Tag Archives: imagination

Tomas and the Library Lady by Pat Mora

8 Apr

Tomas and the Library Lady by Pat Mora

 This is a story about Tomas, a son of Mexican immigrant workers that travel seasonally from Texas to Iowa for work. Tomas describes the hot and arduous conditions his family works under and also describes the many things he does to entertain himself, namely reading. Tomas discovers the library and makes friends with the librarian. The two share books and language and Tomas uses the library to read about dinosaurs. At night, Tomas reads to his family in English. The day comes when Tomas’ family must leave and the librarian gives Tomas a beautiful book. This book is illustrated by Raul Colon. The illustrations show Tomas lost in the world of books from dinosaurs to snakebirds. The illustrations tend to be a bit too stylistic and cartoony, but they still effectively portray the characters in a somewhat realistic manner giving each character their own unique qualities. The illustrations also assist  the narrative of the story. For young readers, this is an enjoyable story describing realistic aspects of migrant workers while also demonstrating that kindness, generosity and love really do make a difference.


Upon first reading this book, I liked it. It would have been nice to have more background and context about  migrant workers, but I also don’t think this was the author’s intended purpose. In my opinion this book is ok, it leaves something to be desired.  However the illustrations by Raul Colon are simply beautiful. He effectively captures the mood of the story and quietly moves the narrative along.

Suggested Library Activity:

Have students create a Spanish/English dictionary using everyday expressions and words such as “hello” and “hola”. Have them illustrate the dictionary and act out the expressions and words with their peers.

Bibliographic Citation:

Mora, P. (2000). Tomas and the library lady. Albuquerque [New Mexico]: Dragonfly Books.

Additional Book Review:

Booklist (Vol. 93, No. 22 (August 1997))

“Ages 4-8. From the immigrant slums of New York City to the fields of California, it’s an elemental American experience: the uprooted child who finds a home in the library. Mora’s story is based on a true incident in the life of the famous writer Tomas Rivera, the son of migrant workers who became an education leader and university president. Far from his home in Texas, the small boy is working with his family picking corn in Iowa. Inspired by the Spanish stories his grandfather (Papa Grande) tells, Tomas goes to the library to find more stories. The librarian welcomes him into the cool, quiet reading room and gives him books in English that he reads to himself and to his family. He teaches her some Spanish words. Then, as in so many migrant stories, the boy must leave the home he has found. He has a new, sad word for her, “adios. It means goodbye.” Colon’s beautiful scratchboard illustrations, in his textured, glowingly colored, rhythmic style, capture the warmth and the dreams that the boy finds in the world of books. The pictures are upbeat; little stress is shown; even in the fields, the kids could be playing kick ball or listening to stories. Perhaps the most moving picture is that of the child outside the library door, his face pressed against the pane. In contrast is the peaceful space he finds inside, where he is free to imagine dinosaurs and wild adventure.”


Strega Nona by Tomie de Paola

17 Mar

A Caldecott Honor Book

Strega Nona is a classic tale about a “Grandma Witch”  that needs assistance with her house and garden. Strega Nona hires Big Anthony and gives him specific instructions to not touch her magic pot. During Strega Nona’s excursion to see her friend Strega Amelia, Big Anthony decides to make the most of his boss’ departure. Sure enough, Big Anthony goes and repeats the magic words that make the pot bring forth glorious noodles. To his dismay, Big Anthony cannot make the pot stop producing noodles and the noodles fill up the house and overflow out of the house. The noodles continue growing and begin to fill up the town.  Upon Strega Nona’s return, she magically ends the never ending pasta. Big Anthony learns a lesson when Strega Nona graciously offers him a fork to begin cleaning up his noodle mess. The illustrations in this story are captivating and hold the reader’s attention. This story is especially enjoyed by a younger audience (age 4-8), perhaps those students needing more visual reinforcement. Tomie de Paola’s story and illustrations are classic and not to be missed.


Strega Nona is the grandma we all secretly long for. She teaches her moral lessons silently, letting us learn by making mistakes through experience and trials. My favorite aspect of this story are the illustrations. The illustrations call to mind Medieval paintings-with their flat 2dimensional appearance. This story is a classic, delighting both young and old.

Suggested Library Activity:

Begin a multiplication lesson reading this story. Have students put one elbow pasta in to the pot. Retrieve two elbow pasta magically out of the pot. Relate this to multiplication. Write the multiplication sentence on chart paper. Do this again and again doubling the elbow pasta each time. Record on the chart to share whole group. Have students illustrate their own pots and record what comes out of their pots.

Bibliographic Citation:

DePaola, T. (1975). Strega nona: An old tale. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall.

Additional Book Review:

“From my old review: “Strega Nona lives by her lonesome in a small cottage in Calabria, Italy. A witch by trade, she cures the townspeople of their ailments, warts, and headaches. When Big Anthony is hired on as Strega Nona’s servant she gives him very strict instructions on what he is required to do, and what is forbidden. Quoth Strega Nona, ‘The one thing you must never do is touch the pasta pot’. You see where this is going. After watching the witch conjure delicious cooked pasta fully formed from the pot, Anthony is eager to show this miracle himself to the people of the town. When Strega Nona leaves on a trip, Anthony speaks her spell and feeds everyone in the vicinity delicious, piping hot pasta. Unfortunately, Anthony didn’t quite catch the trick to making the pasta stop flowing. As the villagers attempt to prevent the growing threat from destroying their town, Strega Nona arrives just in time to put everything right again. Anthony receives a just comeuppance and all is well in the world.”

Apropos of nothing, I always thought that Big Anthony was kinda cute.  This is why I’ve been careful to avoid marrying any picture book characters.  I have terrible taste in their men.

Top 100 Picture Books Poll Results. (2009, April 14th). Strega Nona: an old tale [Review of the book Strega Nona]. School Library Journal Online.

Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women by Cornelia Meigs

28 Feb

Invincible Louisa is a biographical story about Louisa May Alcott, author of the well know title Little Women. This story describes Louisa’s family life and experiences starting with her birth in Germantown, Pennsylvania. This story breathes life in to Louisa May Alcott’s past existence.  It chronicles the hardships she endured, the most notable one  being the death of Louisa’s sister, May Alcott. The story shows how Louisa harnessed her family life as inspiration for her writing. The book colorfully describes the plays Louisa would write and have her sisters perform. Prominent figures emerge throughout the telling of Louisa’s life such as Elizabeth Peabody and Nathaniel Hawthorne. This story also describes her special friendship with family friend Ralph Waldo Emerson who is thought to have been the primary person that encouraged  her to write. This story is a rich and  accurate account of Louisa May Alcott.  It is sure to be an enjoyable and interesting read for any fan of Louisa May Alcott or any person interested in her history.


I have always been curious as to the person behind The Little Women books and I found this book satiated my curiosity for now. For anyone interested in Louisa May Alcott, this is a great starting point since it is a quick-read. It is a fictionalized account that uses major events from Louisa’s life to form a complex story. It demonstartes how Louisa, a timid child  grew-up to write one of the most beloved children’s books of all time.

Suggested Library Activity:

When teaching the history of the Civil War, give students this book as a choice to read between others that put the war in context with people’s lives during this time. Have students identify the many viewpoints and opinions from people during this time. Have them create their own character from this period giving a brief paragraph with one citation. Include  illustrations portraying what life was like during this time in the United States.

Cover of Invincible Louisa written in 1934

Bibliographic Citation:

Meigs, C. (1968). Invincible Louisa: The story of the author of little women. Boston: Little, Brown.

Additional Book Review:

Cornelia Meigs wrote “Invincible Louisa” in 1933 and it really is a product of its times. I found the prose a little too childish for my tastes even though I usually really like children’s books. The atmosphere is very sunny even though Louisa May Alcott lived in poverty for much of her life. Anyone who enjoyed “Little Women” would like reading of the family who served as Alcott’s inspiration. The Alcott’s were a close-knit, loving family who enjoyed life to the fullest even though they didn’t live in the best of circumstances. Louisa’ father, Bronson, experimented with education techniques, many of which are still in use today, and transcendentalism. For a couple of years, the family lived in a sort of commune which failed in the end. Louisa associated with such exalted literary figures as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. It’s obvious from reading this biography how much Jo is modeled after her creator and her efforts in trying to care for her family through her writing. There were several things I learned by reading this book:
1. The Alcott’s lived for two years in the Wayside, Hawthorne’s future home, before buying the Orchard house, where they lived for many years. Louisa hated this house because they were in the process of renovating it before moving in when her sister, Elizabeth, died.
2. Louisa served as an army nurse for one month before contracting typhoid fever which forced her to return home and from which she never fully recovered.
3. Louisa died at the age of 56 just two days after her father. She outlived her mother and father, two sisters and sister, Anna’s, husband.
4. When her youngest sister died a month after giving birth to Louisa’s namesake, Lulu was sent to be raised by her aunt. Louisa also adopted Anna’s youngest son so that he could inherit all the copyrights to her books.
Louisa May Alcott was a fascinating person and Meigs obviously admired her a great deal. Much of the content of the book was garnered from journals which added greatly to the details, but, since this is a small book, much had to have been left out. I would be interested in reading a more adult biography. Maybe David McCullough could tackle this.
Framed. (2007, July 30). Book Review of Invincible Louisa. Retrieved from http://framed2007bookreviews.blogspot.com/2007/11/invincible-louisa-by-cornelia-meigs.html