scrounge: /skrounj/ informal verb: to actively seek [books] from any available source
When I recently came across a copy of Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie, I remembered it from the PBS show Reading Rainbow -- none of the details, but I knew it was a story about a father who asked his daughter to keep the lighthouse lights burning while he was away.
It turns out this is based on a true story that took place in my home state of Maine in 1856. Not only did Abbie have to keep the lights burning by herself for weeks while the storm raged and her father was unable to return to Matinicus Rock, but she also had to tend to her sick mother, feed (and rescue!) her chickens, and help her three sisters as they managed the household.
I still find this story moving even though it's written in reader style with fairly short, choppy sentences. Most of all, I love the story of Abbie's courage, and the simple father-daughter moment at the very end.
Scrounged From: A homeschool book sale
Authors: Peter Roop, Connie Roop
Illustrator: Peter Hanson
Content Advisory: A bit of peril when Abbie is almost hit by a giant wave.
Artist Dahlov Ipcar died this past February, but today would have been her 100th birthday. In addition to a long career as an artist, she spent most of her life farming in the state of Maine (my home state).
Since I lack any familiarity with the "art world" in general, I probably would not have known much about her work if it had not been for her delightfully illustrated board books published by Islandport Press, which we first discovered when my oldest child was a baby.
After reading one, it became easier to spot her distinctive style when I saw it elsewhere, since her work is celebrated in many places in the state.
I love her use of color and joyful depictions of animals (both wild and domestic). Here are some of her books we've enjoyed the most:
1. Farmyard Numbers was our introduction to Ipcar's art. It's a simple one-to-ten counting board book featuring favorite farm animals, and gentle rhyming text. Several of the illustrations in this book are cropped from larger scenes in Ipcar's earlier, longer book about the trials and joys of farm life called Hardscrabble Harvest.
2. Farmyard Alphabet continues with the farming theme (which Ipcar had quite a lot of experience with). Short rhyming lines show us a different aspect of farm life for each letter -- Q for quilt, T for tractor ("that does everything"), E for eggs, J "is for jars, of jellies and jams," etc.
3. The Cat at Night is a wonderful look at the difference between what a cat can see at night and what a person can see. The pages alternate between dark silhouetted scenes and brighter versions of the same scene, showing how the cat knows where to go even when it's dark to us. My children enjoyed trying to find the cat on the silhouetted pages.
4. Dahlov Ipcar's Maine Alphabet board book is a beautiful celebration of the state that was her home for most of her life. From the coast to the woods (L for lobster and M for moose, of course), this is a lovely rhyming romp through the great state of Maine.
5. I love the different color combinations in Wild Animal Alphabet -- so many earth tones and golds paired with vibrant blues and greens. Once again, the illustrations are accompanied with rhyming text that's "short and sweet" enough to hold the attention of toddlers. From ibex to quail to "zebra, who always comes last," this is a lovely and fun look at wild animals (including a few doing nontypical things like the kangaroo beating on drums).
The Circus Ship was my five-year-old son's "graduation" book from Maine's Raising Readers program. I can see why it made a good choice -- not only is author/illustrator Chris Van Dusen a Mainer, but Maine gets a mention in the book as well.
The story itself is loosely inspired by an actual event, described in the end notes of the book, in which a ship containing a few exotic animals (and a lot of people) sunk off the coast of Maine in 1836. That tragedy is given a more optimistic and heart-warming twist here, in which the "receiving town" learns to accommodate the fifteen animals that show up on their beach after the ship sinks, and even help to hide them when their cartoonish-villain owner wants them back.
Even though the illustrations here often have a cartoonish feel, I didn't find them cheesy -- there is still a lot of attention to detail and color nuances that flesh them out. The story is written in verse as well, which adds a degree of fun to an already fun story.
Both my kids and I enjoyed this one, especially near the end when we have to try and find all of the animals hiding in one picture.
Scrounged From: My son's doctor's office
Author/Illustrator: Chris Van Dusen
Content Advisory: None
This classic has been on my bookshelves for as long as I can remember, and is not only a wonderful children's story but a celebration of one aspect of the wild beauty of my home state of Maine. While Blueberries for Sal never comes out and gives a location (aside from "Blueberry Hill"), it's not difficult to imagine that this story is based in Maine (like several of McCloskey's others), given that Maine is pretty much the world capital for wild blueberries (one of the few fruit crops that's native to North America).
When I came back to this book as an adult, I could remember the gist of the narrative -- how Sal and a baby bear get mixed up, with each following the other's mother (as both mothers are quite focused on their task of finding blueberries for the winter). But what I find most endearing about this book is the way McCloskey's illustrations so perfectly capture the mannerisms of a toddler. Sal is capable of great focus on picking, but also an inability to keep more than three blueberries in her pail without eating them. Whether it's the facial expressions or the overall strap that's perpetually falling off her shoulder, Sal is the epitome of a cute and curious toddler who is satisfied by simple things.
I used this book with my son in pre-k for "B week." After reading it, we ate blueberries and "brown bears" (chocolate teddy grahams) for snack.
Scrounged From: A gift for our child
Author/Illustrator: Robert McCloskey
Content Advisory: None
Book Scrounger's note: The following is a guest review by Doug, a.k.a. Professor Puzzler.
So many books I read end up getting lost in the recesses of my mind, and if you asked me sixth months later what I had read, I wouldn't be able to tell you much about the book. Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy will, I think, stay with me for a very long time. This is the story of a friendship between a preacher's son and a pauper black girl from a small island off the coast of Maine.
My wife found the book at Goodwill, and bought it because it takes place in our home state, and because it is a Newbery Honor book.
I started reading it and was hooked from the very first page. The main characters (Lizzie Bright and Hunter Buckminster III) are such believable characters, and I had a sense -- which I seldom get from fictional books -- that these were real, honest-to-goodness people. My perceptions were shaped, perhaps, by the fact that I'm from Maine, and know the places described in the book.
But it wasn't until I was several chapters in that I suddenly realized that this book was only partly fictional. It is the story of one of Maine's most shameful historic events. It is the story of Malaga Island, and the state's decision to remove the island's slave-descended and mixed-race residents and place them in a home for the feeble-minded, where they lived out the remainder of their tragic lives.
Here are some of the things that I loved about this book:
- The descriptions of the Maine coast, community, and church life.
- Believable character interactions and ever changing relationships.
- In keeping with #2, a recurring theme of forgiveness (not explicitly mentioned, but clearly evident).
- Characters who don't always do exactly what you expected them to.
- The depictions of human selfishness, along with selflessness and courage.
- The sprinkling of humorous moments and funny dialogue in the midst of a difficult story.
When I see "Newbery Honor," I automatically think, "book for kids," but this is a book for older kids. It has also won "young adult" awards. The story, being based around tragic historic events, is very dark at times, and as you can probably deduce from what I've said so far, does not have a happy ending.
But it is a powerful book, and it deserves a place in your reading list. There is much more I could say about the book, but I don't want to spoil too much of it for you, so I'll stop here.
I have a feeling this will be one of those rare books that I'll come back to someday and read for a second -- maybe even a third time.
Scrounged From: Our local Goodwill store
Author: Gary D. Schmidt
Content Advisory: Some violence, and depictions of white supremacist attitudes and actions.