Al Capone Does My Shirts

Al Capone Does My Shirts, Al Capone Shines My Shoes, Al Capone Does My Homework

Al Capone Does My Shirts is a wonderful book for children about life on Alcatraz Island in the 1930’s, which is the time the infamous gangster Al Capone was incarcerated there.  This book is a Newbery Honor book for 2005.

Matthew “Moose” Flanagan has moved to Alcatraz Island when his father gets a job as a prison guard in 1935, during the height of the Great Depression.  He has a 15 year-old sister who nowadays would be recognized as special needs but in the book is considered handicapped and unfit for society who should be shut away in a mental institution.  Moose loves to play baseball and do typical activities 12 year-old boys do.  Moose and his friend, Piper, the warden’s daughter, hatch a plot to make money by having the criminals do the laundry of the kids at school.  The criminals currently do the laundry of all those on the island so their plan is to slip in the kids’ clothes and claim Al Capone did their laundry.

However, Moose’s world is consumed by taking care of his sister and her needs.  His family is trying to get his sister, Natalie, into a special school for children like her.  However, she is rejected due to her age.  Desperate, Moose writes a letter to Al Capone to pull some strings and get her in.  He does.

Cute book.  Very historically accurate.  Kids learn all about Al Capone and the infamous Alcatraz Island prison.  Great writing.  Engaging.  Fun.  Funny.  The characters are well developed.  Highly recommended.

Two sequels have been written:  Al Capone Shines My Shoes where Moose is called out by Al Capone to help him since he helped his sister get into the Esther P Marinoff School and Al Capone Does My Homework where Moose’s apartment is burned and his sister being blamed, he sets out to discover who set his family’s apartment on fire and why.  All three books are great reads and a great lesson on siblings caring for one another and standing up for one another.  Moose also shows signs of liking girls and he struggles with making new friends and keeping them.  The books deal with the discrimination of those kids different from others and the struggles these families faced. Gennifer Choldenko does a fabulous job of narrating a tumultuous time in kids’ lives.

The Miracle of Saint Nicholas

Alexi is walking with his babushka on Christmas Eve in a small village in Russia. He wonders why they won’t celebrate Christmas in church.

His babushka explains how long ago soldiers closed the church and threatened to take anyone away who are found inside.  Shortly afterwards, all the items in the church disappeared.

Curious, Alexi visits the church a bit later and finds it open.  He enters and begins cleaning up inside.  He collects pine boughs and places them near the altar.

Soon, the whole village comes to see what Alexi is doing.

After dinner, Alexi returns to the church to find how all the villagers have brought relics and church items their grandparents had taken when the church closed.  His own babushka even had the painting of Saint Nicholas kept safe in her barn.

All wait in the church for the priest who turns out to be the shoemaker.  He was hidden from the soldiers by the people.

Candles were lit and the Christmas service was just how babushka remembered.

This childrens’ book by Gloria Whelan will surely delight with it’s surprise ending.  I loved how all it took was one little boy to bring God back into a little village that had forgotten.  It was as if the villagers were all just waiting for someone to take the first step.

Like God waits for us to say “Yes” to Him.

The Very First Easter

The Very First Easter by Paul L Maier is a great kids book that explains the story behind Easter.  It’s written in the form of a father reading the story to his son but the son breaks in periodically with questions.  It uses quotes from the Bible that the father then explains to his son.

Great illustrations.  Might be a bit long for younger kids (my son didn’t make it through it and he’s 3) but highly recommended.

Too Many Pumpkins

Too Many Pumpkins by Linda White is a kids book about a lady named Rebecca Estelle who hates pumpkins because when she was a child and poor that’s all she ate.  But one day, a truck drives by her home and a pumpkin falls out, smashing all over her lawn.  These pumpkin seeds sprout and Rebecca Estelle refuses to acknowledge them.

Until the fall when her yard is overflowing with pumpkins.  Now what will Rebecca Estelle do?

Rebecca Estelle ends up having a party with all the bakery items she made from those pumpkins and giving all of her items away. She plans on planting pumpkins agains next year.

My kids loved this story.  It’s a great story of how one lady who had an aversion to something due to her childhood experiences grew to eventually love that something.  Parallels can be drawn through this story to trying food you once didn’t like again or trying anything you thought you didn’t like for one reason or another at a different point in life because who knows?  You may like it again.

It reminds me of not discounting things due to previous held convictions, prejudices, or notions formed during my childhood or even adulthood.

Miss Rumphius

Alice (or Miss Rumphius) wants to do two things when she grows up:  go to faraway places and live beside the sea.  Her grandfather adds one more:   she “must do something to make the world more beautiful.”  She agrees, not knowing what that could be.

She accomplishes both the first two but is puzzled by the last one.  Then she has an idea.  She decides to plant lupines all along her town to make her town more beautiful.  Now known as the Lupine Lady, she tells her niece the same thing her grandfather told her.  Her niece agrees but is unsure as well what that may be.

I like this book because it emphasizes doing things for others and the outside world as part of living.  Also, it shows how it’s okay not to know what that “thing to make the world more beautiful” may be.  Miss Rumphius comes across the idea one day as she sees a patch of lupines and wants to see more.  It shows how if you look around for an opportunity, it will present itself and you don’t have to strive and push to find such a thing.  I further like how the message is passed on from one generation to the next–a great reminder of how the world is improved.

Miss Rumphius is also retired when she discovers how to make the world more beautiful.  It is simple and easy.  A great message that we can always do something no matter our age, circumstances, or difficulty level.  Also, it is the little things that can make a big difference.

Miss Rumphius is now known as the Lupine Lady by the neighborhood children and she passes her days telling stories and telling others to “do something to make the world more beautiful.”

Miss Rumphius is written and illustrated by Barbara Cooney.

My Chincoteague Pony

I hadn’t meant to blog about this book but I had to share the message because I think it’s powerful.

This was actually a book I placed on hold, thinking it a mere pony book (and my girls like most love ponies)!  But the message turned out to be anything but simple.

It’s the story of a girl who has dreamed all her life of owning a pony.  So, she works all summer in order to attend the Chincoteague auction so she can buy a wild pony.  She travels to the auction with her mom and she bids on every pony but is outbid by everyone.  She slowly realizes she doesn’t have enough money to buy a pony and starts to cry.  The woman next to her says, “Don’t give up.  Keep calling out your bid.  Persistence pays off,” and she hands her $20.  Then everyone around her starts handing her dollars.

She has enough money to buy the last pony auctioned which is the one she actually wanted.

Here’s the best part:

“I have a lot of work to do,” the girl tells her mom.  “I have to save all of my money and come back next year.”

“Isn’t one pony enough?” her mother asks.

“No.  I am going to give my money to another girl so that she can buy a pony of her own.”

Now, I’ve read A LOT of kids’ books but this is the first one I’ve read where paying it forward is the central theme.  It’s so simply taught that even the littlest ones will catch the message of the importance of helping others just like you have been helped.

God is everywhere, isn’t He?

This book is by Susan Jeffers who is an excellent author and story-teller.  We’ve read many of her books but this one is by far the best I’ve read.  In her forward, Jeffers says this is based on a true story she witnessed when she was at Pony Penning Day in Chincoteague.  This just makes this story even better.

It touches my heart when kids help other kids and with all the negativity out there this is the kind of story I want my kids to hear over and over again.

Fatima the Spinner and the Tent

Fatima the Spinner and the Tent by Idries Shah is a kids book, which I thought was a re-telling of Fatima in A Thousand and One Nights but this is a different Fatima.

In the story, she is taught by her father to spin and then she is ship wrecked and her father dies.  She is taken in by a family who teaches her to weave.  Then she is kidnapped and sold as a slave.  Her new master teaches her to make ship’s masts.  Then she is ship wrecked again in China.  But the Chinese have a legend that says a foreign woman would on day arrive and make a tent for the Emperor.  Of course, this is Fatima who uses all of the skills she learned (spinning, weaving, and mast-building) to make a tent.  She marries a prince and is happy the rest of her days.

After she got ship wrecked on China:  “She wept bitterly, for she felt that nothing in her life was working in accordance with expectation.  Whenever things seemed to be going well, something came and destroyed all her hopes.”

“Why is it,” she cried out, “that whenever I try to do something it comes to grief?  Why should so many unfortunate things happen to me?”  But there was no answer.

How many times have we thought the same things and cried out to God with no immediate answer.

“So, she picked herself up from the sand and started to walk…”

Isn’t this what we all do?

Last page, “It was through these adventures that Fatima realized that what had appeared to be an unpleasant experience at the time, turned out to be an essential part of the making of her ultimate happiness.”

I couldn’t help but think of God here.  It is so true.  We go through life, learning things along the way, lessons He wants to teach us, and every thing combines for our happiness, something God desires for us.

I’m reminded of the song, Your Love Never Fails that says, “You make all things work together for my good.”

I love books like these, especially kids books.  I love kids books I think because my mother never read to me so I get to read all these stories along the way.  My oldest loved this story.  It was the first book she picked out to read last night.

These stories are so essential for learning–stories that show how despite hardships it all works out in the end and these hardships all had a purpose–to give Fatima the skills she needed, which led to her happiness–or to extrapolate–which led to God’s purpose for her.

Everything we go through is for a purpose–His purpose.  We just have to try and remember that in the midst of heartache.

Awesome stuff!

“As God Wills”

Finding kids books these days with God even mentioned is a challenge.  Finding good kids books with God mentioned is an even bigger challenge.

I’m reading Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, an adaptation of the original by Miguel de Cervantes by Margaret Hodges for kids.

In chapter two, Don Quixote famously takes on the windmills, thinking they are giants.  Sancho, his faithful companion who thinks Don Quixote is crazy but goes along with him anyways, being promised a kingdom as his reward.  He’s the king so his wife would be the queen.

“My wife wouldn’t be worth two cents as a queen,” replied Sancho.  “She would do better as a countess, and even then, God help her.”

“Leave it in God’s hands,” said the knight, “but don’t be satisfied with any title less than governor.”

After his fight with the windmills:

Don Quixote:  “In the end, my good sword will prevail over his (the magician who turned the giants into windmills) evil arts.”

“As God wills,” Sancho replies.

Later, Don Quixote tells Sancho to not defend him against knights he fights as it’s against the laws of chivalry.

“I promise,” said Sancho.  “I will keep that law as strictly as I keep the Sabbath.”

I wish every book I read that these truths in it.  I wish I had some of these responses in my life’s situations.

How many times have I wished I said or even had the attitude or belief in challenging situations of “As God wills”?  Or “Leave it in God’s hands and don’t be satisfied with any less”?  How many times should I have responded “But God knows me, and that is enough” to a situation instead of with anger, resentment, and hostility?

This is great stuff for me.  I recognize it when I read it but my kids only absorb it subconsciously, storing it later for future use.

This book has constant references to God:

“May God guide you”, “God be with you”, “God speed you”, “May God preserve you”, “But God knows me, and that’s enough”, “Liberty is one of heaven’s best gifts.  A man should risk even his life for liberty”, “In God’s hands be it”

Don Quixote gives advice to Sancho:

“First, fear God.  Second, remember  who you are…”

“Remember that you have not earned this favor by your own merit”

“Don’t speak harshly to the man you have to punish; the pain of the punishment is enough…” [I substituted kids for man here.]  “Show mercy, for the mercy of God shines more brightly in our eyes than His justice.”

Why do we have to go back 400 years old to get such rich stories filled with God-fearing characters as memorable as Don Quixote and Sancho?  Characters who live out “As God wills”.  Characters who everyone else thinks are wacko but they themselves have the strength and conviction to stick to their beliefs.  Neither care what others think of them.  They are the butt of practical jokes but both adhere to their beliefs better than superglue.  They follow their true North.

They live their lives following their hearts and God is in their hearts.

I pray I can write such stories; ones that will reflect God’s will yet make an impact in young people’s hearts. My goal is to make Him known, subtly, through my character’s struggles and responses to life situations and live out “As God wills.”

Lessons From Gilgamesh Part 2

I love kids books and I read a lot of them since I have three little ones.  I also like quotes and I love the story of Gilgamesh.  I have a previous post from this summer that is from another translation of Gilgamesh with lessons learned as well and a summary of the story. 

You can read that here:

All quotes are from “Gilgamesh the Hero” by Geraldine McCaughrean.

“Why live if not to make a mark on this world?  To blaze a trail through it!  To do deeds worthy of remembrance!  Do or die!”

“The trouble with you, madam, is that you start by kissing and end by cursing.”

“It was unbearable, and yet it had to be borne.”

“Do or die.”

“Grab the day and run with it.”

You need “someone who can weather you even when you’re sour as a lemon.”

“It’s the quality of life that matters, not how long it drags on…”

“I’ve had time to learn the important things are few.  A wife, contentment, memories, peace.”

“Bread is like the life of man:  sweet smelling and softly tender at first, harder with age–a hard outer crust to defend a man against life’s knocks, then little by little more and more brittle until at last, decay.”

“The gods never meant you to live forever, so why spoil the life they did give you?  Is the rainbow any less beautiful because it’s short-lived?  Or because you can’t grasp hold of it?  Perhaps it is beautiful expressly because of that.”

“He walked through darkness and so glimpsed the light.”

Seven at One Blow

Ever since I started homeschooling, I have read hundreds of books to my kids (this is just since November) and have really gotten into the great kids books and stories out there, most of which I’ve never read since my mom didn’t have the time as a single mother to read to us.  I’ve even had to restrain myself from putting books on hold at the library because there are just so many good ones out there (I now have a running list of hold books–sad isn’t it?).

Anyways, one story that we’ve read lately has really grabbed my kids’ attention.  It’s “Seven at One Blow” by the Brothers Grimm.  I love classics and love reading the classics to my kids but this one was just one I grabbed off the shelf at the library.

It’s about a common tailor who kills seven flies at one blow and that becomes his mantra.  He decides he’s better than a common tailor and sets out on adventures using his seven at one blow mantra to prop him up.  Most people think he’s killed seven men or giants at one blow and not flies.

The version we are reading is by Eric Kimmel who writes in his intro:  “The tailor is one of the most appealing characters in Grimm.  There is nothing heroic about him, but because he possesses such supreme self-confidence he inevitably becomes the hero he pretends to be.  As the saying goes: whether you say you can or can’t, you’re right.”

I love this.  The guy so believes in himself and his ability to accomplish even the most daunting task, that it happens.  He does it.  He finds a way.

So, I’m going to begin believing I am a writer and a published writer at that and soon enough, the Universe will open up, God will step in, and it will happen.