Children's Toy & Media Reviews Since 1978

Kemie Nix Reminds Us That Persistence is a Virtue

 

Kemie Nix is Chairman of Children’s Literature for Children (CLC), a non-profit, educational organization dedicated to bringing children and books together. Kemie’s most recent book, A Book Teacher for Every School documents her commitment to, and persistence in, instilling a love of reading with children at Mount Kenya Academy. Mrs. Nix, a senior book editor for Parents’ Choice, has a remarkable sense of what children enjoy reading.

 

Following are six modern books Kemie recommends that demonstrate the age-old adage that Persistence is a Virtue.

 

It doesn’t matter whether one is a single-minded ostrich, a cracked egg, or a child, the single most important attribute needed to achieve a goal is persistence. The main characters in each of the following new books display this attribute in abundance – frequently having adventures along the way.

 

 

ALL THE WAY TO HAVANA

Ages: 4 to 8

Author: Margarita Engle

Illustrator: Mike Curato

Publisher: Henry Holt

 

A small boy lives in the Cuban countryside with his parents. Their beloved antique blue Chevrolet is named “Cara Cara,” for the sound a busy hen makes. When a baby cousin is born in Havana, father and son must work on Cara Cara to prepare her for the journey. Told in the first person, the boy helps his father – working under the hood where they have repaired the car’s engine countless times. Finally, the family loads up the car with a cake and a present, and so many neighbors that the child feels like he is “traveling in a barrel of knees and elbows.” and heads into Havana.   Proud of his car, the boy observes all the many cars that the Cubans have managed to keep running. Some are well cared for, but many have torn seats, shattered windows and cracked mirrors.

The stylized, opaque,  mixed-media, double-page spreads capture the familial love and happiness of a celebratory day together, plus many of the colorful cars of other Cubans. The end papers show many varieties of cars from the fifties.

 

 

 

AFTER THE FALL

Ages: 4 to 8

Author/Illustrator: Dan Santat

Publisher: Roaring Brook

Hardcover Price: $17.99

 

Yes, all the king’s men at Kings County Hospital did manage to patch up the egg, Humpty Dumpty, after his fall, but they couldn’t erase his new fear of heights – an especially tough aftermath for an avid bird watcher who enjoyed his view from that infamous wall. Humpty Dumpty had to settle for watching birds from the ground, but it wasn’t the same —until a paper plane flew by.

With a muted, soft palette with greens and browns predominating, our sweet, sympathetic hero tells his story in the first person with a wonderful ending.  Not many people can improve on a classic tale, but Dan Santat, whose gentle humor is expressed through soft outlines and dramatic perspectives, has done just that.

 

 

 

THE THUMBTACK DANCER

Ages: 4 to 8

Author: Leslie Tryon

Illustrator: Jan Spivey Gilcrest

Publisher: Alazar Press

Hardcover Price: $17.95

 

Gus is a tap dancer. Unable to afford real tap shoes, he has embedded thumbtacks in his sneakers and taps his interpretive dances for every activity of his day. He always stops by the red door of a local dance studio and knocks. When the tall, slim teacher opens the door, Gus shows him his latest dance. The annoyed teacher tells him that he is only a “sidewalk dancer.”  He will not allow thumbtacks on his precious hardwood floors. “You won’t get through this door until you have real tap shoes.” With the slamming of the studio door, the rejected but buoyant Gus begins his “serious thinking dance.” Fortunately, his “serious thinking dance” works, and the seemingly hard-hearted  dance teacher succumbs to Gus’s persistence.

Illustrating the rhythmic text, the fine-line watercolor illustrations flow over and around white spaces capturing the motions and emotions of a dancing child. The portraiture is lovely.

 

 

 

THE EMPEROR’S OSTRICH

Ages: 8 to 12

Author: Julie Berry

Publisher: Roaring Brook

Hardcover Price: $16.99

 

In the Heavenly Hall of the Ancestors, the grandfather and grandmother spirits agree that the emperor is a spoiled weakling. Spirit Grandfather, against the advice of Spirit Grandmother, decides that something must be done to improve the young man before his impending twenty-second birthday when he will be named “Emperor in Fullness.”  The emperor disappears the same night that the Keeper of the Imperial Aviary notices a missing ostrich. Grandfather Spirit has cast the Emperor out into the world but has given him one  formidable ally, the ostrich, Lightfoot, who has received a mental image of the Emperor with the message, “Find him. Keep him safe.”

Among the common folk, the dairy maid, Begonia, has set out from the opposite side of the country to find her runaway cow, Alfalfa. Along the way, she finds a talkative boy named Key who insists on joining her. Together they discover a disheveled, really bossy, obnoxious man with an ostrich with whom Alfalfa has fallen in love. Alfalfa has no interest in returning home and leaving this glamorous creature.

Set in the imaginary country of Camellion, reminiscent of ancient China, the characters – especially the animals – are wonderful. The plot is ludicrous and funny. This happy book is a total delight and a wonderful read-aloud.

 

 

 

MY BRIGADISTA YEAR

Ages: 8 & up

Author: Katherine Paterson

Publisher: Candlewick

Hardcover price: $15.99

 

In 1961, inspired by a poster at her secondary school in Havana, thirteen-year-old Lora throws her parents into an uproar because she wants to join the army of teachers, part of the Conrado Benitez Brigade called “Brigadistas;” young people who could read and write were asked to volunteer to spend a year in the countryside teaching illiterate farm families to read and write. Lora’s parents were overruled by her grandmother, Abuela, and Lora found herself part of a large army of young people bivouacked at Varadero Beach – “not an army carrying weapons of war, but as Abuela had said, one carrying pencils and books.”

After literacy training, Lora was trucked south into a dangerous area of the Escambray Mountains where other literacy teachers had been killed by hostile militia. After

arriving at a base camp, Lora became part of a team of three, along with Juan and Maria. After more training, Lora was delivered to a two-room shack, where she was to live with the farmer, his wife, and three small children. Her Bigadista year had begun.

Told in the first person, Lora’s experiences during this formative year of successful change in Cuba and her own life is enthralling.  Along with some frightening experiences, her relationships with her assigned family deepen into first, appreciation, and finally, love.   Imbued with the author’s empathetic understanding of people, this well-told story reveals an extremely bright spot in Cuba’s history.

 

 

 

THE PEARL THIEF

Ages: 12 & up

Author: Elizabeth Wein

Publisher: Hyperion

Hardcover price: $18.99

 

Almost sixteen, Julia Beaufort-Stuart arrives home to her grandfather’s Scottish estate from school in Europe at the beginning of the summer of 1938. The Earl of Strathfearn had died earlier in the year, and her grandmother had reluctantly sold the estate. Julie is to spend the summer helping her grandmother and mother pack up midst the chaos of people changing the mansion and grounds into a boarding school. No one is home to greet her. She changes her clothes and walks down to the River Fearn like many Scottish rivers, has mussel beds that contain beautiful river pearls and is guarded by a fierce Water Bailiff with whom Julie’s five brothers have frequently tangled.  Falling asleep by the water, Julie is attacked and wakes up three days later in a Perth hospital with no memory of the events that placed her there.

A young traveler, Euan McEwen, who found and rescued Julie, and his beautiful sister, Ellen, visit Julie in the hospital and a summer of friendship develops as Julie persists in trying to discover the reason for her attack. Told in the first person by a thoroughly likeable heroine, this book is a wonderful combination of an intriguing mystery and a coming-of-age story.

 

 

 

SCHOMBURG, THE MAN WHO BUILT A LIBRARY

Ages: 6 to 10

Author: Carole Boston Weatherford

Illustrator: Eric Velasques

Publisher: Candlewick

Hardcover Price: $16.99

 

In the mid 1880’s, when Arturo Schomburg was a fifth grader in Puerto Rico, his teacher told him that people of African descent had virtually no history and no heroes. Most children would have been crushed by such cruelty, but instead, Arthuro , an avid reader, set out to prove her wrong. Moving to New York in 1891, Schomburg became involved in the Harlem Renaissance and began his collection of books, art, and manuscripts of people of African descent. For example, he reminds readers of the poet, Phyllis Wheatley, the first African-American woman to publish a book of poems in 1773.  He also uncovered the neglected African heritage of many famous people, such as Beethoven. He gradually built up an unprecedented collection of materials which he willingly shared during his lifetime and bequeathed as the foundation of the Harlem library bearing his name.

With a fine text, this linear biography is engaging as well as instructive. The author sprinkles some of Schomburg’s discoveries throughout his story. The opaque illustrations,  with blues predominating, are stellar elongated portraits of Schomburg and his subjects.