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Picture Book Review – The Welcome Chair

 

 

THE WELCOME CHAIR

Written by Rosemary Wells

Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

(A Paula Wiseman Book; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

 

 

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Bookpage, Kirkus

 

Rosemary Wells introduces the reader to her family’s history in the telling of a rocking chair built by her great-great-grandfather. We travel with the author of more than one hundred books for children, and winner of the Christopher Award, on the road imagining where the chair may have traveled in The Welcome Chair with illustrations by the late Jerry Pinkney who has earned seven Caldecott Medals, five Coretta Scott King Awards, five Coretta Scott King Honors, five New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book Awards, and the Original Art’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Learning about family history is so much fun, and reading the story of Sam Seigbert who was born in 1807 in Bavaria, and brought to life by Wells from a family diary, was quite fascinating. Wells’s great-great-grandfather was destined to be a carpenter, but his father insisted that he study the Torah to become a Rabbi like him and his grandfather. “It’s settled. You will not work with your hands like a country bumpkin.” But that was not what Sam wanted, so at age sixteen he cut off his sidelocks, so no one would bully the Jewish boy, and hiked north to find work as a deckhand on a freighter for three pfennigs a day. The captain noticed Sam could read and write and offered him a job logging inventory on the ship. When the ship docked, Sam “darts away across the Brooklyn docks into the screeching, shrieking, filthy, clanging, terrifying, ugly and beautiful young city of New York.”

 

The Welcome Chair int1
Interior illustrations from The Welcome Chair written by Rosemary Well and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, A Paula Wiseman Book ©2021.

 

 

Pinkney’s extensive experience led him to execute the illustrations with contour drawing and watercolor washes, and pictures using burnt okra Prismacolor pencils and pastels. It was a perfect choice to showcase the 19th century as Sam meets Able Hinzler, and his wife Klara, and is hired on to become the bookkeeper and apprentice carpenter for Hinzler’s Housewright shop. When Magnus Hinzler is born, Sam carves a cherrywood rocking chair for Klara to sit in comfortably with the word “Willkommen”  meaning Welcome in German across a panel. This is the start of the chair that had many lives.

As told by Wells, Sam moves to Wisconsin with the Hinzler family. “The rocking chair goes with them. One evening he meets Ruth and falls in love with her gentle laugh and green-gray eyes. When their firstborn, Henry, arrives Sam carves Baruch Haba—Hebrew for “Welcome”—right under “Willkommen,” into the chair’s panel so that Henry will know his heritage.

When Wells was ten, her grandmother showed her the diary that was written in spidery old German by Wells’ great-great-grandmother Ruth Seigbert and read it to her. She decided to write a memoir of the diary in the first half of The Welcome Chair that ends in 1918 and brought to life the rest of the story through stories she was told.

 

The Welcome Chair int2
Interior illustrations from The Welcome Chair written by Rosemary Well and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, A Paula Wiseman Book ©2021.

 

 

In 1863, Henry was killed in Gettysburg and his younger sister Helen eventually married Harry Leopold. They moved to New York, and you guessed it, the chair travels east by railway. When Helen hires Irish girl Lucy as the family seamstress, she gives Lucy the chair as a wedding present and the word “Failte”—Irish for “Welcome” is spelled out with brass letters.

We watch the clothing and people change, showing Pinkney’s research, along with the timeline. Years have now passed and the chair moves from trash on the sidewalk picked up by a junkman, to Santo Domingo nuns living in Newark, New Jersey who carve “Bienvenido” in Spanish into the wood. When the nuns pass away, the chair is placed in a rummage sale in 2010 where Pearl Basquet’s mother grabs it. “’Our Welcome Chair needs a new word,’” says Pearl.” Her father chisels “Byenvini”—the Haitian word for Welcome.

This is a beautifully told story tracing the history of what was, to the present of what could have been. If these walls could talk what would we know about old family heirlooms? Wells and Pinkney give readers a beautiful glimpse into the “what-if.” Grandparents can read this meaningful story to their grandchildren, and tell their family history to be shared from generation to generation.

  •  Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

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My Favorite Book Contest from First 5 LA

Be a Reader & Be a Winner!

Ready. Set. Grow! is First 5 LA’s family resource website for parents with young children offering fun and safe ways for children to be healthy, safe and ready to learn.

This November, First 5 LA is encouraging a love of literacy with its annual Read early, Read ALOUD! campaign. This year’s slogan is “My Favorite Book.” Read here about the contest they will be running all month long with book giveaways and a grand prize. Visit their website by clicking here or head over to their Facebook page now by clicking here.

    • Contest Rules: Contest begins today, Monday, Nov. 7, 2011. All entries must be received by noon on Dec. 5, 2011. A winner will be selected randomly from the entries and notified the afternoon of Monday, December 12, 2011. Multiple entries allowed. Previous winners are ineligible to win subsequent prizes. Prizes are non-transferable. There may be no cash or other substitutions of prizes by winner. Qualified winners will receive prizes within four to six weeks after they are notified of their winnings, unless otherwise specified. Only Los Angeles County residents are eligible to win.
    • To enter, you must “Like” Ready, Set, Grow on Facebook and/or Follow Ready, Set, Grow on Twitter and post a Tweet with the contest hashtag: #myfavbook  You can enter multiple times by both following on Twitter and tweeting the hashtag #myfavbook AND filling out the survey at: http://www.readysetgrowla.org/contest/
    • Prizes: Each person from this site that enters the contest is eligible to receive a bookmark with early reading tips, but you must write a comment below and indicate you have entered the contest already. One person who enters from Good Reads With Ronna  (randomly selected) will win two books (The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle & Read to Your Bunny by Rosemary Wells) and a bookmark with early reading tips but you must write a comment below indicating that you have entered at the link supplied here.  The grand prize winner will receive a library of 50 books (including a selection of Scholastic titles) and a tip sheet bookmark.

Check out the family-friendly Ready. Set. Grow! website. Re-vamped, it contains literacy features for both kids and parents including:

  • Literacy tips appropriate for each age group: 0-6 months, 6-12 months, 12-24 months, 24-36 months, and preschool
  • Suggested reading lists for each age group, with descriptions of each book
  • Literacy-themed blog posts
  • A schedule of story time events at L.A. County libraries
  • Low-cost book suggestions
  • Literacy-themed book list for parents
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