Alida's Song: A Companion to The Cook Camp
by Gary Paulsen. Novel. 88 pages. Grades 5-8.
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You may have met Alida before this brief novel. She's the grandmother in The Cookcamp (Orchard, 1991 ISBN 0531085279). The summer the narrator spent with her in that lumber camp was as necessary for his well-being as it was fun for him, the small child of neglectful and drunken parents.
In Alida's Song, that grandmother rescues him again. She's not working in the cookcamp now but is housekeeper and cook for two bachelor farmers (just like in LakeWoebegone). She writes asking her grandson to join her. He will, she says, be able to help with the farming.
Gunar and Olaf do well by the boy as does his grandmother, of course. It's hard work and they toil from early morning to late evening, pausing only to eat enormous and frequent meals. They do believe in fun, however, and the two men prepare a feast for the boy's grandmother complete with fiddle and spoon music afterward. She teaches the boy to dance, to trust and to love again.
In all, the book is tender and quite wonderful. The knowledge that the work is largely autobiographical lets us feel grateful that the man whose work we so admire today had such nourishment, at least for a summer.
A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck. (1998, Dial. ISBN 9780803722903. Order Info.) Novel. 192 pages. Gr 4-12.
Every August from 1929 - 1942, our narrator, Joey, and his sister Mary Alice come from Chicago to their grandmother's home in rural Illinois. We join them there every year from 1929 - 1935 and then again, for a last look, in 1942. In the process, Peck has given us one of the most delightfully wacky, crafty characters in young adult literature in this grandmother. Read More.
Granny the Pag by Nina Bawden. (1996, Clarion Books. ISBN 9780395776049. Order Info.) Novel. 192 pages. Gr 4-8.
This is a terrific story. Cat (real name Catriona) lives with her unconventional grandmother whom she has nicknamed Pag. Her mother and father are television stars and are so silly that their personalities are almost caricatures. The Pag is a famous psychiatrist and she and Cat have a warm, funny relationship. At school, run by a fatuous headmaster, Cat is being harassed by three boys but her good friends Rose and Tom, with threat of retribution by The Pag, have held them at bay.
The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco. (1988, Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0671649639. Order Info.) Picture Book. 32 pages. Gr K-3.
A Russian immigrant mother and family arrive in the United States. She plans to make a quilt from a basket of old clothes, telling her daughter, "It will be like having the family in backhome Russia dance around us at night." The quilt is passed along from mother to daughter for four generations. It becomes a Sabbath tablecloth and a wedding canopy. When it becomes a blanket for new generations of children, it really tells a family's story of love, faith and endurance. Read More.
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