Monday, February 18, 2008

Clever Counters

Counting and numbers books abound, many following the same old format: the number (i.e. "3") with a picture of that number of objects (i.e. 3 kittens). While my daughter (currently 2 years old) enjoys some of the standard format numbers books, she really enjoys some of the more clever counting books out there. Below is a short list of some of our favorites, in no particular order.

Raindrop, Plop! by Wendy Cheyette Lewison and Pam Paparone
Raindrop, Plop! has a charming, rhythmic text that counts forward to ten and then back to one. Illustrations cleverly highlight the number being mentioned. For example, one page's text reads, "Seven raindrops plop in a cup." The picture is full of raindrops, but seven are drawn a bit more clearly and prominently.

Doggies (Boynton Board Books (Simon & Schuster)) by Sandra Boynton
Not only does Boynton's tradmark illustrative style mark Doggies, but the dogs each bark uniquely and in a number according to the number on the page. The reader must be prepared to get creative with "ruffs," "bow wows," "arfs," and so forth. The tenth animal is a cute surprise.

One Was Johnny: A Counting Book by Maurice Sendak
Sendak and his characters have a quirky way of connecting with young children and Johnny, "who lived by himself and liked it like that!" is no exception. This book counts up to ten and back to one.

Anno's Counting Book by Mitsumasa Anno
My toddler doesn't "get" Anno's Counting Book entirely, but loves its pictures just the same. This book cleverly counts to twelve with no words or numbers. Each page is a new month of the year; each month's number is revealed in the subtle illustrations and a stack of blocks in the margin. The month of April, for example would show seasonal weather/landscape and feature four of everything: buildings, children, adults, trees, flowers, etc.

Pigs Love Potatoes by Anika Denise and Christopher Denise
Pigs Love Potatoes is our latest favorite. Another book with delightful illustrations and a catchy, rhythmic text in which numbers of piggies and potatoes are embedded. "Now four pigs peel potatoes, and four pigs sit and wait, when four pigs' next door neighbor comes strolling through the gate." Lots of fun! Of course, "the very piggy piggies eat each and every bite" at the end!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Elizabeth Prentiss: More Love to Thee

What I'm drinking: House Specialty Chai

Mrs. Elizabeth Prentiss is best known for her best-selling novel, Stepping Heavenward. More devoted readers may be familiar with Aunt Jane’s Hero and the thick biography compiled by her husband, More Love to Thee: The Life and Letters of Elizabeth Prentiss. The biography by Sharon James is a welcome addition to this collection as both an introduction to the life of a godly writer and a commentary on her achievements.

Elizabeth Prentiss was a nineteenth-century Christian who was familiar with both blessings and heartaches from the hand of God. She was raised in a Christian home, enjoyed a blissful marriage with her husband and was talented with a pen, yet she experienced the mundanity of housekeeping, severe illness, and the loss of precious young children. Although her most popular work, Stepping Heavenward is not entirely biographical, the voice of its heroine came naturally to a woman who was candid with her own experience. For this reason, the universal response of women since its original publication has consistently been “‘It seems to be myself that I am reading about.’” (James, 145) The Prentiss family was familiar with grief and grace, with noble intentions and apparent failure, but all these were recognized without bitterness as lessons in the school of Christ. Readers who have experienced frustration and disappointment in the home or in relationships will find encouragement with Mrs. Prentiss’s perseverance and zeal for her Lord.

The length of the original biography, More Love to Thee, can be daunting. Drawing heavily from this material, however, Mrs. James places her findings from other primary and secondary documents, including family histories, in historical and literary contexts. Using quotations from letters and summaries of events, she creates a beautifully smooth narrative. The text comes alive with Mrs. Prentiss’s voice while Mrs. James gently asserts her own observations on her subject’s character and the strengths and weaknesses of Mrs. Prentiss’s literary work. Future reading of these works will be illuminated by such insights into her life and convictions.

My only consolation in finishing Sharon James’s biography is that I am motivated to indulge in the complete More Love to Thee with better understanding, and to locate the other novels by Elizabeth Prentiss that reflect her life experiences and spiritual growth. Those who are already enamored with her greatest bestseller, Stepping Heavenward, or are familiar with Aunt Jane’s Hero, will learn greater appreciation for the trials she faced and the God she so humbly served through them. Those who have not yet been introduced to her extraordinary fiction will be eager to follow the discovery of this godly woman with their own creative expressions of life and faith.