Category Archives: recommendation

Fun Fourth Friday: Bookworm Gardens

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

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

[Bookworm Gardens book list]


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


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

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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

(20)12 Reviews of Christmas Wrap-Up

Now that the (20)12 Reviews of Christmas are all done, it’s time for the wrap-up! Here you’ll find the list with links to all the reviews, a list of some additional titles you might want to give a try, and a link to last year’s wrap-up, too!

12. Christmas Is Here, by Lauren Castillo
11. That’s the Spirit, Claude, by Joan Lowery Nixon, pictures by Tracey Campbell Pearson
10. The All-I’ll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll, by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
9. Christmas Time, by Gail Gibbons
8. Dragon’s Merry Christmas, by Dav Pilkey
7. 10 Trim-the-Tree’ers: A Holiday Counting Book, by Janet Schulman, illustrated by Linda Davick
6. A Christmas like Helen’s, by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock, illustrated by Mary Azarian
5. Minerva Louise on Christmas Eve, by Janet Morgan Stoeke
4. Merry Christmas Everywhere!, by Arlene Erlbach with Herb Erlbach, illustrated by Sharon Lane Holm
3. Llama Llama Holiday Drama, by Anna Dewdney
2. A Newbery Christmas, selected by Martin H. Greenburg and Charles G. Waugh
1. Emily’s Christmas Gifts, by Cindy Post Senning and Peggy Post, illustrated by Steve Björkman

Here’s the link to last year’s Christmas Wrap-Up.

Here are some other possibilities for your family to consider:

Fancy Nancy: Splendiferous Christmas

For small wordsmiths who also like things a little fancy:
Fancy Nancy: Splendiferous Christmas
, written by Jane O’Connor,
illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser

Fancy Nancy loves all things fancy (including fancy words–just like GirlChild!), and she and her grandfather deal with a disappointing mishap with calm and creativity.

For children who love to bake Christmas cookies and share:
The Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitcher, by Robert Kraus, illustrated by Vip

Highly rated on Amazon as a book parents remember and want to share with their children, this is the new 2010 reprint of an old favorite.

Christmas with the Mousekins

For kids who like to read and do:
Christmas with the Mousekins, by Maggie Smith

A mouse family prepares for Christmas in this book that is billed as “a story with crafts, recipes, poems, and more!”

The Animals' Christmas Eve (Little Golden Book)

For children to count (animals) and recount the story of Jesus’ birth:
The Animals’ Christmas Eve, by Gale Weirsum,
illustrated by Alex Steele Morgan

Rhyming verse is used first by one hen, then two doves, and so on, to tell about the birth of Jesus long ago.

Christmas Presents: Holiday Poetry (I Can Read Book 2)

For early readers who love poetry and presents:
Christmas Presents: Holiday Poetry, selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins,
pictures by Melanie Hall

Includes twelve poems–both religious and secular–about Christmas for young readers and listeners.

How Do Dinosaurs Say Merry Christmas?

For the dinosaur lover in your life:
How Do Dinosaurs Say Merry Christmas?, by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague

Typical of the “How Do Dinosaurs…?” series, rhetorical questions regarding dinosaur choices introduce poor choices then opt for the better behavior in the end. (Also available, How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah?)

There are many, many other options out there–some good, some not so good–so you should check out your library’s catalog or holiday shelf for the best books for your family to share! As for me, I’ll go ahead and wish you all a merry Christmas and may God bless you richly this Christmas season!


Filed under recommendation, theme

Themed Third Thursday: Give the Gift of Books

I know that I have forgotten many of the books that I loved as a child, and I’ve even forgotten what books GirlChild loved when she was a baby (until I happen to pull one out for BoyChild and find that he has the same fascination!), and I’m still working on being up on all the newest books for kids. For baby showers, I almost always get Dr. Seuss’s ABC (sometimes in both original and board book editions since the board book is different!) because that is one book I do remember loving! So for this latest Themed Third Thursday, I asked my friends and the Internet what books or authors children in different age groups might love. Here are some of the suggestions! (Links in green are links to my previous blog posts about that suggestion (which also have links to Amazon); regular links link to Amazon or Barnes & Noble).

Birth to Toddler:

The most important thing to remember is durability; always go for a board book if you can!

Preschool to Kindergarten:

  • Topsy and Tim series, by Jean and Gareth Adamson–These first experience books are perfect for the three to five year old range, and the fact that they’re published in the UK means that there are some fun cultural and vocabulary differences that you can discuss!
  • Ladybug Girl, by David Sonam and Jacky Davis–Ladybug Girl and the rest of the Bug Squad love their imaginary adventures, and so does GirlChild! The Amazing Adventures of Bumblebee Boy is another personal favorite from these authors, but all the books in the series are fun!
  • The Berenstain Bears series, by Stan and Jan (and Mike!) Berenstain–I loved these as a child, and any book in this series is a favorite to ask Grandma to read for all the cousins (ages 2-7!) right now!
  • anything by Mo Willems–Some favorites mentioned were Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and other Pigeon stories, Knuffle Bunny, and the Elephant & Piggie books (there are tons!). The Pigeon and Elephant & Piggie stories are great for beginning readers, and they’re all fun for read-alouds!
  • Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson series–Mercy Watson is a pig. 🙂 Written as a chapter book, each “chapter” is about three pages long, and at least one of those pages is a full-color illustration. Short chapters and short sentences make this good for beginning readers, but it is a fun read-aloud for younger children, too.
  • anything by Jan Brett–She has many books about Christmas and winter that are seasonally appropriate!
  • A Is for Angry: An Animal and Adjective Alphabet, by Sandra Boynton–This is a perfect age to teach a range of adjectives for emotions! (I know I get tired of everything being “mad” or “sad” all the time!)
  • the Llama Llama books by Anna Dewdney–Our family favorites are Llama Llama Mad at Mama and Llama Llama Red Pajama, but there’s even a Llama Llama Holiday Drama one!

Primary Grades/Early Readers:

  • the Skippyjon Jones series, by Judy Schachner–I find these books strange. Small children find them hilarious. So whose opinion matters here, anyway? 😉 Skippyjon Jones is a big-eared Siamese kitten who thinks he’s a Chihuahua, and he has all sorts of wacky daydreams/adventures. The favorite mentioned for a first-grade boy was Skippyjon Jones in the Doghouse.
  • Fluffy the Classroom Guinea Pig series, by Kate McMullan, illustrated by Mavis Smith–A parent and former first grade teacher says these are highly popular amongst that age group! Some titles include Fluffy Goes to School, Fluffy Goes Apple Picking, and Fluffy Meets the Tooth Fairy.
  • Junie B. Jones series, by Barbara Park–Some adults really, really can’t stand Junie B. and her grammatical issues. I admit that, as a teacher, she would have driven me bananas, but kids (even slightly older kids!) love to read about her craziness (and possibly live vicariously through her because even GirlChild is properly horrified by some of her behavior). I used Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business as a read-aloud to let my third-graders know I was expecting, and Junie B., First Grader: Jingle Bells, Batman Smells! (P.S. So Does May!) is a seasonal favorite!
  • I Can Read It All By Myself Beginner Books (you’ll recognize the Cat in the Hat logo), especially the ones by Dr. Seuss/Theo. LeSieg like I’m Not Going to Get Up Today and Wacky Wednesday. Dr. Seuss’s My Book About Me (a book for the child to complete with facts about him/herself) is another good Dr. Seuss title for this age!

Middle Elementary/Confident Readers:

  • Little House on the Prairie series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder–Based on the author’s experiences growing up in the American prairie, these books are a great way to get children into historical fiction!
  • The Boxcar Children series, by Gertrude Chandler Warner–I loved the first book of this series when my mom read it to us ages and ages ago, and the rest of the series has been a favorite in my classroom library in both third and fifth grades!
  • the Ramona Quimby books, by Beverly Cleary–I can’t believe I had forgotten these books! My mom read them all to us ages ago (she read out loud to us a lot!), but I still remember so many of the names (Who can forget Beezus, Howie, and Chevrolet?) and events (like Ramona’s dad losing his job) because these books and characters were so real to me! Ramona even inspired me to wear my pajamas under my clothes to school one day, although I still don’t know why I thought that was such a bright idea when it turned out so poorly for Ramona… 🙂
  • the Fudge books, by Judy Blume–Writing about the Ramona books reminded me of the Fudge books, starting with Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. While the first book focuses on older brother Peter, most of the rest of the series brings Fudge into the limelight. (NOTE: For those of you who remember these books from your childhood, be warned that reviewers on Amazon have noted that these are updated editions that change some of the clues that this book was written in a different era (one with record players and the like). These may not be the exact books you remember.)

Upper Elementary/Middle School:

  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, by Jeff Kinney–These highly popular faux journals are right up a middle-school boy’s alley. (I can’t be held responsible for what middle-school boys find funny!) They spawned a plentitude of copycat works, but these are the originals!
  • the Alex Rider series, by Anthony Horowitz–There are nine books in this British series featuring Alex Rider, a teenager who is drawn into the spy world after his undercover uncle dies mysteriously. Fans of action/adventure stories will enjoy this series.
  • Holes, by Louis Sacher–The Wayside School stories were personal favorites growing up, and while this book maintains much of the quirk of Sacher’s previous works, it is definitely a big step up. Important details that at first seem insignificant are sprinkled throughout, and there is a depth here that the Wayside stories certainly didn’t have–which might be why it won a Newbery in 1999. A great book for fifth grade and up!
  • The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, by Patricia C. Wrede–Called a “wickedly funny fantasy series,” these books did fractured fairy tales before Shrek made them mainstream. Cimorene is a princess who doesn’t want to be princessy…so she volunteers to be a dragon’s princess, and it’s the best choice she could have made for everyone involved. Hilarious for any fan of fun fantasy!
  • anything by Gary Paulsen–The ultimate survival storyteller for teens, Gary Paulsen was actually quite the outdoorsman/adventurer himself. His experiences and knowledge inform books like Hatchet and Tracker. Paulsen’s books are necessarily somewhat gritty due to the survival themes usually present, so keep that in mind if your reader is sensitive to that sort of thing.
  • Artemis Fowl series, by Eoin Colfer–Artemis Fowl, a billionaire, evil genius, Irish teenager, is the star of this series that is a wonderful mash-up of action/adventure, spy novel, science fiction, and fantasy–really speculative fiction!

This is by far not a comprehensive list, and I’m sure I left out plenty of absolutely great authors and titles that any child would swoon over–let me (and anyone looking for a good gift or just a good read!) know in the comments what I’ve missed!

(Also see my Christmas Wrap-Up post from last year featuring full reviews of twelve Christmas-themed books and a list of a good number more!)

(UPDATE: Introducing Paper Gains: A Guide to Gifting Children Great Books from Modern Mrs Darcy–posted by Modern Mrs Darcy and shared on Money Saving Mom, this (downloadable, free) list of books overlaps my list a good bit, but it has more ideas as well! I don’t necessarily agree with all the age levels, but the list is pretty good and worth checking out!)


Filed under reader input sought, recommendation, theme

Wonder, by R.J. Palacio

I picked this book up because I saw it as a recommendation when I was researching another book and it happened to be on the new books display at my library this week. I’m glad I did.


Wonder, by R.J. Palacio (2012, Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN 978-0-375-86902-0)

This isn’t a review so much as a book recommendation. I can’t say I’m an expert in the topic (a ten-year-old boy born with “mandibulofacial dysostosis…complicated by a hemifacial microsomia” (both of which involve visibly severe structural problems of the face) attends school for the first time after being homeschooled through fourth grade due to frequent surgeries and illnesses as a result of his congenital problems), but as a parent and a former fifth grade teacher, this book struck me as an important read for upper elementary students. It’s both funny and heartbreaking as Auggie, his older sister, and a selection of their friends and classmates pick up narration (often overlapping part of what the previous narrator discussed) of Auggie’s fifth grade year at Beecher Prep and his struggles to find his way to be ordinary in a world where no one else seems to be able to see him that way. The subject matter, although heavy, is dealt with–in my mind, at least–delicately yet authentically. I read it way too fast, so I know I probably missed a lot of the nuances, but there were several parts where I just had to put the book down and cry. So, yeah, despite not having the experiences necessary to be a real judge of whether this book is true-to-life (although the reviews I’ve read from people who should know say it is), I have to recommend it. I believe you won’t look at anyone quite the same way again.

(Please, if you’ve read the book and have something you feel needs to be said about it, comment below, especially if you’ve read it with your child or if you’re the parent of a child facing this kind of struggle. I’d love to hear what you think.)

UPDATE (August 28, 2012): A friend of mine (whose son was born with craniosynostosis that required surgery and a temporary helmet) posted about the Children’s Craniofacial Association‘s September 2012 “Craniofacial Acceptance Month” on her Facebook page. This site and the FACES: The National Craniofacial Association site share photographs and information about a variety of craniofacial disorders as well as ways people can help these organizations offer support to the families of children affected. If this book moved you, perhaps you might choose to support one of these associations as a way to reach out!

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Filed under online resources, reader input sought, recommendation

I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie, by Alison Jackson, pictures by Judith Byron Schachner

I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie (Picture Puffins)

I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie, by Alison Jackson,
pictures by Judith Byron Schachner
(1997, Puffin Books, ISBN-10:0140565957, ISBN-13: 978-0140565959)

Not a review, just a last-minute recommendation if you happen by the library this afternoon before it’s closed for Thanksgiving and want a little light, seasonal reading for your kids! (Our storytime librarian read this last week.) This would be a great book to read before dinner to discourage the family from overindulging, and everyone from preschool age up through elementary school will find it amusing! (Don’t worry…as morbid as this old story can be, she doesn’t die in the end!)


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