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, 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 (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 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 (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 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 (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.
Woolbur, 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 Peet (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 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, 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.
What 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, by 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 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, illustrated 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.)