Category Archives: Children’s books

Ada’s Violin

Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay, by Susan Hood and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport, is a true story told in picture book form. It’s a very heartwarming story about the power of music and creativity to bring hope to the slums of Paraguay.

from the publisher:

Ada Ríos grew up in Cateura, a small town in Paraguay built on a landfill. She dreamed of playing the violin, but with little money for anything but the bare essentials, it was never an option…until a music teacher named Favio Chávez arrived. He wanted to give the children of Cateura something special, so he made them instruments out of materials found in the trash. It was a crazy idea, but one that would leave Ada—and her town—forever changed. Now, the Recycled Orchestra plays venues around the world, spreading their message of hope and innovation.

It’s so nice to find a story of inspiration and hope. Ada’s dreams of playing the violin were fulfilled beyond her imagination, thanks to the work of Favio Chávez. Here are some links to more information on both Mr. Chávez and the Recycled Orchestra.

Click here to see a live performance on YouTube of the Recycled Orchestra.

Click here to see an NPR report on the Recycled Orchestra.


I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book based on a true story from Paraguay.

Pippi Longstocking

Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren, has long been on my list of books to read because I didn’t read it as a child, although that little girl with red hair and strange braids was always in the periphery somewhere. But I thought since she is just a little bit older than me, she is 75 years old this year, (to my 71 years), that I should celebrate by finally reading the book.

It is a beloved book worldwide, but I didn’t fall in love with it. I mostly enjoyed it, and could certainly see why it would appeal to many people young and old…and I admired the strength of this nine-year old girl and her goodhearted but quirky nature. But I felt like I was missing some of the cultural context of the book…things that might be more humorous and/or meaningful in the original language and culture. (Or maybe it was just that my sense of humor has been quarantined a little too long this spring?)  She was not a boring character, and she had spunk! I think she actually might just be the quintessential spunky character.

from the publisher:

Pippi is an irrepressible, irreverent, and irrefutably delightful girl who lives alone (with a monkey) in her wacky house, Villa Villekulla. When she’s not dancing with the burglars who were just trying to rob her house, she’s attempting to learn the “pluttification” tables at school; fighting Adolf, the strongest man in the world at the circus; or playing tag with police officers. Pippi’s high-spirited, good-natured hijinks cause as much trouble as fun, but a more generous child you won’t find anywhere.

Astrid Lindgren has created a unique and lovable character, inspiring generations of children to want to be Pippi. More than anything, Pippi makes reading a pleasure; no child will welcome the end of the book, and many will return to Pippi Longstocking again and again. Simply put, Pippi is irresistible.

So the book experience for me was okay, but I was much more interested in the author, Astrid Lindgren, who appealed more to me than the character she created. She was a humanist and committed advocate for children and animal rights, and through her writings and advocacy work, she was able to help bring changes into law that prohibited violence against children (she was very much against corporal punishment) and promoted animal rights. You can read more about her work here on her website.

I’m sorry to all of you who grew up absolutely loving Pippi. Perhaps I should reread it at some point down the road to see if it was just my state of mind right now, or if the book just wasn’t quite my cup of tea.

 

I chose to read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

The Twenty-One Balloons

I recently re-read a beloved book from my childhood. The Twenty-One Balloons, by William Pene Du Bois, was another book read by my big brother, Curt, and since I often followed in his reading footsteps, I then read it, too. This book won the Newbery Award in 1948, and is a fanciful, fun book.

from the publisher:

Professor William Waterman Sherman intends to fly across the Pacific Ocean. But through a twist of fate, he lands on the secret island of Krakatoa where he discovers a world of unimaginable wealth, eccentric inhabitants, and incredible balloon inventions.

from the book:

“The best way of travel, however, if you aren’t in any hurry at all, if you don’t care where you are going, if you don’t like to use your legs, if you don’t want to be annoyed at all by any choice of directions, is in a balloon. In a balloon, you can decide only when to start, and usually when to stop. The rest is left entirely to nature.”

I wonder how kids these days would like this little book? I remember when I read it long ago, that I enjoyed the inventions and the humor, the adventure and the calamities. This time reading it, I chuckled all the way through it. A delightful entertainment!

 

I read this book for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. Although fiction, it takes place on the island of Krakatoa in Indonesia.

Ballet Shoes

photos above are from the ballet book I adored as a child…

It’s never too late to catch up with books you missed reading as a child!  Ballet Shoes, by Noel Streatfeild, is the first book in another series I missed reading when I was growing up. I don’t know how that happened, as I loved ballet and would have loved this book! But I’m glad I filled in that gap by reading it while I was sick in bed this month. It was fun and interesting, and a great way to take one’s mind off a cough and a cold.

from the publisher:

Pauline, Petrova, and Posy love their quiet life together. They are orphans who have been raised as sisters, and when their new family needs money, the girls want to help. They decide to join the Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training to earn their keep. Each girl works hard following her dream. Pauline is destined for the movies. Posy is a born dancer. And Petrova? She finds she’d rather be a pilot than perform a pirouette.

Stepping Stones

During this week of unspeakable horror in Syria, I found a little book at the library that shone with beauty and hope. Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey, written by Margriet Ruurs and with illustrations created by Nizar Ali Badr, is a honest and poignant story of a Syrian family’s experience of having to leave their beloved home and country and flee for their lives. Fortunately, they find open arms and help in a new country. This book would be a wonderful teaching tool for families and classrooms to help all understand the refugee crisis worldwide. It also gives information about how one can give help during this humanitarian crisis.

from the publisher, Orca Book Publishers:

This unique picture book was inspired by the stone artwork of Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr, discovered by chance by Canadian children’s writer Margriet Ruurs. The author was immediately impressed by the strong narrative quality of Mr. Badr’s work, and, using many of Mr. Badr’s already-created pieces, she set out to create a story about the Syrian refugee crisis. Stepping Stones tells the story of Rama and her family, who are forced to flee their once-peaceful village to escape the ravages of the civil war raging ever closer to their home. With only what they can carry on their backs, Rama and her mother, father, grandfather and brother, Sami, set out to walk to freedom in Europe. Nizar Ali Badr’s stunning stone images illustrate the story.

from Social Justice Books:

This bilingual children’s picture book (English and Arabic) is worth reading for the illustrations alone. The three dimensional characters, made from beach stone by Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr, are so expressive and exquisite that they tell a story of their own. Badr conveys the plight of refugees, although he himself has never left Syria. He explains, “How could I leave the country that gave to humanity the world’s oldest writing, the cuneiform alphabet?”

What can you do to make a difference?

 

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” my effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book about life in Syria.

The Librarian of Basra

The Librarian of Basra: A True Story From Iraq, by Jeanette Winter, is a picture book for children that is equally interesting to adults.

…from the Publisher:

“In the Koran, the first thing God said to Muhammad was ‘Read.'”*
~ Alia Muhammad Baker

Alia Muhammad Baker is the librarian of Basra. For fourteen years, her office has been a meeting place for those who love books–until now. Now war has come, and Alia fears the library will be destroyed. She asks government officials for help, but they refuse. So Alia takes matters into her own hands, working secretly with friends to move the thirty-thousand new and ancient books from the library and hide them in their homes. There, the books are stacked in windows and cupboards and even in an old refrigerator. But they are safe until the war moves on–safe with the librarian of Basra.

This moving true story about a real librarian’s brave struggle to save her war-stricken community’s priceless collection of books is a powerful reminder that the love of literature and the passion for knowledge know no boundaries.

 Jeanette Winter, brings us many of these inspirational stories from around the world in picturebook format. I love the idea of introducing children, through these books, to these everyday yet truly inspiring heroes. For me, they pique my curiosity about people I’d never heard of and I find myself pursuing more information and searching for more books about them!

 

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book that takes place in Iraq.

 

Water Buffalo Days

Water Buffalo Days: Growing Up in Vietnam, by Huynh Quang Nhuong,  is a book of memories of a young boy growing up in Vietnam before the war. The memoir was written for children in the middle grades, but tells such poignant stories that there is definitely no age limit on it. I was quite fascinated with learning about the culture this little boy grew up in, and also learning so much about water buffaloes.

…from the Introduction to the book:

I was born in the central highlands of Vietnam in a small hamlet on a riverbank that had a deep jungle on one side and a chain of high mountains on the other. Across the river, rice fields stretched to the slopes of another chain of mountains…

…Like all farmers’ children in the hamlet, I started working at the age of six. I helped look after the family herd of water buffaloes.

…Animals played a very large part in our lives. Many wild animals were to be feared. Tigers and panthers were dangerous and always trying to steal cattle. But a lone wild hog was even more dangerous than a tiger. The hog attacked every creature in sight, even when he had no need for food. The river held a different danger: crocodiles. Other animals provided food, labor, and often friendship. Watchdogs and water buffaloes were like members of our family.

…I always planned to return to my hamlet to live the rest of my life there. But war disrupted my dreams. The land I love was lost to me forever. These are my memories…

Those memories are told beautifully and are quite remarkable. Although this young boy started working with the family’s water buffalo at age six, it was his ten-year-old brother who trained the animal. The training was fascinating, and I had no idea that water buffalo could be so intelligent, patient, and gentle. This water buffalo also became the main bull in the village and was a fierce protector of the people and the village animals.

It was so interesting to see how the villagers worked together and interacted. And I loved the stories of this boy’s daily life, hopes and dreams, and his deep friendship with the family’s water buffalo.

Although, this is not included in this book, the background on Huynh Quang Nhuong is very interesting but sad. The Vietnam War interrupted all his hopes and dreams. During the war, he was shot and permanently paralyzed. He was sent to the U.S. for treatment and never returned to his home village. The war changed all of that for him.

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a memoir of a boy growing up in Vietnam.

 

Emmanuel’s Dream

Emmanuel’s Dream: the True Story of Emmanuel Osofu Yeboah, by Laurie Ann Thompson, tells the story of a boy from Ghana who was born with a deformed leg. He lived in a time and place where there were no rights for people with disabilities, but his mother did not want his disability to define his life. She encouraged his independence, and instilled in him a drive to succeed and to live his life with no “disability.”

Even as a young child, Emmanuel showed great creativity and courage in how he made adaptations that would help him to do the things he wanted to do. He joined in the neighborhood soccer play with the other children by making some makeshift crutches and doing things with only one leg that were hard for those with two legs! They soon developed a great respect for him. When he wanted to learn how to ride a bike, they helped him. Riding a bike would become an important part of his adult life.

As he grew, Life was never easy for him. His mother became very ill when he was thirteen and he left home for the city to find a job that would help his family. At first no one would hire him because of his disability, but he persisted and did find work. Two years later, at Christmastime, he returned home to care for his dying mother. Her last words to him have guided him through the rest of his life!

“Be respectful, take care of your family, don’t ever beg. And don’t give up!”

Emmanuel had a big dream. He wanted to ride a bike all around Ghana sharing his message with everyone — that disabled does not mean unable!  He wrote to the Challenged Athletes Foundation, in San Diego, California, asking for help to make his dream come true. They sent him a bike, helmet, and all the gear he needed, and he trained and started his long ride. He rode nearly 400 miles in ten days, and talked with everyone he met, including farm workers, government officials, and reporters. He became an inspiration to all and a national hero.

In his own words: “In this world, we are not perfect. We can only do our best.”

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book that takes place in Ghana.

Nasreen’s Secret School

 

Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter, is a very moving picture book about the life of a young girl and her family after the Taliban takes over in Afghanistan. She and her family were living happily in one of the ancient cities of Afghanistan when that change happened.

The Taliban changed every part of life in this country and for this little girl. Girls were immediately banned from attending school, and life became very restricted for all women and girls.  “The art and music and learning are gone. Dark clouds hang over the city.”  And then one day her father was taken away, and after days and weeks of worrying about him, her mother left in search of him. Nasreen stayed at home with her grandmother, but didn’t speak after that.

Her grandmother, who narrates this story, was very worried about her. She wanted her to be able to go to school and learn the things that she and Nasreen’s mother had learned when they were young. She heard about a secret school for girls, and took Nasreen there. The girls had to be extremely careful to arrive at the school at different times so that they were not noticed by the soldiers. The neighborhood boys would distract the soldiers when they saw them getting too close to the green gate of the house where the school was held.

At first Nasreen was silent. She didn’t talk with the other girls or her teacher, and her grandmother continued to be very worried. But slowly, she began to make friends with another girl in the class, she began to enjoying her learning, and she began to talk again.

Although a story written for children, this book was eye-opening to me about what life was/is like for the girls and women of Afghanistan under the tyranny of the Taliban.  Jeanette Winter has written numerous picture books about children in other cultures and I’m reading as many of them as I can find.  You might be interested in reading her “Author’s Note” from the ending of this story of Nasreen.

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book based on a true story from Afghanistan.