The Adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great

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Morris, Gerald (2008). The Adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great. Houghton Mifflin: New York.

How do you introduce a modern-day ten-year old, who isn’t all that keen on reading to begin with, to the legends of King Arthur and Sir Lancelot? For starters, take thirty minutes and the read them Gerald Morris’ The Adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great while they follow along in a copy of their own. (Or give Dad the opportunity. He will love narrating these humorous chapters in an English dialect he didn’t know he had!) Offer your kids their first tastes of Camelot, King Arthur, and the Lady of Shalott; of armour, tournaments, and “recreants”; of rescuing damsels in distress and dragon slaying. And all the while you’ll be able to reinforce the importance of afternoon naps and keeping one’s armor shiny!

This title is a perfect read aloud for grades one and up, and an excellent reader for fourth graders. Kudos to Gerald Morris for this little gem of a book.

A Grain of Rice

Pittman, Helena Clare (1996). A Grain of Rice. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell.

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Humble farmer Pong Lo longs to marry the beautiful Princess Chang Wu, and the feeling is mutual. Unfortunately the Emperor finds the request outrageous,

“Prince!” shrieked the Emperor. “A peasant cannot be a prince! A prince must come from noble blood!” His moustache twitched madly.  (Pittman, p.4)

With his daughter’s coaxing, the Emperor concedes to the farmer’s working in the palace. The clever, cheerful, and hardworking Pong Lo more than proves himself- but it is still not enough to become the son-in-law to the highest in the land. When her father invites all of the young nobles of China in hopes of finding a suitable match for the princess, Chang Wu becomes gravely ill in her sorrow over not marrying Pong Lo.

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“With no hope of marrying Pong Lo she grew sadder and sadder until at last she only stayed in bed. Her black eyes lost their sparkle and her cheeks became pale.” (Pittman, p.20)

With his knowledge of herbs Pong Lo creates a potion to save the princess. He tells the Emperor, “It will cure the disease if the heart is willing. But you must tell the Princess that it comes from me.” The Emperor promises the farmer anything he wants if his daughter lives, but when her health is restored, and Pong Lo again requests her hand in marriage, the Emperor still will not budge. And so the clever Pong Lo requests… a grain of rice.

“But if His Majesty insists, he may double the amount every day for a hundred days.” (Pittman, p.32)

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And a lesson in multiplication is born! Pong Lo becomes the richest person in the land, and deemed acceptable to provide for the Princess Chang Wu.

A Grain of Rice is a simple, humorous story incorporating some wonderful character qualities, while making mathematics meaningful at the same time. Reading level is 4.0, but this title is very appropriate as a read aloud for early elementary students, and just plain fun for the entire family to listen to. I would recommend it as one resource for learning about Asian cultures to use with six and seven year olds, while older siblings are enjoying Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.

The Bears on Hemlock Mountain and The Courage of Sarah Noble

Dalgliesh, Alice (1952). The Bears on Hemlock Mountain. New York: Scribner (Simon & Schuster).

Dalgliesh, Alice (1954). The Courage of Sarah Noble. New York: Scribner (Simon & Schuster).

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Rarely are two of my favorite books for an age level by the same author, but Newbery honor books The Bears on Hemlock Mountain and The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh are the exception.

In The Bears on Hemlock Mountain eight year old Jonathan isn’t so sure about going over the hill to fetch an iron pot from his aunt, as it is early spring:

 

“Me?” said Jonathan. “All alone? They say there are bears on Hemlock Mountain.”

“Stuff and nonsense,” said his mother. “Many’s the time I’ve been over Hemlock Mountain and not a bear did I see.”

.                                                                                               (Dalgliesh, p. 15)

 

And I’m sure you can guess what happens…

This book is just plain fun to read. Based on a Pennsylvania “tall tale”, it depicts early American culture with humor and charm, and rewards both ingenuity and bravery. With unforgettable rhythm, Jonathan and his mother keep up their courage by telling themselves, “THERE are NO BEARS ON HEMLOCK MOUNTAIN, NO BEARS, NO BEARS AT ALL”, over and over, until young listeners are reciting this along with the story. Simple, and full of faith, I never tire of reading this to my kids.

The Courage of Sarah Noble is based on the true account of an eight year old girl who came with her father into the Connecticut wilderness in 1707. Far from her mother and her large family of brothers and sisters, Sarah must face fears of wild animals, Indians, and being separated from those she loves. In just fifty-five pages Alice Dalgliesh shows young readers that “To be afraid and to be brave is the best courage of all,” (Dalgliesh, p.36).

I love how this third person narrative shows not only a child’s perspective, but a loving father’s as well. And I especially appreciate the way it shows the love of a Christian home by contrast of another:

 

“Soon we shall have a fine house like Mistress Robinson’s.”

“No,” said Sarah. “Like our own.”

“And why not like Mistress Robinsons?”

“Because there is no love in that house,” said Sarah.

“You are too wise for your years.”

(Dalgliesh, p. 14)

 

Both The Bears on Hemlock Mountain and The Courage of Sarah Noble are sure to continue inspiring Christian families for years to come.

 

 

The Valentine Cat

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Bulla, Clyde Robert (1959). The Valentine Cat. Mahwah, NJ: Troll Associates, Inc.

One of the blessings of having half a dozen kids is that you get to enjoy certain read alouds time and time again. The Valentine Cat by Clyde Robert Bulla is one of my favorite holiday traditions, and I’m sharing this post in advance in hopes that you may be able to get your hands on a copy before February 14th.

When Tell, who makes his living as a shoemaker’s assistant, takes in a half-starved, little cat with a white heart marking his black head, it not only brings companionship to his lonely evenings, but awakens the painter he once was. Brushing off his old paints he covers the walls of his flat with paintings of the cat playing and exploring. One day the cat is stolen by the local chimney sweep, Ketch, who hides him and uses him as a “magic broom” to clean tight spots in chimneys. Word of his cleaning success reaches the palace, and he is called to sweep out a chimney for the red room, where Princess Florinda is excitedly planning a Valentine’s Day party.

While completing the assignment, the evil chimney sweep slips on the snow covered roof. Down the chimney plops the cat, terrifying the palace staff below. Princess Florinda gets a new pet- until the Valentine Cat escapes during the holiday parade, and finds his way home to Tell. The guards are just about to arrest the humble Tell for stealing the royal feline when the princess notices the paintings, and defends his innocence:

“I believe him,” said the princess. “It’s plain to see the cat once lived here. There are pictures of him all over the walls.” She said again, “What a beautiful room!” She asked, “Could you paint my room like this?” (Bulla, p.50)

And so Tell finds himself living in the palace, doing what he loves best, and reunited with the stray he had found. Good is rewarded, evil is punished, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Clyde Robert Bulla wrote more than fifty books for young readers, among them A Lion to Guard Us, Viking Adventure, The Sword in the Tree, and Daniel’s Duck. His titles also include several excellent historical fiction resources for young readers.

The Cinderellas

With more than five hundred international variations, and dating as far back as the ninth century (with the Chinese story of Yeh-Shen), the story of a patient, kind, and unfairly treated young woman being rewarded for her goodness, has been told in many ways. Here in the states we know her as “Cinderella”, but many a name has been given to this beloved fairytale heroine. The following are just three of the many versions that have been shared around the globe.

Kongi and Potgi

Han, Oki S.(1996). Kongi and Potgi: A Cinderella Story from Korea. New York , NY: Dial Books for Young Readers.

In Kongi and Potgi young Kongi is forced by her mean stepmother to do all the work that would normally be shared  by her daughter Potgi and herself, in addition to her own chores. Nobly, Kongi never complains. When the announcement is made that the prince is seeking a bride, and a grand ball is to occur, Doki gives Kongi near impossible tasks to prevent her from attending and being competition for Potgi. As often seen in Asian fairy-tales, animals come to the aid of our heroine: an ox helps her to hoe the land on the hillside, a toad plugs a water jug with a hole in it, and sparrows remove the kernels of rice from their shells. A rainbow in the sky brings angels, who dress her in the finest silk, and four men come down with a sedan chair in which to carry her. In this Korean version, the glass slipper is a jewel-like one.

What I love about this version is that not only do we see Kongi’s patient, humble character, as we do in all of the Cinderellas, but we also see her forgiveness:

“At the wedding reception Doki and Potgi could barely look at the bride, for they were ashamed of the way they had treated her. But Kongi welcomed them warmly and forgave their unkindness. Her father could not have been more proud.” (Han, p.32)

As indeed our Heavenly Father is when we ourselves forgive others.

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Cendrillon

San Souci, Robert D. (1998). Cendrillon: A Caribbean Cinderella. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Cendrillon is an adaptation of a traditional Creole version of Cinderella told in first person narrative by our character’s godmother. When the widowed father remarries it is to a “cold woman, and puffed up proud” (San Souci, p.7). A new daughter, Vitaline, is born and spoiled, while Cendrillon is given work that leaves her hands red and blistered, is barely fed, and sleeps on a hard pallet. The stepmother’s refusal to allow her to go to a birthday party for Paul Thibault, who Cendrillon likes, brings her to tears, and the godmother promises to find a way for her to attend.

Reminiscent of the Disney version, the stepmother and sister make demands of our heroine the minute they leave for the event. The godmother uses a wand of mahogany to turn a breadfoot into a coach, agoutis (animals like guinea pigs) into carriage horses, field lizards into footmen, and an opossum into a coachman. Cendrillon’s sky blue velvet dress is accompanied by a matching turban, jewelry, and pink slippers. Her godmother chaperones her and enjoys chocolate sherbert until the midnight chimes toll.

One cannot help but love Cendrillon’s godmother, her devoted advocate with a most unique personality. “If you cut off those big toes,” she calls out as Vitaline is trying to fit into the slipper, “it would be a fine fit.” (San Souci, p.35). And one cannot help but love Cendrillon, who refuses the offer to be dressed elegantly once again for the prince, in favor of him seeing her as she truly is. This version is beautifully rich and I can’t imagine reading it with anything but a Creole dialect to add flavor to the wonderful illustrations.

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Adelita

De Paola, Tomie (2004). Adelita: A Mexican Cinderella Story. New York, NY: Puffin Books.

Tomie de Paola’s fairy godmother in Adelita is the young lady’s nurse, Esperanza, who has been with the Mercado family since before she was born. Esperanza perceives the coldness of her future stepmother, Dona Micaela, and her daughters, Valentina and Dulce, even before the wedding takes place. As in all of the Cinderellas our heroine never complains, in spite of the clear favoritism that is being shown. She has, after all, Esperanza, and “Because she knew Esperanza loved her, Adelita’s heart stayed as warm as the fire in the hearth.” (De Paola, p.10).

When Adelita’s father dies, the stepmother no longer needs to conceal her jealousy, and moves her up into the attic. One day, as Adelita is helping Esperanza in the kitchen, the cruel stepmother fires Esperanza. At this Adelita does begin to despair. An invitation arrives for a party at the ranch of the Gordilla’s in honor of their son Javier’s homecoming. After the stepmother and sisters leave for the party Esperanza, having dreamt of Adelita’s not being allowed to go, arrives. Finding a beautiful dress in Adelita’s mother’s old trunk, she dresses her, braiding flowers and ribbons into her hair.

Javier takes one look at Adelita and falls in love with her. “Adelita’s heart was full as well and all the meanness she had suffered over the years began to melt.” (DePaola, p.20). There are no glass slippers in this version, but rather her mother’s rebozo (shawl), hanging out of her window, leads Javier to Adelita’s door. Ad you can probably guess, this couple lives happily ever after as well.

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The Cinderellas can be wonderful family read-alouds for a couple of weeks, enjoyed by older and younger members alike. They lend themselves readily to discussions of character, and of good overcoming evil. They can also be used to teach literary comparisons and analysis, (as kids talk about similarities and differences between the stories), cultural awareness as they are exposed to storytelling, artwork, and descriptions of celebrations and places around the world, and geography as they locate the settings of the tales on maps and globes. Nothing complicated: just the joy of reading shared between parents and siblings using stories they will recollect for years to come.