What Do You Say, Dear by Sesyle Joslin

What Do You Say, Dear? A Book of Manners for All Occasions by Sesyle Joslin, illustrated by Maurice Sendak.
What Do You Do, Dear? Proper Conduct for All Occasions by Sesyle Joslin, illustrated by Maurice Sendak.

My favorite Maurice Sendak books are not those he wrote and illustrated himself, not even the wildly popular Where the Wild Things Are, but rather this set of two volumes on good manners and proper conduct by Sesyle Joslin. What Do You Say, Dear won a Caldecott honor for Sendak’s pictures, and his droll, kid-friendly style does add to the book’s charm. However, I really love the situations that Ms. Joslin came up with for both of these books, situations that any child might find himself called up on to deal with at any moment. Example:

“You go to London to see the Queen. She says, ‘Oh, you must stay for dinner. We are having spaghetti.’ So you do, and there is spaghetti for the appetizer, spaghetti for the main dish, and a spaghetti salad. By the time the Queen’s guard brings spaghetti for dessert, you cannot fit in your chair any more and you want to leave the table. What do you say, dear?”

What person hasn’t found himself at some time or another at Buckingham Palace and burdened with a surfeit of spaghetti? *What DO you say, dear?

What Do You Do, Dear?, a second handbook of etiquette for young ladies and gentlemen to be used as a guide for everyday social behavior, is just as delightful as the first book, although not an award winner. You can use this second book to find out what to do when the Sheriff of Nottingham interrupts your reading or how to handle a handsome prince who proposes marriage when you unfortunately have just taken a great mouthful of pudding.

In addition to just tickling ye olde funny bone, these books use memorable vignettes to help children and adults remember the rules of etiquette. And which of us don’t need a little mnemonic device like a funny story to remember to mind our p’s and q’s? Oooh, I just found another “manners” book by Ms. Joslin that I would love to have: Dear Dragon . . . and Other Useful Letter Forms for Young Ladies and Gentlemen Engaged in Everyday Correspondence by Sesyle Joslin, illustrated by Irene Haas. It looks great.

*Of course, the proper thing to say to the Queen when you’ve reached your limit on the spaghetti is, “May I please be excused?”

All Upon a Sidewalk by Jean Craighead George

All Upon a Sidewalk by Jean Craighead George, illustrated by Don Bolognese.

Jean Craighead George, one of the great naturalist writers for children of the twentieth century, died in 2012. She left behind over 100 books, including the Newbery Medal-winning Julie of the Wolves and Newbery runner-up My Side of the Mountain. Although known for her fiction, Ms. George’s nonfiction narratives about various plants and animals and nature habitats are just as good as if not better than her novels.

In fact, All Upon a Sidewalk is something of a cross between fiction and nonfiction. It’s what many in the Charlotte Mason world would call a “living book” in that it tells a story that draws children in and encourages them to use their imagination to picture what life must be like for a tiny ant upon a large sidewalk. Lasius flavus is a small yellow ant who lives under the sidewalk on 19th Street in an unnamed city. “She was a yellow ant with big eyes, arrow waist, and a glittering assortment of six spindly legs.”

Lasius flavus is a worker ant, a natural chemist who serves the queen ant and follows the chemical instructions she receives from the queen. Whether it’s sugar or pollen or something else, Lasius flavus hurries to find what the queen wants. Today, Lasius flavus has a special mission: “the queen had asked for a wondrous treasure called Euplectus confluens. It was terribly appealing and hidden somewhere in the city.”

Both the reader and Lasius flavus remain in the dark as to the identity and whereabouts of Euplectus confluens until the end of the book. Lasius flavus walks about on the sidewalk, looking for this appealing substance, and on her way she encounters the dangers of spiders and bees and rainstorms and birds as she searches for the queen’s desire.

What a wonderful contrast to the flat prose of another popular children’s book about ants which says, “Do you know how many ants live in the world? More than 10,000,000,000,000,000. That’s a lot of ants. Ants live in fields and forests. They live under sidewalks, too. Ants are everywhere!”

And, instead of photographs, you get Mr. Bolognese’s painting, done from life. “He got down on his hands and knees and carefully inspected the sidewalk world through a magnifying glass.” Mightn’t your own children be inspired to do the same after reading this book?

All Upon a Sidewalk is out of print, but you can find used copies quite easily on Amazon or other used book sites.

The Princess and the Beggar by Anne Sibley O’Brien

The Princess and the Beggar: A Korean Folktale adapted and illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien.

The Princess and the Beggar is sort of a Korean version of Beauty and the Beast. The Weeping Princess marries Pabo Ondal, the fool of the forest. As they live together and learn each other’s way, the marriage transforms both the princess and the beggar. Or as the book says, “In time—as they planted, tended, and mended together, they learned not to fear each other.”

The illustrations show the dress and countryside of Korea during the Yi Dynasty (1392-1910), when the nobility wore fine brightly colored silks and brocades, while the peasants wore plain clothing of white and gray.Ms. O’Brien, the author-illustrator, lived in South Korea for thirteen years, the daughter of medical missionaries. She heard the story of Pabo Ondal and the the Weeping Princess as a child. Her faithful retelling and her beautiful illustrations show a sympathy for Korean tradition and folklore as well as an ability to to interpret that tradition for Western readers.

I would read this story along with a picture book version of Beauty and the Beast and compare the two stories. How is Pabo Ondal like the Beast? How is he different? How is the Weeping Princess like Beauty? How is she different? Do both stories end happily? Which is more familiar? Which story raises more questions? Some good picture book versions of Beauty and the Beast are:

Beauty and the Beast by Mahlon F. Craft, illustrated by Kinuko Y. Craft.
Beauty and the Beast, retold and illustrated by Jan Brett.
Beauty and the Beast by Marianna Mayer, illustrated by Mercer Mayer.

I especially like that in this Korean tale it is the wife who teaches and also gives moral support and encouragement to her husband until he becomes the man he is meant to be. And then, “Ondal’s services to the king were many and great, but his happiness awaited him at the foot of Peony Peak.” (his home with the princess)

Saturday Review of Books: February 18, 2017

“I wouldn’t be a songwriter if it wasn’t for books that I loved as a kid.” ~Taylor Swift

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Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

When the Rain Comes by Alma Fullerton

When the Rain Comes by Alma Fullerton, illustrated by Kim La Fave.

Malini is a little girl in a farming community in Sri Lanka. She wakes up in the morning, excited by her opportunity to learn to plant rice seedlings for the first time. But then, on her way to the fields, Malini has the chance to help the community in a different way, as the monsoon rains come and she responds to a near-disaster with pluck and bravery.

This story is just exciting and even scary enough to enthrall young readers and listeners, even as they learn to admire Malini’s courage and resourcefulness. The text itself, written in free verse, is filled with images and onamatapoeia and word pictures that will help readers to imagine what life must be like in a small farming community in Asia. And the illustrations are colorful and exciting, too, complementing the story and bringing out details that might be lost in the rush of the verse.

I’m excited to add this book to my library since my patrons are always looking for excellent picture books that will introduce their children to life in other places in the world. When the Rain Comes may become a favorite go-to title for those who are studying India and Sri Lanka.

Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson

“Freedom would not be handed to us like a gift. Freedom had to be fought for and taken.”

This third and final book in Ms. Anderson’s Seeds of America trilogy wraps up the story of Curzon and Isabel, the black teens who have weathered the vicissitudes of the American revolution and of slavery, freedom, and re-capture and are now near their goal: the liberation of Isabel’s younger sister, Ruth, and her restoration to freedom and the only family she has, Isabel.

As always, however, in this series and in life, things don’t necessarily turn out the way one expects. Ruth, when she is found in Carolina, rejects Isabel and says she remembers nothing about her or their former life together in Rhode Island with their family. Also, Isabel and Curzon can’t agree about the war. Isabel believes, from experience, that neither the British nor the Continentals have any sympathy or good intentions for the freedom and welfare of black Americans, slave or free. Curzon believes in the ideals of the Revolution, and he believes that somehow, someday those ideals will be extended to apply to black people, too. So, they argue and separate, and eventually come back together because both love and circumstance push them together.

Ms. Anderson has written a trilogy that should become a classic in the genre of historical fiction about the American Revolution. Because of the violence and cruelty portrayed in the books, I would recommend them for middle school and high school readers, but they are invaluable in their depiction of the war from a different perspective, that of a courageous young black man and woman who maintain their dignity and determination throughout.

Philomena by Kate Seredy

Philomena is sturdy young country girl who lives with her grandmother in a village in the Czech Republic sometime in the early twentieth century. After her Babushka’s death, Philomena goes to the city of Prague to learn to be a servant and to find her Aunt Liska who deserted the family many years ago.

The story is very Catholic, and Philomena receives messages via circumstances that she believes are from the sainted Babushka. This aspect of the story didn’t bother me even though I don’t believe in praying to or receiving guidance from the dead. Philomena does believe that her grandmother is guiding her and caring for her from beyond the grave, and the device creates a gentle logic and organization to Philomena’s journey to the city and her growth from an innocent little girl to a self-sufficient and mature young lady.

“Everybody else in the village went to church every Sunday. First they listened to Father Matthias. Father Matthias was a wise priest who knew all about the weather, the sheep, and the chickens. He told the men of the village when to plant potatoes and corn. He told them what to do when animals got sick. He knew about God and Heaven, of course, but he also knew that people must have enough to eat to be happy, and therefore good, so he taught them to be good farmers. Good farmers have so much to do that there simply isn’t enough time left over for them to do anything that would make God angry with them! The good priest told them about Heaven, to be sure, but he just took it for granted that all his people would go there. He didn’t have to bother to tell them about the other place. He was a very wise man.”

While Father Matthias’ teaching or lack thereof doesn’t exactly fit with my own reading of the Bible and its soteriology, it is refreshing to read about such a good and down-to-earth priest.

Kate Seredy (pronounced SHARE-edy) was born in 1899 in Budapest, Hungary, and she grew up as an only child in the home of her teacher father. After World War II, Ms. Seredy emigrated to the United States and became an illustrator, first of cards and book covers and other low-paying artistic endeavors, then textbooks and books by other authors. Eventually, Ms. Seredy began to write and illustrate her own stories, mostly set in Central Europe, Hungary and this one in Czechoslovakia. The White Stag, based on Hungarian mythology and folklore and not her best book in my opinion, won the Newbery Medal in 1937. Philomena was published in 1955 after several other books, either written or illustrated or both by the talented Ms. Seredy, had won Newbery awards or honors.

Two Books about Appreciating Differences

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood.
Different: The Story of an Outside-the-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him by Nathan and Sally Clarkson.

First I picked up The One-in-a-Million Boy, as recommended by Lisa Spence and by Shelia at Dodging Raindrops. It was a good read about a boy who befriends a centenarian, 104 years old, and entices her to dream of and work toward becoming a Guinness World Record holder. It’s also about how the boy’s musician father, Quinn Porter, becomes friends with Miss Ona Vitkus, and how families bond and how they fail one another.

The boy is just referred to as “the boy” throughout the book. He never gets a name. Maybe that omission emphasizes the difference inherent in the boy. He is a one-in-a-million boy, maybe autistic, maybe just quirky. He makes lists, counts items a lot, memorizes records from the Guinness Book. The story about the boy, Miss Vitkus, and Quinn has some memorable minor characters, too: Ted Ledbetter, a well-intentioned but unimaginative scoutmaster; the members of an up-and-coming Christian band; and the boy’s mother, Belle, who spends most of the book in the throes of grief and what I would diagnose as PTSD. It’s an excellent story about appreciating others for their differences and yet expecting them to grow and learn from their mistakes.

And that’s just the theme of Nathan and Sally Clarkson’s memoir, Different. Nathan Clarkson started out different as a baby, not sleeping, screaming for no apparent reason, fussy, difficult. And as he grew, the differences grew, too. He was eventually diagnosed with a whole alphabet soup of “differences”—ADHD, OCD, ODD—plus some learning differences, personality quirks, and a strong will. Put it all together, and you’ve got an array of problems and diagnoses, but Sally Clarkson, Nathan’s mother, had to learn to appreciate the person inside Nathan, help him deal with the issues that his differences caused, and also show him that God made Nathan Clarkson for a purpose, to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, even with his many differences.

Told in alternating voices from Sally’s point of view and then from Nathan’s as a 28 year old man looking back on his childhood, teen years, and young adulthood, the book is insightful and inspiring.

Sally: “Being Nathan’s mother taught me so much about what really matters in life. It taught me how to see people through a different lens, to appreciate and validate the variety and differences of people without casting judgment on the ways they differ from me. I grew to become a healthier person as I came to understand and practice living well with the miraculous gift of Nathan in my life.”

Nathan: “In my soul I knew I wanted to be the hero of the story I was in. But so often, like the knight in my picture book, I felt tiny in comparison to the looming dragons of anxiety, learning disabilities, obsessions, and self-doubt. So often I wondered how I could ever win. But still I marched to battle, trusting that in the end the heroes always win, even if they’re beaten, tried, and worn. That while the battle is hard, good will always defeat evil and light will always win out over dark.”

I recommend both of these books for every parent who has a “different” child, one who at his or her best is amazing and beautiful, but at his or her worst is frustrating, oppositional, and enigmatic. Also these are good books for those of us who deal every day with being “different” in some way ourselves, or who know someone who is just a little—or a lot–strange and unusual and in need of understanding and affirmation. And that’s all us, isn’t it?

Saturday Review of Books: February 11, 2017

“Writers aren’t exactly people…. they’re a whole bunch of people trying to be one person.” ~F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

1. Barbara H. (The Tidewater Sisters)
2. Barbara H. te
3. Barbara H. (Twelve Years a Slave)
4. Hope (The Four Graces by D.E. Stevenson)
5. Janet at Across the Page (The Screwtape Letters)
6. Glynn (Rebellion by Peter Ackroyd)
7. Glynn (Heisenberg’s Salon and Lo & Behold)
8. Glynn (How the Light Gets In)
9. Glynn (The Gray Ghost Murders)
10. Lazygal (Goldfish Ghost)
11. Lazygal (Now)
12. Lazygal (Flunked)
13. Lazygal (Little Plane Learns to Write)
14. Lazygal (The Cruelty)
15. Lazygal (The Sweetest Sound)
16. Lazygal (City of Saints & Thieves)
17. SmallWorld Reads (Books read in January)
18. Colletta’s (Swept Away by Hilton and Loven
19. Christina @ Stuck on a Story (Red Madness)
20. Christina @ Stuck on a Story (Weekly Wrap-Up)
21. Christine (Noteworthy)
22. Tarissa @ In the Bookcase (National Velvet)
23. Margy (Off the Grid)
24. Darren @ Bart’s Bookshelf (The White City)
25. Becky (Good of Giving Up)
26. Becky (Biblical Doctrine)
27. Becky (Silent Songbird)
28. Becky (Garvey’s Choice)
29. Becky (Worthing Saga)
30. Becky (Carve the Mark)
31. Becky (Freedom in Congo Square)
32. Becky (Girl Who Drank the Moon)
33. Becky (Twelve Angry Men)
34. Becky (Legendary Miss Lena Horne)
35. Becky (Umbrella)
36. Becky (Double Fudge)
37. The Psalms – Part Two (Cathy@Thoughts on Books)
38. Jade @ Drink Coffee and Read Books (The You Ive Never Known)
39. Jade @ Drink Coffee and Read Books (A Wrinkle in Time)

Powered by… Mister Linky’s Magical Widgets.

The Book of Fires by Jane Borodale

Agnes Trussel is a country girl who lives with her family in Sussex in 1752, and there she would have stayed in spite of her longing for an education had it not been for the unwanted attentions of a local boy who forces himself on her, impregnates her, and continues to tell the innocent Agnes that she must tend to his “needs” will she or won’t she. So Agnes runs away to London.

The setting, the characterization, and the narrative tension in this debut novel (published in 2010) are all excellent. As Agnes comes closer and closer to the birth of her hidden and unwanted child, I was drawn into her story, hoping against hope that she would be able to find a good way to deal an illicit child in a day and age when a pregnant, unmarried, and poor girl didn’t have many choices. If the events in the book and the relatively happy ending are rather unlikely given the time and the cultural environment, and I think they are, I didn’t care because I wanted Agnes to survive and thrive.

The book is also about fireworks and the history of making fireworks. Engineer Husband used to make his own fireworks when he was a boy—rockets and explosives and other pyrotechnics. He also wrote and typed–on a typewriter— his own how-to manual on making fireworks. I thought while reading this novel that he would enjoy all the technical parts about the fireworks lab where Agnes gets a job. But he probably wouldn’t be much interested in the story itself. I liked both the setting and the history parts of the book and also the story.

For historical fiction readers, fireworks fans, and anyone like me who is reading through the eighteenth century.

Fireworks by candlelight: the art of pyrotechnics in the 18th century.

Letterology: the 18th Century Art of Fireworks.

Unfortunate Objects: Lone Mothers in 18th Century London.