I'm Emily Reynolds.
If you've found yourself thinking about the lines our grandmothers used to live by,
"Use it up,
wear it out,
make it do,
or do without,"
over these last few years--I mean days--of social distanciing during this pandemic,
then the next six books might be of comfort.
1) Boxes for Katje Written by Candace Fleming, Illustrated by Stacey Dressen-McQueen
The sense of want and need in this book is tangible. The small acts of kindness the starving Dutch people received during WWII had such a profound boost on their morale, as to pull them through possibly what would have been a horrific winter of starvation, had they not received the few packages they did from a handful of thoughtful souls overseas.
For many of us who have always "had," this sensation of uncertainty for the future is a new reality, depending on the day--what news arrive to change our livelihoods. This story helps one empathize a little more with what so many have experienced over the centuries during hardship and disaster.
Once again, I'll turn your bookish eyes to Goodreads for a better blurb than anything I could attempt:
2) A Stick Is an Excellent Thing,
Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play,
Written by Marilyn Singer,
and Illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Given the fact that my heart skips a beat at any illustrations done by the talented LeUyen Pham, I fell in love with this book about such a timeless topic--children finding joy out of the simplest of natural items--sticks! And really, what better toy is there, than an excellent stick to keep kids busy?! (Did you catch the nod to the book, Stick Man, for you Julia Donaldson fans?)
But I must complain, Ms. Pham, the kids on the cover need walking sticks--not just stubby Hogwarts wands! Give 'em something to heft and swing! I'm guessing your art director put her foot down here, nixing all danger-prone specimens that could be considered weapons? Kids need big sticks to play with too!
Anyway, here's something mind-blowing for you, gentle readers, and your stick-lovers to watch. To inspire the creation of exciting forts, discoveries, and even music out in the woods (I didn't quite believe this when I stumbled across it. But it looks pretty amazing)...
I don't understand how those Forest Ninjas had the time or talent to create such a soul-stirring rendition of Johann Sebastian Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" from blocks of wood--in the woods, nonetheless--but I guess some musicians can spark transcendence in our souls wherever they are!
Written by the Julie Andrews Edwards
The premise of this book is every child's dream--an orphan finding an abandoned cottage in the woods. As my oldest girls were constantly daydreaming about the romance of being orphans when they were younger (This could say loads about my lack of parenting skills...Oh boy!), this book has both the basic longing to find family connections, and the adventure and thrill of securing a space of one's own.
One reviewer from goodreads made me laugh when she said,
"Is anything more satisfying than reading about someone else doing a lot of tidying up?
Yes, only, in fact, if that "someone" were a ten year-old girl. And I know from doing that tidying up with my sister and friends around that age, in an old, abandoned "Red Pioneer House" (as we called it) in our own neighborhood. The little decrepit home was set back in a bosque of trees at the end of a dirt road, and no one seemed to want it except us.
The home had no front door, and an ancient stove from perhaps the 1930s. There was an old couch
(a bit gross to think about now!) and box spring out in its yard, and even a spice rack in the kitchen, if I recall correctly. We made brooms of tree branches, swept house, tidied up, and felt we were the ones in charge of that household for many Saturdays...until our parents caught wind of what we were doing! But those magical, uninterrupted days of "tidying up" were bliss for the bunch of us pretending that we were the ones who ran that household. This book is just that--a dream for a child to read!
One dear friend, whose taste in books I trust implicitly, adored this book as her childhood favorite, and gave it to my oldest daughter when she was about thirteen. She gobbled it up, and I can't wait to read it aloud with my eight-year-old now for her birthday next month! Comment below if you read this book as a child yourself, or, if you've enjoyed it already with your own kids! I'd love to hear about your take on it...
4) Pelle's New Suit,
Written and Illustrated by Elsa Beskow
I'm assuming most of you have come across this tiny gem in your reading experience, so this review is for the one or two of you who hasn't yet discovered the simple beauty of Elsa Beskow's universe.
Particularly in this "Old-world" story of Pelle's New Suit, the little boy is so resourceful (maybe far too much so to be a real child), that it gives any parent a thrill to show such a paragon of industry to any of her children.
"See," you'll want to say to your kids, "the next time your Sunday pants are high-waters, you too can go sheer your own sheep, take the wool from it to your granny to card, passing it on to your other grandma to spin after that ("Ummm...is that after her yoga class has finished or after she goes shopping to Costco?" your children will ask). Ignoring them, you'll keep showing them the story, "Then once you have a skein of wool," you, like Pele in the book, "can go work the professional house painter's job for him (no matter you don't know how to hold a paint brush yet!!!) to earn enough money to row across a major lake all by your lonesome without a life jacket, to go to town to buy blue dye at the store. After which you'll go dye your own wool roving in the river (Right!) before returning home to your nonchalant, but glad to see-you-home-without-asking-any-questions-of-where-in-the-world-her-six-year-old-has-been-for-three-days-straight-mother, who has no qualms about seeing her kindergartener playing near two major water sources. And she'll take up your wool to spin for you, so you can pass the fabric on to the tailor's to cut and sew you a new suit, while you watch his pigs and do his grown man's farm work for him while he whips up a new suit for you, ALL...of a Saturday. From one Monday to the following Sabbath! Whew!
Okay, so the unrealistic aspects of this tale are not lost on me. But I still adore reading this book! And my kids always do too! I'd say it's best savored with three to six year-olds. Though I did find one of my teens snooping through it for old-time's sake this very morning as I had it out for this review. And my two youngest girls (ages six and eight) love to read it whenever they come across it.
5) Home in the Woods,
Written and Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
My personal-home-librarian-friend, Christa (she basically has an entire library section of children's picture books in her home), shared with me this recent find.
The way I felt after reading this tender recollection of the author's grandmother's childhood--of living in a shack in the woods during the Great Depression--was bittersweet. As an adult, our children never may know what sleepless nights or anxiety we have on their behalf--just to keep food on the table or provide for their stability and future as best we can.
But that does mean, that for the most part, a child's imagination is free to soar among the clouds and woods in their own innocent, safe realm for a few years of peaceful exhilaration before their eyes are opened and the starkness of the world creeps in.
This book is a fine reminder of the fortitude our grandparents and great-grandparents employed during wartime, stock market crashes, pandemics (to which we gave little thought until our own arrived!), and all of the other wrenches life can throw at us.
THIS BOOK, is why I love children's literature--because it brings the magical, the wondrous, the good, and the uplifting, even in the throes of daunting impossibility, to the forefront of our minds. Kids' books remind us, that amidst the bleakness of the world...there is still beauty, peace, and hope ahead.
One of my heroes in this life once said:
“It isn't as bad as you think it is. It all works out. Don't worry-I say that to myself every morning. it will all work out. If you do your best, it will all work out. Put your trust in God, and move forward with faith and confidence in the future.”
Again, I can't resist including Goodreads' blurb about Home in the Woods:
This picture book from Eliza Wheeler is based on her grandmother's childhood and pays homage to a family's fortitude as they discover the meaning of home.
And here's a delightful little video that shows the creative process Eliza Wheeler used to illustrate this wonder. The drippy paint and vibrant stock of supplies are irresistible:
Not to mention Kirkus Review's spot-on description:
“Wheeler shares a poignant tale, based on her grandmother's childhood, of a Depression-era family's hard times. . . . Lovely ink-and-watercolor double-page spreads, in somber grays, sunlight yellow, and meadow green, evoke both the period and the family's stark poverty. . . . Delicate visual details abound, from the sparkle of evening raindrops to Mum's side-buttoned apron. Marvel's ruminative narration takes occasional poetic turns. . . . A quietly compelling look at an impoverished family's resourcefulness and resilience.”--Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal,
Illustrated by Scott Magoon
I hope that you all already know this book. Because it's one of those that I've admired so much over the years, that it hurts to imagine anyone not owning it. Spoon is one of those books that I've found myself giving as baby shower and birthday gifts at every chance possible--because I want to populate the land with such cleverness--such great vibes!
The message? Open your eyes to the blessings you've been given in your own unique gifts, and embrace them! Come alive to what time you have been given with the people and family around you and enjoy life for what it is!
The witty message is so clever, so simple, yet so profound, that you absolutely must seek out this book with someone you love, if you don't know it already, and like spoon, say, "Come, snuggle."
Here's a sweet little read-aloud video of link on youtube so you can just watch it without further adieu:
So amidst the weird "limbo" of this phase in our lives, during the lockdown of Co-Vid 19, I hope you're finding the pockets of joy available to each one of us--to connect one-on-one with your home people. What a blessing to have to slow down, get more rest, look each other in the eye across the dinner table, push back your chair, and play sock tag.
Yes, try it. Bend down, take off your socks, roll them up into a ball, aim well at a family member, and shout, "YOU'RE IT!" It's the best game ever to shake things up! Plus, you'll get your heart racing, break a sweat, and feel the LOVE toward your family members! All while chasing each other around with a dirty pair of socks.
Try it. It will make you laugh, and you might as well...since you're all cooped up breathing on each other anyway. You won't regret it. Unless you break a lamp...
(If you're afraid of spreading Co-Vid 19 with a pair of dirty socks, then seal the socks in a Ziplock baggy, wash your hands, and THEN chase each other around with that DIRTY PAIR OF SOCKS! But that kind of deflates the "gross sock-touch factor," doesn't it? Have fun!