Themed Third Thursday: SQUIRREL!!!

This is a quote from Up that my family cannot seem to let go, and I couldn’t help thinking about it at story time at the library a few weeks back! The librarian read some of her favorite squirrel books (I’ll let you know the ones she chose so she gets [anonymous] credit!), and the kids did a cute letter S squirrel craft. (BoyChild cannot get enough of story time right now, and he’s loving the crafts afterwards, too! I have never seen him so predictably happy!)

[SQUIRREL!!! book list]

Acorns Everywhere!Acorns Everywhere!, by Kevin Sherry (2009, preschool to early elementary, curated by Marian* the Librarian): The bug-eyed main character is a squirrel with a one-track mind, and it goes: gather! dig! bury! He doesn’t seem to notice that he’s snagging other animals’ treats, and he doesn’t notice the big bear until it’s almost too late…except the bear is after berries, not the squirrel. That little scare, however, makes the squirrel forget where he’s hidden his acorns, and his mind turns instead to berries. While the squirrel stuffs himself with his stolen berries, the other animals raid his forgotten stashes to retrieve their acorns so that they can have something to eat, too. Each page features a few simple, repetitive words and simply illustrated images with photo collage elements (the acorns and berries). Young listeners will need to be clued in to a few things, like the fact that the squirrel is saying “bury” just before the bear goes for the “berries” and that the other animals are frustrated by the squirrels selfishness, but they will find his antics very silly anyway! (*Not her real name.)

Squirrel’s Adventure in Alphabet TownSquirrel's Adventure in Alphabet Town (Read Around Alphabet Town), by Laura Alden, illustrated by Judi Collins (1992, preschool to early elementary): This really simple story utilizes the letter S as a focal point. Squirrel lives in an S-shaped house. She loves everything that starts with S. She even wears size six sneakers! The alliteration emphasizes the sound of the letter for young listeners or early readers, and there are letter-related activities in the back of the book, including identifying names that begin with S, words that begin with S (with sneaky words ending with the S sound thrown in), and an S hunt through the book with the suggestion to write your own S adventure. BoyChild previewed this book and actually gave me a decent summary based on the illustrations, and he was interested to know what the actual story was and to do the activities, so it’s a great book to use with little ones just starting to realize that certain letters make certain sounds as well as older ones practicing their phonics! Part of the (kind of old and maybe not available for purchase) Read Around Alphabet Town series.

Squirrel's Fall SearchSquirrel’s Fall Search, by Anita Loughrey and Daniel Howarth (2013, preschool to early elementary): Squirrel and his little brother are gathering food and playing chase when Squirrel loses sight of his brother in the woods. Soon Squirrel starts to worry about his food and if his brother is taking it, but he can’t remember where he put it! He asks the other animals he passes if they’ve seen it, and they each give him a suggestion for where to look, but it’s Owl who finally spots his brother and the missing food. Instead of being angry, however, Squirrel says that sharing makes things taste better, and they enjoy the food together. At the end of the book, there are a few crafty fall activities adults and children might try together, and there is a list of things readers might have learned about fall from the events of the book. Best shared as a read-aloud with a young child or group of children as part of a unit about fall.

The Busy Little Squirrel, The Busy Little Squirrelby Nancy Tafuri (2007, preschool to early elementary, curated by Marian the Librarian): Squirrel is a very busy creature, and although all the animals make their noises and ask him to join in on their activities, he is just too busy and must hurry on his way. When the owl finally asks him, however, he is not too busy…but he is asleep! The illustrations are more realistic than many other picture books, and the many animal sounds give both listener and reader an opportunity to practice!

Ol' Mama SquirrelOl’ Mama Squirrel, by David Ezra Stein (2013, preschool to early elementary, curated by Marian the Librarian): A read-aloud for those who are interested in imitating the “chook-chook-chook!” of an angry squirrel, this book by the author of Interrupting Chicken and Dinosaur Kisses tells of a protective mother squirrel who, when faced with the threat of a bear, gathers the forces of all the neighboring mother squirrels together to put that bear in his place. A very cute and silly read-aloud.

Leaf Trouble, by Jonathan EmmettLeaf Trouble (2009, preschool to early elementary, curated by Marian the Librarian): Pip, a young squirrel who lives in an oak tree, is caught off-guard by the changing colors of his home and his sudden realization that the leaves are falling! He and his sister Blossom race around trying to gather and replace all the leaves until their mother arrives and assures them that the falling leaves are natural, that the tree is taking a rest and will grow new leaves later. Then the family plays in the leaves until the colors of the setting sun match the beautiful colors of the fallen leaves. The art in this book is a unique kind of collage and layering and is worth exploring with a young child!

Squirrel's New Year's ResolutionSquirrel’s New Year’s Resolution, by Pat Miller, illustrations by Kathi Ember (2010, early elementary): Squirrel gets the idea to make a New Year’s Resolution when she hears the suggestion on the radio. Her first stop is to check with Bear at the library to find out what a resolution is, then she goes around to visit her other woodland friends as she ponders what her resolution could be. When she has almost given up because everyone else already has a resolution and she can’t think of one, all her friends come into the diner where she’s having lunch and acknowledge what she’s done for them that day. Rabbit says that Squirrel seems to be doing a good job on her unspoken resolution “to help someone every day.” A good read-aloud for the younger set that might actually give them a reasonable idea for a resolution! (GirlChild’s are often some serious wishful thinking–like making her bed every day or not being late!)

The Squirrels’ Thanksgiving, The Squirrels' Thanksgivingby Steven Kroll, illustrated by Jeni Bassett (1991, early elementary): Brenda and Buddy Squirrel have a hard time appreciating one another like their parents tell them to do in honor of Thanksgiving, but putting in a little effort (although not perfect–their behavior in the pews at church gets them in some trouble!) produces some good results and pleasant feelings. When their naughty cousins come for Thanksgiving dinner and make everyone pretty miserable before their parents decide they’ll have to try again some other Thanksgiving when the children are better behaved, Brenda and Buddy realize how good they have it with one another! I wouldn’t consider this the best book ever written, but if you’re looking for a squirrel book for Thanksgiving with a side dish of appreciating your family and trying to get along, this might work!

The Secret Life of SquirrelsThe Secret Life of Squirrels, by Nancy Rose (2014, early to middle elementary): While the story itself is cute and well illustrated, the story behind the pictures was the most fascinating part of this book for me! In the book, Mr. Peanuts, “a rather unusual squirrel,” goes about his day doing things other squirrels wouldn’t dream of doing: grilling, playing piano, reading the classics…writing a letter to invite a cousin to come for a visit since he’s lonely. The two of them have a lovely time together doing more things other squirrels wouldn’t dream of doing: playing chess, having a picnic, telling ghost stories… They have a wonderful time together. I was a little surprised to find a section titled “Ten Tips for Photographing Wildlife” since I assumed this was a pet squirrel being photographed, but then there was a brief Q&A with the author/photographer, and I discovered that she creates these sets and puts them on her porch, tempting neighborhood squirrels with hidden treats to try to catch the perfect pose to use! Her website is, and you can see many other photographs she has taken of her backyard squirrels! Really fun concept, and an aspiring young photographer might even be able to mimic some of her techniques! (I have a friend of GirlChild who comes to mind, actually, to whom I think I’ll be recommending this book!)

Those Darn Squirrels!, Those Darn Squirrels!by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri (2008, elementary): Although this is just a picture book, the contents are the sort of sly story that it might take a slightly more mature listener or reader to really appreciate. Old Man Fookwire loves birds but hates pretty much everything else (including squirrels). When faced with the prospect of the birds he loves to paint flying away for the winter, he tries to tempt them to stay with beautiful birdfeeders filled with seeds and berries, but the clever squirrels manage to raid the feeders despite all his best (and craziest) efforts. When the birds inevitably leave for the winter, the squirrels feel sorry for Old Man Fookwire and try to cheer him up by giving him a gift to make up for taking all the seeds and berries. Their efforts eventually prove successful when they dress themselves up like birds and Old Man Fookwire is inspired to paint them in their elaborate disguises. (Just a note–BoyChild loved this book and looking through the pictures to create his own version of the story, so younger readers can also appreciate it with a little interest or assistance!)

Scaredy SquirrelScaredy Squirrel, by Mélanie Watt (2006, early to middle elementary, suggested by GirlChild): In this introduction to the series, we meet Scaredy Squirrel, a perpetually worried creature with a contingency plan (and emergency kit) for just about any emergency, from green Martians to killer bees. He stays in his own nut tree and has the same routine day after day: he wakes up, eats, looks at the view, eats, looks at the view, eats, looks at the view, and goes to sleep. One day, however, he sees a killer bee and is so shocked that he drops his emergency kit and jumps to catch it before realizing that he is not wearing his parachute. He is delighted to discover that he is no ordinary squirrel but a flying squirrel! After landing and playing dead for the obligatory two hours, he returns home and makes big plans to add “jump into the unknown” to his daily schedule (at promptly 9:37 a.m.). These books are full of different kinds of fun text, diagrams, and lists, and even the most worried of children will see how silly Scaredy Squirrel is as he faces his days and triumphantly overcomes the mundane!

Animal Ark: Squirrels in the School, Animal Ark: Squirrels in the Schoolby Ben M. Baglio (1996, middle to upper elementary): The Animal Ark series is apparently set somewhere in the U.K. and has been around for over two decades. It features Mandy Hope, the daughter of two veterinarians who run the Animal Ark Veterinary Hospital. Mandy (aided and abetted by her friend, James) is a little overly dedicated to the cause of animals, going so far in this book as to hope that a person is responsible for the damage she discovers to the costumes she is making for a school play rather than believe it of a family of grey squirrels! Crusading animal lovers will appreciate the dramatic sentiment behind Mandy’s interventions and will probably enjoy all the books in the series. They might actually learn a few things, too, since one of Mandy’s character traits is that she is driven to learn all she can about each animal she encounters, and her parents and James are good sources of scientific detail.

Flora and UlyssesFlora and Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo (2013, upper elementary to middle school): Ulysses is the squirrel in question, and he’s quite an amazing squirrel–even cynical Flora can see that! I’ve already reviewed this book here, so I won’t do it again. This is a Newbery Medal winner, however, so it’s worth checking out, particularly for fans of graphic novels!


Animals in My Backyard: Squirrels,Animals in my Backyard: Squirrels by Jordan McGill (2012, preschool to early elementary): The face-value contents of this book are very clearly meant for very young listeners or the earliest readers of nonfiction. Each page contains a large photograph of a squirrel with a single sentence (or rarely, two sentences) relating to the photograph. The sentences are mostly very simple statements, and a few are compound. Another feature that makes this book easy to read is the repetition of phrases or words on the page or from one page to the next, and the typeface is a geometric sans-serif font that is the printed equivalent of a preschool teacher’s handwriting (possibly Futura–I’m no expert), increasing letter recognition for children who struggle with letters that are often different in handwriting and books (like ‘a’ and ‘g’). This is a “media enhanced book” by AV2 Books, and I was kind of hoping for an interactive experience that BoyChild could navigate on his own, but the media content (as accessed by going to and entering the unique book code printed inside your book) varies in content between short videos (which BoyChild loved) and weblinks to related pages to simple word searches and reading-based activities (which he can’t do yet), mazes, and matching activities on PDF. It is possible that an adult could print out the worksheet-like pages, although it would be preferable if your PDF viewer supported filling in fields (which mine didn’t, for some reason). There is also an answer key available. I was hoping for a little more interactivity, but just having readily available media extensions, however limited, is a bonus.

Backyard Wildlife: SquirrelsBackyard Wildlife: Squirrels (Blastoff! Readers, level 1), by Derek Zobel (2011, early elementary): This leveled non-fiction reader is perfect for a new reader to learn a little about squirrels. The minimal text on each page is supported by photography intended to aid comprehension, and bold words are defined in the glossary. For further learning, a few books are suggested, and the webpage (with instructions for how to search for squirrel information) is recommended. This appears to be a very simple curated search engine for kids; not all of the links were helpful, but the Discovery Kids site has promise for regular animal research!

Life Cycles: Squirrels, Life Cycles: Squirrelsby Julie K. Lundgren (2011, early to middle elementary): While this book has a lot more text than the following one, I feel like the age range is just as broad, particularly because it feels like it could be easily read aloud to students. Independent readability is more in the middle elementary range, and independent readers would need to know how to use a glossary for some of the unfamiliar vocabulary that is in bold print but isn’t defined in the text. Large photographs, Did You Know? sidebar trivia, and a simple life cycle diagram at the end to review the information presented in the book add to the readability. Besides the life cycle information, the book includes information about the three basic kinds of squirrels (ground, tree, and flying), a map of where in the world squirrels can be found, and information about predators and attracting squirrels to your yard for your personal entertainment (which is actually against code in my town!). A very nice book for a squirrel unit or basic research.

Backyard Jungle Safari: Gray SquirrelsBackyard Jungle Safari: Gray Squirrels, by Tammy Gagne (2015, early to middle elementary): I’m not sure of this book’s gimmick, but the information seems solid. The human characters in the book, Jack and Sophia, are a brother-sister team of backyard explorers…but we never see them. They speak some, but the majority of the text is a combination of somewhat stilted language and a more casual tone. (So is their dialogue, I suppose. I’ve never heard children use the phrasing these kids sometimes do!) While it’s not exactly a gripping narrative, middle elementary readers will probably learn a good deal in a relatively concise way with many photographs of wildlife (with illustrated backgrounds) and snippets of trivia that might catch their interest. Other topics in the series include foxes, opossums, and raccoons.

Take-Along Guide: Rabbits, Squirrels, and Chipmunks, Take-Along Guide: Rabbits, Squirrels, and Chipmunksby Mel Boring, illustrations by Linda Garrow (1996, middle to upper elementary): While older readers might prefer a less juvenile looking field guide, the contents of this take-along guide to small mammals are perfect for independent use by upper elementary students, particularly if being used for research or for reading straight through for general knowledge. Featuring different varieties of rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks from around the United States, each page has multiple illustrations of the featured animal and text sections for what it looks like, what it eats, where to find it, and an interesting fact. After each section, there are a few activities or crafts to try, such as making a rabbit paperweight, a squirrel nut-ball, or a chipmunk tightrope. There are also some empty pages for scrapbooking pictures or other artifacts related to your small mammal search. The only things I would suggest to improve the usability of this book as a field guide is to include a small map on each page to show the range of the species or to group them by region to make identifying a specimen in the wild easier for young explorers. For simple research purposes, it is fine as it is.


Squirrels,” by the Beastly Boys (parody of the Beastie Boys’ “Girls”): You might want to give this song a listen before letting your young children hear it just in case it gets stuck in their heads and you don’t care for the lyrics, but this is always my first thought when I think of squirrels because of my brother’s dedication to the Dr. Demento Show as a teenager!

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Fun Fourth Friday: Jacqueline Woodson

The first Jacqueline Woodson book I read was Locomotion. The previous teacher had moved to younger pastures and had left this book behind as part of her classroom library, and it was one of the few books there that I hadn’t yet read, so I picked it up during testing week so I’d have something to do while I walked around the room supervising my students. (This, at least, is the story I remember about finding it. These fifth graders are now in college, so my memory might be faulty!) I didn’t finish it during the day, but it was so compelling that I had to keep reading it after school until I was done. My heart ached for Lonnie (the main character), and I could see parts of him reflected in so many of my students that year. I would see the author’s name on different library lists and book recommendations, but I didn’t personally happen across another of her books until Each Kindness showed up at the book fair when GirlChild was a kindergartener. Another heartbreaker. Then I found Peace, Locomotion as an audiobook for my Y treadmill distraction. Every book made me fight back tears, her characters so real and so fragile, the endings often leaving a feeling of dissatisfaction, the knowledge that things aren’t perfect or completed, and there is something left for the reader to do. Last month, I was looking up a Newbery Award year, and I noticed her name as an honor recipient. And then again. And again.

And I decided I needed to do a blog post on some of her works for young readers. [Jacqueline Woodson book list]

Pecan Pie BabyPecan Pie Baby, illustrated by Sophie Blackall (2010, early to middle elementary): Gia is sick and tired of all the talk about the “ding-dang baby”! It’s been just her and her mom for so long, and now there’s a new baby due to arrive “by the time the first snow’s on the ground,” and it’s all anyone can talk about–her aunts, her uncles, even her friends! Her mom tells her that the baby loves pecan pie, just like she and Gia do, but Gia just thinks the baby is being a copycat. At Thanksgiving dinner, she’s had about enough, and her angry outburst shocks everyone and gets her sent to her room. When her mother joins her later, she shares that she, too, will miss the fun they had, just the two of them, and that Gia will have to tell the baby all about “the good old days.” When Mama says that the weatherman is forecasting snow, the two of them go to have some dessert before “that ding-dang pecan pie baby” comes, and they laugh because Gia knows her mother knows, like she does, “how much the three of us loved ourselves some pecan pie!”

Each Kindness, illustrated by E. B. Lewis Each Kindness(2012, early to middle elementary): This picture book evokes similar feelings to those brought up by The Hundred Dresses. Maya is the new girl in school, and Chloe and the other children look disdainfully at her shabby clothing and refuse to return her friendly smiles and other overtures. She continues to make her attempts at friendliness and accept the unwarranted rebuffs with grace until one day in the spring when the children laugh outright at her pretty but secondhand dress, and she goes off to jump rope alone without asking anyone to join her. The next day, she is absent, and Ms. Albert teaches a lesson on the ripple effect of kindness, saying, “Each kindness…makes the whole world a little better.” Guilt over her behavior toward Maya grips her, and Chloe is desperate for an opportunity to return Maya’s smiles. However, Maya never returns; her family has had to move. In the end, Chloe tosses stones into the river and thinks about how each kindness “done and undone” makes its mark.

Visiting DayVisiting Day, illustrated by James E. Ransome (2002, early to middle elementary): It took me a while to figure out that Visiting Day wasn’t a custody arrangement visitation or maybe a hospital visit that the little girl (never named) is anticipating with such excitement, but I’m thinking a child who has experienced an incarcerated parent might pick up on it right away. The little girl and her grandma are up early preparing–Grandma frying chicken and humming, braiding the little girl’s hair, and getting items from a neighbor who can’t afford the trip to bring them to her son. They board the bus along with other visiting families, and they all share a picnic on the ride. The little girl falls asleep and doesn’t wake up until they arrive at the “big old building where…Daddy is doing a little time.” One page spread is dedicated to the time she spends with her father, and the very next shows their separation again, Grandma reminding her that “it’s not forever going to be like this.” Then the girl and her grandmother return home again, already missing and planning for their next visit, and anticipating even more when her daddy will be home again with them. I absolutely love the art in this one; there are subtle bits of information half-hidden in the background–blurry photographs of a man and a girl all around the apartment, hints at an institutional setting when the father is first shown, expressions so real and so telling that they speak as much as the words do.

Coming on Home Soon, illustrated by E. B. Lewis Coming on Home Soon(2004, early to middle elementary): This Caldecott Honor book is set during World War II, and Ada Ruth’s mother has gone to Chicago to work for the railroad and support the family. Ada Ruth writes to her often, but a long time goes by without a response or any money sent back, and Grandma tells her to keep writing and that her mother will be “coming on home soon.” Winter comes, and with it a small black kitten that her grandmother insists can’t stay–but is allowed to anyway. Whenever the postman passes without stopping, they are both disappointed, but one day, after hunting for small game in the snow, they finally get the long-awaited letter that contains not only money but the promise that Ada Ruth’s mother will be “coming on home soon.” In the last pages, Ada Ruth relaxes in feelings of peace and remembering her mother’s love and her promise that she’s returning, and the very last page has no words but shows her mother, suitcase in hand, approaching their home through the snow.

Show WayShow Way, illustrated by Hudson Talbott (2005, early to middle elementary): Listed on her website as having “autobiographical content,” this tells the story of her family’s history as it was passed along through the female line. The first is her several-greats-grandmother who is sold at age seven and went to live in another state. There, the resident “grandma” taught the children stories of getting to freedom and showed them how to sew quilts that held a sort of coded map to help slaves escape. That woman grew up and taught her daughter how to sew, and that child was sold at age seven, and she both sewed clothing for the “big house” and the other slaves and also the same quilt maps–what they called a “Show Way.” Her daughter, Soonie, was born free in 1863, and she was told the old stories and taught to quilt, and she sewed the quilts to make a living. Her daughter Georgianna was a quick learner, and she had twin daughters named Ann (the author’s mother) and Caroline. When they were seven, they participated in civil rights marches, gripping pieces of one of the old quilts to help them be brave. When the author was seven, she “didn’t have to work in a field or walk in any Freedom lines,” but she learned to sew and learned the stories of her heritage as a kind of personal “Show Way.” And the author, too, passes these stories and this legacy of bravery and love to her own daughter.

Locomotion (2003) and Peace, Locomotion Locomotion(2009, upper elementary to middle school): I had recently finished reading Love That Dog with a group of students, and this book parallels that one in a lot of ways. Firstly, the main character, the narrator, is a boy who has a knack for poetry if not an automatic respect for it. Their teachers prompt them to continue to explore the different forms of poetry, and each uses poetry to work through a traumatic event from his past that continues to impact his life. Where the narrator of Love that Dog is mourning the loss of his pet, Lonnie is working through the loss of his parents and the realities of his life in foster care, separated from his little sister. The sequel, Peace, Locomotion, features letters Peace, Locomotionthat Lonnie writes to his sister (always signed “Peace, Locomotion”) but doesn’t send, and he is working through his resentment that she has seems to forget their parents in her eagerness to have a mama who is right here with her (her adoptive mother) as well as the internal struggles with his perceptions of Miss Edna (his adoptive mother) and the war that harmed one of her sons. I wasn’t able to get a copy of either of these books to reread, but the stories have stuck with me! While her books for younger readers touch on tough subjects, too, these books for the upper elementary and middle school crowd dig deeper and force readers to face difficult topics head on but still in an age-appropriate way.

Feathers (2007, upper elementary to middle school): FeathersSet in the 1970s, when a new boy joins Frannie’s all-black classroom, his appearance (white with long, curly hair) and demeanor (gentle but unafraid of confrontation) earn him the nickname “Jesus Boy” and a whole lot of rejection and harassment. Frannie’s dealing with her own problems with the stigma that her deaf brother faces, her increasingly religiously zealous friend Samantha who seems to almost idolize the Jesus Boy, and the fact that her 40-year-old mother is facing a difficult pregnancy after already experiencing the loss of a baby before her two living children were born and several others since then. Still, she comes to see the Jesus Boy as a person, and some other pigeon-holed  classmates like one, too, as she thinks more deeply about the complexities of living. The line of poetry she had loved the sound of but hadn’t understood becomes more clear, as well: “Hope is the thing with feathers” becomes “Each moment is a thing with feathers” to her. Each moment of life holds hope. This book was a 2008 Newbery Honor book.

I Hadn't Meant to Tell You ThisI Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This (1994) and Lena (1999, upper elementary to middle school): The subject matter of these two books is pretty bleak, to be honest, but it is dealt with in such a delicate but forthright way that I feel the books will enlighten as many as they help through tough times. I’m pretty much going to just lay out the issues addressed in the book: cancer and death, racism, abandonment, neglect, molestation, and runaways. I actually read these two books out of order, not knowing they were companion books, but it worked out fine that way, too. I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This is told in first-person from the point-of-view of Marie, a black girl who is the only child of a professor and whose mother has left them to travel the world. When Lena, a girl Marie’s father and many classmates refer to as “whitetrash,” comes to her school, Marie is assigned to help her get acquainted with things. Marie can see a brokenness in her, and she befriends her and her younger sister. Lena eventually confides to Marie that her father began touching her after her mother died of cancer. When he turns his attentions to her younger sister, she begins preparing to leave in order to protect her. The book ends somewhat abruptly with Lena calling Marie to tell her that they’ve left, and Marie seeing their empty house Lenaand hoping that they have found their safety and happiness. Lena is told from Lena’s point of view, and it chronicles what happens as she and her sister Dion hitchhike away from their father (with whom it’s revealed they weren’t supposed to be living after Lena first told someone about the molestation and they were removed from the home and separated). They are trying to get to their mother’s hometown in Kentucky, hoping that their relatives will take them in, but reality sets in as Lena realizes that if this family didn’t bother to respond when they were notified of her mother’s death, they likely were either all gone or didn’t care. When a kindly woman takes them in for the night after seeming to believe their story that they were trying to get to their mother who had just had a baby, Lena gets the courage to call Marie and tell her what is happening. In the end, perhaps contrary to what would likely happen in reality, Marie’s father, once he discovers what has really been going on with the sisters, wants to bring them home to live with him and Marie.

Brown Girl DreamingBrown Girl Dreaming (2014, upper elementary to middle school): In a style that expands on that found in Locomotion, the author tells her personal story in free verse. A story that reveals the turmoil and transitions that characterized the world in which she grew up and her world at home as she grew up in the 1960s and ’70s, this Newbery Honor book helps the reader see how the author became the writer she is, how her childhood successes and disappointments, joys and trials, gains and losses, and her family relationships shaped her life and her work. With contents much more engaging than a typical autobiography, there are also family trees and a number of old photographs of Ms. Woodson and many of her family members.

Jacqueline Woodson has written many other books for younger readers that I wasn’t able to get my hands on or finish in time, and she has written a number for older teens that have content too mature for the scope of this blog. She has a way of telling things how they are and making readers question if that’s how they should be, and I find her work to have an important place in children’s and YA literature. Her readers always have to think, and then they have to decide what to do with what they’ve learned about themselves and the world.

And, depending on the book, they may weep.

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Reblog: 25 Mini-Adventures in the Library

A school librarian friend of mine pinned this blog post on Pinterest, and it sounds like so much fun! I’m thinking this would be great for people who home school, parents during the summer with their kids, and my sister-in-law for her every-sleepover-trip-to-the-library with her girls and their friends!


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Themed Third Thursday: Dolls and Toyland

Yes, yes, I know the real phrase. However, I mean to say that this post is all about dolls and toys with lives of their own! One of my best-loved books as an elementary reader was When the Dolls Woke. It was a little scary, but not Wait Till Helen Comes scary, so that was good for me. These books aren’t like that–well, these books aren’t all like that! Some are silly or sweet, some are thought-provoking, and some are a little bit creepy. Or a lot creepy. Take your pick!

[Dolls and Toyland book list (alphabetical order by author, suggested interest levels included)]

Corduroy, by Don FreemanCorduroy, by Don Freeman (1968, preschool to early elementary): Corduroy is a toy on the shelf in a big department store, and he has been overlooked for a long time. When a little girl asks to get him and her mother says no because he’s missing a button, Corduroy decides to go in search of his missing button after the store closes for the night. He makes discoveries along the way (“Could this be a mountain?” [on the escalator] “I think I’ve always wanted to climb a mountain!”), but when he pulls a button off a mattress, he knocks over a lamp and gets the attention of the night guard who brings him back downstairs to the toy shop (not realizing Corduroy is the one who made the noise). The next morning, the little girl, Lisa, returns and buys Corduroy with her own money, and she brings him home to her bedroom. When she sews on a new button because she thinks he’ll be more comfortable that way, Corduroy says that he has always wanted a friend, and Lisa responds as though she has heard him speak aloud and gives him a hug.

The Lonely Doll, The Lonely Dollstory and photographs by Dare Wright (1957, preschool to early elementary): This is not the earliest example of a living doll story I found, but it is unique in that it is a picture book illustrated with photographs of posed toys and with no toy owners a part of the story at all. (They are half-implied in that the doll tries on adult-sized high heels and puts on lipstick she finds, but the doll is lonely and has no one to play with until Mr. Bear and Little Bear show up at her door one day, so it seems as though there is no child at least–and no worries about being caught by any human.) Some of the contents haven’t aged particularly well, but it is the kind of story a modern child could use as a mentor text to create his or her own photograph-illustrated story about what toys do when they’re alone.

Hooray for Amanda and Her Alligator!, by Mo WillemsHooray for Amanda and her Alligator!, words and pictures by Mo Willems (2011, preschool to early elementary): Amanda’s alligator doesn’t like waiting for Amanda to get home when she leaves him. He frets and fusses and hopes she’ll bring him a surprise. Like most Mo Willems books, this one has a lot of silliness and a bit of the unexpected. The alligator seems to be fully living, and the stuffed panda at the end is as well (although she doesn’t look like it when she first arrives). The alligator is kind of suspicious of the panda at first, jealous of her newness and not-sale-bin qualities (the alligator was on clearance), but when they are both left behind, the panda reveals she is not good at waiting either, and they enjoy each other’s company doing all the silly things the alligator is always waiting and wanting to do with Amanda but doesn’t always get the chance.

Babushka’s Doll, by Patricia PolaccoBabushka's Doll, by Patricia Polacco (1990, early elementary): Natasha isn’t a naughty little girl, exactly, but she is rather pushy and demanding. If she wants something from her grandmother, she wants it now, and she doesn’t see why Babushka won’t drop everything she’s doing to do it. Babushka decides it is time for Natasha to play with her old doll, the doll she played with just once, and leaves Natasha with the doll while she goes to get groceries. As soon as Babushka leaves, the doll comes to life and starts giving poor Natasha a taste of her own medicine. At first, Natasha is thrilled to play with a living doll, but she is soon worn out by the persistence and insistence of the little doll. By the time Babushka returns, Natasha is exhausted to the point of tears, and insists once was enough to play with the doll. When Babushka puts the doll away again, the doll winks at her before becoming just a doll again, and Babushka’s mission is complete.

The Velveteen RabbitThe Velveteen Rabbit, by Marjery Williams, illustrated by William Nicholson (1958, early elementary): Because of this story, I spent a good portion of my childhood afraid that my parents were going to torch all my belongings every time I got sick! (I had an over-active imagination and a whole lot of hypochondria…) In it, a simple stuffed rabbit longs to become Real: “Real isn’t how you are made. It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.” When the boy loses his usual sleeping companion toy, his nurse gives him his old rabbit, and soon they are inseparable, and the velveteen rabbit becomes what he knows as Real. On one excursion, the velveteen rabbit meets two living rabbits, and they want him to play, but he can’t. Now, however, he dearly wants to do the things they talk about doing–play and hop and dance–but he is content to stay with the boy who loves him. When the boy becomes sick with scarlet fever, the velveteen rabbit is there to comfort and encourage him, but once he recovers, the doctor orders that all the toys and books must be burned to get rid of the germs, so the rabbit is put out with the other rubbish. He mourns the unfairness of becoming Real only to end up in this situation, and a tear falls to the ground. From it grows a blossom, and from the blossom comes a fairy–the nursery magic fairy. She tells him that her job is to take the toys that have been loved and make them Real, really Real to everyone, not just the child who loves them, and she takes the velveteen rabbit to the forest to be Real. He meets the boy again in the spring while he is with the other rabbits, and while the boy is reminded of his old, beloved bunny, he never realizes that is really the rabbit he is seeing.

Toys Go Out: Being the Adventures Toys Go Outof a Knowledgeable Stingray, a Toughy Little Buffalo, and Someone Called Plastic, by Emily Jenkins, pictures by Paul O. Zelinsky (2006, elementary): GirlChild found this amusing–her favorite character is Plastic, a rubber ball–but I think that the audience range is pretty wide, particularly if it is used as a read-aloud to a younger group (who might not realize how funny melodramatic StingRay is or how practical under-appreciated Plastic is) and for independent chuckles for older readers. The toys interact with one another and with other household objects (the bathroom towels, the washer and dryer), and their peculiar worldview makes even the most ordinary event extraordinary! GirlChild also read the sequels, Toys Come Home and Toy Dance Party, on the plane and in the car when we were on vacation.

The Doll PeopleThe Doll People, by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin, pictures by Brian Selznick (2000, elementary): Annabelle, a 100-year-old 8-year-old china doll, is more restless than usual ever since stumbling upon her missing Auntie Sarah’s hidden journal. Gone for almost half a century, Auntie Sarah recorded things that she never could have seen from inside the dollhouse, and Annabelle starts to have questions–questions the adults in the house don’t really want to answer. When a new doll family moves into the human house (a gift for the younger daughter to keep her from rough-housing with the antique dolls her older sister owns), their carefree, modern ways are just the incentive Annabelle needs to spur her to action (with the help of Tiffany, her plastic counterpart in the other family). The rest of her family is more reluctant, but it’s going to take more than just the two girls to save Auntie Sarah from being lost forever! The endpapers mimic the different ads that would have been contemporary for each dollhouse purchase, highlighting the differences between the two doll families. The first of several in a series.

The Very Little Princess, The Very Little Princess, by Marion Dane Bauerby Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Elizabeth Sayles (2010, elementary): This was not the cute, silly story I expected from the cover and jacket description. That’s not entirely fair–it was that, but it was also a very heart-wrenching story of abandonment and loneliness. (I probably should have expected something sad; this is the author of the most traumatizing Newbery Honor novel of my childhood, On My Honor.) Zoey’s mother unexpectedly tells her to pack to visit her grandmother, a grandmother she never knew she had. They drive for hours before they reach the country home where her mother grew up, and Zoey is greeted at the door by a woman who looks much like her own mother but older. While her mother and grandmother argue downstairs, Zoey escapes to the upper floor of the house and finds her mother’s old room and old dollhouse. A tear–whether of excitement over the doll or from the stress of the argument downstairs–falls onto the doll from the house, and she wakes, startling Zoey. This doll turns out to be Princess Regina, and she considers Zoey her personal servant. Zoey is happy to play along–she’s played this game before with her mother, and she’s eager to avoid the conflict downstairs–but the doll keeps losing her ability to speak and move when she’s left alone too long. While the doll is incapacitated and Zoey is unable to get her to come back, Zoey’s mother leaves, leaving Zoey behind indefinitely, because she “needs to be alone,” and Zoey is heartbroken, weeping on the doll in her sleep. Princess Regina wakes up and fully realizes that Zoey’s tears are what gives her life, so she tries to make her cry more, but in so doing, she comes to understand the deep hurt that makes Zoey cry, and her first feelings of empathy make her cry instead, and she becomes really and permanently real. She, Zoey, and Zoey’s grandmother then work through their fears and pain by taking one day at a time with whatever comes. (I’ve not read it yet, but there is another of these books that is about Zoey’s mother, Rose, and the doll.)

When the Dolls Woke 001When the Dolls Woke, by Marjorie Filley Stover (1985, middle to upper elementary): You might very well have a hard time finding this title for sale anywhere, and I’m not going to claim that it is a literary masterpiece–only that I loved it as a child (and still have my old copy)! Gail, a shy fourth-grade girl who has just started at a new school, is sent an old dollhouse by her Great Aunt Abigail whose Aunt Melissa had received it as a gift from her sea-faring brother, Abigail’s father. Gail is thrilled until she sees that it has fallen into disrepair, that the doll clothes are shabby and their hair unkempt, and her mother tells her that she just doesn’t have time to help fix it up right then. Soon after the dollhouse arrives, however, Great Aunt Abigail follows for a visit, and she gladly works with Gail to refurbish the house. Sir Gregory, Lady Alice, Maribelle, and Tommy are the dollhouse family, and they have a Dutch ragdoll maid, Becky, who replaced the wooden doll, Martinique, who made the other dolls uncomfortable with the tales of voodoo from her homeland. The family, recently woken from a long sleep in storage, believes that Gail has the gift of being able to “hear” them–get an understanding of their thoughts–when they wish hard enough, just like her great grandmother (the one who stashed Martinique away in anger) and Great Aunt Abigail before her. And when they discover that their beloved Abigail is in dire straits, they work to communicate the secret of the dollhouse…a secret only Sir Gregory knew and is just beginning to remember again. (Rereading it as an adult, I really don’t know why I felt it was even a little scary–maybe just Martinique’s voodoo attempts and the fact that she makes the other dolls nervous? It really isn’t frightening at all, and things work out for Martinique!)

The Indian in the Cupboard, Indian in the Cupboard, by Lynne Reid Banksby Lynne Reid Banks (1980, middle to upper elementary): Set in England in the 1970s, the story begins when Omri receives both a plastic Indian and an old medicine cabinet cupboard for his birthday. His mother gives him an old key that fits the lock, and he puts his toy inside and locks it. When he wakes in the morning, he finds that the plastic toy has come to life. His original excitement over having the ability to bring toys to life dims as he realizes the gravity of having such responsibility for the tiny life, particularly when he realizes that “his” Indian, Little Bear, is a real person from history–an Iroquois from the time of the French and Indian War–who has somehow been brought forward in time as a miniature and deserves respect. His friend Patrick doesn’t quite grasp the seriousness of the situation and, against Omri’s instructions, brings a cowboy to life using the cupboard and key, creating additional chaos. Eventually, the mutual respect between Omri and Little Bear allows him to do the hardest thing–send his new friend back to his own time and place. (There is a little bit of language in the book, and, like many older books, some stereotypical depictions. I feel like Omri’s respect for Little Bear and life in general is a strong positive, however.)

House of Dolls, by Francesca Lia BlockHouse of Dolls, by Francesca Lia Block (2010, upper elementary to middle school): The dolls in Madison Blackberry’s dollhouse have an idyllic life. Wildflower (a very old doll that had belonged to Madison’s grandmother) has Guy (apparently an army figure), Rockstar has B. Friend (a studious stuffed bear), and Miss Selene (a fairy doll) has a vast and elaborate wardrobe she shares, and they all have each other. Madison envies them. She envies their finery, their companionship, and their happiness. Her grandmother shakes her head at her for her moods, but she doesn’t engage with her. Her father travels the world for work, her mother is a socialite, and her little brother gets all the family attention, so friendless Madison takes out her frustration on the dolls, taking first their boyfriends, then their clothing, away from them. Miss Selene is hit particularly hard because she had always used the clothing to distract her from something else she had lost long ago. Wildflower decides to communicate with Madison’s grandmother to try to get her to show love to Madison like her own mother had shown love to her before she died. When Madison’s grandmother shares her pictures of her mother with Madison and makes Madison a beautiful dress to rival any that the dolls had ever received, Madison loses her resentment and returns the lost companions and clothing to the dolls. The rest of her family somehow seems to feel the need to show love again, too, and things start to look up for them all. This seems to be a simple book, but it isn’t simple to explain. The brevity competes with the seriousness and complexity of the subject matter, and it is clearly much more than a story about dolls.

The Dollhouse Murders, The Dollhouse Murders, by Betty Ren Wrightby Betty Ren Wright (1983, upper elementary to middle school): I think I’d consider this one Wait ’til Helen Comes scary. (I should not have started it late at night!) There are some definitely dated things in this book (rugby shirts, cassette tapes, and a complete lack of cell phones), but the use of the word “retarded” in the jacket description is what really threw me for a loop. It was used to describe Louann, the younger sister of the main character, Amy, but the phrases “like a little kid” and “brain-damaged” were the only terms actually used inside the book, if I recall correctly. There are two intertwined story lines in this book: almost-thirteen-year-old Amy being pushed to the brink by her mother’s expectations of her in regards to her sister and a decades-old family murder mystery that is being played out in the replica dollhouse in her great-grandparents’ former home. If you have an easily spooked reader, I’d avoid this one (particularly if there’s a dollhouse in the house…), but older readers looking for a not-too-graphically-gory spine-tingler might be interested. I’d recommend you read it yourself first, but, again, I wouldn’t recommend a late-night reading unless you’re braver than I am!

Hitty: Her First Hundred YearsHitty: Her First Hundred Years, by Rachel Field, illustrated by Dorothy P. Lathrop (1929, upper elementary to middle school): Hitty is a wooden doll, skillfully whittled by a peddler who stays the winter with the Preble family of Maine while Captain Preble is out at sea, and the story is told in first person from her point-of-view. (Calculating from the time the book was written, this is likely to have been set in the first half the the 19th century, probably in the 1820s. The date is only mentioned once, near the end of the book, but current events such as wars are mentioned often enough to get a vague sense of the 100-year chronology as the book progresses.) She appears to have limited mobility, and she only is mentioned to use it a few times during the book. (She interprets the other dolls she encounters as being either too rude or too self-absorbed to interact with her, but I got the impression that she was actually the only doll with any life in the book.) When Mrs. Preble and Phoebe join Captain Preble on his next voyage, Hitty begins her worldwide travels and adventures. Through the travels of the doll, the reader experiences life on a whaling vessel, tribal conflict on a tropical island, snake charmers and missionaries in India, higher society in Philadelphia, simple Quaker life, upperclass New York, meeting several artists, musicians, and writers of the time (some of whom appear to be fictional, some real historical people), a Rhode Island mill town, Mardi Gras, a Cotton Exposition, a cargo boat on the Mississippi, a black country family, a railroad station, a home with a vast doll collection, and eventually an antique shop. It really is true that older books have more complex language, and that is part of what makes this Newbery Medal-winning book an upper elementary or middle school title. The other big thing is the need to thoughtfully interpret the events and portrayals of different people in a different era and realize how attitudes of the time might color the way the author characterizes the people Hitty encounters; some of the portrayals are pretty offensive, actually, despite the fact that Hitty is a mostly impartial observer who admirably considers different points-of-view and lifestyles as she changes hands. Could be used in conjunction with a history class on the time between the War of 1812 and the end of World War I.

Doll Bones, Doll Bones, by Holly Blackby Holly Black, with illustrations by Eliza Wheeler (middle school): The illustrations creeped me out more than the contents did, despite their extensive creepiness–I had to store this book cover down! Middle school friends Poppy, Zach, and Alice have an elaborate game they play together with their dolls and action figures. Zach, who has just discovered a skill for basketball and whose deadbeat father has recently returned to his life, is afraid that Poppy’s brothers will reveal his secret to someone he knows and make his life rougher than his father is already making it, but he is devastated when his dad throws his bag of action figures away while he is at school because he feels Zach’s too old for that kind of play. Desperate to hide what happened from Poppy and Alice, Zach lies and tells them he just doesn’t want to play anymore, and Poppy tries to lure him back in by promising to get the Great Queen (the creepy bone china doll her mother keeps locked in a glass cabinet) out to add more excitement to their play. This, however, sets a series of events in motion that involves horrific dreams about a little girl, a middle-of-the-night trek across the state on a quest Poppy insists is the doll’s demand, and a variety of really, really creepy events. (I am seriously getting goosebumps all over while writing this despite having finished the book itself weeks ago!) Definitely not for the faint of heart, there are layers and layers of story in this book, from the doll’s origins to the current struggles of each of the main characters. While you try not to toss the book away in horror, you’ll struggle not to really feel for the kids in the book (even if you’re still a kid yourself)! Again, depending on your kid, you might want to preview to make sure this “don’t try this at home” book doesn’t inspire behaviors you don’t want your child copying (like taking a midnight train out of town without permission). This book received a Newbery Honor in 2014.

There are, I am sure, many more books in this category–Winnie-the-Pooh, for example! If you have a favorite living toys title you or your children have read, share the title in the comments!

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Fun Fourth Friday: Bookworm Gardens

I had a themed post almost all the way ready, but then today I visited a magical place…a place called Bookworm Gardens. (That should be read in a voice of hushed awe, by the way, possibly with starburst hand movements.) The planned post will wait until next month.

Bookworm Gardens (in Sheboygan, Wisconsin) is awash in story-themed imagery and interactive experiences for kids. Everything is there to be looked at, touched, climbed on, climbed in, and read about. Even the bathrooms have picture book murals, a laminated copy of a book, and a bay windowsill to perch up in to read! Instead of trying to do it justice in words, however (as a picture is worth a thousand of those), I’ll leave it to my photos and brief annotations to show you how it is (and link you up to the books being featured)! (Believe me, though, seeing the pictures is nothing to being there and having your children immersed in storyland! The place was bustling (you won’t believe how hard it was for me to get the clean shots of these things without someone in the frame!), but it didn’t feel claustrophobic or crowded. It’s an amazing place!) Then I’ll link you up to some other places to stop while you’re in Sheboygan so you can justify a weekend or weeklong visit! (Just pay attention to the open dates–May through October–so you don’t come for the beautiful gardens and end up looking through the fence at a snow-covered garden!)

[Bookworm Gardens book list]


First of all, I have an almost unhealthy obsession with Little Free Library boxes. This was right outside the Bookworm Gardens. The book at the very front was quite appropriate: Books Every Child Should Know: A Literature Quiz Book.


Here’s the scene as you walk up to the front gates. I believe the cottage you see is called the Hansel and Gretel Learning Center, and there’s where you’ll find the tiny gift shop, the restrooms, and the huge and lovely reading room pictured to the left!

2015August_031This isn’t the only place in the two acre gardens where you can sit and read, though (just one of the few indoors). All throughout the grounds you’ll find chairs or other suitable perches along with stashes of the featured books that have been disassembled, laminated in heavy plastic, and bound back together with a spiral binding. To the left you’ll see one of the pillars that marks the beginning of a new section of the gardens with a little metal cubby for storing the books (pictured open to the right).



Some of the displays are pretty stinking elaborate. Here’s the one for Little House in the Big Woods (set in Wisconsin!), 2015August_087complete with an actual house and covered wagon! Inside, in a little cabinet, they even have a china shepherdess like Ma’s! The kids loved setting the table, sweeping the dirt floor, and pretending to build up the campfire outside!

Others are more floral and decorative, like this tribute to Lois Ehlert’s (a Wisconsonite as well!) Planting a Rainbow. Note the conveniently placed chairs! The plants all through the gardens, whether trees or flowers or vegetables, are labeled so you can tell what they are. (If you look to the far right, behind the yellow pot of gold flowers, there’s a tiny Harold and the Purple Crayon plot–just a purple metal crayon and a bunch of purple flowers!)2015August_035

There were also a number of sculptures, topiaries, and mosaics dedicated to various books or just as an embellishment to an already beautiful scene.

2015August_136Here’s a treehouse gazebo that would be just right for breaking out a certain Magic Tree House series.


Here’s a metal sculpture that I’m pretty sure has something to do with a children’s book, but I can’t recall the title! (This dangerous looking venus fly trap wasn’t labeled.)

2015August_203Here is one of the sidewalk mosaics; there were several with different encouraging words on them!

Here is one of many child-sized statues of children reading 2015August_258(and GirlChild just had to cozy up to this one and ask, “Do you want to read together?”).


I actually almost forgot the bathroom murals, and I totally missed an awesome photo op with my daughter! How fun would it have been for her to climb up in the “tub” and read the The Big Red Tub? Again, rushing, rushing to get through the whole garden (and we were there for three hours!), and we didn’t stop here. (The men’s restroom had Bugs for Lunch as its theme, but I didn’t get photos of that one.)

Now I’ll just put up a few pictures of some of the amazing and interactive displays found throughout the gardens and links to their books. Generous supporters sponsor these structures and activities, and kids absolutely love them!

2015August_065Winnie-the-Pooh (child-sized door allows small children to enter and sit in a tiny chair to play with a few themed toys and stuffed animals)


Frankie the Walk and Roll Dog (kids could take the doggie wheelchair off of the cement dog statue to examine, and there was a big chair right next to the display to sit and read the story (which we didn’t do because we plan to come back again and just wanted to get a peek at the whole garden this visit))

2015August_230The Three Little Pigs (just big enough for a small child or two to enter, my kids made their daddy be the Big Bad Wolf for a good ten minutes–there are many, many versions of this story to choose from, so I just linked one!)


Katie and the Sunflowers (various sized frames where kids can pose with some of Vincent Van Gogh’s works peeking out around the frame–there was a child-sized ballerina statue to represent Degas and the Little Dancer, too!)

2015August_247Stuart Little (a tiny toy house complete with car!)

2015August_117Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes (a Japanese teahouse, there was a large paper crane hanging precariously outside–I’m sure they’ll adjust that soon!–and a gong to ring)

2015August_152Charlotte’s Web (look closely right above the joist for the titular character–I’ll let you go and see the Diary of a Worm (and composting!) display that shared this space for yourself!)

2015August_143Tops and Bottoms (the sliding door revealed the roots below–this book is actually a trickster tale that was a Caldecott honor book!)

2015August_219Horton Hatches the Egg (one of the few things kids couldn’t climb on, there were three giant, concrete eggs in nests below where they could sit!)

2015August_241Dinosaur Bones (while they couldn’t climb on this part, either, there was a sand pit fossil dig right below this reading dinosaur statue!)


A Playhouse for Monster (the book might be out-of-print and hard to find, but a goodly number of kids fit in this playhouse complete with chairs, a table,  some play food, and plenty of windows and doors to open–my kids loved this thing!)

Seriously, this place is beyond amazing, and many others visiting (many who mentioned that displays were new, indicating that this wasn’t their first visit!) agreed! My small sampling of pictures doesn’t even begin to do it justice, I promise. (We’ve already made plans to visit again in October with my librarian sister and her family!) If you get a chance to go, admission is free, but definitely consider dropping in some paper money to show your appreciation for what these amazingly dedicated people do!


As promised, a list of local attractions to fill out your trip (although this place could take you all day!):

Il Ritrovo: We went here for lunch. It was a little pricey, but it was good stuff. Definitely worth a drop-in while you’re here!

Victorian Chocolate Shoppe: Right down the street from the Italian place, we stopped here for dessert. The website isn’t kidding about the chocolate aroma when you walk in! It was chocolate covered raspberries and truffles for the win!

Blue Harbor Resort: We didn’t stay here this time, but we came here for the weekend earlier this year to celebrate BoyChild’s fourth birthday (at his request to go to a waterpark)! It’s a beautiful place–huge!–and there are some shops and restaurants within walking distance (if it’s not March in Wisconsin and freezing like it was when we visited)! The waterpark is pretty fun for the kids, and our kids loved the aquarium-themed room we got (marina side to keep the costs down)–complete with bunk beds! There were several free activities for the kids throughout the day, a couple restaurants, an arcade, and a gift shop in the main building, and there are also spa services available!

Above & Beyond Children’s Museum: We didn’t get a chance to visit this museum (we were actually only in town for the day!), but at $6 a person for admission, it’s another decently-priced activity to do with the kids (particularly if the day turns rainy like it did today)!

If those ideas aren’t enough, here’s the Visit Sheboygan site to give you more reasons to come visit America’s Dairyland!

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Themed Third…oh, hang on…

Between moving and a kind of last-minute vacation, I got behind on this month’s theme! August will, therefore, have a Fun Fourth Friday instead of a Themed Third Thursday! See you in a week and a day!

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Fun Fourth Friday: Bugs and Crawly Things

I had already chosen this theme on our last library day when I stumbled across a few bugs books and thought, “Yeah, bugs are big in July! I’ll cover bugs!” Then we went to a nearby state park and signed the kids up for the Wisconsin Explorer program, and–lo and behold!–one of the shared topics between the two age groups is bugs! Because “bugs” is a kind of vague term, I’m going to go ahead and include insects, arachnids, and other creepy critters with exoskeletons and various numbers of legs! (This is a Fun Fourth Friday because we were in the middle of moving on the third Thursday and had no internet access!)

[Bugs and Crawly Things book list]

National Geographic Kids Look & Learn: BugsLook & Learn Bugs (2015, infant to preschool): This board book has versatility for use from the smallest readers (board book style, enlarged photographs of insects with simple backgrounds) to still-small readers who want to know more about bugs (simple labels, fact bubbles, and interactive read-aloud text). Each spread has a large photo and a few simple sentences.

Big Bug Little Bug: Big Bug Little BugA Book of Opposites, by Paul Stickland (2010, toddler to preschool): This concept book is a bright examination of some pretty wild-looking bugs. The bugs are stylized to be cute and not particularly realistic, but readers can identify things like pillbugs (roly-polies), ladybugs, and rhinoceros beetles among the psychedelic menagerie. Not all of the contrasts are strictly opposites (stripes and spots, for instance), but the huge pop-up at the end is sure to please every little reader!

Beetle BopBeetle Bop, by Denise Fleming (2007, preschool to early elementary): A very simple book of beetles, real beetle types are introduced just through bright illustrations (“created,” according to the title page, “by pouring colored cotton fiber through hand-cut stencils”) and simple descriptive text. I recognized whirligig beetles, click beetles, fireflies, and ladybugs, to name a few. Because of its simplicity, this is a great read-aloud or browsing book for very young listeners and readers.

ABC Insects, ABC Insectsby the American Museum of Natural History (2014, toddler to early elementary): This oversized board book introduces a different insect for each letter of the alphabet along with an interesting fact about each one. The pages have blocks of color for each letter, a large capital letter, and a photographic image of the insect. The information is presented in simple phrasing with some specialized vocabulary (like predators and antennae) that is easily understood with context or a little explaining. Even X has an insect: the Xerces blue butterfly, thought to be extinct since the 1940s. If my youngest hadn’t already learned the basics of the alphabet, I would probably just buy this book (instead of checking it out on occasion) because it seems like the kind of thing he would have really liked when he was littler and needed prompting to be interested in books! (GirlChild, on the other hand, insists that she can’t sleep because she’s thinking about the scary velvet ant! It might have more to do with the fact that the house is in upheaval as we prepare to move!)

The Very Clumsy Click BeetleThe Very Clumsy Click Beetle, by Eric Carle (1999, preschool to early elementary): Eric Carle is famous for his collage art, and his stories often feature the passage of time as an element of the story. They also very often include insects and crawly things (The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Very Grouchy Ladybug, The Very Lonely Firefly, and The Very Busy Spider, for example), and often have a novelty element (texture, cut-outs, lights, etc.). This book happens to have a little bit of each of those characteristics, and the novelty in it happens to be a noise-maker! (This caught both GirlChild and me off guard–I thought the computer was sparking!) A clumsy little click beetle falls on his back, and a wise old click beetle teaches him the click-and-flip method of righting himself. He tries unsuccessfully in front of several different animals, but when a human boy approaches and the need is great, he succeeds! Like many of his other books, this book also includes a brief scientific explanation of the background to the story, so there is more detail about the clicking for an adult or older reader’s information.

Butterfly, Butterfly: A Book of Colors, Butterfly Butterfly: A Book of Colorsby Petr Horáček (2007, preschool to early elementary): The large text looks almost poetic or artistic in itself as it mingles with the simple acrylic paintings of the art. It tells of Lucy, a little girl who finds a colorful butterfly in the garden one day but can’t find it the next. She does, however, find a variety of other creatures of various hues (with cut-outs in the pages for a peek to the next illustration and the previous one). When she has almost given up, she lies down in the grass, looks up in the sky, and sees the butterfly above her (as a large pop-out). I love the art in this one! (The author/illustrator also has a book called The Fly which is a playful first-person account of a fly’s danger-filled day as he just tries to live his life and get along with others!)

These Bees Count!These Bees Count!, by Alison Formento, illustrated by Sarah Snow (2012, preschool to early elementary): This book tells the story of a small class going to a bee farm on a field trip. (The field trip is a great setting because it makes sharing facts and childlike understanding logical.) The middle part of the book is a kind of counting story (supposedly the bees “talking” as they fly to work). (It does not share a huge amount of important information in this section, so perhaps it is intended as a kind of mental break for very young listeners.) The field trip story picks up again as they discuss what bees do and how honey is collected and processed. The last page of the book is written for adults and shares more information about the some of the topics discussed in the story. This book would be perfect for a unit study on bees in preschool or primary classes.

Butterfly Counting, Butterfly Countingby Jerry Pallotta and Shennen Berseni (2015, preschool to elementary): Since this is partly a counting book, I am tempted to lower the upper end of the age range, but, really, there is a lot of beautiful photo-realistic art and scientific and linguistic detail in this book, and I believe it would appeal as a read-aloud for younger children interested in the topic (or as a classroom introduction to a unit on insects for up to middle elementary) or as independent reading for an interested older reader. The vocabulary is pretty sophisticated, and the book shares the word for butterfly in over twenty different languages (from Tagalog to German–search YouTube for the video comparing German to other languages…I love “schmetterling” (butterfly) almost as much as “krankenwagen” (ambulance)!) Still, it is a counting book, and small children can count the butterflies on each page, from zero (no butterflies on Antarctica!) to the twenty-five Piano Keys. The last page is a single brightly-colored insect (and tells that the word for butterfly in Great Britain is…butterfly), but the tricky insect is actually a type of grasshopper. The author has written a number of other insect-themed concept books, and the illustrator has a number of other insect books under her belt, too.

Big Bug SurpriseBig Bug Surprise, by Julia Gran (2007, early to middle elementary): Prunella is preparing to bring a special bug to show-and-tell, and she spouts random insect and crawly-thing facts as she starts her day, but everyone (from her parents to the bus driver to her teacher) seem kind of exasperated by her bits of trivia (“Not now, Prunella!”). When her off-hand observation that the bee that has flown into the classroom window just as she begins her show-and-tell is a queen bee (which never flies alone) leads to a classroom full of bees, Prunella saves the day by luring them outside (robed in white and toting a jelly sandwich) and showing them a new place to nest. The class thanks her for saving the day, but when she reveals her surprise insect for show-and-tell, they seem less appreciative: it’s a dung beetle. Really, though, all their declarations of how gross it is are really signs of interest, and they say, “Tell us more, Prunella!” An appendix of “Big Bug Facts” can be found on the last page of the book.

Bugs by the Numbers: Bugs by the NumbersFacts and Figures for Multiple Types of Bugbeasties, by Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss (2011, preschool to elementary): The format and topic of the book make it the sort of thing that may be intended for one age group but accessible and enjoyable by a much broader audience. The first spread introduces the text with a poem, part of which proclaims, “Not all critters that fly or crawl on the ground/Are technically bugs, but we both have found/Most folks call them bugs, and since they do,/We figured, why not? We’d call them “bugs” too.” Each spread thereafter has a “bug” (the image of the bug created by numbers significant to the information somehow) with number-based facts (three or four per creature) and artistic flaps to lift to find more information. Perfect for an adult to share with a budding entomologist or for independent elementary-aged readers to pore over on their own or with like-minded friends, the book ends with a little poem about the ways that bugs benefit humans (and a list of the fonts used to create the images). Other books in this vein include Alphabeasties and AlphaSaurs.

Bugs GaloreBugs Galore, by Peter Stein, illustrated by Bob Staake (2012, preschool to early elementary): This rhyming book seems intended as a read-aloud with its repetitive, rhyming, and alliterative text. The mainly geometric illustrations are in no way realistic, but the bugs and experiences mentioned in the text are. Definitely a good book to read at the start of a storytime or unit about bugs as it could lead to discussions about the types of insects and crawly things the listeners have experienced.

Some Bugs, Some Bugswords by Angela DiTerlizzi, bugs by Brendan Wenzel (2014, preschool to early elementary):This is another great rhyming book to introduce bugs to a group of children. While the illustrations in this book have somewhat stylized insects, they are recognizable as real bugs (and have a whole spread at the back of the book where each insect is pictured and named). This book is actually simpler as far as the text goes, but the illustrations are much busier, so this might be a fun book to include in a classroom library after a read-aloud for further browsing. Because of the semi-realistic illustrations, it would be easy enough to poll children about which bugs they recognize and which they’ve actually seen or some other interactive activity to kick off an insect unit, particularly since the last page of the story encourages readers to “find some bugs in your backyard!”

Picnic! A Day in the ParkPicnic! A Day in the Park, by Joan Holub, illustrated by Will Terry (2008, preschool to early elementary): Although this book is simpler than the previous ones, it is intended as an early pre-independent reader. (The child should recognize some words but not necessarily be able to actually read fluently through the text alone.) There is basic dialogue, rhyming, and many simple names to help make comprehension easier. The main characters are ants invading a picnic and the fireflies/lightning bugs that help light their way home.

Hi! Fly Guy, by Tedd ArnoldHi! Fly Guy (2005, early elementary): This early independent reader tells the story of when Buzz (the boy) meets Fly Guy (the fly) when he’s on the lookout for a cool pet to share at the Amazing Pet Show. The very brief chapters have just a simple sentence or two on each page, and large, funny illustrations fill up the rest of the space. Like all the other Fly Guy books, this one is silly and just a little bit gross in bits. (He is a fly after all!)

Bugs and Us Bugs and Us(DK Readers, Level 1), by Patricia J. Murphy (2012, early elementary): For a level 1 (beginning to read) book, this book about bugs has a lot of detail. Some of the sentences are short, but others are more complex and contain a number of somewhat sophisticated vocabulary words, so I would say that this book probably requires more adult interaction than most “early reader” books unless the reader happens to have a strong interest and background knowledge in insects and spiders. This particular title focuses on how we interact with bugs, both positively and negatively, and how we can both help and be helped by them. Bugs Bugs Bugs! (level 2) is another book in this series, and it has much more specific information about a number of interesting insects and might be most tempting to a reader who really likes the gritty side of insect life…a lot of fighting, eating, and being eaten in this one!

The Delicious BugThe Delicious Bug, by Janet Perlman (2009, early elementary): Two chameleons, Willy and Wally, happen to both catch a particularly tasty bug at the same time. Although they are usually good at sharing and kind to one another, they end up arguing over this catch. Things get pretty heated, and they start name calling (“Just back off, shlobberface!” (talking with your tongue hanging out makes enunciation difficult) and “Why don’t YOU back off, dragonlipsh!” are as nasty as they get), then actually fighting one another, and all the animal spectators are getting uncomfortable and embarrassed for them. In all the ruckus, the coveted bug gets free, and–after the chameleons reconcile following a dangerous close call–the beleaguered creature falls dead at the feet of the pleased tomato frog. Since the chameleons have always shared with him in the past, he invites them both to share the meal with him, and they all agree that it is the most delicious bug they’ve ever eaten. Then the chameleons begin making reparations with all the animals they inconvenienced during their row, and peace is restored to their forest. (This story is clearly more about getting along and sharing than it is about the actual bug…)

Hurry and the Monarch, Hurry and the Monarchby Antoine Ó Flatharta, illustrated by Meilo So (2005, early elementary): Disguising information about monarch migration as a story of the interaction between a land tortoise named Hurry from Wichita Falls, Texas, and a migrating monarch from Canada, this book gives tidbits of specific detail relating to the annual migration (like months of the year when it happens, specific cities, and life cycle details). At the end of the book, there is an afterword that gives more scientific detail to piece together the events of the story.

Diary of a FlyDiary of a Fly, by Doreen Cronin, pictures by Harry Bliss (2007, early to middle elementary): Dated June 7 through August 2, this “diary” tells about a fly’s day-to-day experiences and reveals facts about flies in a sly way (often utilizing the illustrations to get the full point across, like when Spider’s grandfather makes Fly feel good when he tells her that she is so very important to the food chain…). The underlying theme is that Fly has some pretty cool talents and that, even though she doesn’t seem to fit the stereotypical superhero mold, “[t]he world needs all kinds of heroes.”

Fancy Nancy: Explorer Extraordinaire!, Fancy Nancy: Explorer Extraordinaire!by Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser (2009, early to middle elementary): Fancy Nancy and her friend Bree form a club called the Explorers Extraordinaire Club, and this book presents the rules of the club (and is fashioned partly like a scrapbook and partly as the story of their adventures). The title page includes this note: “Everything in this book is scientifically accurate. (That’s a fancy way of saying it’s all true.)” If you have little girls who are a blend of fancy and frolicsome (kind of like GirlChild!), they may identify, but this is one Fancy Nancy book that might have a broader appeal. It gives good tips for young explorers (staying in places you know and are allowed to go, not handling butterflies, how to treat flowers and trees when exploring) and has actual photographs of a few different insects, plants, and birds. It also provides recipes and instructions for some fun activities and treats (like Nancy’s Extra-Fancy Lemonade (planning to do this with GirlChild and some friends with raspberries from our bush!) and simple bird feeders). I think I’m going to check this book out again (or possibly buy it for my little ornithologist/entomologist/wordsmith)! (Fancy Nancy: Bonjour, Butterfly is a slightly simpler, much girlier story (about Fancy Nancy having to miss her friend Bree’s birthday party to attend her grandparents’ 50th anniversary celebration) that has butterflies as a consolation prize at the end.)

Product DetailsI, Fly: The Buzz About Flies and How Awesome They Are, by Bridget Heos, illustrated by Jennifer Plecas (2015, elementary): A fly buzzes into a classroom of students and discovers that, of course, they are learning about butterflies–not regular flies–of course. He informs the class that he, too, goes through metamorphosis, and he tells them the heartwarming story of being laid (as an egg) in a pile of dog doo along with his 500 brothers and sisters and his transition into a poop-and-trash eating maggot (or “larva,” as the scientists would call him), then pupa, then full-fledged fly–parent, grandparent, still a poop-eater. He then shares facts about his wing speed, the throwing-up-before-eating “myth” (not really a myth…but they only throw up on solid foods), spread of disease, lifespan, and crime-solving capabilities (er, well, helping determine how long a body has been dead, at least). It ends with a fun glossary, bibliography, and a panel of experts on flies. Simply written, this book has appeal for most elementary grades (if you think they can handle some of the grossness) as a fun source for nonfiction fly information presented in a picture book format.

DK Eyewonder: Bugs, DK Eyewonder: Bugswritten and edited by Penelope York (2015, early to middle elementary): DK can do no wrong when it comes to nonfiction books. Enlarged photographs, interesting information, arrangements by heading (which can be read through or found in the table of contents), and a typical glossary and index all make this book an accessible browse or for simple research. Rich scientific vocabulary means that independent readers will need to use context clues and the glossary for a full understanding, but casual readers will enjoy just looking at the photographs and reading blurbs of information as it interests them.

Insiders: Insects & SpidersInsiders: Insects & Spiders (2008, middle to upper elementary): I was previously unfamiliar with this series of nonfiction books, but this is an interesting title with in-depth information. Less cluttered than a typical DK book (which isn’t a criticism…the “clutter” is part of the draw of those books!), the pages feature extreme close-ups, diagrams, graphs, and illustrations. Each creature featured includes a little “fact sheet” kind of preview that includes a world map showing its range, a description of its habitat and diet, measurements and an image of the insect on a child’s hand for size reference, and the creature’s scientific name. The page spread either features a photograph or a detailed illustration of the creature with many labels and other information. The introductory page for the group of creature includes a diagram of the typical internal organs and a labeled diagram of the typical body parts. Includes a glossary and index.

Gregor the Overlander,Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins (2003, upper elementary to middle school): 11-year-old Gregor is missing summer camp this year because his grandmother is no longer lucid enough to care for his toddler sister, nicknamed Boots, while their mother goes to work. His father has been gone for “two years, seven months, and thirteen days”–suddenly disappeared without a trace–and everyone has their own assumptions about what happened. When Gregor brings Boots down into the laundry room of their apartment building that first hot afternoon of summer, she disappears into a vent in the floor, and Gregor chases after her. They find themselves falling for a long, long time, and when they finally land, they come face to face with what Boots calls simply “beeg bugs!”–four-foot long cockroaches that can speak (though a little oddly). These “crawlers” (as they come to find out they’re called in the Underland) play a big role in the rest of this adventure/quest story that also features regular-sized (but incredibly pale) humans and enormous bats, rats, and spiders.

(If you happen to know of any really great books about bugs, let us know in the comments! I still struggle to find good middle school and up books on some of my favorite picture book topics!)

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