February 27, 2020 § Leave a comment
Every year, once in the fall and once in the spring, I take each of my children on a mommy-and-me trip to New York City for a long weekend in the city where I grew up. We board the train in Alexandria, Virginia and make stops in Washington, D.C.; Baltimore, Maryland; Newark, Delaware; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and, finally, New York City, Penn Station. My kids have come to enjoy the train ride almost as much as the destination itself, glancing up from their books to watch the changing scenery speeding by—there is something innately lolling and contemplative about train travel—and anticipating the stops to come.
These same train stops come to life against an important and fascinating historical backdrop in Overground Railroad (Ages 4-9), a new picture book by superstar husband-and-wife team Lesa Cline-Ransome and James Ransome, whose Before She Was Harriet I praised around this same time last year. “Isn’t it supposed to be “Underground Railroad?” my daughter asked, when I picked up the book to read it to her. Admittedly, I was equally stumped. As the Author’s Note explains, most people are familiar with the covert network known as the Underground Railroad, which assisted runaway slaves on their journey to the North, usually on foot. Lesser known but often equally secretive, the Overground Railroad refers to the train and bus routes traveled by millions of black Americans during the Great Migration, a time when former slaves opted to free themselves from the limitations and injustices of sharecropping to seek out better employment and educational opportunities in the North. Faced with the threat of violence from the owners of these tenant farms, who relied on the exploitation of sharecroppers for their livelihood, those who escaped often had to do so under cover of night.
February 20, 2020 § 4 Comments
Since losing my grandmother two weeks ago, I haven’t been able to shake my sadness at the realization that my memories with her are now finite. For nearly 45 years, I have been collecting memories with her, savoring them on shelves in my heart. Memories of orange-red sunsets on the beach; of her impossibly large hibiscus plant; of earth-shattering thunder claps which sent me flying out of bed, always to find her calmly watching the electrical show from the screened porch (“Have you ever seen anything so beautiful, Meliss?”). There were jigsaw puzzles which kept us up late into the night, always after vowing she wouldn’t “get involved”; prank calls she encouraged me to make to her friends; Thursday night Bingo games at her golf club, where to be seated next to her felt like basking in the presence of a celebrity. I can still hear her voice like it was yesterday, those giddy eruptions of “Goody goody goody!”
If the right book, read at the right time, can cradle you in its embrace, then Deborah Marcero’s new picture book, In a Jar (Ages 4-8), is doing that for me. (My kids are pretty smitten, too.) It is the most exquisite, childlike, visual depiction of memory-making I’ve encountered, as well as a reminder that the process of collecting memories can be as beautiful as the memories themselves. While it’s not about death, it is a story of loss—the loss of a friend who moves away—and how we re-frame the world in light of departure. It’s affirming and hopeful and the kind of lovely that surrenders you to its pages.
July 12, 2019 Comments Off on “The Bravest Thing a Person Can Do”: Three Immigrant Stories
These provocative words hail from Jasmine Warga’s Other Words from Home, one of three new books with a unique, powerful presentation of the immigrant experience for a different age group. Whether set in the past or present, these stories have never been more relevant to share with our children. If our kids are someday to have a hand in the creation of fair, just, compassionate policy, they should spend some time in the shoes of the very people whose lives these policies aim to impact.
What does it mean to arrive in this country with hope in your heart? What does it mean to walk away from family, from the familiar, from foods you’ve eaten all your life, and step into the Unknown? Each of the below books explores these questions, while posing another of its own.
December 12, 2018 Comments Off on Gift Guide 2018: The Elephant in the Room
This is mixed-media artist Pamela Zagarenski’s third year appearing on my Gift Guide (previously for this and this) and for good reason: there is a jewel-box quality to her picture books, their pages adorned with surreal and scintillating spreads destined for endless discovery. Her newest, Zola’s Elephant (Ages 4-7), written by Randall de Seve (whom I fell for long ago, when I used to sell The Duchess of Whimsy at my store), is every bit the treasure we’ve come to expect: a story of two girls, their pathway to friendship, and the phantom elephant which bonds them. « Read the rest of this entry »
October 15, 2015 § 3 Comments
My son and I just returned from one of our beloved fall traditions: a long weekend in New York City. I take sublime pleasure in watching JP fall deeper in love with the city of my childhood at every visit: soaking up the street sounds (“I don’t know if I’ll be able to sleep without the horns and sirens,” he told me in all seriousness on the night we got home); quickening his walking pace to keep up with the most seasoned striders; and taking an active roll in navigating us through the city streets, both above and below ground.
This last point is in large part owing to two things: first, JP’s recent discovery of the NYC subway map; and secondly, his fondness for the Empire State Building, which we summitted on our previous trip to the city. When he is not rattling off the list of upcoming stops on an uptown train ride, he is looking around him on the street for the landmark against which to measure all landmarks.
We discovered this past weekend (thank you, Books of Wonder) that there is a new children’s book that marries JP’s love of the subway with the Empire State Building. I’m declaring it required reading for natives and tourists alike. Because get this: it is now MY FAVORITE NEW YORK BOOK OF ALL TIME.
April 23, 2012 § 2 Comments
For adults, the worst part about moving is cardboard boxes. For kids, the best part about moving is cardboard boxes! We managed to save a giant wardrobe box from our last move, and we bring it out on rainy days. It’s the Mother of All Boxes. Don’t get me wrong: they also love playing with diaper boxes, amazon.com boxes, and wine boxes (that these seem to be the predominant boxes around our house at any given time probably says much about our priorities). Our “house rule,” when a new box shows up, is that the kids get it for one week—and then (because Mom can’t take it any longer) it’s dumped in the recycling bin, regardless of how beautifully decorated it is by then. But that wardrobe box is still kicking around some 18 months later, because, well, it’s just THAT AWESOME. One of the more originally executed children’s books of the past decade is Not a Box (Ages 3-5), by Antoinette Portis. The book deceives: at first glance, its sparse text and simple graphics appear to be designed for a very young child. In fact, the perfect audience for this book is the precocious preschooler, who’s just beginning to forage into Imaginary Play. Through a little bunny’s mind, a simple cardboard box becomes a burning building, a hot air balloon, a robot, or a rocket, among other things. Like said bunny, my own preschooler can come up with endless roles for a cardboard box. Sure, he sat through the book when he was a two year old, but it wasn’t until he turned three that he finally “got” it, that he related not only to the bunny’s pretending but also to the bunny’s frustration each time the narrator asks him about his “box” and gets the answer, “It’s NOT a box!” Ah, to be young again, where our imagination can totally usurp daily life! Why just tonight, when I was pointing out to JP that I was still seated at the dinner table because I hadn’t yet finished my food, his answer was “But Mommy, firefighters have to leave EVERYTHING when the alarm goes off!” (What was I thinking?) Another reason why this book is lost on a younger audience is in its unique (out-of-the-box, if you will) outside: with its matte-finish, brown-paper, and jacketless cover, the book itself resembles a cardboard box (just make sure you get your hands on the hardcover, as the recently-released board book edition falls flat in this regard). Like with so many things, sometimes the best books (and boxes) are worth waiting for.
Other Favorites About Pretending With Boxes (& Sofa Cushions):
King Jack and the Dragon, by Peter Bently & Helen Oxenbury
Sitting In My Box, by Dee Lillegard & Jon Agee
A House is a House for Me, by Mary Ann Hoberman