Friday, December 12, 2014

The Story of The Unexpected Gifts!

It's that time of year again! I almost chose not to participate, but, I foraged ahead, despite feelings of uncreativity, and joined others for:


The Contest:  Write a children's story (children here defined as approximately age 12 and under) in which wild weather impacts the holidays!  Your story may be poetry or prose, silly or serious or sweet, religious or not, based on Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or whatever you celebrate, but is not to exceed 350 words (I know!  So much freedom after the Halloweensie Contest :))  (It can be as short as you like, but no more than 350!  Title not included in word count.)  Any kind of weather will do: sun, rain, sleet, heatwave, blizzard, tsunami, monsoon, hurricane, hail, tornado, etc!  Weather may be atypical for your setting (rain in Maine, frost in Florida), it may be extreme (blizzard instead of regular snow, drought instead of lush greenery), or it may be unheard of (spring flowers in Antarctica, snow in the Sahara, bathing suit weather at the North Pole), but whatever you choose, make us feel the impact on the holidays!  The wild weather may be a hindrance, a wish-come-true, a threat, a pleasant surprise, etc.  The field is wide open!  Have fun!  The wilder and wackier the better!  No illustration notes please. (And yes, if you feel compelled to submit more than one entry you may, just remember you're competing against yourself!)

Since I cannot write a holiday story without mentioning the Reason for the Season, here is my attempt at 342 words:

                                     THE UNEXPECTED GIFTS

The house awoke early. It was Christmas morning! The snow outside was gently falling. The family gathered to open gifts under the glistening gold and silver tree. Suddenly the wind began to howl. It raced around and around the house until it forced itself though a crack in the door. In it came, swirling around the Christmas tree.

The little family pressed close together. They watched in amazement as the gifts began to rise and dance around the tree. Around and around they went in all their bright and dapper wrapping. Then, just as mysteriously as it came in, the wind ceased its roaring, and became a gentle breeze. As obedient children, the packages landed together under the tree once more.

The wind blew back out the window, and into the morning, as quickly as it entered.

"What was that?" asked Mother.

"Amazing" noted Daddy.

"Whee. . .what fun!" said brother Donald.

"Oh, no!" said sister Wendy. "The tags are gone. They have blown away!"

"It's a muddle," said Sarah, "but what an adventure!"

The family each took a gift from the pile, and opened it.

"This shirt is TOO big," said Donald.

"These socks are TOO small" said Daddy.

"But this scarf is JUST right!" said Mother.

After much laughter and joy, the family read the story of the first Christmas.

"There were plenty of surprises on that night long ago, too," said Daddy.

Sarah agreed. "The shepherds were surprised to see Angels in the starry sky over Bethlehem."

"And the wise men were surprised to find the Baby Jesus in a stable instead of a big fancy palace" added Donald.

"And Mary was surprised at the Wise Men's gifts. Gold, for a king, frankincense for a priest, and myrrh for a prophet." said Mother.

"Those are grownup gifts" said Wendy.

"But Jesus used them later," reminded Sarah.

"Maybe Donald will use Daddy's shirt when he gets bigger", said Wendy.

There was joy all around that Christmas morning. They would never forget the day the wind mixed-up their gifts!

Make sure you go to Susanna Hill's website here, to look at all the other entries. Best wishes to everyone. The prizes are SUPER again this year. . . .MERRY AND BLESSED CHRISTMAS and HAPPY HOLIDAYS to all!

Friday, December 5, 2014

PPBF: Christmas in the Trenches

Since this is the Christmas season, I thought it would be appropriate to feature a book I happened to come across in our local children's library. I was made aware of this historic event years ago, while I was home educating our two children. It reflects the well-known Scripture verse, ”Peace on Earth, and Good Will to Men." This is exactly why Jesus came over 2,000 years ago!

Author/lyricist: John McCutcheon
Illustrator: Henri Sørensen
Publisher: Peachtree
Date: 2006

Genre: Historic Fiction
Ages: 7-12 (and beyond)
Themes: Christmas, World War I, peacemakers

First Lines: ". . .young Thomas Tolliver curled up next to his grandfather and announced, "Grandpa, this was my very favorite Christmas. Do you have a favorite Christmas?" 
"Yes, Thomas, I do," said Grandpa Francis. "I was far away from our home here in Liverpool. It was a Christmas many years ago during the first winter of the Great War."

Jacket Flap: "The only thing separating the two armies on that cold December night in 1914 was a barren stretch of muddy ground called No Man's Land. It was in this setting that the miracle began.
     A faint sound of singing cut through the frosty air.
                   Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht. . .
     Then other voices joined in.
                   Silent night, holy night."

Why I Like This Book: This is such a touching account of a brief but meaningful break in an awful war that took so many lives. I love the connection (mine) between Christmas and Jesus the "Prince of Peace" and the peace, even for an hour or two, brought to the German and English troops facing each other on the battlefield. And here is a surprising extra "perk": the author, also a folk singer, has written a song about the account, and it's included in s CD with the book, along with a reading of the story.
     In the back matter, the author's note shares the reason for the story and song, along with a historical note about the actual event. I love the eyewitness accounts in diary/letter form found there as well.

Review of the book, and a video of the author singing the song he wrote about the event, HERE

The author's list of PROGRAMS to promote non-violence, conflict resolution and peacemaking.

Here is a site for CHRISTMAS IN THE TRENCHES with extra info relating to the book and contributors.

BBC version with vintage posters!

Ideas to promote peacemaking for parents and teachers from "Focus on the Family."

Author tells the touching tale of the actual men to whom this happened. . .they came to his concert! Gave me goose-bumps.

Hope you enjoyed today's offering for Perfect Picture Book Fridays, when we review picture books which we deem worthy of mention.  This concept was created by Susanna Hill, and is a helpful resource for librarians, teachers and parents.  For a list of all books reviewed so far, along with activities to complement them, click here.

Friday, November 21, 2014

PPBF: The Little Yellow Leaf

Since Fall has left us (at least in the Midwest: and what a gorgeous Autumn it was!), I want to sneak in a touching book that features leaves, and a universal theme to which we can all relate. It's not my usual historical fiction offering, but I purchased it as a template text for scientific-themed manuscripts. 

Here goes!

Author/Illustrator: Carin Berger
Publisher: Greenwillow Books (HarperCollinsPublishers)
Date: 2008

Readers: 3-8 (they say) 6 to 66 and beyond! (I say)
Themes: Autumn, Fear of the Unknown
Genre: Fiction

First Page: "It was autumn. In the hush of the forest a lone yellow leaf clung to the branch of a great oak tree."

Jacket Flap: "As all the other leaves float off and fly past, Little Yellow Leaf thinks, I'm not ready yet.
As the seasons change all around, Little Yellow Leaf holds on to the tree. Still not ready. Will Little Yellow Leaf ever be ready?
This is a story for anyone who has ever been afraid of facing the unknown — and a celebration of the friends who help us take the leap."

Why I like this book: It's precious! And the gentle, soothing words flow and fall into our minds and hearts as does the story. The illustrations are unique. It seems Carin uses a cut paper technique that holds a surprise if you look closely! They have a definite "country/colonial" feeling, reminiscent of "The Ox Cart Man."

Extra Goodies:

You can find it on Amazon

More about Carin Berger and her books/art at her WeBSITE

Interview: All about Carin's path to publication and Designs!

Another interview HERE featuring Carin's other books

Youtube visit to her studio . . . wait until you see her artwork!

Here is the Link if you can't see it below:

For the Kiddies:

"Why Leaves Change Color": Made Simple for Kids

"Why Leaves Change Color": Science Experiment 

Hope you enjoyed today's offering for Perfect Picture Book Fridays, when we review picture books which we deem worthy of mention.  This concept was created by Susanna Hill, and is a helpful resource for librarians, teachers and parents.  For a list of all books reviewed so far, along with activities to complement them, click here.

Friday, October 24, 2014

PPBF: Camping With the President

Here is my second of two historical fiction PBs featuring one of my favorite US presidents: Theodore Roosevelt!

Author: Ginger Wadsworth
Illustrator: Karen Dugan
Publisher: Calkins Creek (imprint of Boyd's Mill Press)
Date: 2009

Ages: 7-12
Genre: Historic Fiction
Themes: National Parks, Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir, camping

First lines: "President Theodore Roosevelt mounted his favorite house and shook the reins. He and Renown shot out the White House stable door. They galloped straight for the woods on their daily ride. As always, hooves pounded behind them. The President made sure that the Secret Service had to ride hard to keep up with him."

Inside Jacket Cover: Imagine a U.S. president on a camping trip. It seems unlikely today, but in May 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt dismissed his Secret Service men and sent away reporters and dignitaries to go camping with John Muir, the world-famous naturalist. For three glorious nights and four days in California's Yosemite National Park, the two men talked about birds, giant sequoia trees, glaciers, as well as the importance of preserving wilderness for future generations. They slept under the stars, built blazing campfires, traveled on horseback, and enjoyed the beauty and the uniqueness of the area.

Why I like this book: Not only is it written in an engaging way with charmingly realistic illustrations, but Wadsworth's author's notes in back are priceless for those who are writing a PB on either of these men, but is a ready and very substantial list of resources for those just wanting more information on the topic. Another perfect example of how a non-fiction picture book should be organized and written. Almost a guide in itself!


Everything you've always wanted to know about John Muir HERE

All about Ginger Wadsworth and her books HERE

     Camping With the President BOOK TRAILER

Ten Cool Things about John Muir HERE

John Muir National Historic Site HERE

"Theodore Roosevelt for Kids" is a comprehensive resource for parents and teachers. Find it on Amazon HERE

Hope you enjoyed today's offering for Perfect Picture Book Fridays, when we review picture books which we deem worthy of mention.  This concept was created by Susanna Hill, and is a helpful resource for librarians, teachers and parents.  For a list of all books reviewed so far, along with activities to complement them, click here.

Friday, October 17, 2014

PPBF: You're on Your Way, Teddy Roosevelt

Since I am working on a historical fiction picture book relating to Teddy Roosevelt's life, I have been reading quite a few PBs on the topic. I will highlight two. . . one this week, and the other, next. Here is the first:

Author: Judith St. George
Illustrator: Matt Faulkner 
Publisher: Philomel Books/Penguin Young Readers Group
Date: 2004

Ages: 7-12
Genre: Historic Fiction
Themes: overcoming odds, Theodore Roosevelt, childhood of presidents

Inside Flap: "Before Teddy Roosevelt became famous as a statesman, naturalist, colonel in the Spanish/American War, and as the twenty-sixth president of the United States, he was a young boy named Teedie. Teedie had wonderful adventures with his brother and sister and even started a natural science museum in his attic.
But Teedie also struggled with asthma and other illnesses. Overcoming those illnesses was the major battle of his young life . . ." 

First Lines: "Teddie sat up in bed. He coughed and wheezed. He couldn't breathe. Papa ran into Teedie's room. Papa always knew what to do. He paced back and forth with Teedie in his arms. At last, Teedie could breathe."

Why I like this book: Not only are the illustrations "handsome" as the jacket flap describes them, but the author has found a problem needing a solution in young Teddy's life, thus making a perfect story line to link his life with other boys his (then) age. Another perfect example of a well-planned historic fiction picture book.

A list of six other picture books on President Theodore Roosevelt HERE.

Fun Facts about TR HERE.

Teddy Roosevelt's life in under five minutes HERE

After doing extensive research on this US President, it was clear that he was a family man, even 'tho many of the books do not mention it. He counted the relationship with his family as the best part of his life . . .time well spent!

Hope you enjoyed today's offering for Perfect Picture Book Fridays, when we review picture books which we deem worthy of mention.  This concept was created by Susanna Hill, and is a helpful resource for librarians, teachers and parents.  For a list of all books reviewed so far, along with activities to complement them, click here.

Friday, October 3, 2014

PPBF: The Magic Nesting Doll

It's good to finally get back into the groove with Perfect Picture Book Fridays! I have had a busy summer, involved mostly with graduating our son from the home school environment, and taking him south to college in Texas.

I also had time for two writer's conferences: The WOW! Retreat in Georgia, and Michigan's SCBWI "Somewhere in Time" conference on Mackinac Island, which focused on non-fiction. What a delight to have the (in my book) Queen of Historic Storytelling, Candace Fleming, take us through the steps we needed to write fabulous historic fiction and creative non-fiction.

Incidentally, she has just published The Family Romanov which relates in a way to my PPBF offering.  I think I've found a kindred spirit! And here we are:

Although I normally focus on historic fiction for PPBF (and will continue to do so), today I want to share a gorgeous book I found while researching a story I am writing . . .

Title: The Magic Nesting Doll
Author: Jacqueline K. Ogburn
Illustrator: Laurel Long
Publisher: Dial Books (Penguin Putnam, Inc.)
Date: 2000

Age Range: All 
Genre: Fairytale

First Paragraph: "Once upon a time a girl named Katya lived with her grandmother at the edge of the forest. They worked hard and loved eachother tenderly until one day the old woman fell ill.

Why I Like It: Not only is it a beautifully woven story, but the artwork (oil paints on watercolor paper primed with gesso) is stunning and intricate, just like a matryoshka doll. Since taking our two children, now in their late teens, and adopted in Russia, back to the Motherland this spring, I have a new appreciation for this country's art.

Here are a few websites relating to the story:

11 Most Interesting Facts About Matryoshka Dolls:

The Making of Nesting Dolls in 6 minutes. You'll get a good taste of the Russian language!

Nice summary of the Russian culture HERE

Find the book on AMAZON

Good Books for Young Souls website, with more info and products relating to The Magic Nesting Doll 

Hope you enjoyed today's offering for Perfect Picture Book Fridays, when we review picture books which we deem worthy of mention.  This concept was created by Susanna Hill, and is a helpful resource for librarians, teachers and parents.  For a list of all books reviewed so far, along with activities to complement them, click here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Inspiring and Conspiring. . .

We are running out of steam, and I can tell. At the beginning of our tour, everything was new. We listened with attention to our guides via our audio device. We were bright-eyed.

Now, we are walking around as if in a daze, totally saturated with information. Along with our brains, our feet are tired! It's time to go home. I'm always amazed at how our tours in the past have ended just as we are beginning to feel the strain. How do they know??

I still think we had a little steam left as we took the hydrofoil to the Hermitage Museum, the former residence of Elizabeth the first, daughter of Peter the Great. This winter palace was actually built for her mother, Catherine I, but unfortunately she died before she could enjoy it's beauty. It was meant to entertain dignitaries, and, as usually happens with royal families, also housed numerous masterpieces from around the world.

Elizabeth I (remember her 15,000 dresses?) is pictured below. Judging by the few dresses we viewed that remained of her collection, she had a extremely small waist as a young woman. She is older here, but I think you can tell she was slender at the waist even then.

As the others, it was built in baroque style, but when Elizabeth moved in, she had her private quarters redone to reflect the renaissance style.

The first exhibit was an incredibly intricate peacock clock, which was found in pieces. In 1970, a self-made man was able to assemble this creation. It's wound only once a week, and keeps good time. At the chime, her eyes open, she nods, calls and then her feathers spread open. A squirrel and dragonfly nearby move in unison.

Elizabeth had her own private collection, which included medieval and renaissance art.

Here is a beautifully painted ceramic dish:

And a sculpture of a faun by the artist Baccio (must have been one of Dan's relatives):

Just look at the rooms in this part of the Hermitage. I enjoyed them even more than the art itself!

Catherine had sent an artist to the Vatican to copy the great artist Rafael's "Loggia" or hallway of art (I guess they had no copyright laws in those days):

And here is a close up of Noah from one of the ceiling paintings:

Then we moved to the masters gallery with works from DaVinci and Fra Angelica and others. . .

Isn't this a fine interpretation of Mary, the mother of a Jesus, when she was a young girl?

This one is called "The Lute Player" by Caravaggio, which depicts the swiftness and brevity of love. At one point, years ago, the museum staff place vases of oils which held scents of the flowers nearby, and played a recording of the music written on the score sheet.

Russians love malachite, so it's no surprise to see this enormous vase in the collection. Since the mineral is so fragile, the artist had to piece it together by hand. They had done the impossible because, of course "This is Russia!"

Look at this painting of Valazquez called "The Luncheon". How many men do you see here?

There are only three . . . one youth, one in the prime of life, and one elderly. The figure in the background is more or less a specter. The three, of course, stand for the Trinity: spirit, Son and Father. The bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ, the fish stand for Christ and Christianity, and the knife, for suffering . . . notice it is pointing towards Christ.

The Hermitage has the largest collection of Dutch paintings next to Amsterdam itself, which is no surprise, since Peter the Great was enamered with all things Dutch!

Here is one by Rembrandt, which is a portrait of his first wife, who died in childbirth:

The painting of his second wife was damaged by acid which a man threw on it. You could barely tell, but it took 30 years to restore!

Here is one of Rembrandt's true masterpieces called (I believe), the Prodigal. I took a close up of the father who is depicted as blind, embracing his long-lost son. Just like God our Father, he is blind to our faults when our hearts are in the right place. 

At the end we had some free time, so we sought out the Royal costume collection which was fabulous! Unfortunately, I couldn't take photos, but Olivia especially, enjoy it immensely.

Here is a parting shot . . . look closely at this photo. I giggled when I saw this. It's the Asian version of a "selfie"!

Then we broke off from the large group, and walked with another three couples to the Astoria, and had an excellent meal of traditional Russian favorites. 

Here I was able to enjoy the last dish on my list mentioned in the book, "Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking" . . . Olivier Salad!  

After lunch, we hurried to meet the rest of the group at the Yusopov Museum, famous for the location of Rasputin's demise. More on that later. . . 

The Yusopov Family was not royal, but extremely wealthy. They were formerly Muslim, but converted to Russian Orthodoxy. Elizabeth the first loved to visit this palace, and was friends of the family. The Romanovs were as well, many years down the road, two generations later. This building now a teacher's club. It was bought in 1830, and restored in 1860.

Here are a few shots of the interior. I had to pay a photography fee of 150руъ or around $4, so I better put them to good use!

Below is what looks like a tapestry, but they are actually hand painted on the walls!

Here is a gorgeous blue bedroom:

With a secret door to the prince's room:

This ceiling was designed to remind them of their Muslim roots:

A red room,

A blue room,

And a theatre build especially for the original lady of the house who was an actress:

Now I understand why it was called an orchestra "pit"!

In one room, we saw leather wall paper:

And now, the intrigue. Rasputin was a peasant priest who had the powers of healing. Since the last Tzar's son Alexi had hemophilia, the Tzarina dearly wanted her son to be healthy. The doctors didn't know much about the disease, so there was no cure.

Tzarina Alexandra discovered Rasputin through a friend, and employed him to help her son. He became a favorite of the children, and supposedly, many fond letters where written between them. The doctor claimed that he did indeed help Alexi. But, there came a time when the Tzarina's close affiliation with Rasputin was under suspicion, and Felix Yusopov, who was friends with the Romanovs decided enough was enough, and planned to stop the rumors forever.

He got a group of his friends together and brought Rasputin to the palace under some false pretense, and, in the basement of the building, provided a feast for him laced with cyanide. He at it all, but with no result (some think the pharmacist replace it with a harmless substance because he suspected it would be used for harm, but there is no proof). 

Frustrated, they returned and shot him twice, but he didn't die. So, they wrapped him in a curtian, and threw him in the river nearby, and he finally drowned. Many thought he had mystical powers which made it difficult for him to be harmed.

Strange story for a strange man . . .

And now, we head for home very early tomorrow morning. We are so thankful for this tremendous opportunity to visit Mario and Olivia's birthplace. Finding Olivia's half-sister was icing on the cake! The cruise was a delight, the staff was attentive and friendly, and our tours and tour guides, enlightening. To top it off, we have had three consecutive days of sunshine in a city that has a total of 65 a year. Nadia, our tour guide called us the "green angels" because of it!

We have a mighty God who has done great things, and for that, we are greatful!

Journey into the Promised Land

Journey into the Promised Land
From Egypt to Israel