and Roo. Then the bouncy animal and Roo get into a spot of bother when the two friends decide to climb a tree. It turns out that that Tiggers are very good at getting up trees but they are not very skilled at getting down.
   There can be no doubt that this book will appeal to readers of all ages. Children will love to hear about the simple adventures that Pooh and his friends have. Older readers will discover that Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood world is not that different from the one that we live in. The mistakes that are made and the confusions that are occur sound awfully familiar. As for the characters, well they are so like real people that we almost expect to see Rabbit living next door. After all, we all know people who like to be admired – like Rabbit – and others who like to pretend that they know more than they actually do – like Owl. There are those quiet and shy little folks who dream of being a hero one day – like Piglet, and finally there are those who don’t realize that they have a lot more to offer the world than they think they do – like Pooh himself.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Niko Draws a Feeling

I once had a teacher who thought that his interpretation of a poem, play, or novel was the only interpretation that was worth anything. When I tried to offer up my ideas about what I thought the writer was saying, I was firmly shot down. I found this very annoying. Everyone brings their own perspective to the table when it comes to interpreting a piece of writing, a piece of music, or a work of art. Similarly, writers, musicians, and artists perceive the world in different ways.

In this picture book readers will meet a little boy who loves to draw feelings, and unfortunately no one really understands his art. His friends and family members think he should be drawing things rather than emotions, and they are confused by his creations. They do not understand that Niko has a different way of seeing and interacting with his world.

Niko Draws a Feeling Niko Draws a Feeling
Bob Raczka
Illustrations by Simone Shin
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Carolrhoda, 2017, 978-1-4677-9843-3
Niko loves to draw pictures and he is constantly being inspired by the things that he sees around him. The thing about Niko is that he likes to draw feelings, sounds, and sensations rather than things. Instead of drawing the ice cream truck, he draws the ‘ring-a-ling’ sound that the ice cream truck bell makes. Instead of drawing the autumn sun, he draws the sensation of the sun’s warmth on his face. Instead of drawing a mother robin that is hard at work building her nest he draws her work, her labors as she builds her nest.
   Niko loves his unique creative process and the way in which inspiration comes to him, but he cannot help feeling a little sad that his friends, parents, and teacher don’t understand his art. Not being able to share what he is doing with others is hard, and life is a little lonely for the boy. One day he draws a self-portrait of his feelings and he puts this portrait behind a door. No one will understand it anyway.
   Then, one day a girl called Iris moves in next door, and something truly remarkable happens.
   This wonderful book celebrates the creative process and explores the idea that people see and experience the world in different ways. The important thing to remember is to be open to those differences, because you never know what new wonders you will discover if you do.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Darkest Dark

Facing your fears is never easy to do. Imagine what it would be like to be a chef who is afraid of knives, or a doctor who has a fear of needles. In this clever picture book biography you will meet a little boy who loves to pretend that he is an astronaut and who is fascinated by space. Perhaps he even dreams of going up into space one day. There is a problem though; the little boy is afraid of the dark.

The Darkest DarkThe Darkest Dark
Chris Hadfield
Illustrated by the Fan Brothers
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Tundra Books, 2017, 978-1-101-91862-3
Chris loves pretending that he is an astronaut. In fact, he is often so busy flying around in his cardboard rocket, saving the planet from aliens or visiting Mars, that he has a hard time making time for baths and bedtime. After all “An astronaut’s work is never done,” and they don’t like wasting time on sleep. The problem is that Chris’ parents do like to sleep and so they are not best pleased when Chris climbs into bed with them. Nor are they too thrilled when he tells them that the darkness in his room is the kind that “attracts the worst sorts of aliens.”
   Some parents might give in at this point and let their son sleep with them, but Chris’ parents are putting their feet down. Chris will get over his fear of the dark and he will sleep in his own bed. They check to make sure that his room is “100 percent alien free,” they turn on his night light, and they even give him a bell to ring if he gets nervous. Then they take the bell away.
   Chris is then told that he needs to stop his fooling around because if he doesn’t he will not be able to attend the special event that is going to take place at their neighbor’s house the next day. Being able to go next door the next day is so important to Chris that he stays in his bed, and after a long time he falls asleep. What Chris does not know yet is that his experiences the next day will change how he feels about the dark, and it will influence the choices that he makes in his life in the future.
   Written by the first Canadian astronaut to walk in space, this wonderful picture book shows young readers how a single event can change ones perspective and even change one’s life. In Chris’ case what he saw that on that special night at his neighbor’s house planted the seed of a dream in his heart, and it was a dream that he never gave up on. He worked hard until the day came when he finally got his chance to go into space.
   At the back of the book young readers will find further information about Chris Hadfield. They can also read a message from Chris, and see photos of him when he was a little boy and when he was an adult working in space at the International Space Station.