Children today are being bombarded with horrible images of war showing death and destruction. I often wonder how these brutal images are affecting childrens’ perceptions of what is really happening to the people involved. But even more basically just who are these peoples–adults and kids. Our knowledge of our own geography is so limited; imagine what we do not know about the cultures of Central Asia. Those unpronounceable names– Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, or Tadjikstan to mention a few. This region now torn up as the seeds of democracy are being sowed by American policies. What happens to families and children when brutal conflicts are raging around them. How are their worlds shattered? Will they ever be able to return to their earlier peaceful existences.
Help young readers learn about the upheavals caused by conflicts by sharing PETAR’S SONG by Pratima Mitchell, illustrated by Caroline Binch (Frances Lincoln, 2004, $7.95). Story is set in a peaceful village where Petar and his family are simple farmers. Petar is something of a star as he plays violin for all of the village celebrations and holidays. One evening as he herds the cows home an explosion shatters the stillness. This is followed by the sounds of machine-gun fire. That evening the family packs bedrolls, some foodstuffs and flees over the mountains to safety. Petar’s father remains behind to join the men protecting their country. In their safe haven Petar misses his father and country so much he can not bring himself to make music until one day he is inspired and a song of peace comes into his head. A simple story beautifully illustrated which has great dramatic effect on the reader. The country here is never identified, but that is irrelevant. The story has been seen over and over again. We see this repeated night after night on our news programs. A picturebook with a story of the impact of war and the pain families endure.
Tales Told in Tents
To go specifically to Central Asia may I recommend TALES TOLD IN TENTS: Stories from Central Asia by Sally Pomme Clayton, illustrated by Sophie Herxheimer (Frances Lincoln , 2004, $16.95). This book provides the reader with a rich and vibrant look at the beauty of Central Asian culture. There are twelve interwoven stories of the authors travels, folklore, proverbs and riddles from Afghanistan through to Uzbekistan. The stories are accompanied with vivid paintings of this colorful world. Let our young readers toady learn some of the stories from those lands being torn apart by bombs and strife.
One of the most significant influences from this part of the world is found in the JAKATA TALES from India. These tales have been instructing people for over 2500 years. Lessons about sharing, compassion, learning right from wrong are all part of these delightful tales. A new retelling is found in THE RUMOR by Jan Thornhill (Maple Tree Press, 2005, $6.95) This story is perhaps best known as “The Sky Is Falling” or even the story of Chicken Little. Here we have a dramatic rendering with enough repetition to make the narrative sing. The author Jan Thornhill has a long list of awards including the CONACULTA 7th International Award for illustration from the IBBY (International Board on Books for Young readers.)
Another cross-cultural gem is found in SAWDUST CARPETS by Amelia Lau Carling (Groundwood, 2005 $16.95). A Chinese Buddhist family with two little girls are spending an Easter vacation in Antigua, Guatemala, with relatives. Antigua has an ancient and famous practice for Easter morning before the procession leaves the cathedral to bless the sections of the city. The route is covered with carpets made of sawdust, seeds, flowers, weeds, plants, etc. These spectacular sawdust carpets are destroyed during the procession but that is fine. There also is the Chinese religious observations of the Goddess Kuan Yin. Chinese tamales , piñatas, dragon boat races, Easter processions all weave in and out of this tolerant story. Picture-book but the content is at a much higher level.
FOOLING THE TOOTH FAIRY by Martin Nelson Burton, illustrated by Clint Hansen (London Town Press, 2005, $17.00) can also be a piece of a world understanding motif. This beautifully executed paper-cut book tells a universal story of trying to get more of a good thing. Maybe every child thinks this way, but I certainly hope this is not typical. Little Marty hatches a plot to fool the tooth fairy. He makes a paper tooth and puts it under his pillow. He then tells his MOTHER what he is doing. Lo and Behold in the morning there is a coin under his pillow. I can not spoil the surprise. The artwork here is truly unbelievable. It is all done with cut paper——even the hairs on the character’s heads. This is an amazing feat done here. I was delighted and pleasantly pleased with the book. A must see to believe.
Our beloved and oh so special friend for all young readers has a new book coming which teaches a subtle lesson to look through the surface to find the real. THE MISSING MANATEE by Cynthia DeFelice (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, April 2005, $16.00) introduces Skeet Waters who wants desperately to catch a big beautiful tarpon on his fly rod. He also wants for his life to return to what had been normal for his mom, dad (Mac) and gram, Memaw. Skeet overheard his mother telling Mac not to come back home ever again. Skeet takes his skiff and simply heads out to escape his troubles. On the trip he discovers a dead manatee. Now manatees as we already know are harmless, creatures and classified as endangered species. This manatee upon closer examination turns out to have been shot in the back of the head. How could this have happened. Skeet is incensed and goes immediately to report the butcher. He returns to the spot but the evidence has been removed. How can he possibly prove what he saw. This is the crux of Skeet’s problem. As the story evolves Skeet gets closer and closer to the truth, but what will he do with it. He learns how to fly cast to catch a tarpon but learning that skill how will that carry over into his personal life. Cynthia again makes a suspenseful story of a boy’s anguish over the right choices in life. His gram provides wonderful moments of comic release and some great moments of wisdom to assist Skeet in making his ultimate decision. This is magnificent story–well told in all aspects–a great read to bring further honors to an already beloved and remarkable writer. Good readaloud also.
From the pitch-letter I received from Kate Klimo, Vice President, Publishers, Random House Children’s books—”marvelous mix of earthy and exotic, charming and suspenseful, wise and delightfully funny, aid it absolutely chock-a-block with passages so elegantly crafted, so thrummingly pitch-perfect, that they will have you leaping from your chair in search of someone to read them aloud to.” WHITTINGTON by Alan Armstrong (Random House, July 2005, $16.99) is all she said it would be, and, believe it or not– EVEN MORE! The book is hard to describe. You meet Lady, a Muscovy duck with clipped wings, who rules the roost in human owner Bernie’s barn, who gives shelter to a tough-looking cat named Whittington who shows ,up one day. The cat is a direct relative of the famous Dick Whittington’s cat who as we learn in the story was actually the power behind Dick’s fame. Bring in a little Reading Recovery for Bernie’s grandson Ben and the story is off and running with the reader turning the pages as quickly as possible. I loved it; all Dick King Smith fans must get a copy of this one