PENGUIN AND PINECONE by Salina Yoon

A penguin? A pinecone? How can a writer possibly bring these random things together in a fully-developed and beautiful story about friendship and love? When you read this new picture book by prolific and uber-talented Salina Yoon, you’ll see exactly how.

I asked Ellie to write a review of PENGUIN AND PINECONE for A Mom’s World because she was so touched by the characters from the moment she saw the book trailer:

It’s a short video, but during those 59 seconds Ellie cried and laughed and clapped and cried some more. She thought it seemed like a sad book and wondered how it would end. Would Pinecone be gone forever? What would Penguin do without his new best friend? We had to get the book to find out, of course, and while we read it, Ellie cried and laughed and cried and laughed. Then we read it another dozen times. She slept with it. She brought it to school. Finally, after a week of carrying it around, the book has a place of honor on our ottoman in the living room, because you never know when you HAVE to read it again.

In a nutshell, PENGUIN AND PINECONE is a friendship story: When Penguin finds a lost pinecone one day, an unlikely friendship blooms. But Grandpa reminds Penguin that pinecones can’t live in the snow — they belong in the warm forest far away. Though he will miss his friend, Penguin returns Pinecone to his home, dreaming of the day they can reunite. And when he finally returns to the forest to check on his friend, Penguin discovers that love only grows over time-and so do little pinecones! 

And here is Ellie’s review — I asked her some questions and typed her answers as she talked.

  • What did you think about the book?  Sad. Happy. Enjoying. When Penguin has to leave Pinecone it is sad. It is happy at the end when Pinecone grows into a big tree because now it snows sometimes and Penguin and Pinecone get to be together. It’s enjoying when they get to be together when they first become friends before Grandpa tells Penguin it’s too cold for Pinecone here.
  • What did you like best about the book? When Penguin tries to figure out what Pinecone is. It is really, really funny!
  • What are your 3 favorite things about the story?  1. It’s funny.  2. It’s also sad.  3. It’s learning – if you didn’t know this, pinecones have seeds in them and if you leave them alone they can grow into trees.
  • What is your favorite word/lines?  “Pinecone was sad to see Penguin go, but the forest is no place for a penguin.” Because it’s sad, but it’s funny because the tree has a scarf.And it’s also really exciting because Penguin saw how Pinecone had grown so big.  “When you give love, it grows.” All the trees have scarves, hats, mittens on and those were all the pinecones that grew up. They had love. Because of the hats and things.
  • Who is your favorite character? What do you like best about that character?  Penguin – because he is most funniest and also really sad when Pinecone has to leave. He’s caring. About Pinecone.
  • What was your favorite illustration?  The picture that shows when Penguin leaves Pinecone in the forest. He made an “I” with sticks, made a heart with stones, and a “U” with pine needles. And he put Pinecone right in the middle. It shows how much Penguin loves Pinecone and how it feels to lose a friend.

Ellie wants you to know that you should read this book too, but only if you really like penguins and pinecones and also books that are happy and sad at the same time. She was thrilled to find out that Penguin has his own blog now too, so she can stay in touch with him and find out what he’s doing these days. We both look forward to many more adventures with Penguin in books to come!

Ellie also wants to say THANK YOU to Salina for sending her Penguin’s story, AND a copy of her board book, WHERE’S ELLIE?, which has not yet come down from the top bunk where it is read nightly. She hopes that some day she can meet Salina in person and give her a hug.

Fall — crimson leaves, crisp apples, and books on fire

Ah, fall.  My favorite season.  Crisp air, bright sunshine, blazing foliage.  Apple picking, leaf jumping, pumpkin carving.  Halloween, birthdays, my wedding anniversary.  Fall is a feast for every one of my senses.

But if I concentrate, I can smell something other than the fallen leaves and fresh produce.

It’s the smell of burning books.

Fall is also the season that brings us Banned Books Week, an annual celebration started by the American Library Association in 1982.  The mission of this week is to remind the world that everyone has the freedom to read what they want.  No one has the right to make that choice for you.

I love books.  I love reading.   I was the child who hid with a flashlight under my covers long into the night, went to friends’ houses and spent my time exploring their shelves, and in middle school I even read while blow-drying my hair (Don’t believe me?  Check out my school pictures from those years.  Horror.)  Sure, I did other things, but no day passed that I didn’t pick up a book.  My parents encouraged my habit, so long as I got enough sleep and my homework was done.

I only remember one time being told I was not allowed to read a particular bookIt was my birthday, eighth grade, and Christine, one of my best friends, gave me a copy of Judy Blume’s FOREVER, a book which deals with teen angst, first love, and sex.  My mom read it first, then sat me down and explained that she felt the subject matter was too mature for me.  She talked about her views on premarital sex, love, and other things that made me squirm with embarassment and wish to disappear.  In conclusion, I could read it in a year or two.  Then she hid it.  Badly.

It took me less than a day to find it on a closet shelf, and I raced through it.  Judy Blume was — and remains — one of my favorite writers, and I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to read this book.  Plus, I needed to see what the fuss was all about.

Interestingly, while I did like the book, it did not make me eager to rush out and jump into bed with someone.  By eighth grade I had assimilated a certain worldview of what I wanted and did not want, in the very foreign and somewhat scary world of intimacy with boys.  Reading FOREVER (okay, I read it a bunch of times, as I always do with books I like) did not undo thirteen years of life with my parents.

That’s the funny thing about controversial books.  A person or group of people hear about it, decide it’s bad for kids, and decide to try to get it banned.  Often this is done without reading the book at all, or simply reading out-of-context excerpts pasted together by fanatical control freaks.  My mom read it, gave me her view.  I disagreed and disobeyed.  Naughty, to be sure, but such is life with a teen.  The more you say “you can’t”, the more that teen will be interested in whatever was probably just a passing thought to begin with.  The important piece of my experience was the discussion, as humiliating as it was for me (and perhaps Mom, as well).  The best books are the ones that spark discussion — and sadly, that’s the reason most banned books are challenged in the first place.  They encourage thought.  And dialogue!  With kids!  Stop the madness!

Judy Blume is one of the most frequently banned writers in America.  This is because her books usually deal with the reality of a child’s life, the fears they harbor, the questions they have, the issues that they face every day.  And, yes, most parents want to be the people who explain stuff to their kids.  That’s their right, without a doubt.  Parents should be the ones to help their own children navigate the world, especially through the turbulent waters of adolescence.  But it’s not their right to say my child cannot have access to those books.  My mom did not forbid my best friend from reading FOREVER.  In fact, Christine had already read it.  Her mom is my mom’s best friend.  Christine’s mom did not have a problem with the book.  (It’s possible she didn’t even read it, I don’t know.)  There was no fallout between the moms because of the difference in opinion.  Each let the other parent in the best way she knew.  The moms talked with their daughters as much as each felt necessary.  And Christine and I went on to have some interesting, nervous-giggling discussions of our own.  (And to the best of my knowledge, she also did not rush out the next week to have sex.)

When I taught seventh grade, a colleague and I decided to integrate Banned Books Week into our fall curriculum, much to the irritation of our department head (who thought we were upstarts anyway, because we wanted to do more than parse sentences and read The Odyssey).  We used it as a jumping off point to talk about the power of language, moving from banned books to advertising to propaganda to politics to essays and speech and back to fiction.  It was an awesome unit.  (I’m sure department head was happy to see me go when I became an at-home mom).  The kids loved those weeks of delving into language, challenging themselves and each other to consider the words they used every day, as well as the words they heard and read in the world around them.  They talked about making choices — the whys and hows and ramifications of free speech, whether in a book, at recess, or in a larger public forum.  I could see them grow as writers, thinkers, and speakers.  Like I said: Awesome.

That’s often what the best books can do for us.  They can challenge us to hone our thoughts and opinions, and learn how to express ourselves clearly, honestly, and, hopefully, without fear of retribution.  Sadly, some adults refuse to allow kids to rise to this challenge.  Again, I have no problem with a single parent deciding that his or her child cannot read a particular book.  My problem comes when that parent’s morals and opinions are thrust on the rest of us.  That’s what happens when a book is removed from public access, whether a school or library.

Every year, a new catchprase encompasses the spirit of Banned Books Week.  This year’s is “Think For Yourself, and Let Others Do The Same.”

Indeed.

Coming soon:  Why books are challenged, who is challenging them, and what you can do about it.

Help Save New Moon Magazine

Yesterday, the realization that my oldest child is turning eight finally solidified in my overtaxed brain.  My former almost-nine-pound baby is nearing my height and almost fits into my shoes, which, admittedly, given my height isn’t that amazing, really, but she is growing up.  No doubt about it.

We were at the Y for free swim, and met up with friends after their weekly lesson for a few minutes of play.  Moms chatted, kids cavorted.  Mitzi and our friends’ younger son are in the same grade; his brother, a year older.  I was a little surprised when the older boy was the one who swam up, looking for my daughter.  The pair goofed around, and it struck me that the play had a very small, almost undetectable edge of flirtatiousness to it, the sweet kind that only young children can have when they think no one is looking.  It was clearly innocent, fun, and nothing of real note.  But watching the silliness and the splashing, I was reminded of the sort of playfighting that occurs between teens who like each other (come on, you remember those days), and it was then I understood for the first time that the reality of growing up loomed before us, closer than maybe we’d realized.

I’ve been thinking of this all day, how I need to start being aware of the changes on the horizon, the ways I hope to model positive behavior, and the means by which Mitzi (and her siblings to follow) enter and evaluate the world around them.  Suddenly, the casualness with which they occasionally watch certain Disney Channel seems less benign.  

Not that I’m leaning toward overprotectiveness, but certainly I need to consider what messages my kids, especially my daughters, receive from the world around them.

So it was with dismay that I learned of the financial struggles of New Moon Girls Magazine.  If you haven’t yet seen this periodical, check it out (www.newmoon.com).  It’s an advertising-free publication, written almost exclusively by girls — a gem amid other teen fare.  Not that I have anything against those others — I remember being young and begging for subscriptions to 16, Seventeen, whatever.  

But now I’m the mom, and now there are different choices.  New Moon strives to offer girls ages 8-14 an alternative to magazines primarily concerned with diets, beauty tips, celebrity profiles, and fashion updates.  I came across New Moon in my writing research and was, frankly, surprised by the high quality of the writing by children.  New Moon doesn’t ignore the concerns of girls in this age group — rather, those concerns are discussed without pandering to the idea that a girl is only as good as her looks, and a BFF is only as true as her Facebook profile.

Sadly, those qualities don’t help a magazine do well in today’s economy.  Without increased sales, New Moon will fold at the end of the year.  Luckily, those sales amount to only about 250 subscriptions a month, a paltry amount when you consider the numbers of girls eager for a voice in their confusing world.

So my sales plug of the day — check this mag out.  Buy your daughter a subscription.  Or a neice.  Or a friend’s daughter.  Or buy one for your library.  You could sponsor a membership for low-income girls who have fewer options of experience and exposure than their more well-off peers.  Tell your kids’ teachers about New Moon — as a teacher I would’ve loved another place to encourage my budding writers to send their well-penned articles and essays, not to mention the opportunity to show real kids’ writing to my students.

Mitzi is turning 8 in January, just after Christmas.  And I’m pretty sure that for one of these celebrations she’s going to get a year of New Moon to enjoy.   It’s not going to alter the challenges ahead of us, but maybe it’s a start.  

What about you?