With all the bad news these past few weeks on the economy, reading is looking even better - it is cheap, fun, educational, AND offers you a temporary escape from current events. Reading aloud doesn't require higher processor speeds, additional memory, a more expensive video card, or a new flat-screen. As days get shorter and colder, it is cozy to sit together on a winter evening and enjoy a good story. If you haven't already got one, give yourself the gift of a library card.
The Thanksgiving Story, by Dalgliesh & Sewell - this book was published in 1954, and is the traditional story of the Pilgrims. It follows one family as they leave England, cross the ocean, and begin a new life, surviving the difficult first year. I am particularly fond of the picture of the ship on the dark green ocean - as a child I always thought it looked just like the ocean I knew (in the Pacific northwest). (Age three and up)
Two very different takes on the Bible verses from Ecclesiastes, both beautiful:
Turn, Turn, Turn by Seeger & Halperin - The text is just Pete Seeger's folk song, and the illustrations feature the round earth, and emphasize the cyclical nature of things. It includes a CD with both Pete Seeger's banjo-accompanied version of the song, and the Byrds' rock version.
To Everything There is A Season, by Leo & Diane Dillon - the text is straight from the Bible, and the illustrations show off the Caldecott-winning artist team's skill with different styles, all lovely.
My Grandmother's Journey, by Cech & McGinley-Nally - The story of a grandmother who grew up in Russia, survived the revolution, and walked through World War II, pregnant and then carrying a newborn, to finally immigrate to the US. The pictures are colorful and have a Russian flavor - reminiscent of those nesting dolls. (age four and up)
Grandfather's Journey, by Say - About a Japanese-American family, their love for both their countries, and the feeling of not quite belonging. The illustrations are in soft, faded tones like old photos. (Caldecott award winner - age four and up)
For elementary school or older readers:
My Diary From Here to There, by Perez & Gonzalez - a Mexican girl's experience with moving to the US, brightly illustrated; any child who has had to move to a new place could relate to this story. (Written in both English and Spanish - age five and up)
Fire on the Mountain, by Kurtz & Lewis - a wonderfully illustrated version of the story of the boy who stayed all night on a cold mountain, looking at a candle across the valley (age five and up)
Elijah of Buxton, by Curtis - (historical fiction; Newbery honor book) this is in many ways an "old-fashioned" story about the life of a twelve-year-old boy in the mid 1800's, with touches of humor (Elijah is gullible), but Elijah is a free black, growing up just over the Canadian border in a community of escaped slaves and their children. Elijah is afraid of snakes, and timid about a number of things, but his courage is tested by the end of the story. Don't let the humorous tone of the beginning fool you - the last quarter of the book deals with some of the grim realities of what happened to runaway slaves, or even free blacks, in pre-Civil War America. It is not generally graphic (the violence is mostly "off screen"), but there are scenes of death. Elijah manages to bring one small triumph out of tragedy in an ending that definitely isn't "and they all lived happily every after". Probably fourth or fifth grade and up, though some middle school-age kids may initially feel that the book is "too young" for them. I highly recommend this one as a family or classroom read-aloud - it is the kind of book not many kids might pick up on their own, but it is a story that will stay with you.
House of Many Ways, by Diana Wynn Jones - (fantasy) Just out, this book says it is a sequel to Howl's Moving Castle, but it can easily stand on its own, and most of the characters from the previous book don't even show up till the second half. The two main characters are a boy and girl who are very realistic early teenagers, flaws, talents, and all. Like many of Jones' books, this one has a humorous tone and gives some twists to the conventions of fantasy. It should appeal to fans of the early Harry Potter books. Fourth grade and up.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Speare - (historical fiction) This book is a classic now. It is the story of Kit Tyler, who has been raised and spoiled by her grandfather in the Barbados, and must, on his death, go to Puritan Massachusets colony to live with her aunt, uncle and cousins. It is a story that works on several levels - Kit's adjustment to the different culture, her coming of age and learning to work hard and care for others, some mixed-up romances that work out for the best, and a look at prejudice, religious intolerance, and the witch scares of the times. Memorable, distinct characters, a window into Puritan life, and well-crafted writing make this one worth re-reading. Fifth grade and up.
Chalice, by Robin McKinley - (fantasy) Joy! Robin McKinley has a new book out! This is classic McKinley - a well-written fantasy with a heroine who is trying to save her "prince", and a happy ending. In some respects, you might almost see this story as yet another "Beauty and the Beast", but it is an original "fairy tale". The main character is an ordinary young bee-keeper who has suddenly been thrust into a position of great responsibility in the governing of her country, at a time of upheaval and looming disaster. Bees and honey play an important role in the story, which is laced with a sort of earth magic. There is a creepy villain (or two), and true love (but no sex), and not much violence. I think I would try this one with fourth graders or up, certainly with sixth graders or higher.