2013, I have squeezed in many different dimensions of work around books almost like Charlie Brown, I find two aspects have been central and they dominate my vision for work in 2014.
Good books that encompass not just a story that remains central but also illustrations that dominate and provide a visual feast to my soul and books that capture differences.
I spent this last week working with books around the Christmas theme and I feel renewed for my work and the essential need to place good books in the hands of all children.
My team at Bookworm, have been discussing the over bearing commercialization of festivals and it all comes to a head at Christmas. Every one is shopping, humanizing the ‘jingle bells’ ( is what the children at MOP unanimously call Santa Claus) and have lost sight of the meaning of the festival.
Three books that are outstanding in reminding us about the birth of Jesus and the varying perspectives are;
Shepherd’s Gift – a story by Mary Calhoun and illustrated by Raul Colon ( who has also done my favourite, Tomas and the Librarian Lady) tells the story of an orphan shepherd boy who chanced upon the Holy Family when his sheep strayed. He got drawn into the warm family , received the warmth and acceptance of this new family and then left leaving behind his precious sheep as a gift and taking away the most precious of gifts; love and acceptance.
The First Night by B. G Hennessy with paintings by Steve Johnson and Lou Francher, bring out the birth of Jesus in a warm, dark stable, when something special happened. The text is minimal and balances the paintings most sensuously. When I shared the book and explained the wood cut technique with acrylic paint to a group of children, there was a different kind of looking. A line in the book says “ the baby was seeing this world for the first time” and when we were looking, really looking at the painting plates, it felt like we were seeing the world for the first time”
We have been talking about how one can begin to separate Santa Claus from Christmas so that the story of Christmas stays alive and Hisako Aoki and Ivan Gantschev have done this quite nicely in Santa’s Favourite Story. Santa, feeling tired and weary remembers why we are so happy at this time of the year. He recollects the Story of Christmas that is gently illustrated in water colour by Ivan Gantschev who says, “ we make picture books possibly for ourselves, because we enjoy them so much”. But I also think we use picture books like this because they represent something we may not be able to communicate without.
While it seems awfully mature to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas, the socialization of our children in present day commercial madness means that Santa Claus, gifts, expectations of receiving are uppermost. To balance this and provide scope to reflect on this aspect and think about this idea of receiving, I found three books by well known authors, done beautifully.
Each one has the element of receiving gifts, preparing for Christmas from the point of view of giving and sharing gifts and then leaves you with something more. Each one of these books has an illustration style and type that allows the reader to both consciously and unconsciously be affected by the story and they make good reads and read – alouds.
The season cannot be complete without song. Christmas carols are a part of the refrain across schools and all our groups have joyously ( if a trifle loudly) been singing Christmas carols at every session. Three of my favourite song books are;
The Friendly Beasts by Tomie dePaola whose transparent inks on water colour paper endear itself to my soul and no one captures the emotions of the animals at Nativity like Tomie does. This book is also special because it is one of the few books we have at Bookworm with hand lettered type and the children get drawn to this fact in amazement, because more and more they are thinking that automated ‘anything’ is better than handmade. We compare, we contrast and we do conclude that hand lettering has a charm and character.
We Three Kings is the popular carol with song sheet and lyrics which allows the reader to reflect on another kind of literacy. Sheet music but brought alive by the collage illustrations of Olga Zharkova. I like this book because of its semi abstract art and the form it uses but also because we sing this book !
Hold Christmas in Your Heart is a collection of contemporary and tradition African – American stories that endears itself to me most of all. It reflects the spirit of Christmas from a non dominant ‘white’ perspective and reminds us that Christmas is a festival, that is honoured and enjoyed by humanity .
Carol of the Brown King by Langston Hughes and illustrated by Cal Massey.
Books do for us what we are unable to do for ourselves on our own and that alone is a reason to celebrate and be thankful.
Happy Christmas, everyone!