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  • 2007 Comstock Read Aloud Honor Books

    Christmas in the Trenches written by John McCutcheon, illustrated by Henri Sørensen, and published by Peachtree.

    Christmas in the TrenchesIn this story within a story, Grandfather tells his grandchildren about his favorite Christmas when he was a young soldier. He was stationed in the trenches of France during World War I and relates the amazing story of how the German and British soldiers came together on the battlefield to celebrate Christmas Eve. Henri Sørensen’s sepia tone oil paintings bring this moving story to life.

    Included with the book is a CD of the story, along with John McCutcheon’s song “Christmas in the Trenches” and “Silent Night” sung in both English and German. An author’s note provides historical details about this unofficial Christmas truce.

    Students in grades four through six appreciated this book. A librarian found this to be a terrific read aloud for older students. She said the students really got into the story and questioned why the soldiers would fight each other after celebrating Christmas together. While listening, students moved so they could see the pictures better and made predictions based on the illustrations. Afterwards, they asked why the enemy was so nice. Later in the day a sixth grader suggested giving the book to two returning soldiers that the school was welcoming back from the war in Iraq.

    John McCutcheon, author, folksinger, and composer, lives in Charlottesville, VA. McCutcheon, a Wisconsin native, graduated summa cum laude from St. John’s University in MN. Illustrator Henri Sørensen resides in Denmark.

    Keeper of the Soles written by Teresa Bateman, illustrated by Yayo, and published by Holiday.

    Keeper of the SolesWhen Death comes for Colin, the best shoemaker in the kingdom, Colin notices Death’s barefeet and offers to make him a good pair of sandals, which he may pick up in four weeks. The cobbler continues to outwit Death by making him a new pair of shoes every time he arrives until one day Death insists that he has come for his soul. Colin replies: “And what do you think I’ve been giving you all these many years. . . I’ve given you sole after sole.” Death accepts the cobbler’s cleverness and allows him to live a long life. Yayo’s expressionistic paintings in acylics set a tone of cheerfulness and humor for this macabre literary tale.

    Children, first graders through sixth graders, responded to this story with enthusiasm. They liked the play on words (soul/sole) and thought the pictures were great. They enjoyed looking for the many shoes embedded in the illustrations. A fifth grader commented: “The world needs more books like this one.”

    Teresa Bateman, a school librarian and storyteller, lives in Tacoma, WA. Yayo, a native of Colombia, now lives in Quebec. This is his first picture book published in the United States.

    Learning to Fly written and illustrated by Sebastian Meschenmoser and published by Kane/Miller Book Publishers. Originally published as Fliegen lernen by Esslinger Verlag J.F. Schreiber in 2005. Translated from German.

    Learning to FlyThe narrator finds a penguin who convinces him that the penguin crashed while flying. He could fly until some other birds said “Penguins can’t fly.” The narrator takes him home and tries to help him figure out how to fly again. Together they undergo a training program, study books about flying, and try out what seem like good ideas. These range from taping on bat wings, being shot like an arrow, and trying out Icarus-like feathers. Nothing works. One day they see a penguin colony flying overhead and the penguin “stretched out his wings, pushed off, and joined them in the air.” This is a modern parable with a philosophical lesson: believe in yourself and never stop trying to achieve your dream, even when others tell you they are impossible.

    Third and fourth graders enjoyed the story’s humor and liked the theme of never giving up. Students were attracted to the pen and ink sketches with bits of color detail. Children also found the story humorous and especially liked the drawings of the various ways the penguin was outfitted for flying.

    This is the first book by author and illustrator Sebastian Meschenmoser, who lives and works in Frankfurt, Germany.