Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition #3

For the Thanksgiving post for the past two years, I've featured titles to commemorate and celebrate this holiday; Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition and Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition #2 highlight four favorites of mine.  It is important to not only set aside a single day for the giving of thanks but to appreciate and recognize small memorable and positive moments all year long.  They are there every single day if we only take the time to pause, listen and look.

In 1844 Lydia Maria Child published a poem, The New-England Boy's Song About Thanksgiving Day in a collection titled Flowers for Children, Volume 2.  Since that time it has achieved classic status as a seasonal song.  In 2011 author illustrator Matt Tavares illustrated the beloved verses with his rich, period paintings in Over the River and Through the Wood (Candlewick Press).

Over the river, and through the wood,
To grandfather's house we go;
The horse knows the way,
To carry the sleigh,
Through the white and drifted snow.

The opened matching jacket and cover feature a peaceful pastoral scene, from the edge of one flap to the other, of a family leaving their town to climb the hills to grandfather's house.  On the title pages Matt Tavares gives readers a panoramic, aerial view of the community, winding river and hills in the background, with the family tucked in the lower left-hand corner next to their sleigh getting ready for their trip.  For the first five lines of the poem he provides a close-up of the parents, their two children, and dog about to depart.

For every five lines of the poem Tavares' illustrations rendered in watercolor, gouache and pencil spread across two pages.  While the color of the sky, people bundled in winter clothing and fallen and falling snow, leave no doubt as to the chilly temperatures, there is warmth in every picture.  The colors used in the clothing, buildings and the sleigh coupled with the facial expressions on the people reflect the remembered joys of this day.

The joy of passing by a store window filled with toys, crossing an arched stone bridge, watching the people skating on the river below, climbing up one hill after another, passing through the gate around the barnyard, arriving at grandfather's home and enjoying a meal together, are all depicted in varying perspectives designed to make the reader feel like a participant rather than only an observer.  Attentive readers will notice Tavares has also chosen to add another story to the trip through his illustrations; a special canine connection.  Any one of these gorgeous pictures is worthy of framing but one of my favorites is of the family's arrival at the farm, the home and barn in the background, the dog running ahead, the boy leaning forward in the sleigh expectantly, as snow falls.  You can almost hear the bark of the dogs, called greetings, baaing of sheep and the slide of runners on the snow when you look at this illustration.

Over the River and Through the Wood written by Lydia Maria Child with illustrations by Matt Tavares is a lovely seasonal offering for readers of all ages.  There is a note about the author at the book's end.  Please follow the links embedded in Matt Tavares' name to access his website and blog. The videos below are to acquaint you with the true joy Matt Tavares feels for his work.

I have seen tweets repeatedly which mirror my own feelings about reading books once you have heard an author or illustrator speak; from that point forward when you read their work you hear them talking to you.  After listening to Katherine Paterson's speech at the American Library Association, Association for Library Service to Children, Newbery, Caldecott, Wilder Awards Banquet and conversing with her briefly in the reception line, I hear her gentle, knowing voice in my mind when I read her books.  Her most recent title, as an author and editor, Giving Thanks: Poems, Prayers And Praise Songs Of Thanksgiving (Handprint Books, an imprint of Chronicle Books) with illustrations by Pamela Dalton is the ideal platform for what I believe to be the soul of her body of work.

As way of introduction Katherine Paterson begins with a two page reflection on joy, gratitude and prayer.  She recounts all the blessings in her life from the good and bad times alike, as each has lessons from which we can learn. For each of the following sections in this book, she begins with a single page of her own words on the theme.

In Gather Around the Table Paterson voices her gratitude for having plenty of food to eat, recounting her own and another's story.  Within the eight pages we can read a traditional American mealtime prayer, an Islamic prayer, a Chinese proverb, a Native American grace, words of poet Ralph Waldo Emerson or a Pueblo blessing.  It is apparent that no matter the culture or custom, giving thanks for food to eat is universal for its nourishment, for sustaining our bodies.

A few shared hours with her son David watching a cicada, opens the chapter A Celebration of Life.  This is my favorite of the four.  Her descriptions, choice of words, transport you to those marvelous moments.  Poems penned from authors around the world are found here as are prayers from a variety of cultures.  Some are familiar, others are new, but all bring a sense of peace to the reader; twelve pages of beauty.

A thoughtful musing on the poor in spirit begins the writings titled The Spirit Within.  I think of all those contained in these six pages my favorite might be by Helen Keller.

The best and most beautiful things in
the world cannot be seen or even touched.
They must be felt with the heart.

Then too, it's hard not to be moved by the words, the song, written by John Newton,

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound...

Katherine Paterson closes the book with thoughts on all the many places she has lived and visited around the world and the importance of understanding.  It addresses our misplaced beliefs.  The selections in the Circle of Community are about noticing the similarities we share.  They are about the importance of each individual.

The exquisite, intricate cut-paper illustrations by Pamela Dalton done in the early American tradition are nearly beyond description. A note at the back briefly describes the technique.

The paper was then antiqued in a coffee solution, ironed, and illuminated with watercolor.

The rustic red seen on the jacket and cover is deepened to provide a background for the opening and closing endpapers.  On the endpapers the cut-paper artwork creates a wide frame for tiny oval watercolor paintings which also appear throughout the book.

Different colored backgrounds are used for each area of the book; a golden tan, deep earthy green, a steely blue and the rustic red of the jacket and cover.  These hues supply the left-hand side of each page with a wide margin for highlighting the illustrations.  Other cut-paper pictures are placed within the pages, shades of cream on cream.  The painstaking hours of work for each is easily apparent, causing you to pause on each page wondering.  My favorite is the last page in the A Celebration of Life chapter.  Green, yellow and gray-brown cut-paper birch tree branches frame a square containing an E. E. Cummings verse with a black-capped chickadee sitting on a branch.

Giving Thanks: Poems, Prayers, And Praise Songs Of Thanksgiving edited and with reflections by Katherine Paterson with illustrations by Pamela Dalton is as breathtaking as their first collaboration, Brother Sun, Sister Moon. I highly recommend it for your personal and classroom collections due to the diversity of choices within the pages.  It makes you stop, take note and be grateful.  It can be the basis of a variety of discussions and writing prompts with your students.

Please take time to visit the author's and illustrator's websites by following the links embedded in their names.  I could not resist sharing this video of Katherine Paterson and her husband John talking about the importance of picture books.


I am extremely grateful for these authors and illustrators not only on this Thanksgiving day but every day.  They have brought immeasurable joy to all their readers.

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