Etta Wilson

Yearly each December, Christmas trees appear in malls and offices, and tree sales spring up on lots and street corners across the nation. It's just not Christmas in the U.S. without Christmas trees. Like many American customs, the Christmas tree tradition traveled from across the ocean to our shores. Author Rick Osborne set out to discover the origin of the Christmas tree and its connection to the essential Christmas story. The result is his most recent book, The Legend of the Christmas Tree.

Osborne might well have wondered about Christmas trees. He and his family live in Vancouver, British Columbia, near the heart of the evergreen industry. During a long airplane trip, his thoughts turned to the following sequence: God's gift of life, humankind's fall into sin and Christ's sacrifice to restore the wonderful relationship between God and man. Osborne began to see that the decorated tree represented joyous celebration in a much deeper way than merely exchanging presents. He decided his story would portray a family selecting a tree and sharing the decorating activity in other words, the family of God in celebration of His one great gift.

Much of the historical content in the story comes from a "grandfatherly man" at the tree farm where the family makes their purchase. He has three large, perfect trees set up in stands, each decorated differently. The old man tells the family three stories: how over a thousand years ago the monk Boniface had used the tree to describe the nature of God, how trees had been decorated in the Middle Ages with apples and bread twists to tell the story of Adam and Eve, and how Martin Luther used a tree decorated with candles to tell his children the story of the birth of Jesus.

When the family in The Legend of the Christmas Tree makes their piney purchase, they receive one more gift from the storyteller a small silver box. That gift is revealed at the book's end, putting the finishing touch on this tale of a Christmas celebration. It's a story Osborne hopes will help families understand how their Christmas tree brings true meaning to the celebration of the season.

Etta Wilson is a children's book enthusiast in Brentwood, Tennessee.

Yearly each December, Christmas trees appear in malls and offices, and tree sales spring up on lots and street corners across the nation. It's just not Christmas in the U.S. without Christmas trees. Like many American customs, the Christmas tree tradition traveled from across the ocean to our shores. Author Rick Osborne set out to […]

n the great green room there was a telephone, and a red balloon has signaled bedtime for countless children since the publication of Margaret Wise Brown's classic Goodnight Moon in 1947. Brown, who never had children of her own, nonetheless understood the intrigue of rhythm and rhyme for young children. From her days of early childhood education at Bank Street College in New York through her career as editor and author, until her untimely death in 1952, she was constantly writing stories and rhymes that appeal to young children. Recently, her younger sister Roberta Brown Rauch has brought forth some of Brown's manuscripts that had never been published. Noted artist Susan Jeffers was invited to illustrate several of these for a book, and the result is the newly published Love Songs of the Little Bear. In the illustrator's note at the back, Jeffers describes how the title poem gave her the vision for “a young character, a family, and a setting.” Following that poem, set “one morning in May,” are three others that take Little Bear and readers through the seasons: “Green Song” (summer), “Song of Wind and Rain” (fall), and “Snow Song” (winter).

But this is not simply a visit to the calendar. The happy, loving relationship between mother and child, suggested so warmly on the cover, becomes the impetus for Little Bear's own exploration and pleasure in the natural world “where the little things creep . . . where the little bugs are all asleep.” Jeffers' large, full-page pictures have many details that add to the enticing rhymes, such as a goose and a pig for playmates in the rain.

Even though Brown's poems had presumably not been sufficiently polished for publication, their unusual rhyming schemes are just right for a young child. She understood the lure of repetition of both phrase and sound. In the winter poem, “Snow, snow, slow, slow, in the soft fall of the snow,” she has captured the feeling of quietness and rest. And it is the very feeling a child needs at bedtime! One interesting note we usually think of Brown in connection with rabbits because of Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny. With the publication of Love Songs of the Little Bear, we'll have to change our thinking.

Etta Wilson loves little children and their books any time of the year.

n the great green room there was a telephone, and a red balloon has signaled bedtime for countless children since the publication of Margaret Wise Brown's classic Goodnight Moon in 1947. Brown, who never had children of her own, nonetheless understood the intrigue of rhythm and rhyme for young children. From her days of early […]

Have you heard any Spanish lately? It's not hard to do with a Spanish language radio station in almost every city of the country. Roughly one-fourth of the U.S. population speaks Spanish as their native tongue, and each year more and more elementary school students study the language. But it takes more than just speaking the language to be really in touch with Hispanic culture. Lynn Joseph's The Color of My Words is a moving story for middle-graders that captures many elements of the culture in the Dominican Republic: dancing the merengue, sitting up in a gri gri tree, eating huge plates of arroz con dulce (rice pudding), shopping at the colmado. Joseph paints a life that is lush and brightly colored in spite of serious economic deprivation.

The engrossing story painted on this Hispanic canvas will convince young readers that the urge to write can erupt anywhere. When we first meet the narrator, 12-year-old Ana Rosa Hernandez, she is washing clothes in the river with her mami, and confesses that she wants to become a writer. Although her mother warns her that it's better to keep things inside ("writers have died here"), Ana Rosa believes there always has to be a first person to do something. She begins filching little bits of paper to write her poems on: the paper sacks her papi buys his rum in; napkins; and finally her older brother Guario's notebook from the restaurant where he works. When she reads her story about a sea monster (a whale) she had watched from her perch in the gri gri, all is forgiven and her brother becomes the principal champion for her writing.

Each episode of the story coils more tightly. First, Ana Rosa is disappointed when her brother's handsome friend becomes infatuated with her older sister. Next she learns that she is illegitimate, and then "some big-mouth politician" tells the villagers that the government plans to buy their land. Guario becomes the leader of the opposition, and a violent street fight ends with terrible results for the Hernandez family.

In the end it is Ana Rosa's writing and her family's gift of a typewriter that restore her sense of wholeness. She knows she must write Guario's story for all to read, and "All the way home, words sing in my head." Joseph thanks the real-life Guario and all his family for their help in her author's note. Readers will want to thank Joseph for a terrific story.

Etta Wilson is a children's book enthusiast in Brentwood, Tennessee.

Have you heard any Spanish lately? It's not hard to do with a Spanish language radio station in almost every city of the country. Roughly one-fourth of the U.S. population speaks Spanish as their native tongue, and each year more and more elementary school students study the language. But it takes more than just speaking […]

Sure, I thought when I agreed to do this review, how hard can it be to review a kid's book about baseball? Besides, John Ritter's Choosing Up Sides got a lot of notice and major awards last year. Maybe he's the new Matt Christopher. But as I read Over the Wall, I knew Ritter had a bigger game plan than just a sports story. Thirteen-year-old Tyler Waltern is in New York visiting his cousins for the summer. His dad's been depressed and withdrawn since accidentally running over Tyler's sister about ten years earlier, and Tyler welcomes the chance to get away. He and his cousin Louie play summer league baseball, and Tyler is sure he is “God's gift to baseball.” He is truly outstanding at the sport, except for one flaw his explosive temper. Fortunately, Tyler has a coach who is concerned about the total development of the young player rather than just his athletic skill. When Coach Trioli witnesses Tyler's temper, he gives the young man more than straight talk. They visit the scene of the violent Vietnam anti-war protests on Wall Street in the 1960s, and Coach describes the death of a close friend in those protests. “Lots of ways to solve a problem. But fighting's the worst. It's the easiest. It takes the least courage.” Tyler, partly because of his intense desire to be on the All-Star team, takes the first steps toward control.

He advances further toward maturity when his aunt takes him and his cousins to Washington to see the sights, notably the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial Wall where their grandfather's name is inscribed. In the aftermath Tyler hears about his own father's opposition to the war, and he begins the struggle most of us face from time to time about the morality and methodology of winning whether it's in war or baseball. Even putting up a monument to the dead can bring trouble, as Tyler and his cousin Breena (a semi-romantic interest) discover near the end of the story. But Tyler has learned that “when I'm less afraid, I'm less angry. Weirdest thing!” Ritter, who lives in San Diego, has filled the book with well-researched background about baseball, the cities of New York and Washington, and American response to Vietnam not to mention a double entendre for Over the Wall. Only in a couple of instances does it bog the storyline. He knows his baseball lingo for sure. He's written at least a three-base hit for junior-high kids, their parents, and at least one grandmother.

Sure, I thought when I agreed to do this review, how hard can it be to review a kid's book about baseball? Besides, John Ritter's Choosing Up Sides got a lot of notice and major awards last year. Maybe he's the new Matt Christopher. But as I read Over the Wall, I knew Ritter had […]

The modern-day nation of Israel is 52 years old this year. That may not mean much to those in the pre-50 age set, but it's astounding when we consider the lapse of time since the previous Jewish state and the constant boil of ethnic and religious fervor in the region.

Jerusalem Vigil by Brock and Bodie Thoene (prononced Tay'nee) opens on May 14, 1948, the day Israel's statehood was declared. The novel covers a period of only five days, exploring those first difficult days from the angle of each different ethnic group involved. Jerusalem Vigil initiates the Zion Legacy series, projected to be six titles, each of which will delineate another few days or weeks in this dramatic birth-of-a-nation story. This follows two earlier series, Zion Chronicles and Zion Covenant, begun in 1986 and now numbering 32 titles and 6.5 million books in print. The Thoenes' fiction has garnered seven Gold Medallion Awards from the Christian Booksellers Association over the years.

How did the Thoenes get started on this epic writing venture? The two grew up together in Bakersfield, California, married when they were sophomores in college, and after graduation, went to work in Hollywood as researchers and screenwriters for John Wayne's Batjac Productions. Their first book together, Gates of Zion, originated as a screenplay to be produced with the makers of the movie Chariots of Fire while they were working at Batjac. In fact, it was John Wayne who encouraged them to create the Zion Chronicles series and who called the birth of the state of Israel the Jewish Alamo. When I talked with the husband-and-wife writing team, I asked why they had chosen the word Zion to title all their series. Also, I wondered, how can they create another good story about the same tensions in the same setting? Brock explained that Zion best expresses both the biblical and prophetic aspects of the city of Jerusalem. In Old Testament times, Zion was the name of the fortress conquered by King David prior to the first establishment of Jerusalem. The name connotes an incredible continuity. No other state has gone out of existence and come back centuries later. The Pope has called the establishment of Israel the most significant event of the 20th century, Brock reminded me.

In Jerusalem Vigil the Thoenes present the concentrated chaos of the first five days following the British evacuation mandated by the United Nations to establish a Jewish homeland. Even as the British were on the road to Tel Aviv, Jews and Arabs were positioning and arming themselves for the great land grab in the Old City. The book definitely has a cinematic flavor as scenes shift among the various characters, including Moshe Sachar, commander of forces defending the Jewish sector, and his wife, Rachel, survivor of German prison camps; Ahkmed al-Malik, Arab demolitions expert; and the Mother Superior of the Notre Dame Hospice just outside the city walls.

How did the Thoenes capture the detail that make the scenes so real? The two have gone to Israel time and again to talk with participants in the conflict, many of whom were young teens in 1948. They have researched customs, buildings, and language. Both Hebrew and Arabic are frequently used in dialogue.

We wanted readers to know what happened on an hour-by-hour basis. Although we have created some characters, everything in the book actually happened, Bodie said. In Jerusalem Vigil they provide three maps to help locate the action of the many scenes.

In describing how they write as a team, Brock noted that he is the chief researcher (he has degrees in history and education). You never really get to the end of research. No circumstance is wasted. He develops the outline of events for the novel; then Bodie, the journalist, develops characters and dialogue. When she has finished, Brock reads the scenes back to her since she is dyslexic. At this point she becomes more editor than author.

Now the Thoenes' three children are involved in all their writing projects. Sons John and Luke have written nine books of their own and collaborate to produce audio versions of their parents' books (read by the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Company). The Thoenes' daughter, Rachel, abridges the text for the audios. Four grandchildren, one born the day of our conversation, are a bit young yet, but no doubt there will be stories for them to research and share as well.

Meanwhile, Jerusalem Vigil promises meticulously researched, dramatic reading for today's historical fiction fans.

Etta Wilson is an agent and reviewer.

The modern-day nation of Israel is 52 years old this year. That may not mean much to those in the pre-50 age set, but it's astounding when we consider the lapse of time since the previous Jewish state and the constant boil of ethnic and religious fervor in the region. Jerusalem Vigil by Brock and […]

Tomi Ungerer has given the expression “It's a dog's life” a whole new meaning with the recent release of Flix, his first children's book in 25 years. A tongue-in-cheek treatment of a dog born to feline parents (an ancestor had been secretly married to a pug!), the book is filled with Ungerer's antic humor in its gentle, clearcut text and bold, imaginative illustrations. Flix, intelligent and kind, has a tough time among his kitten classmates, but he learns to climb trees and do cat-things, while his godfather, a bassett friend of the family, teaches him the ways of the dog world. These skills stand him in good stead as he grows up, and the story says a lot to young readers about overcoming discrimination. Guess what kind of offspring Flix has! This rollicking story of Flix's youth and marriage is released just as Ungerer has received the 1998 Hans Christian Andersen Award, in recognition of his important contributions to children's books. Reviewed by Etta Wilson.

Tomi Ungerer has given the expression “It's a dog's life” a whole new meaning with the recent release of Flix, his first children's book in 25 years. A tongue-in-cheek treatment of a dog born to feline parents (an ancestor had been secretly married to a pug!), the book is filled with Ungerer's antic humor in […]

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