Tag: elementary

The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog | Douglas Kaine McKelvey

It’s serious work, choosing a book for vacation. I overthink it every time. A book cannot be too absorbing (see: family reunion, Estes Park CO—the year Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince came out, and I read in the midst of a beauteous landscape, ignoring family and nature alike). And it cannot be so meaty that I don’t want to pull it out in those moments when the coffee is hot and the cabin’s front porch calls.

The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog, by Douglas Kaine McKelvey | Little Book, Big Story

A book for vacation needs to be just right—every paragraph satisfying, so that even ten minutes in its company sends me back into a cabin full of children feeling recharged—and I have elevated the choosing of a vacation book to an art form (or an obsession, depending on your view). But this time, the artistry (or obsession) was solved for me when a package from the Rabbit Room arrived on our porch the day before we left for a weekend on San Juan Island. In it I found the slender new edition of Douglas Kaine McKelvey’s story, The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog.

I’ve mentioned McKelvey before on this blog, albeit indirectly. In my review of Wingfeather Tales, his was the “novella so devastating.” I have been waiting ever since to get a copy of this story, hoping it might be as lovely as that novella.

The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog, by Douglas Kaine McKelvey | Little Book, Big Story

I read The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog in full during a single naptime, in a log cabin overlooking a lake. And it was lovely, a book so sweet and true that it’s hard to describe because I am afraid that if I pull pieces of it apart to show you, I might damage the well-woven fabric of the book . I will say this: the new edition from Rabbit Room Press is illustrated by Zach Franzen, of The Green Ember, so it is beautiful in both word and image. And it is worth reading immediately—especially if you have a vacation coming up.


The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog
Douglas Kaine McKelvey, Zach Franzen (2017 – republication)

He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands | Kadir Nelson

A few weeks ago I stopped by the garden section of a favorite grocery store to visit with the plants. They flaunted spring finery and iambic names—columbine, stonecrop, a fluffy young thing called asparagus fern. Overhead played that ubiquitous shopping music, something by JLo maybe. I wouldn’t have noticed the music at all if two things hadn’t happened at once:

1. A song came on with a tolerable dance beat.

2. An old woman paused as she shuffled past me with her grocery cart. She got a good grip on the cart’s handle. And then she began to dance.

He's Got the Whole World in His Hands, by Kadir Nelson | Little Book, Big Story

She swayed happily back and forth the way my baby does when she hears a catchy tune, bobbing her head and closing her eyes in a moment of complete contentment. When the song ended and the old woman caught me beaming at her, she grinned and shrugged. “If they don’t want us to dance, then they shouldn’t play music with such a nice beat,” she said.

Amen.

That story has nothing to do with today’s review, nothing at all. But it was too lovely not to share.

He's Got the Whole World in His Hands, by Kadir Nelson | Little Book, Big Story

Today’s review has to do with a book whose text is simple—the lyrics from the old spiritual, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” The illustrations seem simple—light-soaked paintings that follow one boy as he explores what each line means for his life, his family. But that pairing of a traditional hymn born within the horrific fist of slavery with the wonder one child turns upon the world around him makes He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands a rich and beautiful book.

He's Got the Whole World in His Hands, by Kadir Nelson | Little Book, Big Story

I would not, of course, expect every kid to make the connection between the old and new here. But even without an underlying knowledge of the song’s roots, this is a book worth sharing, as it takes a familiar song and makes it a visible story, one rooted in hope and joy. Nelson’s paintings invite us warmly into the life of the main character. He introduces us to his family, shows us his interests, allows us to tag along as he visits the beach and studies the stars. He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands manages to be both weighty and feather-light; both broad and sweetly specific.

And it’s hard to read without singing.

He's Got the Whole World in His Hands, by Kadir Nelson | Little Book, Big Story


He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands
Kadir Nelson (2005)

At Jerusalem’s Gate | Nikki Grimes

I finally figured out how to use our public library.

It’s been there for years—I frequented it myself as a child—and I have taken my daughters there semi-regularly since Lydia was a baby. But my approach to checking out books was haphazard at best: throw books that looked interesting in our book bag and sift through them when we got home. Return them a few months overdue, pay fines, and sheepishly avoid the library for a while. Every so often I would reserve a book, forget to pick it up, and sheepishly dodge the library again.

At Jerusalem's Gate, by Nikki Grimes | Little Book, Big Story

Something changed a few months ago, though, when I sat down to the online catalog and reserved every book I had ever bookmarked on Instagram. Every few days after that, I got an email announcing that some new book was in, waiting for me. These were the best books, the ones usually not on the shelves because their hold lists were so long they just moved from drop-box to hold shelf to somebody’s home and so on.

We found The Princess in Black this way. We discovered Mustache Baby. We checked out every available John Hendrix book this way (sorry, Whatcom County John Hendrix fans! We’ll bring them back soon, I promise).  We learned that our library cards max out at seventy-five books, and that our county actually has a pretty respectable Easter selection.

At Jerusalem's Gate, by Nikki Grimes | Little Book, Big Story

You already know how to use your library, I’m sure. I am extremely late to this particular party. But I love this party: we go to the library weekly now, collect our box full of books and go home happy, not having entered the children’s department once. In this baby-and-toddler season of life, that’s a welcome development.

But about those Easter books.

At Jerusalem’s Gate was one of my favorite library finds this Lent, a title I remember from long ago on Aslan’s Library. In a genre where every other book seems to be titled either The Easter Story or What is Easter?, Nikki Grimes gives us something unexpected: a collection of poems that branches off from the familiar story of Easter.

At Jerusalem's Gate, by Nikki Grimes | Little Book, Big Story

Grimes walks the line between Scripture and speculation gracefully: each poem explores some aspect of the story that has caught her attention—the meaning of Judas’ name, the story of Pilate’s wife, Mary’s response to the Crucifixion—while making it clear in each poem’s introduction that these are the author’s thoughts, not canon. She invites the reader into her own musings and expands the world around the well-trod path of the Gospel accounts, reminding us that actual people lived the events of Holy Week—people who wept and wondered and lived the story’s beginning, middle and end.

This book is, obviously, available at our local library, but we loved it so much that I purchased our own copy (sadly, Jerusalem’s Gate is out of print, but you can sometimes find affordable copies on Amazon). It has been a beautiful part of our family’s reading for Lent, and it’s one I’ll look forward to reviving every spring.

At Jerusalem's Gate, by Nikki Grimes | Little Book, Big Story

Footnote

If you aren’t entirely smitten with this book yet, I highly recommend reading Sarah’s review on Aslan’s Library. It’s beautiful and gives a detailed look at some of the poems. You know what? You should read that review anyway, even if you’ve already put the book on hold at your library.


At Jerusalem’s Gate: Poems for Easter
Nikki Grimes, David Frampton (2005)