Sunday, September 12, 2010

Caldecott Medal Winners

Ashanti to Zulu is visually beautiful and I wanted very much to recommend it without reservation.  It lends itself wonderfully to further exploration.  Geography.  Culture.  And so very much more.  However, I would caution any parent to be careful.  One of the letters talks about a tribe and the children's initiation rites.  Anyone who knows anything about some (not all) tribes in Africa are probably aware that the initiation rites can be somewhat brutal and there is a growing movement to make some of these rituals, specifically as it relates to young girls, illegal.  So I won't make any "for further exploration" recommendations because I would not want to be responsible for exposing anyone, let alone a child, to information that may be distressing or inappropriate.  Pretty pictures.  Interesting content.  Not a book I would enthusiastically recommend so much as cautiously recommend although I would definitely encourage the child to look at the map at the back of the book and perhaps learn more about the geography of Africa and its people.


This charming book, written by the wonderful poet Donald Hall, tells a simple story of a man and his family and how everything they do throughout the year leads up to a trip  he makes to a nearby town where he sells things they have made, grown, or gathered. The illustrations are perfect, with a folk art sensibility that compliments the text.  I genuinely like the idea of the story, of how a family works together throughout the year.

For Further Exploration

  • Look at some other examples of folkart paintings and illustrations and then invite the child to create some for herself, perhaps even making one for each month of the year which you can then copy and use to create calendars for gift giving.  
  • There are several activities the family do--from shearing to spinning wool to knitting--that can be experienced if you don't live too far from places where you can see someone doing these things.  Even if a field trip is too difficult, learning to weave paper (a Chinese tradition) can be fun and have your child weave strips of paper into pretty patterns.  (Look online for some truly beautiful inspiration.)
  • Talk about how the family keeps what they need and sell the rest and then consider looking around your own home to see if there are things perhaps you no longer need and could sell.  Why not have a yard sale?  
  • Wintergreen Lifesavers give off sparks when you bite into them!  Go into a dark room or closet and try to bite into a piece of the candy without closing your mouth.  Yes, it is rude but it is dark and nobody will see what you are doing.  I never met a child who didn't find this fun.  And now you can sit down and find out why this happens.  http://recipes.howstuffworks.com/question505.htm
There isn't a lot of text in this mostly picture book.  The drawings are fun and a little quirky.  I'm not sure how thrilled I would have been by the illustrations that show the animals that aren't on the ark slowly sinking below the rising water.  Usually with a book that doesn't have words I think it's a great idea to have the child write out a story to go along with the pictures.  Unfortunately, there really isn't much you can say about these pictures.  

For Further Exploration
  • Read about the flood from the Bible (Genesis 6-9) and the Quran (Sura 11) 
  • Read other flood myth stories including the ones found in The Epic of Gilgamesh, Norse mythology, India, etc.  Almost every culture has some variation of the flood story in its mythology.
  • For the child learning to count, choose a page that has several different types of animals on it and encourage him to count all of the dogs, then the horses.  For the child already learning to add, perhaps ask, "How many would you have if you only had the dogs and the horses?" 
(To be honest, I don't think I would want this book in my child's collection but I can see where some parents would and probably appreciate it more than I.)


This is another book we had in our personal library once upon a time.  The illustrations are gorgeous and the story is fun to read.  There is, however, a moment in the story, which may be upsetting for smaller children.  Then again, I don't necessarily feel it is wise to protect children from anything and everything.  So I would read this book with discretion.  Heed the child's preference.  If asked to read the book again, do so.  If not, then let it sit on the shelf for a while.

For Further Exploration

  • Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories are a natural compliment to this text.  I would try to find one that either has lovely illustrations or none at all.  Find one without illustrations and encourage your child to draw a picture to go with the story.
  • Discuss truth telling and truth stretching and the consequences of being less than honest.  Children often go through a phase of stretching the truth without intending to lie altogether.  This story is a perfect cautionary tale, especially in light of what mosquito learns or does not learn by the story's end.
  • Study about the different animals represented in the story--mosquito, iguana, python, etc.  Draw pictures of each or stick flags on a map showing the different areas where different species can be found.  For instance, mosquitoes are pretty much ubiquitous but lions are not.
  • Talk about onomatopoeia, words that imitate sound, and write a story of your own using this writing technique.
Almost all girls seem to go through a time when they love horses--My Little Pony, unicorns, etc.  This story from a traditional Native American story, is beautiful to look at and to read.  There is something especially wonderful about the more enigmatic myths which allow children to experience the story on a more spiritual level and this book is one that will resonate deeply.

For Further Exploration

  • Study the Native American tribes and choose a few to study more closely.  There were many tribes and trying to study them all would take a lifetime.  However, taking the time to read about one or two tribes can be enjoyed over a lifetime as well.  If you live in North or South America, you may want to choose a group that once lived where you live.  
  • Study the mythologies of various Native American groups, taking the time to find where each lived on a map.  Illustrate one or more of the stories.  Search Amazon.com for native american mythology
  • For the older child, Ovid's Metamorphoses is a collection of traditional Greco-Roman myths that include transformations.  Share these and myths from other traditions, looking for similarities across cultures.


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