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Check It Out

Courier Article by Carol Cariens
Sunday, September 6, 2009

Children’s Books Pay Homage to the Working World

"Heigh ho, heigh ho, it's off to work we go…" This Labor Day week-end enjoy some great picture books that celebrate America's work force. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Everybody knows one. Every town has one. The fix-it man (or woman!) With author Janet Lord supplying the storyline and Julie Paschkis providing the watercolor illustrations we meet "Albert the Fix-It Man", the person everyone calls when there's something to be fixed. No job is too big or too small for Albert. Need those rusty hinges oiled? Call Albert. Got a leaky roof? Call Albert. A drippy faucet? Call Albert. How about a fence that could use some patching? Call Albert. Even a cash-for-clunker that won't start? Albert, of course. What happens, though, when the fix-it man needs fixing? One day Albert woke up with the sniffles. He felt so badly he could not even get out of bed to greet Sam, his morning newspaper carrier. Sam to the rescue! He marshals everyone along his route into action. Auntie Miller fixes a pot of green beans, Akiko bakes an apple pie, Mrs. Peabody "brews a steaming pot of minty tea" and Mr. Jensen drives everybody (in his former cash-for-clunker truck) to Albert's house. Surrounded by good food and good friends Albert's recovery is assured.

"It's a lucky dog that has a family and it's a lucky family that has a dog" proclaims Stephen Huneck and it is lucky for us that he has created another adventure for his rambunctious black Labrador, Sally. Each morning Sally's family rushes off to work and school, leaving her alone for the day. Maybe, thinks Sally, she should find some work, too. In "Sally Gets a Job" she imagines a variety of occupations for which she might be suited—everything from obedience school teacher (she is a graduate of the school after all) to archeologist (she does love to dig) to restaurateur (she's especially good at licking the dishes clean!). By day's end and her family's return she realizes that she already has the best job a dog could have—taking care of her family. Huneck's trademark wood block prints are a perfect medium to show off Sally's sleek black coat. Look for other Sally stories at your library—they are real tail-waggers!

Years ago Don Freeman created a most endearing picture book character: Corduroy, the department story teddy bear who longed for a home and someone to love him. Over the next ten years a succession of stories involving the green corduroy-clad stuffed toy assured his place in literary history. Corduroy was so popular with readers that following Freeman's death in 1978 talented artist Lisa McCue was enlisted to continue Corduroy in a series of novelty books. Her latest effort, "Corduroy Helps Out", finds Corduroy and his friends observing Helping Hands Week at their preschool. Each two-page spread shows the stuffed toys learning all about community helpers and learning to be good helpers themselves. With lots of "lift-the-flap" options, young readers will find that it's fun to be a good helper, especially with Corduroy to show them how.

Moms and Dads, Grandmas and Grandpas: if you remember walking to a neighborhood grocery as a child, you will enjoy "Our Corner Grocery Store", Joanne Schwartz and Laura Beingessner's delightful homage to independent grocers everywhere. Every Saturday Anna Maria visits her Nonno Domenico and Nonna Rosa's grocery. The day starts off early (even before the neighborhood wakes up) when Nonno arranges fresh fruits and vegetables on display tables outside the store. Next comes the bread delivery…"crusty buns…baguettes…round loaves like donuts with holes in the middle and chewy cornbread…" Ummm, I can smell that fresh right-from-the-oven goodness, how about you? All day long Anna Maria and her grandparents wait on customers, make made-to-order deli sandwiches, and hand out sweet and sticky candies for the neighborhood children's afternoon snacks. By closing time "all the buns are gone and so is most of the bread…and every single box of strawberries." When we leave with our purchases we can hear Anna Maria's own voice telling us, "Ciao", come again soon!