A Chair for My Mother

A_Chair_MomWilliams, Vera B. A Chair for My Mother. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1982.

Happy Mother’s Day! I am home with my family today.  I feel surrounded by love.  I am so lucky.  When I was thinking about a book to share for this day, I remembered this one.  It conjured memories of moms and daughters and families.  How much family and community are important in one’s life.

In this book community and family came together to help Rosa and her mother and her grandmother after a fire destroys all their possessions.  Friends, family and neighbors all pitch in to help furnish a new place for Rosa, her mom and grandma. They brought a table, chairs, beds and other necessities.  What they lack is a nice, big, comfy chair to relax in at the end of the day.

Rosa and her family get a huge jar. They begin to save their change for the new chair.  Mom is a waitress at the Blue Tile Diner, half her tips go into the jar.  Rosa works at the diner too; half her earnings go into the jar.  Grandma adds coins to the jar when she can.  They add coins every day until not one more will fit!  The coins are counted and rolled.  Rosa and her mom and grandma take the coins to the bank.

You will have to read this book to find out what chair they bought.  Rosa’s grandma thought shopping for chairs was a bit like the “Three Bears’.  They were trying to find just the right one.

Read this book with a young person you know.  Snuggle up in your big comfy chair and talk about the book.  Do you have a savings jar that you throw your change into at the end of the day?  Why are you saving?  Are you saving up to buy something special for your family or someone you know?

Ten Black Dots

Cover ofCrews, Donald. Ten Black Dots. New York: Scholastic, Inc., 1968 & 1986.

Reading a variety of books to a child is important.  Counting books are important for young children, because they introduce the language of numbers and mathematics.  Also they can be very fun.  This is a terrific counting book.  The pictures are simple, creative, and instructive.

What can you do with 10 black dots?  A book is what Donald Crews could do!  Here is my take on Ten Black Dots.  After reading this book, perhaps you and a young person could draw your own version of this book.

What can you do with one black dot?
Donald made a sun and moon.
I would make a star in June.

What would you do with two black dots?
Donald made keys and the eyes of a fox.
I might draw two round rocks.

Donald used three black dots
To make a snowman’s face.
I would make a tricycle for a race!

For you and me, Donald drew four black seeds!
With four black dots, I’d make tires on a car.
That car would carry me far, far, far.

Five portholes wink from a ship he drew.
Five is a terrific number.  With five black dots, I might draw
The five Black-eyed Susans I recently saw.

Donald drew six marbles, half old, half new.
I like marbles.
I’d draw them too!

Seven stones raked from a garden is what Donald drew.
My garden has too many stones to count.
I would draw screws on a telescope mount.

Donald made eight dots for the wheels of a train.
I might draw four pair of spider eyes,
Gleaming under the star lit skies.

The heads of nine toy soldiers was drawn for us.
What would I draw?
Nine scoops of chocolate ice cream before they thaw.

Ten balloons stuck in a tree, then loosed were illustrated.
Two ladybugs upon a beach,
I’d draw them with 5 dots each.

Make your own pictures and count every dot
Or read this book and find out what Donald thought.

A Is for “All Aboard!” An Alphabet Book for Autism Awareness Month

  • Kavan, Stefan and Barbara. Illustrated by Michaelin Otis. Trainman: Gaining Acceptance…and Friends…through Special Interests.  Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing, 2011.
  • Kluth, Paula and Victoria Kluth. Illustrated by Brad Littlejohn. A Is for “All Aboard!” Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing, 2010.

I wanted to share these two books in recognition of Autism Awareness month.  About 1 in 68 children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)¹. Autism is diagnosed on a triad of issues: Social Skills, Communication, and Unusual Interest and Behaviors². These two books give perspective on the unusual interest and behaviors legs of this disorders.  Sometimes these unusual interests can keep children with autism apart from other children, who don’t share them.

Trainman is Stefan’s story.  He is a boy with autism. His interests are maps, roads, and trains!  His mom and his teacher both worry about him.  He sits alone at lunch, partly because the cafeteria is too noisy and partly because his interests aren’t shared by the other children. One of the goals on his individualized education plan (IEP) is self-advocacy.  To address this goal, his mother suggests that he might like to make a presentation to his teacher and classmates about his autism and his special interests.  He agrees.  Stefan is good at PowerPoint. Armed with information from his mother, he creates a presentation for his class.  He shows this to all his peers, his teacher, and his principal.  This presentation helps them understand that Stefan is much like them.  They are impressed with his knowledge of trains.  This disclosure helps Stefan with his classmates, teacher, and even the principal (who Stefan only sees when he is in trouble). The children in his class have much more patience, when he talks about trains or roads.  Stefan, also tries to remember to ask them about their special interests.

Stefan and his mom wrote this book for other students with autism.  It is her hope that this book will encourage classroom discussions around relationships.  All children, including those with autism, need acceptance and understanding from peers.  They all need friends.

Kari Dunn Buron, a noted autism education specialist, has contributed ideas for using this book as a teaching tool. She also contributed information on special interests and students with ASD in the back of the book.

The second book I offer is a delightful alphabet book written by Paula Kluth and her sister, Victoria Kluth.  Paula is also a noted specialist on autism, literacy, and inclusive education.  When she was researching for her book on literacy and autism, she discovered that there were no train ABC books. Paula drafted her sister, Victoria, to help her write this alphabet. From “A Is for All Aboard” to “Z Is for Zephyr,” all the letters have a special significance to train lovers including these two authors.  Their father worked on the railroad and they spent some quality time in the railyard.

When I was reading this book, I thought about my own Grandpa worked on the railroad.  I wonder how he would have liked this book.  He never talked much about his work and I was too young to collect his thoughts.

Paula and Victoria created an alphabet book for any train enthusiast. Like Trainman, this book can also be used as a teaching tool.  Paula has included a section on using alphabet books to teach.

Here are some great autism resources.

¹CDC Autism Spectrum Disorder: Statistics and Data – https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html
²CDC Autism Spectrum Disorders: Signs and Symptoms – https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/signs.html

Island Boy

Cooney, Barbara. Island Boy. New York: Viking Kestrel, 1988.

This lovely little book was a gift to Alexis for Christmas 1991.  I don’t remember how I happened to acquire this signed copy, but I am glad I did.  This is a stunning book.

It is a full circle story from youth to death. It is a story of determination and a life well lived. It is a story of leaving and homecoming. This is the story of a boy of Tibbets Island, Matthais. He is kind, loving, and determined.

Matthais’ Pa began the process of taming the island.  He called it Tibbets Island.  He cleared the land, dug a well and built a house.  When he was ready, he moved his family to the island.  At that time Matthais’ family had Ma, Pa, and three children.  By the time Matthais came there were six boys and six girls.  Matthais was the youngest.  When he was small he helped where he could.  When he wasn’t helping, he was sitting under the shade of the red astrakhan apple tree, his Ma had planted. He was watching his island and dreaming of the big, wide world.

In time, he joined his siblings in the steamy winter kitchen and learned to read and write.  He helped plough the fields and chop the woods.  As his brothers and sisters grew up, they left the island for jobs or to marry. His brothers told him he was too young to leave home.  Matthais didn’t pay attention to them.  He longed to see what was beyond his island.  His Uncle Albion was a ship builder.  Uncle Albion built a handsome schooner, the Six Brothers. When it made its maiden voyage, Matthais served as a cabin boy.  For fifteen years, he sailed on the Six Brothers.  He sailed with her here and there, up and down the coast in all kinds of weather.  He eventually became the master of this grand vessel.  Despite the work and joy from sailing, he remembered his island and he longed to return.  He decided one day to return and he did.  He was determined.

He returned to the island and repaired his boyhood home.  He married and lived a full life.  He was clever and knew how to make a good life for himself and his family.  The book ends with his death.  It would be sad, but he lived a life that spoke to so many people.  Many people came to pay their respects to him.  His grandson, Matthais saw all those people, who came to pay their respects and he heard comments like this,

“A good man…” “A good life.”

What more can we ask?  This is a wonderful book to read.  It could be maudlin, but it isn’t.  Matthias lived a full, useful life and it was laid before us in all its quiet glory.  With this book, a meaningful discussion can be had with children about life and how we live it.

This book is worth picking up just for its luminous illustrations.  It reminds me of the primitive folk art style that I have seen at Colonial Williamsburg and other museums.

Barbara Cooney

The book Island Boy is a story about beginnings and endings.  Barbara began her life in Room 1127 of the Bossert Hotel in Brooklyn on August 6, 1917.  Her family was prosperous and they lived in the suburbs. She began summering in Maine at the age of two¹.  It seems to call her back, just as it did, Matthias.  She returned to Maine to a little house overlooking the sea.  She died in Damariscotto, Maine in March of 2000².

It is said that these books are her most autobiographical, Miss Rumptious, Hattie and the Wild Waves, and Island Boy.  Like Matthias in Island Boy, she traveled widely, but was called back to the wilds of Maine. In Miss Rumptious, a book I haven’t read, Miss Rumptious is encouraged to do something to make world more beautiful². Barbara took this to heart and her books are beautiful.  She earned the Caldecott award in 1959 for Chanticleer and the Fox and again in 1980 for Ox-Cart Man.  Her illustrations are detailed and sumptuous. Illustrating books may have been a way to earn a living, but it gave her the opportunity to make the world more beautiful.

You can read more about this author on these websites.

¹http://www.carolhurst.com/authors/bcooney.html

²http://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/barbara-cooney-1917-2000-she-created-many-popular-books-for-children-139578164/116646.html

Read an Old Favorite: Clifford the Big Red Dog

Book coverBridwell, Norman.  Clifford the Big Red Dog. New York: Scholastic, 1963.

Do you know this book?  While it is an older book, I think Clifford is still a terrific character.  Yes, Clifford is big and red.  He is a good friend to a small girl named Emily Elizabeth.  Emily Elizabeth says that he is the biggest, reddest dog on her street.  I don’t know about the reddest, but he is the biggest dog on any street and perhaps in the world.  How big is he?  He is as big as Emily Elizabeth’s house!  Where does he get a bath, in the swimming pool!! Clifford loves to play games with Emily Elizabeth!  In Hide and Seek she is an excellent hider, while Clifford is always found.  I wonder why? When Clifford begs, Emily Elizabeth must climb to the attic and use a window there to give him his reward.  Chasing cars for Clifford is problematical, as sometimes he catches them.  It makes the driver, very angry!  I wonder why?  He also runs after cats.  Emily Elizabeth can’t take him to the zoo, can you imagine why?  Clifford is a very special dog and Emily Elizabeth wouldn’t trade him!

My girls loved reading about Clifford. It was wonderful to give them this reading experience.  Children with disabilities need reading experiences as well.  Here is a link to an article on bringing literacy to life with story boxes: http://www.pathstoliteracy.org/blog/bringing-literacy-life-through-storyboxes. Story boxes are a great way to bring stories alive for children with visual impairments.  This article provides an example of how to make another Clifford story, Clifford’s Bedtime, accessible for children with disabilities.

Norman Bridwell

Norman decided to keep it all in the family.  Clifford was names after his wife’s childhood imaginary friend and Clifford’s friend and companion was named after Bridwell’s daughter, Emily Elizabeth.

Norman was born in Kokomo, Indiana!  I lived there for a year and never realized it was his birthplace.  At that time, I didn’t have any children and wasn’t familiar with this wonderful big, red dog.

He had a vivid imagination as a child and enjoyed making up imaginary kingdoms as a backdrop for his tin soldiers and other toys.  As with many other author/illustrators, he majored in art and spent some time working to get a job as a book illustrator.  A chance remark by a rejecting publisher set him on his path.  It was suggested that he make up stories about the big red dog and little girl who appeared in his portfolio.  Clifford the Big Red Dog’s career was launched. Scholastic can be congratulated for recognizing Bridwell’s brilliance!

Dick Robinson, chairman, president and CEO of Scholastic had this to say about Norman Bridwell and the Clifford books.

Norman Bridwell’s books about Clifford, childhood’s most loveable dog, could only have been written by a gentle man with a great sense of humor. Norman personified the values that we as parents and educators hope to communicate to our children – kindness, compassion, helpfulness, gratitude – through the Clifford stories which have been loved for more than fifty years. The magic of the character and stories Norman created with Clifford is that children can see themselves in this big dog who tries very hard to be good, but is somewhat clumsy and always bumping into things and making mistakes. What comforts the reader is that Clifford is always forgiven by Emily Elizabeth, who loves him unconditionally.¹

Watch some video interviews with this author.

Read about more about Norman Bridwell on these websites.

¹http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-authors/article/65076-obituary-norman-bridwell.html

Welcome Spring: The Legend of the Bluebonnet

bluebonnet_legendDe Paola, Tomie.  The Legend of the Bluebonnet. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1983.

Today is the first official day of spring.  From here the days get longer and the nights get shorter until we reach the summer solstice. In my patch of Northern, Central Texas, it has felt like spring for at least a month. We have had warm days into the 70s and 80s and cool evenings down into the 50s.  It is one of my favorite seasons.  As I write, I am sitting in my backyard with a glass of iced tea and a gentle breeze blowing across me.  It is a practically, perfect day.

In Texas, a herald of spring is the Texas Bluebonnet.  As soon as the weather starts to warm up in late February or early March, they begin to bloom.  If you drive through our state during this time, you will see swaths of highway medians and roadsides covered with their bright blue flowers.  We can thank Lady Bird Johnson for their generous displays, but that is another story. As I was shuffling through my books looking for a book about spring, I found this one.  It combines my favorite time of year, with one of my favorite flowers in a book by one of my favorite authors/illustrators. Like the day, it is practically, perfect in every way.

In this version of the legend, there had been a great drought and the Comanche people were dying.  For three days, they prayed and danced and drummed begging the Great Spirits to send them healing rains.  At last their shaman spoke words from the Great Spirits.  The Comanche people had become selfish.  The people had taken and they had not given back.  Only a burnt offering of a valued possession with its ashes scattered to the winds would save the people.  The Comanche people retired to their tipis to consider the best sacrifice, each one thinking that the Great Spirits would not want their treasured items.  Only a child, She-Who-Is-Alone was wise, generous, and brave enough to find a sacrifice.  What does she have that will serve?  Through the drought and the famine, she lost all her family, the only thing she had left was a warrior doll, made by her mother with bright blue feathers from a Jay brought to her by her father.  It is precious to her.  As deep night settled and everyone slumbered, she left the village and went to the hill, where the shaman received the words from the Great Spirits.  She lit a small fire, prayed to the Spirits, and thrust her precious doll into the fire.  When the ashes cooled, she scooped them up and scattered them to the four winds.  Was her sacrifice enough?  She laid down on the hillside and fell asleep.  She woke with the morning light and to her surprise the hillside was covered in blue flowers, the same blue as the feathers on her warrior doll.  The Great Spirits had forgiven the people and sent them the healing rains.  Every year the hillsides of Texas bloom with these bright blue flowers, our Texas Bluebonnets, to remind us of the sacrifice of a brave and faithful girl.

This book is a glorious retelling of this story.  See if you can find a copy to read to someone special on a bright spring day.

Here are some pictures of bluebonnets and other wild flowers growing in or near my yard.  Happy Spring!!!

Bluebonnets from my neighbor’s yard!  Alas we have none in our yard this year.

bluebonnets2

Here is a picture of our back 40.  It is dotted with Anemones in white and purple.  They are usually the first wildflowers to bloom in our yard.  It also is sprinkled with the tiny pick flowers of the False Garlic plant. Jim waits as long as possible in the spring to mow back here.  We love the sea of small wildflowers we have.

back40

Here is one of the hardier Texas perennials.  It is Prairie Verbena.  It blooms all summer long.  It is a bright beacon on the green landscape.

verbena

And last, but not least, one of my personal favorites the Dotted Blue-Eyed Grass.  It is from the Iris family.  They have little blue heads springing up from grassy leaves and stems.

DottedBlueEyedGrass

If you don’t live in Texas, please enjoy all the blossoms.  If you do live in Texas, I hope you get a chance to get out and see our spectacular wildflower displays.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day: Paddy’s Pay Day

PaddyDay, Alexandra.  Paddy’s Pay Day. New York: Puffin Books, 1989.

Okay, this book isn’t about St. Patrick’s Day, but I think of it often on this day.  Paddy, an Irish Terrier is the subject of the book.  He is a charming character.  As you would suppose, Paddy has no words.  You can read the book and imagine what he would say, if he could.

Paddy works with Trilby O’Farrell. They do tricks and acrobatics for carnivals, parties, and benefits.  Every month, Paddy gets his pay and he goes to the nearest village to spend it.  Although Paddy has no words, the everyone in the nearby village him recognizes him and interacts with him just like he could talk.

What do you do when you get paid? Do you buy yourself a treat?  Do you take care of personal chores, like getting a haircut?  Do you spend some of your pay on donations to good causes? Do you look for some entertainment, like a going to a movie?  Do you treat yourself at a meal at your favorite restaurant?  Do you buy little gifts for your friends?  In this book, you can follow Paddy and see how he spends his day off! It really is a lovely book to share with a child.

In the story, Paddy has his usual monthly meal at Murphy’s. It must be an Irish Pub! He treats himself to a baked potato with all the fixings and Guinness beer.  While it is not Paddy’s usual meal here is a special one, he might enjoy at Murphy’s on St. Patrick’s Day.  If you want to try it with your family or friends, I have listed the recipes for the stew and the bread.  Guinness, of course, holds the recipe for the beer and I purchased the truffles at my local HEB grocery store.

StPatrickDinnerA St. Patrick’s Day Menu for Paddy

Robin’s Irish Stew
Irish Soda Bread
Guinness Extra Stout
Irish Cream and Irish Coffee Truffles

Robin’s Irish Stew

Here’s my take on Irish Stew.  I didn’t have a recipe for one so I made this one up.

  • 2 c chopped onion (about 1 large. I like sweet onions, like 10/15)
  • 1 c chopped celery (about 3 large stalks)
  • 2 c sliced carrots
  • 3 c dices potatoes (about 4 medium potatoes)
  • 2 large cloves finely minced
  • 1 lb. beef roast, cubed
  • ½ c flour, seasoned with salt & pepper
  • 1 bay leat
  • 1 T rosemary, crushed
  • 2 T Olive oil
  • 4 c beef broth, low sodium
  • 12 oz Guinness extra stout (1 bottle)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Dredge the meat cubes in the flour, salt, and pepper mixture.  Work in batches and remove coated cubes to a plate.

Use a large dutch oven or other large pot. Heat the olive oil in the pan on medium-high heat.  When oil is hot, add onions and sauté them for about 2 minutes until they begin to soften.  Add the meat cubes a handful at a time, stirring occasionally.  Continue to add meat until all of it is in the pot.  Cook until meat begins to brown about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom of the pan.  Add ¼ c of the beef broth and scrape the bottom of the pan, scraping up all the flour mixture stuck to the bottom.  You may need to use a metal spatula to get all the good flour mixture up from the bottom.  Add the carrots, celery, potato and garlic.  Cook for 3-4 minutes stirring often and scraping bottom of pot.  Add the remaining beef broth, scraping the bottom one more time.  Bring stew to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.  Add the bay leaf, rosemary, Guinness and then salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer stew for another 30-45 minutes.

Remove bay leaf before serving.  Serve with Irish Soda Bread or some other hearty bread.

Irish Soda Bread from Joy of Cooking. Volume 2, Page 273

Preheat oven to 375º. Have all the ingredients at room temperature about 75°. Abbreviations: c=cup, T=tablespoon, and t=teaspoon.

  • 2 c sifted all-purpose flour
  • ¾ t baking soda
  • ½ t salt
  • 1 T sugar
  • 6 T chilled shortening
  • ½ to 1 c raisins
  • 1 T caraway seed
  • ½ to 2/3 c buttermilk

Mix the first four ingredients together in a large bowl.  Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut the chilled shortening into the flour mixture until it has the consistency of corn meal.  Stir in the raisins and caraway seeds.  Add the buttermilk gradually to the bowl.  The mixture should not be dry.  Knead the dough briefly and shape into a round loaf.  Coat a cake pan with the oil and place the dough in the pan.  Cut a cross on the top of the bread letting it go over the sides so the bread will not crack in backing.  Brush the top of the bread with some of the buttermilk or regular milk.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes until the bread looks golden brown.  Tap the bottom of the loaf and if a hollow sound emerges, the bread is done.