Category Archives: online resources

Themed Third Throwback Thursday: 1900-1909

I’m not sure what inspired this series of Themed Third Thursdays. It might have been having an old book recommended to me by a friend (and having my daughter read it and love it). It might have been picking up an old favorite on audiobook for my kids to experience for the first time. It might have been all those #TBT hashtags on old photos my friends post on Facebook. Whatever the initial reason, I’ve chosen to highlight a decade a month this year of old books that seem to have staying power–they remain, after the passage of years, classics that are read and reread by each new generation of readers.

[1900 to 1909 book list]

To give you a vague sense of when-in-the-world this was, here are some highlights of the decade from a list I found on about.com!

1901–first Nobel prizes awarded

1902–the teddy bear is created

1903–the first silent narrative movie, The Great Train Robbery, is produced

1904–the New York City subway opens

1905–Einstein proposes his Theory of Relativity

1906–the San Francisco earthquake (find a book about it here or here!)

1908–Ford introduces the Model-T

1909–plastic is invented

The Wonderful Wizard of OzThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum (1900): I can’t remember if I watched the movies first or if my mom read these books to us, but I know that this was GirlChild’s first exposure to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz! I picked a copy up at the library (I had read it in the past ten years for a library class, but I wanted a refresher), and I left it in my bag. After sleeping in late on a Saturday morning, I woke to find that GirlChild was all the way to the part where they discover that the Wizard is just a man! Not too long after that, however, she got scared by the continuing plot, and she decided to stop and wait for me to finish it with her. Like many books from this era, it doesn’t shy away from harsh reality (whether real reality or realistic fantasy reality), but, unlike many traditional European fairy tales (and this was intended as a new American fairy tale by the author!), it doesn’t depend on fear and dwell on the grim(m). Probably best for middle to upper elementary readers, there is a whole series for the child who latches on to this one!

Just So Stories, by Rudyard Kipling Just So Stories(1902): This collection of “pourquois” or origin stories was written and illustrated by the author of such other famous works at Captains Courageous and The Jungle Book. It contains eleven stories that explain how something came to be (such as the camel to have his hump, the elephant his trunk, and so on). While I don’t recall ever reading this book in its entirety, I am sure that several of the stories turned up in reading textbooks throughout my childhood (although none in particular stuck with me, the titles feel really familiar). A note that was written to go along with the 1978 edition of the book reminds us: “The language and references are those of Kipling; though they are no longer in vogue, they are of historical interest and literary note.” Basically, there are some really out-of-date terms and ideas in the book, particularly racial, but there is still value in the collection. Modern readers will, of course, cringe over some parts, and it’s definitely helpful to teach our children and students how to critically read a text to sort out what’s quality writing and content and what’s the result of the thinking of a different time and place. Still, I’d recommend caution in introducing these stories as-is to children with less mature critical thinking skills and discernment without also discussing what is now considered stereotypical or derogatory, and being selective about which stories to share until an appropriate level of maturity is reached might also be wise. (Also, this may be the earliest version of, “Don’t say I never gave you anything!” in print, found in the camel story.)

The Tale of Peter RabbitThe Tale of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter (1902): BoyChild was kind of traumatized by this one! Admittedly, he’s been sick, so his tolerance for stress is low, but discovering that Peter’s father has been made into a pie and watching Peter’s panic as Mr. McGregor chases him through the garden are kind of high-intensity when the only exposure one has had to Peter Rabbit has been the off episode of the Nick Jr. show (in which, BoyChild informs me, Peter does not wear the same jacket, and his dad isn’t in a pie). Still, as far as enduring stories, Beatrix Potter’s works have survived a century and are still household names! Best as a read-aloud for preschool and early elementary, the basic premise is that naughty Peter Rabbit intentionally disobeys his mother and seeks out the one place she told him to avoid: Mr. McGregor’s garden. There he is chased by Mr. McGregor and ends up losing his shoes, his coat, and almost his life! When he finally escapes after several very close calls, he runs home and passes out in exhaustion while his well-behaved sisters enjoy a lovely dinner in peace.

The Call of the Wild, The Call of the Wildby Jack London (1903): While this is not a book whose contents stuck strongly with me (since I’m not overly attached to the survivalism genre), it is still a book that resonates strongly with many readers. It reminds me, in part, of Black Beauty in that it tells the story of an animal who passes from owner to owner, some good, some bad, some foolish, some reasonable. Buck, the hero of the story, is a mixed breed dog, half St. Bernard, half Scottish shepherd (Scotch collie) who begins life as a family pet. He is stolen, however, and sold, becoming a sled dog, mail dog, and a miner’s companion and protector. After his last owner is killed (and he kills the group of tribesmen who murdered him), he bests and then joins a wolf pack, and legend tells of a Ghost Dog who returns every year to a particular spot, the place where Buck lost his last and best owner, and who leads the pack in the night. Although a short book, this is definitely not for very young readers. The author spent nearly a year in the Yukon before writing this book, so the realism is intense and gritty, and the book and his others are likely best for upper elementary and older readers (unless, of course, your reader has a very strong stomach and isn’t prone to nightmares). London seems very much like a forerunner to more modern authors like Gary Paulsen.

A Little PrincessA Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1905): Though technically written and published as a magazine serial story before the 1900s, it was still first published in its entirety during the right decade! In the year since I originally wrote about it as part of my Princess Possibilities post, GirlChild has read it herself and enjoyed it. She even handled the father’s death relatively well and warned BoyChild about it when we watched the movie (which could have been so much better if they had actually stuck with the book instead of completely warping part of the plot!). For a little refresher if you don’t want to wade through the original post, Sara Crewe is a rich and precocious young child who is sent by her English officer father to a boarding school in London because India isn’t considered a healthy environment for children. (I’m not sure what they made of all the Indian children who probably thrived while living there…) While she is at the school, her lively imagination and loving inclusiveness endear her to everyone but the most hard-hearted of the other occupants of the seminary. Her father, sadly, makes a bad business deal and, overcome with stress and illness, dies. His partner, who feels responsible for his involvement and death, actually ends up making money from the deal that originally went sour, but his health is also not good, so he takes a house in London while he searches for Captain Crewe’s only living heir, his daughter Sara. Through coincidence (and what is hinted to be a little Indian magic, I think), he eventually discovers her living next door, reduced to servitude after her father’s loss, and adopts her into his home (and takes the scullery maid, Becky, with her to be her companion). It is an amazing story of taking life as it comes, showing compassion and empathy to all you encounter, and holding your head high no matter your circumstances.

Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Green Gablesby L. M. Montgomery (1908): This is, by far, my favorite of all books. I even saddled GirlChild with a middle name in its honor! I was introduced to Anne of Green Gables in second grade when I told my teacher that I had already read all of the books on her classroom bookshelf. She brought in a little box of books to keep behind her desk for me, and Mr. Popper’s Penguins and Anne of Green Gables were among them! (They are the only two I remember, but it was a whole box just for me!) I don’t know if it was an abridged version or if I really actually read the whole thing as a second grader, but this is where my whole family first came into contact with this book and the series (the entirety of which my mother then proceeded to read aloud to the three of us kids). I longed to be like Anne; her openness, confidence, and imagination drew me in. I named two of our fish Silver Scales and Green Gillbert (punny misspelling intentional!) as inspired by her, and my third grade (and subsequent) writing notebooks were full of rip-offs and inspired-by stories. The Megan Follows miniseries captivated (and annoyed–plot changes, ugh!) us. Even as recently as this week, the Internet is abuzz with news that a new miniseries is in the works! That, my friends, is staying power. (Oh, a quick summary: Anne is a red-headed, 11-year-old, strong-willed orphan girl accidentally adopted by an elderly brother and sister (when they meant to adopt a boy to help with farm work). Shy Matthew takes to her first, admiring her shining spirit, and stoic Marilla even finds herself caring more for her than she believes any person should care for things of this Earth. She brings light and life to Green Gables and the whole town, perhaps the whole of Prince Edward Island, and it’s hard to imagine anyone not loving this feisty girl in all her vulnerable and vivacious wonder! (Not surprisingly, I see a lot of her in her partial namesake, GirlChild Anne!))

All of these works are over 100 years old. Newbery and Caldecott Awards had not yet started being awarded when they were written. World War I was yet to come. Even my grandparents had not yet been born! Yet they remain perennial favorites, beloved, passed on, and studied for the value they’ve contributed to life and literature–and continue to contribute!

 

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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 http://www.secretlifeofsquirrels.com, 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!

Nonfiction:

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 http://www.av2books.com 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 factsurfer.com (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.

Other:

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: 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]

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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?”).

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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)

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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!)

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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!)

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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!

2015August_033

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 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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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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Bright Christmas: An Angel Remembers, by Andrew Clements, illustrated by Kate Kiesler

Bright Christmas: An Angel Remembers

Bright Christmas: An Angel Remembers, by Andrew Clements, illustrated by Kate Kiesler (1996)

To start off this year’s twelve reviews of Christmas, why not pick up right where we left off…with Andrew Clements!

The story is told from the point of view of an angel who clearly remembers this one special night, the night that “the great truth came to the earth once and for all.” He looks back at other things angels have announced, remembering how they were pieces of the revelation, pointing toward this one amazing night. He speaks of the star, of Joseph and Mary, of the shepherds, and of the light shining in the darkness–Jesus. The illustrations are done in oil paint and are soft but realistic (the illustrator put effort into making sure the setting was archeologically accurate to the time period and location). The perspective of the illustrations changes between what the angels might have seen to the point of view of someone who was watching the whole story unfold. The angels seem to be depicted in the form of white birds, mostly out of focus or shadowed in darkness or shining so brightly that their shape is unclear. The one clear image is represented by a single white feather lying on the ground next to Jesus in the manger, a reminder that an angel was there.

As I read this book to my kids, I couldn’t help thinking about what a great performance piece it would be. For very young children, someone dressed as the traditional image of an angel (white robe, wings, you know) could read the story aloud and share the pictures as part of a Christmas story time or before a Christmas party. It would also be a beautiful monologue for a Christmas performance at church (given the right permissions were sought), and although it would be difficult to project the original artwork that would help to tell the story, there might be possibilities for actors to present tableaus to represent the different scenes. (Its focus on how the Christmas event is part of God’s revelation throughout history reminded me strongly of Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus by The Skit Guys. It’s available for purchase with licensing information and all that and could maybe be used as part of the same production as a performance of this book.)

BoyChild’s Reaction: BoyChild ran to get our Little People Mary and Jesus figures and compared them to the pictures in the book as I was reading. I like that he’s making the connection (and learning that the visual representations of the characters aren’t always going to be the same because no one knows exactly what they looked like), but I do wish he’d stop saying “Baby Moses” every time before he corrects himself (or I correct him) to “Baby Jesus”! He was more than happy to sit through a second reading of the book, and I bet he would ask for it again if we didn’t have to return it to the library because our renewals have all expired!

GirlChild’s Reaction: GirlChild loved the book, too. I think reading it aloud first is the best choice because of the first-person point of view and the performance aspect of it, but I’m sure she would have enjoyed it reading it independently as well. GirlChild, as always, was tuned in most to the emotions of the book and focused on the page about Mary. The text never specifically said that Mary was happy (and that illustration was the least enjoyable to me–I don’t think it quite conveys the spirit of the text because she looks a little…confused), but that is what GirlChild got out of the description of Mary anyway, and that was the intent. Considering both of their interaction with the text, I would go ahead and recommend this book for preschool to elementary as a read-aloud or performance piece. I’m so glad I found it!

 

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Fun Fourth Friday: Halloween Book Blog Round-up

Well, wow. I promised an Andrew Clements themed post, and then we took a weekend trip, BoyChild got a cold, then BoyChild’s sinus issue changed into his asthmatic cough, and none of us have gotten any decent sleep for several days. Between necessary errands, a trip to the doctor, and helping with preparations for the festival at GirlChild’s school this evening, I just haven’t had the chance to give the books the attention they deserve. Therefore, I’m serving up leftovers, so to speak–I’m linking you to other blogs that have reviewed Halloween-themed books for kids so you can at least get something useful from my blog this month! (All blogs were found via Pinterest.)

Scary and Scary-ish Halloween Books on Imagination Soup: This list of books about Halloween is for ages two to twelve. It includes not-scary picture books, a Halloween craft and recipe book, and scarier chapter books.

Halloween Books That Won’t Give Your Child Nightmares on No Time for Flash Cards: I’ve linked this blog before, and here’s another goodie–a list of easy-on-the-spooky picture books about Halloween. Includes contributions by many favorite children’s authors, like Jane Yolen, Laura Numeroff, and Karen Katz.

Halloween Books and Crafts to Match on No Time for Flashcards: Not reviews on this No Time for Flashcards entry, but each book and its link is paired with a craft (image shown so you know what you’re considering) and its link. Perfect for family or small-group activities at the library or in the classroom!

Halloween Book Countdown on Simply Kierste: While it’s a little late this year for the whole one-book-a-day countdown to Halloween that this family does, there are a number of Halloween and pumpkin-themed books here from which to choose–thirty-one, to be exact! The books aren’t reviewed (the post is mostly a description of the tradition), but there are links to the Amazon pages for each of the books she uses so you can check them out and decide for yourself (and maybe give it a go next year!).

Best Kids’ Halloween Books {a children’s librarian’s list} on Modern Parents Messy Kids: Just seven books long, this selective list suggests a good mixture of old and new, artsy and simple, funny and spooky.

Halloween Books for Preschoolers on Little Us: Most of the books on this list are unique (although there are a few repeats from other blogs), and I really like the looks of Are You My Mummy? (GirlChild always called the mummy rubber duck we had the “mommy duck” because the only use of the word “mummy” she knew at that time was from Topsy and Tim…) The summaries are apparently taken from the front flap or back cover of the books, so you get a good idea about each of the titles from which to choose.

There are many, MANY more lists from which to choose, and I’ll let you peruse them on your own. Here’s a link to my Pinterest search that you can use to discover the perfect Halloween books for your family!

(Don’t forget to visit your local IHOP to let your kids try out their Scary Face pancakes this year–free on Halloween at participating restaurants! My kids love them!)

GirlChild's scary face pancake (2013, age 5)

GirlChild’s scary face pancake (2013, age 5)

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Filed under book tie-in activity/recipe, online resources, teaching suggestion, theme