Hershel of Ostropol

One of my favorite types of stories is of the trickster. In the United States we have Brer Rabbit or even Bugs Bunny (kids give you a blank look when you expect them to know who that is.) The trickster is like to tell you about today is Hershel of Ostropol.

Hershel is a Jewish folk character that may have been a real person. We will talk about him again in December — I love his Hanukkah story. But I wanted to find more stories about him to share with my fourth grade students. I found some great ones right on the Wikipedia page as well as a wealth of other Jewish sites.

Here is the one that literally had me laughing out loud at my desk.

The Goose

When Hershele was a child, he had a number of brothers and sisters, of which he was the smallest. Thus, whenever they had a meal, he’d be the last to get anything. As a result, whenever they had goose, he never got to eat a foot, which was his favorite part. One evening, he snuck into the kitchen before dinner and cut a foot off of the goose, slipping it under his shirt to hide.

During dinner, his father noticed that Hershele’s shirt was grease-stained and that the goose’s left foot was missing.

– “Hershele,” he said. “Did you take the goose’s foot?”

– “No, father,” he said. “Maybe it was a one-footed goose.”

– “A one-footed goose? There’s no such thing!”

– “Sure there is. I’ll take you to see one after dinner.”

That evening, Hershele took his father out to a lake near their village. A flock of geese were sleeping on the banks, each tucking one foot into its body so that only the other was visible.

– “There’s one,” said Hershele, pointing. Thinking to outsmart his son, his father clapped, waking the goose and causing it to lower its other leg.

– “There. Now, Hershele, will you admit that you stole-”

– “Wow, father! You just clapped and the goose grew a foot! Why didn’t you do that to the one at the table?”

How can you not love this guy!

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Curious George

When thinking of iconic children’s books, Curious George by H.A. Rey would almost certainly rank in the top 10. But there is more to the story(s) about George than you may realize.

George is often listed as a protested or banned book, I believe because of this illustration

But keep in mind, Rey wrote George during WWII, and smoking was thought of differently then. Should we ban books because our cultural ideals shift? I don’t think so.

Speaking of H.A. Rey, he actually created George before the book Curious George. George is one of the monkeys who befriend Cecily G in Cecily G and the Nine Monkeys.

And George wasn’t his original name. Rey originally planned to name him Fifi, as H.A. and Margaret Rey were living in France when he wrote the book. They actually made a daring escape to flee the Nazi invaders and brought their book with them. You can read the Smithsonian article here.

One question I’ve been asked by students is what kind of monkey is George? Forbes published an article on George’s 75th birthday with this theory:

Old World monkeys, except the Barbary macaque, also have tails. Apes (gibbons, siamangs, gorillas, chimps, and orangutans) lack tails, as do humans. This is an important distinction because, as depicted, Curious George has no tail, suggesting he is an ape or possibly a Barbary macaque.

George has come a long way and has some serious staying power. When I was a kid we watched the old claymation stories on tv. I distinctly remember wondering how a puzzle piece that George swallowed and had to have removed surgically could possibly still fit in the puzzle. My daughters watched Curious George the movie, and the follow-up PBS Kids show. George may be a monkey, but his curiosity is equaled by most four year olds. Maybe that’s why we love him so much, at one point or another, we were all our own version of Curious George.

Masquerade

I ran by the thrift store today and picked up a few treasures. The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Tale of Benjamin Bunny, Beauty and the Beast (by Jan Bret), and the book that really intrigued me, Masquerade by Kit Williams.

The book starts off with an interesting inscription:

Within the pages of this book there is a story told

Of love, adventures, fortunes lost, and a jewel of solid gold.

To solve the hidden riddle, you must use your eyes,

And find the hare in every picture that may point you to the prize.

I leafed through the book and was pleasantly surprised to find that each painted illustration has a hare hidden in it. Each illustration also has a border of words that has certain letters highlighted, though I think that is a red herring.

The story is of Jack Hare delivering a token of love to the Sun from the Moon. It has riddles scattered throughout the story and the prose is poetic.

When I went to a Google search for the cover art, I saw that there was a lot more to this story that I originally realized. From reading the Wikipedia entry, I learned the book was originally published in 1979 in Britain, and it contained clues to find a real 18 karat gold hare, buried in England.

The process to solve the clues is more complex than just looking for hidden hares, and people loved it. It created an entire genre of picture books, called Armchair Treasure Hunts.

I would love to see something like this today, in America. What a fun way to spur readers to truly look at a book.

Dear Reader,

If you read this book again, you might discover where hare lost the jewel. If you do, then go and find it, and keep it for yourself, but remember:

The best of men is only man at best,

And a hare, as everyone knows, is only a hare.

Madeline Finn and the Library Dog

Honestly, I think I’d be lost without Epic! eBooks. I have been able to build my lesson plans far beyond just stories with them, and blessedly, it’s free for educators. Today’s book comes from Epic! But I’d buy it in hard copy in a heartbeat.

Madeline Finn doesn’t like to read. She is similar to many early readers in that respect. She really dislikes reading aloud. That is true of many readers, not just kids. Madeline stumbles over words and can hear giggles when it happens. She doesn’t want a ‘Keep Trying’ sticker, she wants s gold star. One day though, Madeline meets someone who won’t giggle and doesn’t try to be overly encouraging. The library dog just listens.

Suddenly, Madeline has a reason to look forward to reading. She does have to work with another dog at one point, but the reason for her new friend’s absence is worth it.

I really liked the message in this book. I know a lot of kids who dread reading aloud and more than a few adults. I do readers’ theater with my students sometimes but the worst possible thing is being corrected by another student. It’s a legitimate reason to be embarrassed.

I have not figured out yet how to bring dogs into my library for a program like this, but I’d love Love LOVE to see it happen. And if I do find a way, I found a great recipe to make treats!

Humphrey the Lost Whale

I decided to read a true animal story to one of my third grade classes today that they insisted I had read to them before. I think they were remembering seeing the story on Reading Rainbow, because today was the first time I’d ever read it.

In 1985, a humpback whale entered the San Francisco Bay and then, apparently lost, swam upriver for 69 miles before rescuers figured out how to coax him back to the sea.

I explained to my students that Humphrey, as the whale came to be known, was not meant to live in fresh water, and that was one of the reasons he was getting sick the farther he traveled upstream. I also told them that he would be having a harder time swimming in fresh water because of the difference in buoyancy between fresh and salt water. The book mentioned he may have been hungry as well.

The kids were glad to hear that Humphrey’s story had s happy ending, even when 5 years later he beached himself. Again he was rescued and sent on his way. They enjoyed the story so much that we found a recording of whale songs online to listen to. The kids I read to are smart and curious. If I don’t know an answer to a question, we look it up or I challenge them to find the answer.

I have to admit, this happy story did me some good. Finishing up my book fair and getting it all packed up had me stressed out. Knowing Humphrey may still be out there, that makes me happy.

Exhausted…

I was able to start tearing down the book fair today. My library doesn’t feel like my own while the books are up. The kids are distracted and I don’t feel centered. After working from 7:45 AM to 8:00 PM two nights in a row, I am ready to be done. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, new books that I bought off of the fair! I’ll share a few that I’m excited about along with their blurbs.

Trees can’t tell jokes, but they can certainly tell stories. . . .

Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighborhood “wishtree”―people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red’s branches. Along with a crow named Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red’s hollows, this wishtree watches over the neighborhood.

You might say Red has seen it all.

Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red’s experience as a wishtree is more important than ever.

Magnus Chase, a once-homeless teen, is a resident of the Hotel Valhalla and one of Odin’s chosen warriors. As the son of Frey, the god of summer, fertility, and health, Magnus isn’t naturally inclined to fighting. But he has strong and steadfast friends, including Hearthstone the elf, Blitzen the dwarf, and Samirah the Valkyrie, and together they have achieved brave deeds, such as defeating Fenris Wolf and battling giants for Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir. Now Magnus faces his most dangerous trial yet. His cousin, Annabeth, recruits her boyfriend, Percy Jackson, to give Magnus some pointers, but will his training be enough?

Loki is free from his chains. He’s readying Naglfar, the Ship of the Dead, complete with a host of giants and zombies, to sail against the Asgardian gods and begin the final battle of Ragnarok. It’s up to Magnus and his friends to stop him, but to do so they will have to sail across the oceans of Midgard, Jotunheim, and Niflheim in a desperate race to reach Naglfar before it’s ready to sail. Along the way, they will face angry sea gods, hostile giants, and an evil fire-breathing dragon. Magnus’s biggest challenge will be facing his own inner demons. Does he have what it takes to outwit the wily trickster god?

Throughout American history, there have always been women who have spoken out for what’s right, even when they have to fight to be heard. In early 2017, Senator Elizabeth Warren’s refusal to be silenced in the Senate inspired a spontaneous celebration of women who persevered in the face of adversity. In this book, Chelsea Clinton celebrates thirteen American women who helped shape our country through their tenacity, sometimes through speaking out, sometimes by staying seated, sometimes by captivating an audience. They all certainly persisted.

She Persisted is for everyone who has ever wanted to speak up but has been told to quiet down, for everyone who has ever tried to reach for the stars but was told to sit down, and for everyone who has ever been made to feel unworthy or unimportant or small.

With vivid, compelling art by Alexandra Boiger, this book shows readers that no matter what obstacles may be in their paths, they shouldn’t give up on their dreams. Persistence is power.

This book features: Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller, Clara Lemlich, Nellie Bly, Virginia Apgar, Maria Tallchief, Claudette Colvin, Ruby Bridges, Margaret Chase Smith, Sally Ride, Florence Griffith Joyner, Oprah Winfrey, Sonia Sotomayor—and one special cameo.

Sibling Rivalry

I would bet that most people who have either a brother or sister would tell you that the other sibling is the “favorite”.  That’s the problem in the book The Pain and the Great One, a classic by Judy Blume.

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The sister (unnamed, but later called The Great One), believes her brother is truly the world’s biggest pain.  Everyone thinks he’s so cute, and he gets away with all kinds of nonsense, like getting dessert even though he didn’t eat all of his supper. The cat even sleeps with him! She knows the truth though, he’s a Pain, and worse yet, her parents love him the best!

The brother (a.k.a. The Pain), knows the truth about his sister.  She’s so great because she’s older and can play piano. And the cat loves her best because she can open his food and feed him.  He knows the truth though, she’s The Great One, and his parents love her the best!

Yes, I think we’ve all been through this.  My sisters and brother would tell you that I’m the favorite, when clearly I know it’s my brother who was the favored child. And let’s face it, now the dogs are Mom and Dad’s favorites.  This story isn’t long but you clearly understand that even though they drive each other crazy, the kids don’t have anywhere near as much fun without each other.

The Pain and The Great One have some great follow-up books too:

I think I’m going to read some more, and look, they are illustrated by James Stevenson, I love him!

Knut

I am reading true animal stories with 3rd grade right now, and we loved Cecil’s Pride, despite the sad ending to Cecil’s life.  We moved on to a second book by the Hatkoff family, Knut How One Little Polar Bear Captivated the World.

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This book was written when Knut (pronounced Ka-Nute) was one year old.  Knut was born in Zoo Berlin in December of 2006, with a twin brother.  Sadly, their mother didn’t have the instincts to take care of them so the cubs were fostered by zoo keepers.  Knut’s brother died from a high fever, but Knut was a tough little guy and grew to be healthy and strong under the care of Thomas, his foster father.

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Knut quickly became a world-wide sensation, especially as debates took place about whether or not zoo babies should be fostered or left to die as they would in the wild.  My students and I agree that babies should always be fostered to help us learn more about our animal friends and to further our conservation efforts.

Today, as I knew we would finish the book with time to spare, I thought I’d go online to find a live feed of Zoo Berlin, thinking that a celebrity like Knut would surely be accessible online.  I was horrified to learn that Knut died in 2011 from encephalitis.  I was very sad to have to tell the kids that news, but I did explain that until Knut’s death, we did not know that animals could get this particular form of encephalitis.  Now that scientists know what caused his death, they may be able to help other animals in the future.

Knut was an amazing animal and I am thankful for this wonderful book that allows me to share his story.

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Not for kids.

I’ve been sick for a few days and I have the dreaded book fair looming over me this week, so I’m going to post some humor today. Now keep in mind, my sense of humor may not be the same as yours, but the fact that these parodies exist means I’m not the only one.

This is from a list of picture book parodies I found on Purple Clover, it’s not G-rated.

Or. How about these two from Huffington Post?

This one made me giggle too.

It’s from Gray Flannel Suit.

This was just on Pinterest.

This is from Creators.Vice.com.

So now I’ll just leave you with one last piece of advice:

Your Neighbor the Alley Cat

Today I’m going to share about a nonfiction book that I just got in at school, Your Neighbor the Alley Cat, by Greg Roza.

Kids are always interested in learning about different kinds of pets (and I plan to really build that section later this year), but I also want them to learn some responsibility for those pets.

Alley cats or feral cats are often abandoned pets or the offspring of abandoned pets. Families don’t always see the importance of spaying and neutering their pets to prevent over-population, as was the case in my home growing up. Our mama cat had kittens three or four times a year and the kittens didn’t always have homes to go to.

The book discusses the dangers these extra and unwanted pets face. It also talks about prevention as well as discussing the social awareness groups who capture, spay/neuter, and release feral cats. The book points out that sometimes feral cats can be socialized enough to become a pet but it stresses safety to young readers who may not realize the danger of trying to pet a wild animal.

I did not buy the whole set, as they other titles were about wild animals instead of stray dogs for instance.

I’m a big believer in teaching kids to have personal responsibility to any and all animals. We often discuss endangered animals but often forget the flip side, feral animals and invasive species that man has introduced in attempts to make things better or to make our own lives easier.

By the way, in 2016, my family rescued an abandoned kitten, Stitch. He had been well socialized so I know he wasn’t a true feral. Later that year, a cat rode into our garage inside of my husband’s truck engine compartment. It took two hours to capture him, but Hemi now lives with our friend. He hadn’t been around people at all and was truly feral.