This week’s Read Aloud Thursday post is thematic, something that I don’t usually do. This week we took a break from our normal school routine and did a light Five in a Row week. Although we really didn’t do many of the activities in the actual FIAR instructor book, we captured the spirit by reading a book from volume one and reading several “go-alongs.” Every one of the books we read is a winner, so I wanted to share them here, of course.
This week’s FIAR title is The Clown of God by Tomie dePaola. I feel like I’m maybe the last to the party where this book is concerned; after all, it was reissued in the 1970s and is a retelling of an old French legend. I was tickled to snag a copy on PaperbackSwap for our home library. This book is just beautiful, and my girls were as captivated as I was the first time we read it. For those who are unfamiliar with the legend, it is the stor of Giovanni, an orphan boy who joins a traveling goup of players as their juggler. Giovanni hones his craft and becomes very good at what he does–so good, in fact, that he juggles before royalty. He lives a full life, but in the end old age steals his talent from him and his life would have ended in brokenness and dejection, were it not for his very last performance. I don’t want to give away the ending, but just know that this is a three or four hanky story for sure! DePaola set the story in Italy, not France, in case you’re wondering about the name Giovanni. 😉 The illustrations are trademark DePaola. There’s a whole lot to love about this book.
Thanks to the FIAR manual and its suggested booklist, I found these books that also deal with the elderly in literature. Most of these are even more obviously about the elderly than Clown of God, since that book covers just about all of Giovanni’s life, not just his latter years. This is a topic that’s really dear to my heart because I grew up around a lot of elderly people. The church of my childhood, teenage, and young adult years was made up of mostly elderly people, so I’ve always spent a lot of time around them. My own grandmother lived to be 90 years old, but only Lulu was born when she died. Thankfully, Steady Eddie’s grandmother is still living, so my girls (and the DLM, too, I hope!) will have wonderful memories of her. Anyway, respect for the elderly, and more than that, valuing of the elderly, is very important to me and something I want to pass on to my children. These books are a great way to begin that conversation:
Gramma’s Walk by Anna Grossnickle Hines is the sweet story of a little boy named Donnie and his grandmother. Gramma is wheelchair-bound, but this fact doesn’t keep her and Donnie from enjoying a “walk” together along the seashore. The fact that the “walk” occurs only in their imaginations makes it all the more poignant and sweet. This story is told with lots of onomatopoeia and great descriptions of the beach. Of all the books I’ve found, this one is the most appropriate for younger readers/listeners. My girls enjoyed this one and didn’t think it odd at all that Donnie and Gramma never actually left her home for their walk, a fact that I find encouraging.
Uncle Jed’s Barbershop by Margaree King Mitchell is another three- or four-hanky story. Told through the eyes of a young girl named Sarah Jean, it is the story of Uncle Jed, a traveling barber who postpones his dream of owning his own barbershop some day in order to help those in need. After years of saving and setbacks, Uncle Jed finally gets his barbershop at the ripe old age of 79. This story is set in a black sharecropping community in the South around the time of the Great Depression, so segregation is discussed lightly. James Ransome‘s illustrations won this book a well-deserved Coretta Scott King honor designation, and it is those illustrations that truly make generous and loving Uncle Jed come to life. Reading this book is like visiting with your own well-loved uncle. This is simply a beautiful story.
A post about picture books with elderly characters wouldn’t be complete without one by Patricia Polacco, one of my favorite children’s book authors/illustrators. (I’ve written about her books before here, here, and here.) Like many of Polacco’s books, this one has an elderly Polish woman as one of its main characters. Mrs. Katz is a lonely widow, but she is fortunate to have Larnel, a young black boy, and his mother as her friends. They visit her frequently, and she becomes Larnel’s stand-in bubee. She teaches him so many things–mostly about being Jewish, and particularly about the similarities between the Polish Jewish experience and the black experience in America. Larnel and his family provide companionship in more ways than one: they also give Mrs. Katz her very own cat–the Tush mentioned in the title. This sweet, sweet story is just about the value and richness that cross-generational relationships add to the lives of those involved. If you need three or four hankies for the books above, you need an even half dozen at least for this one.
Okay, that’s it for today. I don’t think I could stand any more heart-warming, heart-rending tales, anyway. 🙂 Link your Read Aloud Thursday posts up below!