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Courier & Press Article by Carol Cariens
Sunday, August 7, 2011

August Written All Over These Books

Here it is, August once again. Such a month of contrasts. It's still technically summer but the kids are back in the classroom. Temperatures are stagnated near the Habanero hot sauce range but we know autumn and cooler weather will soon be headed our way. And then there's this curiosity: for all its 31 days, there are no national holidays or calendar designated celebrations of immense proportion (think October and Halloween). There is, however, a wealth of special "days" to help us celebrate summer's last hurrah. Here's a sampling with some book tie-ins, all available at your public library.

National Watermelon Day. Could anything be better on a hot summer day than a slice of refreshingly sweet watermelon? And if that slice of watermelon reminds you of all the fun we had as kids spitting out the watermelon seeds, then Jackie French Koller's ode to summertime is perfect for you. In Peter Spit a Seed at Sue we meet four friends who are bored, bored, bored on a hot summer day. "Watching a bug crawl across the (front porch) floor" was the most excitement they had had all day. Until ...a farmer in a pick-up drove by shouting watermelons for sale. Lickity-split the four friends were there to help devour all that sticky sweetness. Until...the temptation was just too great and Peter zinged a seed at Sue, Sue retaliated, and before long, "...seeds were plastered to our clothes, seeds were stuck between our toes, seeds were tangled in our hair, seeds got down our underwear!" This much fun just has to be shared and soon the whole town, "...mailmen, nannies, grocery clerks, barbers, butchers, soda jerks, teachers, preachers, hard-hat guys, even dudes in suits and ties..." are peppering each other with shiny black seeds. Until...the lady mayor says, "Enough!" Everyone is thoroughly shame-faced. Until... the lady mayor shows us she has a surprise or two up her stylish sleeve. Cream pie, anyone?

Presidential Joke Day. Probably no President enjoyed jokes and storytelling more than Abraham Lincoln. Through the decades many books have been written about Lincoln's penchant for "swappin'yarns". One of the newest is Lincoln Tells a Joke: How Laughter Saved the President (and the Country), a picture book biography by authors Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer (also husband-and-wife). With acrylic illustrations by Stacy Innerst lending a rustic flavor to the story, we learn how humor helped our 16th President deal with family hardships, tragedies, and the dark days of the Civil War. From his early years in Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois, this frontier boy learned about hard work from his father, Thomas. Lincoln said, "My father taught me how to work, but not to love it...I'd rather read, tell stories, crack jokes, talk, laugh." While running for elected office himself (the Illinois state legislature), Lincoln used joke telling as one of his campaign tactics. Sadly, he lost, but in another two years, he tried again, and won, serving a total of four terms. Lincoln's fame as an orator and his desire " fix things he saw wrong in the country..." led him to pursue higher office. In 1860 he was elected President of the United States. Though his Presidency was defined by the Civil War, Lincoln never forgot that humor could be a saving grace. He once remarked to his advisors, "with the fearful strain that is upon me night and day, if I did not laugh occasionally I should die, and you need this medicine as much as I do."

National Lighthouse Day. Back in 1942 Harcourt published a delightful picture book written by Hildegarde H. Swift about a hardworking little red lighthouse that stood "...on a sharp point of the shore by the Hudson River..." near New York City. Guiding all manner of boats safely around the rocks, the little red lighthouse was proud that he had such an important job. Then one day "a gang of workmen came and began to dig." The little red lighthouse watched and waited to see what would happen. Steel girders rose up and barges carrying immense reels of cables chugged across the Hudson. And still the little red lighthouse watched and waited until one day there was a "great gray bridge [that] spanned the Hudson River from shore to shore." The little red lighthouse now felt very small. He wondered if he would be torn down since the great gray bridge had such a powerful light atop one of its towers. One very foggy night, though, the great gray bridge called out, "Little brother, where is your light?" Hurray! The little red lighthouse was needed after all to guide the boats! The bright light of the tower was to guide airplanes. " are still master of the river", said the tower. one came to turn on his light. What could the little red lighthouse do? Could he save the boats in time? To find out, read Swift's authentic piece of Americana, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge depicting the construction of the famous George Washington Bridge in NYC and the little red lighthouse that still stands on the nearby shore. Lynd Ward's original watercolors were found and restored and used for this new edition. Share this classic story with your kids and don't miss seeing the actual little red lighthouse the next time you visit New York City. Little Red would be so proud.