Thursday, December 31, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Friday, December 11, 2009
The longest night
The crow, the moose, and the fox are all sure that one of them will be able to bring back the sun so that light and warmth will come to the land once more. The wind knows better though. The wind knows that someone else, someone small and unassuming, will be the one to call the sun back.
With a lyrical text and Ted Lewin’s beautiful paintings, this picture book about the longest night of the year is a joy to read.
It snowed all night long, and in the morning, everything is covered with “beautiful snow.” Out of the snowy landscape come snow men, snow women, and snow children. Each one of them carries a bag or a box. Happily they set up tables, string lights, and prepare for a “special party.” The little snow children look at a large wrapped gift, wondering what might be inside the colorful wrapped package.
At long last all is ready. The tables are set, the food is ready, the musicians have arrived, and on this shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, the snow people begin their wonderful snow party.
In this special seasonal title, Harriet Ziefert’s simple text is beautifully complimented by Mark Jones’ lovely illustrations. After reading this book young readers will be keen to have a snow party of their own, complete with icy treats, glowing lamps, and festive cheer.
A few years ago I reviewed a nonfiction title about the winter solstice. Here it is:
The Winter Solstice
Illustrated by Jan Dacey Ellis
Ages 7 to 9
Lerner, 1994, 0-7613-0297-2
Over the centuries people have held all kinds of celebrations on or around the winter solstice. Gifts were exchanged, special foods were eaten, bonfires were lit, and unique ceremonies arose.
Today we know why winter is a colder season and are not frightened by it. We don’t usually have special ceremonies on the winter solstice any more but many of the traditions that used to be held on the solstice are now ones that we enjoy on Christmas or Hanukkah. Just like the Romans during their solstice celebrations we light candles, exchange gifts, and eat special foods. Like the people of Northern Europe we decorate our homes with evergreen and mistletoe.
As they read this book children will be interested to discover that so many of the traditions of their holiday season come from very ancient winter solstice traditions. The author looks at winter solstice ceremonies and rituals from around the world and she ends her narrative with a Cherokee solstice story.
Carefully researched and beautifully illustrated, this is a picture book which provides its readers with a wealth of information.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Illustrated by Hiroe Nakata
Ages 2 to 4
Henry Holt, 2005, 0-8050-7219-5
Five ducks wake up one winter day to discover that it is snowing outside. There is no time to waste and soon all five are outside in their “bright new boots” and their snowsuits. Down to the pond they go and, after putting on their skates, the little ducks go out onto the ice. They “wiggle,” “topple” and “giggle” as they all fall down and get up again.
Then two of the little ducks see a sign and they get a wonderful idea. They lead the way across the ice and straight into an enormous snow bank. Then a snowball fight ensues. What a wonderful time they all have on this snow filled day.
With charming, delicate and often amusing watercolor paintings and a simple rhyming text, this picture book celebration of a day spent playing in the snow will give young readers lots of pleasure. Surely there is nothing quite like spending a day outdoors on a snowy day with lots of companions to play with.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
I've been asked numerous times in the last few days how I feel about the exponentially increasing attention being paid to the “The Sacred Books Controversy." Volume I of the series, THE BOOK OF NONSENSE, came out in October of 2008 from a wonderful, but very small, publisher in Texas, Blooming Tree Press/CBAY. Like most small presses, it had a hard time attracting national reviews. Thanks to bloggers though, word did get out. (See the nearly three- dozen Amazon reviews, for example). It was nominated for a Cybil and was a finalist for the Publisher's for Children's Best Books 2008 list. Nonetheless, it made nary a blip on the national radar.
Volume II was just released, and it seems to have brought out the worst in some folks. I'm happy to say it's also bringing out the best. It's difficult to describe the controversy without divulging critical plot points, but the gist of the issue here is that the series turns in a "Da Vinci Code"-like direction as the teen protagonists uncover historical facts at odds with traditional Biblical stories. The book, mind you, is fiction and has no aspirations to be taken as anything else. This, as you might not be surprised to know, isn't good enough for some. Here are some recent headlines. This from a suburban Portland paper: "Beaverton teacher’s latest tome tinkers with sacred texts” and “Sacred Books’ series may be banned by Christian Groups for fictional recounting of Bible stories"; This from Ron Charles of the Washington Post: "High school teacher in Oregon sees condemnation by conservative Christians spurring sales of his YA SACRED BOOKS series"; and this from Margie Boule in The Oregonian: "Beaverton teacher's teen adventure series is stirring up a storm.” Perhaps you can predict the reactions, but feel free to go here to read them, and please feel free to join the conversation (and see what I mean about the best and worst coming out): http://www.oregonlive.com/news/oregonian/margie_boule/index.ssf/2009/12/beaverton_teachers_teen_advent.html. It seems someone has been trying to hack into my website since this all began, which is to say the least, very concerning.
I'm not sure how to give an honest response about my feelings. I certainly never dreamed of getting my books noticed because people want to burn them. They were supposed to be celebrated for their unique combination of wit and wisdom and clever, thought-provoking plots. (Stop smirking!) But now, after publishing nearly 20 small press books (picture books, teen and adult novels) in the last nine years—not one of which garnered any attention remotely close to this—what I can say? I'm thrilled. I'm handing out cans of lighter fluid and asking only that folks buy them before they burn them. This is the real measure of how far I've fallen. But hark: in the span of two weeks they've gone from Beaverton to Boulé, and now requests have come in for copies from The Jim Lehrer Show, The Progressive, Publishers Weekly, and the AP. Soon the chains might even notice them (gasp!). Taking umbrage at this point would be disingenuous. So, I'm not taking it. 'Tis the season anyway to remember that it's better to give than to receive.
I can’t say how much I appreciate the help beginning to pour in, help in the form of e-mail, blogs and a general message that people care when censorship rears its ugly head. If folks want to spread word about my books to express their righteous anger, I can only say…thank you.
David Michael Slater
I plan on making sure that I read and review these books for myself in the near future.