Favorite holiday children’s books through the decades

For me in elementary school in the 1960’s, it was Brenda Brave helps Grandmother, a beautifully illustrated story I bought at one of my first book fairs. It still has the price tag, $1.00 and the code for how book fairs demonstrated their books. The story was about a little girl named Brenda Brave who lived with her Grandmother in a small cottage. Grandmother raised Brenda when she was a baby. Grandmother makes candy to sell in town but one day Grandmother falls and hurts her leg. Brenda takes over the cleaning, cooking and Christmas even selling candy. And for Christmas, Brenda gets the beautiful porcelain doll that she always wanted from Grandmother.

For many of us then, it was the most elaborate story of  The Night Before Christmas  that we had in our holiday collection as well as Frosty the Snowman that possibly had a record and A Charlie Brown Christmas. We may have received our books as gifts or a traditional purchase at the downtown Marshall Fields book floor. Krochs and Brentanos may have been another choice.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas was another favorite as well as Rudolph.  For many of my Jewish friends, to celebrate Hanukkah, I remember learning the Dreidel Song and game more so that reading Jewish stories. The Littlest Angel and The Christmas Story came in many colors and styles that shred the birth of Jesus.

As the years passed especially in the 1980’s, it was more artful creations of The Night before Christmas  as well as Madelines Christmas and The Polar Express that came in a box with a jingle bell.  Different versions of the Christmas Carol were published to compliment many levels of reading as well as celebrating Kwanzaa.

In 2015, there was a parakeet named Dreidel that taught the story of Hanukkah and collections of books that includes how to catch Santa and how to catch an elf.  Santa arrives in Illinois on Christmas Eve is always fun to read to see if your home is on his list this year.

Today,  The Night before Christmas is still the ultimate favorite with awesome illustrations to read the night before Christmas and depending on religion, The Christmas Story from Amazon or maybe Target or Walmart’s book section. Versions of the classic, A Christmas Carol ,is required reading in many schools followed by a field trip to see the play. Polar Express is complimented by the movie with Tom Hanks and How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a must read and much watched movie with Jim Carey. Maya Angelou’s Amazing Peace is a fully illustrated children’s book that is mainly poetry. The story of a treasure thought to be lost in a batch of tamales is also a great Christmas Eve read called Too Many Tamales.

Quieting the Storm

After grabbing the key that had been securely hidden from the eyes of most, I unlocked the door and stepped inside. As her professional caregiver, these were the instructions for taking care of her. She would wander the streets if the doors were not locked from the outside.

At first, it was quiet; maybe Emily was asleep and then I heard it.

“I don’t remember, you should know where Dennis lives,” her voice angry and desperate. “That’s why I called you,” she pleaded.

Knowing Emily was on the phone, I followed her anguish to the bedroom. She was pacing back and forth, the cordless in her hand. I noticed that directory assistance was talking to her. Emily had a son who lived in town named Dennis. Her husband of over 60 years was still alive, but recovering from a stroke and currently in a rehabilitation facility.

His absence played more havoc with her dementia, especially shortly before the hours of sundown. Emily’s symptoms of memory loss and confusion were much more enhanced during this time of day.

Gently taking the phone from her hand, I quickly apologized to 411 and put the phone on the receiver. Simultaneously, I grasped her arm, and looked into her eyes.

“I have Dennis’s phone number,” I said, waiting for some recognition before I continued. “Let’s call him”.

“Hi Mom,” he said and assured her that Dad would be home soon. But she would forget, and in a matter of minutes it would have to be repeated. She may not be sure of the time, date or even season. After she hung up, it seemed she had not been satisfied and started to become more agitated. Emily needed constant stimulation.

I got up and removed the painting from the nearby wall. Maybe she could tell me about the majestic movie house called The Chicago Theatre, with 1941 written on the marquee. Built in French Baroque in the 1920’s, the theatre was one of the most lavish in the country; remodeled in the 1980’s. As I brought the picture closer to her eyes, the tension began to fade.

“Oh my,” she started as she began to search for the answer, “My first date with my husband. Oh, he was such a good-looking man. The line of people that night reached all the way around the block to see The Lady Eve.”

Emily couldn’t remember if he was in the military, or his involvement in World War II, but she could remember how he held her hand in that line that seemed to stretch forever.

Giggling and moving closer while grasping my hand, she said, “I could tell he just didn’t have too much experience with the girls like I had with the guys.”

“How could you tell?” I asked.

“His hand was perspiring and shaking,” she laughed again.

“And you hooked him for sixty years…I imagine!”

“I knew he was the one the first night. He gave this painting to me for our anniversary.” She responded tenderly.

“Which anniversary?”

“I have no idea,” she giggled, “there were so many!”

Later, I found her wedding picture; a breathtaking bride with large eyes, dark hair and beautiful smile. But Emily seemed more interested in talking about her mother, after eyeing this photograph, who did not see her dressed in white because she had passed away before her marriage.

“My mom passed away just a few years ago,” I commented.

“You have a Dad,” she stated matter of fact.

“No, he is gone too.”

“Brothers and sisters?”

“Only child.” Emily just couldn’t fathom a 50+ woman to be the only one and parentless.

“I do have two children. I am a Mom like you too.”

That didn’t matter much to her; it was about who was going to take care of me. She asked if I was hungry…most mothers do. Her vivid heart and mind remained cognizant, regardless of the disability, of her partner’s love and parental obligation.

Love always somehow survives in the end. Every time I visited as her caretaker, we did it all again; sometimes the phone call, the Chicago theatre and their wedding. Always before leaving, she asked if she could cook me something to eat.

However, one Monday the routine had changed; allowing an astounding new journey to begin. Her son had told me that his daughter had just gotten married and because Emily was not in the best condition to attend the wedding, they brought the party to her the Saturday before. Emily dressed in her finest while receiving the wedding party, between the service and reception, in her living room.

New pictures were shared in front of the family fireplace; cake was cut and served along with dribbles of champagne. As I viewed the new pictures, the bride and grandmother shared the same tears.

On that autumn afternoon, with brilliant color shading the home, Emily displayed a new color in her cheeks and vibrancy in her eyes. This time she remembered every exciting detail of blossoming new love in front of her own fireplace that weekend; just like her own in first encounter in 1941.

(Originally published in Maria Shriver’s Architect of Change- Taking care of those with Alzheimers/2013http://archive.mariashriver.com/quieting-the-storm-karla-sullivan/

Childhood road trips: Good Old Neon

As a Baby Boomer child  in the car traveling  with my parents, there were no cell phones to play or movies to watch on video players. You were lucky if your parents played games like 20 questions, Name that Tune or Alphabet  where you would look for every letter of the alphabet from the road signs you passed. It could be any sign but neon were easy to see with their beautiful varieties of color, sparkle and great logos.

Though for me, I didn’t really care about the games. Unfortunately, reading a book while traveling made me sick. I just loved to pass the majestic signs. Ultimately, it was the neon signs alone that offered a colorful road trip suggesting great places to visit such as Kiddieland , Margies Candies or the Seven Dwarfs Restaurant.  How my parents loved the Green Mill Lounge with its beautiful gold array of lights highlighting the green title,even back in the days of mafia connections.

I always wanted to stay at the Tangiers Motel…something I thought…  truly out of the country. Fortunately, I was spoiled. When I pointed and cheered with determination at the mesmerizing neons, we would actually stop at many taking advantage of the rides, sweets or a chocolate shake; maybe even an overnight stay.

Remember Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket neon sign in Willowbrook?  I am only a few miles from the Chicken Basket and the sign still guides me today…one of my favorite restaurants.

Nick Freeman felt the same way about neon growing up and Chicago’s rich neon heritage is published in his full-color collection of delightful signs. From the South Side of Chicago to Wisconsin, his book Good Old Neon  spotlights the familiar signs captured in over 130 photos; many fast-disappearing artifacts of a glorious era when brightly lit signs filled the landscape.

“Several dozen of the signs pictured in my book have disappeared since its publication, and once they’re gone, they’re not coming back,” Nick comments, ” Big reason for my passion for preserving them through photography.”

Nick talks about the cost of the neon which is expensive due to the hand-crafting that goes into each one, as well as the physical and technical requirements involved in their construction and placement, not to mention upkeep.  The fragility of glass tubing continuously exposed to harsh Chicago weather makes the survival of an old sign a kind of urban miracle, deserving, at the least, of photographic preservation. Even the many that have outlived their functional glory days have their own visual appeal. Animated neon signs, working or not, are a special treat.

Nick Freeman, a life-long resident of the Chicago area, has been involved with words and pictures throughout his professional career. Starting at Feldkamp-Malloy, one of the last of the old-time art studios in the city, he spent 30-plus years in advertising–god help him–serving as production director at Leo Burnett and other agencies.

He now devotes his time and attention to his first love, oil painting, and has exhibited his work in a number of local and regional shows. His art, both paintings and photography, can be seen at galleryfreeman.com.

After viewing his work on his website, I was amazed by his polished, realistic technique and use of color. Two of my favorites were Isla Jane and the Pumpkin Farm which were sold. But his wonderful collection offers a great painting of Dog N Suds called Root Beer, Flea Market II, the Blue Goose for sale and many others. He currently resides in St. Charles, Illinois.

Good Old Neon is available direct from Lake Claremont Press, Amazon or wherever fine gift books are sold. Founded by Sharon Woodhouse in 1994, Lake Claremont Press has been publishing amazing histories and guidebooks about Chicago by Chicago authors.

Unlike many publishers, their books truly capture the passions and knowledge of their authors. Many have been featured in national newspapers and numerous television shows such as the History Channel and The National Geographic Channel. Because of their credited field expertise, most authors are actively involved in non-for profits and several of the the greater Chicago land missions.

Please visit their site and you can sign up for the Lake Claremont Press newsletter to receive announcements about new book releases and special offers of distinguished Chicago authors.

Seek to be the very best

Which statue of Abraham Lincoln is considered to have the most accurate likeness of the president and why? What sets Victory Monument apart from other World War I memorials? Why is the Balbo Monument so controversial? Celebrated photographer, author, and art historian Larry Broutman is eager to share his vast knowledge of the fascinating history behind Chicago’s public art and iconic places. Broutman is the photographer and author of Chicago Monumental and Chicago Unleashed, the latter book; a collection of whimsical images.

Chicago Unleashed, Larry Broutman’s first book published by Lake Claremont Press in 2014, presents images that combine wildlife photographed by Broutman in the wildlands of the world and iconic Chicago urbanscapes he also photographed. The concept of these fanciful pieces was created for the Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago during its design and construction.   His second book with Lake Claremont Press, Chicago Monumental is a gorgeous full-color photographic tribute to the City of Big Shoulders that showcases over 250 Chicago monuments, memorials, statues, and fountains. Many were created by acclaimed sculptors from the past two centuries. There’s even a 3D photography section with 3D glasses included in this wonderful coffee table book.

Lake Claremont Press celebrates the power and character of place for our particular corner of the globe, Chicago and greater Chicagoland. Their nonfiction histories and guidebooks foster and reveal Chicago’s special identity by exploring our city’s history, culture, geography, built environment, people, and lore. They publish authors with specific Chicago passions and knowledge and local organizations with Chicago-centric missions.

Founded by Sharon Woodhouse in 1994, Lake Claremont Press has published over 60 titles, including local bestseller Chicago Haunts: Ghostlore of the Windy City and several award winners. Other favorites over the years have included Hollywood on Lake Michigan: 100 Years of Chicago and the Movies, The Chicago River: A Natural and Unnatural History, A Cook’s Guide to Chicago, The Streets and San Man’s Guide to Chicago Eats, The Golden Age of Chicago Children’s Television, Oldest ChicagoHistoric Bars of Chicago, and Rule 53: Capturing Hippies, Spies, Politicians, and Murderers in an American Courtroom.

Chicago Monumental has received two book awards in the last month: a Midwest Book Award for best interior design and an IPPY (Independent Publisher) Award in the Great Lakes Nonfiction category.

Since the 1990s, Larry Broutman has traveled the world over to capture the perfect photograph and has found Chicago to have a plethora of visual inspiration. His projects include work with Lincoln Park Zoo, Africa Geographic, BBC Wildlife, Children’s Memorial Hospital Clinic, and The Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

Broutman attended MIT where he received his S.B., S.M., and doctorate degree in the field of Materials Engineering and Science in 1963. Specializing in Polymer Engineering and Science and Composite Materials, Broutman has vast experience writing college textbooks, reference books, and technical articles. In fact, he was inducted into the Plastics Hall of Fame.

All author proceeds are donated to The Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Disabled, and Access Living, Chicago-based nonprofit service agencies.

Larry Broutman’s impressive background and education is truly an inspiration to others and I asked him what kind of advice he would give to those young and old trying to pursue their own ambitions.“I have always followed the advice of my academic adviser at MIT where I received my B.S., M.S., and doctorate degrees. His sage words were to choose a career/profession which you love and once you choose it, seek to be the very best. So, in my case, I was guided by choosing career paths I could both enjoy and also strived to be the best. So, this thought not only helped me in my principal career in engineering, but in my second career as a photographer and author.”

Chicago Monumental may be enjoyed as a visual history, as social documentary, as a guidebook to both familiar and little-known works, as a portable art gallery or as itself a piece of public sculpture. And if like me you are always looking for the perfect gift to give to a client, an aspiring artist, photographer or those who just love our city, Chicago Monumental is a beautiful choice.