An ABC of the USA by a European Nomad

At the end of my thirteen amazing years in Nice before moving to the USA, and as a newbie to blogging, I wrote an A-Z about France. I have now been living in and around New York City for the past 6 years and have so far made it to 29 states, so I feel it is about time to share some musings of my time thus far State-side. I can’t promise as many gastronomic entries in this series, but there will be some!

Automobile

Already the term automobile instead of the only word used in the UK, car, conjures up for me a concept far more expansive and grandiose than merely a mode of transportation. Certainly outside a couple of major metropolises like NYC or San Francisco, with the vast distances between habitations, life without an automobile here is unimaginable. 

There’s perhaps no single person more associated with the automobile than Henry Ford. Ford is credited with bringing the car to the multitudes. Just imagine what the world would look like without the mass adoption of the automobile: We wouldn’t have countries crisscrossed by freeways, there’d be no truck diners, and no one would ever have to be trapped in a long drive-thru line at McDonalds. 

The automobile can arguably be considered a centerpiece of American culture.  Take into consideration how the car is still the second largest purchase among American households, and part of pop culture in a way it isn’t in Europe. In the US, an automobile doesn’t just represent options or status. That first second-hand Chevy or , with its personalized tweaks, shapes ideas of freedom and self-possession. Attaining one’s driver’s license here (between the ages of 14-16!) is a rite of passage in a society that maybe has fewer of them. It is the first major step into adulthood and independence. I suspect because cars have come to symbolize a kind of coming-of-age, freedom, and America’s pioneer spirit, they have become vital to a sense of identity, and not just to teens.

Blue at a West Virginia Air B n B on my first road trip.

When I bought my battered 2002 Subaru Outback (called Blue) for my first road trip three years ago, little did I know I had picked the perfect lesbian road trip vehicle… it’s all about identity, folks! But I will save “Road Trips” for another entry.

Baseball

In America, “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” is probably one of summertime’s most-sung songs. Why? Because America’s favorite summer sport is baseball. Maybe not every American drives a Chevy (see A above), but almost every girl and boy learns to play baseball in school, and adults pay good money to watch the pros!

And you thought cricket was slow?!!! Bear with me, as cricket is my only real comparison. Everyone wears pajamas. Oh, and don’t forget the sox. Each side has 25 players but only 9 actually play. The pitch is aimed at an imaginary box in the air. The players and umpires can see this box, but no one else can. If the ball is going into this box, the batter tries to hit it. If cricketers missed the ball as often as baseball players, cricket matches would be over pretty quickly. They don’t, which is why cricket matches can take five days. But hey, that gives lots of downtime in baseball to chat to your match-buddies, which is the real reason I went.

I am told it was a good match (the Yankees beat the Red Sox, 4:2 ), and they must have sung the anthem and had some mid-time entertainment but I still don’t know most of the rules. What I do remember is the food!

Baseball is a summer game as I have said, but it was mid April (of my first year in New York) and still below freezing though not actually snowing. Thank goodness my Manhattan friend played mama, and had packed enough plaid blankets in her backpack to keep the four of us warm if we huddled together. My game partners (2 Yankee fans, and one lone Red Sox supporter) were committed to giving me the full-blown Yankee Stadium experience.

Remember, I came from the land of garlic, yet have never been garlicked-out before I tried Yankee garlic-fries. 😮 The fries would have been plenty for my not-so-delicate constitution, but no, there had to be more more. Add a foot-long hot-dog loaded up on all the fixings: ketchup, mustard, sauerkraut, jalapenos, onions, tomato, a package or two of Cracker Jack (a concoction of molasses-flavored popcorn and peanuts), and domestic beer, and my digestive system was yelling “strike” way more often than any umpire. 

Yeah, baseball truly is an All-American thang! And if any of my US friends want to take me to see the Giants, or the Dodgers or the Mariners… I won’t say no. Just give me some prior warning so I can do a bit of fasting in preparation!

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The Stuff of Stars – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: The Stuff of Stars

Author: Marion Dane Bauer

Illustrator: Ekua Holmes

Publisher: Candlewick, 2018

Ages: 5-11

Themes: universe, big bang, evolution, wonder, humanity, biology, science

 

 

Opening:

In the dark,
in the dark,
in the deep, deep, dark,
a speck floated,
invisible as a thought,
weighty as God.
There was yet no time,
there was yet no space.
No up,
no down,
no edge,
no center.

Synopsis:

Before the universe was formed, before time and space existed, there was . . . nothing. But then . . . BANG! Stars caught fire and burned so long that they exploded, flinging stardust everywhere. And the ash of those stars turned into planets. Into our Earth. And into us. In a poetic text, Marion Dane Bauer takes readers from the trillionth of a second when our universe was born to the singularities that became each one of us, while vivid illustrations by Ekua Holmes capture the void before the Big Bang and the ensuing life that burst across galaxies. A seamless blend of science and art, this picture book reveals the composition of our world and beyond — and how we are all the stuff of stars.

Why I like this book:

In a visually and textually stunning display the universe unfolds before us from a tiny speck right down to the celebration of  the birth of every child.

The speck becomes stardust, and the stardust becomes planets, plants, animals, and eventually, you, the reader. Bauer’s text has a rhythmic cadence to it that lends itself to reading out loud, and Holmes’ illustrations give a dreamlike and yet epic atmosphere to the book. The marbled pictures and collages are combined digitally and are gorgeous. I just love the abstraction and think kids will too. I appreciate that rather than a very man-centric text, The Stuff of Stars teaches a child that they are one of many wondrous pieces of our infinite universe.

This is the first picture book I have personally read about the Big Bang and I feel it does the vast concept justice for young children, retaining all the awe even as the details are described. This is a terrific asset to a school library for science, art and more philosophical units of study. This book makes the abstract concept of how the universe came into being into something relatable, momentous, sensorial and awe-inspiring, and leaves room for personal interpretation. Bravo to author and illustrator.

Resources/Activities:

Marion Dane-Bauer has a ton of resources to accompany the book on her website.

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

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Mixed – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: Mixed, A Colorful Story

Written and Illustrated by: Arree Chung

Publisher: Henry Holt and Company, September 2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: colors, mixing colors, diversity, acceptance, variety, mixed race

Opening:

In the beginning there were three colors.

Reds,

Yellows,

and Blues.

Synopsis:

All special in their own ways, all living in harmony–until one day, a Red says “Reds are the best!” and starts a color kerfuffle. When the colors decide to separate, is there anything that can change their minds?

A Yellow, a Blue, and a never-before-seen color might just save the day in this inspiring book about color, tolerance, and embracing differences. (Publisher)

Why I like this book:

I love this because despite knowing from the outset where this book is going Arree manages to surprise me with both the text and the illustrations of how so much better a community is when we embrace everyone. The outcome of segregation and discrimination (based on color) is vividly portrayed in its black and white town with expressive characters in a way that can be easily understood by the very young. This is all about celebration not tolerance or acceptance. It is about how vibrant and interesting our lives are when we have embrace rich variety in our communities. The permeation of WOW is infinite as each new individual bring something unique to the sandpit.

The two brave rebellious protagonists are kids, which I love. And the colors are not generic but communities and individuals have well developed characteristics.  It is a beautiful and happy book about acceptance and individuality. One that should be a part of every preschool and elementary school library.

This is my favorite spread. 

 

Resources/Activities:

This book reminds me so much of Leo Lionni’s classic book from 1959, Little Blue and Little Yellow.

Obviously it is a concept book that can be used to teaching mixing colors, but that cannot be divorced from its wonderful heart about diversity.

On Arree’s website there is an activity guide he will send to anyone who requests it.

Don’t miss the interview I did with Arree Chung a couple of years ago. 

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

 

Posted in concept picture book, Diverse Children's Books, diversity, Perfect Picture Book Friday, Picture Books | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments