Archive for February, 2008

An Announcement . . .

clock1.jpgThe last post I wrote was over a week or two ago, right?  To my shock and horror, I found that someone had left a comment on it recently, which means people are still actually reading this blog.  Augh.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I LOVE that people are still reading this blog.  The problem is — if people read it, then the pressure to write the thing is all the greater.  And with three kids under the age of six in my house, that becomes a problem.  I have, maybe, twenty minutes a day in which to spend online.  Maybe.  Things aren’t helped by the fact that the seven-month-old has taken it into his little head to stop sleeping in the wee sma’s.  Blogging takes a backseat pretty quickly whenever there’s an opportunity to grab a nap.

So: the Big Announcement is that I’m only going to be posting on weekends anymore.  (Heh.  I made that decision a week ago, and didn’t have the chance to post about it then.)  Which, as I figure, is about as frequently as people look in on this blog, anyway.

Come back in a week, and I’ll have some Sparkly New Content for you all.


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mary-had-a-little-lamb.jpgBad news: the childhood home of Sarah Josepha Hale was burnt down by a pair of idiots over the weekend. Because some people apparently have a thing against lil’ lambies and Thanksgiving.

Sarah Josepha Hale is best known as the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” — one of the few well-known nursery rhymes that have a traceable author — but she was also one of those 19th-century Superwomen who still consistently put me In Awe.

  • She was the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book — THE women’s magazine of 19th-century America — for forty years. (Imagine taking Vogue, Good Housekeeping and Popular Mechanics and rolling them into one publication. And then making it the only periodical available to most women of the rural U.S.)
  • She spent DECADES involved in a letter-writing/lobbying campaign to get Thanksgiving declared a national holiday.
  • AND . . . she had five children. Five!

There’s also a little something about the creation of the Bunker Hill Monument being attributed to her, but whatever. Superwoman.

I confess, when I first learned about her life in my children’s lit. history course in library school, Hale immediately became one of my personal historical role-models. She gave us a song that all children can satirize on the playground with glee (“. . . and then she had a little more”) AND made it acceptable to have an entire holiday which revolves around gorging and sleeping.

For further reading: Check out Laurie Halse Anderson’s Thank You, Sarah: the Womanthank-you-sarah.jpg Who Saved Thanksgiving from your local library and give it a whirl. The nutty illustration of the sad football player is worth the price of admission alone.

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I just discovered the delightful blog Vintage Kid’s Books My Kid Loves (again, thanks to Esme Codell) and fallen head-over-heels in love with it.  Brief, enthusastic reviews of picture books found at yard sales, thrift shops, and anywhere else fun old tales lurk are accompanied by small, well-chosen samples of illustration.  Like so:


Best of all?  “Scribbler” has already included a review of The Crows of Pearblossom, the infamous Aldous Huxley/Barbara Cooney collaboration that justly earns the title of “the freakiest kid’s book of all time.”

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Ooooooh. It’s only February, and I already know what I want for Christmas:


“Yeah,” you may say. “I’ve seen tabletop theaters before.” Take a closer gander:


Those are tiny little marionettes! With spiffy little 3D pop-up scenery! You can do your own rendition of the “Lonely Herdsman” from The Sound of Music! Also:


It does shadow puppets, too. A feature after my own heart. Pretty, although a bit pricey.

Learn more here. Thanks to Planet Esme for the info.

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groundhog.jpgAs a Pittsburgher, Groundhog Day is something of a Big Deal — admittedly, not a tremendously big deal — something on a scale between President’s Day and a Steelers Super Bowl win. We’re the closest major city to Punxutawney, the home of Groundhog Phil, who is the designated rodent for predicting the weather via shadow. (Yes, I know you probably knew that. But there are many who don’t. My father once spent a Feb. 2nd on an airplane next to a British gent. Said gent listened to my father’s explanation of the day and seriously thought he was getting his leg pulled. If you really need to know All the Facts, go to groundhog.org, where you can find interesting tidbits such as the fact that Phil was, until the reign of King Philip, once known simply as “Br’er Groundhog.” Huh.)

I meant to pull together a full Baker’s Dozen booklist of the best Groundhog Day books, but to tell the truth, there really aren’t that many worth getting excited about. My library system buys every single Groundhog Day-related book it can get its paws on, and Lo, many are lame. There’s one that actually called — I kid you not — “Andrew McGroundhog and His Shady Shadow.”  (Can a shadow be anything besides shady?  The word makes it sound as if the shadow was up to dodgy dealings in some dark alley.)  But here’s what is worth taking a gander at:


Note: A common theme I’ve noticed with these books is that the plot usually goes like this: Joe Groundhog is about to predict the weather.  An Obstacle prevents him from doing this.  Joe racks brain, overcomes Obstacle via Clever Solution, does/doesn’t see shadow and Life is Good.  I understand that there’s only so much a person can do with this nutty wannabe holiday, but really.  The repetition made me a little jaded at the end of writing this booklist, and I’m only annotating five books.

Substitute Groundhog by Pat Miller —   In this case, the groundhog is sick and must interview other animals to take his place for the Big Day.  But I’m not complaining in this case — the text is funny and interesting enough to get a roomful of preschoolers to engage in some creative thinking about what animal they would choose for the job.

Gregory’s Shadow by Don Freeman — This title was published posthumously by Freeman’s estate, and as a result, the illustrations look a little sketchy and unfinished, but I don’t mind.  He who gave the world Corduroy can do little wrong, in my opinion.  In this sweet story, Gregory’s best friend and confidante is his shadow, but when Greg accidentally leaves his shadow on a friend’s doorstep, it disappears.  How will Gregory do his weather forecast without it?  There’s a sweet solution, but the what’s appealing to me is the whole notion that a shadow can be lost — as I child, I encountered this idea in Peter Pan and Jack Kent’s The Biggest Shadow in the Zoo.  Chances are, your kids will think it interesting, too.

Go to Sleep, Groundhog! by Judy Cox, illus. Paul Meisel — Hibernation takes a holiday — three of them, in fact — when Groundhog decides to wake up earlier than Feb. 2nd and experiences Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas for the first time.  Fearing that he will be too tired to predict the weather (see what I mean by this pattern?) various holiday characters — Santa, a witch, etc. — take turns tucking groundhog back in.  Meisel’s acrylics are colorful, bold, and full of fun details — who wouldn’t want to be sung lullabyes by a Thanksgiving turkey?

The Secret of the First One Up by Lois Hiskey, illus. Renee Graef — the story gets cuteseyfied in this book, and by that, I mean that the illustrations feature a groundhog sporting a waistcoat and bow tie.  Which I think is pretty wonderful.  All groundhogs should, by law, be required to wear bow ties.  But, anyway, in this story, a young groundhog discovers why her Uncle Wilbur is always the first to rise on Groundhog’s Day (I, uh, won’t give away the obvious reason why).  But it’s neat to see the Groundhog Ur-Story done over as a passing-of-the-torch kind of family tradition.  Besides, most little kids I know wake up at the crack o’ dawn anyway, and this book does a good job at capturing that bit of magic at being the first one up and about in the house.

Punxutawney Phyllis by Susanna Leonard Hill, illus. Jeffrey Ebbeler — Phyllis wants to predict the weather — BUT — her family won’t let her because she’s a girl.  When she decides to take up the job anyway, she proves to be superior to her Uncle Phil (the current official forecaster) and proves that Girls Can Too.  Okay, okay — I do seem a little jaded with this book.  But you read the note at the beginning, right?  The redeeming part of this book are Ebbeler’s illustrations.  Oh, how I loves them cute groundhog clothes.  They really are adorable lil’ cuddly animals.

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