Nonfiction Monday: George Washington's Christmas Camel

No, that's not the title of the latest picture book about George Washington (I'm still writing it).  Apparently, Washington paid 18 shillings to bring a camel to Mount Vernon for the Christmas holidays in 1787.  This year, the folks at Mount Vernon have expanded their Christmas program to include another Christmas camel, one-year-old Aladdin (pictured above with a Mount Vernon volunteer).  Leo's class got to see the camel on a field trip to Mount Vernon:  it was the high point of their visit.  Well, the camel, and being interviewed by a FOX television news reporter about the camel (the segment aired yesterday).  There is a surprising amount of local interest in this.  Actually, I feel a little bad for former White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier, who spent 300 hours reconstructing Mount Vernon out of gingerbread for this year's Christmas program only to be upstaged by a camel.

This seems like a good opportunity to mention a recent nonfiction picture book about George Washington, Farmer George Plants a Nation by Peggy Thomas; paintings by Layne Johnson (Calkins Creek, 2008).  Visitors to Mount Vernon learn (if they are not too distracted by the camel) that Washington considered himself first and foremost a farmer.  This book draws a neat parallel between Washington's work as a farmer, specifically his efforts to make Mount Vernon self-sustaining, and his more well-known accomplishments as general and president.  The text is accompanied by well-chosen quotes from Washington's diaries and letters; back matter includes a timeline, short essays about George at Mount Vernon and George's thoughts on slavery, and a good bibliography.  No camels, though!

Santa Lucia, Hugo and Josephine

Happy Santa Lucia Day!  This image of Lucia and her attendants comes from my childhood copy of Hugo and Josephine by Maria Gripe, with drawings by Harald Gripe (1962); translated from the Swedish by Paul Britten Austin (Dell, 1969).  Sorry about the poor image quality:  what kind of paper were Dell Yearlings printed on in the 1970s?  Anyway, there is Josephine as a maid of honor (May-Lise, the prettiest girl in the class, is Lucia) and Hugo at far left as a star-boy.

I read and loved the Hugo and Josephine trilogy as a child (Hugo has since gone missing); my other favorite Gripe book was the more mysterious Glassblower's Children.  Gripe's books must have been widely available in translation then:  Maria Gripe, "one of Sweden's most distinguished writers for children," had won the Hans Christian Anderson Award in 1974.  Now my library system doesn't hold a single copy of any of her books.  Not one.  Which is a shame:  Hugo and Josephine, the one I've most recently reread, is a delight: perceptive, often very funny, told in a distinctive present-tense and set in a place (Sweden) and time similar to but interestingly different than our own.  When I start my own press dedicated to printing neglected or OOP children's fiction, the Hugo and Josephine trilogy will be on my list.  Does anyone else remember it?

Poetry Friday: Father's Fox's Christmas Rhymes

Here am I, old Father Fox
With sweets in my pocket and holes in my socks
Bringing a basket brimful of cheer
A toy for each day until Christmas is here

We're fond of foxes here at bookstogether.  Our favorite foxes are sisters Clyde and Wendy Watsons's; their Father Fox's Pennyrhymes was a National Book Award finalist in 1971.  This collection of 18 original Christmas rhymes was published over thirty years later (FSG, 2003); we like it even better.  The rhymes (by Clyde) are both crisp and cozy; the illustrations (by Wendy) reward lots of looking.

The Christmas rhymes can stand alone, although taken together (as we read them), they tell a story.  I chose this one to share because it describes so well the atmosphere in our house (and the foxes') during the days before Christmas.

Secret things in
Secret places
Whispered words
And knowing faces

Red glass beads
In the cracks of the floor
A whiff of paint
From behind a door

Paper rustles
Scissors snip
A telltale wink
And a finger to the lip

[Ssh!  This year I'm making the kids stuffed foxes of rust-colored wool felt, wearing patched white linen nightclothes like the ones the Fox family wears.  What are you making?]

[Poetry Friday Roundup is at poet Elaine Magliaro's blog Wild Rose Reader.  Thanks, Elaine!]

Bee-Wigged Blog Tour: A kinderview with Cece Bell

Welcome to Day 4 of Jerry Bee's big blog tour!  Jerry is the star of Cece Bell's latest picture book, Bee-Wigged (Candlewick, 2008). Oh, and he's an enormous bee who just wants to make friends.  That's where Wiglet comes in.

For this stop on the tour, we assembled a crack panel of kid readers, all of whom are in Bee-Wigged's 4 to 8-year-old target audience:  Leo (age 8), Milly (4), and their friends and fellow Bee-Wigged fans Graham (6) and Karina (4).  Cece graciously agreed to answer their questions about the making of the book (a toothbrush was involved!), Jerry's unusual size, Wiglet's nutritional needs, and more.  Bee-Wigged: The kinderview, below.

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