About Susan

After too many years in public education to count (as an English teacher and middle school librarian), I came to the Museum 4 years ago. My department’s focus is promoting field trips, and this is especially exciting for me because I see it as an opportunity to connect students with the wonders of science. My spare time is spent with my granddaughters Abbie, Elizabeth and Emma. When I ask, “What shall we do today?” they always answer, “Go to the Museum!”

Kid’s Reading List! Texas Tales

To complement our new Texas! exhibition, we have created a book list for you and your kids to read. In today’s blog we talk about two books by Tomie dePaola.

Few American artists are more beloved than Tomie dePaola.   Tomie and his work have been recognized with the Caldecott Honor Award (awarded annually to the most outstanding picture book for children), the Newbery Honor Award (awarded annually to the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children) and the New Hampshire Governor’s Arts Award of Living Treasure.  And few elementary school picture books have been read by more students than dePaola’s Legend of the Bluebonnet and Legend of the Indian Paintbrush.  dePaola’s simple drawings and the unique messages his books convey make them popular with teachers and parents, too.

De Paola wrote the Legend of the Bluebonnet twenty-eight years ago, but the story is as special now as when it was written.  She-Who-Is-Alone is a Comanche Indian living in Texas many years ago.  She is called She-Who-Is-Alone because everyone else in her family had died because of the drought.

In hope of breaking the drought, the tribe’s leaders said that the Great Spirit wanted tribe members to sacrifice their most prized possession.  She-Who-Is-Alone only had one possession, a doll her grandmother had made from buffalo skin.  The face was decorated with the juice of berries, and beautiful blue flowers were on her head.  The doll was all she has left of her family.

Creative Commons License photo credit: ruthieonart

In the night She-Who-Is-Alone slowly crept to the fire and threw her most prized possession into the flames.  When the ashes grew cold She-Who-Is-Alone threw them into the wind.  In the morning she could not believe what she was seeing. The hills were covered with beautiful blue flowers—the same color blue as the doll’s feathers.

Soon it started to rain and the drought was broken.  The tribe members changed She-Who-Is-Alone’s name to One-Who-Dearly-Loves-Her-People, and every spring the bluebonnets bloom to remind us of the sacrifice of one special young girl.

Little Gopher is the central character in the Legend of the Indian Paintbrush. Unlike the other boys, Little Gopher did not like to run, ride and play; his special talent was painting.  When he went to the hills to contemplate becoming a man, Little Gopher had a dream.  The vision told him to find a white buckskin and keep it.  One day he would paint a picture “that is as pure as the colors in the evening sky.”

Indian Paintbrush Washington Cascades
Creative Commons License photo credit: B Mully

Although he found the buckskin, Little Gopher could not find the right colors. However, one night a voice told him to go on top of a hill the next day at sunset. The voice said, “Because you have been faithful to the People and to your true gift, you shall find the colors you are seeking.” The next evening, Little Gopher found paintbrushes the colors of the sunset all over the hill, and he painted his masterpiece. When he returned to his tribe, Little Gopher left the paintbrushes behind.

The next morning the paintbrushes were all over the hills and had turned into beautiful flowers.  Little Gopher became known as “He-Who-Brought-the-Sunset-to-the-Earth.”  Being true to yourself and using the talents you have been given are wonderful messages for children.

Hopefully, all Texas children will become familiar with The Legend of the Bluebonnet and The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush and want to learn more about the stories unique to our state. With a state as big as Texas, there is so much to learn, and a great place to begin is at HMNS’ new exhibit, Texas! the exhibition, open now.

December Book List: Holiday Classics

Reindeer cookie
Creative Commons License photo credit: Samdogs

Everyone seems to have one special holiday book from their childhood that stands out because of the special memories it evokes.  For me, the book is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  This book was originally written by Robert May for his employer, Montgomery Ward, to give away during the 1939 Christmas season.  The song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Johnny Marks was first recorded in 1949, and the rest is history.

Although Rudolph is on the list of holiday books posted this month, I have decided to write about a specific type of books I collect: Pop-Ups.

The earliest moveable books were created in the thirteenth century, and were for adults, not children. My interest in Pop-Ups began when I was a school librarian and read an article stating that Pop-Up books were the least expensive way to collect art.  As I thought about this, I saw these books in an entirely different light, and marveled at the paper engineering that makes these books possible.  Today’s Pop-Ups are incredibly complicated, and several names stand out: Robert Sabuda, Jan Pienkowski, Nick Bantock and David Pelham.

Three of Robert Sabuda’s Pop-Up books are on the holiday list. The Christmas Alphabet is a series of windows that open to expose the mostly white pop-ups behind each letter.  It is fun to ask a child what they think will see.  They will probably guess “angel” for A, “candle” for C and “ornament” for O, but they will never guess “friends” for F, “quartet” for Q or “zzzzzzz” (Santa sleeping) for Z.  Some of the pop-ups almost explode off the pages of the book. For example, “unwrap” for U, “snowflake” for S and “poinsettia” for P.  But, my favorite pop-up is “gift” for G.  As you open the window, you will see a small square box with ribbons appearing to be untied.  Follow the arrow on the top of the box and you will find your gift:  a kitten!

Sabuda also created the Pop-Up book The 12 Days of Christmas, a unique retelling of the Holiday classic.  All of the pages are laid out in the same way.  When you turn a page you see one pop-up that takes up ¾ of the space, then you lift a flap for the next part of the song.  Opening the book you see a very large partridge with five green pears, and when you open the flap you find two turtledoves in a fancy birdcage with a bow attached.

Sabuda uses the unexpected to keep the song fresh.  For example, the four calling birds are in a cuckoo clock that is getting ready to chime, the five gold rings adorn the antlers of a giant reindeer, the six geese a-laying are sitting on top of a piece of pie with a fork nearby, the seven swans a-swimming are in a holiday snow globe and the nine drummers drumming are tiny mice holding drumsticks.  Although it does not appear to be as complicated as some of the pop-ups, I particularly like ten pipers piping.  When you open the flap you see a chain of angels that appear to have been cut like paper dolls, and the scissors are part of the pop-up, too.  However, eleven ladies dancing may be the most complicated.  You see an open musical jewelry box, complete with a mirror on the back, and you can almost see the tiny ballerinas spinning.

The retelling of Clement Moore’s The Night Before Christmas by Robert Sabuda is particularly striking.  The pages are laid out the same way as in The 12 Days of Christmas, and the members of the family are mice.

When you read “When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter,” you see Mr. Mouse springing into action.  His pillow has been thrown aside and he is heading for the window.  Look carefully and you will see the shade pull and the tiny town outside the window.  When you read “More rapid than eagles his coursers they came, and he whistled and shouted and called them by name” eight reindeer leap off the page at you.  They are harnessed together with a silver cord which Santa is holding, and each pair of reindeer holds their heads in a different direction.  The most elaborate pop-up is on the last page, “But I heard him exclaim ere he drove out of sight, ‘Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night’!”  You see the entire village complete with houses, a church, a bridge and a gazebo with Santa and the reindeer circling in the background.  When everything unfolds off the page it is always fascinating to me that all the objects fold down and the book closes.

While I was researching the list of holiday books, I thought about my favorite Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and decided to buy a new copy.  Can you imagine my surprise when I found a 1950 spiral-bound pop-up copy of Rudolph? The reindeer on the cover looked like I remember, so I bought the book immediately.  This copy is a bit worn and the simple pop-ups are simple. However, I look forward to sharing them with my grandchildren Abbie, Elizabeth and Emma, hoping that it will become a lasting memory for them, too.

May the holidays bring you and all those you love peace, joy and very special memories to last a lifetime.

Book List: The Amazon and Rainforests

Kayapo Mekragnoti headdressThe Museum currently has an exhibition titled Spirits and Headhunters: Vanishing Worlds of the Amazon, so this month’s books feature the rainforest and the Amazon. For over 40,000 years, people have lived in the rainforests, hunting, gathering food and raising vegetables in addition to using the tropical plants for medicine, without harming their environment.

Today, rainforests cover approximately 7% of the earth’s surface.  However, according to author Richard Platt, the rainforests are disappearing at the rate of an area the size of 16 tennis courts every second.  Platt continues to say that by preserving the rainforests we are safeguarding our health and the health of our planet.

Rainforest living up to its name
Creative Commons License photo credit: pfly

Gail Gibbons has written innumerable nonfiction books for young children.  Her books provide easy to understand information with colorful, appealing illustrations. Although it is fifteen years old, Nature’s Green Umbrella is a wonderful explanation of the importance of rainforests to the people of the world and to the environment.

The book contains a simple map of the world so it is easy to see the location of the rainforests.  In addition, vocabulary words are provided so children can learn the appropriate terms that relate to “nature’s green umbrellas.”  You will learn about transpiration, an ecosystem, chlorophyll, emergents, a canopy, an understory, the forest floor, epiphytes, parasites, nutrients, leaf litter, leaching, selective cutting, extractive reserves, “greenhouse effect” and “slash and burn.”

The illustrations are simple drawings of the plants and animals in the rainforest.  Their interdependence is easy to comprehend as the cycle of life is explained in terms a child can understand.  Gibbons also provides a brief explanation of medicines, fruits and vegetables the rain forests of the world have provided.

When attempting to explain a nonfiction topic to a child, Gail Gibbons’ books are always a great place to start.

A very unique, more mature approach to investigating the rainforest is One Small Square: Tropical Rainforest by Donald Silver.  First, picture a transparent four-foot cube–four feet long, tall and wide.  “Place” this imaginary cube on the rainforest floor and picture the plants and creatures that could be found inside. In this layer of the rainforest you might find sloths, moths, hummingbirds, bats, boas, bloodsuckers, army ants, scorpions, Hercules beetles, roaches, spiders, lizards, worms, centipedes, lizards, wasps and more.

What lays beyond the fog?
Creative Commons License photo credit: Armando Maynez

Next, using the same four-foot transparent cube investigate one small square of the understory, one small square of the canopy and one small square of the emergent layer.  Doing this, you will become familiar with the layers of the rainforest and the plants, animals, insects, birds, etc. that might be found in each.

After the information is presented you will find a Match Game where children will match the plants, animals, insects, birds, etc. that are found in each layer of the rainforest to the appropriate layer.  You will also find colorful drawings of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, invertebrates, plants, funguses, monera and protists associated with the rainforest.

Gail Gibbons presents a basic introduction to the rain forest, and Donald Silver provides additional information for older children in a colorful, attractive book.  Choose the one that meets your needs.

Lynne Cherry wrote and illustrated The Shaman’s Apprentice based on a true story first written by Mark Plotkin.  When you open the book you see colorful illustrations of some of the useful plants from the rainforest, their uses and their English names if available.  Who knew you can use Tonka Beans or Custard Apples for fevers or Snakeweed for snake bites?

run forest, run!
Creative Commons License photo credit: mugley

The Shaman’s Apprentice is the story of Kamanya, a young boy who is sick, from the Tirio village of Kwamala.  The shaman goes into the forest to gather leaves, roots and bark and uses these to heal Kamanya who never forgets how the shaman saved his life.

Kamanya liked to follow the shaman into the rainforest and learn about the plants used for healing.  One day a man from another village came to tell the people of Kwamala about men who had come to his village carrying a disease that the shaman could not cure.  Some of the Kwamala tribesmen became sick or died.

Several months later, missionaries visit the village of Kwamala and give the tribesmen quinine to cure the “mystery” disease, malaria.  The missionaries changed life, and the shaman was no longer the most important person in the village because his medicine had failed and the missionaries’ medicine had succeeded.  Life continued for four years until the missionaries left.

Soon another stranger, named Gabriela, arrived in the village.  Gabriela came to study the healing properties of rainforest plants.  She told the tribesmen that the quinine had come from the bark of a tree–the shaman had been right after all!

Gabriela followed the shaman through the forest as she learned about the healing plants.  After several months she left, but returned each year to learn more from the shaman.

On one trip, Gabriela brought the tribe a book containing information about all the medicinal plants.  The chief thought the book was very important and decided that the shaman should teach Kamanya all he knew.  Gabriela knew that in her absence the shaman’s work would continue. So, Kamanya became the shaman’s apprentice, and when the shaman passed into the spirit world, Kamanya became the shaman who healed his people.

The Vanishing Rainforest by Richard Platt is the story of Remaema, a child of the Yanomami tribe and how the tribe adjusts to the coming of the nabe (white people) who, with the exception of Jane, want to destroy the forest.  As trees are destroyed the animals leave, and without animals there can be no forest and all will starve.

Rikomi is a member of the Yanomami tribe who works for the government, but has not forgotten the battles against the nabe.  Rikomi devises a plan to save the tribe and satisfy the nabe, too.  With the nabe’s money, the Yanomami could pay for education and better health care, and with the Yanomami’s help, the nabe could learn about the rainforest.  Readers know that the plan will succeed when the animals return to the forest.

Whether you choose a nonfiction book or a fiction book that tells a story, you will gain insight into this important, unique part of our planet.

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.