December 07, 2008

Feliz Navidad - Politi Christmas Books

IMG_1930 Even if you didn't have much of a chance to get many of the Politi books, I highly recommend continuing into the Advent and Christmas season to try to locate some with the Christmas themed books and extend the study.  Focusing on the traditions (Mexican & Mexican American) would be an enriching addition to the celebration of Christmas - Las Posadas, pinatas, tamales, nativity scenes.

Christmas Themed Books
Pedro, the Angel of Olvera Street (1946) - Christmas, las Posadas
The Noble Doll (illustrated 1961) - Mexico
Rosa (1963) - Christmas in Mexico
The Poinsettia (1967) - Christmas and Chanukah traditions
The Nicest Gift (1973) - Christmas
Lorenzo, the Naughty Parrot (illustrated 1992) - Christmas in Mexico

November 26, 2008

Song of the Swallows Unit

Song of the Swallows, Leo politi's most famous book and winner of the 1952 Caldecott Medal is definitely still easy to come by since it is still in print. The book is set at the Misssion San Juan de Capistrano in southern California. The anniversary of the founding of this mission is in November (1st - sorry to let it pass so long).

San Juan Capistrano was founded November 1, 1776 by Father Junipero Serra. This was in fact the second founding. Originally Father Lasuen founded the mission on October 30, 1775 but the site was quickly abandoned after only eight days following an devastating attack on Mission San Diego. The bells were buried and the padres fled to the safety of the Presidio in San Diego. Father Junipero Serra returned a year later and retrieved the bells and reestablished the mission.

This month would be a nice to time to study a little on the mission foundings in the United States. Maureen Wittmann has an expcellent unit study for the missions following this book.

Song of the Swallows - A Missionary Primer

Add in Politi's The Mission Bell for even more information on mission founder, Junipero Serra.

The Butterflies Come

Perhaps its no wonder that journey's - natural or cultural - were so important to Leo. His own journeys - as a young child and young man - had affected him quite deeply. From a relatively short procession down a city street to a 7500-mile journey across the sea, whether by human, animal, or both together, over half of Leo's books would highlight repeated journeys and how they give shape to life as they bring together the participants. ~From Leo Politi Artist of the Angels by Ann Stalcup

Of course his most famous work, Song of the Swallows focused on the annual journey of the swallows to Mission of San Juan Capistrano. A migratory journey also provided material for another book, The Butterflies Come. On a visit to the Monterrey Peninsula, Leo witnessed a an amazing sight. High above the town of Pacific Grove, a swath of orange and black fluttered overhead. It was another wonder of nature - the monarch butterfly migration. In October, the monarchs in a cloud then they stay peacefully in a grove of eucalyptus trees which are known locally as "Butterfly Trees." In spring they leave on their northward journey.

In the book Leo Politi refers to the annual festival and parade. The Butterfly Parade celebratesthe annual return of the Monarch butterflies to Pacific Grove. All of the town's schoolchildren turn out in costume and march down the main street  It is held every October. It is fun to see that a tradition that was in existence when he wrote the book is still happening today. Of course the annual migration still happens as it is a cyclical journey so to celebrate it makes sense.

Vintage photos of the parade - 1955 & 1988

Journey North- the educational study website on migration has a section focusing on the Monarch migrations each year.  All the butterflies have finished their journey south for the winter this year but you can check out the maps and pictures.   Lots of fun and amazing information.

And check out Monarch Watch for more monarch information.

Make a stained glass butterfly craft out of construction and tissue paper. I'll post the template later today.

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Or follow the instructions outlined in this craft video - How to Make a Tissue Paper Butterfly

America's melting pot through the eyes of Leo Politi


Leo enjoyed writing about the cultures of Los Angeles and other areas of California. California, with its rich immigrant history, is a microcosm of the melting pot that is the United States. I especially have enjoyed seeing these cultures through Leo's eyes - how they were during his lifetime. Maybe that is one reason I enjoy his work so much - being the granddaughter of immigrants, I am fascinated by the traditions and cultures of the immigrant cultures of this country. He was very innovative as a children’s author in this way.


When Leo began his career, stories set in America took place "in the city" or "in the town" or "on the farm," not within a specific ethnic neighborhood.  Leo's decision to set stories in the barrio, or in Chinatown, or in Little Tokyo was, for its time, a significant change. Although "multicultural" is a common word and idea now, it wasn't when Leo first started writing books. And his sprinkling of foreign language words and phrases throughout his pages, that too was a concepto nuevo - a new idea.  ~From Leo Politi Artist of the Angels by Ann Stalcup

Leo's life's work - both at home and in his books - was to make sure the small and large wonders of the world were appreciated. Says (his son) Paul, "Dad experienced life, and he wanted to share with people, especially children, things that he thought they might not see for themselves - a flower, a culture, a moment." ~From Leo Politi Artist of the Angels by Ann Stalcup

Here is a breakdown of his books by culture in case you are interested in including them in a study of that culture.

Mexican American Culture & Traditions
Pedro, the Angel of Olvera Street (1946) - Christmas, las Posadas
Juanita (1948) - Easter, blessing of the animals
The Nicest Gift (1973) - Christmas
Three Stalks of Corn (1976) - foods and legends

Italian American Culture & Traditions
A Boat for Peppe (1950) -fishing, festivals
Little Leo (1951) - autobiographical

Chinese American Culture & Traditions
Moy Moy (1960) - Chinese New Year, dances & parades
Mr. Fong's Toy Shop (1978) - Moon Festival, puppet theater

Japanese American Culture & Traditions
Mieko (1969) - Nisei week, Ondo parade

November 21, 2008

Happy Birthday, Leo Politi


Today would have been Leo Politi's 100th birthday.

What a wonderful legacy of children's literature he left us.

October 29, 2008

Leo Politi Book Lists and Resources

PolitiFollowing up on the earlier post to guess the November artist/illustrator.  Rachel guessed that it will be Leo Politi and we discussed him some in the comments section there.  This year, November 21, would have been his 100th birthday. Jennifer just mentioned she has Song of the Swallows and was wondering if that is the author. Yes, it is! And that is just the tip of the iceburg.

Jennifer also mentioned that book is all she has. Most of his books are unfortunately out of print but very much worth finding used or from interlibrary loan if they aren't available to you locally. I find his work enchanting - very rich with cultural traditions and heritage of different ethnic groups in America. They are a great look at our melting pot history starting with the founding of the missions in California. It's still a bit early to officially start this November study but not so when one considers it may take some time to locate more books. Do take the time and effort to seek out a few of his books - you will not be disappointed!

Here is a listing of the books that Leo Politi wrote and illustrated.

Here is a listing of books that Leo Politi illustrated but were written by other authors.

Biographical resources
Leo Politi: Artist of the Angels - Ann Stalcup (children's biography)
Leo Politi: Capturing the Heart of Los Angeles - Rob Wagner (to be published No. 2008)

Samples of his art work and illlustrations.