Book Bag: Children’s books captivate with emotion, imagination, identity

Staff Writer
Published: 12/16/2021 1:47:09 PM

A Doll for Christmas/Una Muñeca papa Navidad; by Andrea Veras

 

A native of the Dominican Republic, Andrea Veras later moved to New York City and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in urban studies; she had a varied career that included work as a paralegal, a translator and a community activist.

But five years ago, this mother of three and grandmother of two moved to the Valley and took up a new activity, one she’d long wanted to pursue: painting and drawing. She studied art first at the Hill Institute in Florence and has since moved on to take classes at Holyoke Community College, where she’s also studied creative writing.

Now Veras, who lives in Easthampton, has put that training to work in her first published book, a bilingual Christmas children’s story based on a childhood experience in the Dominican Republic.

“A Doll for Christmas/Una Muñeca para Navidad” offers a unique production approach: You can read it in English or Spanish, with the text of each language ending midway through the book, after which you flip the book upside down and read the story in the other language.

The story, illustrated with Veras’ colorful, folk-art style paintings and drawings, recalls a Christmas with her family when she was a young girl. Her family was poor, she said, and she usually had to wear her older sister’s hand-me-down clothes.

But on this Christmas Eve, she’s allowed to pick out two new dresses from a catalog, with the clothing to be made by a local seamstress. The story also describes how her family painted their house and changed the draperies every Christmas — a long tradition in the Dominican Republic.

But what young Andrea really wants for the holiday is a doll, one that she imagines will be “tall and beautiful ... with big eyes and long hair.” On Christmas morning, she hunts around the house for the gift. Veras writes that her family did not have a Christmas tree, and that presents — delivered by Baby Jesus, not Santa Claus — could be hidden anywhere.

Alas, when she finds her doll, it doesn’t look anything like she imagined: It’s small and skinny, without clothes or hair. Andrea’s mother tries to explain that poor children don’t get expensive gifts, but Veras writes that it took her years to understand that.

However, the story has two happy endings — one true, one imagined — that both attest to the love and the spirit of giving at Christmas.

Veras has another children’s book in the works, and she’s been doing some readings at bookstores and libraries in the region; she has also displayed her paintings in regional venues. To learn more about her work, visit verasandrea.com.

 

Have You Seen the Ghost of John? A Traditional Round of Two Voices

Additional lyrics and illustrations by Christine Copeland

Brook Hollow Press

 

Painter and illustrator Christine Copeland, who lives in Northfield, was living in the Sonoran Desert years ago with her young baby. Dreaming of the cool autumns back in New England, she found herself singing an old folk song, “Have You Seen the Ghost of John?” to try and settle her child.

Now Copeland, who also illustrates children’s books, has used the Halloween song as the basis for a picture book, published by Brook Hollow Press of Hatfield, for young readers, creating a sort of “Where’s Waldo?” story in which children are invited to find the spooky remains of John in each illustration.

The setting is a picturesque New England village, circa mid-19th century, where newlyweds Abigail and Peter Williams have come to visit family on a glorious fall day. Little do they know that an ancestor, great-grandfather John Williams. is watching over them.

The text consists of the simple song lyrics — “Have you seen the ghost of John?/Long white bones with the rest all gone” — designed to be sung by different groups of singers as a modal round, with singers starting two measures apart. They can also be read as simple rhyming words.

Copeland’s colorful illustrations and the historical setting make this an engaging read, showing the Williamses riding into town in a horse-drawn carriage, while men in top hats and women in bonnets walk along the tree-lined streets.

All the while, the skeleton of old John can be seen popping up in the background, whether in the crook of a tree, behind a partially open closet door, or in the window of a house across the street.

In an afterward, Copeland thanks staff with the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Old Deerfield, and the The Historical Society of Greenfield for providing research materials for the book and for their “acceptance of anachronisms” in her story. Hint: Alert readers may notice a venerable-looking local building that didn’t actually exist circa 1850.

 

Rook and Teyerinke Make Some Space

Text and illustrations by Rachel Jennings

 

Valley writer Rachel Jennings describes her story for young readers, “Rook and Teyerinke Make Some Space,” as a story “about a secular Jewish family and their various adventures, complicated by the gender binary.”

Teyerinke is a non-binary person who uses “they” as a pronoun and is a parent to Rook, a kid who uses “him” and “his” for pronouns and gets annoyed on Halloween because many people who give him candy assume he’s a girl due to his long hair.

The story, illustrated by Jennings, draws its title from the idea that “space” is not just a physical dimension but a psychological one in which there should be more ways to express one’s self or do things. In a series of short chapters, Teyerinke and Rook try to do just that.

In one instance, Teyerinke tells Rook about the Marina, The Goddess of Shame, whose job is to rid people of unwanted bad feelings about themselves, whether over their identity, their sense of self-worth, or anything else.

“You can feel regret without hating yourself,” she says. “But if you are feeling sorry about something you did, Marina is happy to hop in and frog-kick the space until it is free of distractions.”

Tereyinke also helps Rook navigate his confused feelings when his best friend, Jeremy, decides he’d rather be known as Gillian and be addressed as “she.” Rook is supportive, but then tells Teyerinke he thinks he should steer clear of Gillian, at least for awhile, till he can be sure to use the right name with her.

“You’ve been friends with Gillian a long time,” Teyerinke says. “Friendships can survive a few slip-ups. There’s some wiggle room.”

As Jennings says of her book, “More space means more adventures, more fun, and less of that icky feeling that happens when it seems like there is only one way to do things.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.


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