Books May 2013: A Young Friends Bookshelf
Bad Apple: A Tale of Friendship
By Edward Hemingway. G. P. Putnam & Sons, 2012. 32 pages. $16.99/hardcover, $10.99/eBook. Recommended for ages 3 and up.
Reviewed by Anne Nydam
Bad Apple is about friendship and staying true to yourself and your friends even in the face of peer pressure. Mac is a charming apple with a pleasant life, until he meets and becomes friends with a worm named Will. The other apples disapprove of Mac’s friendship and call him Bad Apple. Eventually, he decides he would “rather be a Bad Apple with Will than a sad apple without him.”
The story is told gently in both words and pictures. The text includes a few mild puns, such as Will’s comment that Mac is “sweet.” The pictures too include some clever, subtle touches for children to find, such as Mac’s pupils in the shape of apple seeds. The full-page illustrations are saturated in rich autumnal colors that give them an aged, country charm, as if the story is a memory being recalled from old age. Indeed, my daughter interpreted the final words (You’ll always be a good apple in my book) to imply that this book was really written by Will, the worm. I am not convinced that’s what the author really had in mind, but it does show that this is a book in which children can find multiple levels.
I admit to feeling slightly uncomfortable about celebrating a friendship in which one character literally feeds off the other, leaving a hole in his head, but I doubt children will think of it that way. I suspect they will find the idea of the worm/apple friendship to be unexpected and funny rather than disturbing, and the hole left in Mac when Will is gone is another one of those little things that children will be pleased to notice.
Bad Apple could be used to bring up issues of friendship with elementary-aged children, to spark conversations about knowing who they are and what they need, and to encourage thinking about holding onto those values even if peers try to discourage them. If it takes a wormy apple to get those conversations started, then that’s okay with me.
Anne Nydam is a member of Wellesley (Mass.) Meeting, where she teaches First-day school. A former middle school art teacher, she now stays home with her children, while working as an artist and writer.
Good People Everywhere
By Lynea Gillen, illustrated by Kristina Swarner. Three Pebble Press, 2012. 32 pages. $15.95/hardcover. Recommended for ages 3 and up.
Reviewed by Jana Llewellyn
As a parent of young children, I always look to picture books to illustrate valuable lessons. Good People Everywhere is a beautiful book that elevates all the good work human beings do around the world every day.
This is not a book that details momentous change and activism; it is about the gentle, simple steps people take at any given moment to help others. The fuzzy illustrations of smiling chefs making food, farmers picking oranges, and ballerinas dancing for a rapt audience, all look like Impressionistic paintings, the colors warm and inviting. Not only does this book praise the action of adults, it also highlights the good work of children: a boy who sits with a friend who skins his knee, an older student who helps a young child go down the sliding board, a sister who watches her baby brother while her mother runs across the street to help a neighbor.
Children are encouraged to notice and praise the simple beauty of what we might normally consider mundane and habitual human actions. But in a world where the news and the Internet constantly remind us of tragedy and pain and where celebrated TV shows and movies laud violence as the only way to get viewers, we need a reminder that goodness is everywhere as long as we make a conscious effort to see it.
Poetic and spiritual, Good People Everywhere is perfect for classrooms, First-day schools, and your bookshelf at home. Don’t be surprised if it moves to your list of favorite children’s books. The first time I read it, I already knew it would be at the top of mine.
Jana Llewellyn is a member of Old Haverford (Pa.) Meeting.
Because Amelia Smiled
By David Ezra Stein. Candlewick Press, 2012. 40 pages. $16.99/hardcover. Recommended for ages 3 and up.
Reviewed by Dee Cameron
Amelia’s smile, as she runs down a rainy street with her parents, starts a chain reaction. With each turn of the page, the unusual and very specific situations are likely to make readers smile, too. The contagion stops off in Mexico, England, Israel, France, and Italy, and returns to Amelia in New York.
Stein won the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer award and his Interrupting Chicken was a Caldecott Honor book. In Because Amelia Smiled, he uses a carbon paper-like crayoning technique he calls “Stein-lining.” The riotous, full-page drawings add to the sense of the connections between people and places worldwide.
In a recent interview with Publishers Weekly, Stein said his interest in Buddhism, particularly the idea that one can choose one’s reactions, inspired the story. First-day school teachers may want to pair this book with Malvina Reynolds’s song “Magic Penny.”
Dee Cameron is a member of El Paso (Tex.) Meeting.
Wanakijiji: The Villagers
By Michael Resman, translated by Fred Senelwa and illustrated by Cyrus Ngatia Gathigo. Producciones de la Hamaca, 2012. 40 pages. $20.00/paperback. Recommended for ages 4-8.
Reviewed by Tom and Sandy Farley
In Wanakijiji, a long-standing conflict is driving people of a Kenyan village to wage war on a neighboring community. In this bilingual Swahili tale, it is the village storyteller who sees that continuing the conflict will cause greater harm to all. He gets up on a rock to preach that message and convinces the villagers, the wanakijiji, to seek reconciliation. A Friend in our meeting, who grew up in Kenya, noticed that not all of the English text shows up in the Swahili translation.
This story appeals to our Quaker commitment to peacemaking and desire for examples of reconciliation. It is set in a culture far from the United States where it might not be so easy to see ourselves. This is a strength as well as a weakness. Since the story feels barely two-dimensional, we can easily see the peaceful path. Real life is a lot messier.
Wanakijiji is well illustrated. It is appropriate for reading with kindergarten and primary-grade students, but does not quite bring the complex issues of peacemaking to children in a way that feels true to our experiences of communities in conflict. As storytellers, we wish the Kenyan storyteller had convinced his people by telling a story like that in The Forgiveness Garden rather than by merely preaching his message.
Sandy and Tom Farley are members of Palo Alto (Calif.) Meeting. They are professional storytellers and booksellers.
The Sandal Artist
By Kathleen T. Pelley, illustrated by Lois Sprague. Pelican Publishing. 2012. 32 pages, $16.99/hardcover. Recommended for ages 5-9.
Reviewed by Michelle McAtee
The Sandal Artist follows Roberto, who wants to be a great artist and paint beautiful things. He refuses to paint the children and neighbors he sees each day because they are too ordinary. One day, while his shoes are being repaired, he is loaned an old pair of sandals. Some say the sandals were once worn by a fisherman, others say a carpenter, and others a storyteller. Walking in these shoes for a day helps him to see the beauty and greatness in the children and neighbors around him. The story has the feel of a folk tale, and the beautiful illustrations evoke the Renaissance era of painting. This story would work well as a stand-alone lesson for First-day school or as a companion story while studying the parables of Jesus.
Michelle McAtee is a member of Nashville (Tenn.) Meeting.
The Forgiveness Garden
By Lauren Thompson, illustrated by Christy Hale. Feiwel and Friends. 32 pages. $16.99/hardcover, $9.99/eBook. Recommended for ages 6-9.
Reviewed by Margaret Crompton
Described as “a timeless parable for all ages,” this picture book was inspired by the Garden of Forgiveness Foundation, an educational nonprofit founded by Episcopalian priest Lyndon Harris. He has taken family members who had been bereaved on 9/11 to the Garden of Forgiveness in Beirut, Lebanon, where they planted an olive tree for peace.
Two hostile villages are reconciled by the courage of Sama (Forgiveness) and Karune (Kindness). When Sama is injured by a stone thrown by Karune, she refuses to retaliate. Instead of hurling a stone at the boy, she uses it to begin building a wall to surround a new garden. Sama states that the garden can help us learn what forgiveness feels like and asks for volunteers to help in the construction. Karune is the first to respond to this request. The story ends with an illustration of the children sitting under a tree talking. The text says, “And they began to talk. What do you think they said?”
I consulted with my granddaughters Anna (age 10) and Zena (age 14) as well as their mother Polly. After some initial giggling, the girls shared that Karune would say he was sorry. We thought about narrative style, content, and presentation. Zena linked the story with Romeo and Juliet. We admired the range of art techniques. Polly identified the colors as cool and calming. Anna created a collage of her dream garden inspired by this book, including real grass and a cut-out silhouette.
The text can be read simply as a story, or as a stimulus for discussion and activities. The illustrations offer many ideas for picture-making. A link to the Garden of Forgiveness website is provided.
The publisher’s age guide of 4-6 seems rather young; 6-9 would be more appropriate. However, three generations, spanning 60 years, recommend this “timeless parable for all ages” to both First-day schools and individual Friends.
Margaret Crompton is the clerk of Alford Meeting in Lincolnshire, UK. She and her husband John were Friends in Residence at Pendle Hill in 2010. She is the author of the recent Pendle Hill pamphlet, Nurturing Children’s Spiritual Well-Being.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition
By William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon. Dial, 2012. 32 pages. $16.99/hardcover. Recommended for ages 6-9.
Reviewed by James Foritano
“In a small village in Malawi” starts the true tale of a maverick fourteen-year-old boy who breaks the mold of tradition in a tribal society to envision and then build a new but very necessary technology. William’s people have farmed the brown soil of their African homeland for generations, but when nature turns off the water in a long drought, they are stymied by a native technology that does not provide a remedy.
Fortunately for a village plunging into starvation, there is dormant individual and social capital waiting to be tapped. William Kamkwamba is young enough to remember his grandfather’s vivid tales and old enough to have discovered a talent for “taking things apart.” He reaches just beyond adult horizons to a hidden but very possible magic. The “wheels” of William’s imagination started cranking when he observed trucks rumbling by the village maize fields and built his own fleet using bottle caps for wheels. These trucks stayed parked under his bed, but nurtured his dreams.
When surrounding fields no longer reward a boy’s labor, and when even schooling is withdrawn due to a lack of tuition, William turns his sandals down the road to a library funded by the United States. It wasn’t rocket technology William discovered in the library, but it was quite enough: a windmill is soon built from discarded items and rises over the maize fields.
The strange sight first startles and then awakens villagers to possibilities that one of their own dreamed strenuously so they could embrace a new “magic” supplying them with light and, most importantly, water.
If the sparse poetic rhythms of this story by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer run straight to the heart of a studied idea bearing fruit, the illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon evoke delightful pauses at each turn of a page. New ideas are realized from very ordinary materials cunningly assembled; her paper collages are so intriguingly patterned and ingeniously assembled that a reader can feel both Malawi’s burning yellow sun and the rustling green but withered stalks of maize in the village fields. Perhaps, if one looks closely, one can enjoy the dizzying heights of a windmill rising out of the soil of a village and a culture by way of one boy’s persistent imagination.
This book is a lesson and a thrill for us all, but will be especially inspirational for boys approaching William’s age and/or his appetite for knowing “how things work.”
James Foritano attends Cambridge (Mass.) Meeting.
The Lion Bible in Its Time
By Lois Rock, illustrated by Steve Noon. Lion Publishing, 2012. 64 pages. $16.99/hardcover. Recommended for ages 7 and up.
Reviewed by Susan Jeffers
This beautifully illustrated book would be a fine addition to any meeting’s library. I recommend it as a reference book or as an interesting read, cover to cover, for older elementary children through adults. It provides an overview of the entire Bible story, from Creation in the book of Genesis through the spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire.
As the title implies, the emphasis is on historical context rather than Bible stories per se. The book alternates two facing pages of biblical content and context, followed by two pages of panoramic illustration showing people and scenery from the historical time and place. For example, “In the Beginning” describes some features of the “real and recognizable world of the ancient Near East” that forms the backdrop for the Creation story, stories of nomadic shepherds, and the flood found in the first part of Genesis. A two-page illustration showing people and activities around the Tigris and Euphrates follows.
The author manages to present both biblical content and historical context accurately, respectfully, and as stories that complement and supplement each other. There is no debunking of religious narrative, no privileging of science over religion or vice versa. An example would be the sidebar on page ten titled “The temple-tower of Ur.” It explains that Ur was “the biblical birthplace of Abraham,” goes on to describe the corresponding archaeological site, and ends by comparing the biblical description of the Tower of Babel to the archaeological remains of ziggurats. The section closes with the succinct observation “The ziggurat at Ur is the setting that hearers of the story might have called to mind.”
I found only a couple of very minor places where I wished the author had chosen different phrasing; in both I suspect British audiences might have found the wording more congenial (e.g., Jesus riding into Jerusalem with the crowd shouting “God save the king”). British spellings are found throughout: favour, centre, etc.
The illustrations are mostly beautiful and helpful full-color drawings or watercolors, with a few photographs such as one of the remains of a theater at Ephesus. Small maps also are used to explain the geography of the narrative. This book would work particularly well for diverse communities wanting an even-handed presentation of the biblical narrative in conversation with ancient historical evidence.
One caution, particularly for First-day school teachers who may not be particularly biblically literate. This is not an all-in-one reference book on its own: you will also want to have on hand a good study Bible, a Bible dictionary and perhaps an atlas. The table of contents gives general direction as to which part of the Bible is under discussion in each section, but if you want to find the actual Bible passages, you may need to do some research. A good Bible dictionary will easily fill this gap.
Susan Jeffers is a member of Ann Arbor (Mich.) Meeting. She teaches online Bible and biblical Greek courses for Bethany Theological Seminary, Knox College of Toronto School of Theology, and the Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership.
Paiute Princess: The Story of Sarah Winnemucca
by Deborah Kogan Ray. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2012. 48 pages. $17.99/hardcover, $7.95/audio. Recommended for ages 8 and up.
Reviewed by Alison James
At a time when a single individual can feel powerless in the face of great and awful governmental decisions, Paiute Princess tells the story of a young Paiute girl who stood up for her people, advocated peaceful resolutions of their conflicts, and lobbied for fair and respectful treatment. It is a complicated story, and Deborah Kogan Ray tells it with a sensitive thoroughness in both her text and illustrations. Throughout the story, she uses quotes from Winnemucca’s own autobiography and letters, giving an authentic voice to the narrative.
Named Sarah by a family who helped educate her, Winnemucca’s facility with languages allowed her to become a government translator. Although she was steadfast about advocating for their rights, she was felt to be a traitor by other Paiute people. Inspired by her brave grandfather who was determined to find a peaceful middle way with the white invaders, Sarah Winnemucca stood her ground even while being denounced by her own people. In a particularly daring episode, she rescued her father’s own tribe from a large encampment of hostile Bannocks. She negotiated for her family’s safety but had to help them escape and to escort them back, riding 220 miles in three days.
Winnemucca came to Washington, D.C., to lobby legislators. She spoke to packed houses all across the East Coast and made friends with some influential people, including Horace Mann’s wife, who helped her start a school for the Paiute children. The school combined the Paiute traditions in music and drama with mathematics and learning to read and write in English. Sadly, it only lasted four years, as the government started an assimilation program designed to drive all that is Indian out of the Indians. Children from many native nations were rounded up and forced into military-style academies.
This book is presented and illustrated like a young children’s picture book. The illustrations are soft and tender, appealing to children under ten. But the text is rich in detail, and the detail is about the terrible abuses our government inflicted upon the Paiute. A particularly appalling scene describes an 1865 attack. Winnemucca’s journal reads “After the soldiers had killed all but some little children and babies still tied up in their baskets, the soldiers took them also, and set the camp on fire, and threw them into the flames to see them burn alive. I had one baby brother killed there.”
There is complex and fascinating history here, told in the story of one brave woman’s life. It would make a fascinating First-day school discussion, although reading it aloud might take much of the time, and the questions that would inevitably be raised might have to season for a week, like good Quaker process. Ray includes thorough notes and a bibliography at the end, so curious children can go explore more on their own.
Alison James is a member of South Starksboro (Vt.) Meeting.
Faith: Five Religions and What They Share
By Richard and Michele Steckel. Kids Can Press, 2012. 36 pages. $17.95/hardcover. Recommended for ages 8-12.
Reviewed by Lisa Rand
Writing about five world religions in only 36 pages is an extremely challenging undertaking. Authors Richard and Michele Steckel strive to highlight the common elements among Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, and Buddhism. Their aim is admirable, and I appreciate the encouragement to notice what people have in common. I especially like the well-balanced presentation of the importance of charity.
The book includes photographs of children from around the world, drawn from the authors’ Milestones Project, which is a resource for teaching. Most of the photos are wonderful illustrations of living faith, for example showing places of worship. I wish they had omitted one photo of men kneeling in prayer: the photo’s angle gives a rather immodest view and does not clearly convey the actions of prayer.
At times, regrettably, the text contains inaccurate or misleading information. There were some errors that may not be immediately noticeable to someone less involved in the study of world religions, but a practitioner of that faith surely would notice. For example, the authors write that “faith helps people feel God within themselves—regardless of what religion they are.” This definition does not meet an Islamic description of faith, and many Buddhists do not believe in God. Similarly, an introduction about sacred texts indicates that they “contain God’s teachings and messages,” but Buddhist texts contain Buddha’s teachings. The introduction to that section could have been rewritten for clarity. When the authors discussed Islam, they used “Allah” to refer to God. This perpetuates a misperception that “God” and “Allah” are two different beings (actually, “Allah” means “the one God” in Arabic). For the sake of showing common ground, it would have been better to use the word “God.”
Throughout the book there are suggestions for reflection or for further learning. These will be helpful to parents, First-day school teachers, and curious readers. Overall, the book provides a helpful beginning to learning about other faiths, complete with many beautiful photographs. Readers should be prepared to seek other resources for more detailed information about particular faiths.
Lisa Rand is a member of Unami (Pa.) Meeting. She writes the blog Light to Read By at lighttoreadby.wordpress.com.
Rightfully Ours: How Women Won the Vote, 21 Activities
by Kerrie Logan Hollihan. Chicago Review Press, 2012. 144 pages, $16.95/paperback, $10.21/eBook. Recommended for ages 8 and up.
Reviewed by Vickie LeCroy
Rightfully Ours: How Women Won the Vote presents an interesting perspective on the suffragette movement. This book takes the reader on a journey from 1776 and the Declaration of Independence up to 1920 when the 19th Amendment was ratified. The book combines biographies of leaders of the suffragette movement with hands-on activities designed to help the reader understand what life was like during earlier times. The leaders include Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, and many others. The suggested activities are scattered throughout the book and are designed to go with a particular leader or time period. For example in the section on Harriet Tubman, there is an activity helping children find the North Star. Susan B. Anthony’s chapter includes activities about how to improve your posture and how to make an oil lamp.
Many photographs and drawings depicting life during the suffragette years are included. This book would be a welcome addition to a meeting, home, or class library.
Vickie LeCroy is a member of Cincinnati (Ohio) Meeting.
One for the Murphys
by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2012. 223 pages. $16.99/hardcover, $10.99/eBook, $6.99/paperback. Recommended for young adults.
Reviewed by Lucinda Hathaway
This is a book about a young girl, Carley Connors, in foster care with the Murphy family. It is a dialogue-driven book with lots of action and feeling in the words. Early on, I must confess, I wondered about the conversation between the mother Julie and the little boys, Adam and Michael Eric. It has been a long time since I have had little ones in my house. Mother Julie was a bit too sweet all the time, but perhaps that was just her nature. Also, Carley’s use of slang and her interactions with the other teens in high school seemed a little stilted and meaningless. Then, I spent a day helping in a local school. I listened to the young people converse and decided I am a bit out of step. How do we know how people talk to each other at home or in school as teenagers?
When I returned to the book, I was pulled in by the story. The characters learned that words have meaning by hurting each other and then having to go on and live together. Carley learned that it was okay to confide in a friend and to show some emotion. The book offers a world of possibility for discussion about not making snap decisions upon meeting someone for the first time. It also portrays the importance of being honest and true to yourself. The relationship between the adult Murphys was storybook and not at all a bad example to read. The book also teaches many lessons about forgiveness and moving on.
In the end, tears were streaming down my face as I read the conclusion. That’s all you get: I cried. You will have to read and enjoy the story. All the characters in the book were multi- layered, as are people in life. Nobody was perfect all the time, although Julie came close. I think that the book would be a great addition to any meeting library. It expresses hope and encouragement to accept what is and try for more. The theme of hidden aspects of friends’ lives is one to consider always. We cannot know about every detail of another person’s life. So have the Kleenex ready for the end and enjoy the story. Well done, Lynda.