Category: Oz: Children’s Books (Page 1 of 17)

Author Q & A with Rosemary Wells

Interview with Rosemary Wells by Clara Martin.

In the world of children’s books, there is a duo named Max and Ruby. They are bunny siblings: Ruby is the older sister who is very bossy, and Max is her little brother who is always up to mischief. The Max & Ruby series spans over forty books and now have their own television show on Nick Jr.

rosemary wellsTheir creator, Rosemary Wells, has been writing and illustrating books for over 45 years. She began working in publishing as a book designer for seven years. All through her writing and illustrating career, from her picture books to her young adult novels, Rosemary Wells advocates for children’s literacy wherever she goes. Born in New York City and raised in rural New Jersey, she now resides in Connecticut.

Lemuria Books is thrilled to welcome ROSEMARY WELLS, the author of MAX & RUBY for a story time and signing on MONDAY, OCTOBER 2ND from 3:30 – 4:30 pm. This story time is free and open to the public!

A presentation given by Rosemary Wells that is geared towards adults & educators will run from 5 pm to 6 pm, and a RSVP is necessary. To RSVP, please call Lemuria Books at 601-366-7619.

In an interview below, Rosemary Wells talks about her own characters, her illustration process, and the importance of reading books aloud to children.

What drew you to stories about toddlers and young children?

I can’t really tell you why. Perhaps because I had young children around me, and still do. I find them hilarious. My own childhood–I was as a tomboy, a very dedicated artist, and utterly non-compliant with what I didn’t like in school–also added to this. It always does in authors. We go back over our own lives and see, in the new lives around us, many of the same traits and predicaments.

However, I have also written 4 books for middle grade readers and 7 novels for YA!

Tell me a little bit about Max & Ruby (and your other characters).

What I really love is the sibling dynamic. It is so real. Max and Ruby are my own two children. This is how they constantly behaved with each other when they thought I wasn’t present or listening to them. Ruby never stopped guiding Max in all the ways of the world that Max had to learn. Max never took anything she said seriously. Never listened to a single word she said. This is a story dynamic which never ran out on me. It is a universal sister/brother routine in all countries in the world. That’s the reason the parents aren’t in the stories. None of the funny stuff would happy with Mom or Dad there. So where are they? In the next room, listening!

felix stands tallMy equally favorite character is Yoko. My next book is another Felix and Fiona melodrama friendship book from Candlewick. And next year, I have a book from Macmillan that introduces new characters, Kit and Kaboodle, twin pussycats and their little nemesis, Spinka, the mouse.

Why are you drawn to drawing animals to represent your children?

I draw animals better. People love animals, particularly young ones. That’s why we take stuffed animals too bed—not so much stuffed people!

Children depicted in illustration cannot do what animals can do on a page. Nor do they engender as much humor or sympathy unless drawn by Garth Williams! Kids are more serious to draw and elicit more reader questioning.

Can you tell me about your illustration style & process?

I wish I could answer this better. I draw. I’ve put in my 30,000 hours! I use mostly watercolor but have branched out to pastel. I copy. What I can’t draw well, I copy out of books. When I need inspiration, I look to the great illustrators and commercial artists of the early twentieth century. Trademarks, advertising, etc.  I encourage all my young artists in my workshops to concentrate, copy, and revise. Revise everything, because each time you do it again, the work gets better.

What do you love about writing and illustrating books for children?

It has endless possibilities. It’s what I do really well. It has been and continues to be a very successful career for me. I never tire of it because each book I do is alive. When they stop being alive, then I will stop. Not until then.

What were some books that made an impact on you as a child, and what do you hope your books do for children today?

We had very few books in the 1940s and 50s compared to today. Robert Lawson, Beatrix Potter, Garth Williams, who else? I don’t know. I copied them all. Lavishly illustrated fairy tales. We read them again and again. As a writer, I think that made me realize I better write books to be read over and over.

This is why I know for a fact, that although I had a golden childhood, safe from want, harm, and discord, that my great escape was books. No matter where we are on life’s scale, we need escape. Kids eat it up and they get it best from books. (worst, I have to add from video games, which are toxic and free of any moral compass or other good outcome.)

We need to read real books (not tablets) to our babies, starting very early in the first year of life.

The one great privilege that fortunate, advanced kids have over the less the fortunate is reading-aloud parents and regular visits to the library.

So, if we read to our children twenty minutes every day, they will listen to us, learn from their many books more than we can ever imagine.

When they reach kindergarten, no matter how underserved their childhoods, those children who are read to all the time will be the level equal of any privileged child in their school. They will be prepared to learn and advance in school. If you read every day aloud, you can almost guarantee your child’s bright future.

There are very recent live MRI scans of children’s brains while being read to. The critical development of the brain takes place in the first five years of life and apparently nothing stimulates it into permanent growth like read aloud stories in the parents’ voices. This treasure of childhood, reading aloud requires only a library card.

Books taught me to think in ways neither my parents not my teachers ever taught me. This is why it is so important that we encourage the next generation to be readers. We are in a national crisis in our country today. My two cents is this: We don’t need any more followers in America today. We need leaders. Real leaders are critical thinkers. They become critical thinkers from reading everything, things they agree with and things they don’t. Our kids need this cognitive training in order to become good citizens. Good citizens are independent. Good leaders understand the difference between facts/science and made up fairy tales that are narrow opinions and lead nowhere. If our country as we know and love it is to survive, the leaders of our next generation need generosity of spirit. While very young, the leaders of tomorrow have to learn to be patient, inclusive of those unlike them, kind to the less fortunate, courteous, curious, and able to dream a better world for all of us, not just for self.

Much of this comes from good parenting and educating. The rest comes from books.

Meet Rosemary Wells at Lemuria Books on Monday, October 2nd!

3:30 – 4:30 p.m. Story Time & Signing

5:00 – 6:00 p.m. Rosemary Wells Presentation on Literacy*

*Adults Only, Please RSVP at 601-366-7619

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With Her Little Eye: ‘Olivia the Spy’ by Ian Falconer

This blog is in honor of my little sister, Olivia. She grew up on Olivia the Pig books and I got the joy of reading them along with her. Olivia is a classic and has made many families fall in love with her over the years. My family even started a collection of pig stuffed animals. We can’t see a pig without thinking of Olivia the Pig. She is a most beloved children’s book character and, after many years, she is back.

Olivia is sassy, bold, and refuses not to be seen. She has been any- and everything from a fairy princess to a circus performer–and now she is a spy!

In Olivia the Spy, Olivia overhears her mom talking with her dad about her, and she must know what they were discussing. She decides to do some investigating herself. She becomes a spy! She is sneaky and quiet. She must blend in with her surroundings. This is not something Olivia is good at, but she never gives up. Don’t worry; Olivia always finds a way.

“Olivia, Who had always stood out, now needed to blend in. She might be anywhere. Anywhere. Seriously, Anywhere.”

“Olivia, who had always stood out, now needed to blend in. She might be anywhere. Anywhere. Seriously, anywhere.”

What will Olivia discover through her investigation? Is it the truth? Olivia will learn whether or not she can trust what she overhears as the whole story.

Ian Falconer brings Olivia alive once again in this hilarious new book. Lovers of the classic Olivia books or those who have not even met Olivia yet will thoroughly enjoy Olivia the Spy. Falconer’s comical illustrations are very funny, a combination of drawings, painting and photos that bring even more life to his stories. They are quirky and will brighten anyone’s day.

Author Q & A with Corabel Shofner (Bel Alexander)

Interview by Jana Hoops. Special to the Clarion-Ledger Sunday print edition (July 30).

Native Jacksonian Corabel Shofner (known as a child in Jackson as Bel with one L Alexander) has, with “great success, taken the long way when it came to navigating several important milestones in [her] life–but things have always, eventually, seemed to fall into place.”

At age 17, she decided to “interrupt” her education at Murrah High School–so she left, and hitchhiked around the world, landing in New York City. She eventually enrolled in Columbia University and graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa after studying English literature and Arabic. She and husband Martin Shofner now live in Nashville, where she received a degree from Vanderbilt University School of Law. They have three grown children.

almost paradiseNow in her mid-60s, Shofner is officially beginning her new career as a writer, releasing her debut book, Almost Paradise(Farrar Straus Giroux)–a story about love, self-sacrifice, and a family’s second chance at redemption.

Her shorter works have appeared or are forthcoming in Word RiotWillow ReviewHabersham ReviewHawai’i ReviewSou’westerSouth Carolina ReviewSouth Dakota Review, and Xavier Review.

Tell me about growing up in Jackson.

We lived in Lakeland and Old Canton Road. My first school was Duling, where I was fascinated by the principal, Mrs. or Miss Boutwell, because she had a mysterious medical crisis called a blood clot.

There were pine woods behind my house which I would walk through to see Ophelia, who was the housekeeper/caregiver for Mrs. Brown in Woodland Hills. Mrs. Brown is the first person I know who died. Ophelia’s lovely stone cottage was right out of a fairy tale. If someone left ashes in her ashtray she kept them because she loved the smell. I think of her every time I see or smell ashes.

We moved our house from Lakeland to Lelia Drive, down by what is now River Hills Country Club. Anybody who was alive at that time will remember the house that was stuck on the bridge for weeks. That would be mine. For year, when I would be drive home by a friend’s mother, she would pull up and gasp, “Wasn’t that the house…?”

I was a terrible student and not a reader at all, except when I crawled into the attic to read Black Beauty with my plastic horses. I did write. The first book was titled The Monsters Under My Bed. I dropped out of Murrah High School and hitchhiked away, but I go to all the 1971 class reunions.

I still have farm land in the Delta and we come home often. My children are all grown, now ages 24-31, and they are all very imaginative and artistic.

You are, or were, an attorney. When did you start writing, and are you giving up your legal career for writing at this time?

I love researching and writing law, but as a career, it is over. It was a great job, but I’m a bit conflict averse, which I should have thought about ahead of time. And I didn’t like measuring my life in billable hours. My family has a long history in law. My grandfather–Julian Power Alexander, who married Corabel Roberts–wrote a dissenting opinion when he was on the Mississippi Supreme Court that said that the constitution does not exact wisdom from its citizens, but ensures their right to folly. I love that so much.

He died at the Sugar Bowl (in New Orleans, in January 1953, two months before I was born. They took his body to Bultman’s funeral home and then on the train home. Bultman’s is now a Fresh Market Grocery Store. Pat Stevens told me that when I visited her in New Orleans recently. My father was a dear friend of her husband Phineaus.

Julian and Corabel had a Dutch Colonial house on Poplar Street in Belhaven, and I remember toddling up to the front door. My cousin (author Tom Sancton of New Orleans and Paris) tells me we are at least fifth-generation Mississippians-and 13th-generation Mayflower descendants–but, as he says, “that’s another story.”

In your debut novel, Almost Paradise, the main character, Ruby Clyde Henderson, had an unpredictable life for whom things eventually worked out in an unexpected way. She is a complicated character who deserves more than she often got during the first 12 years of her life. How did you conceive of this character and this story-line for your first book?

I had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and was heavily medicated, very worried about my children and our future. Ruby Clyde marched into my room and bounced on my bed, telling me about herself, in 2001. This book has been in and our of “the drawer” for years. Ruby Clyde is a healer and I believe that writing her story is why my prognosis is now quite strong.

It’s difficult to tell the time period in which the book is set, until we read that her aunt was digitizing document on her computer–but there are no mentions of cell phones, tablets, social media, or “devices.” Why is there no evidence of these modern distractions?

I wanted my story to be modern, but somewhat timeless, hence the computer in the backroom and a television that is rolled out of the closet. Sister Eleanor doesn’t have a phone–cell or land line. Phones were not necessary to Ruby Clyde and her mother socially or financially. Cell phones are certainly ubiquitous today, but once they are in a story it seems like tech takes over and clutters the relationships. So, even though mine is a contemporary story, I wanted Ruby Clyde and her mother to be connected by other means, and I wanted Paradise Ranch to be a very peaceful, nurturing, and healing place.

Some of the characters, maybe Joe Brewer and Lady Frank, might well have owned cell phones, but didn’t use them in my scenes. The Catfish probably had one somewhere. I thought of dropping in a mention of cell phones, but then that would bring more attention to cell phones and before you know it, everybody would be calling everybody.

By the way, you are not the first person to question the time period. I think there are several places where it is a bit more dreamy than realistic.

The relationship between Ruby Clyde and her mother is, for the most part, reversed. Explain the importance of their roles.

Ruby Clyde is competent and self-reliant by necessity because her mother has withdrawn. I have often seen that when a parent falls short, the child will step forward and take on the adult role. They lose their childhood. It is a tragedy that is overlooked because people are prone to praise the child for stepping in. That is hwy I call this a reverse coming-of-age story. Ruby is able to find adults she can trust and to reclaim her childhood. Of course, she has no entire clue this is what’s happening.

Tell me about the Christian references in the story…Ruby Clyde has an aunt who is a nun, she believes in the power of prayer, and she makes deals with God and lives up to them.

I am a Christian. Biblical imagery is some of the powerful stuff on earth. Much of it can be quite baffling. I have an odd way of seeing everything, religion included. Ruby Clyde believes and questions all at the same time. Also, self-sacrifice is important to me, as it is so difficult to do and keeps getting pushed down the list of virtues. Hence, the Tale of Two Cities thread. I was worried that I might offend people of faith, but I was relieved when a very conservative religious reviewer said that she “would definitely have no qualms about recommending the book to Christian families.”

What is your bigger message to readers who join Ruby Clyde on her journey in this story?

“Message” is a loaded word. It is difficult to write plain words and have them understood at face value. “Message” is in the ear of the reader. I certainly hope that Ruby Clyde’s bravery and compassion are contagious. Ruby Clyde likes to say that you have to love pieces of people because if you wait around for perfect, you will end up with nothing. Maybe that is a message from Ruby Clyde of her own self.

Corabel Shofner

Corabel Shofner

Tell me about your other publications.

Stuff. Short stories, essays, legal writing. I wrote a brief for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Why were you drawn to writing a children’s book as your debut novel?

I just wrote my story. (My publisher) Farrar, Straus, And Giroux told me it was for 10-year-olds. That said, I couldn’t be more enchanted with the people dedicated to children’s literature.

Do you plan to continue writing children’s (or middle years) books?

Yes. I will continue to write my stories and then be told what they are. That said, whatever I write I will always support teachers and librarians and all people who work in children’s books. They are my people.

Corabel Shofner will sign copies of Almost Paradise at Lemuria Books at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, August 1. She will also serve as a panelist on the Middle Grade Reader’s discussion at the Mississippi Book Festival on Saturday, August 19 at 12 p.m. at the State Capitol in Room H.

Find a classic Easter adventure in DuBose Heyward’s ‘The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes’

“One day a little country girl bunny with brown skin and a little cotton-ball of a tail said, ‘Some day I shall grow up to be an Easter Bunny: –you wait and see!’”

country bunnyI’m bringing back a classic Easter book here, guys. The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes by DuBose Heyward, which was first published in 1939. This is not only one of my favorite Easter books, but also one of my favorite picture books in general from my childhood. My sister and I would go over to my grandmother’s place and have her read it to us repeatedly. It didn’t matter if it was Easter or not, it was the book we asked for. We even fought over who got my Grandmother’s copy just last summer (we’re high school and college students). This just goes to show how the books of your childhood can leave a mark.

Part of this book’s appeal for me as a child was, to be honest, the bunnies and the golden shoes (What can I say? I like my shoes). On the surface, this book is about a cute momma bunny (of 21 little bunnies) who wants to be the next Easter Bunny. The country momma bunny is named Cottontail, and she enters to be the next Easter Bunny. All the other rich white bunnies laugh at her and tell her that she can’t do it, but she is determined to prove them wrong. For kids, the idea of an Easter Bunny that wears golden shoes to deliver their Easter goodies is just so much fun, and you just can’t go wrong with bunnies.

I’ve recently gone back and reread it and I was shocked by its deeper meaning, and how wonderfully it is crafted for both children and parents. Not only is this a cute book about Easter Bunnies but it speaks to race relations, social standings, and gender roles. Cottontail is not only a brown, country bunny but she is a lady and a mother, at that. How could she possibly be able to be Easter Bunny? hoppsThis digs into the bigger issues in a very subtle way that is appropriate for small children, but also makes it more interesting for the parents to read. They question her color and class standing, but she overcomes this. They suggest that because she is a woman and a mother, there is no way she could be the Easter Bunny, but she proves them wrong. She never gives up and in the end, she is rewarded for this determination.

This is one of the sweetest picture books out there and my favorite Easter book. It’s a beautiful story of motherhood and following your dreams.

From ‘Ollie’s Odyssey’ to ‘Dinosaur Bob’: William Joyce is an inspiration

I was beyond excited to have William Joyce come to Lemuria for his latest children’s book Ollie’s Odyssey. I might have even skipped out on class to go on his school visits.

William Joyce is an inspiration. I didn’t know much about his work before he came, and I was blown away by the end of his first school talk. He has touched the lives of kids everywhere, from those that love Toy Story to Rise of the Guardians, Dinosaur Bob to Ollie’s Odyssey. His books and animation bridge the gap between generations.

dinosaur bob LTDI wanted to tell you a little about two of my favorites, Dinosaur Bob and The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. They are full of the importance of family, those we are related to and the friends we find along the way. They also stress the value of creativity, imagination, and the amazing impact stories can have on you if you give them the chance. His illustrations are lively and friendly. They bring his beautiful stories to life in a way that makes you feel like you stepped into the pages of his books.

Dinosaur Bob follows the Lazardo family and their pet dinosaur Bob, from finding him on a safari to bringing him home. Full of fun adventures, Dinosaur Bob is a heartwarming story about love. It shows that sometimes our family isn’t only who we grow up with, but it’s also those special people and pets that we meet along the way. For the Lazardo family life wouldn’t be the same without dinosaur Bob and they wouldn’t want it any other way.

Jacket (3)The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful stories you will ever read. After hearing him talk about his own history and rereading this book, I nearly teared up. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, is more than just a picture book, and it will touch the heart of anyone that reads it, regardless of age. This story exudes his love for books and storytelling. By illustrating characters without books in black and white and later giving them color after they’ve received a book, it beautifully shows how reading enriches lives. You can feel the love for books and the overpowering desire to share this love with everyone. It has a beautiful circular telling: you begin and end with a book opening the way to discovery.

William Joyce is one of the best storytellers, both in person and in his words on the page. His illustrations will bring even more life to his already lively stories. In every book and film, he reaches out with his words and reminds us that there are stories all around us.

“Everyone’s story matters” said Morris. And all the books agreed.
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

Isn’t There Supposed to be a Mad Scientist in This Story?!

Original to the Clarion-Ledger 

WFES062252111-2What is there to do when a picture book has been canceled? Pencil is the narrator and director in this story. The crayons are getting ready to act out their parts. Frankencrayon is sent to page 22 to make his grand entrance. He is, as his name suggests, a crayon towering over the rest, a mix of green, orange, and purple broken crayons held together by masking tape.

When the lights go out, there is a horrible screeching noise. And worse yet, when the lights come on, there is a terrible scribble all the way across the page! As Teal crayon says, “A scribble can ruin a picture book!”

The mystery scribble just keeps getting bigger and bigger…where could it be coming from?

The pencil (director of the story) gets a notice that the picture book has been canceled.

1. No one likes the scribble thing.

2. The characters are gone.

3. Isn’t there supposed to be a mad scientist in this story?

But the pencil forgets to tell Frankencrayon that the picture book has been canceled, and on page 22, Frankencrayon makes his grand entrance onto the page with the scribble! But the lights are off, and where has everyone gone, and most of all, WHO IS SCRIBBLING IN THIS BOOK??

Frankencrayon is clever, funny, and teaches kids to make a creation out of what other people might perceive as a mess. Bring the kids to meet the author and illustrator, Michael Hall, and join us for a FRANKENCRAYON story time on Thursday, January 28th, at 3:00 p.m. at Lemuria Bookstore.

Call 601-366-7619 with questions.

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell

Jacket (2)“Wolf wilders are almost impossible to spot. A wolf wilder is not like a lion tamer nor a circus ringmaster: Wolf Wilders can go their whole lives without laying eyes on a sequin. They look, more or less, like ordinary people. There are clues: More than half are missing a piece of finger, the lobe of an ear, a toe or two. They go through clean bandages the way other people go through socks. They smell very faintly of raw meat.”

So begins Katherine Rundell’s The Wolf Wilder, a story that envelops readers in words, taking them on a journey into the dark of the snowy Russian forests and into the heart of St. Petersburg. It is a story that wraps around the reader much like the red coat the protagonist wears.

In The Wolf Wilder, the nobility of Russia purchase wolf pups to bring their families good fortune. The wolves wear gold chains and are taught to be tame. Once the wolf begins to act, well, like a wolf, they are sent back into the wilderness. This is where the wolf wilder comes in to help “untame” the wolf and teach it to run and hunt and survive in the wilderness where it belongs. Feodora, described as a “dark and stormy girl” and her mother, Marina, are wolf wilders in the deepest forests of Russia, far away from St. Petersburg, where they turn the wolves wild in an abandoned chapel.

When Marina is arrested by the cruel General Rakov for defiance against the tsar for “wilding” the wolves instead of shooting them outright, Feodora embarks on a dangerous journey to St. Petersburg to rescue her mother. She is accompanied by three wolves named White, Gray, and Black, and by Ilya, a boy her own age who used to be an imperial soldier but whose lightness of foot is much like the wolves.

With motifs from Little Red Riding Hood, Rundell spins her own fairytale that, much like the Grimms, goes into the darkest part of the forest, with little hope of escape. Rundell has a way with words and language, as seen in her previous two middle grade novels, Rooftoppers and Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms, and The Wolf Wilder does not disappoint. Feo, a little girl who might be too small to notice, outsmarts the imperial soldiers with her wits, her wolves, and the help of friends she makes along the way. A beautifully enchanting story to read this winter, The Wolf Wilder shows that there is glittering undercurrent even in the darkest of moments, and even the smallest of golden moments can illuminate the darkness.

Originally published in the Clarion-Ledger.

Gene Luen Yang Named the National Ambassador for Children’s Literature

Original to TwentybyJenny.com. By Clara Martin.

Gene Luen YangEarlier this week, Gene Luen Yang was appointed the National Ambassador for Children’s Literature. Having heard Yang speak at the Children’s Book Festival in Hattiesburg in April of 2015, this news comes as a delight. His presentation was engaging, made everyone laugh, and I’ve never seen so many librarians queue up to buy a graphic novel. They were sold out minutes after his speech. With his friendly demeanor and an innate ability to teach, whether it is about the history of superheroes in comics—Superman was also an alien immigrant—or teaching history (the Boxer Rebellion) or coding, Yang’s range and appeal is wide and varied. There is one constant, though. Gene uses illustrations, comic-strips, in fact, to tell his stories.

He is the first graphic novelist to be chosen for the position of National Ambassador (which has been around since 2008), and it is perfect timing. The graphic novel is having a moment. Raina Telgemeier’s ever popular SmileSisters, and Drama books are always in high demand. My only regret with Victoria Jamieson’s Rollergirl is that I didn’t get to read it when I was eleven. The list goes on and on.

For those of you who don’t know what a graphic novel is, it is a term for a novel told through comic-strip drawings. Reading Without Walls, a platform Yang developed with his publisher that he will promote as the new National Ambassador, is about “being open to new kinds of stories.”

JacketAmerican Born Chinese (First Second, 2006) was the first graphic novel to both win the Michael L. Printz Award for young adult literature and the first graphic novel to be a finalist for the National Book Award. Yang drew on his own experience of being a first-generation Chinese boy growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area. A coding teacher for 17 years, Yang only stopped when the demands of traveling to promote his books, but even though he’s not in the classroom, he continues to teach computer programming in his new book, Secret Coders. In just reading the first installment in this series, I now know the basics of coding, and this book will be an awesome introduction to computer programming for kids.

A graphic novel is a complex story, often more so because of its format. Children are innately open to new kinds of stories. In reading graphic novels, they make connections to their own lives, and they are constantly processing context clues both in the text and drawings.

As children’s literature continues to evolve, it is exciting that Gene Luen Yang will be leading the way for the next two years.

Congratulations, Gene!

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear

On August 24, 1914, Captain Harry Colebourn bought a baby bear for $20 on a train station platform.

“Harry stopped. It’s not every day that you see a bear cub at a train station. ‘That Bear has lost its mother,’ he thought, ‘and that man must be the trapper who got her.’”

On his way overseas to fight in World War I, Colebourn, a veterinarian from Winnipeg, decided to name the bear Winnie after his hometown.

When Colebourn showed Winnie to the Colonel, he was originally met with disapproval.

“’Captain Colebourn!’ said the Colonel on the train, as the little Bear sniffed at his knees. ‘We are on a journey of a thousand miles, heading into the thick of battle, and you propose to bring this Most Dangerous Creature?’ Bear stood straight up on her hind legs as if to salute the Colonel. The Colonel stopped speaking at once—and then, in quite a different voice, he said, ‘Oh, hallo.’”

Soon, Winnie was one of their own.

Jacket (1)Finding Winnie is narrated by Lindsay Mattick, the great-grandaughter of Harry Colebourn, as a family story passed down from generation to generation. When Lindsay’s son asks her for a story, she asks “What kind of story?” to which the reply is;“You know. A true story. One about a Bear.”

This picture book tells the miraculous journey of a man and his bear that crossed the Atlantic from Canada to England; and this is the very bear that would become the inspiration for Winnie-the-Pooh when A.A. Milne and his son visited the London Zoo.

After crossing the Atlantic with Winnie, Harry knew that she was growing larger and could not be taken into battle, so he took her to the London Zoo.

“Winnie’s head bowed. Harry’s hands were warm as sunshine, as usual. ‘There is something you must always remember,’ Harry said. ‘It’s the most important thing, really. Even if we’re apart, I’ll always love you. You’ll always be my Bear.’”

Harry and Winnie’s parting seem’s like the end of the story, but as Lindsay points out, “Sometimes, you have to let one story begin so the next one can begin.”

The beautiful and heartfelt illustrations by Sophie Blackall bring this story to life in ink and watercolor. Her illustrations depict Harry Colebourn’s excitement of finding the bear, the heartache of leaving Winnie behind in the zoo, and the joy of a new friendship with Christopher Robin. Finding Winnie will bring you and your child joy and delight at discovering the true story behind one of the most famous characters in literature, and show that sometimes, one story’s ending is just another story’s beginning.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski, illustrated by P.J. Lynch

Today is the sixth day in the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas. To celebrate, we’re running Clara’s Clarion-Ledger article about the ever-popular children’s book, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey. Enjoy!

JacketThe Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski is not a new Christmas story, but it is one that I would like to revisit as it has been recently published in a new 20th anniversary edition.

Illustrations by P.J. Lynch have made this book the miraculous wonder that it is, and Lynch says the challenge of painting this story was “not to do with costumes or tools; it was to try to match, in my pictures, the deep emotional core of Susan’s story, to try to somehow show that might be going on inside a character’s head, or inside his heart.”

In what looks like Appalachia, Jonathan Toomey is the best wood carver in the valley. However, he doesn’t speak to anyone, and the village children call him “Mr. Gloomy.” He spends his days bent over his work, carving “beautiful shapes from blocks of pine and hickory and chestnut wood.” The reason for his gloom, the narrator tells us, is that some years ago, he lost his wife and child to sickness.

“So Jonathan Toomey had packed his belongings into a wagon and traveled till his tears stopped. He settled into a tiny house at the edge of a village to do his woodcarving.”

When the widow McDowell and her son Thomas knock on his door, asking Jonathan Toomey to carve them a nativity scene, he shuts the door, grumbling, “Christmas is pish­posh.”

After a week, the widow McDowell and Thomas return to see what progress has been made on their manger scene, and Thomas sits at Mr. Toomey’s side, since he, too, wishes to be a woodcarver some day. However, he interrupts Mr. Toomey to tell him that he is carving the sheep wrong, that his sheep are happy sheep. “’That’s pish­posh,’” said Mr. Toomey. ‘Sheep are sheep. They cannot look happy.’” To which Thomas replies, “Mine did…they knew they were with the Baby Jesus, so they were happy.”

With each visit to Mr. Toomey’s, and with each subsequent character being carved to fill the manger scene, Thomas continues to tell Mr. Toomey the right way to carve his figures: the cow is proud that the baby Jesus chose to be born in its barn, the angel looks like one of God’s most important angels because it was sent down to baby Jesus, the wise men are wearing their most wonderful robes, and Joseph leans over the baby Jesus protectively.

When Mr. Toomey asks Thomas how Mary and the baby Jesus should be carved, he says, “They were the most special of all…Jesus was smiling and reaching up to his mother, and Mary looked like she loved him very much.”

Jonathan Toomey completes his carvings on Christmas Day, and it is indeed a Christmas miracle. The widow McDowell and Thomas gave him a miracle by asking him to carve the nativity scene. Twenty years later, the deep human experience and the power of the Christmas story lives on in this book.

“And that day in the churchyard the village children saw Jonathan throw back his head, showing his eyes as clear blue as an August sky, and laugh. No one ever called him Mr. Gloomy again.”

Merry Christmas, everyone.

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