Newbery 2014: They made a great choice.

If you follow Read It, Make It! on Facebook, you probably saw my announcement last week that author Kate DiCamillo won the 2014 Newbery Medal. Again. Some people have all the luck talent.

I had not yet read Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, but the recent snowpocalypse gave me the chance to accomplish that goal. I first read about this novel when I was writing my previous DiCamillo post on Mercy Watson, because Mercy’s website included a little promo.

Flora and Ulysses

From that promo, I had expected Flora and Ulysses to be aimed at a slightly younger audience than it actually is. While the language is not exceptionally difficult, and the style (short chapters, choppy dialogue, brilliantly expressed characters) could be ideal for younger readers, the overall theme will definitely resonate more effectively with the middle-grades crowd.

The plot is best described as quirky. Flora, comic-book obsessed daughter of divorced parents, witnesses the transition of squirrel Ulysses into a superhero. The fact that this is the product of a super-powered vacuum seems almost believable. Once transformed, Flora and Ulysses develop an instant bond, and Flora becomes determined to help Ulysses realize his new-found potential.

Flora and Ulysses

The cast of characters, including the neighbor’s precociously difficult great-nephew, is what made this book the most compelling to me. By the story’s end, each character is exposed as being multifaceted, and there is something within each character that I think almost any child could find relatable. While the plot’s trajectory might seem standard – problems find solutions, here – the character development is sensationally different than much of what you see in modern young adult fiction.

While DiCamillo gets the award, the book would not be what it is without the graphic and illustrative contributions of K. G. Campbell. Portions of the story are told in comic-book style, and those illustrations are key parts of the book. Those little bursts of graphic novel make the storytelling in Flora and Ulysses unique, and usually add a bit of humor.

Flora and Ulysses

The book screams to be added to the top of the list of books that might engage reluctant readers. It would also make a great mentor text for character development and description.

I dusted off my graphic organizer skills, and came up with these, both of which would work at home or at school to help readers decipher the ways that an author can put together a characterization.

Flora and Ulysses Graphic Organizer

Download the Flora and Ulysses – Characterization Graphic Organizer.

The idea here is that readers will recognize that there are no clear-cut villains or heroes in this book. Instead, there are characters with both positive and negative characteristics, whose actions are not always what they might seem. By listing each type of trait and the describing how those traits combine to form a more complex character, readers can begin to synthesize their knowledge of real human behavior with that of characters in books.

Graphic Organizer for Flora and Ulysses

Download the Flora and Ulysses Character Study Graphic Organizer.

On a more basic level, this outline lets readers describe a chosen character, or select more than one character to compare. Obviously, you could just draw the outline of a person, but for readers who might find that more challenging than the actual character analysis, it can help to have a picture to start.

Readers can list character traits and typical activities on related parts of the outline. For example, Flora’s mother – an author – might be described as such on her hands, which she uses for typing. Once the traits are listed, readers could write a short character sketch or participate in a discussion about the ways that the different characters’ strengths and skills came together to let them solve the problems in the novel.

 To be honest, this is the sort of book that I’d love to share with just the right student or young friend. The graphic portions of it would make it a difficult read-aloud for a whole class, but it will definitely strike a chord with many, many readers. Please let me know what happens if you find it to be a perfect match for somebody in your part of the world!

{The book links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchasing using them, Read It, Make It! receives a small commission. Thank you!}

A book for Chinese New Year.

We aren’t Chinese, nor do we have close Chinese friends, so we don’t really celebrate Chinese New Year. However, I found an amazing little book the other day, and I thought you might like to know about it.

A New Year's Reunion

A New Year’s Reunion, by Yu Li-Qiong with pictures by Zhu Cheng-Liang, tells the story of one family’s new year celebration. The family’s father works far away, and only travels home once a year for the holiday. During the course of the story, young Maomao must both readjust to having her father home and come to terms with the fact that he will leave again shortly.

While the traditional New Year’s customs are a part of the story, they are not its focus. Instead, the book focuses on the family’s relationship and everyday life in the town where the family lives. There are fireworks, rice cakes, and a dragon parade, but the family also repairs their home and makes a snowman.

The pictures tell as much of the story as the text. There is a gentle quality to the paintings that enhances the book’s overall tone. They also do a marvelous job of combining the traditions of the New Year celebration with the trappings of modern life. The image of the mother packing the father’s suitcase to leave again is particularly moving.

A New Year's Reunion

There are no pat answers here, no magical income sources that keep the family together. A New Year’s Reunion tells the very true story of families where a parent works far away. For that reason it has the potential to connect with many children who face separation due to work in this country, including those in military families and migrant farming families.

A New Year's Reunion

Our girls loved this book. Even though we don’t face the challenges of having a parent working far away, there is still plenty of familiarity in the story. They particularly liked this illustration of the family snuggled together. If you like warm stories of family life,  A New Year’s Reunion is definitely worth checking out, and my guess is that it will become a favorite for you, as it has for me.

{The book link in this post is an affiliate link. Purchases made using it earn a small commission for Read It, Make It!}

 

Mercy Watson. I love her.

And… it’s Thursday. And… the blog has been a little quiet. Sorry about that! To apologize, I’ll share a great series of early chapter books that you can probably find in triplicate at your local library.

Last summer, one of the prizes for our library’s summer reading program was a book. The kids got to pick their own books from a cart, but our awesome librarian stood alongside them and ‘encouraged’ them to make age-appropriate and high-quality choices. Bethany chose a book called [amazon text=Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride&asin=0763645052].

early chapter book

It’s longer than our usual read-alouds, but the girls loved it so much that we read the entire thing in one sitting. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the genre – early-reader chapter books that are longer than Henry and Mudge, but still have large type and frequent illustrations. The storyline is hilarious, the characters are fairly shallow but still engaging, and the illustrations are just plain enticing.

This is actually the second book in the series, but you can read any of them without having read the previous books. In [amazon text=Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride&asin=0763645052], Mercy, a pig living with human parents, goes for a ride in a convertible as she does every Saturday. However, this is the Saturday when she finally achieves her goal of driving the car herself.

As you can probably imagine, fairly predictable hijinks result, and there’s even the involvement of two elderly neighbor sisters to liven things up. Because the plot is predictable, this is a great book for talking about basic reading strategies like predicting (duh), and making inferences. Not every detail is spelled out, and the illustrations are great for helping early readers make sense of what they’re reading.

early chapter book

After reading our previous Mercy selection about 4,987 times, we finally branched out at this week’s library trip. These were shelved with the Young Adult fiction (which surprised me), and were nestled right next to Kate DiCamillo’s award-winning modern classic [amazon text=Because of Winn Dixie&asin=0763644323].

We decided to start at the beginning of the series, and picked out [amazon text=Mercy Watson to the Rescue&asin=0763645044]. In this story, Mercy’s intense love for hot buttered toast allows her to become the ‘porcine wonder’ so adored by her parents, when she inadvertently causes the fire department to visit the neighborhood, thereby saving her parents from a dangerous situation.

If that sounds complicated, it’s not. I can’t recommend this series highly enough for independent reading by kiddos who have outgrown typical first chapter books. Equally, it’s a great family or classroom read-aloud for children as young as two or three. Clara, who is just two, LOVES it, and actually was the one to remind me to look for it at the library. “More Mercy Watson, Mommy!” How can you argue with that?

If your love for Mercy goes past the books, you’ll naturally want to serve up some accompanying hot buttered toast as you snuggle up to read. You might also ask your little readers to draw or write what they predict Mercy’s next adventure will be. There are four more books in the series, so you could draw this out for quite a while, or devour them all in a day or a week.

And for the truly devoted Mercy fans, you’ll want to check out her website, where you can visit a rendering of her neighborhood! There are also a few suggestions for teachers and parents, as well as a bit of background about the author and illustrator.

Would it be wrong for me to strongly, strongly, strongly suggest a Mercy Watson birthday party for next year?

{The book links above are affiliate links. If you make purchases using those links, Read It, Make It! receives a tiny commission. These books are easy to find at your local public or school library, too!}

Vintage Books Wednesday: Gyo Fujikawa’s Mother Goose

Recently, I realized that I’ve been more than remiss in reading nursery rhymes to Clara. I read them daily to Bethany, but as Bethany has grown into ‘older’ books, Clara has gone along for the ride, which means she’s definitely missed out on some things. Today’s book choice is helping me remedy this very bad mothering.

best nursery rhymes book

Conveniently, my mother has been ruthlessly culling the children’s books at her house, and I saved this one from an uncertain fate. I’m not sure what my favorite book of nursery rhymes was when I was little, but this is definitely the one that I remember most now. Gyo Fujikawa created the beautiful illustrations for this [amazon text=Mother Goose&asin=1402750641], and was ahead of her time in showing children of diverse racial backgrounds. Modern versions of other classics (like Gerda Muller’s) have often been slightly altered to include non-white children, but Ms. Fujikawa did it from the start of her career as an illustrator.

best nursery rhymes book

I love this page for singing the alphabet song. The letters are large enough for easy pointing, but more importantly, the “and” is included. It helps explain that it’s not an extra letter. Here, you can see that there is a bit of diversity among the children.

best nursery rhymes book

This spread shows The Old Woman in a Shoe, one of the traditional [amazon text=Mother Goose&asin=1402750641] rhymes included. Pictures like this are the ones I remember most about this book, because there were so many details to study. Other nursery rhyme collections tend just to show an old brown boot from the outside, but Fujikawa took the time to consider what it would mean for the old woman and her children to actually live inside a shoe.

Nursery rhyme books are great for the attention span of a toddler. If they want to sit, great – you can read pages and pages of rhymes. If their minds and bodies are hopping, then you can read three rhymes on three different pages and close the book without a problem. Now that I’m back in the swing with these, I feel even sillier for having neglected them.

As always, I love to know your favorites, so feel free to drop me a line and tell me about your favorite nursery rhyme or Mother Goose collection.

{The book link in this post is an affiliate link, and for once you can actually find an affordable vintage or modern copy of this book through that link. Any purchases you make using it benefit Read It, Make It! Thanks!}

 

Snow Day!

Because I am kind of a goose, I looked at my phone over the weekend and saw that snow was forecast for this week. My excitement was short-lived, when my husband pointed out that I was looking at the forecast for Asheville, not Atlanta.

It did make me think of some of our favorite snow books, and convince me to give a Pinterest craft idea a try. So, we’re just going to pretend today is a snow day. By the way – my apologies to those of you who live in places where snow is a nuisance and a threat, not a once-every-two-years source of excitement. This post might not seem quite as fun to you.

First up, our favorite snowy book:

children's book about snow

Kazuno Kohara (author of one of my favorite Halloween books) wrote and illustrated [amazon text=Here Comes Jack Frost&asin=0312604467], which is best described as a delightful romp through the snow, as cheesy as that may sound. Jack Frost, the personification of frost and ice, teases his human playmate, and they chase each other through a snowy scene until the first mention of springtime warmth. Then, Jack Frost disappears, promising in a whisper of the wind to return the following winter. The book is just plain fun to read, and the playful language really attracts the young readers in this house.

Kohara illustrated the book solely in shades of blue and white, which makes the perfect segue to today’s craft activity. If your children or students are a bit older, they could even use this activity to create art pieces based upon the illustrations in the book.

winter sensory activity for kids

To continue our little adventure in the snow, we made snow paint. For our recipe, we used this tutorial at Growing a Jeweled Rose.  We mixed white glue and shaving cream (the el cheapo variety), and then added white glitter. However, in the future, I think I might just forget the glitter, because even though we added a ton, you couldn’t really see it while we painted.

winter sensory activity for kids

Once we had the paint all mixed, we used paint brushes to paint on blue paper. This was a TOTAL hit, and a very calm post-dinner activity. I was impressed with how easily the girls adapted to the stickiness of the snow paint. Also, unlike the tutorial I used for inspiration, the girls were far more interested in the process of painting with it than in actually creating a snowman or snow scene. We just rolled with it, and they had fun experimenting with the paintbrushes, their hands, and a spoon to get the snow paint onto their papers.

winter sensory activity for kids

One of the neat things about the snow paint is that it dries somewhat like puffy paint. Very soon after you apply it to the paper, the glue starts to form a sort of ‘skin’ over the shaving cream, and you can touch it without anything sticking to your hands. After about an hour or so, you can actually smoosh the paint a bit and it will spring back. I think it goes without saying that the girls thought this was amazing.

If you’d like to continue your snow day with some more great reading, here are two more of our favorites.

books about snow and winter

I have never been a fox in the snowy woods, but I wonder if Tejima, author/illustrator of [amazon text=Fox’s Dream&asin=0590451049] actually has been. The amazing woodblock prints are enough of a reason to read this book, and the story makes it even more beautiful. The plot is fairly simple, in that the lonely fox dreams about some sort of companion, sees some semblance of this dream in the icy woods, and then meets a real-life version by story’s end. However, for young children, it’s a relatable way to describe the human experience. (I’m not exaggerating – it’s an encapsulated existential dilemma that resonates with preschoolers.) If you can find this, read it! You’ll be enchanted.

children's books about snow

And I’d be fired as a book blogger if I didn’t mean the ultimate classic in snow books: Ezra Jack Keats’ [amazon text=The Snowy Day&asin=0140501827]. Every child on the planet should read this book. Young Peter makes his way outside to explore in the snow, and has all sorts of adventures alone and with a friend. He tries to keep a snowball in his pocket, and faces the unfortunate consequences of taking that snowball into a warm house. Ezra Jack Keats obviously remembered what it was like to be a young child, and innately understood how to communicate that feeling in words and pictures. You read this book, and feel like you’re walking along with Peter, watching your footprints appear in the snow.

Frankly, some good books and a fun time snow painting made our pretend snow day pretty great – and it was a lot easier than having to shovel the driveway.

{The book links above provide a tiny bit of compensation to Read It, Make It! if you make a purchase through them. Thanks!}

Santa Mouse

Before I get started, I need to offer an apology. Santa Mouse, by Michael Brown, was THE Christmas book in my house growing up. It is zero percent religious, but still manages to get the point across that Christmas is about giving, not getting.

children's christmas book

Anyway, I had originally planned to feature this much earlier in December, but my cursory research showed it to be out of print. And not just inconveniently-out-of-print-you-have-to-buy-it-used, but expensive-to-buy-at-all-out-of-print. [amazon text=Don’t believe me?&asin=0760703558] Just take a gander.  Something made me look specifically at Barnes and Noble, though, and you can find it there, but only for Nook, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Then, the girls started requesting it. A lot. Multiple times a day. We went to my parents’ house, where my brother’s copy still lives, and they wanted it there, too. This made me realize that I need to tell y’all about it, even if you’re going to have to do some detective work to find it. So, I’m sorry I’m recommending something so awesome that you’ll have so much trouble locating.

In a nutshell, Santa Mouse tells the story of a young mouse who wants to give a gift to Santa. He wraps up his most special piece of cheese, and puts it under the tree on Christmas Eve. He wakes up suddenly to find himself “looking right in Santa’s eye,” and Santa gives him a name, a suit, and a job. Santa Mouse becomes Santa’s special helper, and they travel together delivering gifts.

The story is written in rhyme, and it’s just a joy to read aloud. There is an unfortunate reference to playing as “Eskimos,” which I (poorly) edit to be “Inuit,” and I think a newer edition (!!!) with a slight change there would be a great additional to the canon of children’s literature. You basically can’t dislike this book, and it has worked in my family for two generations to make little ones think of what they could give – to Santa, or to others – instead of focusing on that all-important Christmas list.

children's christmas board book

A few years ago, I found this board book version at a used book store. The paintings are gone, replaced with some sort of 1970s era puppets, and the overall effect is lost. The text is in prose instead of rhyme, and the magic just isn’t there. The girls don’t grab this one at all, despite the obvious attempts to make it attractive to children. To quote Mystic Pizza, “you don’t monkey with tradition.”

Moral of the story: get out there and find yourselves a copy of Santa Mouse. The children in your life will thank you, and you’ll get to start leaving a piece of cheese for Santa Mouse right next to the cookies and milk.

{Should you unwisely choose to spend upwards of $40 on a single copy of this book, Read It, Make It! will earn a small commission. While we will shake our heads at your choice, we will also say thank you.}

The Birds’ Christmas Carol

Here’s another children’s vintage treasure from, you guessed it, Bound to Be Read Books. If you’re local to Atlanta, and you have been there yet, maybe this will finally tempt you! It’s [amazon text=The Birds’ Christmas Carol&asin=1491053976], by Kate Douglas Wiggin.

vintage children's christmas book

This is my copy. Not so remarkable on the outside, though the font is pretty. Inside, there’s the original 1946 inscription of the girl who received it for Christmas – and the 59¢ price sticker from Montgomery Ward. What you want to see are the color plates. Here’s the frontispiece and title page:

vintage children's christmas classic bookGorgeous, right?

When I was little, and read books that had color plates interspersed, I usually looked at all of them first, and then repeatedly as I read. Now we know that that sort of previewing is actually a pretty good comprehension strategy, and it’s worth encouraging your kiddos to do it before they read.

This story is the epitome of Victorian morality. Carol is a little girl who has fallen ill, and due to her ceaselessly giving nature, her last act is to make sure that the children of a less well-to-do family have a perfect Christmas. It’s all wrapped up with the meaning of her name, some cute stories about the other family’s children, and the appropriate amount of keening and wailing. You either do or do not like stories like this, but if you do, this one is a masterpiece.

The dialect and flowery language might make this a bit challenging for children not used to older books, but it’s a beautiful read aloud if you have the patience to explain things and use an accent or two. Do be aware that it might elicit some unfortunate memories in children who have experienced extended or terminal illness in a loved one, and tread lightly with very sensitive children.

Have you read this? What did you think? Too treacly or so unimaginably perfect that you loved it anyway?

{The book is affiliate-linked to Amazon above, but I can’t actually recommend any version other than a gorgeously illustrated vintage one. Keep your eyes peeled!}

 

Margeurite de Angeli’s Turkey for Christmas

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a Quaker. I didn’t – and don’t – have any good theological reasons for it. Basically, I think it boiled down to my deserve to live inside [amazon text=Thee, Hannah!&asin=0836191064], by Margeurite de Angeli. I’m fairly confident this was the first of her books I devoured, only to be followed by more: [amazon text=The Door in the Wall&asin=0440402832], [amazon text=Yonie Wondernose&asin=0385075731], and [amazon text=Skippack School&asin=0385075731].

This was a glorious age in school libraries, because no one had yet felt the pressure to cull all these old books, so nerdy little girls could read everything by their favorite authors, one book after the next. Today, those nerdy little girls rush to library sales to buy up all these out-of-print classics, saving them from the landfill. Hard as I try, which is not really very hard at all, I just cannot pass up the opportunity to own these books when I find them.

children's christmas book

A few years ago, I happened upon [amazon text=Turkey for Christmas&asin=B0007DJZYC] at Bound to Be Read, and snatched it up. Honestly, I would have bought it just for the illustration of children sledding on the cover, but I knew that the story inside would be worth it. Written in the early 1960s, it is set a good half-century earlier, and relates the story of a family newly arrived in Philadelphia. It echoes somewhat de Angeli’s own life, as her family moved from Michigan to Philadelphia when she was thirteen, the same age as Bess, who is at the center of the book.

The book opens with the family choosing between having a turkey for Christmas, and having small presents. The decision for turkey is unanimous, with some misgivings from Bess. The need for this choice stems from medical bills, as the older sister, Martha, has been ill and in the hospital for some time. While she is doing better, the costs of the family’s move and her needed medical care have added up. Everyone seems to have their nose to the grindstone, helping keep the family going, and Bess struggles to do her chores and support her mother while keeping a good attitude.

I think what makes this, like all of de Angeli’s historical writing, so special, is the way that she conveys what living in a family is really like. It’s not perfect, and even when you try your hardest, it can be difficult to be exactly what other family members need you to be. The love within the family is evident throughout, though, so no one’s disappointment seems to linger. There’s a bit of moralizing here, but even that seems endearing in the context of the story – which, by the way, ends with a very sweet surprise.

At a time when so many of us are a bit weary of the commercial overdoing and consumer frenzy that Christmas has become, Turkey for Christmas is the sort of book that can create a little meditative oasis in your day. Read it slowly, talk about what’s really important, and celebrate the season for what it really brings.

{The book link above is a compensated affiliate link, but you’d have much better luck trolling library sales and used book stores to find a pretty copy of this book.}

 

Louisa May Alcott’s Thanksgiving

It’s Wednesday (again), so we’re talking about vintage children’s books. This week’s selection is a little tricky, because the story itself is past vintage to antique, and the illustrated version I’m looking at is just old enough to be vintage, but if you try to buy this today, you’ll get a newer edition with decidedly less-charming illustrations.

Here’s the book in question:

louisa may alcott thanksgiving book

Louisa May Alcott’s An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving was originally serialized in St. Nicholas children’s magazine. It appeared in 1881, over a decade after the success of Little Women. This particular version, with Michael McCurdy’s masterful wood-block prints, came out in 1989. Obviously, the choice of medium for the illustrations was key in relating the mood of the story, which is actually set 60 years before its writing, in 1820s New Hampshire.

The story is straight out of a Shakespearean comedy. A family, large and well-described, is preparing its Thanksgiving meal, with a heaping portion of Protestant work ethic and New England accents. Everyone is sad that they won’t be with the rest of their family this year, as Gran’ma is ailing, and cannot host the meal. As dish after dish gets added to the pantry, the family makes its peace with a ‘lonely’ holiday. (How lonely can you be in a family of a dozen people?)

Suddenly, a rider approaches, and gives news that Gran’ma has taken a turn for the worse, and that the mother’s family is needed immediately. The parents ride off, leaving the oldest children in charge, and things go well. Everyone listens nicely, eats plenty, completes his/her chores, and then settles in for an evening of handwork, reading, and wholesome game-playing. (The retelling of the family’s past heroics, complete with a reference to their Pilgrim ancestors, grounds this story decidedly in Gilded Age New England, whether or not Alcott even knew she was doing it.)

Everyone goes to sleep, wakes up, continues to behave perfectly, and then the older girls set about to make a Thanksgiving meal. There is an incident with what the children believe to be a bear, and then a significant surprise at the end. “All’s well that ends well” doesn’t even begin to cover how neatly Alcott tied up this story with a perfectly-formed bow, but it does reflect the feeling of having eaten a delicious Thanksgiving meal, which is how you’ll feel when you’re done with the book.

If it sounds like I’m mocking the story, I’m not. (Well, only a little.) It’s a fascinating glimpse into the literary world for children at the time of its writing, and gives some pretty good insight into the sorts of myths we develop around our families and their traditions. If you’re from New England, unlike me, it probably would make you a little sentimental, and you might even be able to understand how it’s supposed to sound when read aloud.

This is not at all the sort of thing most children read today, and I imagine that most children younger than 8 or 9 would struggle to follow both the language and the plot. Nonetheless, check and see if your library has a copy, because I think there’s enough excitement to engage your 4th or 5th grader, especially if s/he is drawn to historical fiction. No one’s vocabulary ever suffered from being exposed to too many good words, right?

For middle and high schoolers, An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving could be an introduction into the ways we memorialize and glorify the past, often with little regard for accuracy, when the present just doesn’t live up to our expectations. Alcott points out repeatedly how industrious and productive the children’s labors were, most unlike the children of her day, who were apparently doing nothing but the 1880s version of playing video games and eating Cheetos. It turns out that “what’s wrong with kids these days?” is not a sentiment unique to the 21st century. Who knew?

{I discovered that there is some sort of Hallmark Channel movie allegedly based on this book, but the plot descriptions online do not really make it seem very similar. Please don’t buy the movie instead of the book. Merci.}

The Contented Little Pussy Cat

If you know me, you know I love old stuff. Probably more than I should. Old books are my absolute favorite thing (right ahead of vintage tablecloths and pillowcases), and I’m excited to start featuring some vintage favorites on Wednesdays.

To kick things off, I’m welcoming a guest blogger to the class. Jennifer happens to be my logo and web designer – but, most importantly, she’s my friend. My kids potty-trained her kid, so that alone should tell you there is a special bond. (<– Jennifer wrote that bit about my kids potty-training her kid. Really, it was just sort of them giving her some inspiration.)

IMG_3686

While perusing my favorite bookstore, Bound to Be Read in East Atlanta Village, my heart skipped a beat when I discovered – for the first time, oddly – that they have a vintage children’s book section. Cue the hallelujah chorus and heavenly light beaming down from on high. (I almost didn’t want to share this “secret” with the public so I can covet all those vintage books for myself, but that wouldn’t be very nice of me.) I walked out spending $30 more than I had intended, and I’m not sure if the purchases were more for my daughter…or me. I’m a sucker for vintage.

One of the books we made off with was “The Contented Little Pussy Cat” by Frances Ruth Keller. I’ll be honest. I barely flipped through the book before deciding I wanted to buy it. As soon as I saw the beautiful vintage illustrations (by Adele Werber and Doris Laslo), I knew I had to have it. It’s copyrighted 1949. How gorgeous is this inside cover? Can I have this made into wallpaper? Not for my daughter’s room…oh, no. For a powder room or stairwell or something.

IMG_3687

Little did I know what a profound lesson this book has to offer for adults just as much as children. And here I thought it was just going to be “cute.”

We start by meeting a little kitten named Abner who just seems content all the time. Other nearby wild animals observe him from afar and converse amongst themselves about what can possibly enable Abner to feel happy so much of the time.

Then a poignant question is posed by – who else? – a wise, old owl. He asks the other animals why they are always complaining about wishing they were happier but never seem to DO anything about it. This is something about human nature that drives me crazy, for myself included, so I was struck by the honesty in a question like that in a children’s book.

And why not? Why should we be anything less than raw with children, as if they aren’t already genuine souls who have a way of telling the truth like no one’s business? (Even if that truth means pointing out your brand new zit or gray hair.)

So the animals decide they will do something about their situation after all and go talk to Abner. He is surprised when they question him about what makes him so content. After all, he’s just kind of always been that way. Sort of comes naturally to him, just as it seems to come more naturally to some people, while others seem to have to work a little harder to feel it. He thinks and thinks.

Is it because he gets up every morning and tries to look his best? No, the rest of them do that too.

Is it because he tries to be kind and loving to everyone? Maybe, but they all do that too.

He finally realizes that it’s because he doesn’t dwell too hard on the past or worry too much about the future. So simple, yet so brilliant.

IMG_3689

But HOW does one not worry? they wonder. After all, there are so many things in the world that can trouble one. Losing your favorite feather, for instance, or the threat of rain the next day. He reminds them that the worry doesn’t actually accomplish anything. And he remembers that when he was learning how to chase his own tail, it took practice.

“Why, no good thing was ever learned without practicing,” he tells them. Including learning to be happier and worrying less.

When I was first taking my freelance side business to my only gig, my coach would often remind me of how my daughter didn’t give up when she was learning to walk…that, in fact, it never even occurred to her that she might not be able to walk. She just kept getting up and trying it. It was an analogy for running my business when I got overwhelmed or doubted myself. I found myself thinking back to it again because of Abner and found that it can easily correlate to happiness.

Why shouldn’t happiness take some practice too?* And why should we ever assume that we can’t feel happier, any more than a child questions if they will ever learn to walk? 

It was reading this book that made me realize with that sudden, beautiful knowing that I was ready to adopt a new kitty, after a lot of loss in a short period of time. And I decided I would simply have to name my kitty Abner. I thought if it ended up being a girl, I might call her Abby. Or leave her an Abner. Who knew.

My real-life "Abner."

My real-life “Abner.”

When the kitten came into my life just a couple of days after proclaiming that I was ready, Abner and Abby didn’t seem to fit her. It took a few days to settle on the right fit, which is Callie. But every time I watch her chasing her tail, every time she lies on my heartbeat and purrs, I remember the lesson in this book and worry a little bit less about the past and future. I take time to just stop and breathe and think about how grateful and content I am. In fact, she’s curled up next to me – purring – right now as I type. The real “Abner” and the story Abner will also remind my daughter as she grows, and it will be something she and I practice…together.

 

And if adults can model a contented way of life a little more of the time, maybe it’ll go a long way in shaping happier kids.

So, my friends, I have just offered you more proof of how a book can literally change your life in ways you never imagined. 

*For the adults in the crowd who would like some tips on practicing how to be happier, I highly recommend the book “Happy for No Reason” by Marci Shimoff. But that’s a post for another blog!

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Jennifer B. Jacobs is the one-stop-shop virtual marketing department for entrepreneurs who have been suffering through DIY-itis! Now is the time for you to get cured…and to remember what it’s like to sleep again. She especially loves helping women succeed in their businesses (like Sarah – Jennifer is behind the new Read It, Make It! logo and website). In a world where people no longer think grammar is that important and assume they are fine squeaking by with haphazard marketing, in swoops a cape-donning heroine with a toddler on her back. And red lipstick. Don’t forget the lipstick. Find out more at www.jenniferbjacobs.com, and check out her blog for girls and women that celebrates self-love: blog.theclosetnarcissist.com.