Tag Archive | America

Sally Arnold by Cheryl Ryan

Sally Arnold by Cheryl Ryan

There’s a secret character in Sally Arnold: the Appalachian Mountains. “The setting of the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia…were ideal subject matter for my paintings,” says illustrator Bill Farnsworth – “combined with the very real people of this part of America.” Author Cheryl Ryan lived on one of the mountain’s crooked ridges, where she’d heard the folk stories about Sally Arnold. Ryan lives in a tiny West Virginia town on a crooked ridge they call Sally’s Backbone – and decided to write her own story about Sally.

She dedicates it to “all who have ever gone down Sally’s Backbone to Fox’s store.”

A little girl named Jenny works in her grandfather’s store, but she knows most people shop on Saturday night, when they come for a weekend visit to the country town. When she’s bored, she plays her fiddle and pretends it’s Saturday night. There’s a checkerboard on a barrel and canned goods on the shelves. And the customers tell stories of a woman named Sally Arnold.

There’s a real sense of the town and its people, so Sally assumes the size of a legend. Sally has white hair and she looks like a witch. She lived by herself, in a shack which was “ready to slide into the creek.” She was always collecting things, sometimes searching the ditches for berries, mushrooms, and wild asparagus. “Maybe she’s just lonely,” thinks the little girl – who is already lonely herself. And on Saturday night, Sally plays the harmonica while Jenny plays the fiddle and her grandfather strums on a banjo.

There’s a mystery around Sally, and Jenny wants to explore it. One day after church, she follows Sally to her shack up the ridge. But instead she falls into the creek, her wet hair covering her eyes. The next thing she sees are “blue eyes framed in wrinkles,” as Sally Arnold has the last laugh. “Well, look what the creek brought me today! Company!”

And it turns out that Sally’s shack has a charm all its own. There’s hummingbirds in the flowers by the porch. A lazy cat stretches and yawns. Sally weaves “gathering baskets” out of the cattails she’s collected at the mud flats. Ands he understands the life of a bluebird carrying straw. “She gathers what she needs from what she finds and makes something new.” And soon it’s Sally and the little girl who are searching the ditches and road banks for berries, mushrooms, and wild asparagus. “They talk. They sing. And they never, ever walk down the road empty-handed.”

William’s House, by Ginger Howard

William's House, by Ginger Howard

Ginger Howard studied architectural photography, and she’s even restored two historic homes. (She dedicated the book to “Jim and Jimmy Remond, always ready with hammer and nails.”) So for her first children’s book, she told the story behind a house built in 1637. “William knew just the kind of house he wanted,” her story opens. And soon she’s revealed that William is settling in America, though he was born in England.

“William cleared an area 20 feet square,” Howard writes, dedicating a whole page to the saplings and trees used for posts and fences. Since they don’t have any glass, William uses a translucent animal horn to create a window for his wife. Then he builds a fireplace in the corner, and stuffs corn husks into a bag to make a bed.

In fact, if this book has a fault, it’s that there’s too many details. Howard lists out the tasty dishes eaten by William and Elizabeth, and the problems with their stored food that tells them it’s time to build a cool cellar. In August the winds blow, and William realizes that “It is windier here than at home in England.” So to save the home from being crushed by a falling tree, William next cuts down all his trees.

The illustrations are colrful, drawn by an advertising storyboard artist named Larry Day. Day has two children, and used them as models for the children in “William’s House.” I like how he used an old-fashioned font on the title page, with a parchment scroll over a rustic landscape with birds in the sky. But like Howard, this is Day’s first book, and I wondered if that gave him an extra enthusiasm – or a novice’s uncertainty?

In the story, William puts shingles on his roof in autumn. Then in winter he replaces it with an even steeper roof to keep the snow from piling up. In January he builds a bigger fireplace. And when he realizes that it’s nothing like his home in England, he also realizes something else. “This is our new home. Welcome!”

Unfortunately, that’s the end of the book. Its whole story is about a construction project! But luckily, there’s a secret second story that’s scattered throughout the book. As Day’s watercolors illustrate the father’s worries about his house, Day tucks black and white sketches of William’s boys playing in the nearby woods. It’s a crucial component to the story, because it gives it an extra playfulness, and even some childish warmth.

Howard’s text may offer a peek into 1637 – but thanks to Day’s cheerful drawings, readers also get two more!

Bewildered for Three Days, As to Why Daniel Boone Never Wore His Coonskin Cap, by Andrew Glass

Bewildered for Three Days, As to Why Daniel Boone Never Wore His Coonskin Cap, by Andrew Glass

What do Buffalo Bill, Kit Carson, and Johnny Appleseed have in common? They’ve all appeared in children’s books by Andrew Glass. But in 2000, Glass turned his attention to Daniel Boone, the famous Kentucky frontiersman. Glass starts with a true piece of history – that Daniel Boone never actually wore a coonskin cap – then invents a tall tale that explains why!

Writing about Indians is a delicate subject, but Glass finds a way to have it both ways. A young Daniel Boone farms a “hardscrabble” field with his brothers, they’re suddenly surprised by a tribe of Cherokees. Glass writes their “warriors burst through the trees, shrieking and waving hatchets.” But it turns out they’re friendly Indians, who have come to protect them from a more hostile tribe. “It was only a terrifying misunderstanding,” explains Daniel Boone’s mother.

Glass’s illustrations are almost impressionistic, with bright colors, almost like an American Gauguin. It seems oddly appropriate for a story set in the mid-1700s. Glass mixes some real history into his tale, and soon the Indian’s son is telling Daniel Boon about a fertile farming land that waits beyond the dark mountains. And Glass drew a funny illustration of Boone waking in the woods, only to discover a hairy bear standing over him.

It’s difficult to be both the illustrator and the author, and Glass sometimes offers too many details. He devotes a whole page to Boone’s thought process, explaining why he decided to chase the bear who had stolen his coonskin cap. But Glass seems determined to present a sympathetic explanation for the Indians’ hostility. (“The Delaware [Indians] live in the forest and love the savage wilderness as their mother. When we ask them to honor our fences, it is an unreasonable thing we ask.”)

There’s some exciting scenes, like when young Daniel Boone jumps off a 60-foot cliff to escape an attacking tribe of Indians. (The Indians gawk as Boone lands in a tall tree, while the text explains the rest of Boone’s escape.) Boone ends up hiding in a hollow log – all night – while the tribe of braves camps for the night, never realizing how close he is. Boone intrudes on a family of raccoons, and to thank them for his hide-out, he promises, “sure and solemn: I will never again wear any of your kin on my head.”

In an author’s note at the end of the book, Andrew Glass admits that Boone probably just preferred wearing a wide-brimmed hat. But he thought a promise to raccoons would be more dramatic!

Peppe the Lamplighter, by Elisa Bartone

Peppe the Lamplighter, by Elisa Bartone

It’s loosely based on a story about the author’s Italian grandfather. (Elisa Bartone’s grandfather immigrated to the United States from a town near Naples, according to the book’s jacket.) She dedicates Peppe the Lamplighter to the memory of her grandparents and her father. And illustrator Ted Lewin just dedicates it “to the American Dream.”

It’s a sad story about Peppe, who lives in a tenement. His mother is dead and his father is sick, and “he had to work to help support his sisters: Giulia, Adelina, Nicolina, Angelina, Assunta, Mariuccia, Filomena, and Albina.” The last sister still lives in Naples with her uncle, a priest who runs the orphanage. Peppe visits the shops in Little Italy, hoping to find a job.

Illustrator Ted Lewin “has loved Little Italy since he first moved to New York,” according to the book’s jacket, and he draws beautiful pictures of the people in Peppe’s neighborhood. There’s a white-haired butcher (with a bristly moustache and a top hat), and “Fat Mary” who makes the cigars. A bar full of businessmen even watch as Peppe asks Don Salvatore, the bartender, for a job washing glasses. And word finally spreads to Domenico, the skinny lamplighter, who says he’s “going back to Italy to get my wife.”

Lewin’s illustrations bring the story to life, including touching pictures of the boy’s family waiting for him at home. But Bartone’s text gives each character a real personality. “Did I come to America for my son to light the streetlamps?” the proud father rails. And after he slams the door behind him, all the sisters contribute different words of support. “It’s a GOOD job, Peppe,” says his sister Assunta.

Peppe walks down the street at twilight, and opens the glass of each streetlamp to light it, and the description makes it seem exhilarating. Bartone describes it as a “joyful” feeling, and the boy imagined each small flame to represent promise for the future. “It was almost like lighting candles in the church for special favors from the saints,” Bartone writes, and the boy makes wishes for each of his sisters.

“This one for Giulia, may she have the chance to marry well… This for my mother, may she look on us with pleasure…”

The angry father heckles him from the window, while even Fat Mary tries to coax him to smile. But one night Peppe doesn’t go to work – and his little sister gets lost in the dark. The father agonizes over his missing bambina, and finally has a change of heart. “‘The streets are dark, Peppe… Tonight the job of lamplighter is an important job. Please, Peppe, light the lamps.

“You will make me proud.”