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Wednesday, 18 January 2006 00:00

Pre-school to pirates, reading is still fun-damental

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Preschool children are normally as full of questions as a quiz show host on a fast night. They want to know who, what, when and why. They want someone to explain how and where and how much. They want to understand those things in this world which the rest of us, except for perhaps a few scientists, poets, and mystics, no longer see.

Josie Jo’s Got To Know (ISBN 0-9771893-0-9, $14.95) celebrates a child’s curiosity. Written by Dee Dee Parker of Haywood County and illustrated by Jenny Allen, Josie Jo’s Got To Know tells the story of 5-year-old Josie Jo Brown and her love of questions and answers:

“Answering hundreds of questions:

What, why, where and who.

Always asking and asking,

Wishing she knew.”

Josie Jo’s questions are those heard by many parents:

“Why is the sky blue

And not green?

Who thinks up the colors for jelly beans?

Why do the clouds hurry by so fast?

Why does chocolate melt and broccoli last?”

Allen’s colorful illustrations add much to the poetry and rhythm of this book. Josie Jo and her surroundings are portrayed in vivid colors: she is a redheaded, blue-eyed girl who enjoys the summer sun, tumbles in October leaves, plays in the snow, celebrates Halloween, and wonders why she can’t have Santa and his reindeer spend the night in her room. There is a beautifully done picture at the end of the book where Josie Jo lies in her quilted bed saying her prayers.

The inspiration behind this lovely book is Brooke Parker Walker, Parker’s daughter and a survivor of breast cancer. Proceeds from Josie Jo’s Got To Know benefit breast cancer awareness, cancer research, and cancer patient expenses.

Another local author has also published books whose proceeds will go to a larger cause, in this case to the Oprah Winfrey Angel Network Fund for the Children. Written by Judy Quealy and illustrated by Sherry Erb, The Return of Dewey Dewdrop (ISBN 09666800-3-0) tells the story of a raindrop who falls to earth and of the various transformations he undergoes as he experiences being a part of rivers, snow, and the ocean. In addition to explaining water cycles to children, The Return of Dewey Dewdrop also tells us of the changes that all living things undergo. At the end of the book, Quealy asks questions of children: “Sometimes it seems people are afraid of change. Are you afraid of change and if so, why? Does life scare you or do you think of it as an adventure? Why?”

In It’s NOT Funny (ISBN 09666800-4-9), Quealy and Erb tell the story of two bullies, Horrible Hattie and Horrible Harold:

Horrible Harold was a heck of a sort,

He liked all kinds of trouble just for sport.

There were thousands of freckles from his toes to his head

And his hair was a blaze of fiery red.

A good child he wasn’t ... Oh no he was not!

For he was the meanest kid on the block.

At the end of her twin tales of Hattie and Harold, Quealy again lists some questions aimed at children who are bullies or who mistreat animals. Though this book is aimed at preschoolers and perhaps first- or second-grade students — and may not appeal to those older children who are either bullied or are bullies themselves — Quealy does a fine job of making clear to these younger children that bullying is not acceptable and that it will lead to a good deal of unhappiness.

•••

Recently I led a group of middle school students through a reading and discussion of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Nearly everyone over the age of 8 is familiar with the story of Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver, and the search for gold and treasure aboard a sailing ship on which a parrot by the name of Capt. Flint screeches out “Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!”

Rather than reading the story, however, most of us are familiar with this classic only through Hollywood, which has made a number of movies based on Stevenson’s novel, including “Muppets’ Treasure Island.” This is unfortunate, for this wonderfully-crafted book remains the quintessential pirate tome, the lodestone to which any seafaring author worth his salt turns when writing of buccaneers and other seafaring varmints.

Listen here as Stevenson describes how Israel Hands, one of the pirates, attacks Jim:

“Jim,” says he, “I reckon we’re fouled, you and me, and we’ll have to sign articles. I’d have had you but for that there lurch; but I don’t have no luck, not I; and I reckon I’ll have to strike, which comes hard, you see, for a master mariner to a ship’s younker like you, Jim.”

I was drinking in his words, and smiling away, as conceited as a cock upon a wall, when, all in a breath, back went his right hand over his shoulder. Something sang like an arrow through the air; I felt a blow and then a sharp pang, and there I was pinned by the shoulder to the mast. In the horrid pain and surprise of the moment — I scarce can say it was by my own volition, and I am sure it was without a conscious aim — both my pistols went off, and both escaped out of my hands. They did not fall alone; with a choked cry, the coxswain loosed his grasp upon the shrouds, and plunged head first into the sea.

If somewhere in your own ship’s cabin you have a youngster with an eye for adventure and for a good yarn, you might consider reading aloud together this yarn that will never grow old as long as there are treasures to be found and folks daring enough to search for them.

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