Books can be better than a plane ticket
It's vacation - time to travel, time to go to new places, time to meet new people. But life doesn't always include plane tickets to exotic places, and when it doesn't, grab a book. Children will enjoy meeting families around the world long before they are likely to travel to that spot on the map.
Start close to home with a quick jaunt to San Antonio. Austin writer Lisa Waller Rogers' fascinating history is illustrated with fabric collages by folk artist Gwen Thigpen. Angel of the Alamo (W.S. Benson, $18.95 hardback, $8.95 paperback) tells the tale of amazing heroine Andrea Castanon Villanueva, from childhood to the Battle of the Alamo to her death - a woman whose life spanned much of the panorama of early Texas history.
Becky Chavarria-Chairez grew up in San Antonio and now lives in Dallas. In Magda's Tortillas, a bilingual book with a Spanish translation by Julia Mercedes Castilla, illustrated by Anne Vega, (Pinata Books, $14.95) she brings to life the joy of a 7-year-old on her birthday as her abuela teaches her the secrets of tortilla making. A sweet multigenerational book with definite lessons on what perfection is all about.
Yet another Texas author, Cynthia Leitich Smith of Austin, has chosen to write a relationship story - this one also contemporary, but between young Jenna and her grandmother, both of Muscogee (Creek) Nation and Ojibway (Chippewa/Anishinabe) descent. Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow, $15.95) mixes modern life with old traditions. Jenna learns her steps for powwow by watching her grandmother's past performances on the VCR. In addition, she must borrow enough jingles to make her dress sing without causing other dresses to lose their voice. Check out the American Indian author's Web site: www.cynthialeithichsmith.com/promopage.htm.
A couple of years ago, Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen brought us the lovely Elizabeti's Doll, illustrated by Christy Hale - the story of a little Tanzanian girl and her rock that served as a doll. Conscientious Elizabeti is back now in Mama Elizabeti (Lee & Low Books, $15.95). As the new baby in the family, Baby Flora takes up much of Mama's time, and Elizabeti must take care of brother Obedi, who is older now. He isn't quite as easy to handle as Eva, her rock. But both Elizabeti and this charming sequel comes through.
Remind the little ones of the rain scene in The Lion King and they will relate to the simple style of Rain, by Manya Stojic (Crown, $15.95). Each brilliantly colored animal uses a different sense to know that rain is coming to deliver them from the cracked red clay.
Frances and Ginger Park could have grown up poor and illiterate in Korea, but they had a grandfather with a dream. He wanted his mother to have more than she could have as a farm hand. Poor boys in 19th-century Korea weren't allowed to go to school, so he began to sit outside to learn what he could until the kind master brought him in. The Royal Bee, illustrated by Christopher Zhong-Yuan Zhang (Boyds Mills Press, $15.95) is based on his story. Every year the governor held The Royal Bee to determine who was the best scholar in the land. Young Song-ho had more to prove than anyone. Beautifully done.
Back to the United States for stories that celebrate our multicultural heritage. Down the Winding Road, by Angela Johnson, illustrated by Shane W. Evans (DK Ink, $15.95) is a tale of family. Young Jesse and his sister, who tells the story, spend the last day of summer vacation visiting the Old Ones, the aunts and uncles who raised their daddy. Tire swings over the lake, stories told with remember whens. Those days are never forgotten.
The Piano, by William Miller, illustrated by Susan Keeter (Lee & Low Books, $15.95) is narrated by another young black girl, a little earlier in this century. Tia loved music and was drawn into a maid's position in the white section of town by the music coming from inside. The relationship that develops between the elderly Mrs. Hartwell and Tia is portrayed not only in text, but in the full-page illustrations as the two exchange the gift of friendship.
If you ever cross Calabash Street, move there. The neighbors sound wonderful. Judith Ross Enderle and Stephanie Jacob Gordon have created quite a place in Something's Happening on Calabash Street (Chronicle Books, $14.95) The brilliant colors in the illustrations by Donna Ingemanson create a fiesta atmosphere as each family goes marketing and prepares its own special dish for the big night. One problem: No ethnic identification is given. One must guess by dish and last name. Thirteen recipes are included.
Beloved author and illustrator Tomie DePaola comes from the perfect example of a melting-pot family. He was born in Connecticut in 1934 of Irish and Italian parents. One of his best-known stories is Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs, first published in 1973 and now out in full-color paperback from Puffin ($5.99). It is about his Irish grandmother and great-grandmother, and is considered one of the gentlest tales for children about death today. Recently, Mr. DePaola has ventured into chapter books. 26 Fairmont Avenue received a Newbery Honor, and he has now released the second in the series about his childhood, Here We All Are: A 26 Fairmont Avenue Book (Putnam, $13.99). The family has moved into their spacious new house, and a baby is on the way. Humor shines through as Tomie (his kindergarten teacher makes him write Tommy) takes dance, is in the school play and develops his budding artistic talent. Great for reading aloud or alone. A must for summer.