Wednesday, August 13, 2008


I'd forgotten how much I love this book. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1940. It is the story of a little girl, living at a boarding school in Paris, who one day must have an appendectomy. When she is convalescing after her surgery her classmates come to visit her. She shows them her scar and all the lovely gifts sent to her by her papa. The girls are envious.

I first encountered the book while working at a day camp in the early 80s. The camp took place at a private school during the summer. On rainy days we'd take the children into classrooms and rummage through boxes of books and toys for things to do. I found a beat up copy of Madeline in one of the boxes and read it to my group of four and five year olds.

I remembered the book fondly, but did not come across it again until my daughter was born in 1992. I wanted to build her a library of classic picture books. Shopping at a wonderful (and sadly gone) children's bookstore in Nickel's Arcade in Ann Arbor, called The Hundred Acre Wood, I was delighted to find that there were other Madeline books as well and snapped them all up in hardcover. My daughter and I were especially fond of this first in the series and read it often.

The book has been in a storage box in the basement with all of her other picture books. I dug it out last night and sat down to read it for my Caldecott project. Reading it seemed unnecessary for as I started I realized that I knew the book by heart, anticipating the next line before I turned the page. Some of our favorite lines were, "To the lion in the zoo, Madeline just said 'pooh-pooh'" and at the end when all the little girls are crying and Miss Clavel "expecting a disaster, runs fast, and then faster" the little girls all say, "Boo-hoo, we want our appendix out too." The language is simple, rythmic and rhyming, easy for children to memorize. The illustrations are colorful, fun and relaxed. This is a lovely book.

The Trees

Finished The Trees, the first book in Conrad Richter's Awakening Land Trilogy. It's the story of the Luckett family, mother, father and four children, who move from Pennsylvania to the untouched forests of Ohio in the late 18th Century. They are the first people to settle there and life is strange and hard. The artifacts and colloquialisms of the time are deftly woven into the story. The only other book I've read of woodsy life is Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods, which was much less raw and set about a hundred years later and much farther west. The characters in The Trees are interesting and well drawn. This is a very unusual book.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Rim of the Prairie

Finished The Rim of the Prairie by Bess Streeter Aldrich. This is Aldrich's second novel, published in 1925. Set in Nebraska it tells the story of the old folks who broke the prairie and the young ones now living amidst them in the tamed result. The characters are very genuine. The story held my interest and had a satisfying resolution to a mystery that was woven throughout. I picked the book up at the Chelsea, Michigan library sale, in the charming old downtown location, before the new modern library opened.

Abraham Lincoln

Finished Abraham Lincoln by Ingri D'Aulaire and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire, husband and wife illustrators. The book tells the story of Lincoln from his boyhood. At times it feels a bit like a tall tale, with Lincoln portrayed as a local folk hero. The illustrations are bright and interesting, but at times a bit odd. There is one drawing of Lincoln with his arms raised over his head and sunbeams fanning out behind him, making him look like a saint. The story ends just after the Civil War, but before his assasination. This surprised me since one of the first things that kids learn about Lincoln is that he was shot. The book won the Caldecott Medal in 1940.