One Candle is an awe-inspiring example of Eve Bunting‘s ability to deal with painful or difficult realities in a gentle, honest manner, all while she touches the heart with hope. This picture book tells the story of a Jewish family gathering to celebrate Hanukkah, as seen through the eyes of one of the children. There is an added tradition in this family. Grandma brings a potato which sits on a plate in the center of the table all through the meal. Then, she hollows out the center of the potato and tells the story of how, while prisoners in the concentration camp of Buchenwald, she and her sister, Great-Aunt Rose, stole just such a potato from the kitchen where they were made to prepare meals for the guards. With a little stolen butter and a thread from Rose’s skirt placed in a hollow she’d carved out of the potato, and with a stolen match, they made a candle in their barracks on the first night of Hanukkah. “It lifted us to the stars,” Grandma says. And so the family makes a candle from the potato Grandma brought, light it and place it in the front window of the house, to honor being strong in the bad time, to remember in the good time, and for the women “who didn’t live to come out.”
“L’chayim,” Grandma says. “To life!” Raising a glass of wine or grape juice, each one in the family says, “To life!”
The words of this story are illustrated with extraordinary tenderness by K. Wendy Popp. She used children and adults in her community and family as models for the characters in the story, much as Norman Rockwell often did in his paintings. Ms. Popp captures authentic expression and emotion on every page.
Clearly, Eve Bunting and K. Wendy Popp are masters in their respective crafts.
Eve Bunting and Sergio Ruzzier teamed up in 2011 to give us another great picture book story with terrific illustrations called Tweak Tweak. Children everywhere ask, “What’s that?” and little elephant is no different. She and Mama go for a walk and see a frog, a monkey, a crocodile, and other creatures. Little elephant gives a couple of tugs on Mama’s tail: tweak tweak. “What is that?” she asks. Questions from little ones often come strung together like beads on a necklace. “What’s he doing? . . . Can I jump, climb, swim in the river . . . ?” Each time, Mama explains that little elephant is not a butterfly or a song bird, or a frog, or monkey, or crocodile, so she can’t fly, sing, jump, climb, or swim. Mama shows her instead that she can flap her ears, trumpet her trunk, stomp her foot, rub her back on the tree the monkey climbed, and spray water over herself with water she draws up in her trunk. She can “grow to be a big, strong, smart, beautiful elephant.” What a gentle story about learning differences and strengths!
Eve Bunting, one of the greatest children’s book authors, is an American treasure. I’ve decided to read and learn from a sampling of her recent picture books. Have You Seen My New Blue Socks? was published in 2013 by Clarion Books. How many of us have not misplaced something? Children will readily relate to the little green duck who has lost his socks. He had them just a minute ago. He asks fox, and ox, and he looks on the rocks by the pond. He tries not to feel depressed, but “Without my socks I feel undressed.” Things start looking up when he asks the peacocks if they’ve seen his blue socks. One of them notices “a touch of blue underneath (his) laced-up shoe!” Well, now. How many of us have looked for our glasses, only to find them on our nose? Parents will relate to the little duck’s experience, too. Sergio Ruzzier has multiplied the delight of reading this story with his clever, colorful, and sympathetic illustrations. Eve Bunting and Sergio Ruzzier, two pros, make it all look so simple, but writing and illustrating a good children’s book is the work of master craftswomen and men. Hats off! Or socks, maybe?
Irene Morck, author, and Muriel Wood, illustrator, created a stunning story picture book that was published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside in Canada in 2003. Based on a true story, Old Bird is far more than just a tale about a horse.
Arnfeld and his older brother, Archie, walked four miles round-trip to go to school. It was a long haul for two small boys. Papa decided to buy an old horse so they could ride to and from school. They’d be home in time to do their many chores around the farm and supper wouldn’t have to be delayed. Old Bird came to live with the family, to be the boys’ transport–except the horse had other ideas. He wanted to work, to do real work, farm work. When Papa didn’t catch on, Old Bird showed how determined he was in clever ways, until finally he got his way. Once he was back at work on the farm, he carried the boys to school without further “mishaps” and became a trusted member of the farm family.
Old doesn’t mean useless. Retirement doesn’t mean one can’t participate in life in ways one enjoys! Determination will get you where you want to be.
Here is another beautifully written picture book by Donna Jo Napoli: Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya, which was illustrated by Caldecott Honor Award winner, Kadir Nelson. Awards abound:
- winner of the Anne Izard’s Storytellers’ Choice Award
- winner of the Frances and Wesley Bock Book Award
- Black-Eyed Susan Book Award list, Maryland Association of School Librarians
- Elementary California Readers list for 2013
- starred review KIRKUS
- starred review PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
- nominated for the NAACP Image Award
- Best Books of the Year list ESSENCE magazine
- Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People
- Amelia Bloomer Project Recommended List
- used as the focal point for the Maryland Artist/Teacher Institute, summer 2013
Ms. Wangari, the subject of this book, was the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize recipient. She loved the trees of her native Kenya, planted them one by one, and inspired women throughout the country to also plant native trees. The trees provide fruit, firewood, animal fodder, medicine, thorns to keep out predators, stakes for gardens, and timber for building. Even the roots of one particular tree filters water in nearby streams. Trees that had disappeared from the countryside were replanted. Kenya was transformed, one tree at a time, by this extraordinary woman who valued each one for the gifts it provides.
I recognized the name of the award-winning author, Donna Jo Napoli, and noticed the subtitle, so I was intrigued. Though I have a sister who taught mathematics and five brothers who have accounting degrees, the math gene skipped over me. Or maybe, I only got a fraction of one. I had to see if the story would help kids like me who struggle with math. I wish this great picture book had been around when I was in grade school! The illustrations, by Anna Currey of Bath, England, are delightful and help the reader to visualize what’s going on with the characters and the fractions. All becomes quite clear!
A child wishes for a dollar, but only gets a quarter. His brother and twin sisters start wishing on the star each night, and each one receives a fraction of what is asked for: half a cookie, 8 marbles instead of a bag of 80 (1/8). What is going on here? The children begin to see a pattern: Joey is two-he gets 1/2 of his wish, Petey is four-he receives 1/4, the girls are eight, they get 1/8. They do an experiment and find out that 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 + 1/8 = 1! They decide to wish for something together and choose a pig! In the morning, Momma has a surprise for them: (1) little pig–a whole pig, with all its parts.
In a very unusual twist, this story was first published in 1938, in a newspaper, in North Korea, by Lee Tae-Jun, who became one of Korea’s truly beloved authors. The present edition is a lovely picture book, complete with poignant illustrations by Kim Dong-Seong, and a bilingual text, copyrighted in 2007, in Switzerland and the United States.
A very young child walks alone to the streetcar station to wait for his mother. It is a cold winter day and his nose is already red. As each trolley arrives, he asks the driver if his Mama is coming. The driver says he doesn’t know the boy’s mom, rings his bell, and continues on his way. One kind driver moves the child back from the edge of the platform and tells him to wait there. The wind blows hard, snow comes. The little boy stops asking, but continues to wait and wait. In the last two-page spread, near the center, we see the child walking home, holding his mother’s hand.
The illustrations show us the people as they would have been in 1938 when the story was first written. We see Koreans in traditional clothing, carrying babies on their backs, using handcarts or bikes, balancing packages on their heads, or sitting on their heels while waiting for the streetcar. So this is a period piece, with delicate drawings that create a world different from the one we know, but which draw us into the world of this little boy. All children will relate to the feelings portrayed of a child waiting, waiting, waiting for his parent.