The Children's Book Compass

Archive for December 2010

The Christmas Eve Ghost by Shirley Hughes.  (2010)   Pages not numbered.  Candlewick Press.  Grades 1-5.  Picture Book/historical fiction.

In this story Hughes goes back to her childhood memories of growing up in Liverpool England during the 1930’s.  This story is about overcoming differences, while, at the same time, it shows how our lives are enriched by the love of family.  Dylan and Bronwen have recently moved to the city from a small village in Wales after their Da had died.  Their Mam earns money by doing laundry.  Sometimes the children help Mam with the laundry that she does by hand.  Together they turn the big wheel on the iron mangle.  Since she doesn’t have enough money to pay for child care, Mam has to leave the children alone while she makes deliveries to her well-off customers.  Their neighbors, the O’Rileys, are suffering through the bad times too.  But Mam doesn’t speak to the neighbors, telling the children, “We keep to ourselves.”  The reason appears to be because the O’Riley family attends a different church.  On Christmas Eve, Mam takes the tired children home after they help with her deliveries.  Then she leaves them while she does some shopping.  When the children hear a scary noise coming from the washhouse, they believe it is a ghost, and they run screaming next door to the O’Riley’s.  The neighbors make them feel safe and warm and show them that the scary noise is a dart game that the O’Riley boys are playing.  When Mam comes home Mrs. O’Riley makes her feel welcomed and volunteers to care for the children when Mam needs to be away.  The hopeful ending shows Mam and the children offering thanks for their kind neighbors.

Hughes is a genius in describing children’s emotions and showing in her illustrations the minutia of their lives.  This is not just a book to read at Christmas; it can be savored anytime in the year. The illustrations use softly colored ink and watercolors to give a flavor of times past.  Children of today will make connections with the hard times of the 1930’s, and the struggles of a single parent.  The Christmas Eve Ghost joins a list of over  two hundred books in which Hughes makes warm memories for her young readers.  Her picture book, Dogger, is one of the most successful picture books ever.  Check it out.


The Secret Message by Mina Javaherbin.  Illustrated by Bruce Whatley.  (2010).  Pages not numbered.  Disney/Hyperion.  Grades K-4.  Picture Book.

First, children will be intrigued by the title and then they will want to decipher the message.  A wealthy Persian merchant attracts customers to his shop with a talented parrot from India who hangs in a golden cage.  All day the parrot sings of his longing for the Indian forest.  The parrot also can talk.  When the merchant travels to India to purchase more goods, everyone in his household requests a gift.  The parrot doesn’t.  Instead he asks that the when the merchant passes through the Indian forest that he delivers this message to the parrots flying free:

“Far away from India, I own a parrot that looks like you.  He sent a message: he remembers flying in the forest, hearing your sweet voices, and smelling the trees.  He lives inside a beautiful cage that I bought for him.  It has three golden swings inside.”

In response to the message the wild parrots play a trick on the merchant.  It appears that each of them dies.  When the merchant tells his parrot what happened, the parrot also appears to keel over and die.  In horror the merchant lifts him out of the cage.  The parrot escapes and flies away to join his friends in India.  The ending ties up the story in a satisfactory way as it delves into the essential nature of freedom.  The author note at the end explains how this story was a favorite in her childhood.  Years later she discovered the story was based on an ancient poem by Rumi, the 13th century poet.  Whatley’s colorful acrylic illustrations add vivid details to the characterizations and the setting.

Arroz con leche * Rice Pudding: Un poema para cocinar/A Cooking Poem by Jorge Argueta.  Illus. by Fernando Vilela.  (2010). Pages not numbered.  Groundwood Books.  Grades 1-5.  Picture Book/Poetry.

When you finish reading this yummy book you’ll want to cook the rice pudding with your children.  Get out a pot and ready the ingredients!  The bilingual poem appears on the page in both Spanish and then English stanzas.  After Argueta explains how much he likes all kinds of rice he describes the steps in making the pudding.  The lilting language makes mental pictures while the illustrations are action packed and compliment the poems.  Here’s a sample of one stanza:

Sprinkle the rice into the pot.

The little white grains of rice

rain music and sing

as they fall.

In the kitchen the rice is singing.

In the kitchen it is raining

Little white grain drops.

The illustration for this stanza shows the boy standing on a high stool while he rains the rice in a stream of white dots into the pot.  The poems are rich in metaphors.  When the boy pours the milk into the pot, “the milk becomes a waterfall./There is a white waterfall in the kitchen.”  Enjoy!

Pointing the Direction to New Books for Children and Teens

Marilyn Carpenter, PhD.

Contact Marilyn

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