Kerry Madden-Lunsford and Emily Sutton have written a story that I greatly enjoyed reading to my soon-to-be five year old daughter. The story is set in the Great Smoky Mountains during the 1940s. Written from a third person point of view, the tale is about a five year old girl and her pregnant mother working hard to maintain their family farm while the father is away at war. The young girl, Ernestine, is a hard-working, very determined little girl, who enjoys working alongside her very pregnant mother. Each time she faces a challenge, she says, “I can do it, Mama. I’m five years old and a big girl.” As a parent, those words symbolize a child’s transition from baby to big kid. In this delightful tale, Ernestine is shown milking the family cow and basking in the glory of a successful milking. Her mother, who understands the struggles of maintaining a family farm alone, volunteers to contribute milk to one of their neighbors. The young girl is charged with the task of carrying two jars of milk to her neighbor. Slightly intimidated by the distance, this brave girl is up for the challenge. As she embarks on the lengthy journey, she reminds her mother that she is five years old and a big girl. Thus begins the major narrative of the story.
Using the planets as her guide, this tenacious young lady embarks on her journey. Along the way, young Ernestine hears an seemingly ill-fated noise in the bushes and naturally assumes the worst. However, she meets this obstacle with bravery, reminding herself that she is strong and capable. As she descends deeper into the woods, she continues to hear very unsettling sounds, causing her to scurry. Fortunately, each unsettling sound proves to be nothing more than calm, docile animals. Confident of her abilities, she continues on the journey but, eventually, she accidentally drops one of the milk-filled mason jars. Feelings of disappointment overtake young Ernestine as she arrives at her destination. Ever so understanding, Mrs. Ramsay, welcomes young Ernestine and basks in the gift of a neighbor's milk. As the family celebrates this luxury, they thank young Ernestine and, soon enough, send her home. This young girl is able to prove that she is indeed a 'big girl.'
The infusion of figurative language brings to life each element young Ernestine experiences on her journey. For example, "She carried the jars in an old feed sack close to her heart while the mountains slept like giant elephants under a scattering of stars.” Madden's personification of the mountains as sleeping elephants further illustrates the sense of calm and quiet Ernestine experiences on her quest. Another example is the use of onomatopoeia to depict the sounds of the forest: “...she heard a fearsome grunta-grunta-grunta,” and, “...she heard a snuffa-snuffa- snuffa along the path.” The realistic sounds that you can make as you are reading further create a more compelling and immersive reading atmosphere.
In addition to the colorful language, vivid descriptions, and realistic depiction of life in the 1940s, the motivation to keep trying stands out. Even though Ernestine was faced with a difficult task to complete, she perseveres, even at her young age. My “soon-to-be" five year old daughter thoroughly enjoyed joining me in saying, “I’m five years old. I am a big girl!” She immediately found a connection with our main character. When selecting books to read to my young child I hope that she can make a connection to the text in a positive way. This book definitely provided me with that.
Ernestine’s Milky Way is a phenomenal, realistic depiction of a young heroine surviving her world with tenacity and determination. The young girl, Ernestine, demonstrates traits that kids of any age can relate to. Kerry Madden-Lunsford and Emily Sutton were able to infuse various educational and character building lessons in this carefully written book. Ernestine’s Milky Way will be a hit in any elementary school classroom.
Big Al's Game Day
Aubie's Game Day Rules
Big Al Teaches the Alphabet
Counting With Big Al
By Sherri Graves Smith
Mascot Books, 2012
Reviewed by Pam Kingsbury
Sherri Graves Smith, a native of Tuscumbia, loves football, reading, and her home state of Alabama. Having grown up in a family of readers and sports fans, when cancer forced her into early retirement she decided to pursue her lifelong desire to encourage reading in children the same way that her parents encouraged her to read. The resulting books—a series devoted to Game Days at various colleges around the country—teach the invaluable lessons of good manners, good sportsmanship, and the importance of healthy rivalry. Read the complete review…
Reviewed by Lindsay Hodgens
When Kerry and Lucy Madden-Lunsford say there’s nothing fancy about Kathryn (Tucker Windham) and Charlie (Lucas), they are only half-telling the truth. On one hand, the authors spin a wonderful tale about two friends, bonded together by their love of simple things like tomato sandwiches and turning combs into homemade musical instruments, which indeed establishes the two as people who do not feel the need to surround themselves with fancy things. Kathryn and Charlie come across as individuals who are as eccentric as they are down-to-earth, so I can definitely see how there is nothing fancy about the pair. Read the complete review…
By David C. Kopaska-Merkel; Illustrated by Valerie Bodell
Sam’s Dot Publishing, 2012
Reviewed by Jonathan Rutan
Making a valiant effort to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Seuss, The Edible Zoo by David C. Kopaska-Merkel is a family friendly romp through the fantastic. In his book, Merkel uses a unique—yet hilarious—approach when he decides to discuss some of the many different animals that live in our world. His interest in them, however, is not one in which he wants to talk about how they might look, but rather how they might taste as he illuminates the many different aspects of devouring a horse—or a crocodile—before moving on to imagine how delicious an aardvark—or a woodchuck—might be. Read the complete review…
Reviewed by Peter Huggins
Who wouldn't want to live at the zoo? Eleven-year-old Whit, apparently, the central character in Irene Latham's new middle grade novel, Don't Feed the Boy. Whit is dissatisfied with life at the Meadowbrook Zoo in Alabama, dissatisfied with his busy parents who always seem to put their jobs at the zoo— vet and head elephant keeper—ahead of him, dissatisfied with having no friends since he is homeschooled by the capable and calm Ms. Connie. All of this changes when Whit meets a girl (of course!), Stella, aka the Bird Girl because she draws birds at the zoo and uses the zoo as a refuge from a difficult situation at home. Read the complete review…
By Guild of Professional Writers for Children;
Illustrations by Sue Blackshear
Look Again Press, LLC, 2011
$23.95, Hardcover; $16.95, Paper
Reviewed by Linda A. McQueen
Tuskaloosa Tales Stories of Tuscaloosa and Its People is an interesting collection of short stories for children that examines the diverse heritage of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. There are true stories as well as fictional stories of people, places, and events of the past. These stories from the past have developed to form Tuscaloosa’s future. Read the complete review…
By: Hester Bass; Illustrated by E.B. Lewis
Reviewed by: Linda A. McQueen
Enter the world of reclusive nature-lover Walter Anderson, a renowned watercolor artist who lived a simple life at the edge of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, a place where the sea meets the earth and the sky. In this exquisite picture book biography, Orbis Pictus Award winning writer Hester Bass and Caldecott Honor winning illustrator E.B. Lewis pay honor to this uncompromising American artist and offer a powerful glimpse into the secret world of Walter Anderson.
By: Adele Colvin; Cover illustrated by Peyton Carmichael
Reviewed by: Sherry Kughn
Several talented Birmingham residents worked together to produce an audio version of Birmingham author Adele Colvin’s two books ,The Donkeys’ Tales, first published in 1998 by Crane Hill of Birmingham (and re-released by Pelican Publishing of Gretna, La., in 2008), and The Donkey’s Easter Tale (Pelican Publishing, 2009). The result is a pleasant audio experience of the reading of both books as though they were told by three generations of donkeys who took part in the life of Jesus.
By: Adele Colvin; Illustrated by Peyton Carmichael
Reviewed by: Sherry Kughn
This flawlessly written book for children ages eight-up is framed by a grandfather donkey taking advantage of a rainy day to tell his two grandchildren donkeys stories about his associations with Jesus. The grandfather donkey tells how he was scared to be ridden, only to find that his rider was none other than the gentle Jesus. The grandfather’s parents, he said, knew Mary and Joseph. His mother, he said, carried Mary to Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth. The grandfather donkey tells how he carried Jesus to the temple when he threw out the money changers, healed the sick, defended himself against tax collectors, and taught the crowds. The grandfather donkey also witnessed Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the cross, and at the resurrection.
By: Various Authors
Reviewed by: Rebecca Dempsey
Julia Tutwiler, Amelia Gayle Gorgas, and Jennifer Chandler are Alabamians who distinguished themselves by overcoming obstacles unique to their respective goals and the times in which they lived. Components of the Alabama Roots series, these three biographies are written in simple but engaging prose designed to interest third through eighth graders, and they are educational, entertaining, and inspiring. Roz Morris, Zelda Oliver-Miles, and Tom Bailey have thoroughly researched their subjects to create memorable characters who are an integral part of Alabama’s history.
By: Peter Huggins; Linda A. McQueen
Reviewed by: Junebug Books, 2008
In the Company of Owls by Peter Huggins will instantly grab the attention of the reader. It is a delightful, easy to read adventurous story of courage and family loyalty. It also employs humor and wisdom. While reading this novel you can visualize life on a dairy farm from sunrise to sunset. Huggins’ descriptive metaphor such as “hugging a pillow and listening to the crack and pop of the cedar as it glowed and burned in the stone fireplace” gives a feeling of peaceful coexistence with nature. All is well at the end of the day. Unfortunately for the Cash family, their peaceful life will have frightening consequences.
By: Sue Brannan Walker; Illustrated by Kate Seawell
Reviewed by: Tony Crunk
Sue Brannan Walker, a state literary treasure, is associated as closely with Mobile as with Alabama. She has further cemented that legacy with a charming new book for children (and their affiliated adults), Reuben’s Mobile. The book’s conceit is simple but engaging: through a series of page-long poems and accompanying illustrations, the title dog, a (real-life) Harlequin Great Dane, visits a number of key Mobile landmarks. In the process, readers receive thumb-nail introductions to distinguishing features of the city’s history, natural landscape, and cultural traditions.
By: Ellie Kirby
Reviewed by: Tony Crunk
By: Robert Inman
Reviewed by: Tony Crunk
This is an interesting hybrid of a children’s book. While long enough to be a chapter book, it more closely resembles a picture book in format (per physical dimensions, color illustrations, e.g.). As a holiday book, then, it seems designed to appeal to all ages of young readers (or listeners).
By: Charles Ghigna; Illustrated by Julia Gorton
Reviewed by: Linda A. McQueen
Do you or a friend need a boost, a little inspiration to get you to that goal or accomplish that dream? If you answered “yes,” then look no further. Charles Ghigna, a resident of Homewood, Alabama, and author or more than thirty books of poetry, has written a collection of fifty poems that inspire everyone-children, parents, athletes, coaches, teachers, and graduates from middle, high school, or college.