Friday, June 19, 2009

Another Birthday...

Today is Elvira Woodruff's Birthday!

I've read several of Elvira Woodruff's books in the past and have reviewed one of his books here before. Elvira is a wonderful, wonderful author, who shares with readers stories that teach what I believe to be very valuable lessons. These 3 do nothing less!

Woodruff, Elvira.
Small Beauties: The Journey of Darcy Heart O'Hara.
Alfred A. Knopf.

Darcy, the only girl in family of seven children has an ability that the rest of her family seems to lack - the ability to notice the "small beauties" in life - a dew-covered spiderweb, cloud castles, , a buttercup flower, a pebble shaped like a heart, a butterfly's wing. She's forever collecting these "small beauties" in the hem of her skirt, pulling a few stitches loose for each item.

We watch as Darcy continues to collect these objects while the family is experiencing the impact of the Great Potato Famine, which struck Ireland in mid-1800's. The O'Hara's try to overcome their loss of food and source of income by continually replanting their potato crops. However, their efforts just aren't enough and soon the family is facing eviction from their house if they don't pay the Crown's agent the rent. Unable to do so, the family has little else to do but sit and watch as the agent returns and torches the family home. Darcy quickly grabs one of Granny's rosary beads (the chain was broken upon falling on the floor). The next morning, before they prepare to set sail to America, Darcy grabs one last special stone from the ruins of what had, at one time, been her home and tucks it into the hem of her dress.

After a week in America, the O'Hara's gather to talk about their new life. Darcy contributes to the conversation by loosening the remaining stitches of her hem, allowing all of the "small beauties" to be released to the floor. Together, Darcy leads the family in a remembrance ceremony of sorts, allowing memories of their past life in Ireland. These "small beauties" that she was always distracted by allows the family the chance to share deeper memories of who they truly are and where they came from.

The message portrayed to readers in this book is perhaps one of the most important I've found in almost all of the books I have read to date... and, if for some reason, you happen to pass over the message, Elvira sums it up for you,
Author's Note: While Darcy and her family sprung from my imagination, the spark for their story came from my reading about a very real family who was forced to leave Ireland during the famine.
They left County Cork in 1847, sailing first to Canada and then on to America. Sadly, the mother of this family died aboard ship, but her children survived and settled with their father in Michigan. One son, William, went on to marry and have a son of his own called Henry.
This boy loved to tinker with the machines on the farm, and he grew up to become one of the forefathers of American industry. But his family's memories of fleeing the famine were very much a part of who Henry was, despite his success and fame.
Years later, he traveled to Ireland. A millionaire many times over, he could have afforded the most precious of gems - diamonds, rubies, and more. And yet what stone did he choose to ship back to America? A worthless old hearthstone removed from a humble cottage - worthless to some, but priceless to Henry Ford, for it was the very hearthstone that his father's family had gathered around the night before they were to leave Ireland forever.
Henry Ford, whose "horseless carriage," the automobile, changed the landscape of America, understood the importance of family memory. I hope you will too. And just as Darcy did, take the time to notice the small beauties you have all around you. For one day you may find that they are the very memories you treasure most.
Family Activities after sharing Small Beauties: The Journey of Darcy Heart O'Hara
Woodruff, Elvira.
The Wing Shop.
Holiday House.
Guided Reading Level: M

Longing to return to his "old" house and "old" neighborhood, Matthew wishes for some method of transportation that would take him back to Main Street. He's not yet old enough to drive. He's too young to take a bus. And his mother will only let him walk to the drugstore (not far enough to get back to his house on Main Street). After watching a pigeon, Matthew realizes that a pair of wings would enable him to fly back to Main Street. His new friend, the pigeon, shows him just where to obtain a pair of wings - Featherman's Wing Shop!

Through the process of trying several different pairs of wings - seagull wings, bat wings, airplane wings... Matthew finally comes to the conclusion that "home" is where he and his family are together - it's not just a house or a neighborhood, but where family and memories are made... it can be virtually anywhere.

The Wing Shop is yet another wonderful story by Woodruff! The message here was simple for me to see, and would make this a wonderful book for children who are anxious about or having a hard time coping with a move to a new house/city.

Lesson Plans/Reading Activities:
  1. Look for "wings" on Craigslist, E-Bay or even - make a few purchases.
  2. Hang a few nails somewhere around the house (a basement, garage, playroom, etc).
  3. Each week, after children have completed their chores, "pay" them with a weekly "wing rental."
  4. Each day, encourage the children to be adventurous and with their wings, take a trip to someplace they're interested in (use the internet or non-fiction travel books for a "virtual" trip)!
  5. The scholastic website, linked above as "virtual," is a great activity for kids to keep them involved in learning, reading and writing throughout the summer months. Journaling topics are provided for each "trip" they take! A super cool activity if you ask me... one I'll definitely keep in mind for a classroom!
Woodruff, Elvira.
Can You Guess Where We're Going?
Holiday House.

This book reminds me so much of an activity my mom and dad used to do when my brothers and I were little... they'd take us on mystery trips... about 2 times a month in the summer. They were never "huge" trips - mini-golf, Great Escape, a water park, ice cream, swimming at a local swimming hole - that sort of thing, but it meant so much to us (obviously, as I still remember the "mystery trips" vividly)! They'd put us in the back seat of the car, blindfold us with an old bandanna and off we'd go... we'd have to guess where we were going and even if we guessed right, they wouldn't tell us... we'd find out once we reached our destination!

A young boy spends the day with his grandpa. As the two take of in the car, grandpa makes Jack guess continually where they're going after giving him hints... monkeys, dragons, mountains, knights in shining armor, sharks, turtles, t-rex. At last, they pull in to the parking lot... have you guessed where they're going? That's right... Grandpa took Jack on a trip to the library - where they check out books about all of these topics!

I think this is an incredible way to get children excited about reading... and even visiting the library. Plus, it's practically free (especially if you can walk or ride bikes to the library)! Definitely an activity to try out this summer! I bet it'll get the children reading!

If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to