Themed Third Thursday: This is Series-ous

As school wraps up in the next couple of weeks, there are the long days of summer stretching ahead of most families. While I hate to suggest that you force daily education down your children’s throats in their downtime, I do strongly suggest you get them interested in a good book! Sometimes, though, kids read one book they like and then fizzle out, and that’s no good. If a kid gets hooked on a series, however, you’ve got picking a book made simple! Here you will find a great variety of series for a great variety of kids!

Cat the CatCat the Cat and Elephant & Piggie books, by Mo Willems (preschool/early elementary): I reviewed these series in a previous post about Mo Willems’ works. While the Cat the Cat books provide great verbal practice and plenty of repetition, the Elephant & Piggie books provide a fabulous chance to practice expression (both the verbal sort and the facial sort). Both make fantastic read-alouds for preschoolers and up, and both are good starter books for independent readers. The Cat the Cat series is a bit simpler than the Elephant & Piggie books, almost like Dick and Jane (with the limited, repetitive, rhyming vocabulary) but TONS more fun! I personally prefer the Elephant & Piggie books, Elephant & Piggieprobably because I love to read aloud dramatically, and Elephant Gerald is just so dramatic! It’s also a great series for shared reading since the books typically feature just the two characters, and all the words are either spoken dialogue or sound effects (and color coded so it’s easy for the readers to know which line belongs to which reader). These are perfect first series books for early readers!

Fancy NancyFancy Nancy, by Jane O’Connor (preschool to middle elementary): Fancy Nancy stars in books from picture books to early leveled readers to stories for middle elementary readers. Fancy Nancy not only likes a lot of glitz and embellishment in her appearance, but she loves to use fancy words, too! (She defines each of her “fancy” words in parentheses after she uses one, so that helps with comprehension if your reader’s vocabulary isn’t the same as Nancy’s.) Great for celebrating chronic girliness and a well-developed vocabulary, these books appeal strongly to little girls like GirlChild who have a bigger vocabulary than they know what to do with but still love the glitter and sparkle of dress-up and decor. (The website, in addition to having lists of the books and printables for crafts and word activities, also has a great page of tips for the adults of aspiring Nancys with entries about planning birthday parties, tea parties, sleepovers, and encouraging reading.)

Junie B. Jones, by Barbara Park Junie B. Jones(early elementary): I have to start with this caveat: Junie B. is a terrible role model! Her grammar is iffy, her vocabulary is often impolite (she uses “stupid” and “hate,” if you’re concerned about your child picking up such things), and her behavior is something not to be emulated. I personally wouldn’t turn GirlChild loose with these books at this point just because we’d be less likely to discuss the implications of Junie B.’s choices (and it must always be Junie B.!), and GirlChild is kind of into pushing the boundaries right now, but they really are kind of hilarious books. Junie B. is like a less-responsible Ramona Quimby (and I would definitely suggest the Ramona books as a series, too–GirlChild just finished reading them and then listening to them on audiobook this year!), and everything is told from her point of view, so you can almost see why she would say or do the outrageous things that she says and does! (I actually read Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business to my third-graders to help announce my pregnancy with GirlChild way back when!) Once you’ve established that your child isn’t going to be easily led astray by Junie B.’s example, I think you’re safe to let your reader enjoy her! (Although Junie B. is in kindergarten and first grade in these books, many of my fifth graders actually loved reading about her! I think age and perspective enhances the humor since an older reader isn’t in the middle of the kindergarten angst that Junie B. is living in her stories, and the fact that they’re a quick and easy read made them attractive as well.)

Fly GuyFly Guy books, by Tedd Arnold (early elementary): My first Tedd Arnold book was Green Wilma, but I had a good collection of Fly Guy books in my classroom when I taught third grade! Completely silly, easy to read, and complete with covers that catch the eye, these are the kind of easy reader that older kids aren’t embarrassed to be seen reading but aren’t intimidating to younger readers. I have to note that GirlChild refuses to read any of these books because she thinks flies are gross, so you might want to save this suggestion for the less squeamish among your young readers. They would probably appeal to the same sort of kids who would like Jon Sciesczka or Dav Pilkey later in life…

Young Cam Jansen mysteries, by David A. Adler Young Cam Jansen(early elementary): The Cam Jansen books with which I’m most familiar are written for older kids (Cam is starting fifth grade in one of them, and they’re recommended for grades 2-5), but this series is just perfect for early elementary readers. Cam (her nickname, based on “Camera,” because of her photographic memory) and her friend Eric solve simple mysteries based on observation and memory. This series has an Easy Reader Level of 3 (transitional reader), and the Guided Reading range is J-M. Because of the nonthreatening mysteries and Cam’s tendency to talk through the clues, young readers can feel like they have mystery-solving skills and might even work on their observational skills in real life! In addition to the books in the Young Cam Jansen series, the original series can help extend an interested reader’s book list once they have become more confident readers.

LuluLulu books, by Hilary McKay (early to middle elementary): Lulu is “famous for animals”; her cousin, Mellie, is famous for losing things (among other things). They are both in Class Three (3rd grade, perhaps?) at school. (The author is British, and the school is presumably also in the UK.) Lulu’s parents have rules about her pets (pretty much that she can have as many animals as she wants as long as she cleans up after them), and her teacher does, too: No. More! (She’s not really an animal person.) Each book in this series is about Lulu having an animal adventure either with her own pets or an animal she finds. The author has also written a series about animals that features a boy protagonist, Charlie. (The author says one of her favorite parts of being a children’s writer is reading letters from kids, so maybe having your children use the Contact Me page on her website or maybe try her publishers (since I can’t find a direct address for her) would be a good extension idea!)

Ivy and Bean, by Annie Barrows and Sophie Blackall Ivy and Bean(middle elementary): Seven-year-old Bean has no intention of making friends with boring, well-behaved Ivy across the street just because her mother says she should. Ivy (who we come to find out is not nearly as boring or well-behaved as she appears) feels similarly about wild-and-crazy Bean. When circumstances intervene (Bean tries to escape punishment when a prank on her sister goes too far, and Ivy helps her hide), they realize that they are well-suited for friendship after all. Ivy has aspirations to become a real-life, potion-making witch (although none of her spells have worked out so far), and Bean is happy to contribute to Ivy’s ever-changing room set-up with its activity zones. (Bean’s mom sets some ground rules for their potion-making plans, including no poisons or explosions, but she is happy to have them play together.) And this is how Ivy and Bean begin their unusual and loyal friendship!

Adventures of the Bailey School KidsThe Adventures of the Bailey School Kids, by Debbie Dadey and Marcia Thornton Jones (middle  to upper elementary): While I inherited several of these from the fifth grade teacher who had my classroom before me, I had never actually read one!  They are pretty solidly middle grade level readers, but the amount of “education” happening in the pages (in the one I read, Werewolves Don’t Run for President, readers get many only-slightly-subtle lessons in government, and there is an appendix with additional facts as well) means that there is content for older readers, too. It’s not surprising that the authors are a teacher and librarian team who used to work together in a school! I wouldn’t try to extol the virtues of the educational aspect to your young readers, but they might end up learning something in spite of themselves. The series begins with the Bailey School Kids (two boys and two girls) in third grade, and they believe their teacher, Mrs. Jeepers, is a vampire. Each book has a similar scenario: 1) Adult behaves oddly. 2) Children believe adult to be some mythical creature. 3) Children solve some issue but never clearly prove or disprove theory about mythical creature. The authors use a lot of loaded figurative language (“howled with laughter,” “Mr. Youngblood stalked across,” “voice was as low and growly as a Doberman pinscher’s”) to support the characters’ assumptions. For a teacher wanting to use these books, the aspect of using loaded language and perspective to influence a reading audience is something that can definitely be used with older students.

The Time Warp Trio, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith Time Warp Trio(middle elementary): These books are deceptively short in that they pack a lot of educational value (and silly, silly stuff!) into their brief pages. Joe’s uncle, a magician, gives him a special book for his birthday: The Book. The Book has the power to transport Joe and his friends Sam and Fred anywhere in time (and, in a couple cases, myths and their summer reading list!). Scieszka and Smith’s quirky humor can make delving into the Wild West, King Arthur’s court, or the Stone Age a hilarious way to pick up tidbits of information about history that might spark further investigation (and we all know that historical and speculative fiction are gateway books to nonfiction research!). Perfect for that hard-to-engage reader with an unconventional funny bone!

Boxcar ChildrenThe Boxcar Children, by Gertrude Chandler Warner (elementary): I read the first Boxcar Children book aloud to both kids, and they were enchanted from the start. Now they play Boxcar Children on a pretty regular basis (GirlChild is either Jessie or Violet, and BoyChild is always Benny!), watch the movie on Netflix regularly, and GirlChild has gotten into the mystery series that follows. While none of them stack up to the original, the extremely lengthy series has been pretty popular in my classrooms (and you don’t get over 100 titles in a series without there being a market for them!). It’s been a long, long while since I had read any of them, so I went ahead and reread Tree House Mystery (#14) just to get a feel for them, and the kids have already aged enough that Benny (the  youngest, just learning his alphabet in the first book) is older than ten, and Henry (the oldest) is driving. More recent additions to the series (like #132, Mystery of the Fallen Treasure) seem to be a modern reboot: Benny is six again, and Henry Googles things on his cell phone. (This is decidedly odd in that the originals were set in the ’30s or ’40s, so the unaccompanied minors living on their own in the woods thing wouldn’t have been as strange as it would be were it happening in the 2000s!) The mysteries are typically pretty mild and the children well-behaved and conscientious. This might be a good series for the kind of child who wants to read mysteries but is sensitive to frightening things or situations (like GirlChild) or as high-interest, low-reading-level series for those who can tolerate well-behaved children and simple mystery stories. And the first book, at the very least, is a good read for any child! (For the truly dedicated, there’s a Boxcar Children Museum in Connecticut in the author’s hometown, and Patricia MacLachlan has even written a sort of prequel!)

Clubhouse Mysteries, by Sharon M. Draper Clubhouse Mysteries/Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs(middle to upper elementary): By the Coretta Scott King award winning author of many YA books and the Sassy series for tween girls, this series has a cast of four black preteen boys from Ohio who, out of boredom after their neighborhood basketball court is destroyed, create a club they call the Black Dinosaurs. They build a clubhouse using old fence sections, and when they dig to bury their club treasures, they discover a buried box full of bones. (This is where the first mystery comes in!) While the slim volumes and attractive but somewhat juvenile cover art make these books look like they are geared toward middle elementary (the kids on the cover look to be second or third graders to me), the characters are actually just out of fifth grade (and are illustrated as such on the inside illustrations), and many references in the book are to historical events and topics that are likely not studied (in school, at least) until fourth or fifth grade (like knowing who the Tuskegee airmen were to better understand a reference to Tuskegee University). GirlChild enjoyed the book, actually, and asked for the next one in the series, but I am fairly sure she didn’t get anything deeper out of it than that some kids made a club and found a box of bones. This six-book series was apparently first published under the title Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs and had more realistic cover art, and I can definitely see it as a teaching tool (for introducing some of the topics brought up in the books) for younger students or as a high-interest/lower-reading-level book for upper elementary (although I think the original covers would make the series more marketable to older kids than the current ones).

Secrets of the ManorSecrets of the Manor, by Adele Whitby (middle to upper elementary): Each book in this historical fiction series focuses on the girls from a noble family based at Chatsworth Manor in the English countryside. The first Elizabeth and Katherine were twins, and the eldest daughter from each following generation is named after the matriarch of that family line. The first Elizabeth’s family line remains at Chatsworth Manor, and Katherine moved to America upon her marriage, so her family line lives at Vandermeer Manor in Rhode Island. As suggested by the title of the series, this is, in part, a mystery series…like American (er, and English) Girl meets the Boxcar Children (but with more money). While the storyline in the first book seemed pretty predictable and slightly anachronistic in regards to attitudes and behaviors, I am not entirely familiar with the time frame in which these books take place (1848-1934 for the first six books in the series (and not in chronological order!)), so I could be stuck thinking of Regency manners and unaware of progress in that area. GirlChild adores these books (the peerage is a step down from royalty, I guess, but it’s close enough for her!), and I’m sure she’ll be excited to read the new ones (set in Paris) that are just coming out, too!

A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony SnicketA Series of Unfortunate Events (upper elementary/middle school): Another quirky series best enjoyed by readers who revel in wordplay and a bit of Gothic parody, I am feeling a distinct reminiscence for Northanger Abbey as I reread the first pages… If your child is sensitive and will take these books seriously (like GirlChild at this point in her reading life), they probably will not enjoy these books at all. If, however, they seem to the sort to really enjoy Monsters Eat Whiny Children and anything by Jon Scieszka, this is more likely their thing. (I’m hoping GirlChild will grow into them, and I see BoyChild as a future fan!) The Baudelaire orphans, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, live a life which is, in fact, a series of unfortunate events from the time of the mysterious death of their parents and their subsequent placement in the care of an unscrupulous relative, Count Olaf. Written from the point of view of a man who is following their trail and reporting their misfortunes, these thirteen books are full of well-meaning but bumbling adults, perilous events, last-minute saves based on Violet’s inventions, Klaus’ intelligence, or Sunny’s sharp incisors (Really.), sly humor, and fabulous vocabulary. If your reader is the sort to tent his or her fingers and plan devious plots (but not actually the sort to go through with them–that’s too far!), he or she might find this series worth a try! (I think the characters in Ivy and Bean might like these books when they’re a little older, actually…)

Who Was...?Who Was…? books (elementary): These biographies are the perfect sort to keep in an elementary classroom. They are written as narratives with occasional inserts of background information on the times or events being discussed. They are written chronologically, are easy to follow and interesting, and the more difficult aspects of lives are not gone into in gory detail, but they are discussed. (For instance, Who Was Ronald Reagan? discusses his father’s alcoholism, his divorce, the assassination attempt, and his Alzheimer’s disease.) Although these books are not written for research purposes, they would make great first-reads for someone needing to write a biographical report because they introduce topics about the person’s life that the reader can then use to guide and inform their further research. (Also includes What Is…?/What Was…?/Who Is…? books for other nonfiction reading!)

Other series previously reviewed/mentioned:

Topsy and Tim

Themed Third Thursday: Princess Possibilities: Princess Posey and The Rescue Princesses and The Royal Diaries

Themed Third Thursday: My Bin of Books: How Do Dinosaurs…? and Pigeon and Llama Llama and Magic Tree House series

Themed Third Thursday: An Incidental Christmas: most of the titles, so click through to the post to find links for the series!

The Very Fairy Princess

Rainbow Magic Fairies (Christmas) (and all the rest on Amazon)

Fun Fourth Friday: Andrew Clements: Keepers of the School

Themed Third Thursday: Anthropomorphic Animals: Geronimo Stilton and Warriors

Themed Third Thursday: The Naughty List Edition: Horrible Harry and Artemis Fowl

(And that’s not all! I just got tired of linking! Search “series” in the search box on the right sidebar to find more!)

What series books would you recommend for summertime reading for kids? Leave your suggestions in the comments!

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Chalk, by Bill Thomson

Chalk, by Bill Thomson

Chalk, by Bill Thomson (2010)

This wordless book has become BoyChild’s favorite this week!

What drew BoyChild to this book initially was the dinosaur (well, dinosaur ride-on toy) on the cover. We picked it out once before sometime last year, and he and GirlChild both browsed it, but this time, it has been an every day request! We started by just looking at the pictures and discussing what was going on in them, but then BoyChild asked me to make up a story to go with it. Janelle, Christina, and Billy are the children’s names in my story, and if I forget to roar in the right places, BoyChild lets me know! Because there aren’t any printed words at all, the reader can make up any storyline at all and include as much dialogue or as many sound effects as necessary to hold the listener’s attention (or let the little “reader” make the story up him or herself–I love listening to BoyChild tell stories to himself!). The basic plot is that some kids are out on a rainy day and find a bag of chalk that makes drawings come to life!

The illustrations are nearly photo realistic, and the back pages contain a note assuring the reader that the artist is not using photographs or computer illustrations…these were done in acrylics and colored pencil! It’s almost hard to believe when you look at the sheen on the dinosaur toy, the texture of the concrete, the level of detail given to even the smallest things (like the back of an earring). The illustrator plays with angles and perspective so you feel like you’re sometimes spying from above, sometimes in the thick of things, sometimes looking on from the sidelines. There’s a distinct Jumanji feel to the story and the illustrations, but it is definitely still a unique work!

Although the illustrations are amazing and the appeal obvious, one of the best things about this book is, I think, the variety of possible extensions beyond the pages. I have asked BoyChild what he would draw (a dinosaur…but that’s pretty much all he does draw!), where he thinks the chalks came from (another boy put them there), where he thinks the chalks got their magic (he couldn’t figure that one out)…on and on! This is not only a fantastic one-on-one exercise to practice comprehension and critical thinking, but I believe that this book would be an amazing springboard for a creative writing/art project in any elementary grade. What a child in kindergarten might draw and write about would differ completely from what a fifth grader might dream up, and therein lies the beauty! There is just so much a teacher or parent could do with this…I could even see a library summer reading program from it! Check out the book, grab a bag of chalks, and enjoy!

Additional titles:

Fossil(another wordless book)

Building with Dad(illustrated by the author/illustrator)

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Themed Third Thursday: April Showers

Okay, so it’s been another one of those months. (Guess what! BoyChild gets to get his third set of ear tubes soon! Um, yay?) Instead of our regularly scheduled programming, I’m going to share websites and blogs with book lists and activities for rainy days!

17 Rainy Day Books for Kidshttp://69.195.124.116/~jdanielf/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/jdaniel4smom_17_rainy_day_books_collage_title.jpg: JDaniel4’s Mom shares seventeen picture and informational books about rain for younger readers and listeners. These range from Mo Willems’ Are You Ready to Play Outside? (an Elephant and Piggie book) to The Big Storm: A Very Soggy Counting Book. A good resource for rain-themed reading for preschool and early elementary aged children.Books About Puddles

Puddle Play Rainy Day Ideas: Fantastic Fun and Learning gathered a collection of links for rainy day activities (indoor and out!) and a list of puddle books for small children. A preschool or kindergarten teacher might find a rainy day saved with some of these ideas!

Umbrella Stories for Kids10 Umbrella Stories for All Types of Weather: This book list by Edventures for Kids has books for kids from preschool to middle school. I did not realize there was this kind of variety in books about umbrellas! (My personal favorite book that has an umbrella in it–be it ever so briefly–is Un Lun Dun, a great read for upper elementary and middle school readers!)

FREE Rainy Day Pre-K/K Pack: This Reading Mama 5 Rain-Themed Read Aloud Books | This Reading Mamashares a download that includes lesson plans and worksheets for the littles along with her list of five rain-themed read aloud books to go with the lessons. Looks like a great resource for homeschoolers and preschool and kindergarten teachers!

And for the grown-ups? Pretty much any book is a rainy day book! My favorite current series for adult readers is the Jane Austen Mysteries series by Stephanie Barron!

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Fun Fourth Friday: Out Like a Lamb

It’s March, and our weather in Wisconsin has been pretty awful. (Not East Coast snow awful, but arctic chill awful.) The extended forecast, though, is calling for something a little less lion-like and a little more wooly. (Highs above freezing, yeah!) Because the month may possibly be going out like a lamb, I chose sheep for my March theme! (Update: March doesn’t seem to actually be going out like a lamb–we didn’t get the snow we were forecast this week, but many did!–and my kids have been sick to the point of one missing three days of school and the other having a burst eardrum, so this Themed Third Thursday had to revise itself to a Fun Fourth Friday!)

Moo, Baa, La La La!Moo, Baa, La, La, La, by Sandra Boynton (1984, infant/toddler/preschool): I have been reading this book to my children since they were able to, well, listen. So, birth-ish. It’s in bad shape at this point. This is a halfway typical animal sounds book, but it’s Sandra Boynton, so there’s a good bit of silliness thrown in with the rhythm and rhyme that’s in nearly all her books. Sheep figure pretty small, but they’re in there!

Baa, Baa, Black Sheep, as told and illustrated by Iza Trapani Baa Baa Black Sheep(2001, preschool/early elementary): The first page contains the rhyme with which we’re all familiar (and illustrates the black sheep in the doorway to her home wearing a nice shawl around her shoulders). Each additional spread has a different animal asking the black sheep for something as she goes about her day shopping and knitting, and they all seem pretty put out when she says she doesn’t have what they’re asking for. They actually end up all coming to her home to tell her she’s selfish (what?!), and they discover that she’s been doing what she does best (knitting, apparently) and is more than happy to share her wool with all of them, having created a special gift for each of her grumpy friends. In the end, they realize that she shared her best (even if she wasn’t able to share what they asked for at first), and they respond in kind with their best gifts.

Sheep in a JeepSheep in a Jeep, by Nancy Shaw, illustrated by Margot Apple (1986, preschool/early elementary): The titular sheep are none too careful with their vehicle and get into all kinds of trouble with it. Lots of repetition and lots of rhyme make this first of the many Nancy Shaw sheep books both fun and accessible to little listeners and early readers. This board book version gives instructions for making a handprint sheep.

Russell the Sheep, by Rob Scotton Russell the Sheep (2005, preschool/early elementary): Russell’s flock settles down for the night, but Russell is having a hard time getting to sleep. He tries all kinds of tricks and finally gets to sleep when he counts all the sheep…including himself. The story is silly, and the illustrations are quirky; there’s even a little frog pal in each illustration that small children would have a fun time finding. The pictures really add to comprehension, and I found that I had to question BoyChild some to make sure he was catching the implications of certain expressions or actions, and I definitely had to explain the concept of counting sheep so he could get that joke! If you’re teaching a unit on sheep (or whatever unit into which you might fit sheep books), you might want to give that explanation before embarking since references to it abound in sheep books!

The 108th SheepThe 108th Sheep, by Ayano Imai (2006, preschool/early elementary): Emma is having a hard time getting to sleep, and the warm milk and books are not helping. She decides to count sheep, figuring she’ll be asleep by the time she gets to 10. When she gets past 100, she’s surprised, but then something goes wrong; the 108th sheep tells her that he can’t make it over her bed (despite all his training), and this will keep all of them (Emma and the sheep) from getting to sleep. After several attempts to help him succeed, she saws a hole in her headboard so the sheep doesn’t have to jump as high to get over (er, through). He manages at last, and they all fall asleep. In the morning, the hole and the sheep are gone, but little hoofprints on Emma’s blanket convince her that she’ll never have trouble getting to sleep again. Unique illustrations and approach to the sheep counting idea make this book a different kind of book to add to your sheepish collection.

Another Brother, by Matthew Cordell Another Brother(2012, preschool/early elementary): This book is hardly about sheep (the characters are sheep, but they could just as easily be any other creature and the story would still work), but BoyChild loves this book with a passion (he asks for it multiple times a day!), and I’m not sure what the draw is for him since he is neither the oldest nor a devoted follower of his big sister! Davy is the oldest in his family, and his twelve younger brothers follow him everywhere and do everything he does. He’s quite sick of it, but his parents assure him that this is just a phase. When the phase ends suddenly, Davy is thrilled…until he realizes that he is now lonely without a single brother to play with him. One morning, however, something unexpected happens, and Davy now has a baby sister who follows him wherever he goes and does whatever he does, and he is happy once again.

WoolburWoolbur, by Leslie Helakoski, illustrated by Lee Harper (2008, early elementary): Woolbur’s free-spirited ways are a daily struggle for his worried parents and weigh heavily on their minds (but not his grandfather’s–he says not to worry), and they finally tell him that enough is enough and he needs to act like the other sheep. So, after a night pondering this, Woolbur does…because he teaches all the other lambs to act like him! An excellent reminder that thinking outside the box doesn’t mean the thinking is wrong! A very cute story of an enthusiastic sheep who marches to the beat of his own drum and teaches others how, too!

Buford the Little Bighorn, by Bill PeetBuford the Little Bighorn (1967, early/middle elementary): Buford has a bit of a problem–all of his growth seems to be concentrated his horns! They soon grow so long and curved that they have curled right back alongside his body and to the front again! Unable to climb the mountains like the other bighorns, Buford finds refuge in a herd of cattle where he goes unnoticed for quite some time. When hunting season arrives, however, his impressive rack of horns is spotted by some airborne hunters, and he makes his escape by accident–by falling and landing with his hooves on his long, curved horns–and he skis right past the hunters and onto a ski resort where he becomes the star attraction because he is the “only skier ever to grow his own skis.”

Charlie and TessCharlie and Tess, by Martin Hall, pictures by Catherine Walters (1995, early elementary): This mostly realistic fiction book tells the story of an orphaned lamb named Charlie who is raised by the family and thinks of himself as another sheepdog like Tess. When he gets big enough and has to rejoin the flock, he struggles not to play the part of the herding dog, but his learned skills in that area help save the flock when an early snow threatens to strand them in their mountainside pasture. BoyChild liked this book well enough, and it’s one of the few realistic fiction books featuring sheep I found!

Warm as Wool, by Scott Russell Sanders,Warm as Wool illustrated by Helen Cogancherry (1992, early/middle elementary): According to the jacket flap, this historical fiction story is based on information found in an old record book about the first pioneer in Randolph Township, Ohio, to own a flock of sheep in the early 1800s, Betsy Ward. Mrs. Ward had brought all her spinning supplies with her when the family moved from Connecticut, but she had no flock to shear. She had, however, brought a stocking filled with her savings, and she managed to purchase a few sheep from a drover who passed near their land. From those few sheep, she clothed her family and raised up a whole flock.

beforeitwasasweaterWhat Was It Before It Was a Sweater?, by Roseva Shreckhise (1985, preschool/early elementary): This interesting and informative book has a terribly outdated appearance. BoyChild listened patiently as the book told the story of the little girl’s birthday sweater from the birth of a lamb through shearing, the manufacturing process, and even through the wholesaler and the store. If it could be redone (probably along with the rest of the series) with updated illustrations, it would be something I would recommend as a nonfiction book for preschool and primary school classrooms!

How Do They Grow?: From Lamb to Sheep, From Lamb to Sheepby Jillian Powell (2001, early elementary): This simple book pretty much follows the nonfiction template. It includes a table of contents, bold print words defined in a glossary, headings, specific data, a section with further reading (including books, videos, websites, and addresses to contact 4-H), and an index. It gives the information chronologically and with scant detail (particularly on things that could be upsetting or disgusting to a young child, like giving birth, docking tails, and the livestock market).

I’m going to admit right now that I didn’t get the chance to read the chapter books I chose for this theme, so bear with the super-basic summaries for the following!

Agnes the SheepAgnes the Sheep, by William Taylor (1990, elementary): Agnes the sheep is a terror, and Belinda and Joe are suddenly responsible for her when her owner, Mrs. Carpenter dies. The jacket flap says this book is funny, but the few Amazon reviews are somewhat mixed (with one warning that there are a few inappropriate words, and the sheep dies suddenly near the end), so you might want to give it a read-through before you share it with a younger reader.

…And Now Miguel, by Joseph Krumgold, Product Detailsillustrated by Jean Charlot (1953, upper elementary): This book received the 1954 Newbery Medal, yet I have not actually ever read it. (I’ve never read the author’s second Newbery winner, Onion John, either. I think I have some work to do!). The author was a documentary filmmaker and this book is based on the Chavez family who had herded sheep in New Mexico for over one hundred years. Miguel is the middle child of the family, and he is discontent. He wants to be like his older brother, Gabriel, who can get whatever he wants, and he wants to be like his younger brother, Pedro, who is satisfied with whatever he has, but he is stuck in the middle. When his much loved older brother is drafted into the army, he gets his chance (although it’s not how he would have wished it) to join the men on their summer journey into the mountains with the sheep. (Teachers can purchase lesson plans and reading guides for this novel here. I’m sure there are also others available. Also, the image to the right does not feature the original artwork.)

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Themed Third Thursday: Princess Possibilities

While many parents are tired to death of princesses and all the fancy, frilly fripperies that go with playing princess, there is far more to be found in the princess line than just your basic Disney princesses. To expand your child’s horizons, try out some of these books…with nary a musical number in sight!

Princess Baby, Night-NightPrincess Baby, Night-Night, by Karen Katz (2009, infant/toddler): As Princess Baby (which appears to be the nickname of a very normal toddler (wearing a crown and sparkly shoes)) is supposed to be getting ready for bed, her parents call out to her with questions about her progress. We can see Princess Baby avoid outright untruths as she skirts their questions or gives vague answers while she continues to play with her toys. However, when her parents come to put her in bed, she has already fallen asleep among all her toys, and her parents wish her goodnight.

I Want My Present!: A Lift-the-Flap Book, I Want My Present!by Tony Ross (2005, preschool/early elementary): A very crabby-looking little princess in her nightgown goes around the castle demanding her present. Each person she encounters (from her parents (or so I gather from their matching crowns) to the palace cook) looks and finds something of his or her own instead. (There’s even a cat looking and a little mouse who shows up on each page.) Finally, her nursemaid comes running with a box…a box that contains a paper crown. The formerly grumpy princess is finally satisfied as she hands her present (the one she made especially!) to her nurse.

Princess WannabePrincess Wannabe, written and illustrated by Leslie Lammle (2014, early elementary): The opening page starts with the line, “Is it story time yet?” Fern’s babysitter realizes that it’s too late for stories before bedtime, and she tells the little girl that princess stories “all end the same way” so there’s no need to read this one. Fern is determined, however, to find out for herself how her book ends, so she sits down to read it herself, and magically gets drawn into the book. When she finally encounters the princess, she discovers that–just like Fern wishes she could be a princess–the princess just wants to be able to relax and read with her friends all day, just as Fern can. Fern returns home via fairy dust just in time for bed, and her babysitter gets a whiff of fairy dust as we get the implication that her babysitter will get a surprise as she carries off the book.

The Paper Bag Princess, The Paper Bag Princessby Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko (1980, early elementary): Elizabeth is a proper princess who is going to marry a proper prince named Ronald. However, a dragon destroys her castle (and all her lovely clothes!) and carries off Ronald. Elizabeth dons a paper bag (remarkably, the only thing in the castle left unburnt) and follows so she can try to rescue Ronald. Elizabeth tricks the dragon into using up all his fire and then to wear himself out flying so that he falls asleep, and she enters his cave. Ronald is there, but he tells her to come back when she looks like a real princess again. Elizabeth tells him that although he “look[s] like a real prince,” he’s really a bum. (My third-graders laughed hysterically at this line–which was the author’s toned-down version! His original oral story involved the princess punching the prince in the nose. :) ) And they don’t get married.

Princess PigstyPrincess Pigsty, by Cornelia Funke, illustrated by Kerstin Meyer (2007, early elementary): Princess Isabella, the youngest of three prim and proper princesses, has finally had enough of the pampering and boredom of her prim and proper life. One morning, she throws a proper fit and tosses her crown into the fishpond. Her father, the king, is very angry at her for her defiance and orders her to the kitchen until she is willing to get her crown out of the pond and behave properly again. When that doesn’t work (she loves working in the kitchen and has new and interesting things she’s learned), he tries banishing her to the pigsty, but she also enjoys that experience. He finally realizes that he loves and misses his little girl and wants her to return to the castle, so he returns her crown to her and asks her to come back and do the things she wants to do because all he wants is for her to be happy. As they return to the castle and Isabella shares some of her plans, her father shows an interest in trying new things and learning with her.

The Princess Knight,The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke, illustrated by Kerstin Meyer (2001, early elementary): Princess Violetta’s mother dies when she is born, and the king–whose three sons have been raised just as he was raised (and have acquired some decidedly haughty tendencies to boot)–decides to raise his tiny princess in the same way. Her three older brothers taunt her and boast about their prowess in all the areas where poor little Violetta struggles. So Violetta begins to practice in secret, “in her own way, without shouting and without using her spurs.” She becomes so good that her brothers stop harassing her. However, when she turns sixteen, her father proposes a tournament to celebrate, but–instead of getting to participate–she is to be the prize for the winner! On the day of the tournament, she disguises herself as Sir No-Name (and her veiled nursemaid as herself) so that she can compete. She wins, and she chooses her own prize–that “no one will ever win Princess Violetta’s hand in marriage without first defeating Sir No-Name.” She rides off on her horse and only returns after “a year and a day,” and her father and brothers show her the respect that her skill deserves. (And she marries the gardener’s son when she is good and ready.)

Princess Posey and the First Grade ParadePrincess Posey and the First Grade Parade, by Stephanie Green, illustrated by Stephanie Roth Sisson (2010, early elementary): This first book in a simple chapter book series tells the story of Posey (aka, Princess Posey (when she’s wearing her ratty pink tutu and the confidence boost it gives her!)) as she prepares to enter first grade. Posey’s pretty nervous in particular about one thing: drop-off. She doesn’t like the idea of having to walk into the school and her classroom on her own, and she longs to wear her tutu to give her some courage. A chance meeting with her soon-to-be teacher in the grocery store results in a conversation that gives Miss Lee the idea to have a first grade parade–wear your favorite clothes!–on the first day of school to help the new first graders feel more at ease as they transition from kindergarten into first grade.

The Princess in Black, The Princess in Blackby Shannon Hale and Dean Hale (2014, early/middle elementary): Princess Magnolia gets a surprise visit from Duchess Wigtower, and Duchess Wigtower makes it perfectly clear that she’s there to find out what is up with Princess Magnolia since everyone has secrets. Princess Magnolia does have a secret–a very big secret–and she doesn’t want anyone to know. Princess Magnolia is also the Princess in Black, a pony-riding, masking-wearing, monster-fighting force to be reckoned with! While she is entertaining Duchess Wigtower, she receives a monster alert on her glitter-stone ring and has to rush away to deal with the problem. Duff, the goat boy, watches in alarm and admiration as she defeats the monster and sends him back home. He can’t help but be reminded of Princess Magnolia, but he brushes off the idea until later, after he has put the goats to bed. He is inspired to create a disguise for himself, the Goat Avenger, and vows to practice and get stronger so that he, too, may one day fight alongside the Princess in Black (whoever she is!). Duchess Wigtower, who has been snooping, has found a pair of black stockings in a closet. She determines that–since princesses don’t wear black–Princess Magnolia’s secret is that she has really filthy stockings. Princess Magnolia is relieved that her true secret is still safe. I really like not only the silliness of the story but the fact that Princess Magnolia and Duff are both drawn as round-faced, decidedly average-looking children! Very accessible book, and clearly open to potential sequels! (For anyone who doesn’t know, Shannon Hale writes non-traditional princess stories, many based on fairy tale characters, for older readers, too.)

The Rescue Princesses: The Secret Promise (Book 1)The Rescue Princesses: The Secret Promise (Book 1), by Paula Harrison (2012, elementary): As Emily and the other 9-year-old princes and princesses from around their world gather at the castle of Mistburg’s King Gudland, they are excited to meet one another and to attend the ceremonial Grand Ball where they will be formally introduced to the other royal families. Emily and the other princesses come together to rescue an injured deer and to discover who has been setting illegal traps in the forest. When they discover the plot and disable all the traps, they are able to give evidence against the poacher. They decide to team up and become the Rescue Princesses with the help of the special communicator jewels one of the princesses designed for their rings. (I have to note that GirlChild adores these books. Reading them, to me, feels like reading something I would have written myself when I was a kid–one part fan fiction, one part science fiction, one part ninja training, and one part serious wish fulfillment–but that means that it absolutely would have been a book series that I would have loved as a young reader as well. Product DetailsThe princesses are modern (Emily’s family took a plane to Mistburg and there’s a zipline on the castle grounds), but their courtly expectations and old castles don’t make it overly obvious, and it actually helps explain their independent, modern child behaviors more than the anachronistic behaviors in some supposedly realistic period pieces.)

A Little Princess,A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, illustrated by Tasha Tudor (1905, upper elementary): Sara Crewe, an intellectually and emotionally precocious seven-year-old girl born in India to wealthy Captain Crewe and his French wife, is brought to London to a distinguished seminary for girls in order to receive her education. Her mother died when she was born, leaving Sara as the “little missus” of her home for a long time, and her self-assured manner and inventive mind endear her to many at the school while others (like the headmistress, Miss Minchin) feel threatened by her superior character and envious of her wealth. When her father dies and leaves her penniless, now eleven-year-old Sara is relegated to the attics and given the most humbling tasks Miss Minchin can conceive as a sort of revenge on Sara for her “airs” and for saddling her with her expenses (as though that were Sara’s fault). Sara uses her imagination and her aspiration to always behave graciously, as a princess would, to get through the trials that she faces in her new situation. In the end, after two long years, an amazing circumstance causes many wrongs to be righted, and Sara is seen for the strong, loyal, gracious child she is–a true princess at heart. GirlChild is too young yet to read this on her own, but I have immediate plans to read it aloud to her because I think it’s such a good story with such insight into humanity!

The Royal Diaries on AmazonThe Royal Diaries (A Dear America book series, upper elementary/middle school): I have to preface this with the statement that I have not actually read any of these books (although I have read a few Dear America titles). The publication information pages have a note that says, “While The Royal Diaries are based on real royal figures and actual historical events, some situations and people in this book are fictional, created by the author.” The books are written as diary entries by the main character, and they assume that the reader will either know some background information, will seek it out while reading, or will have the patience to deal with the ambiguity of waiting for clarity as the story unfolds. Featuring such varied princesses (or queens) as Elizabeth I (England, 1544), Lady of Ch’iao Kuo (Southern China, A.D. 531), and Nzingha (Angola, Africa, 1595), each book contains the diary portion, Product Detailsan epilogue, a historical note that includes a family tree, maps, photos, and illustrations, a glossary of characters/places with fictional characters marked, an about the author section (with author notes about writing the book), and acknowledgements (including citations for the included art).

Unfortunately, I ran out of time to read and review all the biographies (from picture books about Ka’iulani and Pocohontas to your basic nonfiction about Cleopatra and others. I also didn’t get around to The Tale of Despereaux, The Hero and the Crown (YA), and the Enchanted Forest Chronicles (YA) or any of the Wonder Woman books I found! If you want a chance to discover a hidden gem of a book about princesses (and you’re willing to wade through a catalog full of Disney-pink covers!), use “princess” as a keyword in your catalog search!

(Another couple that sound good that I found while searching for cover images on Amazon: Not All Princesses Dress in Pink and the Do Princesses…? series (both preschool/early elementary)!)

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Themed Third Thursday: My Bin of Books

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So, illness and vacations kept us away from the library this past month, but that doesn’t mean that we didn’t have plenty to read! This month, I’ll give you a glimpse into my living room where there is always a bin of child-chosen books ready to read! (There’s not enough space in a single blog entry to cover the books on the shelf in the kids’ closet or the giant IKEA shelving unit in my bedroom…)

Knuffle Bunny, by Mo WillemsKnuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, by Mo Willems (2004): The first book we purchased for GirlChild while she was still in utero, Knuffle Bunny’s tale of a beloved stuffed animal, mundane family tasks, and a child’s first words pretty much makes me cry every time still. GirlChild reads it to BoyChild now, and he chimes in for the “WAAAAA!” and points out facial expressions. We have three Scholastic videos of Mo Willems’ works (including this one), and the book and video remain favorites.

Margret & H.A. Rey’s Curious George’s Curious George's First Day of SchoolFirst Day of School, illustrated in the style of H.A. Rey by Anna Grossnickle Hines (2005): George goes to school on the first day to be a special helper, and he does help with many things. When he “helps” mix the paint, though, he makes a big mess. George feels bad about the mess, and the children feel bad for George, so they all chip in to help clean up the mess. George is invited to come back any time.

Alphabet RescueAlphabet Rescue, by Audrey Wood and Bruce Wood (2006): Charley’s Alphabet decides to take a trip to Alphabet City (where they were made) while Charley takes a trip to visit his grandparents. The lower case letters set out to try to rescue things with a little firetruck they fix up (after their first attempt at practicing fire-fighting with the capital letters fails), and they help M, u, and d wash a car and rescue c, a, and t from a tree. When the capital letters in their firetruck blow a tire as they head toward a fire at the letter-making factory, the little letters invite the capitals on board their truck and race to the fire. They rescue all the trapped letters, and the city throws a celebratory parade in their honor. They then return home to Charley to help him write his thank-you note to his grandparents for a good trip.

Alphabet Under Construction, Alphabet Under Construction, by Denise Flemingby Denise Fleming (2002): Mouse is very industrious, and he goes through the alphabet doing things like airbrushing the A, carving the C, and erasing the E. Uses a good variety of craft and construction related verbs with illustrations to help show the meaning of the words. The art is unusual in that it was “created by pouring colored cotton fiber through hand-cut stencils.” The last page shows Mouse’s work schedule calendar on which he has crossed off all the letters.

Barbie: Horse Show ChampBarbie: Horse Show Champ (Step Into Reading, Step 1, Ready to Read), by Jessie Parker, illustrated by Karen Wolcott (2009): Barbie gets out of bed on the day of the horse show, eats a big breakfast, and brings an apple to her horse, Tawny. Barbie prepares Tawny and herself for the show and tells her she hopes they win a blue ribbon. Tawny does well until she shies at a jump, but she tries again for Barbie and makes it. They end up with a white ribbon and a trophy.

How Do Dinosaurs Learn to Read?, How Do Dinosaurs Learn to Read?by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague (2003): Although learning to read can be frustrating and requires following some basic book-care rules, little dinosaurs who stick with it and treat books respectfully learn to love to read!

Product DetailsWhisper the Winged Unicorn: Journey to Julie’s Heart, concept by Amber Milligan, written by Christopher Brown and Jill Wolf, illustrated by Tom Kinarney (1986): Although this was published when I was but a wee lass, I have to admit that I do not recall having read this book. (It belonged to GirlChild’s aunt and came to our house with a collection of other old books from Grandma and Grandpa Florida [not their real names, clearly].) GirlChild, however, loves it enough to keep it upstairs with the books for frequent perusal, and I’m betting that the fact that 1980s cover illustration might make a little girl’s heart feel all warm and snuggly, along with a winged unicorn as a main character and Julie’s father being a veterinarian like GirlChild’s probably round out the reasons why a not-too-picky reader would choose this one as a current favorite. (The image here is not the same book, but it is the same series. If you click the image, though, it will bring you to a customer image of the actual book we have!)

Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovelby Virginia Lee Burton (1939): It doesn’t matter to BoyChild that steam shovels have gone out of style…he loves any books about diggers! In this classic title, Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel, Mary Anne, look for jobs to do when steam shovels are being replaced by electric and gasoline and Diesel shovels, and they find one in Popperville digging the cellar for the new town hall. They work faster and better as they collect an audience, and as the sun sets, they finish…but find themselves deep in the cellar without a way to get out. The people of Popperville decide to let them stay, Mary Anne converted to a furnace for the town hall and Mike as the janitor, and they live happily ever after right where they did their last digging job.

Lalaloopsy: Chasing RainbowsLalaloopsy: Chasing Rainbows, by Jenne Simon, illustrated by Prescott Hill (2014): Several of the inhabitants of Lalaloopsyland are spending a rainy day indoors when the rain stops and a rainbow appears. They have heard that there are surprises at the ends of rainbows, so they go out looking. Each time they think they’ve found the end of the rainbow, they encounter another friend who joins them as they see that the rainbow actually continues. Eventually they run into Bea, the resident librarian, and she tells them that a rainbow is actually a circle, so they’ll never find the end. (This, contrary to other things Bea finds in her library, is actually true.) They decide to celebrate the rainbow with a picnic even though they never found the end.

Cars 2: Travel Buddies, Travel Buddiesillustrated by Andrew Jimenez, Harley Jessup, and Jason Merck (2012): Lightning McQueen and Mater take a “shortcut” on the way home from the race in London, and they end up visiting ten different countries before finally arriving back on the mainland and home.

Doggies, by Sandra BoyntonDoggies: A Counting and Barking Book, by Sandra Boynton (1984): Ten different dogs (and one cat!) and a variety of different dog noises make up the pages of this silly counting book by my favorite board book author! BoyChild, despite aging out of the board book crowd at age three and a half, still loves to hear me woof my way through this one!

My Big Book of Trucks & Diggers, My Big Book of Trucks & Diggersby Caterpillar (2011): It might be clear that BoyChild is the one home most often to read books in the living room by this selection of titles, and this book is no exception. Each spread shows a different work vehicle with four smaller images of different labeled parts of that digger or truck on the facing page. Nothing makes BoyChild happier than knowing the specific words for obscure things, and this book is the reason that “ess-cuh-vay-tor” was one of his first multi-syllabic words after turning two!

Mele the Crab Finds the Way OutMele the Crab Finds the Way Out, written by Gail Omoto with Jan and Judy Dill, illustrated by Garrett Omoto (2007): Financed by a grant from the United States Department of Education and as a publication of the Partners in Development Foundation, this Hawaiian book is a story-with-a-moral. It tells of Mele (“merry”) the Crab who is used to getting her way by force, and she doesn’t care who she hurts to do it. When she gets caught by fishermen and put in a bucket with other crabs, she is frightened because they fight against her escape. When she remembers what her grandmother taught her about putting others first, she comes up with a plan to help the others out first, then escape herself. When she learns to put others first, she discovers the joy of friendship and taking turns. This book was purchased by GirlChild’s globe-trotting aunt (the same one with the winged unicorn book in her childhood library) while she was in Hawaii and comes with an audio cd of the story as well (which helps since Hawaiian words aren’t all easy to pronounce!).

Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!, Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!, by Mo Willemswords and pictures by Mo Willems (2006): The preschool-like Pigeon is supposed to be getting to bed, but he comes up with all kinds of excuses and reasons why he doesn’t need to…until he conks out mid-explanation! Like every Mo Willems book, tons and tons of fun for little listeners–my children like to read this one together.

Llama Llama Misses MamaLlama Llama Misses Mama, by Anna Dewdney (2009): GirlChild got this one almost two years ago, but they like hearing Llama Llama read aloud almost as much as their mama likes reading it! Llama Llama is dramatically upset about being left for the first time at preschool, but he comes to realize that it’s okay to like school and your mama!

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, Product Detailsby Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld (2011): Quite possibly BoyChild’s favorite book (he found it at the library at the same time as he found the Trucks & Diggers book, and we had to get them both for him at Christmas that year because the library’s copy was always at our house!), this story tells about the diggers getting ready for bed after a hard day’s work at the construction site. He can quote vast sections of it as he pages through on his own due to frequent rereadings with anyone he can snag!

Mudshark, by Gary PaulsenMudshark, by Gary Paulsen (2009): This book was a gift from Santa at GirlChild’s Breakfast with Santa at school, and we haven’t read it yet. It’s not in the same vein as Hatchet and many of Paulsen’s other works, but this one seems funnier and less dramatic than those and well suited for a younger readership (but probably still older than my kids) than some of those intense titles. We’ll give it a whirl before it gets relegated to the boxes with my boxes of fifth grade classroom books, though!

Viking Ships at Sunrise (Magic Tree House #15), Viking Ships at Sunrise (Magic Tree House #15)by Mary Pope Osborne (1998): I’ve not actually read this one (it was another gift from Santa at GirlChild’s Breakfast with Santa), but, like every other Magic Tree House book, it uses fantasy and time travel to help young children explore history and legend. Peppered with facts and trivia and with an extra list of facts at the end, if a child is particularly interested in a topic in one of these books, many of them have associated research guides for further factual information! I haven’t yet gotten GirlChild into these books, but I’m hoping to do so…historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, and fantastical historical fiction is a great way for kids to ease into the craziness of history!

Besides the books, we also have several magazine subscriptions in the bin: American Girl, Clubhouse Jr., Highlights, and High Five!

While you may not care for all the titles we have here (and you can probably tell which of these aren’t my personal favorites!), it’s always great to have a selection of books for browsing out and available so your children get used to the presence of books in their lives and it’s easy to just grab something and get sucked in!

 

 

 

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Themed Third Thursday: An Incidental Christmas

We’ve covered a variety of straight up Christmas books, but what about all those books where a chapter about Christmas just sneaks up on you and gives you a little insight into the Christmas traditions of other places and times past? That, my friends, is an incidental Christmas, and here are some books where you’ll find them!

Emma, by Jane AustenEmma, by Jane Austen (1816): Set in the early 1800s in Highbury (Surrey), England, Christmas appears in the form of the disastrous Christmas Eve party at the Westons’. With wintry weather beginning and Harriet unavailable for the evening’s festivities due to a bad cold, Emma is forced to endure Mr. Elton’s obsequious attentions and evident lack of care for the absence of his presumed beloved, and his real inclinations toward her are revealed as they travel together on the trip home afterwards. Apart from Emma’s uncomfortable thoughts and experiences, the evening seems to consist of a good deal of conversation in small groups interrupted only by dinner and again by the weather threatening to make travel difficult. It is also suggested that, were it not for the weather and her father’s subsequent objections, they would have attended church on Christmas morning.

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott (1868): Little Women, by Louisa May AlcottSet during the Civil War in New England, the book actually opens with Christmas preparations. The four girls are gathered together bemoaning the fact that they aren’t going to have gifts at Christmas this year because their father is serving as a chaplain on the front lines of the Civil War and their mother doesn’t feel it’s right to spend money on pleasures when the soldiers are lacking so much. They first debate buying themselves what they want before deciding to use their money to buy gifts for their hard-working mother instead, and they make big plans for a theatrical production on Christmas night. After reading a letter from their father, they resolve to work to make themselves better to make him proud. On Christmas morning, their mother asks them to join her in giving away their special breakfast to a poor immigrant family nearby. They and some (unidentified) friends put on the play (somewhat disastrously), and a wealthy neighbor rewards their good deed of the morning with an elaborate Christmas dinner surprise.

Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls WilderLittle House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1932): Set in the late 1800s in the woods of Wisconsin, the Christmas portion of the story takes place relatively early in the book. Pa spends a lot of time carving an ornate shelf to give to Ma for Christmas, and Ma and the girls work at the festive foods (including molasses candy made in the snow). Their aunt, uncle, and cousins come to spend Christmas with them, and the cousins teach them the Big Woods version of snow angels–climb on a stump, then fall face first into the snow to make a snow “picture” of themselves. They go to bed early–all the girls in one big bed–to sleep and wait for Santa to come, and they hang their stockings by the fireplace. Pa plays for them on his fiddle to get them to sleep, and they wake to find mittens and a peppermint stick in each stocking. Laura also receives a rag doll she names Charlotte. The adults exchange their own homemade gifts (“Santa Claus had not given them anything at all. Santa Claus did not give grown people presents, but that was not because they had not been good. Pa and Ma were good. It was because they were grown up, and grown people must give each other presents.”) After chores, Ma makes pancakes shaped like little men for the children, and the children spend the day looking at pictures in the Bible and animal pictures in another book. Their parents allow them to indulge at Christmas dinner, and then the cousins have to bundle up to head back home in the bobsled, and Laura reflects that it was a very happy Christmas. (This Christmas story and others from the series can be found in the anthology A Little House Christmas: Holiday Stories from the Little House Books.)

Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery (1908): Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. MontgomerySet in the late 1800s in a small town on Prince Edward Island, Canada, the Christmas part of the first Anne story doesn’t really talk much about Christmas itself at all! Anne and her classmates are preparing for a fundraising concert on Christmas night, and Anne will have several significant pieces to perform. Matthew notices that Anne isn’t dressed like all the other girls, and he decides to buy her a nice dress with puffed sleeves for Christmas, and their neighbor, Mrs. Lynde, helps by choosing the fabric and sewing the dress to surprise her. Anne wakes on Christmas morning to snow on the ground (“I’m so glad it’s white! Any other kind of Christmas just doesn’t seem real, does it?”) and Matthew’s surprise gift which brings her to tears. (No other gifts or special celebrations are mentioned, and that seems fitting with Marilla’s spartan way of approaching life.) The performance, which has nothing to do with Christmas, goes well, and both Matthew and Marilla are proud of Anne and begin to see that she has gifts that will need more than a local school to fully cultivate. (Anne, with her zest for life and the kind of personality that I envy, was my favorite literary character growing up–I even gave my GirlChild her name as a middle name!)

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C. S. LewisThe Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis (1950): Set in the English countryside during WWII and then, of course, in Narnia, the Christmas story in the land where there is “always winter and never Christmas” takes place in the chapter called “The Spell Begins to Break.” Now that the White Witch’s spell is failing, Father Christmas arrives and distributes useful gifts and a fully prepared tray of tea things to Mr. and Mrs. Beaver and the children. He is not just “funny and jolly” like he is depicted in our world, but his true self was “so big, and so glad, and so real that they all became quite still.” The episode is a short one, but it is a vital turning point in the story.

Ramona and Her Father, by Beverly Cleary (1977): Ramona and her Father, by Beverly ClearySet in Oregon in the middle of the 20th century, the Quimby family is experiencing hard times around Christmas because of Ramona’s father losing his job. Ramona is willing to give up a lot to make Christmas easier for her family, but having to wear a pair of faded pajamas as her sheep costume in the church pageant because her mother is too busy with work to sew her a proper costume is almost more than she can bear. A big girl steps in and saves Ramona’s confidence by painting a little black nose on her with eyeliner, and Ramona looks at her parents in the audience and sees her father’s love and once again feels secure despite the difficult times they’re coming through.

Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, by J. K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling (1997): Set in England in the 1990s, this Christmas episode is the first positive Christmas experience Harry has had. Staying behind at Hogwarts is by far more pleasant than returning to the Dursleys and their hand-me-down “gifts.” Hogwarts is decorated festively with holly and mistletoe and evergreens decorated magically. Expecting nothing but the celebratory food and fun on Christmas morning, Harry is delighted to find that he has received gifts from Hagrid (a hand-carved wooden flute), Mrs. Weasley (a hand-knitted sweater and homemade fudge), Hermione (a box of Chocolate Frogs), and the Cloak of Invisibility from an unknown giver. The Christmas dinner includes turkey, potatoes, chipolatas (pork sausages), peas, gravy, and cranberry sauce, and there are special “wizard crackers” (wizard versions of the classic British party favors). Dinner is followed by Christmas puddings and snowball fights outside.

 

A couple other books with Christmas events that I didn’t have a chance to read thoroughly to summarize:

In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, by Jean Shepherd (1966): Unclear if memoir or fiction, an adult book set in Indiana sometime in the early-mid-twentieth century–A Christmas Story (the “You’ll shoot your eye out!” movie) was adapted from a segment of this book.

The Dark Is Rising, by Susan Cooper (1973): Part of a fantasy series, set in modern (at the time) England.

The Giver, by Lois Lowry (1993): A dystopian novel set in the future.

If you know of any others, please feel free to leave the title in the comments!

 

 

 

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