Book List: Imaginary Places

Imaginary Places can be anywhere your imagination takes you—sometimes happy places, sometimes to the future or sometimes to worlds unknown.  Children know about the Wizard and the Land of Oz, some of the unusual characters Alice met when she fell down the rabbit hole or what happened when Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter Pevensie venture through the wardrobe into the land of Narnia where it is always winter but never Christmas. But one of the most popular imaginary places for children is Peter Pan’s Neverland.

TIPOYOCK LIFE PICTURE Tinkerbell PETER PAN
Creative Commons License photo credit: tipoyock

James Barrie first published Peter Pan in the early 20th century, and the book remains a classic over one hundred years later.

All children are probably familiar with Peter, Wendy, John, and Michael Darling and their dog Nana.  Interestingly, all of these characters were based on real children and a real dog.  Three of the boys were named after three of the sons of Arthur and Sylvia Llewelyn-Davies—Peter, John and Michael.  The name “Wendy” was first introduced in Peter Pan. A young girl named Margaret Henley called Barrie “Friendy,” but when she pronounced the name it came out “Fwendy”.  And, Nana, the Newfoundland, was inspired by a St. Bernard puppy Barrie and his wife Mary bought on their honeymoon in Switzerland.

Peter Pan is often referred to as the Boy Who Would Not Grow Up.  Is it possible the character was also based on Barrie’s brother Daniel, Barrie’s mother’s favorite, who died at age thirteen?  Barrie’s mother is said to have found comfort in the fact that Daniel would never grow up and leave her.  The first sentence of the book reads, “All children, except one, grow up.”  Hmmmm.

Peter Pan features the adventures the Darling children share in Neverland with Peter, Tinker Bell, Captain Hook, the pirates, the mermaids and the lost boys (who desperately want a mother.)

One of Barrie’s last wishes was for future royalties from Peter Pan be awarded to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children in London.  Seventy-two years after his death sick children in London continue to benefit from Barrie’s generosity, and children everywhere benefit from being exposed to this wonderful storyteller.

Children often fear being different, but reading The Araboolies of Liberty Street could help them understand that different often means unique, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  Liberty Street is an imaginary street where all the houses look alike—all painted white.  The children of Liberty Street would love to have fun, but when anything fun begins to happen General Pinch grabs his bullhorn and yells, “I’ll call in the army!”  So, Joy cannot hang upside down from a maple tree, Katie cannot creep around like a tiger and Jack cannot spin around until he becomes dizzy.  As you might imagine, Liberty Street is a very quiet street.

Then one day the Araboolies move next door to General Pinch.  There are dozens and dozens of Araboolies.  They have colorful skin that changes color each night and they glow in the dark!  The Araboolies paint their house with red and white zigzags and hang colored lights and toys everywhere.  They paint the sidewalk and pour sand on the grass. The Araboolies have lots of pets who live indoors while the Araboolies live and sleep outdoors—all in the same bed. 
When General Pinch threatens to call in the army, the Araboolies pay no attention because they do not speak English, so they have no idea what the general is yelling.

When Joy kicks a boolanoola ball through the Pinch’s window and hits General Pinch’s stomach, the general tells the army to attack Liberty Street at dawn and get rid of the house that is different. That night Joy devises a plan, and all the children of Liberty Street spring into action.  They spend the entire night decorating all the houses—except the Pinch’s house—to match the Araboolies’ house.

At dawn when the army comes to follow General Pinch’s orders, they waste little time in identifying the Pinches’ house as different.  They yank the house off its foundation and drag it far away.  The Pinches are never seen again, and you are left with the feeling that fun will now be allowed on Liberty Street.

On the adult level, this book is said to be a satire against a system which believes that the strong survive by bullying the weak. (General Pinch vs. the children.)  But through the Araboolies children learn about tolerance, fair play and even poetic justice, and the Araboolies are just plain fun.

The future is another imaginary place, and few futuristic stories for young adults are more compelling than Among the Hidden, the first in a seven book series, by Margaret Haddix Peterson.  In order to limit the growth of the population, the Population Police decree that families may only have two children.  The problem is that twelve-year-old Luke is a third child.  Luke’s family lives in a wooded area, and because of this Luke has been able to play outside.  However, when the government begins to develop the land near his house, Luke is confined to the attic.

Patience
Creative Commons License photo credit: Nicholas_T

One day Luke is carefully looking outside when he sees a shadow of a child in a window of a house that already has two children.  When he runs to the house he meets Jen, another third child. Jen plans a rally in support of third children, and it ends tragically when all the participants are killed.  Luckily for Luke, he had not attended.

Luke becomes friends with Jen’s father, George Talbot, a Population Police official who opposes the population law.  While they are talking the Population Police break into the house, and Luke is forced to hide in the closet.

When the police have gone, Luke wants to talk, but Mr. Talbot motions for him to remain silent.  He writes a note saying that the Population Police have placed listening devices around the house and are listening for evidence.

Mr. Talbot is able to provide Luke with a fake I.D. to make it possible for him to live as a real person, but this identity comes at a huge cost for Luke and his family.

This is a great book to read and discuss such issues as population growth, the allocation of the world’s resources, the distribution of agricultural products, the right to privacy, censorship and the use of propaganda.

Among the Hidden is the first in the Shadow Children series.  Other titles in the series are Among the Imposters, Among the Betrayed, Among the Barons, Among the Brave, Among the Enemy and Among the Free.  On the journey from Among the Hidden to Among the Free, readers watch Luke adjust, change and grow.  This is a trip worth taking.

Book List: Astronomy

One of my favorite quotations is from the astronomer Carl Sagan.  “Somewhere something incredible is waiting to be known.”  I hope you will find something incredible in the HMNS book list  for April, featuring books about astronomy. 

Rainbow Guard
Creative Commons License photo credit: linh.ngân

Gazing at the sky, both during the day and at night, can provide endless hours of entertainment and awe.  Who has not lain on their back in the summer grass and watched the changing cloud formations?  The constantly moving shapes provide each person the chance to use their imagination.  “Do you see that tree?”  “What tree?  I see a bear.”  But at night things are different, as the sky is full of stars with patterns of their own.

A beautiful book about the night sky is Zoo in the Sky, a Book of Animal Constellations, by Jacqueline Mitton and illustrated by Christina Balit.  This exquisite book begins:

     
    “When the sun sets, darkness falls.  The stars appear one by one.  Then the sky turns
     to a picture puzzle.  What is hiding in the patterns of the stars?  Some people say they
     only see squares and squiggles, lines and loops.  But imagine hard, and the sky comes
     to life.”

Are you hooked?  I was. Ms. Balit’s colorful illustrations are incredible, and Ms. Mitton’s words provide the explanations.  Leo the Lionis pictured on the cover.  Ms. Mitton explains the constellation:

     “Leo the Lion is king of the beasts and lord of the sky.  In February and March he looks
     down from a throne high up the heavens.  Stars in his mane shine like jewels in a crown.”

Night sky
Creative Commons License photo credit: coda

You will also meet The Great Bear, the Little Bear, the Swan, the Fox, the Scorpion, the Wolf, the Bull, the Great Dog, the Hare, the Goldfish and the Flying Fish, the Whale, various birds and the Dragon.

Ms. Mitton has written numerous books on astronomy, but three other books similar to Zoo in the Sky are Once Upon a Starry Night: A Book of Constellations, Kingdom Of The Sun: A Book About the Planets, and Zodiac: Celestial Circle of the Sun, all beautifully illustrated by Ms. Balit.  Do yourself a favor and pick up one of these books—you might even decide to share it with children!

A totally different look at the heavens is provided by Tish Rabe who has written There’s No Place Like Space!, a Cat in the Hat Learning Library book.  Ms. Rabe begins in the style so familiar to all Dr. Seuss fans:

     “I’m the Cat in the Hat,
     and we’re off to have fun.
     We’ll visit the planets,
     the stars, and the sun!

Sound familiar? The Cat, his two willing passengers and Thing One and Thing Two visit all the planets, and you learn an interesting fact about each one.

     “Travel to Jupiter
     and you will find
     it is bigger than all
     other planets combined.”

You also learn a nonsense sentence to help remember the names of the planets in order: 

      “Mallory, Valerie, Emily, Meetzah just served us nine hundred ninety-nine pizzas!”

(Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto)  The book also contains a glossary and table of contents, and is a cute way to introduce the youngest astronomy fans to the wonders of the universe.

No trip to outer space could be more fun than a field trip with Ms. Frizzle’s class on the Magic School Bus.  In The Magic School Bus Lost in the Solar System by Joanna Cole, the class is attempting to visit the planetarium - which is closed for repairs.  As the bus is returning to school it tilts back and the roar of rockets is heard.  “’Oh dear,’ said Ms. Frizzle. ‘We seem to be blasting off!’” and another adventure begins.  Besides learning about weightlessness, the reader learns facts about the planets, sun and moon.  For example:

     “Earth’s clouds are white because they are made of water vapor.
     Venus’ clouds are made mostly of a deadly yellow poison called sulfuric acid.
     Mars looks red because there is a lot of rusty iron in its soil.
     The sky looks pinkish because of red dust in the air.”

Solar System
Creative Commons License photo credit: tortuga767

Although a wayward asteroid cuts Ms. Frizzle’s tether and the Magic School Bus zooms away with the children, the students and teacher are eventually reunited for the return to school.  Later, the class prepares a chart of planets listing the name, size, length of rotation, length of a year, how far from the sun, how many known moons and whether or not there are rings.  Although listed as a planet in There’s No Place Like Space, Pluto is not on the students’ chart because Pluto is explained as a plutoid, not a planet.

Like all Magic School Bus books, this needs to be read carefully with attention paid to each illustration.  For example, a student holding a ball and walking around a lamp illustrates a planet rotating around the sun.  Or a student standing on a scale shows the difference between weight on
Earth and weight on other planets. (If you weigh 85 on Earth, you weigh 215 on Jupiter or 14 on the Moon.)

And remember, day or night, your imagination can enable you to travel to the planets—and beyond where “something incredible is waiting to be known.”

Book List: The forecast calls for reading

From Jurassic Park to A Brief History of Time, some of the best and most influential books ever written are science-based. Long before students get to Steven Hawking, however, books about science teach them to explore the world around them and inspire a curiosity that lasts a lifetime.

To encourage this spirit of discovery, HMNS provides monthly book lists on various science topics on our web site. Nonfiction and science-based fiction options are provided at three levels: 2nd grade and below; 3rd – 6th grade; and 7th grade and higher. In January, watch out for the weather and explore the science of meteorology. The forecast for our young readers is Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Older kids can discover How Weather Works and ride along with Storm Tracker and Night of the Twisters. Choose a book from this month’s list to get inside nature’s fiercest storm as well as the most peaceful calm – and see what makes it all happen.

Susan, the museum’s Director of Youth Education Sales and a former librabrian, puts these lists together each month. She’ll share her inspirations for each month’s topic here; January’s topic: weather.

Galveston sunrise
Galveston, in calmer times.
Creative Commons License photo credit: millicent_bystander

Many books that feature the weather are nonfiction, but one notable exception is Devil Storm by Theresa Nelson. Although Devil’s Storm is the story of the Galveston hurricane of 1900, it is particularly appropriate for those of us in the Houston-Galveston area that experienced the destruction of Hurricane Ike last September.

Theresa Nelson is another author I am proud to call my friend. The second oldest of 11 children, Theresa grew up in Beaumont. Even as a child she wrote plays for her brothers and sisters—as the playwright she could always give herself the best parts!

During her freshman year at St. Thomas University in Houston, Theresa met Kevin Cooney and says she fell in love with him because he made her laugh. Kevin, an actor, and Theresa have three grown sons and three grandchildren. I first met Theresa fourteen years ago when she visited the middle school where I was the librarian to talk to the students. From the time she walked in the door, I felt that we had known each other forever. I have not seen Theresa for several years, but if she popped in today we would take up exactly where we left off.

Theresa talked to the students about the importance of writing about what you know. She showed them spiral notebooks where she wrote down this and that—words and ideas that would later become parts of a book. Students were just as drawn to Theresa as the teachers were because of her genuine enthusiasm for just about everything.

When she talked about Devil Storm, Theresa told the students that the book is the result of stories her mother told. The Nelson family would vacation on Bolivar Peninsula each year, and inevitably it would rain. Can you imagine trying to entertain 11 children indoors before the days of cable TV and video games? Storytelling was the answer, and so Tom the Tramp entered Theresa’s life.

Devil Storm is the story of the Richard Carroll family, who lived and farmed watermelons on Bolivar Peninsula in 1900. In addition to Richard and Lillie Carroll, the family consisted of Walter, 13, Alice, 9 and baby Emily, 1. Another brother, William, died of “the summer sickness” just before Emily’s birth.

Moonlight over Rice Lake
Creative Commons License photo credit: Derek Purdy

One summer night, Alice convinced Walter to walk to the Gulf to see the magical moonwater, and their lives changed when they spotted a campfire on the beach. Soon afterwards the children learned that Tom the Tramp had returned.

Tom, a former slave, was rumored to be the son of the pirate Jean Lafitte. He carried a shovel and an old “sackful of secrets”. Tom told the children he had been born in the middle of a “herrycane—Devil storm outa the Gulf,” and he would die when the Devil makes “another herrycane” that will carry everyone off.

As the story progressed you learn about life on Bolivar in 1900. In early September, Richard Carroll – not knowing a storm was coming – took a load of watermelons to Galveston. His plan was to spend the night with relatives before returning to Bolivar the next day. The next morning, however, he learned that until the current storm passed he would be unable to return home.

Lillie and her children were trying to ride out the storm in their house when Tom showed up and warned them “Ain’t nothing’ gonna be alive where we’re standin’ this time tomorrow….” Lillie, however, refused to leave, so Tom headed for High Island, the highest point on Bolivar Peninsula. As he walked through the storm Tom thought of losing his own family, and decided to make another attempt at saving the Carrolls.
Will the Carrolls agree to leave their home? If so, where will a mother, three children and a dog go in the middle of a storm?

Trolley Stop at Pier 21
Destruction following Hurricane Ike.
Creative Commons License photo credit: P/UL

As I reread Devil Storm, I was reminded of the pictures of the Bolivar Peninsula following Hurricane Ike, and the story had an even bigger impact than the first time I read it. Luckily, as bad as Ike was, the loss of life did not rival the 6,000 lost in the hurricane of 1900.

At the conclusion of the book don’t miss the Author’s Note about the real Tom the Tramp, buried in a family plot in Beaumont with this inscription:


 

TOM THE TRAMP
He alone is great
who by an act heroic
renders a real service

Theresa’s other award-winning books are The 25 Cent Miracle, The Beggars’ Ride, And One For All, Earthshine, The Empress of Elsewhere and Ruby Electric. You will learn more about Theresa at: http://www.theresanelson.net/