Something From Nothing

By Phoebe Gilman

Now that Christmas has come and gone, I thought long and hard about what book I should do next. Something about rebirth, maybe, or one that encompasses the spirit of giving without relating to Christmas. And absolutely nothing bad – I want a good, uplifting book. Then at the store I stumbled across the answer, lost in the press of similarly sized children’s books crammed on a too-small shelf. How fortuitous!

Something From Nothing is an old book that I read as a child, but have forgotten as the years have passed. Nevertheless, it remains one of my favorite stories, and one that might make you hard-pressed not to tear up. It begins with a blanket Joseph is given at birth by his grandfather. As he grows older, the blanket grows rattier, until the mother declares that he should throw it out. Distraught, he takes it to his grandfather, where it’s remade into a coat. Joseph loves the coat, until it’s too small and worn out, and the mother once again declares it should be thrown out. So back to the grandfather, who remakes it as a vest, a tie, a handkerchief, and a button before the boy accidentally loses the button. Distraught, he goes to his grandfather, but is told there is nothing to be done: “you can’t make something from nothing”. At school the next day, Joseph discovers that he has just enough to make a wonderful story.

Based on a Yiddish tale, Something From Nothing is a gorgeous story. The story is simple and rhythmic, somewhat repetitive so children more easily grasp the nature of the story. The artwork is beautiful, full of little Easter eggs in in the panels (just watch and see how much fun your child has examining the minute life of the mice that live under the house and use scraps from his blanket).

If you’re looking for a good story about grandfather-grandchild relations, this is a great one to recommend. In its undertones it’s about family love, values, and how memories are kept long after the physical object has disappeared.

Suggested ages: 3-6

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Waiting for the Whales

By Sheryl McFarlane

Waiting for the Whales, by Sheryl McFarlane, was one of those books I loved when I was small. It differs a lot from other books in it’s main character; for the first half of the book it is an unnamed old man. He lives alone between the forest and the sea, grows his own food, and spends his days waiting for that one time of year when the orcas will swim by his home.

The artwork is stunning. Ron Lightburn has a beautiful touch, crafting pictures that evoke a wonderful sense of emotion in each page. From the old man’s loneliness to his camaraderie with his granddaughter, to the simple scene of his death, each scene is done with tact and touching simplicity.

Among its five awards, Waiting for the Whales won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Illustration, and the Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Illustrators Award.

Suggested Ages: 5-9

McFarlane, S. (2002). Waiting for the Whales. Orca Book Publishers.

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