Category Archives: reader input sought

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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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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Themed Third Thursday: Anthropomorphic Animals

With all the hubbub surrounding Hello Kitty lately (she’s not a cat, she’s a little girl! not a *human* little girl, sillies! but still not a cat! oh, no-no!) and with GirlChild’s suggestion of doing a post about animal books, I decided to feature books this month that have anthropomorphic animals as the main character(s). Yep, an-throw-poe-morf-ick. Animals imbued with human qualities to varying degrees. There is a broad spectrum of anthropomorphism represented in these books; some of the animals are only animal in form, some just talk but otherwise act and live like animals, some are animals living kind of like animals and kind of like humans at the same time…you get my drift. There’s variety. And I’m going to mostly talk about the books for older kids since picture books are absolutely brimming with anthropomorphic animals and are not hard to find!

Some of my favorite picture books that fit this theme are by Sandra Boynton and Mo Willems. I can only recall one human in a Boynton book (the guy who has fifteen animals), and Mo Willems’ Pigeon, Elephant & Piggie, and Cat the Cat series are all prime examples. I won’t go into all these books because there are so many, and it’s been done before…check the links on the author names to find my Themed Third Thursdays that are dedicated to their works! Other notable authors of well-known picture books featuring human-like animals are Anna Dewdney, Ian Falconer, and Arnold Lobel. Just browse your local library’s picture book shelves for a ton of additional examples by other talented authors; I’m sure you’ll be able to find your child’s favorite animal anthropomorphized there somewhere! Now on to the chapter book variety…

Abel's IslandAbel’s Island, by William Steig (1976): This 1977 Newbery Honor recipient tells the story of Abelard (Abel), a dapper mouse who gets separated from his wife, Amanda, during a rainstorm that interrupts a picnic. He gets stranded on an island and must find a way to both survive and escape his isolation to return to his wife. It is set in the early 1900s in a world where mouse-sized mice live like humans against the backdrop of a giant-scaled world around them. I recommended this book to more reluctant readers when I taught fifth grade because the length wasn’t intimidating and the content was exciting. While the independent reading level is middle to upper elementary, I think GirlChild and other early elementary children would also enjoy this somewhat brief, mostly gentle adventure story as a read-aloud (in part to help set the stage since the Edwardian era and its dress and customs are probably pretty foreign to them).

Geronimo Stilton #1: Lost TreasureGeronimo Stilton #1: Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye of the Emerald Eye, by Geronimo Stilton (2004): As confused as I am about the authorship of this book (apparently originally written in Italian (then translated to English) by Edizioni Piemme S.p.A. (apparently a publishing company) and “based on an original idea by Elisabetta Dami,” these books are all credited to Geronimo Stilton, the anthropomorphic mouse who is the editor of The Rodent’s Gazette, the main character, and the narrator of this series of books. He and a collection of other mice living in a mouse-scaled world have all sorts of adventures that range from escapades right in New Mouse City all the way to excitement in Egypt. Each book has a graphic novel feel with colorful illustrations, stylized text, and many full-page maps and diagrams. While GirlChild refuses to even try these books (and I’m actually not sure she could follow them independently because of her lack of journalism and cheese related background knowledge), my nieces seem to all love them. They’re recommended for upper primary to upper elementary readers. (I would not recommend these as read-alouds–there is too much to process visually that would be lost in an audiobook or read-aloud setting.) There are approximately a million of these (okay, more than 60 with the original series, specials, and spin-offs), so if you find a child who really loves these books, he or she will be set for a long, long time!


Charlotte's WebCharlotte’s Web, by E. B. White (1952): A winner of the Newbery Honor in 1953, Charlotte’s Web is a pretty well-known story where the animal characters primarily live and act like animals but have human-like conversations, feelings, and some behavior (weaving “SOME PIG!” into a web isn’t exactly a natural talent of spiders…). Most of the human characters cannot understand their speech, just Fern, but all the animals are able to communicate amongst one another. In case you’re not familiar with the book, Fern Arable convinces her father to let her raise the runt of the litter–Wilbur–by hand instead of weeding him out. When he’s old enough to be sold, Fern’s mother suggests selling him to Mr. Zuckerman, Fern’s uncle who lives nearby, so that Fern can still visit him. It is here on Zuckerman’s farm that Wilbur meets Charlotte, a spider who uses her unusual writing skills in a plan to save Wilbur from becoming Christmas dinner. GirlChild is afraid of reading this book since seeing the movie at her grandma’s house, but she’s pretty sensitive; I’d recommend this for a read-aloud or independent reading for middle elementary and up. Other books in a similar vein by this author include Stuart Little (the mouse born to a human family) and The Trumpet of the Swan (a voiceless trumpeter swan who learns to play the trumpet).

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMHby Robert C. O’Brien (1971): This time a 1972 Newbery Medal winner (I see a theme here–just how many Newbery medals and honors have been awarded to books with anthropomorphic animals in them?), my mother (we’ll call her Gramma’SchoolTeacher–get it? because she’s a retired elementary (grammar) school teacher and is a grandma (lazily pronounced “gramma” by everyone I know!)? yeah, I’m punny like that…) used this book in her sixth grade classroom as a literature tie-in to her civilizations unit in social studies and science. She says, “I read it with sixth graders because of the social studies and science connections, but it would be ok for younger kids too.  The sixth graders always seemed to enjoy it and we did art projects with it like drawing what they thought the main hall in the rats’ home looked like, the storerooms, etc.  Even made a huge diorama of it one year that was displayed for several months in the town library.” (I remember that diorama–the size of a door–from more than twenty years ago! It was pretty amazing! My mom was kind of a cool teacher. 😉 ) It’s about a regular mouse, Mrs. Frisby, a widow whose husband had escaped captivity as a lab animal with a group of rats. The scientists had been experimenting with extending lifespans and increasing intelligence in the rodents, and their work was, unexpectedly, so successful so quickly that the animals learned to read and escaped by following the printed directions on how to open their locked cages. The rats established their own civilization in an underground cave beneath a farm (from which they pilfered water, electricity, and food), and Mrs. Frisby comes to them for help when her son is ill. Eventually, Mrs. Frisby (nonenhanced, mind you, yet still a mouse who lives mostly like a mouse but talks and uses rudimentary furniture made from bits of brick or wood) ends up helping the highly-advanced rats when some of them expose the group’s existence and threaten their safety.

The UnderneathThe Underneath, by Kathi Appelt (2008): Another Newbery Honor book (from 2009), this book actually has multiple interwoven storylines, going back and forth between characters and time frames and settings, all linked together (eventually!) in one time and place and centering on the mother cat and her babies sheltering in The Underneath in the safety provided by the porch that’s guarded by the lonely hound dog, Ranger. The animals in the book don’t have conversations, per se, but there are blues songs that represent the dog’s baying, and the animals’ emotions and thoughts are described by a third-person narrator in a way that keeps them from being completely animal-like in their portrayal. The writing style is described as “lyrical”–lilting, fragmented, awash with imagery and emotion–and the seemingly random storylines weaving in and out of one another make this book rather complex despite the deceptively juvenile-targeted illustration style. Recommended for upper elementary and middle school readers, this would make a beautiful but lengthy read-aloud–perhaps the audiobook would be an especially good way to experience this deep and complicated story.

The Pig Scrolls, by Gryllus the Pig,The Pig Scrolls by Paul Shipton (2004): A healthy amount of background knowledge about Greek myths would do a reader of this absolutely pun-riddled, ridiculous tale good. The narrator–one of Odysseus’ crew that was turned into a pig by Circe (and elected to stay that way)–gets unwillingly wrapped up in an adventure brought on by an oracle of Apollo combined with the sudden silence of all the gods in all their temples. An assistant to the assistant pythia, a dirty and somewhat deranged young goatherd with surprisingly swift development, and, sporadically, an aspiring poet add to the journey from cowardly pig to, well, not-so-cowardly. But still a pig. For now. Because of the necessary background knowledge and the somewhat large number of characters and settings to keep straight, I’d recommend this unusual story for either independent readers in the upper elementary to middle school range or slightly younger readers who have a strong interest in and knowledge of Greek mythology. (And there’s a sequel!)

Warriors #1: Into the WildWarriors #1: Into the Wild, by Erin Hunter (2003): I admit that I have never actually read one of these all the way through, but I’ve had several students who always seemed to have one or more of these checked out of the school library. There are multiple series within the world created by the same author team (Erin Hunter is a pseudonym for a team of six authors), and all of the series appear to share a similar type of anthropomorphism (correct me if I’m wrong!); the animals live like real animals, have human-like thought and communication, and live in a world where there is a mystical magic of which the animals are aware and in which they participate. The Warriors branch of the series involves cats (mostly feral), Seekers focuses on bears, and Survivors (the newest series) seems to be about dogs. Written mainly for upper elementary through middle school level readers, this is another series where, once a reader is interested, there is plenty of material to keep on reading for a long, long time!

I know there are many, many other fantastic books and series that meet the anthropomorphic criteria, and I’d love to hear about some of them in the comments! There is no way for me to create an exhaustive list, however, so I just tried to get a sampling of some of the different kinds of anthropomorphism often found in juvenile and young adult literature. I hope you or your young reader can find something in this list to appeal or to point to something else appealing. Happy hairy reading!

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Themed Third Thursday: Grandparents Edition

My father officially retired at the beginning of this month after about a billion years (more or less–probably less) working for a local John Deere store. (Both GirlChild and BoyChild know that–in our family, at least!–the only real tractor is a stunning green!) In honor of his newly-free grandparenthood, I’m reviewing books this month about grandparents! (Also, this gives you tons of time to find that perfect book about grandparents before Grandparents’ Day in September!)

How to Babysit a GrandpaHow to Babysit a Grandpa, by Jean Reagan, illustrated by Lee Wildish (2012): As every little boy knows, sometimes he will have to babysit his grandfather. (*winkwink*) This little boy gives tips for what to do when a grandpa arrives (hide, then surprise him!), how to entertain him, what to feed him, and what to do during his naptime. Even BoyChild knows that you can’t just wait for a grandpa to wake up–you might have to yell, “Wake up, sleepyhead!” or crow, “Croc-o-dile-doo!” (BoyChild still isn’t great with the cockadoodledoo noise…) so that you can get cleaned up before your parents return! Saying goodbye is made easier when you give hugs and kisses, a picture you drew as a gift, and a request to babysit again soon. Cute illustrations complement the realistic depictions of what might go on in a little boy’s head while a grandpa is babysitting. I just might have to buy this book for BoyChild and his grandpas to read together, especially since my parents will be staying with our kids for a few days next month! (Also recently published by the author, How to Babysit a Grandma!)

Spot Visits his Grandparents, Spot Visits his Grandparentsby Eric Hill (1995): A typical Spot lift-the-flap book, this book follows Spot as he visits his grandparents and gets into some mischief with his grandfather (which they hide from his grandmother) while they are outside working in the garden and playing. Spot happens to find a ball in the garden that had belonged to his mother, and he happily shares his discovery with her when he returns home.

The Napping HouseThe Napping House, by Audrey Wood and Don Wood (1984): The cumulative nature of the story, where everything starts on a rainy day with a napping house and a cozy bed, leads to listener participation and prediction, and the illustrations (gently listing toward the reader as each page is turned, a subtle shift in perspective I didn’t even notice until almost the end of the book) provide comprehension clues and endless detail that make rereadings even more fun. This classic book has aged beautifully–while many children’s books get dated because of the illustrations, these are absolutely timeless! This was actually the first time I read this book to my children (I don’t know why!), and GirlChild was the first to be able to predict which napper would join the pile next, but BoyChild’s sharp eyes were the ones who figured out the flea! (GirlChild also predicted that the bed would break…but she was several pages too early in her prediction. 🙂 )

My Pop Pop and Me, My Pop Pop and Meby Irene Smalls, illustrated by Cathy Ann Johnson (2006): Onomatopoeia, repetition, and rhyme characterize this book about a little boy baking with his beloved Pop Pop. The illustrations are brimming over with the joyful togetherness of boy and grandfather, and they even clean up after themselves! The book includes a recipe for the Lemon Bar Cake Bake that they are making together in the book. The author has also written My Nana and Me, but I wasn’t able to find a copy of that title to review!

I'm Going to Grandma'sI’m Going to Grandma’s, by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke (2007): The little girl who is going to Grandma’s is very excited and enjoys time with her grandma and grandpa and the puppy, but she starts to get nervous as bedtime nears. Her grandmother shares with her the story of the patchwork quilt on her bed, how it was made by her grandmother’s grandmother out of pieces of outgrown clothing, and each patch had a story to tell. The little girl then peacefully drifts off to sleep, dreaming of a story quilt all her own. The rhyme scheme in this book has an AAAB, CCCB, DDDB continuing pattern throughout (each page ending with a word that rhymes with “night”), so it would likely make a good mentor text for teaching that sort of continuity in a multi-stanza poem. Mary Ann Hoberman is also the author of the You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You books and several poetry compilations.

Sleepover at Gramma’s House, Sleepover at Gramma's Houseby Barbara Joose, illustrated by Jan Jutte (2010): A little elephant girl is really excited to go visit her gramma because they “love each other so.” She and her grandmother do all sorts of silly and irresponsible things together, and they end the day sitting on the porch swing listening to a summer storm because “the very best way to fall asleep is inside a hug.” I would recommend this as a read-aloud suitable for preschoolers to early elementary, but the unusual vocabulary and flow of the text and the punctuation irregularities might make it difficult for the intended audience to read independently.

Grandpa GreenGrandpa Green, by Lane Smith (2011): Lane Smith may be best known for his illustrations for books by Jon Scieszka (at least to me!), but he is also the author-illustrator of other titles, like The Happy Hocky Family and It’s a Book. This book–a 2012 Caldecott Honor recipient–is very different from his usual bizarre humor, however. It is written as a child telling about his great-grandfather’s life, but the life events are illustrated as topiary trees that the boy is helping tend in an elaborate garden. The great-grandfather apparently uses the garden to help him remember the things that his advanced age would otherwise cause him to forget. The last touching illustration shows the little boy beginning to create his own topiary to help him remember: a life-sized version of his great-grandfather.

What! Cried Granny: An Almost Bedtime Story, What! Cried Grannyby Kate Lum, pictures by Adrian Johnson (1998): Patrick goes to his granny’s house for an overnight trip, but as Granny tries to send him to bed, he realizes he’s missing one thing after another–from a bed to a teddy bear–and his overzealous grandmother hand-crafts each missing item in this tall-tale of a bedtime delay story. (She actually shears some sheep, spins the yarn, knits a blanket, and dyes it when it becomes clear he has no blanket to tuck under his chin.) In the end, he’s lacking nothing…but it’s already daylight again. Poor Granny. (BoyChild didn’t like that she cries at the end!)

Singing with Momma LouSinging with Momma Lou, by Linda Jacobs Altman, illustrations by Larry Johnson (2002): Tamika doesn’t really like visiting Momma Lou in the nursing home every Sunday. Momma Lou used to be her confidante, but now that her grandmother is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, she has to remind Momma Lou who she is every time she comes in. After one particularly unhappy visit, Tamika’s father shares with her a scrapbook of her grandmother’s photographs and newspaper clippings, and Tamika decides to try to connect with her again through these mementos. She starts with the picture of Momma Lou holding Tamika as a baby and ends with sharing the clipping of Momma Lou and fellow protesters in jail after a civil rights demonstration. After that last one, Momma Lou no longer has any lucid moments, but Tamika takes the memory of that clipping and sings “We Shall Overcome,” the song they sang in jail and in the nursing home sitting room as they remembered the event, to make herself feel happier when she’s sad.

Zero Grandparents (A Jackson Friends Book), Zero Grandparentsby Michelle Edwards (2001): Second grader Calliope James is unhappy to find that her class will be celebrating Grandparents Day the next week since she no longer has any grandparents. She struggles with her feelings of embarrassment and exclusion, refusing her friends’ offers to share their grandparents with her. Finally, she finds a solution in sharing about one of her grandmothers, the one whom she most resembles and whose picture and belongings she brings to class with her, and her friends’ grandmothers tell her how proud her grandma would have been of her. The second of three books in the Jackson Friends series.

Whether your child calls his or her grandparents Grandma and Grandpa, Meemaw and Pawpaw, Nana and Papa, Oma and Opa, or any regional, language, or family variation in between, sharing these books about grandparents is a great way to keep their grandparents fresh in their minds and on their hearts! (There are a million other great books about grandparents out there, I know! Share some of your favorites in the comments!)

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The Night Before Christmas: A Sampling (Day 12)

There are too many versions of The Night Before Christmas to choose just one, so I thought–for the last of our Twelve Reviews of Christmas for 2013–I’d do mini reviews of several so you can have your pick!

The Night Before Christmas, a poem by Clement Moore, illustrated by Jan Brett

The Night Before Christmas, a poem by Clement Moore, illustrated by Jan Brett (1998): Illustrated in Brett’s signature style–bright colors, extreme detail, frames, and miniature side scenes–this book can’t be just read aloud. Each page offers a huge variety of images to study, and each one reveals a little more about the main image. In this one, a pug and a tabby cat can be found on most of the pages, and a child could spend forever looking for his friends’ names among the gift tags or finding images of the reindeer and elves doing silly things. (Uses “Merry Christmas to all” at the end and Donder for the second-to-last reindeer.)

The Night Before Christmas, with words by Clement Clarke Moore,The Night Before Christmas, words by Clement Clarke Moore, with pictures by Raquel Jaramillo with pictures by Raquel Jaramillo (2001): Framed as a family photo album found hidden in the floorboards of an old home, this book features sepia-tone photographs (on pages made to look aged with antique borders and weathered edges on the photos) of a family of five experiencing a visit from St. Nick. Their visitor is small (perhaps the height of a child–“a right jolly old elf”), can float in the air, and interacts with the whole family as he fills their stockings. (Uses “Happy Christmas to all” at the end and Donder for the second-to-last reindeer.)

The Night Before Christmas, performed by Peter, Paul and Mary, written by Clement C. Moore, paintings by Eric PuybaretThe Night Before Christmas, performed by Peter, Paul and Mary, written by Clement C. Moore, paintings by Eric Puybaret (2010): If you play the accompanying CD, you can have Mary dramatically read you the story (her voice is a little peculiar) while one (or both) of the others hums and strums in the background. The second track is one of the males (Peter, I think) singing the words to the poem. (I prefer this track!) There’s a third track of a song called “A’Soalin” as well. The art looks almost like it is a 3-D collage piece but the illustrator apparently acrylic on linen. I’m not sure how I feel about some of the little details (like the faces in the smoke from the chimneys and the odd little hats on the reindeer), but I do love the rooftops and swirls of snow in many of the pictures, and the outdoor scenes are serene and lovely. (Uses “Merry Christmas to all” at the end and Donner for the second-to-last reindeer.)

The Night Before Christmas, retold and illustrated by Rachel Isadora (2009):The Night Before Christmas, retold and illustrated by Rachel Isadora Set in an African village, I wasn’t able to find what exactly made this “retold,” but the art is definitely unique for this title! (Santa has dreads and is wearing some funky orange giraffe-print pants!) While it looks pretty much like it’s all collage, tell-tale brushstrokes and swirls give away the oil paints that were used in addition to printed paper and palette paper. My favorite image is the last page where a pudgy little girl, surrounded by her family, is pointing up at Santa’s sleigh as it passes in front of the moon. (Uses “Happy Christmas to all” and Donder for the second-to-last reindeer.)

The Night Before Christmas, by Clement  Moore, illustrated by Tomie de PaolaThe Night Before Christmas, by Clement Moore, illustrated by Tomie de Paola (1980): Tomie de Paola’s trademark style is clearly evident throughout this version. It is set in (according to the book flap) New England in the mid-nineteenth century, so the setting is relatively austere and the decorations simple. The illustrations are set on the page with the text within borders that give each page the appearance of being made of quilt squares. (Uses “Happy Christmas to all” and Donder for the second-to-last reindeer.)

The Night Before Christmas, by Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Cheryl Harness (1989):The Night Before Christmas, by Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Cheryl Harness If the home in the de Paola version is simple, this one is opulant! The setting is Victorian, and there is a vast difference between this and the New England home. Shelves of books, striped wallpaper, vast drapery, ornate carvings, lacy doilies…it’s nearly overwhelming! Despite all that, it kind of seems to fit the mental image I have of that poem’s setting, and it is Christmas-card gorgeous, so it’s worth a look as well! (Uses “Happy Christmas to all” at the end and Donder for the second-to-last reindeer.)

Librarian's Night Before Christmas, by David Davis, illustrated by Jim HarrisLibrarian’s Night Before Christmas, by David Davis, illustrated by Jim Harris (2007): I’ll leave you with just one more book–more for grown-ups than the kids (they don’t get references to library funding!)–as a thanks to all the librarians and clerks who had to gather up my vast holds list so I could write these reviews! The book is funny and full of inside jokes and literary references, and it would be a perfect gift for that librarian-in-training on your gift list this year! Make sure you thank your local guardians of information for the great work they do all year!

Merry Christmas to all (unless you want a Happy Christmas instead!), and to all a good night!

(Have a favorite version of this story that I haven’t mentioned? Tell me in the comments!)


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Topsy and Tim’s Peanut Crunchies (aka, Health Cookies by my Aunt Lois)

So, GirlChild starts school tomorrow, and, as a surprise, I am recreating Tim’s lunch from Topsy and Tim: New Lunchboxes, by Jean and Gareth Adamson. (I  would have done Topsy’s lunch, but GirlChild is really not fond of cheese and cucumber sandwiches!) I mentioned in my post about the series that I wasn’t able to find a recipe for the peanut crunchies cookies that their mummy makes for them to take in their lunchboxes the first time they stay at school for lunch, but as I was considering GirlChild’s first lunch at school, I remembered these cookies that my family has made for ages. We call them Health Cookies, but it’s pretty clear from the list of ingredients that “healthy” meant something very different back in the days of my Great Aunt Lois! 🙂 They may not be exactly what the Adamsons called peanut crunchies, but they have peanuts and are crunchy, so they’ll do!

Here’s the recipe for anyone who might want to try their own version of peanut crunchies!

Topsy and Tim’s Peanut Crunchies (aka, Health Cookies by my Aunt Lois)

Cream together:
1 c. margarine or butter
1 c. granulated sugar
1 c. brown sugar (packed)
2 eggs

Then mix in:
1 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
3 c. oatmeal
1 c. salted peanuts

Roll in small balls (smaller than a walnut–I used a cookie scoop and broke the scoop in half to make the small ones for GirlChild’s lunch), then roll in crushed cereal (like Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes, or Chex) and place on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10-15 minutes. Cookies will be golden brown and chewy. Enjoy!

(If someone who knows how to convert recipes and measurements for bakers outside of the US, I would be most delighted to have the “translation” in the comments!)

2013 September 040

GirlChild’s lunchbox includes a tuna sandwich, a banana, some green grapes, two peanut crunchies, and fruit juice (aka, orange juice)–just like Tim’s! (It also includes a color photocopy of the page from the book that shows their lunches so that she’ll be sure to know why I packed what I did!) Since she’s actually become rather nervous about starting now that it’s finally here, I hope this little bit of encouragement from Topsy and Tim will help her get through her first day happy!

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Themed Third Thursday: Alphabet Edition

GirlChild starts kindergarten next month (*gulp!*), and although she already knows her alphabet, there’s never any harm in reviewing (or getting more practice recognizing the sounds in different words)! Not all alphabet books are created equal, of course, and parents, teachers, and librarians have many different motivations for choosing an alphabet book for a child (or children). For that reason, I’ll try to highlight the concepts introduced or reinforced by each title and suggest what kind of reader might find each book useful.

Dr. Seuss’s ABC, by Dr. Seuss (1963/1991): This has always been my favorite alphabet book. As a child, I had it memorized. (My favorite page was the one with the “[f]our fluffy feathers on a Fiffer-feffer-feff.”) As an adult, this is always the book I give to babies at book showers (I was a teacher and library student; it happens often!), and I re-memorized it when GirlChild was small. We read and reread this book so many times that, before she was two, GirlChild could quote vast passages from it from memory as well. Many adults struggle with the made-up words and unusual cadences in Dr. Seuss’s books, but the phonetic nonsense language has always been a draw for me, and you get the rhythm down once you’ve read it a time or two aloud. That said, this book is best shared as a read-aloud with young children to give them a feel for the sounds of the letters while experiencing Dr. Seuss’s playful writing style and art. (I do NOT recommend getting the board book version if you are already familiar with the original; there are significant changes to some of the images and text (causing a disruption in the rhythm and rhyme), and you will be disappointed. If you’re not already familiar with the book, it’s probably not so big a deal.) One of the biggest positives of this book is the repetition of the name of the key letter as a part of the rhyme that uses it so that the sound of the letter and the name of the letter are linked in the hearer’s mind.

Augie to Zebra: An Alphabet Book!, by Kate Endle and Caspar Babypants (2012): Access the free MP3 download of Caspar Babypants (who is otherwise known as Chris Ballew, the illustrator’s husband and a Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter) performing a reading of the book set to music, and you have a multimedia alphabet experience! Each page features a piece of collage art that illustrates the simple sentence using each letter, like “Augie Awards the Ape” for A. In addition to the words in the sentence, each image also includes a variety of other objects or adjectives starting with that letter. (For the adult who wants assistance, there’s a listing in the back of the book with each “hidden” alphabet word…for instance, apple, ant, acorn, and arrow for A.) The audio version is pretty well paced for a basic read-through, but it does go too fast to find all the other words in the pictures, so independent or adult-assisted perusal of the illustrations after an individual or group listening experience would help a child practice identifying words that start with each letter. The names used reflect a variety of cultures and nationalities, and a teacher of early elementary students could use this book as a springboard for having students write and illustrate an alphabet page with their own names.

A Is for Angry: An Animal and Adjective Alphabet, by Sandra Boynton (1987): I included this book in my Themed Third Thursday: Feelings Edition post because each letter is represented by an adjective in “A is for angry” format, and many of the adjectives represent emotions. In addition to the stated adjective, the illustration includes one or more animals (labeled so you don’t have to try to figure out what the upside-down animal is (an unau)) that start with the appropriate letter  demonstrating the adjective. Because I love Sandra Boynton’s work, I love this book, but it isn’t one that I would read over and over again. There is very little text on each page, but the adjectives are somewhat sophisticated, so it’s really not for independent reading for the alphabet-learning crowd. Still, it’s a great way to expand a young child’s vocabulary to include words beyond “nice” and “mean,” “mad” and “happy”!

abcd: An Alphabet Book of Cats and Dogs, by Sheila Moxley (2001): Sheila Moxley apparently has become more computer savvy since she published this book with the note that “[n]o computers were used in the creation of the art” because she now has a blog and a webpage featuring her art. (I actually prefer most of her other art to the cat and dog collage art in this book, but my children beg to differ.) Each page has the upper and lowercase letter, an alliterative sentence using that page’s letter, and an illustration featuring a cat or dog photograph with painted additions to make the animal appear to be doing what the sentence says. BoyChild went nuts over the dogs and cats, barking and meowing like crazy, so he actually sat to listen to the whole thing and interacted with the illustrations. GirlChild liked it, too–Daddy *is* a vet!–but she was much less…enthusiastic…than BoyChild. BoyChild’s favorite page is where “Renée races around in her rocket ship.”

Picture a Letter, by Brad Sneed (2002): My husband has had to share this book with each of our kids multiple times since we checked it out at the library–they both love it! Each page features a full-color letter made from something that starts with that letter, usually a little warped to fit the shape (like the acrobat made into an A and Zeus in the shape of a Z). Behind the feature letter/item, there is a detailed black-and-white illustration of the rest of the scene with a number of other things that start with that letter. (Some are really obscure, but there is a list at the back of the book, the feature word written in bold capital letters, to figure out the rest if you’re stuck.) Each page also has a small mouse pulling a wagon full of stacked letters at the bottom, and it deposits each new letter so that readers can see the alphabet progressing as they read. (There’s a second mouse somewhere in the illustration as well, and that gives young readers who may not know what some of the other items are have something to look for on each page.) Although there are no words in the book, many of the item names are too sophisticated for your average alphabet-learner, so this is good either for reading with a child or for an older reader to explore independently.

Alphabeasties and Other Amazing Types, by Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss (2009): I think this is my new favorite alphabet book for the main reason that it introduces children to letters in different typefaces so that they can learn to read/interpret whatever crazy font they encounter in life! One of my biggest pet peeves (I have plenty, as my associates and relatives will attest!) with books/materials for very new readers is the use of fonts with lower case a with “a little hood” (as this book describes it) when pretty much all new writers are taught the basic circle-and-line (geometric) type of a when they are learning to write; the other a (like this one!) doesn’t even look like the same letter to them!  (GirlChild used to think it was an upside-down lowercase g. <– Look, another bizarre-looking typed letter!) This book plays with the letters by using a variety of each one to create the shape of an animal that begins with that letter, showcases different, somewhat unusual fonts with a description that utilizes the featured letter, and includes a number of other interactive elements throughout. The publisher-suggested range of preschool to grade 3 seems about right, and I would recommend it for use one-on-one or in a classroom group exploration with the opportunity for the students to peruse it independently after the class share so they can become familiar with the letters and see all the details of the illustrations.

Alphabet Books for Seasonal or Unit Studies:

Eating the Alphabet: Fruits and Vegetables from A to Z, by Lois Ehlert (1989): Using large, bright watercolor paintings, Lois Ehlert records and illustrates her adventure in the produce department that took her a full year to complete! (She visited the grocery store every two weeks to pick up new fruits and vegetables that began with the next successive letter in the alphabet.) Each fruit or vegetable is pictured and named in all capital letters and all lower-case letters on the appropriate letter page. While much of the produce is likely familiar, there will surely be some surprises. At the back of the book is an appendix with a brief description of Ehlert’s research findings about the origins of each fruit or vegetable. This alphabet book would be a great addition to a unit on healthy foods, a letter-of-the-week experience, or a botany or plant unit (even for older students).

The Graphic Alphabet, by David Pelletier (1996): This Caldecott Honor Book doesn’t have much in the way of content, but the stylized letters that represent the chosen word (a k made to look like tied string to show the word “knot”) make this book perfect for inclusion in an art center or for use in art class (although I don’t know that it would be much of a read-aloud).

Gone Wild: An Endangered Animal Alphabet, by David McLimans (2006): Another Caldecott Honor Book, I have to say that the book could be more useful for instruction if there were actual photographs of the animals referenced, but the scientific information included (both in a sidebar with a basic drawing of the animal and in the appendix) would be interesting to budding ecologists or zoologists, and it would be useful to include in a unit about endangered species or conservation (particularly as a springboard for choosing an animal to research for that topic).

Country Road ABC: An Illustrated Journey Through America’s Farmland, by Arthur Geisert (2010): Clearly, this book has a farm theme, but it’s not your basic “A is for animal” kind. (A is actually for ammonia fertilizer…) There is a “farm glossary” at the end as well as acknowledgements that suggest that each of the detailed illustrations represents a real place! Good for a higher-level farm unit or for comparing and contrasting city versus country living.

City Seen from A to Z, by Rachel Isadora (1983): Although the illustrations seem somewhat dated (I hope New Yorkers don’t dress like this anymore, at least!), the concepts and quality of the art really help convey city life accurately. A simple word (“Art” for instance) accompanies a black-and-white, detailed drawing of a city scene for each letter. Look for a paperback copy rather than an original hardback for cost effectiveness. ABCers, by Carole Lexa Schaefer, illustrated by Pierr Morgan (2012) is another title that paints a rosier (and more simplified) picture of the city, perhaps for a younger audience. Each letter features a description of the child(ren) pictured (like “F is for Friend greeters” for a page showing children hugging when they meet at a park) that seem a little forced, but they are appropriate and understandable for young readers.

A Fabulous Fair Alphabet, by Debra Frasier (2010): Perhaps because we’ve hit two fairs in the last two weekends, this book caught my attention on the shelves! Each illustration is a collage made using, in part, photographs of letters that were taken at fairs (including the State Fair of Texas, the source of the letters J, Q, and X, one we visited several times in the last few years while we lived near Dallas!) to write the words in ransom letter style. While this book may not be a particularly useful book in an educational setting, it is certainly good for reminiscing with your children about (or preparing them for) the fair!

A Is for Autumn, by Robert Maass (2011): Featuring photographs of fall-themed items or scenes along with a sentence beginning “A is for…” (etc.), this is just one possible choice for seasonally-themed alphabet books! Try searching “alphabet” along with the seasonal name of your choice in your library’s catalog!

L Is for Lincoln: An Illinois Alphabet, by Kathy-Jo Wargin, illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen (2000): While this was the title I remembered best (being from Illinois originally), there are many state-based alphabet books available in this series (Discover America State by State) as well as many other geography-based alphabet books (again, just search “alphabet” and the name of the state, country, or continent you’re trying to find!). Perfect for state studies!

Are there any other alphabet books that you and your kids really love? Share in the comments!

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