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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Lunch Box Mail, written and illustrated by Jenny Whitehead. Henry Holt, 2001. $9.95 ages 5 and up

"Turtles and snails.
Turtles and snails.
What could be slower
than turtles and snails?
Waiting for birthdays,
and popcorn to pop.
Afternoons wishing
the raindrops would stop."

As I was reading this verse I found myself thinking what a great mentor poem it would be for classroom thinking. What does move slowly for young children? How hard it is to wait for something very special to arrive, or for something discouraging to end. It might take some time to gather their ideas, and their ideas may not rhyme; but, it is the beginning of the process...and it helps young writers to understand that ideas come from many places. It also gives them a starting point for their thinking and pondering.

Jenny Whitehead takes us through the year with a young child. As with all young children, some days offer new experiences, much delight and adventure. Others are not so self-assured and memorable. Each experience is stored in our personal vault and helps us be who we are meant to be.

There are four wheels, in full swing, appeteasers and winding down. The first day of school is up first, and is contrasted (on a facing page) with the '179th day'. Apt brief descriptions of the differences are bordered by cartoon drawings of school friends, personnel, and shared events.
We move on to see other moments that are universal in the lives of anxiety-inducing visit to the doctor, the first foray into the cold of a swimming pool (even on a warm day), no-bite fishing, the long drive to Grandma's, jumping in puddles, collecting 'stuff'', favorite foods and even lunch box mail:

"Last night after dinner, son,
I thought you had your homework done.
But now the dog is acting funny.
Did he eat your homework, honey?
Love, Dad"


I baked you cookies -
chocolate chip! -
a dozen just for you.
Eat as many as you can,
then give away a few!
Love, Nana"

The illustrations that fill the white spaces are the small details of a child's life and will be enjoyed by anyone who shares this collection. Clear voice is given to a host of characters, young and old. Short additional poems add humor and the cover art provides a hint at what's to come.

Yes, there's stress but there is also satisfaction. Isn't that the way life is?

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