Category Archives: Holidays

Book Review: 31 Uses for a Mom

Next Sunday is Mother’s Day; here’s a funny little book about those special women.

31 Uses For A Mom31 Uses For A Mom by Harriet Ziefert

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An excellent book for adult ESL students, this is simply a list of things a mother might do for her children. With just 42 words, students can look up every single unfamiliar word if need be – and those words are not just basic vocabulary. The book’s brevity will also allow readers to take some time to figure out the moments of humor that a native speaker may spot instantly. Finally, it is a nice detail to match the number of days in May, the month of Mothers’ Day.

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President’s Day

Monday will be Presidents’ Day, a federal holiday created in 1880 as Washington’s Birthday. George Washington was born February 22, 1732. Over time, that holiday was combined with the observance of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Presidents’ Day is observed on the third Monday of February. Most federal holidays are observed on Monday or Friday to allow a three-day weekend.

Abraham Lincoln, who just celebrated his 200th birthday, was born February 12, 1809. A hero of President Obama, the White House celebrated Lincoln’s birthday with a speech by the President and re-opening the renovated Ford’s Theatre, where President Lincoln was assassinated in 1865.

The White House’s new website includes a slideshow of U.S. Presidents with links to their biographies.

In Massachusetts, you can visit President John F. Kennedy’s birthplace, the Kennedy library, and several sites in Quincy related to Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams.

Many businesses also have good sales on this day, especially car dealers. Perhaps you’ll find some good bargains at one of the many stores in Coolidge Corner. This Brookline neighborhood, which includes President Kennedy‘s birthplace,  shares a name with another president with Massachusetts ties, President Calvin Coolidge, although it was not named after him.

Book Review: Balloons Over Broadway

Next Thursday is Thanksgiving and the Macy’s Parade will be broadcast across the country.  This picture book tells the fascinating story of the parade’s beginnings.

Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's ParadeBalloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Growing up with Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, the balloons were special because they were soooo big and because they were familiar old friends returning once a year. Melissa Sweet, however, brings a new sense of wonder to the story: how did someone even come up with the idea? It was not as simple as enlarging balloons, as I had assumed; instead, in a way, they are marionettes flipped upside-down. Now that’s the kind of creative solution I want my students exposed to.

When thinking about the experience of a child reader, furthermore, Sweet includes the usual childhood vignette well. The main of the book is about play, so why not discuss the work that balloon-creator Tony Sarg had to do as a child? There is also an realistic immediacy to a child’s successful effort to get out of doing his chores that more common and more didactic “he studied hard and one day grew up to be…” lacks.

The illustrations’ pastiche reminded me simultaneously of two recently-reviewed picture books: Paul Thurlby’s Alphabet and How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum? Sweet, like Thurlby, uses vintage paper to set a literally background mood. She uses other bits of vintage and contemporary flotsam to capture, as did Jessie Hartland, the chaos of creativity so convincingly that I half expected to have to rip apart a couple of pages, as if Sarg’s glues and paints had stepped right out of the pages.

Finally, it contains the best pronunciation guide ever: “Sarg rhymes with aargh!”

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Happy Labor Day!

Labor Day is a holiday created to honor the contributions of workers.  For some people, it is a time to remember the accomplishments of workers’ unions, specifically.

(Art by Ricardo Levins Morales.)

The National Education Association has compiled a series of resources for learning about Labor Day.

Personally, I am always drawn to the history of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory for three reasons: (1) I am interested in fashion history, (2) I am interested in women’s rights, and (3) I was born on March 25, the same day as the tragedy.  If the Triangle Factory story is interesting to you, too, Margaret Peterson Haddix wrote an interesting historical fiction novel about that event called Uprising.  Libraries are closed today for the holiday, but you can check the book out tomorrow!

More popularly, of course, it marks the cultural end of summer (fashion experts used to instruct us to only wear the color white during the summer, between Memorial Day and Labor Day).  Most schools begin the new school year this week.  Stores have lots of sales.  And I visit the beach for that one time a year when I am willing to get a sunburn.