Children’s Literature Supplement May 2023
Mother May I
It’s difficult to catalog all the songs, poems, odes, and essays which have been dedicated to the month of May over the centuries. Not only is spring’s splendor apparent this month, it’s also the season of garage sales, graduations, school plays, moms, and the Virgin Mary. To wrap it up, we even have a wonderful bit of Americana in the form of Memorial Day. In between the mattress sales and cookouts, we dutiful citizens might take a moment to learn something about the celebration and reflect on the incredible service rendered to this country by its brave sons and daughters. And to our little ones waving the Stars and Stripes, let’s tell them of the marvels of our land, teach them our patriotic songs, and remind them of the honor owed to our servicemen and women.
A little Americana:
Do you know how to fold the flag? Take a moment to learn how here.
There are numerous non-fiction books about Memorial Day, and your local library should have at least a few! Do a quick search and see what you can find. If those aren’t available, check out the story of Maya Lin, the creator of the Vietnam War Memorial or do a little research on the sculptor who designed the statue of Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial. (Fun fact: This artist was influenced by May Alcott, the younger sister of Louisa May Alcott and the model for Amy in Little Women.)
Sarah learned about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier through a school assignment, and was overawed when she finally got to visit it in person. Here is an illustrated book about the tomb (Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, 2021), and here is a video explaining what it takes to become a sentinel at the tomb. And if you can’t make it to Arlington for the guard-changing ceremony, here’s a PBS news clip.
Sometimes, poetry can say what regular prose cannot. That may be especially true when it comes to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
If you want to learn more about our flag, spend some time with Betsy Ross. She’s also featured in a collection (Heroines of the American Revolution: America’s Founding Mothers, 1998) which was a favorite of Sarah’s growing up.
Summer vacation approaches! Here are two magazines and two activity books to capture your child’s attention this season:
Birds and Blooms (This isn’t specifically a children’s magazine, but it’s wholesome and charming, and the nature pictures are incredible.)
The Dangerous Book for Boys (2006)
The Daring Book for Girls (2007)
Klutz books! Sarah adored these clever activity books (and still does, actually), and they have a multitude of titles. Want to make tissue-paper flowers? There’s a book for that. String art? Yep. Card tricks? Absolutely. The list is lengthy, and encompasses everything from beginning filmography to nail art to macramé. Find a copy at your local library, off Amazon, or from a used bookstore. Hours of fun and creativity are guaranteed!
Can’t find a Klutz book to suit your interests? Here are two other titles to help you while away the hours:
Kids Crochet (2005) by Lena Corwin
Wind in the Willows:
Sarah has been completely enchanted by Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows (1908) for years now and believes everyone should read it. Actually, A. A. Milne believed so too, and said:
One does not argue about The Wind in the Willows. The young man gives it to the girl with whom he is in love, and, if she does not like it, asks her to return his letters. The older man tries it on his nephew, and alters his will accordingly. The book is a test of character. We can't criticize it, because it is criticizing us. But I must give you one word of warning. When you sit down to it, don't be so ridiculous as to suppose that you are sitting in judgment on my taste, or on the art of Kenneth Grahame. You are merely sitting in judgment on yourself. You may be worthy: I don't know, But it is you who are on trial.
While her favorite illustrated version is done by Robert Ingpen, there are some other wonderful editions which shouldn’t be overlooked:
And if you don’t have time to read it aloud, try it on audiobook! (Make sure it’s the unabridged version.)
“A Disgraceful Toad”:
Speaking of Wind in the Willows, Sarah wrote recently about her least-favorite character from the tale, and about his vital importance to the story:
This seemingly simple tale is thematically rich: What is home? What is hospitality? How does the spirit of adventure affect us? As friendship is another of the book’s important themes, I shall focus here on how it affects Mr. Toad. Some commentaries I’ve read over the years consider Toad to be the darling of young readers. Indeed, his breezy manners and madcap deeds, splendid wealth and self-laudatory songs contrast considerably with the measured, warm, genuine partnership of Rat and Mole. I disliked Toad the moment we met, not because he was an unpleasant character, but because he was just so absurd, and I could not comprehend how Rat, Mole, and Badger (a sort of guardian figure throughout the tale) put up with him.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to The Washington Review of Books to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.