Gift Guide 2018: The WW2 Story You Haven’t Heard

December 14, 2018 § Leave a comment

Where are my World War II buffs at? If my son’s reaction is any indication, they will want to read this incredible, largely unknown story. When Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot’s WW2 Story (Ages 7-10), written by Marc Tyler Nobleman and illustrated by Melissa Iwai, first showed up on our doorstop, my son took one look at the Japanese prop plane on the cover and whisked it away. He returned twenty minutes later. “Mommy, this book is AMAZING. You will definitely want to write about this.”

What sucked my son in was the promise of warfare, which the story initially delivers on, giving a fascinating account of the only two times the United States’ mainland was bombed during WW2, both times by Japanese bomber pilot Nobuo Fujita, during a covert mission off a submarine in 1942. Say what?! Why have I never heard about this? That’s because the bombs did very little damage. Dropped over a large forested area outside the town of Brookings, Oregon, the bombs were intended to start a large fire which would then spread to nearby towns—only the ground was too wet for the flames and smoke to catch. The greater danger befell Nobuo himself, who almost couldn’t locate the sub on his way back from the second bombing and nearly ran out of fuel in the air.

The bombings, however, are just a part of the book’s story. More extraordinary is what happened twenty years later, in a rare and beautiful example of reconciliation between two former foes. In an effort to drum up tourism, Brookings mailed an invitation to Nobuo in Japan, inviting him to attend their Memorial Day festival as a guest of honor. Nobuo, who lived outside Tokyo and owned a hardware store, had long suffered depression and guilt following the war. He had “never [not even with his family] discussed his Oregon raids, though they were rarely out of his mind.” He knew the intention of the raids had been to harm and kill. When word got out about the invitation, many people in America were as shocked as Nobuo’s family to learn what he had done. And many on both sides of the ocean felt Nobuo should decline the invitation. In America, there were protests and petitions.

Still, the governor of Oregon, backed by President John F. Kennedy, spoke out in support of the invitation, echoing the sentiments of a local veteran, who said of Nobuo, “he was doing a job and we were doing a job.” Nobuo and his wife flew to Oregon on a jetliner. (“A little larger than the plane in which I made my first trip,” Nobuo joked.)

Nobuo’s visit to Brookings—and the reciprocal visits that followed, including one 23 years later, when Nobuo paid to host three Brookings high school students in Tokyo—showcases the very best of our two countries. Indeed, it showcases the very best of humanity. I can scarcely read these pages without tearing up. There is such dignity in the way in which the town of Brookings sets aside the past and honors Nobuo with an American parade. (There’s good fun, too, when Nobuo is served “a large submarine sandwich topped with a plane made of pickles and a half-olive helmet.”) Similarly, there is such grace in the way Nobuo gifts to the people of Brookings his 400-year-old samurai sword, the same family heirloom he kept with him for luck during the wartime raids. Or in the way he shows Americans around his homeland. “The war is finally over for me,” Nobuo said.

Children may come to this book for promises of planes and bombs, but they will leave with an appreciation for the wounds of war—and a hope that some of these wounds can be soothed through forgiveness. Nobuo and the people of Brookings kept up their friendship until the very end of Nobuo’s life, when a Brookings town representative sat with Nobuo on his deathbed and explained that the town had made him an honorary citizen. To this day, the Brookings library houses thousands of dollars’ worth of children’s books about other cultures, all donated by Nobuo. “[Nobuo] wondered if World War II would have been different had his generation grown up reading books like those.”

I can’t help but hope that reading books like Thirty Minutes Over Oregon might also help our children’s generation think about what can be gained from letting our heart, not our politics, fly the plane.


Review copy from Clarion Books. All opinions are my own. affiliate links support my book-buying habit and contribute to my being able to share more great books with you–although I prefer that we all shop local when we can!

This holiday season, I’m running a series of daily mini-posts, each highlighting a different book from 2018 which I love, which has mad gift potential, and which I have not had occasion to write about…yet. A range of ages and interests and formats. Be sure to subscribe with your email address if you want to be guaranteed to see them. Otherwise, take your chances on Facebook (What To Read To Your Kids) or Twitter (@thebookmommy); I kindly beg you to “like” as many posts as you can to increase the chances that others see them.

Gift Guide 2016 (No. 4): For the Jet Setter

December 13, 2016 § 2 Comments

"The Airport Book" by Lisa BrownBefore my kids were in school full time, we used to spend the occasional rainy day at the airport (or, as my son would call it, the “airplane port”). We would drop the car in long-term parking, ride the shuttle bus to the terminal (itself an experience), and enjoy a picnic lunch while pressed against the floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out onto the runway. After a few hours, we’d toss our trash, head back to our car, and return home.

Before becoming a parent, I had always done my best to avoid air travel unless absolutely necessary. If you had told me that parenting would drive me willingly into the throes of a cavernous space with crowds of people and humming machines—plus two toddling kiddos in tow—I would have thought, thanks, but I’ll stick with raincoats and a quick jaunt around the block. But I discovered: take away the stress of travel and the cumbersome bags, and the airport is like a built-in babysitter.

For children, the multisensory experience of an airport is nothing short of enthralling. It’s not just the giant steel cylinders roaring down the runways before effortlessly lifting into the air. It’s also the conveyor belts that whisk bags into secret rooms behind rubber flaps; the moving walkways that shuttle people around like giant chess games; the horns from golf carts that fly by on glossy floors with collapsed wheelchairs in the back; and the fuel trucks and food trucks and baggage trains, which together descend on waiting air crafts outside the window.

"The Airport Book" by Lisa Brown

It’s not just the smell of coffee, which intermingles with re-warmed pizza, brake grease, and pink liquid soap. It’s also the sounds of loudspeakers and wailing babies and cell phone users, which intensify to a drumming buzz in the back of our heads. And it’s the dazzling rainbow of clothes and skin colors, the amalgamation of sizes and accents, which teaches our children about the diversity that inhabits their planet.

"The Airport Book" by Lisa Brown

Short of regularly taking your kids to the airport to get their fix, you can read them Lisa Brown’s The Airport Book (Ages 2-6), the newest—and, especially if you’re a parent, loveliest—picture book on the subject.  If visiting an airport in real life is an assault on one’s senses, then experiencing Brown’s book is anything but. Don’t get me wrong: my children used to beg me multiple times a day to read them Richard Scarry’s A Day at the Airport or Brian Biggs’ Everything Goes: In the Air (which I blogged about here); but while I would oblige, I secretly prayed for someone to write and illustrate something that wouldn’t make my head spin. It turns out what I really yearned for were Lisa Brown’s soft India ink and watercolors, her subtle humor, and her refreshing portrayal of contemporary jet setters.

"The Airport Book" by Lisa Brown

The Airport Book follows a mixed-race family of four on a day of travel to and from the airport, beginning in a taxi outside their city apartment and concluding on a tropical beach in their grandfather’s car. Despite the personal connection we feel to the family—when, say, the mother notices that her daughter’s beloved stuffed monkey is missing and glares daggers at the father, “Did you forget to pack Monkey?”—the narrative itself feels universal, designed as a kind of step-by-step introduction to air travel from the mouth of the girl’s knowing older brother.

"The Airport Book" by Lisa Brown

Targeted at the preschool and kindergarten crowd, the boy’s narrative is matter of fact, but it’s also oddly comforting, almost lyrical, in its ability to impose order on the surrounding chaos.

You drive on the highway to where the ground is really flat. There are lots of people saying lots of goodbyes. Sometimes they hug. Sometimes they cry. They have big bags on wheels and smaller bags on their shoulders and backs. Sometimes you can tell exactly what is packed inside the bags. Sometimes it is a mystery.

Despite its title, several pages of the book are spent inside the commercial airplane that’s bound for the family’s (unnamed) tropical destination. As with the airport scenes, Brown’s pictures are more than just a backdrop for the boy’s descriptions of safety announcements and turbulence: they provide countless opportunities (phew, since you’ll be reading the book countless times) to notice what’s happening with the different passengers, from dozing business travelers to squirming babies. Speech bubbles peppered throughout give further clues about these sub-plots.

"The Airport Book" by Lisa Brown

Many of the best picture books ask the child to do some work, and Brown’s readers will be rewarded for following the fate of the little sister’s stuffed monkey in a parallel plot. It turns out that the striped monkey is not forgotten (as the parents suppose) but packed in the checked baggage. In moments reminiscent of Mo Willems’ well-known Knuffle Bunny, only the toddler herself spies Monkey’s tail sticking out of the suitcase, as it is being sent down the conveyor belt and later loaded into the cargo hull; and yet, her refrain of “Monkey Monkey Monkey!” is mistaken for one of bereavement. Only the reader is privy to the monkey’s secret and the little girl’s delight.

"The Airport Book" by Lisa Brown

Whether your holiday travel takes you down a runway or not, here’s hoping that the unexpected delight of air travel follows your children all year long.

"The Airport Book" by Lisa Brown

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Book published by Roaring Book Press. All opinions are my own. affiliate links support my book-buying habit and contribute to my being able to share more great books with you–although I prefer that we all shop local when we can!

Introduction to Snow (Peter McCarty Style)

January 22, 2015 § 6 Comments

"First Snow" by Peter McCartyOn our first snowfall of the year, my seven year old was out the door after taking his last bite of oatmeal. My four year old, never wanting to be but a second behind her brother, yelled at the slamming door, “I’m coming, too!” Then, she took careful inventory of the pile of last year’s snow pants and snow boots and waterproof mittens, which I had tossed down from the top of the closet.

“Mommy, I don’t know if I remember.”

“Here, I’ll help you,” I offered, and I showed her which way to zip up the snow pant overalls and how to wedge her little feet down into the bulky snow boots.

“My feet feel funny. They feel like they’re standing on air,” she said.

I opened the door, felt the snowy wet wind barrel down the front of my pajamas and did a quick parental, “Off you go,” my hand nudging her back.

“Mommy, I don’t know if I remember,” she said again, staring at the two inches of powder on the ground.

“I need to close the door, honey, but you’ll be OK. I think JP has gone around to the back, so you’ll find him there. Have fun!” (Gosh, we sound so annoying sometimes, don’t we?)

The door closed behind her, and I watched from the window as she stood, frozen in place, for several moments on the porch, my little girl somewhere inside the puffy layers of down and nylon. At last, she stepped off the landing and began to take tentative, stiff-legged steps into the cold, white-covered world, slowly making her way around the front of the house in search of her brother.

And it hit me. At four, there are times when my Emily seems so grown up, prattling on about what she did at school, using words like “actually” and “unfortunately,” or walking into a restaurant and reminding me where we sat a year ago when we were last there. Last winter, for the first time since moving to Virginia, we had several legitimate (!) snow days. We went skiing. We went sledding. We built snowmen. And then, as quickly as it had begun, it was over.

Emily remembers doing those things. But does she really remember what it felt like? Can I, for just one second, put myself inside her heavy pink boots, lose my hands inside her pillowy mittens, and imagine how alien the snow must seem? How abrasive the cold and wet feels on her nose, on her little cheeks? How unsure she must be, setting up to take those first steps, wondering if she’ll sink into the snow and just keep going down?

A few days later, I purchased First Snow, the newest picture book by one of my favorite author-illustrators: the evocative, the subtle, the genius ink-wielding Peter McCarty. McCarty won the 2007 Caldecott for Hondo and Fabian, although he won my heart a year earlier with his stirring, perfectly composed Moon Plane, about a little boy gazing up at an airplane and imagining what it would feel like to be up in the sky (still one of my favorite picture books EVER). But McCarty may perhaps best be known these days for his anthropomorphic animal stories, starring a cat named Henry and a bunny named Chloe, who first appear in Henry in Love (perfect for approaching Valentine’s Day).

Henry and Chloe make cameo appearances in McCarty’s newest book. Only now, with his signature shaded ink sketches atop rich creamy paper, and his talent for choosing only the bare minimum of words to express human emotion, McCarty takes on the subject of snow—specifically, an anthropomorphic dog named Pedro’s first encounter with the white stuff. Pedro, presumably raised in a tropical climate, comes to visit his cousins Sancho, Bella, Lola, Ava, and Maria in their wintery home (I love the purposeful inclusion of a Hispanic family here).

"First Snow" by Peter McCarty

On Pedro’s first morning in his new environment, the cousins storm into his room to announce that it has snowed all night. “‘Put on your boots! Put on your coats! Put on your hat and mittens! We are going outside!’”

"First Snow" by Peter McCarty

“I have never seen snow. I don’t think I will like it,” said Pedro.
“Why not?”
“Because it is cold. And I don’t like cold.”

The skeptical Pedro is dragged outside by his enthusiastic, bundled-up cousins, who advise him to move around to stay warm, and then show him how to make snow angels and catch snowflakes on his tongue. Reluctant Pedro is having nothing of it. “It tastes cold,” he says. In typical McCarty style, most of the book’s narrative is told through these short, conversational exchanges. The child reader is left, in the pauses that follow and the details of the illustrations, to draw his own conclusions about the characters’ motives and feelings.

"First Snow" by Peter McCarty

When the cousins meet up with the other neighborhood kids (enter Henry and Chloe and their siblings), the group escorts Pedro to the top of the hill for some sledding.

“Why do you go up?” asked Pedro.
“To go back down,” said Henry.

(Can you think of a simpler exchange between two children that more perfectly captures the innocence, the bafflement, the wonder of beholding snow play for the first time?)

The first time I shared this story with my daughter, as we watched Pedro fly down the sledding hill, Emily literally grabbed my arm. Outwardly, she was squealing with laughter, but her firm grip suggested that she was also feeling some of Pedro’s fear. After all, as evidenced the other day, she knows firsthand the uncertainly of venturing into snow-covered territory.

"First Snow" by Peter McCarty

As Pedro hits a bump and flies off his saucer, we as readers brace ourselves for the worst. Then, we catch the smile on his face, a smile that widens when—finally surrendering to the wet and the cold—he rolls around where he has landed and begins throwing snowballs at the others. Some invisible line has been crossed. We can all breathe more easily now.

"First Snow" by Peter McCarty

Pedro reminds us that firsts are never easy. As we parents sometimes forget, seconds and thirds can be pretty scary, too. The world outside our front doors is vast and changing. It’s going to be a great ride, but sometimes we need to take our time getting there.

Other Favorite Picture Books Written & Illustrated by Peter McCarty:
Moon Plane (Ages 1-4)
Hondo and Fabian (Ages 2-5)
Fabian Escapes (Ages 2-5)
T is for Terrible (Ages 3-6)
Jeremy Draws a Monster (Ages 3-6)
The Monster Returns (Ages 3-6)
Henry in Love (Ages 4-8)
Chloe (Ages 4-8)

For a list of other fantastic stories about snow, check out this post with its long list at the end!

All opinions are my own. affiliate links support my book-buying habit and contribute to my being able to share more great books with you–although I prefer that we all shop local when we can!

Holiday Gift Guide 2013 (No. 2): Stories of Perseverance for the Engineer

December 10, 2013 § 1 Comment

Andrea Beaty's Rosie Revere, EngineerIf at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. That might be easy to say as a parent, but we have only to remember our own childhoods to know how hard it is to hear. Just the other night, my son was attempting to draw a human profile by following one of those step-by-step guidebooks. Diligently huddled over his paper, he suddenly threw the pencil across the room and yelled, “This isn’t working at all! It doesn’t even look like a person!” Actually, I thought, it does look like a person—just not like the one in the book. Oftentimes, we cannot see our triumphs for what they are. The creative process—its ups, its downs, its just plain hard work—is wonderfully captured in Rosie Revere, Engineer (Ages 5-8), the newest venture by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts, the team that created one of my favorite picture books of all time: Iggy Peck Architect. What black-turtleneck-sporting Iggy Peck did for building designs, red-scarf-sporting Rosie Revere (yes, her namesake is Rosie the Riveter) does for engineering. She makes it look—well—cool. Second grader Rosie isn’t only a clever, resourceful inventor—fashioning scraps of trash into hot dog dispensers and hats that chase away snakes—she does it all with a sense of style, including red patent leather shoes and side-swept hair. The only problem is that she doesn’t realize how great she is—and after suffering some humiliation at the hands of a relative, she begins to hide her talents (come on, Rosie, lean in, lean in!). Fortunately, Rosie’s great-great-aunt, a former engineer herself, shows up to inspire Rosie’s greatest invention: a flying machine. With the likes of some spray cheese, a house fan, and the dismembered head of a baby doll, Rosie’s “heli-o-cheese-copter” soars up into the sky before crashing to pieces (nod to another favorite about a girl with dreams of flight, Violet the Pilot). Our despairing heroine is ready to throw in the towel on engineering until she hears: “‘Yes!’ said her great aunt. ‘It crashed. That is true./ But first it did just what it needed to do/…Your brilliant first flop was a raging success!/  Come on, let’s get busy and on to the next!’” The already ultra-hip illustrations (hello, mid-century modern fashion and architecture!) get even sexier when Rosie’s aunt presents her with a journal, containing pages of red graph paper covered with graphite sketches of historic aeronautic achievements by women. Rosie can and should continue to dream big. After all, “the only true failure can come if you quit.”

Candace Fleming's Papa's Mechanical FishSpeaking of never giving up no matter how crazy you seem to everyone around you, Candace Fleming’s Papa’s Mechanical Fish (Ages 4-8) is an enchanting fictionalized account of an eccentric, real life inventor from the 1950s: a man named Lodner Phillips, who was obsessed with building a submarine in which his family could traverse the bottom of Lake Michigan. Behind every great mind is a muse—and, in Phillips’ case, Fleming imagines this person to be his daughter. With the sinking of each prototype, young Virena casually but coyly drops hints, like “Papa, how do fish move through the water?” (the next model features a motorized fin and tail), and “Papa, how do fish stay dry?” (voilà, waterproof copper!). The exuberant but gentle dialogue between family members is a joy to read aloud, but the real draw here are the illustrations by Boris Kulikov, a prolific Russian=trained artist who excels at expressive faces and dramatic contortions of scale, both perfectly suited to this story about a larger-than-life figure embarking on a larger-than-life “mechanical fish.” “It almost worked,” Papa is fond of repeating throughout the book, and given the intensity in his wide eyes, the joyful anticipation that spreads across his face with each unveiling, his frenzied returns to the studio, and his family’s celebratory dances on the docks, we too can’t help but cheer for him. My son’s favorite page comes toward the end, when the four children, their mother, and their bulldog Rex are standing on various contraptions, trying to see through the newspapered windows of Papa’s garage studio (actually, the dog is cleverly trying to dig underneath the garage). Lest we forget the enormity of the task at hand, Kulikov’s illustrations are augmented with torn pages of Papa’s journal, revealing highly intricate black-and-white sketches of his inventions (very Leonardo da Vinci). After all, the man built submarines in his garage. And you know what? One of them actually worked.

Lynne Berry's What Floats in a MoatLearning through experimentation gets a delightful dose of humor in Lynne Berry’s new picture book, What Floats in a Moat? (Ages 4-8), an introduction for children to the displacement of water, a discovery first made by the ancient Greek scientist, Archimedes. If that sounds over your child’s head, it isn’t. For starters, you have to love a story about a knighted goat named Archie (the Afterward makes the historic connection) and his sidekick, Skinny the Hen. Then there’s the fantastically absurd premise: en route to deliver three barrels of buttermilk to the Queen’s castle, the two decide to take an unconventional detour “in the name of science!” Why go across the drawbridge when you can go across the moat on a barrel—and test out a few hypotheses along the way? As with any entertaining literary duo, there is a natural-born leader (read: bossy) and a skeptical accomplice (read: sucker), and the dialogue between Archie and Skinny does not disappoint (nor do Matthew Cordell’s whimsical sketches). After the first failed attempt on a full barrel of buttermilk, which quickly sinks to the bottom of the moat, Archie considers a new angle:

“‘Aha! To cross the moat,’ pronounced the goat, ‘an empty barrel might float!’

‘Empty?’ said Skinny.

‘Empty,’ said Archie. ‘Drink, Skinny, drink!’

‘Drink buttermilk?’ asked Skinny.

‘Indeed,’ said Archie. ‘For science!’

‘Ha!’ said Skinny. ‘YOU are the scientist.’

‘Ah,’ said Archie, ‘but YOU are skinny.’”

At this point, my children are already laughing their heads off, but the fun goes on as the now empty barrel spins and rolls around on top of the water, leaving Archie once again at the bottom of the moat. More sketching and hammering and tinkering ensues until the third time proves a charm: a half-full barrel displaces just enough water to float without spinning. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. (Funny how that sounds so much better when it comes from a book!)

Holiday Gift Guide 2012 (No. 2): Books Cleared for Take Off

December 10, 2012 § 1 Comment

Everything Goes: In the AirThere are days, OK months, OK years, when it feels like everything is about airplanes and rockets in our house. Last year, JP chose a space-themed birthday party; this year he chose an airplane-themed one. We’ve been to air shows. I chop vegetables in the kitchen while large LEGO creations go whizzing by on little pattering feet. I have even been known to spend rainy days hanging out at Reagan National Airport, just so my kids can watch airplanes take off and land (a.k.a. Richard Scarry’s A Day at the Airport, minus the bratwurst balloon). For my five year old, it seems, life above ground is infinitely more fascinating than terra firma. And his enthusiasm is contagious: even my two-year-old daughter can’t resist squealing when she spots an airplane in the sky. Children’s bookstores aren’t lacking in books about air or space travel, but the trick is to choose ones that don’t compromise on art or narrative. At the end of this post, I’ve listed some fantastic fiction and non-fiction picture books guaranteed to wow any young aviator.

This fall, Brian Biggs came out with Everything Goes: In the Air (Ages 3-6), a follow-up to last year’s successful Everything Goes: On Land (which we also have at our house, for when we get tired of reading about planes). This is young non-fiction at its best, a perfect combo of action and information. Blending a kind of comic book layout with bright cartoon-like illustrations (think Schoolhouse Rock), the simple storyline of a father and son navigating a busy airport is jazzed up by zillions of sub-plots, from the mom of quintuplets whose babies have escaped (lots of seek-and-find opportunities here) to the pirate who’s trying to take his sword through security.

Every other page or so—and here’s the biggest draw of a book like this for my son—the plot is temporarily interrupted by a double-spread cutaway, filled with facts and hand-drawn diagrams related to whatever flying machine our young protagonist has just spotted. Whatever is being discussed, whether it’s the history of planes, different jobs performed by planes, helicopters, blimps, or a detailed look at the cockpit of a modern passenger jet, the information is presented as a father talking to his son—clearly, concisely, anecdotally, and with great passion. You don’t have to fight the crowds of holiday travelers this year to give your child an up-close-and-personal look at flying. Or, even if you are headed to an airport, a little reinforcement probably wouldn’t hurt.

This picture alone is good for at least 15 minutes!

This picture alone is good for at least 15 minutes!

Other Favorites About Airplane and Space Travel:
Moon Plane, by Peter McCarty (Ages 2-5)
Amazing Airplanes, by Tony Mitton (Ages 2-5)
The Way Back Home, by Oliver Jeffers (Ages 3-6)
Violet the Pilot, by Steve Breen (Ages 4-8)
If You Decide to Go to the Moon, by Faith Mcnulty & Steven Kellogg (Ages 4-8)
Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11, by Brian Floca (Ages 5-10)

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