Frederick’s Fables

I know I’ve written about Leo Lionni before, but I just have to show you today’s Thrift Store Score:

I’m really excited, so many of my favorites are in this collection, and some that I’ve never read. Included are:

I know that I need to read The Biggest House In the World, Geraldine, the Music Mouse, In the Rabbitgarden, Theodore and the Talking Mushroom and The Greentail Mouse.

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Brother Hugo and the Bear

Sometimes I get asked questions that are hard to answer. If I know about the topic, I try to tell the kids what I know. Sometimes, I don’t know enough, so I honestly tell them that and offer to help them look it up. Then other times, the answer is just hard to explain. A student asked me why some books have a giant letter starting a paragraph.

I explained that it was a fancy way of writing that goes back to the time before machine printed books. Sometimes the letters and margins were even decorated or illuminated by the men who copied the books by hand. Yes, I explained it, but there was nothing to show them….until I remembered the story of Brother Hugo and the Bear.

Brother Hugo is a medieval monk who has borrowed the letters of St. Augustine, but cannot return the book because a bear ate the it, the words were so sweet to him.

The Abbot says Brother Hugo must borrow a copy of the Letters from another Abbey and then make a copy to replace what he lost. So Brother Hugo must travel to the other Abbey, explain why he must borrow the book and keep it safe from bears as he travels home to begin the long task of copying the text.

This layout shows great examples of the illuminated drop caps and it explains the process of making every single element of the book.

The book even mentions using a sharp pen knife to scrape away mistakes. The kids were blown away by this plethora of information.

Finally, he has finished the copy, within the season of Lent, and so he must return the original to the other Abbey. He is worried about that awful bear, but his Brothers give him poems and sermons on parchment to feed to the bear. When he has run out of parchments, Brother Hugo must face off with that word-hungry Bear once and for all.

It looks promising, but once you turn the page, you see that the bear ate the book anyway. The kids laughed at this turn of events, though they felt bad when the realized that Brother Hugo would have to repeat the whole process again.

This book is really a treasure. It could be used for studies on medieval Europe, or in an art class — these monks were truly amazing — or just for fun.

The Night After Christmas

Today I’ve got a bittersweet story about the night after Christmas.

It’s by James Stevenson, and he is also the illustrator. Teddy and Annie find themselves thrown out with the garbage after their owners get fancy new toys for Christmas.

They meet a very nice dog named Chauncey who offers them a place to stay.

Chauncey’s home isn’t fancy but it’s warm. Teddy and Annie try very hard to get used to it, but it’s a struggle. Teddy is sure that they can remake themselves into desirable toys, but Annie remains unconvinced.

One day Chauncey leaves and when he returns, says he has a special place for them.

He leaves them as a flood of children come out of the school, and when the crowd finally clears, Annie and Teddy are gone.

The story has a wonderful ending, but I’m sad kids would throw out their toys. Many times over the years I’ve wished I still had my My Little Ponies, my Strawberry Shortcake baby doll or other bits and pieces of my childhood. It’s nice to think that those toys may have found new homes just like Teddy and Annie.

The Christmas Cat

Is it really a surprise to see that I’ve chosen a cat related Christmas book for today? I don’t think so. The Christmas Cat by Efner Tudor Holmes is a story about an abandoned cat who finds a bit of Christmas magic.

The little cat is traveling through a cold and snowy forest looking for a new home. He knows he isn’t safe but he keeps hoping he will find a new home.

At the same time, two brothers are preparing for Christmas in their warm and cozy home. They are thankful for their home and that their animals are safe and warm in the barn. One of the boys even says he’d let wild animals in to keep them warm too.

The little cat awakens in the forest and is drawn with the other animals to a mysterious stranger. The bearded man brings them food and greetings before noticing the cat.

He sees that the little cat doesn’t belong in the forest so he picks him up and takes him to a home where he will be welcomed.

This story touched my heart, I hate to think of animals abandoned or neglected during the winter. Last year a homeless kitten hitched a ride home in my husband’s truck engine compartment. Once we finally caught him, he was adopted by a friend and went from a scared, malnourished feral cat, to a sweet, plump house cat. He wasn’t brought to us by a familiar bearded stranger, but I think someone somewhere knew we would find Hemi a home. (He was in the Dodge truck’s hemi engine.)

Dewey the Cat

You may have heard of an orange kitten that was dropped in a library drop box in Iowa one very cold night. He was adopted by the librarians at the library and was christened Dewey Readmore Books.

I had never gotten around to reading the book that one of those librarians, Vicki Myron wrote about Dewey. I don’t know why, I certainly don’t have an aversion to cats. But today I read the picture books about Dewey, There’s a Cat in the Library.

Dewey’s library life started off in an odd way, but he quickly settled in at the library and made himself at home.

He didn’t mind the patrons but sometimes the kids needed to be shown how to handle him.

Dewey decides, after consulting his toy mouse, that it is his duty to help the patrons. Everyone seems to love him and smile when he comes around, except for one girl who just doesn’t seem happy.

Dewey works his kitty-cat magic and brings a smile to her face. It seems he can help anyone at the library.

In Dewey’s Christmas at the Library, Dewey is experiencing is first Christmas. Like every cat I’ve ever known, he manages to find a toy in every new Christmas decoration.

His favorites are the tree and a ball of red yarn. During the night he “decorates” the tree with the yarn and is disappointed when Vicki takes the tree away.

He decided Christmas is awfully boring, until they bring his tree back. This time it has a bright and shiny new first place prize on it!

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a staple in American Christmas traditions. I love him so much that we watched him before school this week — the 1st and 2nd grade hang out in the library for 30 minutes before morning recess. I will be honest and tell you though, that despite loving the claymation movie, I don’t think I ever read the book, until Thursday.

Thursday and Friday were the last days before Christmas break and those kindergarteners were struggling to pay attention to me earlier in the week, so I changed my plans. The new lesson plan was to play a YouTube video that was not too long but not too short. I was super excited to find Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer story record book . I loved these record books as a kid, so I crossed my fingers that the kids would too.

I always thought that this is what Rudolph and Herbie looked like. While this Rudolph is a bit smaller than the book illustrations show, they did get his small antlers right. And Herbie? He’s not even in the book. I guess they needed more storylines to flesh out the animated special.

The rest of the story is exactly like the song. I’m sad that Rudolph (and Herbie) is pushed to conform so hard, but the true message of “uniqueness is good” shines through, some would even say it glows. See what I did there?

One thing that was kind of a let down was the other reindeer and their bullying. Sure they excluded him but the only name they call him is “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. That’s what Santa calls him! So is it a lame insult or is Santa super insensitive? I doubt we’ll ever know.

P.S. I do think including this guy would have jazzed the book up, a lot!

Olive the Other Reindeer

Did you ever think that you were destined for greatness? Olive thought she was just a dog, but it turns out, she’s a reindeer!

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I’m referring to the hilarious Christmas story by J. Otto Siebold and Vivian Walsh Olive the Other Reindeer. Olive is a normal little dog, until one day she hears a song that changes her life.

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Right in the song it says her name! Well, Olive is a responsible dog, I mean reindeer, and so she heads to the North Pole to help get ready for Christmas.

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Santa and the reindeer think it’s odd that a little doggy wants to go with them, but they figure, “why not?” Comet secures Olive to the sleigh and they take off on their rounds. Unfortunately, Olive is distracting and the reindeer crash the sleigh.  But all is not lost, Olive is nothing if not resourceful.  She’s able to save the night and they finally head home to the north pole.  Olive even manages to guide the whole reindeer team when the fog is too thick for Rudolph’s nose.

And best yet, Santa gives Olive a pair of her very own antlers. I think that makes her an honorary reindeer.

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You may remember this story as a movie.  It was too long to show in class so we read the book.  We enjoyed it plenty.

Great Joy

Kate DiCamillo is a master story teller, and she writes more than middle grade novels. Today I’d like to share one of her picture books with you.

Great Joy is about a little girl named Frances who notices that a man with a monkey shows up on the corner she can see from her window.

She is very curious about them and wonders where they go at night. Her mother dismissed the question so Frances stays up late and sneaks to the window and discovers the saddest truth. They are homeless and stay on the street corner even when it’s cold and snowing.

Frances’ mother says that the man and monkey may not come to the apartment for dinner and seems to have very little sympathy. Frances takes matters into her own hands and as they pass the man, she invites him to her church pageant.

Sadly, when it is time for Frances to say her lines in front of the congregation, she can’t make any sound come out, at least until the man and his monkey enter the church. Then with confidence she says her line:

“Behold! I bring you tidings if Great Joy!”

and because the words felt so right, Frances said them again. “Great Joy.

Cajun Christmas

I received a request from a second grader: can you find us a book from Louisiana please? I did find them a great story, and we were extra lucky since it was a Christmas story. Now this Cajun tradition isn’t one that I found in The Christmas Gift Bringers, but it’s just as interesting as any in that book. Papa Noël is the Cajun Santa Claus, and he’s definitely different than the Santa you grew up with.

Papa Noël lives in the deepest, darkest part of the Louisiana swamp, but he’s not lonely, since he has his nine pet alligators to keep him company. Papa Noël works through the year carving toy pirogues (boats) and dolls from cypress wood.

Every Christmas Eve he harnesses dem alligators to de pirogue…the book is written in this style….with Antoinette, a pure white alligator at the lead to guide the way. But one night the fog is so thick, even Antoinette’s glowing green eyes cannot see through the fog.

Mais, them Cajuns is smart. Dey light huge bonfires along the levee to help Papa Noël see through the fog.

This story isn’t a new rip-off of Rudolph. The bonfires are a tradition over 200 years old! We had a lot of fun with this spin on our midwestern Santa, and I’m pretty sure you will too.

Some further reading on this tradition:

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Today was a treat. My daughter got to help put on her drama club’s Christmas play. They performed The Best Christmas Present Ever by Barbara Robinson.

The kids did a great job telling this hilarious story about a church Christmas pageant gone wrong.

If you haven’t read the book, seen the movie, musical or play, here’s the rundown:

The annual church pageant’s director has broken her leg and so a new mom is taking over. She’s trying to do her best with the kids but the local thug family, the Herdmans, start coming to Sunday school (for the refreshments) and decide to be in the pageant. So instead of the perfect church-going Alice playing Mary, Imogene Herdman takes the role. The part that makes this extra difficult is that the Herdmans don’t know the Nativity story, and since they are the lowest rung of the town’s social ladder, no one has ever given them a chance at anything.

It’s all chaos until something breaks through to the Herdmans. The shepherds bring a canned ham from their family welfare basket (instead of gold, frankincense and myrrh), they don’t steal all the cookies after the play, and Imogene takes out her earrings, cradled the baby reverently, and cries during the pageant.

The message to Robinson’s classic is that despite appearances, a child was born into all of us, not just to the pious and well dressed. It’s a deep story with a timeless message for believers.