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The Goat Lady, by Jane Bregoli

  • October 31, 2009 12:45 pm
The Goat Lady

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The cover of The Goat Lady captured my attention right away: a full-length, detailed portrait of a strong, cheerful elderly woman in baggy clothes, with a goat by her side. How often does one see a carefully-done portrait featuring an older woman who is clearly not wealthy?

The book tells the true story of Noelie Houle, a French Canadian who found work in a Massachusetts factory as a young woman. When she developed arthritis, a doctor suggested she try drinking goat’s milk. She bought a goat, found the cure worked, and added to her flock, giving away extra goats to Heifer International, a nonprofit organization which donates farm animals to the poor. 

Yet her neighbors did not see Noelie’s determination and selflessness. They only saw her run-down house and her unruly animals.

One day, two children befriend Noelie and visit her often to help with the chores. The children tell their mother, an artist, about Noelie, and the mother decides to paint a series of portraits of the over 90-year-old woman. Once the paintings are shown in the town hall, the neighbors come to see Noelie’s strength and character, and to appreciate her way of life.

To me, this book is really about two strong, determined, forward-looking woman: Noelie Houle, and the author, Jane Bregoli, who took the time to see beyond the conventional stereotype of a poor old woman, and to showcase what was beautiful and special about her.

The story is told through the eyes of one of the author’s children, and is illustrated with several portraits of Noelie, as well as other pictures showing scenes of her home, animals, and her interactions with the author’s children.

This is a very special book, and I highly recommend it. You can purchase it from my girls list.

Clever Rachel, by Debby Waldman and Cindy Revell

  • October 24, 2009 9:05 am
Clever Rachel

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What crosses the river but cannot move? What has an eye but never sees? In this retelling of a Jewish folk-tale, Clever Rachel is a girl who loves riddles. A smart boy, Jacob, hears about her and decides to challenge her.  He is astonished when she answers his best riddles in no time flat. 

But when a desperate woman visits Rachel needing answers to some riddles, Rachel and Jacob realize they must work together to help solve the riddles, which will allow the woman to marry the man she loves.

My seven-year-old son really enjoyed guessing the answers to the riddles woven into this story. Seven more riddles are printed on the last page. This would be a great book to read aloud to a class.

You can buy this book from my girls list.

When the Bees Fly Home, by Andrea Cheng

  • October 10, 2009 10:20 am
when the bees fly home

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Jonathan, an elementary-school boy, is not strong enough to help his father, a beekeeper, with his work, and his father is annoyed. The father seems to prefer Jonathan’s preschool brother, who loves to show off his muscles. The family is struggling financially: a dry spell means less honey to sell.

One day, Jonathan helps his mother make beeswax candles by decorating them with tiny beeswax sculptures. His father is impressed, and starts to appreciate Jonathan’s artistic skill. The decorated candles sell out at the farmer’s market, and Jonathan collects many more orders.  That night, Jonathan and his father enjoy some quiet time on the porch as the rain finally comes down.

This unusual picture book contains bee facts on each page. My sons were interested to learn, for example, that bees’ wings beat 180 times per second.

Another thing I liked about this book is that the parents are a mixed-race couple. This is never mentioned in the story, but the watercolor pictures by Joline McFadden show a fair blond father and a brown-skinned, black-haired mother. It is rare to see a mixed-race couple presented in a picture book in a matter-of-fact way, without a lot of commentary.

You can buy this book from my boys list.

That’s Not Fair! by Tafolla and Teneyuca

  • October 3, 2009 8:36 am
that's not fair

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This picture book tells the true story of Emma Tenayuca, who at the age of 21 led thousands of Mexican-American pecan shellers in a successful strike.

The authors, Carmen Tafolla and Sharyll Teneyuca, focus on Emma’s childhood and her awakening empathy with Mexican-American laborers. Emma was not born poor: she attended school in San Antonio, Texas, and had enough clothes and food. Yet she encountered children who could not learn to read because they were working  as farm laborers. She saw kids who didn’t have enough to eat, and not enough clothes to keep them warm.

Even as a schoolgirl, Emma taught a friend to read, and gave food and clothing to children in need. As a teenager, she began to give speeches about the injustices suffered by Mexican-American laborers. In 1938, she led 12,000 pecan shellers in a two-month strike that resulted in higher wages.

Because it focuses mostly on Emma’s childhood, his book will appeal to kids in the lower elementary grades. Kids may not understand the concept of labor unions, but they do understand fairness, and that’s what this book emphasizes. The pictures by Terry Ybanez are colorful, simple, and appealing. The text is printed in both English and Spanish.

You can buy this book from my Girls list.