By: TAMMY MATHES
Tis the season of giving and what better way than with a book; one that inspires, informs and often, encourages our children to help others.
After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat
This is sweet story describes how a nursery rhyme character thought creatively, faced his fears, and found happiness again after he fell from a wall. With Caldecott Medal-winning illustrations that lend both a physical and emotional perspective, Humpty Dumpty mourns his inability to sit up high and enjoy his favorite pastime, bird watching. Santat’s ending is surprising and brilliant.
The World Is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter
“There are no corners in the dunes, or rivers, or marshes,” explains author Jeanette Winter as she describes the celebrated and internationally recognized architect, Zaha Hadid. Inspired by her homeland of Baghdad, Hadid based her art form on the curves in nature and designed buildings, concert halls, and even a ski jump, using this theme. The story follows the artist from a young Muslim girl in Iraq, to a gifted student in London, to her eventual career, which began with difficulties and rejections but ended with great acclaim. Illustrations not only provide images of Hadid’s imaginative works but also reflect the natural scenery that inspired her.
A Different Pond by Phi Bao, Illustrated by Thi Bui
Phi Bao, the Vietnamese-American poet, tells a semi-autobiographical story of a young boy and his father, who spend the hours before dawn fishing for their family’s meals. As immigrants who fled their war-torn country of Vietnam, Bao’s parents have several jobs to provide for their children. Illustrator Thi Bui blends blues, grays, and browns to reflect the boy’s quiet world with his father, and contrasts this with bright yellows when examining the family’s busy life. The reader is left to feel a bit sorry for Bao, but also great respect for his family, their love for each other, and their relentless work ethic.
Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers, illus. by Shawn Harris
With whimsical language and Shawn Harris’s detailed and colorful illustrations, Dave Eggers teaches young children about the Statue of Liberty. While he explains basic facts, including that it was a gift from France, Eggers also shares lesser known information such as designer Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s luncheon inside the statue, before it was shipped to America. The book becomes more serious when Eggers broaches the significance of Lady Liberty’s foot, which appears to be mid-stride. Here, he theorizes that if her job is to represent freedom and welcome all to our country, then she is running to greet everyone, which is a lovely concept.
Soldier Song: A True Story of the Civil War by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Gilbert Ford
Due to one long and draining winter, the Battle of Fredericksburg headed to a standstill. To uplift their spirits, the Confederate and Yankee troops played music. The harmonies floated across the Rappahannock River, which separated the troops and ironically united them as they sang such mournful songs as “Home, Sweet Home.” The men were eventually ordered to abandon their “concerts,” yet the melodies remind the reader that these men, despite their contrasting beliefs, were foremost fathers and sons who desperately wished the war to end so they could reunite with loved ones. Levy’s picture book is filled with terrific historical facts such as the Emancipation Proclamation and that the North used hot air balloons to spy on Confederate troops. In addition, Gilbert Ford’s detailed images evoke the intensity and emotions of war.
Refugee by Alan Gratz
In his remarkable and highly acclaimed Refugee, Alan Gratz weaves three intense but fascinating stories to create a breathtaking novel. Joseph, Isabel, and Mahmoud are from different countries and decades, yet each child flees a homeland due to impossible circumstances. While facing great danger and difficulties, they with their families seek asylum from Nazi Germany, Communist Cuba, and ISIS run Allepo, Syria, respectively. Despite persecution, war, and poverty, the characters demonstrate profound bravery and wisdom throughout their chapters. The novel is based on historical facts so there is mention of atrocities in concentration camps as well as dangers traveling as refugees. Yet, Gratz is aware of his audience and writes thoughtfully and carefully. This is also a fantastic story to read with young adults, as it lends itself to questions and conversations.
I’m Just No Good at Rhyming: And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups by Chris Harris, Illustrated by Lane Smith
Children and parents alike will shriek with laughter while reading Chris Harris’s rich and entertaining poems. Illustrated by Lane Smith and both a New York Times bestseller and award-winner, this magnificent book employs creative subjects and word choices and invites the reader to ponder ideas using new perspectives. Titles include “The Unipede,” “Sometimes I Don’t Want to Share,” “Yesterday’s Tomorrow,” and “IF YOU EVER HAVE TO MEMORIZE A POEM OF TWENTY LINES OR LONGER AND DELIVER IT TO YOUR CLASS, THEN THIS IS A PRETTY GOOD CHOICE.” Often compared to Shel Silverstein, Harris’s verses seem a tad more sophisticated.
Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
This brilliant novel is told through the eyes of Hanneke, an eighteen-year-old girl living in Amsterdam during the Nazi’s occupation. Somewhat naïve, she is not fully aware of the atrocities surrounding her. As a Christian, she and her parents are in no apparent danger; and her only goal is to provide for them by trading on the black market. However, Hanneke is a multi-layered protagonist, and through a series of events, she eventually joins the underground resistance to save a particular Jewish girl, whose family has been killed. Hesse’s plot twists and turns, and Girl in the Blue Coat is a wonderful mystery and coming of age novel.
Banyan Tree Education owner Tammy Mathes has been teaching for 27 years and brings a wealth of experience, expertise, and passion to her students. Tammy is a fellow in the Connecticut Writing Project, an organization dedicated to the teaching of writing, and has led workshops for the group. Prior to founding Banyan Tree Education, Tammy was a reading specialist and classroom teacher at the Greenwich Country Day School, as well as in the Stamford and Greenwich public school systems. Tammy lives in Greenwich with her husband Rob, three daughters, and dog, Gracie.