Tag Archives: children’s literature

What History Is Made Of

We all make history every day, whether we are the fundamental elements that make up the swift-flowing stream or the droplets that leap out and sparkle in the sunlight. In reflecting on what the women below possessed in common, one answer that turned up was, Not much. Many (but not all) worked hard to develop an exceptional gift in art, science, or sports. Others pursued a consuming interest. Several campaigned for a vision they believed in. For a few, birth and family situation positioned them for leadership. Early observers of others, by contrast, may have tagged them as unlikely to succeed. At least one of the women here simply rose to meet the need of the moment.

All of these women experienced many ordinary days. Maria Toorpakai spent three years hitting a squash ball against the walls of her bedroom. Lilias Trotter rode camels across the North African desert for days at a time (and relished the quiet).

We may not all be champion athletes or talented artists. Our lives may be full of mundanity. But we can all make a difference. I hope these history makers will challenge us and our daughters and sons to take stock of our gifts and circumstances. How might we be positioned to make a difference in our current situation? And what can we work toward for the future?

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Windows on Korea: Nature, City, Myth

In recent years, classmates, family friends, and now an international student living with our family have put Korea increasingly on our radar. Friends have introduced us to K-pop rock, K-pop opera, and serialized TV K-dramas. The books below offer another window on recent history and contemporary life in Korea. 

When Spring Comes to the DMZ 
Written and illustrated by: Uk-Bae Lee
Translated from Korean by: Chungyon Won and Aileen Won
Published by: Plough Publishing House, 2019
Target Age: 5–8 years

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Fantasy in the Heartland: Lepunia, Kingdom of the Gallopers, by Kevin T. Ford

Lepunia will catch you up, carry you away, and set you down—right back in Kansas. But conveyed from a rabbit’s-eye view, it might as well be Oz. It was with some surprise that I realized, on reflection, that no magic takes place in these pages. None but that conjured by Ford’s lyrical descriptions. One part Narnia and one part Little House on the Prairie, Lepunia offers up an enchanted middle America peopled with rabbits, squirrels, coyotes, owls, prairie dogs, ferrets, and more. Cottonwoods, hills, lakes, and burrows become ancestral palaces and legendary landmarks, skillfully rendered in Michael Genova’s lavish sketches and eye-catching cover art.

In this first book of a planned trilogy, the curtain rises on the eve of Founding Day in the township of Lepunia (from the Latin lepus—hare). The festival marks not only the anniversary of the settlement but graduation from the academy for jackrabbit friends Lily, Fluff, and Jackson. Lily hopes to be admitted to the artists’ guild. Fluff expects to follow his father’s profession of baker. And the dearest desire of fleet-footed Jackson is induction into the Gallopers, an elite guard of jackrabbits tasked with defending the kingdom and conveying messages to its farthest reaches.

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Books for Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15-Oct. 15

Hispanic Heritage Month came to my attention only recently, but the annual commemoration originated in 1968. Initially a week in duration, it was extended to one month in 1988. The event begins mid-month because it was on September 15, 1821, that Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala declared their independence from Spain.

I spent my first four years of life in California and Texas, where Spanish presence dates to the 1600s. Like most preschoolers, I was alert to little outside my immediate family, which happens to have northern European roots. By middle school my parents and I were firmly planted in Oregon. If a Latino presence existed in our small town, I remained ignorant of it. Nevertheless my parents, firmly convinced of the value of multiculturalism, enrolled us in a Saturday morning Spanish class at the local community college.

After high school I left the area for more than a decade, returning for grad school and remaining to start my own family. When my daughter started first grade—in the building that had previously been my middle school—she attended Spanish literacy classes alongside the children of the large Latino population that had grown up in my absence. The experience introduced us to a number of the books included here.

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Immigrant Architect: Rafael Guastavino and the American Dream

by Berta de Miguel, Kent Diebolt, and Virginia Lorente, ill. Virginia Lorente (Tilbury, 2020, 60 pp., ages 8-12)

I picked up this volume several months ago in a search for architect biographies. It was only today, upon taking a closer look, that I realized its perfect suitability for Hispanic Heritage Month. The two Rafael Guastavinos, father and son, immigrated from Spain in 1881. The elder Guastavino was a successful architect who brought to the U.S. a distinctive building method that would leave a permanent mark on American architecture and engineering.

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Hope in the Ruins: This Very Tree, a Story of 9/11, Resilience, and Regrowth, by Sean Rubin

Yesterday the sight of Rubin’s picture book, leaning against my desk amongst its assorted fellows, occasioned me some chagrin. I had checked it out from the library weeks (months?) ago, intending to compose a collective review of books about distinguished trees.

That article is still waiting to be written, and only yesterday did it occur to me that a solo review of This Very Tree would be well suited to the twenty-second anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center. Alas, it was rather late in the day to compose a  thoughtful review.

But it comes to me that the day after might be just as appropriate. After all, author-illustrator Rubin offers a chronicle of regrowth and persistence that picks up after the events of 9/11. It’s a story about carrying on in the wake of disaster.

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Where East Meets West: Celebrating Asian-American and Pacific Islander month

Losing as well as finding ourselves in story is a joy for readers of all ages. Sometimes a thoroughly unfamiliar topic piques my interest, but more often it is a spark of recognition that attracts me to a book. I hope parents as well as children will find the titles below broadly relatable. 

Only after drafting these reviews did I realize that, while heroes from history dominated my selections for African-American and Women’s History months, this list principally represents fictional depictions of common experiences. These works acknowledge that multicultural kids face challenging circumstances, while also possessing a rich heritage. 

Included are titles for readers from two to twelve (and up). Some deal directly with the immigrant experience; others depict children of immigrants. Some illuminate Asian life and culture. 

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Passion and Heritage in Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library

by Carole Boston Weatherford, ill. Eric Velasquez

The Story Warren post linked in the previous post (as well as here), includes recommendations for twenty-one picture books that commemorate events or people relevant to African-American history month. They represent only a fraction of the vibrant, creative, informative works in print, with more appearing all the time.

But as soon as I peeked inside Schomburg I was convinced the book required its own post, foremost for the suitability of its subject matter: African history was Arthur Schomburg’s passion. Multiple award-winning author Carole Weatherford dedicates several pages to individuals who inspired Schomburg. And Velasquez’s lush paintings do justice to the African-related art Schomburg loved and collected.

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Twenty-One Books for African-American History Month

Researching the collection that follows has renewed my awareness of the inescapable, tragic history of slavery in America. Conceiving of our country as it might have been apart from the scourge of slavery is enticing; possibly even redemptive, if the exercise edges us toward that vision. But deepening our knowledge of the actual past holds even more potential for understanding the present and thus moving toward a better future.

This undertaking has also reminded me that the history of African Americans is more than the history of slavery. It is replete with individuals, families, and communities that have overcome injustice and other monumental obstacles to produce beauty, exhibit love, promote knowledge, and sustain faith. Their remarkable and enduring feats of courage, scholasticism, craftsmanship, and physical prowess enrich us all.

The list of books below represents my attempt at a chronological overview of the past two hundred and fifty years through an assortment of newer and older picture book titles. Some highlight individuals of exceptional achievement, others “ordinary” citizens who demonstrated vision, compassion, and determination.

To read more, follow this link to the Story Warren web site:

Twenty-One Books for African-American History Month (storywarren.com)

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Library Heroes

For millennia the written word has held special significance among those whose faith is centered on holy writ. Some ancient Jewish and Islamic traditions imposed safeguards to prevent the desecration of any piece of writing—sacred or secular—that might bear God’s name.

Christian history is marked by missionaries and others who made literacy and education a priority, on the premise that everyone should have personal access to the written Word of God. Among these, Martin Luther, William Carey, and Jonathan Edwards are familiar names. A less familiar example is the Kyrias family of Albania, active supporters of language development, publishing, and education, particularly among girls.

In contemporary America it can be hard to fathom a culture where the written word is not readily accessible. We read to our children from the day they are born, fill shelves with assorted Bible editions, and ship off excess volumes to thrift stores and little free libraries. The handful of picture books below give elementary-aged children a glimpse of the lengths to which people have gone—and still go—to preserve, procure, and distribute the wealth that is literacy.

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