But what a beautiful story.
This Liberian folk tale, retold by Verna Aardema and illustrated by Ellen Weiss tells the tale of four friends – Spider and his three workers Buck Deer, Lion, and Rat. They live and work together, each with a job that best suits them, and after a hard day’s work, the tree toad who lives in the yard sings them to sleep.
Into their orderly life come chaos in the form of a giant hairy monster named the Vingananee. He demands the stew from Rat, and threatens to eat Rat for noncompliance. Rat fights for the stew and ends up tied to a tree behind the house.
“I’m the Vingananee,/and I am hungry./ Give me your stew,/Or I will eat you!”
Each of the friends agrees in turn to defeat the Vingananee and literally save their dinner. And each day the Vingananee eats their stew.
Typically in a trickster story (when there is a spider), the trickster is the spider, but in this story Spider is not even interested in trying after Lion and Buck Deer end up tied to a tree. It’s the little tree toad who thinks that he might be able to defeat the Vingananee.
What I love about this story are the conventions of the storyteller. There is repetition, escalation, and great onomatopoeia – Rat sweeps – fras fras fras; the Vingananee walks, pusu pusu pusu; and the tree toad sings them to sleep, tau au au au aut - among other sounds.
And I love it when the little guy wins.
The Vingananee and the Tree Toad by Verna Aardema, illustrations by Ellen Weiss, but I think this lovely book is out of print. Snatch it up at a used book store if you can find it.
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Tags: Books We Love, Ellen Weiss, The Vingananee and the Tree Toad, Verna Aardema
Welcome, February 1!
Today is the day that we reach the point halfway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. Imbolc, or St. Brigid’s Day is the beginning of the Celtic spring and the time when we can sense that the days are getting longer.
So although we have at least three feet of snow in some places on the yard and six inches of new show fell today, we can celebrate that the sun is returning, the time that it is light each day is growing longer, and somewhere under the snow, the snowdrops and the crocus are considering shoots of green and reaching toward the sun.
Which reminded me of a book – The Story of the Root Children, Illustrated by Sibylle von Olfers –
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Tags: Imbolc, Sibylle von Olfers, St. Brigid's Day, The Story of the Root Children
I have written about waiting to leave for school in the morning as a kid. Captain Kangaroo was integral to the experience for many reasons, but specifically the clock at the bottom of the screen let us know when it was time to leave. I thank Captain Kangaroo for introducing me to Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton.
This is a story of obsolescence and growing old after working hard and doing your best. Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne his steam shovel are part of the great United States expansion of machines, roads, and buildings. They work hard and well and their labor is central to the effort – and then along come diesel powered machines and Mike and Mary Anne find themselves obsolete. They go looking for work outside of the big cities where they find a community that is building a new city hall. Mike claims that he and Mary Anne can dig the cellar for the new hall in one day. “Impossible!” A challenge is struck and Mike and Mary Anne work from sun up to sun down drawing a huge crowd of onlookers. They finish in time, but they have forgotten to leave themselves a way out.
Of course there is a wonderful solution to the questions: did they succeed? how will they get out? what will Mike and Mary Anne do in this age of bigger, better, faster?
The story is wonderful, affirming our faith in the triumph of humanity over machine, and the drawings are terrific – they have a whiff of the naturalistic art of the thirties and forties, and the anthropomorphic shovel, Mary Anne, is both fierce and sweet.
This is one book that I hope never goes out of print.
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, story and pictures by Caldecott medalist Virginia Lee Burton
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Tags: Books to Read, Books We Love, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Virginia Lee Burton
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
From Shakespeare’s Henry V, 1598:
There are lots of dog books — The Poky Little Puppy, Spot, I Am a Puppy (My name is Bruno),and Martha Speaks but none entertained us quite so much as Mr. Dog: the Dog Who Belonged to Himself by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrations by Garth Williams of the Little House Books and Charlotte’s Web fame..
While she is known for the bedtime classic, Goodnight Moon, Margaret Wise Brown also wrote a number of other well loved stories. We had a Golden Books omnibus that opened with this story. The other two stories in the collection, The Seven Little Postmen and The Color Kittens, deserve their own post.
Mr. Dog was “a funny dog named Crispin’s Crispian. He was named Crispin’s Crispian because he belonged to himself.” He liked what he liked when he liked it. In the morning he would go to the icebox and serve himself with “bread and milk.” Funnier still, “He liked strawberries.”
Now lest you think that Crispin’s Crispian is just a crotchety old man who smokes his pipe, scratches his hindquarters, and barks at kids to stay offa his lawn, we learn that he likes to chase squirrels just like the next dog. But he is looking for a friend. So one day, after chasing the requisite critters, he runs in to a little five-year-old boy:
“Who are you and who do you belong to?” asked the little boy. “I am Crispin’s Crispian and I belong to myself,” said Crispian. “Who and what are you?” “I am a boy,” said the little boy, “and I belong to myself.” “I am so glad,” said Crispin’s Crispian. “Come and live with me.”
So off to the grocers and then Crispian’s crooked house where there is a table, a kitchen, a fireplace, and two beds. Here we learn that Crispian is a conservative. I LOVE this definition of conservative:
“Crispin’s Crispian was a conservative. He liked everything at the right time –
dinner at dinnertime,
lunch at lunchtime,
breakfast in time for breakfast,
and sunrise at sunrise,
and sunset at sunset.
And at bedtime –
At bedtime, he liked everything in its own place –
the cup in the saucer,
the chair under the table,
the stars in the heaven,
the moon in the sky,
and himself in his own little bed.”
It’s not as creepy as it sounds, and I actually don’t remember how it ends. I do know that the girls wanted me to read often. I enjoyed the friendship, the sharing, the precursor to wanting to keep your room organized not because your mom will yell but because Mr. Dog does.
Mr. Dog: the Dog Who Belonged to Himself by Margaret Wise Brown, Illustrations by Garth Williams
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Tags: Books to Read, Margaret Wise Brown, Mr. Dog: the Dog Who Belonged to Himself; Read Aloud
“Far beyond the moon and stars,
Twenty light- years south of Mars,
Spins the Gentle Bunny Planet.
And the Bunny Queen is Janet.”
Three books that help us know that our imagination, hope, and love can transform even the worst day.
When we first found these stories, they were three small books (First Tomato, Moss Pillows and The Island Light) in a boxed set. Each tells the story of a young rabbit who has had a bad day. Robert, Claire, and Felix survive disastrous days to be whisked off to the Bunny Planet, where Janet the Queen helps them have “the day that should have been.”
Everyone needs a visit to the Bunny Planet now and then. There you can have “toasted tangerines” (your favorite snack) and soup made just for you. You can rest in a tree or see your sweater steam near the fire as it dries. We each know that place that will bring us peace in a world where things can often go wrong.
My girls were never huge Ruby and Max fans, but they loved this book. I shared it with my sister’s children, and my niece (a special ed teacher in a suburban middle school and someone who has seen her share of dreadful days) has embraced this book as a talisman.
I am happy that this book is back in print. There was a while there that I bought copies from any used book store where they were available. Now it is a three-in-one omnibus, still compact in size. This is a “must have” as it will reward re-reading.
When I taught an Autobiography and Memoir class a number of years ago, I brought this book in. I asked my students to take a bad memory and go on a visit to the Bunny Planet. They got to rewrite the day as the way it should have been. One of my students was excited. “My brother and I LOVED that book when we were kids.” Truth be told, when I read it aloud to my students in class, the room got a little dusty – yeah – I had something in my throat – yeah – that’s it.
“It is the first duty of a flagging spirit to seek renewal in the latitudes of whimsy. I, for one, dream on beyond the five planets to a world without wickedness; verdant, mild, and populated by amiable lapins.”
-Benjamin Franklin, letter to his nephew, 1771.
Voyage to the Bunny Planet by Rosemary Wells
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I love this book. I remember it from when I was a child. We didn’t own a copy of this book, but I first experienced it on mornings before school in the mid-60s when Captain Kangaroo read it to us all via his childrens’ television program. I remember the pages would shake when the peddler would shake his finger at the monkeys.
I wish that we had a copy of this when I was a kid. The author’s name is so great – Esphyr Slobodkina – I would have love trying to say that name then (because I have so much fun saying it now).
This is a book that I give as a gift to new parents. It is not one in the usual pile of “books for new parents,” but it should be. There is a lot to love here. There is a wonderful physicality to the story. The peddler has a tall pile of caps on his head. The idea of walking with that pile of caps and not having them fall off or the pile fall over is already fun to try to imagine. That the peddler is tired is no surprise. And then there are those monkeys!
Where could this story be set with this man, these trees, and monkeys? And who cares? The charm of this story is in the wonderful repetition, the escalating reactions of the peddler and the monkeys, and the ah ha! solution – monkey see, monkey do!
Between the phrase, “You monkeys, you…” and “tzt tzt tzt” – this is a story with enough repetition that pre-readers can join in with parents “reading the story,” and it is one of those books with a small enough vocabulary to encourage early readers.
The author and artist, the aforementioned Slobodkina, was a founding member of the American Abstract Artists (with de Kooning and Pollock) and a pioneer in abstract art in this country.
It may not sell as well as The Cat in the Hat, but I like this headwear story infinitely better.
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Tags: Books We Love, Caps For Sale, Esphyr Slobodkina, Read Aloud