Home Education Magazine
November-December 1999 - Columns
So Many Books
Pass the Peas, Please, Ancient Egypt, Grandfather's Christmas Tree, Amelia Earhart, History Mysteries, Almanac, Young Air Pioneer, Crinkleroot's Nature
Pass the Peas, Please
Pass the Peas, Please: A Book of Manners, by Dina Anastasio, illus. by Katy Keck Arnsteen, Roxbury Park, NTC/Contemporary Publishing, Aug. 1999, ISBN 0-7373-0193-7, $7.95 paperback, ages 4-7
Civility for the younger set. Pass the Peas, Please uses an appealing crew of cute-as-can-be animal characters and rhymed text to demonstrate proper decorum in various social situations. In one of my favorite scenes, a clueless beaver and a dismayed raccoon illustrate the importance of not talking with one's mouth full ("When you're eating mashed potatoes/And there's something you must say,/Please wait until you've swallowed./The thought won't go away."), while a mouse hides underneath the tablecloth, waiting to catch the dribbled mashed potatoes in a little bowl.
Elsewhere in the book, pigs, cats, dogs, bears, elephants, and other animals display the virtues of honesty, politeness, patience, tidiness, and compassion. Young readers will learn the importance of saying "I'm sorry," accepting someone who's different, dealing with anger, showing good sportsmanship, and keeping a secret. A sweet and sensible book.
Crinkleroot's Nature Almanac
Crinkleroot's Nature Almanac, by Jim Arnosky, Simon & Schuster, Aug. 1999, ISBN 0-689-80534-9, $16.00 hardcover, ages 6-12
Crinkleroot is a friendly, folksy, bulbous-nosed woodsman who was "born in a tree and raised by bees." Sometimes he shows up wearing a hat with a (live) snake for a hatband. He can also "whistle in a hundred languages and speak caterpillar, salamander, and turtle." In other words, he's the perfect tour guide for exploring the four seasons.
With Crinkleroot's good-natured guidance, young naturalists will learn how to identify wildflowers, look for signs of wildlife, make an autumn leaf book, build a bird feeder, identify animal tracks, and more. Hidden puzzles and short nature quizzes also appear throughout the text. Readers who enjoy this book will also want to look for other Crinkleroot guide books by naturalist and author-illustrator Jim Arnosky.
Grandfather's Christmas Tree
Grandfather's Christmas Tree, by Keith Strand, illus. by Thomas Locker, Harcourt Brace, Oct. 1999, ISBN 0-15-201821-2, $16.00 hardcover, ages 4-8
In May of 1886, a young rancher and his wife come to Colorado, after having left their home in Illinois to seek the open freedom of the western frontier. Over the summer and fall, they build a cabin near a stand of blue spruce, can vegetables, stock the pantry, and haul and stack firewood to prepare for a long winter and the birth of their first child at Christmas time.
But nothing in their planning has prepared them for what is to come in November and December: wild, howling blizzards that sometimes pile the snow into six-foot drifts. Their supply of firewood quickly disappears, and they are forced to start cutting down the blue spruce trees that surround the house. Soon, only the tallest spruce is left, but its branches happen to be providing warmth and shelter for a family of geese. Inside the cabin, the rancher and his wife welcome their newborn son and pray for a miracle by Christmas Day so they can avoid cutting down the lone blue spruce.
Written in an intimate, first-person narrative, this is a quiet and simple story. Yet it speaks volumes about the power of hope, faith, and family. Thomas Locker's magnificently luminous oil paintings each fill an entire page. This is a fine Christmas book for all ages.
Amelia Earhart, Young Air Pioneer
Amelia Earhart, Young Air Pioneer, by Jane Moore Howe, illus. by Cathy Morrison, Patria Press, May 1999, ISBN 1-882859-02-2, $14.95 hardcover, ages 8-12
If Amelia Earhart, Volume 1 in the Young Patriots series, already seems familiar to some readers, it's because the book was originally published in 1950 as part of the well-known Childhood of Famous Americans series. The book has been spruced up with a new cover, format, and illustrations, as well as revised content. Publisher Florrie Binford Kichler says, "We call the books 'storyographies' because each title is first and foremost the story of episodes from the individual's childhood. Although every incident mentioned in the book may not have actually occurred, it is still true to the character and time of the subject."
The 15 short, easy-to-read chapters are of the perfect length and format for emerging readers who are eager to leap into chapter books. The book concludes with three short sections: What Happened Next? (a brief chronology of events in Amelia Earhart's life), The Mystery of Amelia Earhart, and a note about the author, now in her eighties and a great-grandmother. Watch for more titles in the Young Patriots series. For lots of activities and information on upcoming Young Patriots books, visit the publisher's website at www.patriapress.com.
History Mysteries (series), various authors, Pleasant Company, Sept. 1999, $5.95 paperback, ages 10-up
This series of suspense stories for older readers made its debut this fall. Readers who have enjoyed the American Girls books will likely welcome these books with unbridled enthusiasm; my own daughters immediately pounced on and ran off with my reviewer's samples the minute they arrived.
The first book in the series, The Smuggler's Treasure, by Sarah Masters Buckey, takes place in 1814. After her father is taken prisoner by the British, Elisabet Holder finds herself swept up in a mystery involving smugglers, pirates, and hidden treasure. A Pony Express station in 1860 is the setting for Hoofbeats of Danger, by Holly Hughes, in which Annie Dawson tries to discover who is poisoning her pony. The Night Flyers, by Elizabeth McDavid Jones, takes place during World War I and features resourceful heroine Pam Lowder, who searches for a thief who is stealing her homing pigeons. Voices at Whisper Bend, by Katherine Ayres, takes place during World War II; in this book, Charlotte Campbell must face her fears to capture a scrap metal thief. Secrets on 26th Street, by Elizabeth McDavid Jones, takes place in New York City in 1914; in this book, Susan O'Neal investigates a mysterious boarder and finds herself involved in the suffragist movement.
The books conclude with a historical note entitled "A Peek into the Past," as well as a glossary of terms that may be unfamiliar to readers (in Book 1, they are French words).
Ancient Egypt: A Guide to Egypt in the Time of the Pharaohs, by Sally Tagholm, Kingfisher, April 1999, ISBN 0-7534-5182-4, $8.95 hardcover, ages 7-11
This is The titles in an innovative series called "Sightseers: Essential Travel Guides to the Past." Cleverly disguised as a modern travel guide, the book explains how to travel around Egypt, where to stay, what to see, what to wear, what to expect in the way of food and drink, and so on.
Hungry? Choose from among bread, fruit, and vegetables or, for a treat, dried fish and wild birds all eaten with one's fingers. If you're lucky enough to visit a wealthy Egyptian, you'll likely dine on duck, goose, and ox, or perhaps even gazelle, antelope, and ostrich.
In a shopping mood? Visit Memphis or Thebes to purchase pomegranates, melons, figs, clothes, and precious stones. Watch out for "sniffer" baboons, which are commonly seen in open markets; officials use them to help capture thieves.
True to the Kingfisher format, the book is lavishly illustrated and includes brief sidebars containing sightseers' tips. The book ends with a multiple-choice "Souvenir Quiz." A colorful foldout map attached to the back cover helps readers discover where they've been.
A second title in the series, Paris 1789: A Guide to Paris on the Eve of the Revolution (ISBN 0-7534-5183-2), was also published by Kingfisher this spring. Worth Checking Out
* Watch for World Books by Pleasant Company Publications, six profusely illustrated, large-format hardcovers, one for each of the American Girls characters. Encyclopedic in scope, the books feature maps, photographs, historical reproductions, and glimpses of real diaries and letters. A browser's delight.
* The Royal Diaries is the newest collection in Scholastic's popular Dear America series. The first two books in the series are Elizabeth I: Red Rose of the House of Tudor, by Kathryn Lasky (June 1999; ISBN 0-590-68484-1), and Cleopatra VII: Daughter of the Nile, by Kristiana Gregory (Sept. 1999; ISBN 0-590-81975-5). The books' gilt-edged pages and elegant covers lend an aura of noble realism to the historically accurate journals.
(c) 1999, Joan Torkildson
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