Category Archives: Children’s Books

Celebrating Shel Silverstein–and St. Patrick’s Day

I discovered Shel Silverstein’s poetry as an adult, although I had always bean aware of his book The Giving Tree. To this day, I have mixed feelings about the book. In 2011, Everything On It was published. This poem is from that collection:



Although I cannot see your face

As you flip these poems awhile,

Somewhere from some far-off place

I hear you laughing–and I smile.


Here I go down Circle Road

Strong and hopeful hearted

Through the dust

And wind up just exactly where I started.


Check out his website also.

It wasn’t until I read A Boy Named Shel by Lisa Rogak that I learned he wrote “The Unicorn Song,” which is very popular on St. Patrick’s Day. Here are two versions. I love the art in the second one. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!


Image result for free clip art st. patrick's day

Image result for free clip art st. patrick's day







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Filed under Biographies, Children's Books, Classics, Poetry

A Bear Called Paddington

My aunt and I watched Paddington on DVD last night. It’s the newest movie about the little bear from Darkest Peru who always seems to find himself on an adventure. It’s a charmer!  It had me from the opening scenes and is absolutely darling. Here’s his website.

“Please look after this bear. Thank you.” That’s the message on the note around Paddington’s neck from his Aunt Lucy as she sends him off to London. Named after Paddington Station, the marmalade-loving and very polite bear is soon adopted by the Brown family and their housekeeper, Mrs. Bird. Very soon, their lives are turned–joyfully–upside down. Let’s not forget Mr. Curry, the curmudgeonly neighbor, or Mr. Gruber, Paddington’s antique-dealer friend on the Portobello Road. The film’s bonus material reminded me of the illustrator, Peggy Fortnum. Since 1958, with the first  book, A Bear Called Paddington, children the world over have loved this series by Michael Bond. He wrote another series about the guinea pig Olga da Polga. I liked her, but she wasn’t Paddington. I do have fond memories of our school librarian reading the first Olga book to my class, though.

I was introduced to the Paddington stories by the same librarian. My family could see that I was completely hooked, so every once in a while, even on an ordinary day, surprises would come from Brentano’s Bookstore for my own collection. I would read them to myself, or my aunt and uncle would read them to me at various times. They grew to love them, too. Paddington was dinner table conversation as well as we told them to my mom and grandmother.

“He does like experiences so,” says either Mrs. Brown or Mrs. Bird, after one of Paddington’s escapades turns out well, and he writes about it in his scrapbook, or in a letter to his Aunt Lucy. To this day, I’m not much of a scrapbooker, but I did keep a few in childhood, and Paddington inspired me to do it–although I’ve never seen my life as exciting.

You gotta admit, this bear gets around, whether it’s to the beach, the cinema, the theater, on a cruise, to a classical music concert, or getting lost in Harrod’s Department Store. He even entered a painting contest. You name it, he’s done it. He’s not very handy around the house–as evidenced by his taking a bath, accidentally gluing himself and the wallpaper to the wall, and the “something nasty in the kitchen” when he tries to cook. Beware of his particularly hard stares… And for someone who grew up without pets….well, you know. Paddington also inspired an interest in the UK, which has never left me. Life circumstances have never aligned for me to go.

I think my aunt got a kick out of the film. Sadly, she doesn’t remember the stories or ever reading them to me. Maybe sometime soon I’ll check a few out to read to her, and maybe she can remember along with me.



paddington bear


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Filed under Animals, Children's Books, Classics, Film, Love of Reading, Series

Memories of “Treasure Island”

Robert Louis Stevenson's 160th Birthday

The U.S. Google Doodle of November 13, 2010 commemorates the 160th birthday of Robert Louis Stevenson. I loved the fact that the staff chose an illustration from Treasure Island. This book is one of the reasons I developed a longstanding interest in pirates. Now I know that then, as now, these guys (and women) are dangerous people–and not to be admired or emulated.

Still, to this day, I love the sea, boats, and maritime music and history. Nothing beats an exciting story about a journey. And I’ve loved many a sword fight in literature. My uncle pointed me toward adventure stories. Johann Weiss’s The Swiss Family Robinson and Howard Pyle’s The Adventures of Robin Hood were first, and special gifts. But one day when I was eleven, I didn’t know what to read. I mentioned something at the dinner table. So my uncle told me about Jim Hawkins, Long John Silver, the crew, the parrot (Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!) and the treasure everyone is in search of. Intrigued, I went to my school library the next day–and loved it! I read a chapter a day until I was done.

Actually, I could have used this book when I turned seven. That year, along with my presents, my mom gave me a birthday card with a pirate theme. It had a game, and I pestered everyone with it for about a year or so–until I lost the pieces.  More importantly, it was first grade. I got my first pair of glasses. But the eye doctor said I had to wear a patch over my left eye to strengthen vision in the right. This went on for a couple of years. I held it together in school, but at home I was often not happy about it. One time, I was in tears–and took it off. Once I calmed down, I let my mom put another on me. If I’d known about Treasure Island then, I could have borne it better by pretending I was a pirate. But all things in their time

Recently I found myself reading Nancy Horan’s Under the Wide and Starry Sky, a novel about Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife, Fanny. Horan’s work reminded me of everything I loved about Robert Louis Stevenson. This time, i wanted to hear Treasure Island on audio. Shiver me timbers, it was good! I kept singing along with:

Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest, 

Yo ho ho, and a bottle of rum!

Drink and the devil had done for the rest;

Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of rum!


every time it appeared in the plot. It took me back to a time when things were happier and easier. The reader, Ralph Cosham, did the characters’ voices perfectly. My only quibble is that the pauses between chapters were too quick. Listeners don’t have enough time to reflect on what happened in the chapter, or the cliffhanger. With the passage of time, I see that it’s more than an adventure or coming-of-age story. It’s about the choices you make in life, greed, trust, and redeeming yourself. It’s still a great yarn all these years later.

All this has made me recall the seafaring music I always liked, such as the Sea Chanters and Schooner Fare. Here are two other favorites:

“Fair Spanish Ladies” 

“Fiddler’s Green”

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Filed under Audiobooks, Children's Books, Classics, journeys

Umbrella, A Childhood Favorite

I first heard Taro Yashima‘s Umbrella when my third grade teacher read it aloud to our class. It’s about a little girl named Momo who gets an umbrella and boots for her third birthday. She can’t wait to try them out, and longs for a rainy day, since sometimes umbrellas are impractical in the wind and sun. Finally, a rainy day comes….

The colorful illustrations grabbed me first, then the Japanese words and writing. To this day, writing and speaking in another language fascinates me; however, I’m only fluent in English. The story spoke to me because I have always disliked rainy days. I know rain is necessary for the flowers, grass, and trees. It’s just the way of things to have rain. This story challenged me to look at “bad weather” differently and to see rain in new ways–maybe, just maybe, it’s possible to even enjoy it. As the years passed, I learned to not let wet weather bring me down. Sometimes, a day inside is good.

I saw a copy of Umbrella at a school book fair a couple of months after the class discussion. Alas, I didn’t buy it. I’ve always thought of the book as “the one that got away,” because I outgrew it quickly. Every once in a while, I get nostalgic and look at it again.

Here’s a children’s librarian reading Umbrella:

I recently discovered one of Yashima’s other works, Crow Boy, which I like even better. It teaches a beautiful lesson in never counting anyone out, and tat each person has something to offer, Very often, it’s an understanding and caring teacher who brings these qualities out.

Here’s another reading by a different librarian:


Happy reading!

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Filed under Children's Books, Classics, inspiration

The Red Balloon

I know this entry isn’t directly literary, but I thought I would include it anyway. I happened to look at the TV listings last night, and noticed that Turner Classic Movies was running the 1956 short film, The Red Balloon, as part of its “31 Days of Oscar.”

I tuned in, very excited, because it has been years since I’ve seen it. I saw it several times in school and always liked it. I loved the story, but I was also intrigued by Paris, France. At the time, I didn’t know anything about its background or many awards.

When I watched it again last night, I thought about how much kids love balloons, how colorful they are, and how, for a time, they are like friends. Those filled with helium, especially, spark the imagination. If I’m outside and I let go, where will it travel to? Balloons are also something to enjoy as much as you can, because most of the time they last only for a short while. To this day, I become overly startled when a balloon pops.

In the film, the balloons give color and brightness to a city that was still faded and shell-shocked from World War II. Knowing now that most of the section of Paris depicted in the film was eventually torn down, the film is a powerful commemoration.

Here is the full, original movie from YouTube. Enjoy!

I also recalled reading a poem as a kid by E.E. Cummings about a balloon man and enjoying the illustrations. I remember wondering why the lines looked funny. Now I know that it’s called “in Just spring.” Here is the author reading the poem, which is really great because I never knew what Cummings sounded like:

Here’s another favorite by him–“i thank You God for most this amazing.”

Most days may in fact not be that remarkable. Feeling gratitude anyway is a wonderful gift to have, and with it you can see the extraordinary.




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Filed under Children's Books, Classics, Film, Hope, Poetry, Uncategorized

Molly the Barn Owl

In a completely unrelated book search, I stumbled across the Molly the Barn Owl children’s book,which is based on a real owl and her family. Here’s the website. The book is available on

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Filed under Animals, Birds, Children's Books

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” Aloud

Dr. Seuss’s animated  TV show, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” has been a favorite for many years. Some time ago, my aunt started to sing the theme song and other tunes from the program, and to watch it with me. One year, I was inspired to give her the video as a Christmas present. We drag it out every year, and every year I see or hear something different in it. The rhythm of the words and the poetry. Even as a kid, I loved Dr. Seuss’s playfulness with language. But every year its central message becomes clearer: “Maybe Christmas, perhaps, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” My other favorite part is how “the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.”



It is of course narrated and sung by Boris Karloff–a huge departure from most projects in his career. It took a while for me to appreciate Boris Karloff. The movie of the original story has also been around for some years.

I always loved Max, the Grinch’s dog–the antithesis of his owner.


This year, I wanted to read the story. I have no memory of it being read to me, either by family, friends, or teachers. Today was challenging in many respects, so I sat my aunt down and insisted on reading it to her. She said, “Do we have to go through this again?” But as I read I showed her the pictures, and I think she liked it. The day ended with hugs. The book is different from the animated program in several ways, but it still retains the basic messages and themes.


Dr. Seuss's The Grinch


How the Grinch Stole Christmas book cover


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Filed under Children's Books, Classics, Everyday Goings-On, Poetry

The Snow Queen and Other Tales

The other night I listened to a three-part podcast of The Snow Queen on B.J. Harrison’s The Classic Tales. It’s from three years back, but I’m trying to catch up on my listening, I highly recommend this weekly Friday program. It’s available through iTunes. Harrison tells the original story by Hans Christian Andersen. I grew up with an animated version that is very faithful to the original. It was so good hearing it again after so many years.

I had a collection of Andersen’s fairy tales as a kid. I read and reread my favorites, but some I found downright scary, For years I couldn’t watch the film The Red Shoes because I found the story so creepy. But there are loose similarities between the two. My favorite, though, is The Ugly Duckling.

I’m aware that by now people are sick of “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen, the animated movie based on the original story. However, I still enjoy it. My cousin and I watched the video because she was curious. Driving to and from work, she heard the song every day on the radio. Enjoy it, if you still can:

And then my mind wandered to the Brothers Grimm story of Rapunzel. In Disney’s Tangled, I really love the music that accompanies the dance scene. Here it is:

Heck, the whole movie is wonderful!

Old stories are meant to be shared. It’s a nice place to visit, but you son’t live there anymore.




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Filed under Children's Books, Classics, Uncategorized

Little Egret and Toro–A Story of Friendship

The other day, when I wrote about reading Ferdinand the Bull and the poem I enjoyed about it, I remembered another children’s story about a bull whose life was saved. I was in first grade, and one of my teachers read Little Egret and Toro aloud to the class. Originally published in 1966 by Robert Vavra, I really got into the story. The young bull, Toro, saves the life of his friend Little Egret from a dangerous fox. Years later, Little Egret returns the favor as a grown Toro is led into the bullring. I was transfixed also by the fact that it was set in Spain (a longtime interest, especially the Spanish language), and that the black and white drawings were so beautiful. It was the first time I realized that pictures didn’t have to be in color to be pretty.

As the years passed, this story was overtaken by many other interesting books that were much more difficult and equally moving. But I never forgot this one completely. All I could remember was “Toro” and an image of white handkerchiefs.

In rare moments of nothing to do, I would try to look it up. No title really sounded like it, but I kept looking. I’m not sure which combination of words led me to it in the card catalog, but I found it, checked it out, and enjoyed visiting it again. The gaps in my memory were filled, and now I have a clear picture of the tale again. And it’s just as lovely the second time around.

Years ago, I knew nothing about the author, Robert Vavra, and the illustrator,, John Fulton. Fulton passed away in 1998. He was a gifted artist and Spain’s first U.S.-born matador. And he did so much more in his life. Here is an article about the last bullfight before his retirement.

Robert Vavra has also done many cool things in his life, including being a professional photographer. Check out his website above for his work and varied life. He specializes in photographing horses. Besides Little Egret and Toro, he has written ten other books for children.




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Filed under Animals, Children's Books, Classics

Ferdinand the Bull

The other day, I ran across this poem in the October 4th edition of The Writer’s AlmanacI didn’t know the book The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf when I was growing up. But when I watched the movie The Blind Side several years ago, a very touching scene built around the story kept it in my mind. For the family in the film, the book was a beloved childhood memory.

One day at the library, I decided to take a look. It’s very cute–about a bull who doesn’t want to fight. He likes to sit among the flowers.

Anyhow, I liked the following poem:


The Story of Ferdinand the Bull

by Matt Mason

Dad would come home after too long at work
and I’d sit on his lap to hear
the story of Ferdinand the Bull; every night,
me handing him the red book until I knew
every word, couldn’t read,
just recite along with drawings
of a gentle bull, frustrated matadors,
the all-important bee, and flowers—
flowers in meadows and flowers
thrown by the Spanish ladies.
Its lesson, really,
about not being what you’re born into
but what you’re born to be,
even if that means
not caring about the capes they wave in your face
or the spears they cut into your shoulders.
And Dad, wonderful Dad, came home
after too long at work
and read to me
the same story every night
until I knew every word, couldn’t read,
just recite.

“The Story of Ferdinand the Bull” by Matt Mason, from The Baby That Ate Cincinnati. © Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2013. Reprinted with permission.


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Filed under Animals, Children's Books, Classics, Poetry