Category Archives: Books and Reviews

Educational Books Review

Martha Brooks and Maureen Hunter’s play I met a Bully on the Hill, is a perceptive and compassionate exploration of the archetypal conflict between the playground bully and his quarry. First produced by Prairie Theatre Exchange in Winnipeg as part of its 1986-87 school tour, the socially realistic one-act play directly reflects the culture and concerns of its elementary school audiences; adults are on the periphery in this depiction of a child’s world.

At some point most young children find themselves in J.J.’s shoes. With a light, humorous hand, I met a Bully on the Hill offers several practical solutions to bullying. Brooks’s and Hunter’s characters are complex and sympathetically drawn. As the play’s gruff nine-year-old antagonist with a blood sense for his peers’ Achilles tendons, Raymond presents a manipulative, angry exterior which masks a frightened child; he lives in mortal terror of the dark and of his sadistic older sister. The playwrights have created an engaging triumvirate of co-conspirators who join forces to defuse Raymond’s destructive offensives: ‘Jonquil Josephine,’ the bright, sensitive, and gregarious new kid who dons her namesake daffodil yellow as a talisman; David, the sardonic eight-year-old musician who spouts jazz trivia and idolizes Wynton Marsalis; and Karla, the tough girl with the warm heart, who outstrips her contemporaries in strength and stature.

When J.J. arrives at urban Buena Vista School fresh from an idyllic upbringing in the country, she is ripe for Raymond’s picking: small for her age, though well-endowed with pluck and a strong moral sense, she is inclined to think the best of people; having lost her father at a young age, she keenly misses her grandfather’s warmth and wisdom and the wonders of the pastoral world she has had to leave behind. When Raymond heartlessly squashes her prized Swallowtail caterpillar, J.J. chastises the big kid and then kicks him in the shins, thereby unleashing his ire. bully on the hill kids bookLike the proverbial ogre under the bridge, Raymond haunts the hill between the school and J.J.’s new house, charging the little girl a heavy toll payable in quarters, homework rendered, and tears. When David and Karla (who have bested Raymond in the past with brain and brawn respectively) uncover J.J.’s plight, they pool their resources to knock the wind out of his sails. What begins with a harmless prank leads to harsher punishment. Despite J.J.’s protestations that Raymond is ‘just a little kid’ (47), Karla and David sabotage the bully and leave him hand-cuffed to the bridge as night falls. Cornered, Raymond finally lets his mask slip: ‘Don’t leave me here. Please! Don’t go. Okay? (Fights tears.) I’m scared. I mean I’m really scared of the dark. J.J.’ It is J.J.’s compassion (spurred on by her grandfather’s wise words) which ultimately transforms Raymond from tormentor into ‘nothing but a pack of playing-cards.’ Though kindness rather than cruelty prevails, I met a Bully on the Hill is neither preachy nor condescending to its young audience; Brooks and Hunter demonstrate how each child must find his/her own means of dealing with the bully. In the play’s realistic resolution, Raymond is not magically transformed into an ally, merely reduced to what he really is, an unhappy nine-year-old who knows when he has been beaten.

Bullies in a variety of guises also figure on- and off-stage in John Lazarus’s engaging dramatic quartet Not So Dumb — Four Plays for Young People.Schoolyard Games, Not So Dumb, Night Light, and Secrets depict several phases in the uneasy metamorphosis of four young protagonists from children into teenagers, as they grapple with bullies, confront childhood fears, and dodge exclusive cliques along the ever-evolving schoolyard gauntlet. Written between 1981 and 1992 for performance by Vancouver’s highly acclaimed Green Thumb Theatre for Young People, the published texts also include an historically rich and insightful introduction by Canadian playwright Dennis Foon, who in his role as founding artistic director and dramaturge at Green Thumb Theatre and colleague to Lazarus directed the premiere productions of the first three theatrical works.

Inspired by the travails of his own young daughters, in Schoolyard Games Lazarus explores the intricate triangular dynamics between ten-year-old Eleanor, her eight-year-old sister Binnie, and their nine-year-old friend Susan. The playground jungle-gym around which the three girls alternately frolic and collide serves as an apt metaphor for the psychological teeter-totter which the trio energetically ride. With the quicksilver speed of a round of ‘Double Dutch’ the play shifts from harmony to discord and back again. As the self-centred, domineering older sister anxious to shake her bouncy younger sibling, Eleanor dreams of a place on the school gymnastics team, an entrée to the older crowd, and boys. Her precocious little sister, Binnie, combines a quirky sense of humour and almost irrepressible high spirits with an uncanny knack for the profound observation. It is Binnie who so aptly defines the unwritten playground code to which she as the littlest is especially vulnerable as ‘the law of the jungle gym’ (32). Susan, who struggles to play amicably with both sisters, ultimately serves as a balancing device between them. All three girls demonstrate a fundamental need to be accepted, especially by the big kids.

When Eleanor gets the chance to accompany the gym team to watch the ‘Provincials’ tournament, she selfishly decides to exclude both younger girls from the outing. Like a ‘fairweather friend,’ she exploits Susan’s admiration and shuns her kid sister while playing the role of know-it-all gymnastics tutor. When her pupil democratically tries to include Binnie in the proceedings, Eleanor’s ensuing anger precipitates injury for Susan and misery for all three. In the end Susan and Binnie choose clemency rather than revenge for the oldest girl’s transgressions. Though Lazarus only hints at the sources of Eleanor’s antagonism inSchoolyard Games, he has certainly captured the exclusive ‘twosey’ bully which I still recall with trepidation from my own childhood.

In Flanders Fields Visualized – Review

Decried by modern critics as maudlin and jingoistic, McCrae’s poem nevertheless remains the most recognized piece of Canadian writing to emerge from the First World War. It was praised by contemporaries as the finest war poem in any language, and has been committed to memory by generations of Canadian schoolchildren. Even eighty years after it was first published, the rondeau still retains a hold on the imagination thanks to its strong metre and powerful images.

In a beautifully produced book, Linda Granfield has provided a biography, not only of John McCrae, but of his famous poem as well. The description of the Guelph, Ontario native’s life, both before the war and on the Western Front, is clear and concise, as are the details of the soldiers’ life in the trenches. Her account of the poem’s creation and its considerable legacy is also useful in putting “In Flanders Fields” in context. Granfield’s historical sketch is enlivened by photographs, sketches, and ephemera from the period.

flanders

Janet Wilson’s illustrations give the book its power. Each line of the poem has its own full-page illustration, and Wilson succeeds admirably in conveying far more of the war experience than McCrae’s fifteen lines did. Her choice of images, from a grieving mother clutching the fateful telegram in her soldier-son’s bedroom (“and now we lie / In Flanders Fields”) to Canadian soldiers going over the top in the pre-dawn gloom (“Take up our quarrel with the foe”), is almost always unerring. The opening tableau, a blaze of poppies entwined around barbed wire, is particularly striking, and only one illustration, of larks flying over the burning city of Ypres, misses the mark.

Critics of the immediate postwar years were fond of asserting that “In Flanders Fields” could not be improved upon. With this book, Wilson’s illustrations have done just that. By using McCrae’s lines as windows into the war experience, they have given the poem much greater breadth than it ever had. They take what was only implied or suggested by the poet, and render those sentiments in vivid and very human scenes.

 

And What About College – Your Emails

Few weeks ago I wrote a post about the book “And what about college”. That review was read by thousands of people who  bought the book from amazon and sent us hundreds of emails with their opinion about the book. I will publish a part of them below:

 

“As the mother of a teen who is currently knee-deep in the college admissions paperwork maze, I must say this book is a keeper! Cafi has compiled virtually a ton of practical, useable information all in one place. I imagine I could have found all this information on my own, but good grief! I really wonder how many years of research it would have taken me. . .

The book includes sections on almost everything you’d ever want to know about getting into college as a homeschooler. There are explanations of the different approaches to high school homeschooling; what the various Scope and Sequences really mean; the should-we-do-a-transcript-or-portfolio question; how to actually compose a transcript (the bane of my existence!); which colleges have admitted homeschoolers and why; pointers on applying to military academies, and even doing an “after the fact” curriculum and transcript.

There is also a wonderful Question and Answer section in the book, written in Cafi’s own clear, concise, and down-to-earth style. This chapter addresses many of the most common worries we parents of older home learners have, such as “How do we handle high school subjects in which we have no expertise?” and “Is it ever too late to begin homeschooling?” (“Never,” says Cafi).

This one’s staying on my bookshelf, because I know I’ll be referring back to again and again. If you’d like to borrow it, that should be no problem. Let’s see. . . I’ll probably be able to loan it out right after my youngest graduates from high school. . . in the summer of 2015.”

Anna

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“Reading Cafi Cohen’s And What About College? is like having your hand held by your best friend who knows something inside out you would love to know yourself. This is much more than a how-to manual; Mrs. Cohen not only answers all your questions but reminds you gently of all the questions you should have asked but forgot to. Cafi Cohen has written the indispensable book for college-bound homeschoolers. If your child is a teenager and thinking about college, this is the book to get – and the younger your teen, the better.”

Taylor R

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“Reading Cafi Cohen’s And What About College? is like having your hand held by your best friend who knows something inside out you would love to know yourself. This is much more than a how-to manual; Mrs. Cohen not only answers all your questions but reminds you gently of all the questions you should have asked but forgot to.”

Loren

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“As authors/publishers we understand a little of what it took to accomplish what you have. Yet you have done much more than most: you have placed in our hands something well written and valuable. Thanks from the Davis family and beyond us from the entire homeschooling community. We all will be better prepared because of the window you have opened into your family.”

Nicolle

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“Your book is a life and sanity saver. I spent a week this past summer with it at my side while I put together [our daughter’s] transcript, resume, course descriptions, and cover letter. . . . [Our daughter] met with the Director of Admisssions at Antioch so he could talk with her and look the stuff over for us. . . . His experience at Antioch has been — and also at Penn & Cooper’s Union when he was the admissions officer there who worked specificially with homeschoolers — that the materials from home schoolers were not nearly as well and clearly presented as [our daughter’s] is [based on your book].”

Hobert

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“Ordered your book and received it yesterday. I haven’t finished it yet, but the parts that I have read, skipping back and forth, gives me much, much hope. The curriculum “after the fact” recording system really helped as did the transcripts and information relating to certain colleges.”

Russ

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“Yesterday I received my copy of Cafi’s book and after perusing through it, I would say it is a ‘must read’ for those of us who are and will be home schooling teens through high school! Whether you’re lacking confidence (like me) or just need to know what ‘hoops to jump through’ to help your child get to where he/she wants to go, I think this will give the needed assistance. Thanks Cafi . . . . I think you have a winner.”

Abbie

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“I got your book in the mail today! I’m not done reading it yet, but I am already glad I have it. So many books on homeschooling deal mostly with younger children or with “newbies” to homeschooling. It is wonderful to find a practical resource with info I will NEED in the future. Even though [our daughter] is only 11, she is taking some 8th and 9th grade level subjects. After glancing over a few chapters of your book, [my husband] and I have decided to start keeping a current transcript . . . NOW. If we get into the habit of recording the important things now, hopefully we won’t miss any essentials later. Also, you have listed quite a few things that I wouldn’t have thought of including in a transcript . . . Anyway, the book is great!”

Jerome

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“It suddenly strikes me that we haven’t written you about the book. . . well, that’s probaby because [my wife] grabbed it out of my hands and started gulping it down, taking notes as she went. . . The book is being put to good use [for our our homeschool teenage daughter]. . . . Bless you for writing it; I hope that it is beginning to sell as fast as Bibles in Russia!”

Carol

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“Just wanted to drop you a note about how much I loved ‘And What About College?’ I’m a 16-year-old homeschooler. . ., and I’ve just finished the application process myself. . . Although I’d finished all the [applications] before I read your book, it was . . . comforting to know your family went about things in a similar way and did just fine. I’m recommending your book to every teen homeschooler I know [who’s] considering college. . . thanks for writing it!”

Santiago

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“I got your book on Monday and read it cover to cover. I plan to spread the word about it as I believe it would be very helpful to any homeschooling [family]. You did a great job of covering all the aspects of college admission for homeschoolers. I especially like the copies of your kids’ transcripts; they’ll be really helpful in guiding us in creating ours. . . .I’m glad to have my own copy as I’m sure I will be using and re-reading it many times over the next two years!”

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“I am the Mom of 1-1/2 year old twins. My husband and I are considering homeschooling for religious reasons as well as educational. I found your book at the library and wanted to tell you, it helped me so much. It answered all of my questions about college, and about the process of getting in. I was mostly nervous about my kids having difficulty getting in somewhere being homeschooled, but now I don’t feel concerned. I am going to buy your book, and keep it for when my kids get older, so that we can plan our curriculum accordingly and start early. Thank you so much for writing it, and for all of the information that was in it. I especially liked the essays your kids wrote, and their highly impressive transcripts. I am thrilled with the potential my kids have, and hope we can pass on to them our love of learning. I am a RN and my husband has a bachelors in physics and math, so I think we can hit the subjects that are needed between the two of us. Thank you, it was very encouraging. I passed the title of your book on to my sister who homeschools and a friend.”

Esteban

Review: And What About College?

Okay. If you’re home schooling kids that are in 6th, 7th, or 8th grade, it’s time for you to read this book. Really! It’s not too early to start thinking about that college decision–whether or not to have your kids go, where to go, why to go, how to get there. My oldest is 10, and I bought this book–mostly because I felt that I needed more vision of where my kids might be headed. They may want to go to college, and so keeping high school records is basically a necessity. College is not a foregone conclusion; but if that’s what they want, I need to know how to guide them until they are a few years older and can read this book for themselves–which is what any student contemplating college should do!

But what about those of you whose students are already out of 6th, 7th, and 8th grade? Is it too late to expect any help from this book? No way! Even the Cohens didn’t start record keeping in 8th or 9th grade with their oldest. Here’s an excerpt from the book: “Do not despair if your student is partially through high school and you do not have … records. college eduTwo states where we homeschooled … mandated that homeschoolers only keep attendance data. And that is all we did. As we learned, you can recoup. It is work, but it can be done.” The book can help any student contemplating college even if they’ve only got one year of high school left. First off, Cafi Cohen has some credibility. Her two children were home schooled from middle school through high school, and then they were both accepted into their first-choice colleges! Good for them, huh? Her style of writing is friendly, definitely not patronizing, and encouraging. She doesn’t portray what worked for her family as the only approach. She portrays it as “an approach” to home schooling and college acceptance–her experience is offered up not as “Thou shalt,” but rather as “Here’s a few ideas.”

Cafi tells us what she calls “the good news”–that there are many advantages for home schoolers applying to colleges. She starts in on the jargon in the second chapter with Advanced Placement, CLEP, student-devised majors, GED, block programs, and back-door admissions. Many little tidbits of information are scattered throughout the book. Here’s one gem: Focusing only on academics in the transcript is not enough. (Cafi elaborates on this in the book). This kind of information is invaluable and hard to come by. It’s great that we can learn from Cafi’s and her children’s research and trailblazing.

Here’s a list of some of the topics covered in “And What About College?” 

– home-based high school–which approach and/or curriculum?

– your school’s scope and sequence and how it meshes with college admission requirements

– college admissions testing–PSAT, SAT I, SAT II, ACT, NMSQT

– record keeping, transcripts, what can count for credit, how to grade if you assign grades

– how to help the student find the right college (insightful, practical considerations)

– filling out the application–lots of great advice from someone who’s done it!

Just over one third of the book is appendices. This is the nuts and bolts section with examples of transcripts, resumes, and cover letters. There’s a four-page appendix on how to apply to a service academy and a list of selective colleges that have accepted home schoolers. There’s also a helpful booklist, a list of websites, and a college planning checklist–a thoughtful addition.

As you can see, if you’ve stayed with me this long, Cafi’s book is a great handbook for college admissions preparation. It was a relief for me to read it! It helped me to refine my game plan. If you have any concerns about helping your child along the road to college, this book very well could make the trip smoother by helping your student around roadblocks that might get in the way.

The Book of Learning and Forgetting

The Book of Learning and Forgetting by Frank Smith

In this intriguing book, Frank Smith offers the compelling argument that school systems are harming children’s innate learning abilities by using a false model of learning. In the first part of the book, the author defines two views of learning and forgetting: the classic view and the official view. Under the classic view, we learn from the people with whom we associate. Smith says, “We can’t help learning from them, and we learn without knowing that we are learning.” The official view of learning, on the other hand, has come about mostly within the last century and says that “learning is work, and that anything can be learned provided sufficient effort is expended and sufficient control enforced.”

In Part Two, “The Classic View of Learning and Forgetting”, the author explains that we “learn from the company we keep.” He says that we establish our identities by “joining clubs” or finding groups of people with whom we identify, and we even learn vicariously through members of our “clubs”. He goes on to describe for us the magnitude of children’s learning. He gives examples of vocabulary learning such as young children learn about 2000 words per year from birth to age 5 or 6, and teenagers learn an average of 10 new words per day… all this without formal study, and perhaps in spite of formal study for the latter example.

Part Three is about the Official Theory of Learning and Forgetting. Smith tells us a little of the history of the official Theory… how the quest for more efficiency led to our educational system being modeled on the Prussian army. Then how psychologists, wars and test-makers helped to form the official theory of learning and our school system into what they are today.

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In Part Four, entitled “Repairing the Damage”, the author first offers ideas for freeing ourselves from the official view of learning and forgetting. He says, “We have to learn, or to persuade ourselves, that learning is not effective if we have to struggle to achieve it.” He suggests that we keep company with successful learners in order to become members of the successful learners club. Finally, he gives suggestions for swaying school systems from the official view of learning towards the classic view. An extensive Notes section and a thorough bibliography follow the final chapter. This book is fascinating reading and illustrates why unschooling makes so much sense without ever mentioning the word.

Skellig and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Skellig by David Almond

Michael has just moved to a new neighborhood, his baby sister is seriously ill and he is often feeling neglected. He discovers a mysterious being in his dusty, junk-filled garage…some kind of bird-beast or possibly an angel. Michael sets out to determine who or what Skellig is and to improve the creature’s existence in the tumble-down garage.

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It is difficult to find books with unschooled characters. Although Michael, the main character of Skellig, goes to public school, he meets a friend, Mina, in his new neighborhood and she is a very positively written unschooled character. When Michael questions Mina about school, he gets the following reply:
“‘My mother educates me,’ she said. ‘We believe that schools inhibit the natural curiosity, creativity, and intelligence of children. The mind needs to be opened out into the world, not shuttered down inside a gloomy classroom.'”

Mina and Michael share secrets and forge a friendship as they get to know Skellig and discover connections Skellig might have to Michael’s troubled family. This is a somewhat eerie, but poetically written book that prompts the reader to ponder Skellig’s existence for days after reading about him.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling

 

Not many books written for children make it to the New York Times bestseller list, but this one did, and deservedly so. I read it aloud to my 5 year old daughter and 7 year old son, and thoroughly enjoyed it myself. So engrossed were we, that we tore through all 300 plus pages in only a couple of sittings.

Young Harry Potter, raised by his miserable aunt and uncle, and tormented by his bullying cousin, discovers to his amazement that he is a wizard, quite famous in the wizard world by virtue of his babyhood encounter with the evil wizard, Voldemort. Thus begins his entry into wizard school and his introduction to the magic and power he must struggle to understand.

It’s a wildly imaginative fantasy world of mystery, adventure and introspection that had all of us listening on the edges of our seats. But be prepared — if you read this book, you’re likely to be making another trip to the bookstore for Rowling’s second book that’s just out, _Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets_. A third Harry Potter novel is due to be published soon in the UK.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5whe9XtdQgw

 

Educational Reviews 3 in 1

Science Class You Wish You Had…: The Seven Greatest Scientific Discoveries in History and the People Who Made Them

 

Becoming educated is nothing less than the exploration of our world and our place within it. During our quest, many of us are convinced not to enter into the depths of major scientific experiments.  science eduWe’re thwarted by the idea we must all be able to replicate the mathematics involved. This book puts that idea to rest. “Scientific knowledge and discoveries are much too interesting and profound to be left only to scientists.”  Seven of the most important scientific discoveries are showcased:  Gravity, Atomic Structure, Relativity, the Big Bang, Cells and Genetics, DNA Structure and Natural Selection.  Each major topic is placed in historical context, giving the reader a sense of connection not only to the scientists involved, but to the impact on society by each new discovery.  Did you know that the father of modern chemistry lost his head during the Reign of Terror, for being a former tax collector? For many of us schooled individuals, this book will show you what science class could have been. For all of the unschoolers out there, this is just another great resource to use in the quest to explore and understand our world.

How We Crossed The West: The Adventures of Lewis and Clark

 

Published by National Geographic this book is a wonderful introduction to the story of the exploration of the Louisiana Purchase. Ms. Schanzer takes the actual words of the participants to form the basis of the book. Diary entries, notes from letters and other journals are placed in chronological order and annotated to show the speaker. Children are able to follow the daily adventures of the exploration party in the words of Lewis and Clark themselves. The artwork is absolutely gorgeous. Dept and meaning is added to each entry by the accompanying artwork. Ms Schanzer states that she chose the “quaint painting style of American Folk Artists of the period as a fiting accompaniment to the explorers picturesque writing style.” The book is aimed at the 6-12 year old, but all learners should enjoy this book. I know I did.

 

The Killer Angels

 

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and often referred to as “the classic novel of the Civil War”, this is a riveting re-creation of the Battle of Gettysburg. Shaara is a lyrical writer with a superb sense of atmosphere and context. His characters cease to be historical figures and become living, breathing and dying men caught in a moment of transcendent importance for the nation.

No book about the Civil War, fiction or non-fiction, has ever moved me as this book does. After discovering it more than a decade ago, I continue to reread it faithfully every year. The movie made from it, “Gettysburg”, is well worth watching but pales in comparison to the novel itself which truly is not to be missed.

A few of the other wonderful books about the Civil War:

Since his father’s untimely death, Jeff Shaara has assumed his mantle, authoring two outstanding novels about the Civil War: “Gods and Generals”, and “The Last Full Measure”.

For a broad overview of the war, Shelby Foote’s magnificent three-volume masterwork, “The Civil War” is the best I’ve ever found.

And for something a bit different, Harry Turtledove, much appreciated by fans of alternate history, has a wonderful novel, “The Guns for the South” that gives an excellent sense of both the character of General Lee and the small, capricious events upon which the outcome of the war hinged.

River My Friend – Staff Review

In River My Friend, an extraordinary encounter has negative rather than positive effects. Gang-gang, the son of poor fisherfolk, has taken his life on the river for granted until he overhears his parents worrying about money. One day when he accompanies his mother to the market to sell fish, a wealthy woman stops and buys all of their catch; her servant tosses them a silver coin — far more than the fish are worth. Gang-gang becomes obsessed with finding silver coins to end his family’s poverty. He calls on the river for help, and one moonlit night sees the water covered with thousands of silver coins. (One does wonder how a boy who has spent all his life near the river could be so easily fooled by light glittering on water.) Frantically Gang-gang casts his net and draws it in, only to find it empty. His desperate plunge into the water to scoop up the coins in his hands almost leads to tragedy when he is swept downriver. Only as he recovers does Gang-gang realize he must begin to cast his net for fish, not for elusive silver coins. He is then able to appreciate his true relationship with the river, and to take his place as one of the wage-earners of the family. The story’s point that hard work is of greater value than luck is made rather baldly, yet the final solution is satisfying because it comes from Gang-gang himself.

All three illustrators bring a realistic style to stories that hint at the invisible magic of life. Alice Priestley’s colourful illustrations in Roses for Gita focus on Gita and the bright flowers she loves. Priestley’s plants surge with life, breaking through the boundaries of the pictures’ frames just as Gita’s friendship breaks through the boundaries that divide her and Mr. Flinch. Karen Rezuch’s illustrations similarly focus on the abundance of nature, and her fairies — beautiful, glowing children of many ages and races — are realistic enough to be believable. Ken Campbell’s paintings play with a number of intriguing perspectives to suggest much about the connections between Gang-gang and his parents and the river.

river

All three of these stories hint at the special nature of the relationship between humans and the natural world. Nature can be a friend, and can even draw humans closer to each other; but it can also be an implacable foe. River My Friend is the most overt and moralistic in this regard, and is less successful than the others in making its point gracefully.

These picture books all suggest that even ordinary lives can be touched by the extraordinary. Beneath the everyday layer of existence lies a kind of magic waiting to reveal new ways of seeing the world.

 

The Harvest Queen – Our Review

The Harvest Queen incorporates Celtic fairy magic into a story that highlights the closeness between Brigit and her grandmother. The last pumpkin of autumn has been saved for a special purpose: it is to become the head of Carlin, the Harvest Queen. Together Brigit and Grandma build Carlin from sunflower stalks, corn leaves, and other riches of the harvest.

They weave her a necklace of red beets for protection. When Grandma tells Brigit of how the fairies come to dance with Carlin, invisible to all but the one wearing a four-leaf clover, Brigit determines to find the magical leaf. As darkness falls, she sees the fairies dancing with Carlin and is almost caught in their circle. But she pulls Carlin’s skirt around her and claims the Queen’s beet necklace as protection, and the fairies leave her alone. Brigit’s experience may be a dream, but her reactions suggest that it marks a new maturity, and perhaps a new sense of identification with the female power that Carlin so clearly represents.

The tacit approval of her grandmother, and a hinted-at connection with her mother (who has a four-leaf-clover pendant) seals the pact of understanding between the generations. Carlin’s wild dance with the fairies and its revitalizing effect on the garden suggest fertility and abundance and the positive value of being female.

Roses for Gita – Our Review

Each of these recent picture books offers young readers a hint of something extraordinary. Relationships — between generations and between humans and the natural world — are pivotal in all three stories, and shifts in these relationships mark turning points in the characters’ lives. Although supernatural magic is hinted at in one of the books, it is the more ordinary magic of everyday life that proves most potent.

Roses for Gita, a sequel to Lights for Gita, involves a young immigrant girl’s quest to feel at home in her new country. She misses her grandmother Naniji terribly, and wants to plant a garden just like the one Naniji grows in India. Mr. Flinch, the old man next door, seems at first a fierce enemy until Gita hears him playing the violin in his garden and suddenly understands that his bluster hides a more sensitive nature. Gita’s gift of wind chimes seals their friendship, and Mr. Flinch promises to help her plant the First Rose in their new garden. Although this is a simple story, it highlights the magical way in which a simple gesture can transform a hostile neighbour into a friend. There is also a clear sense of the connections Gita discerns between her beloved Naniji and Mr. Flinch, who both share a deep love of gardens. Flowers form a bridge of understanding between Mr. Flinch and Gita, whose grandmother believes that flowers grow better when they are shared with others.