King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub

King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub by Audrey Wood, 1985.

King Bidgood loves being in his bath, but one day, he just doesn’t want to get out!  When the young page realizes that the king is refusing to leave the bath, he calls out to the courtiers, asking what to do about it.

One by one, they try to interest the king in other activities, but each time, he keeps inviting them to join him (fully clothed, although he apparently isn’t, just mostly hidden by bubbles) in order to prove that absolutely everything can be done in the bath.

When the knight says it’s time for battle, they end up having a battle with toy ships in the tub.  When the queen tells him that it’s time to eat, they have a fancy feast right there in the tub.  The king’s activities eventually include a fishing trip and a dance.

In the end, the page is the one who figures out how to put an end to this never-ending bath.

I love the pictures in this book, and the repetition as each person steps forward with a suggestion should appeal to young children.  This book is a Caldecott Honor Book. It is currently available online through Internet Archive.

The Dragons Are Singing Tonight

The Dragons Are Singing Tonight by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Peter Sis, 1993.

This is a picture book of poems about dragons, but that description doesn’t quite do the book justice.

Jack Prelutsky is best known for his books of humorous poems for children, but not all of the poems in this book are funny. Some of them are humorous or have humorous twists, but others are just about the magic and wonder of the idea of dragons, some of which only exist in the imagination. Sometimes, just believing in magic or imagining it can be magical by itself!

The pictures are all excellent, colorful, and fanciful, and they really bring the poems to life. The book is larger than average, and the pictures span full pages.

The book is currently available online through Internet Archive.

You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Pirate’s Prisoner

You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Pirate’s Prisoner by John Malam, 2002.

This picture book, which is part of a series, explains what it would have been like to be a pirate’s prisoner in the 18th century.  It sets the stage by casting the reader in the role of a Spanish ship captain in 1716.

The reason why the reader is cast as a Spanish captain, captured by English pirates, is because England and Holland had been at war with Spain until 1714.  During the war, the government of England (as well as Holland and France) authorized some ship captains to act as privateers, conducting raids on Spanish ships and outposts.  When the war ended and the privateers were dismissed from service, some of them continued to act as independent pirates.

The book explains the geography of the “Spanish Main,” the area between the southern coast of North America and the northern coast of South America – basically, the Caribbean Sea and its islands and the Gulf of Mexico.  Spanish galleons in the 18th century carried gold and treasures from the Americas to Spain as well as timber from the rainforests and goods that were transported to the Americas across the Pacific Ocean, such as spices and silk.  All of these goods made Spanish treasure ships tempting targets for English pirates.

As a Spanish ship’s captain, there were a few precautions that you could take against pirate attack.  One of the most basic was traveling as part of a convoy because pirates would be more likely to attack a lone ship than one that was part of a group.  A fleet of ships would have a warship traveling with them for protection, and the closer your ship sailed to the warship, the less likely a pirate ship would try to separate you from the group and attack.

If the worst situation happened and the ship was taken by pirates, a captain could try to dress like other members of the crew to disguise his rank, but that didn’t always work.  The captain of the ship was in danger of being taken captive because he might have information that the pirates would find useful, like the exact route of other ships in a convoy.

The gruesome part of this book (and the source of the title, because this series basically focuses on the gruesome parts of history) is the part where they describe different forms of torture that pirates might use on a ship’s captain to convince him to tell them what they wanted to know.  Besides the direct physical abuse, pirates could also keep a captive in squalid conditions to make him weaker, more vulnerable, and exposed to disease.  In the end, they might simply decide to maroon the captive somewhere, even if they got the information they were after.

However, pirates could also face gruesome fates if they were caught. They could be hung and their bodies displayed publicly, as a warning to others.

The Best Book of Pirates

The Best Book of Pirates by Barnaby Howard, 2002, 2006.

This is an easy and informative non-fiction picture book about pirates.  Rather than focusing on any particular time period or geographic area, the book gives a broad overview.  In the beginning, it explains a little about different groups of pirates through history, including Vikings, Corsairs, Buccaneers, and Privateers.  There is also a brief explanation of the Pirate Round, a sea route often taken by pirates during the late 17th century and into the 18th century.  The route led from North America and the Caribbean to Africa, circling the coast of South Africa to Madagascar and on to the Middle East and India.  (If you’ve seen the movie Cutthroat Island, the crew will basically be taking this route when the movie ends, heading from the Caribbean to Madagascar.)

There is a diagram of a pirate ship from the late 17th century, showing what it would have looked like on the inside, and there are also examples of Jolly Roger flags, which were designed by individual pirates as personal identification, typically including skulls and skeletons to frighten their victims.  There is also some general information about what life would be like on board a pirate ship and the types of weapons they might have.

Then, the book begins to focus more on groups of pirates that operated in specific geographical areas and some of the more famous pirates from history.  The Barbary pirates (also called Barbary corsairs) were Muslims who raided Christian ships along the coast of North Africa and the Mediterranean during the 1500s.  Among the most famous Barbary pirates were a pair of brothers called Barbarossa (“Red Beard”).  Sometimes, European and American pirate ships that went to Africa to find gold and ivory also entered the slave trade.

In the section about the Spanish Main, it explains how privateers and pirates raided Spanish ships taking Aztec treasures from Mexico to Spain.  Buccaneers were specifically pirates who raided ships in the Caribbean.  Their name came from the type of fires they used when cooking meat (boucan or buccan).

There were also Asian pirates who raided the coasts of China and the Philippines and areas around the Indian Ocean.  Chinese pirates and Dayak pirates from Borneo were powerful in the region until the 1840s, when the British Navy destroyed many of their ships.

There is a section in the book specifically about female pirates.  Mary Read and Anne Bonny, who sailed with “Calico Jack” Rackham, were famous.  Grace O’Malley was a famous Irish pirate who was also an Irish noblewoman.  Madame Cheng was a Chinese pirate who took over her husband’s fleet after his death (but because this is a children’s book, it doesn’t mention her previous career).  Alwilda was a Medieval Swedish princess who turned pirate after her father tried to make her marry a man she did not want to marry (although her story may only be legend).

The book also talks about the famous stories of pirates burying treasure, although it says that pirates would usually spend their money quickly, sell items for money they could spend, or gamble it all away.

At the end of the book, there is a short section about modern pirates and how their goals and tools of the trade have changed.

The book isn’t very long, but I think that it provides a good, general overview of the subject of pirates throughout history, and the pictures are fascinating and detailed.

The book is currently available online through Internet Archive.

The Rag Coat

The Rag Coat by Lauren Mills, 1991.

Minna is a poor girl, the daughter of a coal miner.  Her father has been ill with the miner’s cough, so Minna has to help her mother to make quilts that the family can sell for money.  She wants to attend school, but she can’t because she is needed at home and her family can’t afford a warm coat for her when winter starts.  It’s too bad because Minna really wants to make some friends her own age, and she would meet other children at school.  Her father says that he will find a solution to the problem, but he dies before he can.

After Minna’s father’s death, some of the other women in the community come to the house to work on making quilts with Minna’s mother.  When the women say that the quilt pattern they are using is named after Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors, Minna wishes again for a coat.  When the other women, who are mothers themselves, realize that Minna cannot go to school until she has a coat, they decide to make one for her.  They don’t have much money, but they do have plenty of quilting scraps.  They decide to make a new, quilted coat for Minna out of their old scraps.

Minna starts going to school and does well, although she gets some teasing because, as a new student who has never been to school before, she has to sit with the youngest children, and Shane pulls her braid.  Something that Minna particularly likes at school is Sharing Day (what my school always called “Show and Tell”), where students are given the chance to show special things to the class and talk about them.  Minna decides that when her coat is ready, she will show it to the class during Sharing Day.

As the coat is being made, Minna admires all of the beautiful colors of the cloth scraps in the coat and adds a piece of her father’s old jacket as well.  Each of the other scraps in the coat also has a story that goes with it.  The cloth pieces come from old clothes and blankets that people in the families of the quilting mothers have used, and they memories attached to them.  The mothers tell Minna all of the stories as they work on the coat, and Minna loves it.

However, when Minna wears the coat to school for the first time, the other kids make fun of her for wearing rags.  Minna is really upset and runs away into the woods.  After thinking about it, Minna remembers what her father said about how people really need other people, and she decides to go back to school.  There, she tells the other students that the rags in her coat are actually their rags, and she begins reciting the stories that go with them.

One of the scraps is from Shane’s old blanket from when he was a baby.  He was born so small that everyone was afraid that he’d die, but the blanket kept him warm, and he later carried it around with him until it fell apart.  Shane is happy, seeing the scrap of his favorite blanket again in Minna’s coat.  Everyone else gathers around Minna, looking for their scraps in the coat and listening to the stories behind them.  Each of the scraps in Minna’s coat is like an old friend that none of them ever thought they’d see again.  The other children apologize to Minna for their teasing and Minna says that friends share and that it took all of them to make her coat warm.

The book doesn’t say when this book was written, but based on the children’s clothing, I think it’s about 100 years ago or more. It doesn’t say exactly where this story took place, either, but a note on the dust jacket says that it takes place in Appalachia. The author said that she was inspired by Appalachian crafts that she learned from the women in her family and a patchwork coat that she wore as a child. However, years later, the author revisited this story and rewrite it in a longer version, and some of the explanations that accompany the new version of the story elaborate more on the background.

The author rewrote this story in a longer, novel form called Minna’s Patchwork Coat (2015). In the back of that book, the explanation behind the story mentions that the year of the story is 1908. It also discusses some cultural references and songs included in the expanded version of the story that were not part of the original. It also states that the inspiration for this story came not only from the author’s experiences but from a song written by Dolly Parton, Coat of Many Colors.

Although it’s not usually my policy to talk about books that are less than ten years old, I’ll bend the rules a little this time because this book is an expanded retelling of the original version, and I’d like to talk about some of the differences. For example, the ending message of the story is slightly changed, or at least the emphasis of the moral is different. The original book emphasized how much “people need people” and how the good will of many people (in the form of the quilting mothers and their hard work and scraps, cast-off from all of their children) changed Minna’s life. They emphasize it at the end, talking about how Minna’s coat is the warmest of all of them and that it took a lot of people to make it that way. However, in the expanded version, Minna also explains that when she started school, she liked her classmates better than they liked her because, thanks to their mothers’ stories as they made her coat, she already knew who the other children were, but none of them really knew anything about her. The message of the expanded version is that it is important to learn others’ stories to learn who they really are and to become friends with them.

Actually, I don’t like the second version of the story as well as the original. I thought that the moral and the story were stronger when the focus was on how people benefit from having relationships with other people because people can do great things when a lot of people contribute a little. Remember, it took a lot of people to make Minna’s coat warm because each of them contributed at least one scrap to it and others took the time to put them all together and it was their stories that made it special, more than just an ordinary coat. The expanded story has that element, too, but more emphasis is placed on Minna needing to share her story with the other children to win their respect and approval. I didn’t like the notion that Minna needed to win their approval by telling her story. Also, this story takes place in a small mining community. I find it difficult to believe that the other kids wouldn’t basically know her story already. Her mother knows their mothers. Their families see each other at church before Minna goes to school. The disease that took her father’s life isn’t terribly unusual for coal miners, and probably a number of the other children are the children of coal miners as well. Minna’s family might be more poor than the others’ since her father’s illness and death, but I don’t see why their circumstances would be so different and incomprehensible to people who must have see her and her family around and who knew them from church or through their parents’ associations. One thing that small towns and communities are known for is everyone knowing everyone else and their business, so why didn’t they all know Minna’s story already? Even if the quilting mothers didn’t talk about helping to make the coat for Minna, the other kids should have known about the family’s money circumstances and the tragic death of Minna’s father. I don’t see why the other kids would have known so little about her or thought that she was so unusual.

The expanded version of the story also features a Cherokee midwife and a biracial friend for Minna who did not appear in the original story. This friend, Lester, is also something of an outcast among the other children, and Minna and the stories from her coat help the other children to be more accepting of him as well. It’s a nice thing, I guess, but it felt a little artificial to me because I knew that it wasn’t part of the original story. I hesitate to criticize it too much because the basic message of the story isn’t bad, but I guess that the way the second version came out just doesn’t have the same feel to me because author put things into it that weren’t in the original, and with that change in emphasis on the ending, it makes the story and characters feel a little less natural to me now.

The Quilt Story

The Quilt Story by Tony Johnston and Tomie dePaola, 1985.

A woman (at some point in the 1800s, from the pictures) makes a special quilt for her young daughter, Abigail.  It has Abigail’s name on it and a pattern of falling stars.  Abigail loves it!

Abigail uses the quilt all the time, not just in bed.  She has tea parties with her dolls on the quilt, hides under it when playing hide-and-seek, generally taking it everywhere and playing all kinds of games with it.  The quilt gets worn and torn in the playing, but her mother mends it when necessary.

Eventually, Abigail and her family move to a new home, traveling in a covered wagon.  Everything in their new home seems strange to Abigail, but her old quilt comforts her.

Eventually, when Abigail is older, she puts the quilt away in the attic, and people forget about it.  Still, animals use the quilt.  A mouse makes a nest it in.  A raccoon hides food in it, and a cat naps on it. Then, one day, another girl finds the quilt in the attic.  She loves it and brings it to her mother to be repaired. 

Like Abigail, though, the modern girl’s family soon moves to a new home, where everything seems new and strange.  However, the old, familiar quilt comforts the girl once again.

This is a gentle, comforting story that would make nice bedtime reading or a story that could be read to a young child who is moving or has recently moved, reminding them that, even in a new place, you can bring a sense of home and the familiar with you.

The book is currently available online through Internet Archive.

When I Was Young in the Mountains

When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Diane Goode, 1982.

This nostalgic picture book is based on the author’s experiences living with her grandparents in West Viriginia when she was young.  It paints a vivid picture of Appalachian life in the past. The story doesn’t give any particular years to describe when it takes place, but the author apparently lived with her grandparents during the 1960s, although from the pictures, it would be easy to believe that the story takes place in a much earlier time. Partly, the style of the clothes and stoves give that impression, but for me, it was really the cloth cover over the camera that made me think it was during the first half of the 20th century. You can still get these covers, but they’re not as common in modern times.

In the story, the author describes various aspects of Appalachian life, starting each section with “When I was young in the Mountains . . .”  She remembers her grandfather coming home after working in a coal mine and how they would all have cornbread, fried okra, and pinto beans for supper.

For fun, the kids would go swimming in the swimming hole.  They would also use the swimming hole for baptisms. They would also use the schoolhouse as their church.

She describes the general store where her family would go for groceries and how they would have to heat water on the stove for baths.

Sometimes, they had to deal with snakes, and once, when their grandmother killed a particularly big one with a hoe, they took a picture of the children with it.

Overall, the story is about enjoying the simple pleasures in life in a place you love, surrounded by people you care about.

This is a Caldecott Honor Book. It is currently available online through Internet Archive. Sometimes, you can also find people reading this book aloud on YouTube. I particularly like this reading because I think the reader has a good accent for reading this story, and she comments on her own experiences growing up in the country.

The Bear That Was Chicken

The Land of Pleasant Dreams

The Bear That Was Chicken by Ane Weber, Ron Krueger, Tony Salerno, 1986.

In her dream, Mary meets Threads the Bear.  When she meets him, he’s trying to sleep under a tree.  He’s sad and tells Mary that he thinks he’s a chicken and that all of his friends say so.  (It’s not a nice thing for friends to say, and I wish the story had said so.  There’s a song about it on the tape that accompanies the book with the words given in the book, but it bothers me because calling people “chicken” is something that I associate with people who are trying to goad people into doing things that they really shouldn’t do. I don’t think that it’s good to teach children to react to being called “chicken” or any other insulting names.)

Mary thinks that Threads’ imagination is getting the better of him and that’s why he’s so afraid of so many things.  However, Threads tells Mary something that isn’t imaginary: there are some strange eggs in his cave that appeared there suddenly and mysteriously.  That’s why he’s sleeping in the forest, because he doesn’t know where the eggs came from or what they are.  Mary bravely offers to go with him to have a look at the eggs.

When they go to look at the eggs, Mary thinks that they look pretty harmless.  They’re kind of cute and colored like Easter eggs.  Threads is still worried about them and what they might hatch into.  Mary says again that Threads is imagining the worst and volunteers to sit with Threads while he takes his nap and keep an eye on the eggs to see what happens.

The eggs do hatch, and it turns out that they contain tiny teddy bears, very much like Threads.  When Threads sees the little bears, he loves them and thinks that they’re adorable.  The little bears seem worried when Threads wants to take them outside to play, but Threads encourages them, telling them that there’s nothing to be afraid of.

The main message of the story is that it’s better to face your fears than imagine the worst. However, I found some of this story a little confusing as a kid, and some of the implications are a little alarming when you begin to analyze it.  Where did those little bear eggs come from?  Did Threads lay them himself in his sleep? Are those little bears his children?  Did Threads lay eggs because he was a “chicken”?  But, Threads is a boy bear!  Then again, this is supposed to be a dream, so I guess it doesn’t really have to make sense.

Moral: Your Greatest Fears Are Often Those You Imagine.

This book is currently available online through Internet Archive. It was made into an episode for the tv show version of this series with puppets.

A Fence Too High

The Land of Pleasant Dreams

A Fence Too High by Jeanine Bartelt, Jeff Parker, and Tony Salerno, 1986.

Peter falls asleep while counting sheet jumping over the fence and meets Lacey the Lamb in his dream. Lacey the Lamb is sad and worried because, even though she’s growing up to be a fence-jumping sheep, there is one fence that she just can’t get over. Peter offers to take a look at the fence with her and see if he can help. When he does, it turns out to be a giant rainbow.

It’s important that Lacey make it over this fence because she is taking part in a fence-jumping contest in less than an hour. Lacey doesn’t think that she can learn to jump this fence in so little time. However, Peter encourages Lacey to try again.

After a few more tries in which she hits the blue stripe on the rainbow and then the yellow stripe and then the orange stripe, Lacey is ready to give up. She thinks that it’s hopeless. Peter points out that it isn’t hopeless because each time that Lacey has tried, she has improved, gradually hitting higher and higher marks on the rainbow. He doesn’t think that Lacey should give up so easily.

Even though she’s still feeling very unsure of herself, she decides to participate in the contest. This time, Lacey does make it over the fence, and she feels much better about herself because of her success. She thanks Peter for giving her the encouragement to try one more time.

It’s a nice story about the importance of making an effort, trying again, and not giving up just because there are obstacles and challenges. Life has many challenges, and just because something is difficult doesn’t mean that it’s impossible or not worth doing. People don’t need to be perfect; it’s enough to be willing to improve.

Moral: If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again.

This book was made into an episode for the tv show version of the series with puppets.

Is It Soup Yet?

The Land of Pleasant Dreams

Is It Soup Yet? By Ane Weber, Ron Krueger, and Tony Salerno, 1986.

When Benny enters the Land of Pleasant Dreams, he meets Ricrac Rabbit.  Ricrac is trying to cook something for his friends, but he’s worried because the only thing he knows how to make is broccoli soup, and he doesn’t know if his friends will like it because they all have different tastes.

Because Benny’s father is a chef, he suggests that Ricrac try his recipe for black bean broth because everyone loves that when his father makes it.  Ricrac decides to give it a try, adding the black beans to his broccoli soup. 

However, as each of Ricrac’s friends arrive, they also decide to bring their favorite ingredients with them.  Bobbin the Horse brings barley, and Threads the Bear brings blueberries.  Then, Snips the Dog brings a bone, and Lacey the Lamb brings buttercups.  In an effort to please everyone, Ricrac adds each ingredient to the soup.

When they finally try it, the soup is horrible.  At first, everyone argues about which ingredient ruined the soup, but Benny realizes that their real mistake wasn’t trying the soup according to Ricrac’s original recipe.  When they try the broccoli soup as it was supposed to be made, without the extra ingredients, it’s really good.

The point of the story is that trying to please everyone often means pleasing no one.  When planning a project, if you try to stretch it in too many different directions, it’s difficult to accomplish anything because you’re not focusing on anything in particular. In the end, you have to pick one way and stick with it, focusing on what you can do best.

Moral: Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth.

This book was made into an episode for the tv series with puppets. Sometimes, you can find it or clips of it on YouTube.