Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Terrfific Kids' Books of 2015

How does one pick "the best?"  Very difficult, as these decisions are so subjective.  I have chosen three books, one picture book, one middle grade novel, and one young adult novel.

Let us begin with the picture book, The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt.  The book is the sequel to the mega-hit, The Day the Crayons Quit by the same author.  This new book features crayons that have been misplaced, or had a rough time, or wanting adventure.  The book's interest lies in the emotion and personalities of the individual crayons, not to mention colorful!

For a middle grade book, I have selected The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin.  A look at friendship, betrayal,  loss of life and, in some ways, innocence, this is a powerful story for middle graders to digest.  However, the thought and care put into this book redeems any notion that it might be too old for such callow readers.  I thoroughly recommend it for readers of this age!

The young adult novel that I have chosen is All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven.  There are several important books about mental illness, always an important topic for this age group, but this one is pivotal, indeed.  Seniors Theodore Finch and Violet Markey run into each other on their school bell tower, both thinking about jumping.  They travel through Indiana looking for a geography project and fall in love.  While doing so, they deal with darkness, happiness, and possibilities of life.

All three books, so different in all ways but one, and that is excellence.  These authors deal with topics kids will love, or be intrigued by, or will fear.  But through it all, they will learn to deal with certain aspects of life and the challenges it is sure to provide.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Have the Happiest of Holidays!

I wish the happiest of holidays to my readers the world over.  May the New Year be filled with peace and good will to all.  May this orb become free of war, and strife, and inhumanity toward our fellow humans.

May our children and grandchildren live on a planet whose inhabitants respect our environment, the dignity of animals, and the sanctity of the human spirit. 

This I wish with all my heart for each of us, as there is no other way forward.  Perhaps we can  lift our hearts together and hope for the goodness that is present in all of us to prevail.

The very best to you from my home to yours.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Swiss Christmas

Please allow me the indulgence of posting an entry I wrote several years ago.  The vignette below is so special to me, and I hope you will find it to be so as well. 

pictures of switzerland christmasIt was Christmas week, and we were in Switzerland.  My family and I, along with our good friends, Ed and Michele Elliott, and a frozen turkey, traveled there for the holidays.  As we were living in London at the time, we crossed the English Channel on a car ferry and were soon on the way to the Swiss countryside.

Our three sons were not so sure about the plan.  “Were they getting as many gifts?  What kind of Christmas dinner would we have?  What about a tree?”   I was having many of the same thoughts but kept them to myself. 

As we drove higher into the mountains to reach the chalet lent by a friend, small delicate snowflakes danced around our two cars.  Shadows deepened, and lights began to glow in houses nestled here and there in the valleys below.  Magical.  A very good sign.  With darkness settling around the mountains, we arrived at our chalet.  Maybe this adventure would be fine.  These words became my mantra.
The next morning, we four parents and five sons explored the tiny village.  And there, propped in front of a miniature store, was our Christmas tree!  It was short, a little crooked, a bit spare of needles and one of the last ones left.  We thought it was beautiful.  The nine of us trudged along with our treasured tree and promptly set about decorating it.  We popped popcorn and made white garlands with the help of needle and thread.  We did the same with cranberries and wound scarlet sashes round the boughs.

 The boys found pine cones of different sizes and shapes in a sheltered stand of pines near our chalet.  These they tucked between branches of our now festive offering to Christmas, and an aroma of pine drifted through the room.  James, the youngest boy, fashioned a star out of paper and placed it on top of the tree. 

That evening, Christmas Eve, the nine of us again walked to the village.  Our feet made satisfying crunching sounds through the crusty snow.  The village church was our destination. Candles shone in all the windows, casting shimmering shadows on the icy whiteness.  It seemed the whole town was attending the midnight service.  We were greeted with smiles and greetings of “Willkommen.”  We were welcomed by everyone. 

 Christmas carols, all in German, but so familiar to us in every other way, filled the small church with happiness and joy.  The pastor’s message, all in German, made us feel the meaning of Christmas, as if we understood every word.

Next morning, as the boys opened their allotted two gifts apiece, no one complained.  Michele and I baked our now thawed turkey and completed all the usual trimmings, minus a pumpkin pie.  No one complained.  When it was time for all to help clean up from our meal, no one complained.  Again, magical.

As I reflect on that Swiss Christmas of more than a decade ago, what made it so extraordinary?  Was it Switzerland itself?  Was it being with family and wonderful friends?  Was it fulfilled expectations?
Yes, of course, it was all of that.  And, yet, it was more.  It was that intangible thing called hope.  It was recognition that we are more than ourselves alone.  It was the knowledge that we need one another and are here to help each other and to be selfless when called upon to be so.  It was the magic of Christmas that happened to be in a country called Switzerland.