Friday, December 8, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and his Dream of Don Quixote

I have been lucky enough to read and review a wide variety of children's books over the last fifteen years or so. During that time I have really enjoyed seeing how authors and illustrators take on new challenges, and present stories and information in fresh and creative ways. Poetry books in particular have come a long way, and I really look forward to seeing the new titles that come out. In today's poetry title the author uses a series of poems to tell us the story of Miguel Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote. The poems are beautifully written and are accompanied by lovely illustrations.

Miguel's Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don QuixoteMiguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and his Dream of Don Quixote 
Margarita Engle
Illustrated by Raul Colon
Historical Fiction Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 to 10
Peachtree Publishers, 2017, 978-1-56145-856-1
Miguel’s father is a barber surgeon who has a nasty gambling habit, and he is constantly having money problems. Eventually his debts are so big that he is thrown into a debtor’s prison. Miguel’s poor mother loses everything, including hope. She and her children have nothing, and they have no idea where their next meal will come from. In his empty home, Miguel takes refuge in his imagination, where a brave knight lives. The knight rides out on his horse to “right / all the wrongs / of this confusing/ world.”
   Mama finds work and she manages to take care of her family until her husband is released from prison. Then family then travels from place to place, and sometimes Miguel is able to attend school. The teacher reads to the children and Miguel wishes that he too could have a book to read, but books are few and far between, and only the teachers “are allowed to hold the books.”
   Knowing how precious books are Miguel is horrified when he witnesses a book burning. The books are being destroyed because they contain imagined stories. Miguel knows that his knight, the one that is hidden away in is imagination, would “rescue the flaming pages” if he were real.
   Papa gets work cutting hair and trimming beards, pulling teeth and treating wounds, but he also continues to gamble and so the family has to move again and again to run away from debt collectors. During the hard times, when they have to move, and when the plague comes to the land, Miguel turns to his knight for comfort. The knight rescues those in dire straits, and dashes to the rescue with his “chubby friend riding beside him / on a clumsy donkey.”
   Despite of his father’s ways, Miguel manages to learn to read and write in one of the schools he attends. The boy learns to write his own plays and poems, and when he is older one of his teachers includes four of Miguel’s poems in a book that is published.
   In this beautifully illustrated book a series of image-rich poems tells the story of Miguel Cervantes, and it is easy to see how the idea of Don Quixote might have grown in Miguel’s imagination when he was a child. He needed to believe in something good when his own life was so hard and so full of uncertainty.
   At the back of the book readers will further information about Miguel Cervantes and his famous knight character.

  


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Books of Hope - Adventures in Brambly Hedge

When times get hard, people often take a break from their lives so that they can rest and refresh. They go on a trip, go for a run or a hike, get out into nature, and spend time with the people that they love best. They knit or make music, work with wood or sew a quilt. Many of us dive into the pages of a book so that we can take a breather.

One of my favorite series of books that I turn to when I need a pick-me-up are the Brambly Hedge stories. The characters in these tales are mice and voles, and they live in a beautiful countryside world working, playing, and celebrating together. When you enter the world of Brambly Hedge you are immediately wrapped in a cozy blanket of friendship and good cheer. Here problems are solved through hard work, creativity, and cooperation. Life is simple and rich. When your visit is over you will return to the 'real' world warmed through, hopeful, and ready to face what comes next.

In the last few years two collections of these little books have been republished. One box set contains four adventure story picture books, and the other contains four seasonal story picture books. I am lucky enough to have one of these sets and today I bring you a review of one of the stories in the collection. All four of the stories in the set are a joy to read and share.

Jill Barklem
Picture Book
Ages 5 and up
HarperCollins, 2014, 978-0-00-746145-5
   In just a few short hours the Midwinter celebration is going to take place. All the Brambley Hedge mice are busy preparing for this big event. In the Old Oak Palace, Primrose and her friend Wilfred are trying to find a quiet place where they can practice the recitation that they are going to give in the evening. They also need to find something to wear for their performance; something special.
   Luckily Primrose’s mother is very knowledgeable and she advises the little mice to go up into the attics. There they will be able to practice in peace, and it is very likely that they will find some good costumes to wear as well.
   While they are exploring the attics, Primrose and Wilfred discover a hidden door, and behind it there is a long winding staircase. At the top of the staircase the mice children find the most beautiful and elaborate room. In fact, there are a whole set of rooms up there that are packed with fascinating things to look at. Wilfred and Primrose have their very own secret house to play in and to explore.
   Young readers will be hard put not to feel very envious of  the young mice friends in this Brambly Hedge tale; what a delightful adventure they have. With a wonderful story and beautiful illustrations that are packed with cunning little details, this is a book that young readers and their families will treasure. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Letters to a Prisoner

We like to think that we live in a world where people can speak out and say what is on their mind whenever they want to. Sometimes, and in some places, this is the case. However, in many countries around the world, too many of them in fact, people are either imprisoned or permanently silenced when they express opinions that governments, regimes, or dictators do not agree with.

Today I bring you a book that is a tribute to the people who dare to speak out against the powers that be. These are people who risk losing their freedom or their lives when they express their opinions. The story is also a tribute to the people and organizations who support the prisoners, who write to them, and who refuse to forget them.

Letters to a PrisonerLetters to a prisoner
Jacques Goldstyn
Wordless Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Owlkids, 2017, 978-1-77147-251-7
One day a father and his little girl attend a peaceful demonstration. Or at least that is what it is supposed to be. The protestors are peaceful, but the soldiers who confront them are not. They attack and the father is struck on the head and thrown into a van that drives away. His poor little daughter witnesses the whole horrific event.
   The father is cast into a prison and there he languishes day after day. He feeds a bird who comes to his window, and a mouse who visits his cell. He draws a picture of himself and his daughter on the wall and remembers the good times.
   Then the bird he fed brings him a letter, a letter which makes him weep. Unfortunately, the guard sees the father reading the letter and he takes it away. He takes away all the other letters that the bird delivers. The guard burns the letters, sending smoke and fragments of paper up into the air. Perhaps he imagines that he has won this battle. But he has not.
   This extraordinary book was inspired by Amnesty International’s Writes for Rights letter-writing campaign. The human rights organization encouraged people from around the world to write to people who had “been unjustly imprisoned for his or her ideas.” The author wrote to prisoners, and being a part of such a meaningful effort made him want to tell a story; this story.
   Children who follow the story in this book will see how many voices can indeed bring about change. They will come to appreciate that everyone, anyone, can make the world a better place if they try.

Thank you

Image result for vintage children's illustrations public domain

Dear Friends:
I apologize for being silent for so long. I have a chronic illness which, for some reason that I do not understand, has been creating havoc with my health for a while now. The last few weeks have been particularly trying. I coped very well for years, but now the careful balance of work and rest that I have developed for myself no longer seems to be working. Hopefully I will figure out what the new balance is soon and I will be able to bring you posts of reviews consistently and on time. Thank you all for your patience and for your friendship.

With all my love,