Friday, May 20, 2011

Themed Reviews: Memorial Day

Honoring those who have given their lives for their country has a long history in every culture. Monuments, poetry, psalms, music, parks, bridges, buildings, and even highways have been created and named to honor the fallen. In the United States the history of a nationally observed Memorial Day has a variety of origins but is generally commemorated on the last Monday in May, having been changed from May 30th by an act of Congress to create a three day week-end. For many the holiday marks the beginning of the summer season and is a time of picnics and outings. There are many others who would like to see the date returned to the 30th to give more solemnity to the observance. The following information gives more background and history for Memorial Day as it has evolved in the U.S.

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. There is also evidence that organized women’s groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War: a hymn published in 1867, "Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping" by Nella L. Sweet carried the dedication "To The Ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead" (Source: Duke University’s Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920). While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it’s difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day. It is more likely that it had many separate beginnings; each of those towns and every planned or spontaneous gathering of people to honor the war dead in the 1860’s tapped into the general human need to honor our dead, each contributed honorably to the growing movement that culminated in Gen Logan giving his official proclamation in 1868. It is not important who was the very first, what is important is that Memorial Day was established. Memorial Day is not about division. It is about reconciliation; it is about coming together to honor those who gave their all.

Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war).

Since the late 50’s on the Thursday before Memorial Day, the 1,200 soldiers of the 3d U.S. Infantry place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. They then patrol 24 hours a day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing. In 1951, the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts of St. Louis began placing flags on the 150,000 graves at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery as an annual Good Turn, a practice that continues to this day. More recently, beginning in 1998, on the Saturday before the observed day for Memorial Day, the Boys Scouts and Girl Scouts place a candle at each of approximately 15,300 grave sites of soldiers buried at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park on Marye’s Heights (the Luminaria Program).

For more information visit:

Arlington: The Story of Our Nation’s Cemetery
Chris Demarest
Honor echoes in images and words chronicling Arlington National Cemetery’s history. Capturing the essence of America’s iconic burial ground, the nonfiction narrative presents readers essential information from early nineteenth-century construction of Arlington House through interment of twenty-first century Iraq and Afghanistan war casualties. A U.S. Coast Guard artist, Demarest, whose father is buried at Arlington, comprehends military subjects and traditions, effectively portraying scenes from Arlington’s past and present in pastel watercolors which convey sentimental and patriotic tones. His artistic interpretations distinguish this work from other Arlington Cemetery picture books which consist primarily of photographs. Demarest identifies notable veterans and presidents interred at Arlington, describes ceremonies, and discusses monuments memorializing the U.S.S. Maine, military nurses, Challenger astronauts, and 9/11. Paintings of the best-known Arlington landmark, the Tomb of the Unknowns, exemplify rituals expressing respect and dignity. Arlington’s Freedman’s Village, illustrated with an archival photograph is placed adjacent to supplementary material instead of the Civil War section. Concludes with author’s note explaining Demarest’s affinity for Arlington and bibliography. Adults can consult Robert M. Poole’s On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery (2009) to elaborate about aspects Demarest introduces which intrigue young readers. 2010, Flash Point/Roaring Brook Press, $17.99. Ages 6 to 10. Reviewer: Elizabeth D. Schafer (Children’s Literature).
ISBN: 9781596435179

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Grand Plan to Fix Everything

The Grand Plan to Fix Everything
by Uma Krishnaswami and illustrated by Abigail Halpin
Ages 8 to 12

Dini loves movies—watching them, reading about them, trying to write her own—especially those oh-so-stunning Bollywood movies where you don't even need to know the language to get what's going on. But when her mother reveals big news, it does not jive with Dini's script. Her family is moving to India! Not to Bombay, the "center of the filmi universe" (and home to Dini’s all-time favorite star, Dolly Singh). No, they're moving to a teeny, tiny town that Dini can’t even find on a map. Swapnagiri. The name means Dream Mountain: a sleepy little place where nothing interesting can happen…. But wait a movie minute! Swapnagiri is full of surprises: rose petal milkshakes, mischievous monkeys, a girl who chirps like a bird. And is that...?Could it be...? Dolly herself?

Check out the activity kit for The Grand Plan to Fix Everything:

“A Grand Plan, a grand read! A modern-day fairy tale whose crazy threads tie up perfectly in the end. Truly a delight!” Linda Sue Park, Newbery Award-winning author of A Single Shard.

Fiction contains large helpings of both truth and make-believe. What’s real? What’s invented and why? How do you make it all come together? How do you know what to show and when to tell? Whose story it is or what voice to tell it in? How do you decide where it takes place? Finally, how do you choose words and sentences with energy, to create images that move through space and time in a reader’s mind?

Uma Krishnaswami speaks by invitation to school and community groups all over the country and overseas. She reads, and draws connections between finished work and the ideas, sounds, music, and memories that went into making it. She uses writing exercises to get her audience to reflect on their own words and ideas. Gr. 3-7. Other presentations are also available across the age range.
Uma will be appearing at the National Book Festival and Politics & Prose in September 2011. She will be available for author visits in the DC area at that time. If you are interested in having Uma visit your school or organization please contact Emily Griffin at Children's Literature,
Uma has written many books for children. She was born in India, and when she was young, she lived in a house named Sunny Villa with blinky-looking shutters, just like the house in her new middle grade book, The Grand Plan to Fix Everything. Now she lives and works on fixing plots in Aztec, New Mexico, but like her character Dolly, she is all over the place. She also works for the Vermont College of Fine Arts, teaching grownups who want to write for children.

For more information about Uma visit:

Monday, May 2, 2011

Themed Reviews: Celebrate Mother's Day

In the United States Mother’s Day is celebrated on the second Sunday in May. The holiday was created in 1908 by Anna Jarvis as a day to celebrate one’s own mother. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Mother’s Day as an official national holiday in 1914.

In 2011, Mother’s Day falls on Sunday May 8th. Though around the world many countries celebrate Mothers at different times of the year. In fact, over 60 countries have their own version of Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day is an excellent opportunity to incorporate family reading. Browse through the following selections for stories to share with any mothers in your life.

For more information on Mother’s Day:

My Mother is So Smart!
Tomie dePaola
Having written extensively about families in the past, DePaola now presents his homage to mothers. The book is dedicated to his mother, Flossie, and "all the other smart mothers in the world." We see a young child and his mother in a variety of scenes, all drawn in the award-winning style that is so famously "Tomie." Right from the earliest days, the baby recognizes that his mother is smart because she knows "when to change [his] diaper" and when he is hungry. Told in the first-person from the child’s point of view as he grows into a school-aged child, we learn that his mother knows how to dress him for cold weather and let him explore outside. Later, he appreciates her baking skills and willingness to interact with all of the neighborhood children. She teaches everyone to sing songs and be "VERY careful" using sparklers on the Fourth of July. One Halloween, she turns him "into a bird." The costume is adorable, and the child wears it with pride. When he describes how "she makes our house the best house at Christmas," he adds that he and his father help. Her versatility astonishes him, and he is impressed that she can drive his grandfather’s old delivery truck, sometimes even taking him to school in it. It is obvious that the narrator is impressed that she can "change into a movie star" when he sees her dressed to go out for the evening with his tuxedoed father. Her exuberance is portrayed as she teaches him to dance the polka and in his telling the principal of his school that "she can stand on her head." The blurb on the jacket cover explains that the generalized scenes in the book were inspired by DePaolo’s mother but the scene with the principal "actually happened." If only all mothers and children could have the loving relationship depicted here. Perfect for Mother’s Day or any day when children and adults share stories. 2010, Putnam/Penguin, $16.99. Ages 18 mo. to 5. Reviewer: Sheilah Egan (Children’s Literature).
ISBN: 9780399254420