The Tea Dragon Society

The Tea Dragon SocietyThe Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How could I not love this, when it combines dragons and tea and keeping old traditions alive and wonderful artwork? Each “chapter” represents one of the 4 seasons. The artwork in this large picture-book sized hardcover is mostly earth tones with lovely vines and flowers. This is a gentle read for younger readers, perhaps 6-12. It includes 7 pages of “extracts from the Tea Dragon Handbook” giving us facts about tea dragon societies, tea dragons and what they eat and the kinds of flowers and herbs they produce, with drawings and specifics on 8 different tea dragons: Jasmine, Rooibos, Chamomile, Ginseng, Earl Grey, Hibiscus, Ginger, and Peppermint. I can think of at least two that should be added: Lavender and Calendula. The author is an illustrator and graphic novelist from New Zealand. I can see the Maori influence in her characters. There is also a card game based on this book, and I just might have to get it!

Description from School Library Journal: Greta is a young blacksmith apprentice who wonders whether her mother’s craft is still relevant in contemporary society. When she rescues a little lost dragon in the marketplace and returns it to its owners, Greta learns about another fading art form—the care of tea dragons, small creatures who grow tea leaves out of their horns and antlers. She becomes fascinated with the enchanting dragons and their caretakers, and begins to appreciate how traditional crafts can create their own kind of magic by enriching lives, including hers. This book is wonderfully inclusive, and depicts a distinct and expressive cast of LGBTQIA characters and people of color.

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FukuFuku: Kitten Tales 1

FukuFuku: Kitten Tales 1FukuFuku: Kitten Tales 1 by Kanata Konami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 rounded up. I love Chi’s Sweet Home, so when I saw this I took it to read on my lunch break. Same cute illustrations that really capture what being a cat is all about. But the story, a Japanese grandmother reminiscing about her cat’s kittenhood, lacks the emotional impact of the Chi stories. Very low key, just a kitten and new owner getting to know each other. We follow FukuFuku through her first year. I liked the segments based on holidays – Halloween, Christmas, New Year’s, etc. And the dream sequence as FukuFuku (Alice) in Wonderland was cute.

Description: Vignettes in the life of a kitten and her doting owner, wherein even the most mundane things appear exciting and fresh (and sometimes unpleasant or scary), as we discover the world from a tiny cat’s point of view.

All’s Faire in Middle School

All's Faire in Middle SchoolAll’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I took this home to read last summer when it came to the library in a box of advance reading copies of several new children’s books. So this review is based on an uncorrected proof, even though the book has now been published. Huzzah! I thought it was delightful! I wasn’t homeschooled, but I think anyone who has ever been to Middle School or Junior High can relate. I don’t know anyone who felt like they fit in at that age! Impy’s experiences with her family at the Faire give her some valuable tools though – she has had to get used to interacting with people, and projecting a persona. And she has a supportive family – even if they are different! Now she just needs to figure out who SHE really is. Themes include friendship, family, how to handle your emotions, fitting in, bullying, and how to make amends when you make mistakes. Target audience: ages 9-12.

Description: Eleven-year-old Imogene (Impy) has grown up with two parents working at the Renaissance Faire, and she’s eager to begin her own training as a squire. First, though, she’ll need to prove her bravery. Luckily Impy has just the quest in mind—she’ll go to public school after a life of being homeschooled! But it’s not easy to act like a noble knight-in-training in middle school. Impy falls in with a group of girls who seem really nice (until they don’t) and starts to be embarrassed of her thrift shop apparel, her family’s unusual lifestyle, and their small, messy apartment. Impy has always thought of herself as a heroic knight, but when she does something really mean in order to fit in, she begins to wonder whether she might be more of a dragon after all.

Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl DreamingBrown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beautifully written and a quick read, this is a childhood memoir written in free verse. The audiobook was read by the author. I never felt like I was listening to “poetry” but it all had a kind of flow that worked for each short snippet of memory. I am not sure how this would appeal to children, but to a white woman who also grew up in the 60s, this was a trip down memory lane. It made me think about my own childhood and the part that family, religion, and school teachers played. She describes a life both extraordinary and ordinary, both different and familiar to my own. I never felt distanced by her experiences as a black person growing up during the Civil Rights movement, or her memories of racism. I was more struck by how universal her experiences and memories were, and I think anyone reading this, young or old, black or white, will find much to relate to.

Book description: Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

Chi’s Sweet Home

Chi's Sweet Home, Volume 12Chi’s Sweet Home by Kanata Konami
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It has been truly delightful getting to know the kitten Chi and the boy Yohei and their friends and families. The drawings capture the essence of kittenhood perfectly. As a cat “mom” all of Chi’s antics and dilemmas are thoroughly familiar to me. I’m a sucker for cats, but the author has a real gift for capturing the essence of catness. The drawings are simple but depict cat behavior to a T. Yes, it is for kids, but I loved every page of it. This story of a lost kitten finding a home and a family is heartwarming. My first cat was in an apartment that didn’t allow cats, so I could really identify with the fear of discovery. Over 12 volumes, the Yamada family find a new apartment that allows cats, Yohei and Chi grow and explore their environment. Chi is an indoor/outdoor cat with all the potential dangers of being allowed outside. Whether Chi is getting her first bath, going to the vet, or learning what being a cat is all about, you will both laugh and cry at her antics. She eventually is reunited with her mother and siblings and must make a decision where her true home is. I am not tired of Chi after 12 volumes, and while this is a complete story arc, I hope that Chi might have further adventures.

Book description: Chi is a mischievous newborn kitten who, while on a leisurely stroll with her family, finds herself lost. Separated from the warmth and protection of her mother, she breaks into tears in a large urban park meadow, when she is suddenly rescued by a young boy named Yohei and his mother. The kitty is then quickly and quietly whisked away into the warm and inviting Yamada family apartment…where pets are strictly not permitted.

The Hungry Little Bunny

Last Thursday was a gold banner day – a once in a lifetime day! And it is all thanks to social media and the Throwback Thursday theme. Two weeks ago I decided to post my first #tbt picture on Facebook. Last week I chose a picture of myself sharing a favorite book with my 6-month old sister.

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After I ran it through the scanner and had the picture enlarged on my computer, I gave a gasp. OMG! It was THAT book. The one I’d been looking for most of my adult life. My favorite book as a young child. I could describe it. I remembered the story about the rabbit that didn’t want his carrots and went around to see what the other animals ate. But I didn’t remember the name of the book or what the cover looked like. I had been looking for it FOREVER. At least it felt like it. I had searched libraries, described it to old children’s librarians, gone through the union catalog at library school hoping to find a likely title, searched the Golden Book archives, and tried multiple search strategies online.

Well, they say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I guess they are right! I got to work searching Google images for 1950s children’s books about rabbits. It didn’t take long to find a cover of a rabbit that had the same distinctive black ears that you can see in the photo above. The minute I saw it I got goosebumps. But I still wasn’t sure. Then I found this You Tube video of someone reading the book: The Hungry Little Bunny. The minute I saw the first page, I started crying. Yes, at work. I found my book!!!

Here it is on ebay, and this book is now MINE:

Hungry Little Bunny

Update: April 22

I was out of town visiting my folks for Easter this past weekend. Got home very late last night so didn’t check the mail box until on my way to work this morning. Yes, a package had arrived! I opened it as soon as I got to work. My co-workers have followed this story and felt that this moment required documentation, so with cell phone at the ready:

2014 04 22 001 Anticipation 2014 04 22 003 cropped

There I am, trying not cry yet again! It’s been quite the emotional journey! The book is in excellent condition and has that wonderful old book smell. Looking at it now, the illustrations are absolutely wonderful. I love how realistic the animals are, but at the same time they have the exaggerated big eyes that make baby animals so cute. Was this inspiration for the film animators of Bambi?

Hungry Bunny

And look at the wonderful flowers! I wouldn’t have noticed that at age 3, but the gardener me does now. Almost every page has a different flower illustrated, like the lady slipper and the bellflower shown here.

Still 5 stars after 55 years!

Primrose Day

Primrose Day title pagePrimrose Day by Carolyn Haywood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was my favorite book in 1st or 2nd grade. I read it over and over. It must have made a big impression. All these years later I have to wonder did my interest in England start with this book or are we drawn to things because of past lives? Did I identify with Merry because we both had flowers for middle names? Or because I had moved from New England to Minnesota when I was 5? I’m sure the language differences weren’t as great, but there were some. I loved that the British word for truck was lorry, pronounced the same as my nickname – Laurie. I’ve always loved learning about other countries and cultures and am still enamored of the British Isles.

I could not find a cover photo of the original edition, and I do not like the modern covers on reprints of this book, so I’ve scanned the title page above. I remember the cover as being orange and it probably had the heavy duty “library binding.” I requested the original 1942 edition from Interlibrary Loan. It came from the Twin Cities Anderson Library Children’s Literature Collection. It is a plain yellow cloth cover and still has the old pocket in the back with the date due card. I have to admit that just thumbing through it and reading a few words here and there and looking at the original drawings (by Carolyn Haywood) brought tears to my eyes.

Primrose Day
Carolyn Haywood wrote stories about real children doing ordinary things. And even though it was first published in 1942, these are things that children still do today – playing with pets, dealing with homesickness, being teased at school, making presents, going on picnics, going fishing, making friends. I remember the chapter on going to an American school and being teased for using different words for things. And I remember the chapter about Merry’s birthday, and learning that primroses don’t grow wild in America. Merry would always go and pick primroses with her mother on her birthday and now she can’t even pick primroses with her aunt. But never fear – her aunt has a wonderful surprise in store.

Primroses

English primroses (Primula vulgaris)

I love gardening and I have planted primroses in my garden. The English variety are not hardy here. I had some very pretty pink Japanese primroses for a couple years, but even those are really Zone 5 and they didn’t come back last year. I must get some more, because I really do love them! I don’t think I have any pictures of them blooming, but here are some beaded primroses that I made:

Primroses_rabbit-vi

I did not remember the Scottie dog in the story, although I have always liked Scottie dogs. There were a couple of typos and things in the book that I wouldn’t have noticed as a child probably – the cook says she is “pealing” onions. And there is a reference to Mr. Ramsey being a “Scotchman” which made me cringe.

I also don’t remember the knitting, but I suppose it was around this age that I expressed an interest in learning. My grandmother tried to teach me. At first she thought she needed to reverse everything because I am left handed. I protested that she really didn’t need to do that. Us lefties are quite used to mentally reversing things for ourselves, having done it all our lives. It wouldn’t have been a problem for me at age 7 or 8, but my grandmother insisted that she had to do it for me and got herself hopelessly confused. I finally convinced her that I would be fine knitting right handed – it didn’t matter to me since knitting uses both hands equally!

Book Description: Merry Primrose Ramsey lives in England with her parents and her imaginary friend, Molly. At the outbreak of World War II, she is sent to live with her relatives in America, in a small town called Rose Valley. On the way over she meets a real best friend named Molly, who eventually moves to Rose Valley, too. Merry and her American cousin Jerry take to each other immediately and find all kinds of adventures, including rescuing a carrier pigeon and going fishing alone. Merry’s new life is not without trials. She misses her parents. She gets teased at school for the way she talks. Her puppy unravels the scarf she has spent weeks knitting for her daddy far away in England. And her birthday just won’t be the same without primroses to pick and make into a primrose chain like she always did in England…

I have been doing a bit of “Googling” and decided that Rose Valley in the story must be Rose Valley, PA, which is near Philadelphia (where Carolyn Haywood lived). It is a very small town, but would be within a couple hours train ride of NYC. It was settled by Quakers and has a very interesting history, which you can read about here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rose_Valley,_Pennsylvania.