In Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, by Eleanor Coerr, Sadako is a sixth-grade girl who loves to run in school races and spend time with her friends and family. One day she begins to have dizzy spells, which worsen until she ends up in the hospital. She is diagnosed with leukemia, or the “atom bomb sickness.” Sadako grew up in the aftermath of the atom bomb, dropped on her hometown of Hiroshima when she was just a baby in 1945. Many people got sick in the years after the bomb from its radiation.
Some of my fondest memories from holidays in my childhood are of watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on television. The magic of the parade with its wonderful balloons signaled the beginning of one of my favorite times of year. But I never gave much thought to the history of the parade and its famous balloons. When I saw the book Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade, by Melissa Sweet, I couldn’t resist the chance to meet the man behind the magic.
In A Life Like Mine: How Children Live Around the World, we are introduced to 18 children from different continents, such as Mahasin and her family, nomadic cattle herders in Sudan. Mahasin is nine years old and attends a traveling school for children. When she’s not learning lessons, she likes to weave baskets and help her mother and sisters cook their staple meal, asida, a dish of vegetables and grains mixed with spices. We also meet Isa, age 10, who lives in Sierra Leone and was taken by fighters in the country’s civil war for two years. Now he is back with his family, attending school, planting a few crops, and playing checkers with his friends. The stories and photographs of these children’s lives are fascinating and will appeal to any child who wonders how the world’s children are alike and different.
So, we all know the fairy tale of the Princess and the Pea, right? She shows up at a castle late one night in the middle of a snowstorm. The prince falls in love with her beauty (evident even under the wet, bedraggled appearance), but the king and queen want to make sure she is a real princess. So, they put a single pea under a pile of 20 feather mattresses and wait to see if she notices. And, sure enough, the real princess emerges in the morning bruised and sore from the tiny pea. The prince and princess get married and live happily ever after. Except...well, did you ever think what it would be like to live with someone like that? Someone who couldn’t even stand a pea under her mattress? What about when she was hot? Disappointed? Challenged by some problem?
The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas, by Tony Wilson, takes the traditional Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale and stands it on its head. Prince Henrik doesn’t like the idea of marrying a princess who is sensitive. His brother is married to a very real, very high-maintenance princess who complains day and night about things that don’t suit her. Frankly, it’s a drag being around her, let alone married to her.
When I was in school, we often had to memorize and recite a poem to the class. Some of these poems have stuck with me even as an adult, and I always feel a sense of accomplishment when I can remember one. Memorizing poetry is like a game - you challenge yourself to master the poet’s words and rhythm. Once you do, you are likely to remember it for a long time. One of my kids memorized this short poem from the collection and recited it at dinner the other night when we were having peas:
I eat my peas with honey
I eat my peas with honey
I’ve done it all my life.
It makes the peas taste funny
But it keeps them on the knife.
Yes, we all tried our peas with honey after this...and they do taste funny.
Mary Ann Hoberman, Children’s Poet Laureate from 2008-2010, chose 123 poems to make up Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart because they are “memorable,” which she points out, has two meanings: “easy to remember” and “worth remembering.” Some are short, like the pea poem above, and some are longer challenges, like Edward Lear’s The Jumblies. There are poems about beasts, families, food, nature, and more. There are poems from famous writers (Roald Dahl), favorite poets (Shel Silverstein), and some I had never heard of. Emberley’s pictures are lively and colorful and make the entire book a pleasure to browse.
In Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Found, Jonah Skidmore feels like an ordinary thirteen-year-old boy. His family consists of a slightly annoying but smart younger sister named Katherine and a mom and dad who love him unconditionally. Jonah is adopted and has known this fact for a while but it’s never been a big deal for him because his parents have always been open about it to him. Life definitely feels normal for Jonah. That is, until the mysterious letter arrives--the letter that contains just six words: YOU ARE ONE OF THE MISSING. The letter does not contain a signature or a return address. Who sent it? Where did it come from? What does it mean?