March 20, 2010

What Have I Been Reading?

Posted in Book Reviews, Picture Books at 7:17 pm by catsinboxes

In a conversation last night, I was asked that very question.  My brain seemed to stop as I thought back over the past few weeks.  What have I been reading?  Things have been so ridiculously busy I have had hardly any time for reading.  A few of my mysteries have been beckoning, and I would love to escape between the pages of a book, but there’s simply too much to do.

So, as far a pleasure reading goes, I haven’t been reading.  (And that’s the sort of book you would usually bring up in a conversation.)

For school, I have been reading, and most of that reading has been read aloud with the little people.  We have read books about deserts, astronomy, poetry, history, mythology, and picture books.

For fun, and because I want to, I will highlight a few of these books below and some anecdotes we have had about them.

On the 16th, I felt it would be good to read a little about St. Patrick’s Day.  So, I pulled out a handy book:  Shamrocks, Harps , and Shillelaghs: The Story of St. Patrick’s Day Symbols.

When I cheerfully informed the little people what we would be reading about, Benjamin inquired dubiously, “Why should we read about something we don’t even celebrate?”  I then and there resolved to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.  And I did, in a way, by making a dessert with bright green icing.  The book itself was pretty interesting, with a good account of the known life of St. Patrick.

Then, following a “European” theme, a new favorite is D’Aulaires’ Trolls.

It is a rather interesting cover, isn’t it?  We have had this book for a long time, but it’s become popular over the past few weeks.   The writing is excellent and the pictures are wonderful.

Skipping across the pond, back to America, there are several books worth highlighting.

First, and one of Jonathan’s favorites at the moment, is They Were Strong and Good by Robert Lawson.

Like the D’Aulaires’, Lawson combines wonderful prose with beautiful pictures.  What is it about?  I’ll quote the forward.

This is the story of my mother and my father and of their fathers and mothers.

Most of it I heard as a little boy, so there may be many mistakes; perhaps I have forgotten or mixed up some of the events and people.  But that does not really matter, for this is not alone the story of my parents and grandparents, it is the story of the parents and grandparents of most of us who call ourselves Americans.

Isn’t that beautiful?  The following story is simple, but wonderful.  I don’t think it would ruin the story to quote the conclusion too.  I love reading it out loud . . .

I am proud of my mother and my father and of their mothers and fathers.  And I am proud of the country that they helped to build.

So am I.  It is so easy, in times like these to lose sight of how wonderful our country is.  It is easy to be swept up in shaking our heads and wondering what will happen next.  We forget our country’s history … We forget our grandparents, our great-grandparents, all the people who have made our country great.  Why should we just shake our heads?  This is America!   We can change our country.  I know that word has been used as a catch-phrase.  But we can’t forget that we can make a difference.  Despite the times we are in, despite all the uncertainty, this book reminds me of everything wonderful about our country.

And all of those thoughts provoked by one picture book!

In closing, I will highlight one more picture book I have been reading.  I call it a picture book, but really it is an illustrated poem.  Paul Revere’s Ride illustrated by Paul Galdone, is a consistent read aloud favorite.

It is written (to insert a quick poetical term) in anapestic foot.  That means that its rhythm when read is two weak stresses followed by a strong one.  It is often used in poetry to tell a story or narrate events.  To demonstrate:

Listen, my children, and you shall hear

Does that make sense?  Can you think of any other poems that are anapestic?  (Hint, think Christmas)

I love the conclusion of Paul Revere’s Ride.  It’s very stirring and patriotic, but it doesn’t quite make sense.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm, —
A cry of defiance and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beat of that steed,
And the midnight-message of Paul Revere.

The gist of it, I believe, is that people will be roused to action when their liberty is threatened.  But, of course, it would defeat the poem by merely stating that!

That, in detail, is what I have been reading.  Do you understand why I couldn’t explain it in a conversation?

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