Friday, April 30, 2010

History & Culture: The Great Depression

Leah's Pony by Elizabeth Friedrich, illustrated by Michael Garland, tells the story of a little girl's sacrifice to help her parents. What I love most about this book is how the friends and neighbors follow her lead. I choked up a little while reading it and, for the first time, First Son noticed it and commented on it. I explained that I was crying a little because I thought it was such a sweet story, even though it seemed a little sad. He accepted that and said he really liked the story, too.

Mr. Williams by Karen Barbour. A note at the end of this book explains that it is based on the recollections of the real Mr. Williams, a family friend. It tells of his childhood in the South, poor and black. I love descriptions of their simple life, a hard life raising crops and animals on the farm, but not unhappy. His large family seems to really care for each other and enjoy their time together.

The Gardener by Sarah Stewart, pictures by David Small, is a wonderful story of a young girl who travels to the city to stay with her uncle, helping in his bakery, while her parents are struggling financially. The story highlights her love of gardening, her compassion for her uncle and his employees, and a transformation at the bakery and her uncle's building. Lydia Grace is courageous, optimistic, kind and joyful. This is one of my favorite books. First Son and First Daughter enjoyed it as well. First Son has even read it to himself a few times since we read it together. I particularly enjoy the illustrations by Mr. Small. They move the story along wonderfully by illustrating the reactions to the flowers that appear everywhere as the story unfolds.

Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl's Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard, illustrated by Randy DuBurke, tells of a young black girl who dreams of playing professional baseball. In the book, she concentrates all her energy on her goal to play at a baseball camp. I love how her effort only increases when all her dreams seem lost. The story is based on the real life of Marcenia Lyle who realized her dream when she played for the Negro League Indianapolis Clowns. My children probably understood little of the plays described in the baseball games because we don't watch of play much baseball around here (though we have attended one of the university games), but First Son still grasped the significance of her struggles and her dreams. These kind of stories make it easier for me to introduce topics of race and poverty within the context of an uplifting story. Personally, I think it would be just as good a story if she didn't eventually make it to a professional baseball team.

Saving Strawberry Farm by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Rachel Isadora, is another farm auction story. Davey and his sister learn the plight of a neighbor about to lose her farm and are integral in bringing out the town to help her save it. It's a nice little story, but I don't like it (or the illustrations) as much as Leah's Pony, which we read earlier. The kids did not seem quite as interested, either.

Uncle Jed's Barbershop (Aladdin Picture Books) by Margaree King Mitchell, illustrated by James Ransome, is a wonderful story based on the author's real Great-Uncle Jed. He struggled and saved for many years to open his own barbershop. I love the how the family supports and helps each other, how Uncle Jed handles disappointment and setbacks and how the community supports him when his dream comes true.

The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton is a classic. First Son kept insisting the city growing around the little house was just in her imagination. I'm not sure quite why he thought that, but at least we all enjoyed it. If you haven't read this book, do and soon!

Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building by Deborah Hopkinson and James Ransome is the story of the construction of the Empire State Building. I'm not sure I love how it's written in second person, but the descriptions of the construction include enough detail to be interesting without overwhelming a young crowd. First Son and First Daughter are now enthralled with New York City and beg to take a trip there every time we read a NYC book. I guess that's partly my fault since we read so many and then talk about how First Son has been to many of the sites. Hopefully we'll be able to take a trip before too long! Not this summer, though.


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  2. We have to be careful about Negro league baseball books out of context.

    #1 hasn't learned any U.S. history, and certainly doesn't understand civil rights, or the lack thereof in the early to middle part of the 20th century. After reading "The Bat Boy and His Violin," which is a really nice story, and asking lots of poignant questions, #1 watched a college basketball game, and was surprised to see people of different races on the same court. "I thought white people and black people didn't like to play together," he said.

    It was easy enough to explain that people used to have these attitudes in America, and give examples of our friends that are different races, etc., etc., but it could have been ugly had he asked that question in public.

  3. Another good one is "The Gardener," by Sarah Stewart. It's set in the Depression, and written as a series of missives, which #2 liked b/c each one was dated.

  4. I often try to put our history books clearly in the past with comments like "That's how things were a long time ago." I'll have to remember to be very clear with the race issues, which we'll be reading more about this month. They didn't comment at all with "Catching the Moon," but that's no reason not to bring it up. (I reviewed a book recently that said we should take openly and plainly with our kids about race, so I've been trying to be more aware.) I think we'll try "The Bat Boy and His Violin," too, but I'm not sure how enthralled First Son will be. We'll see. It's a story I like.

    And we did love "The Gardener," too!


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