For six-year-old S, the big winners in the 1775-1825 derby were Jean Van Leeuwen’s Nothing Here but Trees and Scott Russell Sanders’ The Floating House.
These two picture books have a lot in common. They’re both historical fiction, as opposed to the nonfiction I’d previously gravitated toward. (For those of you just joining us, my contribution to our sons’ homeschooling is my monthly selection of a batch of books covering a certain period in U.S. history.) And they both tell tales of families moving west into the wilds of Ohio and Indiana during the early 19th century.
But the stories are distinct enough to each offer readers something different. In Van Leeuwen’s book, it’s the claustrophobic sensation of setting up a homestead alone in a place where the trees block out the sky. In Sanders’, it’s the wide-openness of drifting down a big river in the occasional company of other families.
Sanders, by the way, has written several picture books taking place on the early-1800s frontier. We’ll be reading a lot more from him.
This was also the month that two-year-old F really got into some of the books I brought home, especially Ox-Cart Man — one of the most beautiful books ever — and Stephen and Rosemary Benet’s Johnny Appleseed. Inspired by the latter, for days he’s been toting around a tin pot, though it’s too small to fit on his head.
A caveat about the Benet book, the text for which dates back to 1933: I wasn’t wild, so to speak, about the lines The stalking Indian,/The beast in its lair/Did no hurt while he was there./For they could tell/As wild things can,/That Jonathan Chapman/Was God’s own man.
Though an afterword by the Benets’ son Thomas tries to put the “wild things” bit into context, and though S.D. Schindler’s illustration of those stalking Indians is both warm and respectful, the fact remains that the poem refers to a specific group of human beings as “wild things.”
While that didn’t stop us from re-reading the book a good many times, I did feel obliged to read aloud the afterword and “discuss” — yes, with a just-turned-two-year-old — how standards of what’s acceptable change over the years. And all in all, I’d rather bring home Reeve Lindbergh and Kathy Jakobsen Hallquist’s version of Johnny Appleseed next year.
Finally, while library delays kept us from getting our hands on Old Ironsides this month, a post on Semicolon led me to Brinton Turkle‘s Thy Friend, Obadiah and Rachel and Obadiah, both of which went over big — with both boys.