Tag Archives: religion

Thoreau investigations

You would expect Daniel Pinkwater, author of The Hoboken Chicken Emergency, to have a quirky taste in books. If you tuned in to the radio in 2003 you might have heard him introducing a series of picture books that has a number of unusual characteristics. For one thing, they feature a main character based on writer/naturalist/philosopher Henry David Thoreau. Secondly, the main character (and everyone he interacts with) is a bear. Third, the books are illustrated in a sort of Cubist Expressionist style that you hardly ever see in children’s books.




This July 12, Thoreau turns 200 years old. If you want to introduce your children to his work, the library has a few books that will let children enjoy his writings in his own words:

Henry David’s House shares selections from Walden alongside beautiful illustrations. Singing America includes two of his poems in a collection with works by other authors.

There are also several books (past the picture book level) that feature Thoreau as a hero or icon. The Dragon Tree opens with a quote from Thoreau, and imagines a magical tree with quotes from all kinds of literature on it leaves. This book was the inspiration for the architectural “trees” decorating the Children’s Services department. It’s also the eighth book in the Hall Family Chronicles, which includes

The Mysterious Circus, in which the Halls foil a new enemy’s plan to build a Henry Thoreau theme park across from their home (with humor and magic).

It’s not too different in theme from

The Trouble With Henry: A Tale of Walden Pond, in which Thoreau defends his beloved woods from a toothpick factory.

Moving into the modern day, we have

Octavia Boone’s Big Questions About Life, the Universe, and Everything. Seventh-grader Octavia puzzles over lifes biggest questions when her mother seems to find the answers in a conservative Christian church, while her artist father believes the writings of Henry David Thoreau hold the key.

Kids who love humor might prefer

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking and Other Natural Disasters. When Alvin‘s father takes him camping to instill a love of nature, like that of their home-town hero Henry David Thoreau, Alvin makes a new friend and learns that he can be brave despite his fear of everything.

If you want to read more about the life of Thoreau, we have several biographies. There’s also a guide in our homeschooling section called Henry David Thoreau for Kids: His Life and Ideas, with 21 Activities. Or you could follow this link to see how he invented No. 2 pencils (no, really!). Be sure to check out our display of books!


That time a nun read my kindergarten class Oscar Wilde


Sister Catherine was awesome. Sister Catherine taught me how to read, and my phone number, and what prayer meant and the beginnings of self-control.

She read to us. Two books I particularly remember were Sylvester and the Magic Pebble and The Selfish Giant. Because she was a Sister and it was kindergarten, it was kind of a shock to me as an adult when I realized that anyone might consider either of those books controversial.

Sylvester, like a lot of children’s books, features animal characters acting like people. The main character is a donkey and when he mysteriously disappears, his family calls the police. The controversy over this book, published in 1969, is that the police are depicted as pigs.

It’s hard to describe “The Selfish Giant” without giving away the ending, but on one level it’s a fairy tale and on another it has Christian symbolism. It’s considered a classic and has been included in anthologies such as A Treasury for Six Year Olds, The Children’s Book of Faith, and Easter Treasures.

I guess I didn’t really think about who the author was until (at a previous job) someone questioned my classifying the book with some other Christian fiction. My first thought was that someone might have stripped the story of the more explicitly religious elements while adapting it to picture book format. But as I thought more about it, I realized that the the person who raised the issue might really have been objecting less to the actual book and more to who the author was.


Because if you ask, “Who was Oscar Wilde?” the answer usually includes these elements: he was a writer, he was known for his flamboyant personality, and he was imprisoned for homosexual acts. But because of Sister Catherine, his notoriety isn’t the first thing I think of. The Selfish Giant is still a book I put out on display at Easter time every year (and I was upset when our last picture book version of it got lost last year and relieved when it reappeared on the shelf this spring).

When I was asked to pick some books for the GLBT Book Month display in the lobby, I thought of some of the classic, much-loved authors who fall into this category. I actually forgot to put any Langston Hughes books in last year’s display, but several artists have recently made beautiful picture books by illustrating his poetry. I’m also planning to feature books by Hans Christian Andersen, whose fairy tales are even better known than Oscar Wilde’s.

The resources for GLBT Book Month include tools to find books by contemporary authors. The Stonewall Book Awards and the Rainbow Book List can help you find books with characters who are gay, or gender-fluid, or living in a diverse community or just figuring things out. The display will have something– old or new– for everybody.




Ramadan Reading


Due to a generous donation from a patron, our library received a Ramadan READy Kit with books and decorations! Stop by to see the decorations in the display case near the juvenile World Languages collection. The kit also included books, which are being processed and added to the collection.

It’s Ramadan, Curious George by Hena Khan, illustrated by Mary O’Keefe Young

Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors by Hena Khan

Night of the Moon: A Muslim Holiday Story by Hena Khan

Ilyas & Duck and the Fantastic Festival of Eid-Al-Fitr by Omar Khawaja

The Shapes of Eid According to Me by Samia Khan; illustrated by Maria Ahmed

Check out our Ramadan and Eid display in the holiday section for more books, or ask us for help finding books about religion, holidays and celebrations.

Ramadan paper lanternsThe kit also included materials for making Happy Ramadan paper lanterns. This will be one of the crafts available at our Make-it Take-it craft program on Saturday. Drop in any time between 1:30 to 3:30 to make a craft while supplies last. We will also have materials for making a paper mosaic peace picture or an origami crane.

Thoughts of home

Lately the news has been making me think of the place I grew up, which was historically a Jewish suburb.  There was a centrally located Jewish Community Center, and I was familiar with seeing a sukkah outside in the fall or girls in knee-length skirts (the Jewish community was largely, but not exclusively, Orthodox and Hasidic) playing softball in the parking lot in spring or summer.

Last night I was on Facebook and saw one of my friends join in a conversation with several of her friends about how to talk to their young, Jewish children about recent acts of anti-Semitism.  One mom described her preschooler talking about lockdown practice (Many of the Jewish Community Centers receiving bomb threats house preschools, and they have to be prepared).

The first resources I thought about were ones I had turned to in other cases of violence, prejudice, and scary topics in the news.  The American Psychological Association has some resources for parents and Teaching Tolerance has classroom resources.  Not surprisingly, I found the most at the Anti-Defamation League, which has a whole section on confronting anti-Semitism and recommended books for children and teens (“The Best Kid Lit on Bias, Diversity and Social Justice”).

Here are some titles from their Jewish Culture and Anti-Semitism list:

Always Remember Me: How One Family Survived World War II by Marisabina Russo
After many years during which her grandmother skirted the issue, a young girl finally hears the story of how several of her female relatives survived the Holocaust.

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy
Traces the achievements of the celebrated Supreme Court justice through the lens of her many famous acts of civil disagreement against inequality, unfair treatment, and human rights injustice.

Molly’s Pilgrim by Barbara Cohen
Told to make a Pilgrim doll for the Thanksgiving display at school, Molly is embarrassed when her mother tries to help her out by creating a doll dressed as she herself was dressed before leaving Russia to seek religious freedom.

Mrs. Katz and Tush by Patricia Polacco
A long-lasting friendship develops between Larnel, a young African-American, and Mrs. Katz, a lonely, Jewish widow, when Larnel presents Mrs. Katz with a scrawny kitten without a tail.

Sharing Our Homeland: Palestinian and Jewish Children at Summer Peace Camp by Trish Marx
Photo-essay focusing on two Israeli children, one Jewish and one Palestinian, who, in spite of their differences and the longstanding conflicts in the region, learn to play, work, and share ideas together at Summer Peace Camp, a day camp located in Israel. Includes glossary, map, and resources for readers.

The Whispering Town by Jennifer Elvgren
In Denmark during World War II, young Annet, her parents, and their neighbors help a Jewish family hide from Nazi soldiers until it is safe for them to leave Annet’s basement.

The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark by Carmen Agra Deedy
Retells the story of King Christian X and the Danish resistance to the Nazis during World War II.

If you’re looking for more books besides the ones on the ADL lists, you might try the page for the Sydney Taylor Book Award, presented by the Association of Jewish Libraries “to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience.”  There are also children’s and young adult literature categories for the National Jewish Book Award (It looks like this year’s winners will be announced March 7).

The first time I encountered the story of the golem was when I pulled it out of a book display at the public library (I wasn’t really thinking about it at the time, but it was probably a Passover display).  That book was the first window I had to try to understand what it meant to be in danger from anti-Semitism.  This memory is part of why I try to do displays of everyone’s holidays– both so people can see themselves reflected, and also so people can see where their neighbors are coming from.

Cozy Hanukkah Picture Books

Beautiful Yetta’s Hanukkah Kitten by Daniel Pinkwater
Yetta and her parrot friends (from Beautiful Yetta: The Yiddish Chicken) find a kitten and a grandmother who will take it in (and feed all of them latkes). In English with some Yiddish and Spanish text.

Hanukkah Cookies with Sprinkles by David A. Adler
Sara learns about the Jewish tradition of tzedakah when she shares food with a hungry stranger.

Hanukkah Bear by Eric A. Kimmel
On the first night of Hanukkah, Old Bear wanders into Bubba Brayna’s house and receives a delicious helping of potato latkes when she mistakes him for the rabbi. Includes a recipe for latkes.  This title is also available as a DVD and an audiobook.

A Hanukkah with Mazel by Joel Edward Stein
Misha has no one to celebrate Hanukkah with until he discovers a hungry cat in his barn. The lucky little cat inspires Misha to turn each night of Hanukkah into something special.

A Hat for Mrs. Goldman: A Story about Knitting and Love by Michelle Edwards
This is not strictly speaking a Hanukkah story, but a cozy winter story about a who is learning to knit from her neighbor, who says, “Keeping keppies warm is our mitzvah.”

Honeyky Hanukah by Woody Guthrie
A family celebrates Hanukkah with latkes, hugs, kisses, and dancing.  The book comes with a CD performed by the Klezmatics.

I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel by Caryn Yacowitz
A beloved grandmother spreads out a yummy Hanukkah supper only to develop an insatiable appetite that alarms her family, in a story augmented by parodies of art by such masters as da Vinci, Rembrandt, and Picasso.

Is It Hanukkah Yet? by Chris Barash
From snow on the ground to making applesauce and latkes to lighting the menorah, this story shows the seasonal and traditional ways we know Hanukkah is on its way.

Latke the Lucky Dog by Ellen Fischer
A family rescues a dog from a shelter during Hanukkah, and the pup proceeds to create holiday hijinks as he gets used to his new home.  This story is also available on DVD.

Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon
A young Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany arrives in New York City on the seventh night of Hanukkah and receives small acts of kindness while exploring the city.

The Parakeet Named Dreidel by Isaac Bashevis Singer
On the eighth night of Hanukkah, a family rescues a Yiddish-speaking, dreidel-playing parakeet. The beloved author’s story was originally published in his collection of Hanukkah stories The Power of Light.

Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Tale by Eric A Kimmel
Stranded on an iceberg on his way to America, Simon remembers his mother’s parting words and lights the first candle on his menorah while praying for a miracle, which soon arrives in the form of a friendly polar bear.

Yitzi and the Giant Menorah by Richard Ungar
When the people of Chelm receive a giant menorah as a gift from the mayor of Lublin, the villagers try to come up with a fitting way to thank the mayor.

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More Passover Books

Are you past picture books?  We have chapter books and nonfiction, too:

Penina Levine is a Hard-Boiled Egg by Rebecca O’Connell
With only her best friend to lean on, forthright Penina celebrates Passover while she contends with a bratty younger sister and a seemingly unsympathetic sixth-grade teacher.

Scarlett and Sam: Escape from Egypt by Eric A. Kimmel
Grandma Mina’s Persian carpet sends twins Scarlett and Sam to Egypt in the time of Moses, where they come to understand that every Jew was part of the first Passover, and just what made it different from all other nights.  This title is also available as a downloadable ebook.

Celebrate Passover by Deborah Heiligman; consultant, Shira Stern
The most celebrated holiday in the Jewish year, Passover commemorates the Exodus of Hebrew slaves from Egypt to freedom over 3,500 years ago. This colorful book explores the many forms that this weeklong celebration takes worldwide. Deborah Heiligman’s rich text details the long lavish meals called seders, at which Exodus is recalled in ritual, prayer, song, and story. The historical significance of the food at these Passover feasts is also explained, and delicious recipes encourage readers to experience the full flavors of this internationally observed holiday. Rabbi Shira Stern’s informative note provides parents and teachers with a historical and cultural background of the celebration of Passover.

Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook
Tales retold by Jane Yolen
Recipes by Heidi E. Y. Stemple
Traditional stories and foods highlight different meals and holidays.

Moses by Margaret Hodges
Retells the story of Moses, from his birth and trip in a boat of bulrushes to his bringing of the Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai.

Passover: Celebrating Now, Remembering Then by Harriet Ziefert
A joyous celebration of Passover‘s meanings, history, symbols, and traditions.

Passover: Festival of Freedom by Monique Polak
“There’s more to Passover than prayers and matzo. Celebrate Passover with personal stories from people who keep the ancient traditions of Passover alive in the modern world”–Cover.

The Story of Passover by David A. Adler
Tells the story of the enslavement of the Children of Israel by the pharaoh, the coming of Moses, the ten plagues that struck Egypt, and the delivery of the Children of Israel from slavery.

With a Mighty Hand: The Story in the Torah adapted by Amy Ehrlich
An adaptation of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible presents the stories of Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, and other primary figures in a continuous narrative that upholds the complexities of the original text.

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For Lent: 3 new books about monks

Brother Giovanni’s Little Reward: How the Pretzel was Born by Anna Egan Smucker; illustrated by Amanda Hall
My mom told me a variation of this story when she showed me how to make pretzels as a kid.  Brother Giovanni, the baker at the monastery, is trying to get a bunch of rambunctious children to learn their prayers.  If you try the recipe at the end of the book, you’ll see why the smell of fresh-baked pretzels is such a great motivator!

Brother Hugo and the Bear by Katy Beebe; illustrated by S. D. Schindler
If a bear ate your library book, you might find it pretty hilarious.  Brother Hugo was maybe a bit too much of a wise guy when he reported the loss to his abbot, so he’s assigned the penance of replacing the book– from scratch.  The notes at the end of the book say that it was inspired by actual events.

The White Cat and the Monk: A Retelling of the Poem “Pangur Bán” by JoEllen Bogart; illustrated by Sydney Smith
Ms. Wendy told me about the poem “Pangur Bán” when we were discussing the movie The Secret of Kells (which features a cat by the same name, and some Irish monks, and some magic).  It’s a poem written long ago by a monk, comparing his own work seeking knowledge in books to his cat hunting mice.  The book won’t be released until mid-March, but this blog gives you a sneak peek at the illustrations.  Pangur Bán’s name refers to his white fur, and I like that the artist chose to give the monk petting the cat white hair, too.