The Magic Nesting Doll

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Once upon a time a girl named Katya lived with her grandmother
at the edge of the forest. They worked hard and loved
each other tenderly, until one day the old woman fell ill.
She called Katya to her side and said, “Little pigeon, my time is
near. Soon you must make your own way in the world, but I have
a gift that will help you.” She took a little matryoshka, a nesting
doll, out of a small box. The doll was smooth and bright, painted
in the likeness of the grandmother with apron and kerchief.
Katya started to open the doll.
“Stop!” said the old woman. “Not yet. If your need is great,
open the doll and help will come. But you may only do so three
times. After that, the magic will be gone. Keep the doll and
remember me.”

After her grandmother dies, Katya goes out into the world where she is told that:

“Ever since the Tsarevitch fell under a wicked spell that turned him
into living ice, it is always winter without thaw, night without moon,
and dark without dawn.”

Can Katya’s magic and courage break the spell, saving the crown prince and the kingdom? While there may not be much suspense (at least for an adult reader), getting to the answer is a pleasure. The story feels like a classic fairy tale, with an interesting Russian flavor, and Laurel Long’s illustrations are utterly beautiful (as in her The Twelve Days of Christmas). Although the boys enjoy this book, they do not reach for it as yet.

Author: Jacqueline K. Ogburn
Illustrator: Laurel Long

The House in the Night

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Here is the key to the house.
In the house burns a light.
In that light rests a bed.
On that bed waits a book.

The books I highlight around Mother’s Day are typically ones that the boys don’t like quite as much as I do. This book is different; for a while the boys actively disliked it. I find it to be very beautiful and soothing (and it was a present from a family member who inscribed our copy), so I didn’t get rid of it, but I did put it away for a few years.

Author: Susan Marie Swanson
Illustrator: Beth Krommes


 

Grandfather Twilight

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You could say that this book tells a simple story about the quiet routine of a grandfather. Or you could say that it is about cosmic matters of great significance. Either way, you’d be right.

Like When the Sun Rose, by the same author/illustrator, this book is peaceful and quiet and absolutely beautiful. And, also just like Sun Rose, the boys just aren’t that interested in it (perhaps because it dreamlike and has very few words).

Author: Barbara Helen Berger
Illustrator: Barbara Helen Berger


 

On Market Street

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On Market Street, vendors of items from apples to zippers all wear (or are made of) their wares. I’ve loved this beautiful alphabet book from the first time I saw it as a child. The boys prefer The Racecar Alphabet, but this is the week when I share some of the books that I currently enjoy more than they do, in honor of Mother’s Day.

Author: Arnold Lobel
Illustrator: Anita Lobel


 

Saint George and the Dragon

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In the days when monsters and giants and fairy folk lived in
England, a noble knight was riding across a plain. He wore heavy
armor and carried an ancient silver shield marked with a red cross. It
was dented with the blows of many battles fought long ago by other
brave knights.

The Red Cross Knight had never yet faced a foe, and did not even
know his name or where he had been born. But now he was bound on
a great adventure, sent by the Queen of the Fairies to try his young
strength against a deadly enemy, a dragon grim and horrible.

This is not a short read aloud and it is (unsurprisingly) quite gory. But it is interesting and strange and has dragons. The boys love it.

Author: Margaret Hodges/Edmund Spenser
Illustrator: Trina Schart Hyman

Morris Goes to School

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Morris looked at the candy.
He liked the gumdrops.
He said, “Give me some of those.”
The man said,
“They are one for a penny.
How much money do you have?”
Morris looked. He had six pennies.
“I have four pennies,” he said.
The man laughed. “You have six!
Can’t you count? Don’t you go to school?”
Morris asked, “What is school?”

The rest of the book answers this question, as Morris immediately heads off to school and learns lots of new things. Perhaps most importantly, by the end of the day he knows how to purchase the right amount of gumdrops.

Morris takes things very literally, and the resulting misunderstandings (like in the picture above) really tickle my youngest (who is getting ready to start school himself). This book also presents many opportunities for him to participate in the reading (for example, by counting Morris’ pennies).

Author: B. Wiseman
Illustrator: B. Wiseman

Fuzzy Rabbit

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Fuzzy Rabbit had been with the family for
as long as he could remember. His dungarees
were faded. He had a hole in the elbow of his
sweater, and his buttons were all odd ones of
different sizes. One of the stitches of his mouth
had come undone, and he couldn’t even smile.

Fuzzy has been feeling sad of late. His little girl, Ellen, used to take him to school with her, but recently she has started leaving him at home with the other toys. And, for the first time, she forgets to take him downstairs for her birthday party. Fuzzy is starting to wonder where he fits in. Luckily, by the end of the book he is reassured he is loved and regains his confidence (and his smile).

The pictures here are a big part of the attraction; I remember poring over them as a girl, wishing I could play in (or, better yet, have) Ellen’s room and toys. Now I enjoy noting that Fuzzy Rabbit (or “Alpaca,” as he is known in the U.K.) was made for Ellen by her mother and that Ellen has all the skills she needs to repair him. This is a favored book of my youngest, who is very interested in stuffed animals, birthdays, and school.

Author: Rosemary Billam
Illustrator: Vanessa Julian-Ottie

Rechenka’s Eggs

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Babushka lived alone in a dacha, a
little house in the country, but she
was known far and wide for the fine eggs
that she lovingly painted. Her eggs were so
beautiful that she always won first prize at
the Easter Festival in Moskva.

One day, Babushka rescues a wounded goose and names her Rechenka. As Rechenka returns to health, she lays an egg each morning for Babushka’s breakfast. And eventually, after Babushka’s lovingly painted eggs are destroyed in a (goose-related) accident, Rechenka’s daily eggs become increasingly miraculous.

This is one of our very favorite Easter stories. The pictures are strikingly beautiful, as is Babushka’s quiet, constant appreciation of the miracles all around her (large and small).

Author: Patricia Polacco
Illustrator: Patricia Polacco

Boy + Bot

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A boy was collecting pinecones in
his wagon when he met a robot.

A boy and robot meet, bond, are temporarily confused by ill-timed power outages and sleep, then play happily ever after. This sweet book allows you to break out your best robot voice and is perfect for bedtime.

The Circus Ship

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Five miles off the coast of Maine
and slightly overdue,
a circus ship was steaming south
in fog as thick as stew.

There is something about Chris Van Dusen–I’m not sure if it is his bouncy rhymes or his bright, beautiful pictures–but the boys go wild for his books. We haven’t had this book terribly long, but it is very frequently requested and seems on track to be as popular as perpetual favorite If I Built a Car. In it, fifteen circus animals find new, much improved, homes on an island in Maine when the ship they are traveling on sinks (finding the animals on the pages is a large part of the fun).

Caveat: The inspiration for this happy story was incredibly grim; Mr. Van Dusen has completely reimagined a true story of an awful shipwreck. Therefore, I suggest saving the author’s note in the back of the book for adults.

Author: Chris Van Dusen
Illustrator: Chris Van Dusen