November 12, 2010
Books make great holiday gifts
Chanukah is almost here. If you have kids and you’re wondering what to give them for that seventh- or eighth-day present, there are several recently published books that could solve your problem.
The whole concept of gift-giving, because of its connection to Christmas, is problematic for many parents, while some children find it hard to get excited about Chanukah amid the general hullabaloo over Christmas. Sharon Jennings tackles this issue in the picture book A Chanukah Noel: A True Story (Second Story Press, 2010).
Charlotte’s whole world changes when her father comes home one day and announces, “I have a big surprise. We are going to live in France.” She must learn a new language, eat different foods and, of course, make new friends. When her mother tells Charlotte that she will have time to improve her French skills “when the others have their holiday,” Charlotte is dismayed, wanting to have the holiday, too. Laughing, her mother responds, “It is not a French holiday, honey. It is a Christian holiday. We are Jewish. We will celebrate Chanukah.”
Charlotte tries to accept this fact, but the streets are decorated, the market is crowded with shoppers and “the delicious smells of cinnamon and chocolate filled the air, but envy filled my heart,” she admits. Interestingly, the classmate who teases her the most enables Charlotte to celebrate both Chanukah and Christmas, and also to make the world a better place.
The illustrations by Gillian Newland bring the small French village to life, and capture Charlotte’s range of emotions. Also beautiful, but more evocative of the type of tale than a realistic depiction, are the illustrations by Cindy Revell for the book Clever Rachel (Orca Book Publishers, 2009) by Debby Waldman.
Rachel loves riddles and is a master at them, much to the eventual annoyance of her mother, so Rachel heads to the nearby inn, where a whole new audience is waiting for her mind-twisters. People also try to stump her with their own riddles, including Jacob, the baker’s son. Their rivalry grows, until an anxious young woman arrives, needing the help of the “clever child at this inn. One who is good at solving riddles.” Jacob is the loudest to respond and, therefore, the first to attempt the solutions. But, as the “minutes ticked by,” he finds he needs Rachel’s help, and eventually they both discover that they work better together.
For children who like word games, Clever Rachel is a must-have; not only is the story itself full of riddles, but there’s a full page of riddles at the back of the book to puzzle out. For older children who love baseball – or even adults who just want the basic facts at their fingertips – You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2009) will be well received.
Written by Jonah Winter and illustrated by André Carrilho, this picture book is told by a former league insider. Its first page of text begins to answer the title’s question: “You gotta be kidding! You never heard of Sandy Koufax?! He was only the greatest lefty who ever pitched in the game of baseball.”
The story takes readers from how Koufax got into baseball (“he was a whiz at every sport he played” and first made the news playing basketball), to the beginning of his career with the Brooklyn Dodgers, where he had trouble throwing strikes and didn’t make many friends (“... he was one of the only Jews in baseball in those days. Some of the guys said some pretty lousy things behind his back – things I can’t repeat”), to when he finally reached his peak in 1966, years after the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles and just before he retired – “Sandy had a choice: he could retire, or he could lose the use of his left arm. And he didn’t want to lose that arm.”
You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! includes several sidebars filled with statistics, a glossary of baseball terms and a list of websites that have more information about America’s favorite game. It’s the perfect present for a baseball fan.
And, for a follower of the Ghost-hunters series, the third and final book, The Hunt for the Haunted Elephant (Key Porter Books, 2010), is a no-brainer. Co-written by Carol Matas and Perry Nodelman, this novel for young adults is written in the same fun, light-hearted (occasionally spooky) manner as the first two and brings the story to a close in a satisfying way.
Siblings Molly and Adam Barnett have had quite the adventures since finding out that their grandfather was still alive, in a manner of speaking, as a ghost, and that their family had been cursed generations ago. They’ve managed to keep everyone alive so far, but still need to bring together two jewels – once the eyes of an ancient Indian elephant carving – that have long been separated. The time pressure comes not only from the risk posed to their family from the curse, but because ghosts are starting to recover their corporeal form.
This part of the sleuthing takes place in the neighborhood of the old family home, near Oxford, England, and the cultural differences provide some laughs, as do “reunions” such as that between the ghosts of Henry the Eighth and Anne Boleyn.
A more serious book for younger readers, but one in which a pair of brave siblings is also featured, is The Orphan Rescue (Second Story Press, 2010) by Anne Dublin.
Twelve-year-old Miriam and her brother, seven-year-old David, are orphans, living with their ailing grandparents in the town of Sosnowiec, Poland, in 1937. They are living in such abject poverty that there isn’t enough food for the entire family and, in an effort to save them all, the grandparents send David to an orphanage, where he will be fed and they will have one less mouth to feed at home. But Miriam misses her brother so much that she decides to save him, not knowing that a worse fate than living in an orphanage actually awaits him if she doesn’t rescue him.
While the synopsis sounds a bit harrowing, The Orphan Rescue is actually an entertaining read, with some great characterizations, such as Mrs. Krangle, the butcher’s wife, who “always sticks her nose into everyone’s business.” The fabulous sketches by Qin Ling capture the characters’ personalities and add greatly to the overall imagining of the story.