Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Top of the Pile

Every week the boys and I go to the local library and trade in one stack of books for another. The books typically end up in a precarious sort of pile beneath the table next to my bed. Our favorites migrate to the top of the pile and we read them over and over again until they are due to be returned.

Since I know many of you share my love for books in all shapes and sizes, I've decided to give a rundown each week of the two or three books that are currently on top of the pile. Eventually I may include books from my own pile (on top of the bedside table), but for now these stories are from Caleb and Nathan's pile (under the table).

How I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long and David Shannon. I must confess that I love reading this book as much as (or maybe a little more than) the boys like listening to it. How often do we grown-ups get to say things like "Shiver me timbers!...We must have taken a wrong turn at Bora Bora" or "...just run the Jolly Roger up yonder pole"? I believe I'm perfecting my "Arrgh!" and my pirate snarl.

In summary, the story is about a boy, Jeremy Jacobs, who goes to the beach with his parents and finds himself recruited by pirates. He loves everything about the pirate life--no carrots or spinach, no please or thank you, no bedtime--until he discovers that there is also no bedtime story, no being tucked in, and no being comforted when things get scary. There is nothing profound about this story, but it is fun, and isn't that really the chief reason we read.

Doctor De Soto by William Steig. This is a clever tale about a mouse who is a dentist. When he finds himself compelled to treat a fox with a rotten bicuspid, he must come up with a crafty plan to avoid being eaten. Our boys have been running around the house all week saying, "Frank oo berry mush."

Lightning: A Cowboy's Colt by Bill and Bernard Martin. Illustrated by Edward Shenton. Found in Best in Children's Books published 1959 by Nelson Doubleday Inc. Nelson Doubleday published a series of books in the 1950s collecting the best of children's stories with full-color and two-color illustrations by some of the most well-known children's book illustrators (Does Ezra Jack Keats ring a bell?). I found two books from the series for 25 cents each at the library's used book sale a year or so ago. In hindsight, I wish I had hunted for more.

Lightning: A Cowboy's Colt is a wonderful short story for boys ages 5 and up (maybe girls too, but I am not an authority on that). Danny, the main character, is the son of a horse rancher. When his father returns from the annual round-up, Danny is allowed to pick a colt of his very own. Instead of choosing a colt, however, he is fascinated by a beautiful black mare and asks to have her. His father agrees but Danny is never able to "gentle" the horse or even get very near her. As Danny's love for the black mare deepens, a dispute arises between Danny's father and their Indian neighbors who insist the mare belongs to them. With no markings  on the mare, the Indians cannot prove ownership and Danny's father refuses to give her up. The Indians retaliate by burning the family's barn which, of course, hardens Danny's father's heart against them.

One evening Danny goes out after dark to check on his mare. He finds her quietly nuzzling an Indian boy while the boy rubs her neck. The Indian boy explains that the mare was his. Danny can see that this is true by the mare's behavior, and he willingly gives her up to the Indian boy. Danny must tell his father about the mare the next morning and his father insists that Danny has been tricked. Danny responds simply, "Horses don't lie, do they, Daddy?."

The following summer the Indian boy returns at night with a surprise for Danny--a colt--the offspring of the black mare and the lead stallion from Danny's father's herd. The next day Danny asks his father to take him to the Indian camp so he can thank them for his colt. His father agrees and the story closes with the stage set for a reconciliation between the rancher and the Indians.

One of the reasons I love books is that they allow you to see virtue with its skin on. Honesty is a boy giving up something dear to him when he knows it belongs to another. Forgiveness is a rancher thanking an Indian chief. Love is Danny relinquishing a horse he can't tame. These are virtues I want my boys to embrace. How better to teach them than through story.

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