Category Archives: teaching suggestion

Themed Third Throwback Thursday: 1990-1999

It’s kind of hard at this point to know just what children’s literature of the 1990s will have staying power in the distant future, so I’m choosing a few books and authors who had a real impact on the decade or that had a strong body of their work published in the 1990s and which I know kids are still reading today. It’s hard for me to realize that many of these books were written over twenty years ago because, well, the 1990s doesn’t seem so far in the past to me! It may have become clear to readers by now that I am particularly fond of historical fiction and fantasy titles, but I have a few picture books and realistic fiction titles included in my list, and if you notice any glaring omissions from the decade, chime in below.

[1990-to-1999-book-list]

A sampling of some significant events in history for the decade (including a number of which I actually remember!):

1990–Nelson Mandela freed
1991–Collapse of the Soviet Union
1992–Los Angeles riots after Rodney King verdict
1993–World Trade Center bombed
1994–Nelson Mandela elected president of South Africa
1995–eBay founded
1996–Unabomber arrested
1997–Pathfinder sends images of Mars
1998–U.S. President Bill Clinton impeached
1999–Euro becomes new European currency

Newbery Medals for the decade are:

1990–Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry
1991–Maniac Magee, by Jerry Spinelli
1992–Shiloh, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
1993–Missing May, by Cynthia Rylant
1994–The Giver, by Lois Lowry
1995–Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech
1996–The Midwife’s Apprentice, by Karen Cushman
1997–The View From Saturday, by E.L. Konigsburg
1998–Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse
1999–Holes, by Louis Sachar

Caldecotts for the decade are:

1990–Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China, by Ed Young
1991–Black and White, by David Macaulay
1992–Tuesday, by David Weisner
1993–Mirette on the High Wire, by Emily Arnold McCully
1994–Grandfather’s Journey, by Allen Say
1995–Smoky Night, by Eve Bunting, illustrated by David Diaz
1996–Officer Buckle and Gloria, by Peggy Rathmann
1997–Golum, by David Wisniewski
1998–Rapunzel, by David O. Zelinsky
1999–Snowflake Bentley, by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Mary Azarian

Product DetailsAndrew Clements: I don’t know if I’ve expressed how much I love Andrew Clements’ books (I have, a few times), but I do very much love Andrew Clements’ books! Suitable for readers as young as third or fourth grade, they usually have a school-based setting, have a varied cast of characters and conflicts, and you never have to worry that the content will be inappropriate for young readers despite some of the issues they tackle. My first and always favorite is Frindle (1996), his first novel for children, but Extra Credit (2009) and About Average (2012) are up there, too, for different reasons. (I consider him the Joan Bauer of children’s literature…and Joan Bauer is the Andrew Clements of YA literature–always appropriate to recommend!)

Sharon Creech: Sharon CreechProduct Details doesn’t write series books, but my classroom library when I taught fifth grade had quite a long Creech segment anyway! My personal favorites are Love That Dog (2001) and Granny Torrelli Makes Soup (2003). Her characters are also real and relatable, and she doesn’t shy away from hard topics. I would recommend most of her works for fifth grade and up, actually, because of the topics and age of the protagonists, but my two favorites can work for slightly younger students. Walk Two Moons (1994), the story of a young teenage girl who is dealing with her grief over the loss of her mother in her own particular way, won the Newbery in 1995. Absolutely Normal Chaos (1990), another book for upper elementary to middle school readers, was published first in the UK and again in the US after the success of Walk Two Moons.

Product DetailsChristopher Paul Curtis: Because they were both published after I had begun high school, I read the Newbery medalist Bud, Not Buddy (1999) and Newbery runner-up The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963 (1995) as an adult, but I think if they had been around when I was in grade school, they would have been just as impactful, and I hope a teacher would have exposed me to them! (They were certainly both in my classroom library when I taught fifth grade, but our history curriculum didn’t teach those eras in my grade level, so I didn’t use them in class.) Historical fiction is my favorite way to learn (and teach!) about the past, and a well-researched novel is, to me, the most immersive and moving way to learn about an era in history from the point of view of a character who is a part of a group to which I don’t belong. My historical knowledge of these eras (Great Depression and Civil Rights Movement) is embarrassingly weak, but these characters pulled me in and made me feel for them and with them, those little girls in their Sunday best and that trumpet-playing, jazz-loving boy, characters who were like me in as many ways as they were unlike me, and that is a definite mark of a well-written story! Because of the very tragic (and very real) climax of The Watsons Go to Birmingham:1963 (the burning of the Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church which killed four little girls), I’d suggest it for upper elementary and middle school aged readers, but Bud, Not Buddy and more recent works, like Elijah of Buxton (2007) and The Mighty Miss Malone (2012) (both now on my reading list!) might be suitable for readers in the middle to upper elementary grades.

Kevin Henkes: Kevin Henkes Product Detailshas been publishing since the early 1980s, but his works that are most familiar to me, like Chrysanthemum (1991) and Julius, the Baby of the World (1990), were written in the 1990s and later. My children own a number of his mouse-based books (Owen’s Marshmallow Chick (2002) was one of GirlChild’s favorites when she was but a wee lass, and it still comes out every Easter!), and the Henkes shelf gets a lot of circulation at both the public and school library locally. His characters (despite usually being animals in this period of his writing) are realistic with recognizable childlike qualities (both good and not so good), and children really identify with the emotions his characters express. He is both author and illustrator, and his first black and white picture book, Kitten’s First Full Moon (2004), won a Caldecott in 2005.

Product DetailsPatricia Polacco: Patricia Polacco’s picture books are a staple of primary school libraries, and she published quite a few during the 1990s (and beyond). Some of her best and most famous works include Thank You, Mr. Falker (1998), Chicken Sunday (1992), and Thunder Cake (1990). (I reviewed Babushka’s Doll in my Themed Third Thursday: Dolls and Toyland post.) The author weaves her heritage and personal history into her books, including her Russian Jewish and Irish family stories and style, and her art is engaging and easily recognizable.

J.K. Rowling: Product DetailsIf we’re talking in terms of popularity, visibility, and continuing impact on culture, I’d have to say J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series (1997-2007) made the biggest splash of the 1990s. (It even made it onto the history timeline I reference for my events of the decade portion of the post!) My first introduction to the series was in a children’s literature class for my education degree, and I soon caught up on the series and waited like so many others for each next book to come out. (I’m a pre-order kind of fan, not a Barnes-and-Noble-at-midnight-in-costume kind of fan…) While GirlChild has not yet read the series, all of her older cousins have, and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time. (I’m pretty sure that if I introduced GirlChild to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named as a character right now, she’d never finish the books (or forgive me!), so I’m not going to ruin that for her!) Readers enjoy the well-developed fantastical elements of the stories, of course, but also the realistically portrayed, flawed, and lovable characters, the relatable emotions and themes, and the complex and interwoven plot lines. Not only has this series spawned a hugely popular movie series, but even books within the books are now being published and made into movies of their own!

Product DetailsJerry Spinelli: Looking at Jerry Spinelli’s extensive publication list from the 1990s, I realize that I was growing up with these books! I turned eleven as this decade began, so I spent my early adolescence picking these up as they filtered into the library. My youthful memories include Maniac Magee (1990, 1991 Newbery Medal), There’s a Girl in My Hammerlock (1991), and that literary classic Who Ran My Underwear Up the Flagpole? (1992). GirlChild recently read Fourth Grade Rats (1991) in school, and my fifth grade classroom library included Wringer (1997, 1998 Newbery Honor), The Library Card (1997), and Picklemania (1993). Spinelli has continued to publish children’s and YA literature to the present.

 

What Do We Do All Day’s list had very little overlap because she aims for lesser-known works, and this list is her last to compare. I’m going to venture into the 2000s and even future favorites of the 2010s, so I’m on my own now!

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Themed Third Throwback Thursday: 1980-1989

The 1980s were my childhood decade. I went from infant to tween in the space of those ten years, and it seems obvious that the books of the decade would stick with me since I was both an early and indiscriminate reader.

[1980-to-1989-book-list]

Here’s a sampling of the historical events of which I was probably completely unaware while I was being a child:

1980–Pac-Man video game released
1981–First woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court (Sandra Day O’Connor, who spoke at my university years later!)
1982–E.T. released
1983–Cabbage Patch Kids popular (now this I remember!)
1985–Titanic wreckage found
1986–Chernobyl disaster
1989–Berlin Wall falls, World Wide Web invented

Newbery medalists of the decade include a number that I remember reading (but not all), and the honor books (some of which I’ll address later in the post) were also standard fare:

1980–A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl’s Journal, 1830-1832, by Joan W. Blos
1981–Jacob Have I Loved, by Katherine Paterson
1982–A Visit to William Blake’s Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers, by Nancy Willard
1983–Dicey’s Song, by Cynthia Voight
1984–Dear Mr. Henshaw, by Beverly Cleary
1985–The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley
1986–Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan
1987–The Whipping Boy, by Sid Fleischman
1988–Lincoln: A Photobiography, by Russell Freedman
1989–Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, by Paul Fleischman

Caldecott medalists, including some of my most remembered illustrators (like Trina Schart Hyman, Stephen Gammell (whose more recent work I didn’t connect to these books), and Chris Van Allsburg):

1980–Ox-Cart Man, by Donald Hall, illustrated by Barbara Cooney
1981–Fables, by Arnold Lobel
1982–Jumanji, by Chris Van Allsburg
1983–Shadow, translated and illustrated by Marcia Brown (French text by Blaise Cendrars)
1984–The Glorious Flight: Across the Channel with Louis Bleriot, by Alice and Martin Provensen
1985–Saint George and the Dragon, retold by Margaret Hodges, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
1986–The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg
1987–Hey, Al, by Arthur Yorinks, illustrated by Richard Egielski
1988–Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr
1989–Song and Dance Man, by Karen Ackerman, illustrated by Stephen Gammell

While a number of the above titles have stood the test of time, my personal favorites will show up again in the reviews below!

Richard Scarry's Best Word Book EverRichard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever: New Revised Edition, by Richard Scarry (1980): Okay, I know that this was not published originally in the 1980s, but it was such a giant in my vocabulary development as a wee lass that I had to include it! My brother, born in the previous decade, had the 1963 version for his edification, but I learned about the bear twins’ clothing, shapes and colors, and parts of the body with a few more females in male-dominated fields and a few more gender-neutral job titles (fire fighter as opposed to fireman, for example). Love, love, love this book. My mom made sure to get each of her sets of grandchildren a copy so they, too, could examine each page diligently as they grew!

Fables, by Arnold Lobel Fables(1980): This book of one-page original fables was a favorite of mine as a child. I’m not sure where I got my paperback copy–either a book fair or a RIF (Reading Is Fundamental) give-away, I think–but I treasured it! It was a Caldecott Medal winner, and each fable has a large, detailed illustration to go with it. Each fable comes with its own explicitly stated moral, such as “Satisfaction will come to those who please themselves” and “Advice from friends is like the weather. Some of it is good; some of it is bad.” It would be a great mentor text for writing stories with a moral (or even just a message), and I might suggest covering the morals up, reading the fables aloud, and letting the class brainstorm what each moral might be. Because the animal characters are so silly, the fact that there is a message to each one won’t ruin the fun!

If You Give a Mouse a CookieIf You Give a Mouse a Cookie, by Laura Numeroff, illustrated by Felicia Bond (1985): I apparently missed this as a kid, but the Kohl’s Cares reprints and accompanying toys were a big hit with my children when they were smaller! (In fact, this particular title was the one we didn’t own, and BoyChild–age 5–discovered how much he loves it when he found it sitting with our library books and made GirlChild read it to him!) It’s a cause-and-effect story that has just enough silliness to disguise the fact that it is a great literacy learning tool!

Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan Sarah, Plain and Tall (30th anniversary edition)(1985): This Newbery Medal book tells the story of a father and his children who are hoping that the father’s advertisement for a wife will bring songs back to their home and hearts. Sarah from Maine answers the letter and comes to the plains for a trial period. Anna and Caleb hope that Sarah, who describes herself as plain and tall, will learn to love their home and stop missing the sea. When she goes into town alone one day, the children are worried that she has decided against staying and is buying a train ticket home to Maine. However, Sarah returns with special gifts and tells them that although she misses the sea, she would miss them more. The book is a fast, simple read and would be a good choice for historical fiction for middle grade readers starting around third grade. I’m going to give it to GirlChild to try! (The book flap says the story is based on “a true event in [the author’s] family history”–always a great way to get story ideas!)

The Whipping Boy (updated cover)The Whipping Boy, by Sid Fleischman (1986): Our cat, a kitten we rescued from the storm sewer on our street, was named Jemmy after this book; it’s one of those that my mom read aloud to us in that memorable way (where she used different voices for different characters but didn’t even realize it) that made the book come alive! An orphan named Jemmy catches rats in the sewer to earn money. He is snatched from the streets to live in the castle as the whipping boy for Prince Brat (not his given name). When the prince tires of Jemmy’s stoic response to whippings and his father’s lack of attention, he makes Jemmy help him run away. There is a circus bear, a pair of kidnapping highwaymen, and a chase through a city sewer–all the ridiculousness and excitement a middle grade student needs! This historical fiction book (quite possibly more popular with boys but obviously something I quite enjoyed!) won the Newbery Medal.

Howl’s Moving Castle, by Dianna Wynne Jones Howl's Moving Castle(1986): I have to admit that I checked this book out and still didn’t get a chance to read it! So many of my fantasy-loving friends have mentioned it, however, that when I discovered it had been published in the ’80s, I had to include it. I have read another of her fantasy titles for young adults, The Dark Lord of Derkholm (which is not quite as dark as the title might imply!), and Wikipedia (that monolith of solid information!) says that she has been compared to Robin McKinley and Neil Gaiman, both authors whose books I have loved (although I can’t read Coraline and look at the illustrations at all!), so I am going to keep my borrowed copy of this book until I actually get it read! It was made into a movie in 2004, so we’ll see if I have to look that up, too, after I’ve finished!

Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters (updated cover)Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale, by John Steptoe (1987): Steptoe retells a folktale first recorded in published form in 1895. The moral points out that being kind and caring is more important than being beautiful (and reaps better rewards), but the illustrations that earned it a Caldecott Honor are worth the purchase price of the book even without the story! Another positive aspect of the book is that the author clearly did research, not only citing the first printed version of the story that inspired his book but also the origins of the names he chose, the inspiration for the scenery in the illustrations, and the people (and related institutions) that assisted him in his research. Additionally, unlike many books where there is a king seeking a bride, there is actual mutual consent and respect shown between the king and the woman he asks (not just chooses!) to be his bride. Definitely a lasting title great for any home, school, or classroom library!

Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen Hatchet (updated cover)(1987): When I discovered many years ago that my husband had never read this Newbery Honor book, I actually read it aloud to him while we traveled! It’s the kind of book I can’t believe a boy in the ’80s would have missed! So many things from the book still linger with me, and the survivalism depicted–both his physical survival and emotional survival–could be empowering to modern readers as well. I’m sure some of the aspects of the story haven’t aged well–Brian would have had a cell phone handy, for one thing, although he might not have gotten a signal in the woods!–but the overall themes and internal struggles still ring true. Gary Paulsen is a master of realistic survival stories (and has lived a rather adventurous life to get the credibility and experience needed to do them real justice), and this is a classic. I think the youngest reader I’d suggest would be probably fifth grade, but the protagonist is thirteen, and there is real meat to the story, so middle and high school readers are likely to get the most out of it.

The MittenThe Mitten, by Jan Brett (1989): I’ve blogged about Jan Brett’s books before, and part of it is because she has just written so very many! The exquisite detail in her illustrations, her lifelike but anthropomorphic animal characters, and her gravitation toward snowy scenes and retellings of traditional tales make her the quintessential author for a primary school library. Because of the way part of the story is told in words and part in pictures, (particularly the images featured around the borders of each page, in this case made to look like decorations pinned to a birch bark panel), readers get several layers of story when the story is read versus when they are able to spend time examining the illustrations. Another great thing about Ms. Brett is that her website contains links for pages to color among other things! The Mitten–the story of how a variety of cold animals squeeze into one lost mitten–is one of her most well-known and loved books.

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, True Story of the Three Little Pigsby A. Wolf, as told to Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith (1989): I’m not sure if I’ve said this before (I’ve said this before), but I love Jon Scieszka! While my first introduction to his work was The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, this book was actually his first picture book! Fractured fairy tales are a genre I have always enjoyed, and this title is a great example. In it, Al Wolf (from his prison cell) defends himself against the claims that he cold-heartedly ate the first two little pigs when what he really did was have a sneezing fit while trying to ask to borrow a cup of sugar to make his granny’s birthday cake (and then eat the pigs when their homes fell down so as not to let them go to waste!). He has been framed! Like much of Scieszka’s work, young readers will need to have somewhat sophisticated reading skills to really get the story independently, but these books are also great to share and discuss with kids (and then let them explore them alone to see the nuances and clever details that might be missed in a first read-through)–great for discussing inference, voice, and point-of-view!

Number the StarsNumber the Stars, by Lois Lowry (1989): Set in Denmark in 1943, this Newbery Medal book tells how a young Danish girl helps her Jewish friend during the Nazi occupation of her country. The family’s determination, inventiveness, and bravery in spite of reasonable fear are clear throughout, and I know that my mother has used this book as a literature supplement to her history lessons in her sixth grade classroom. (Another World War II historical fiction book I can suggest for upper elementary and middle school aged readers would be Michael Morpurgo’s Waiting for Anya (1990).)

I obviously have quite a few favorites from the decade, and the bloggers over at What Do We Do All Day? had a list with even more forgotten favorites on it! (My kids just finished listening to the Wayside School books on audiobook during our summer travels this year!) I do notice a few common threads on both our lists: silly/slapstick, folktales, and historical fiction. I don’t know whether these things were just en vogue at that time and really dominated children’s literature or if we bloggers just have similar taste in our ’80s books!

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Themed Third Throwback Thursday: 1900-1909

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

[1900 to 1909 book list]

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

1901–first Nobel prizes awarded

1902–the teddy bear is created

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

1904–the New York City subway opens

1905–Einstein proposes his Theory of Relativity

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

1908–Ford introduces the Model-T

1909–plastic is invented

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Themed Third Thursday: Books Get Meta

meta- : Describing or showing an awareness of the activity that is taking place or being discussed; self-referential

Books getting meta. Books about books. Books that refer to themselves as books. Books where the characters are aware of being in a book. While my categories may stray from the generally accepted definition of “meta,” these self-aware books and books about books are sure to be page turners for your book-loving readers!

Product DetailsThe Monster at the End of this Book, by Jon Snow, illustrated by David Smollin (2003–most recent edition): In this Sesame Street classic book, Grover warns the reader not to continue on with the book because there is a monster at the end of it, and he is scared of monsters! In his distress, he tries everything to avoid getting to the end. Not to worry, however–Grover himself is the monster at the end of the book! I vaguely remember this book from my childhood, and the fact that it is still in print is telling. A great breaking-the-fourth-wall book for preschool and early elementary children, this book is best shared as a read-aloud.

Book! Book! Book!, Book! Book! Book!by Deborah Bruss, illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke (2001): When the children all go back to school after a summer of fun, the animals on the farm are bored. The hen decides to go looking for something to do, and the other animals follow. When they come upon a building where people with smiles on their faces are exiting, they decide this is the place for finding something to do! (The place is the public library.) The horse thinks the hen is too small to be the one to go in to ask, so he goes in, but all the librarian can hear is “neigh, neigh,” so he leaves sadly. Each of the other larger animals also try, but the librarian can only hear their animal noises. Then the hen, frustrated, determines to go in herself. When she arrives, she starts clucking, “Book! Book! BOOK!” It takes a few tries, but the librarian suddenly realizes that she’s asking for books! She gives her three, and the hen takes them back to the farm with the other animals to read together. Everyone is happy except the frog; he keeps claiming that he’s already “read it!” With a cute story and simple plot, a read-aloud (to emphasize the chicken-y sound of the word “book” in particular) to children as young as preschool would be a crowd-pleaser!

We Are in a Book!We Are in a Book! (An Elephant & Piggie book), by Mo Willems (2010): Gerald the Elephant and Piggie are sitting back to back on the ground when Gerald suddenly notices that someone is looking at them. When Piggie gets up to investigate, coming closer to the reader, they realize that they are being read by a reader! They are very excited and try to get the reader to say the word banana, then they laugh and laugh about it. Piggie offers to let Gerald try it before the book ends, and Gerald is shocked to realize it will end (on page 57, no less). He is distraught over the approaching end, but Piggie comes up with the idea to ask the reader to read the book again to prolong their fun. The book ends semi-abruptly with the two of them hoping their request works (because, after all, having a conclusion to a book where the characters want it to be read in a continuous loop would be counterproductive!). While this is a perfectlly acceptable book for an independent young reader, all the Elephant and Piggie books make amazingly fun read-alouds as well.

The Best Book in the World!, The Best Book in the World!by Rilla (2014): When I looked up this author’s website to see if I could figure out her name (her full name is Rilla Alexander, but the library copy I have has “Rilla, Alexander” like Rilla is the last name!), I discovered that she is primarily an illustrator and graphic designer (which, considering the appearance of the book, didn’t surprise me). I also discovered another of her books (also featuring the character she calls her “alterego, Sozi”) that I really must have–Her Idea! (I was just having a chat with a friend this morning about all the writing ideas I have that I never carry through to completion!) The relevant book to this theme, however, features Sozi as she gets started on a book. With book in hand and a superhero mask over her eyes, she moves through town as she progresses through her book, and then things start to focus in more on the story world she enters. The book states, “Page by page you’re carried away. So let yourself go!” Sozi (whose name isn’t mentioned in the book) travels deep into her book, picking up strange companions on her way. Just as things seem to be getting overwhelming, she takes a moment to “rest [her] eyes” and dozes off. All the characters who populated her book now populate her dreams, and they huddle around her book–The Best Book in the World–as she dreams because of the secret they share: “the story won’t stop…[i]f we go back to the beginning again!”

The Children Who Loved BooksThe Children Who Loved Books, by Peter Carnavas (2012): Angus and Lucy don’t have a lot in the way of personal possessions; in fact, they even live in a camper with their parents instead of a regular home or apartment. What they do have, however, is books. They have so many books, in fact, that they soon overwhelm their tiny living space, and their father hauls them off. In addition to the logistical problems they start having because books were a literal prop in their home, the abundance of space in their house allows a lot of space to form between the members of the family as well. When Lucy brings a book home from the library, they can’t help opening it up and starting to read aloud. They all crowd around the father as he reads, and they read together on the couch late into the night (where they also all fall asleep). Bonded together once again through a shared story, they take their bike out first thing in the morning and head to–you guessed it!–the library for more books. As the last page says, “Angus and Lucy didn’t have very much, but they had all they would ever need.”

What Happened to Marion’s Book?,What Happened to Marion's Book? by Brook Berg, illustrated by Nathan Alsburg (2003): Marion is a hedgehog who loves to read all kinds of books in all kinds of places. She’s looking forward to starting school because her nana said that she should become a librarian some day, and she knows school is the place to start! She is most excited about visiting the library and taking out two books at a time. One morning at breakfast, however, she drops some raspberry jam on her open library book and knows she can’t just leave it there. She tries all kinds of things to fix the red stain (from letting the dog lick it to washing it in the washing machine!), and she even considers donating one of her own books to replace the ruined one, but all of her books have been dirtied because she reads them everywhere. She worries that she doesn’t know how to treat books, will be banned from the library, and will never be able to become a librarian. She finally gets the courage to tell her mom, and her mom tells her that she’ll have to pay to replace the book. When she brings the ruined book back to the school library, the librarian is disappointed, of course, but she gives Marion a tour of the “book hospital” where books are repaired and gives her a bookmark to remind her how to care for books. And, of course, Marion pays for the ruined book and checks out two new ones! (This hit close to home since GirlChild’s milk Thermos leaked in her backpack and spoiled a library book recently!)

Wild About BooksWild about Books, by Judy Sierra, pictures by Marc Brown (2004): In this rhyming story, librarian Molly McGrew accidentally drives the bookmobile to the zoo. Instead of being perturbed by her mistake and their reluctance, Molly starts reading Dr. Seuss aloud to attract a crowd. Soon, all the animals come to check out books (in two senses of the phrase!). The crocodiles enjoy Peter Pan, an elephant reads Dumbo, the pandas request books in Chinese, and then the puns begin! The llamas read The Grass Menagerie, the scorpion leaves stinging reviews of the poems the insects are inspired to write, and the hippo wins a Zoolitzer Prize for her memoir, Mud in my Blood. Then Molly hires some of the construction-minded animals–the beavers in particular–to create a branch library to satisfy their literary needs right there at the zoo. Now that they have their very own zoobrary, it’s sometimes hard to see the animals because “[t]hey are snug in their niches, their nests, and their nooks, [g]oing wild, simply wild, about wonderful books.” This book is a great one not only for introducing the concepts of reading, getting inspired by reading to write, and finding the perfect kind of book for your interests, but it also appeals to little readers who simply like animals and learning new animal names!

Have I Got a Book for You!, Have I Got a Book for You!by Mélanie Watt (2009): Al Foxword is a creature (of some sort, I can’t really place him!) and a salesman. This book serves as an infomercial for itself as Al tries to convince the reader not only that he or she should buy a copy of the book but that he or she should buy multiple copies of the book. He tries every trick of the trade, wheedling and exaggerating, throwing in bonus gifts and deals for buying more than one. When all his efforts seem to have failed, he reminds us of the one big rule of merchandise: “You break it, you buy it!” And the last page is “torn.” Definitely meant to be read aloud by someone with few inhibitions. 😉 (Also, might be a great book to use when teaching information literacy and the tricks advertisers use!)

Wanted: Ralfy Rabbit, Book BurglarWanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar, by Emily MacKenzie (2015): Ralfy Rabbits loves books so much that “one thing led to another,” and he starts actually burgling books from people to get his fix! Unfortunately for Ralfy, Arthur also loves books, and he notices when parts of his well-organized collection start to go missing. Arthur stakes out his bookshelves and sees Ralfy, but no one believes his story about a thieving rabbit, not even the police. That is, I mean, until Ralfy accidentally burgles the home of PC Puddle, the officer to whom Arthur had spoken when he called in his complaint. When Arthur is called in to view a line-up of bunnies wearing “I ❤ Books” shirts, he isn’t sure which rabbit is the robber until a conveyor belt of goodies is passed in front of them, and the only bunny who goes for books instead of the carrots and lettuce offered is Ralfy. Arthur feels sorry for Ralfy because he is only in trouble because he loves books, and he has a great idea of where Ralfy can borrow his fill of books without having to steal them: the library! And Arthur and Ralfy become “best ‘book buddies'” and visit the library together often. Good fun for elementary readers.

The Book that Eats People, The Book that Eats Peopleby John Perry, illustrations by Mark Fearing (2009): I read this aloud to BoyChild, and he was a little concerned about it. Once I realized it wasn’t just a play on words or something, I was a little concerned, too, that young BoyChild would be having nightmares about his books…but it was better to finish and remind him that it was just pretend than to leave him hanging with carnivorous books running through his dreams! Recommended for ages 3-7 on Amazon, I’m going to go ahead and suggest a slightly older crowd despite the relatively small amount of text per page. I’m thinking middle elementary is probably a safer bet what with the book actually eating people and phrases like “it coughed up his bones and they clattered across the floor like wooden blocks” and the like. Sure, it’s darkly hilarious, but that seems like more the sort of thing that children with a stronger grasp on the concept of reality versus fiction might enjoy. Featuring a ton of collage elements and a very cranky-looking book, the visuals are also geared toward the upper end of the suggested age range and beyond. Future fans of the Series of Unfortunate Events would like this book!

Incredible Book Eating BoyThe Incredible Book Eating Boy, by Oliver Jeffers (2006): Henry loves books, but not in the same way that most people do; he literally devours them. It starts by accident at first, when he mistakenly licks his book instead of his popsicle when he’s distracted. It quickly progresses, however, into tearing into pages and then into whole books and eventually several books at once! He eats all kinds of books–he’s not picky–and finds that he grows smarter and smarter with each one he ingests! Eventually, though, eating all those books so quickly without giving himself time to “digest” them leads to confusion and nausea. Henry stops eating books then, and it takes him a while to figure out what else he can do with his books…and he tries reading them. Just like before, he gets smarter with each book he reads, although this method is slower. Now he reads all the time, and he only occasionally slips back into bad habits (as evidenced by a large “bite” taken out of the last few pages and back cover). The irony and graphic design elements of this book make it better for slightly older picture book readers, middle to upper elementary.

Return of the Library Dragon, Return of the Library Dragonby Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Michael P. White (2012): Miss Lotty (short for Lotta Scales, we discover), librarian at Sunrise Elementary School, is retiring. As she tries to reassure the students that the new librarian will be as much and more fun, one of the children asks if the new librarian will let them use computers, and her old dragon-ish ways rear their heads briefly as she declares, “Over my dead dragon body!” On her very last day of work, she is greeted in the morning by the unpleasant discovery that IT has arrived, taken all the books, and filled the library with electronics only! Miss Lotty is steaming mad (literally), and the students beg for their books back, listing all the reasons books are still relevant and enjoyable. They also discover, however, how enticing technology can be, and Mike Krochip (the IT guy) crows that soon the kids will forget all about books in a month! Miss Lotty loses her temper, and everyone flees, but they warn the young woman in the hallway that the “librarian’s a real dragon!” This young woman, it turns out, is the new librarian, and she is the same woman who, as a child twenty years prior, had convinced Miss Lotty to shed her draconic book-lending practices in the first place. (You have to read the short newspaper article in the front matter for this to make any sense, actually, so don’t skip it!) Molly reassures Miss Lotty that the books will be returned because she insisted that they remain as a condition of her employment, and completely replacing books with technology makes her feel a little dragon-ish as well. The last page shows an image of Miss Molly at her desk with children, books, and a sign proclaiming Technology Free Tuesday–striking a balance between printed and electronic resources. This is apparently the second book about the Library Dragon, so reading The Library Dragon first would be an alternative to making sure the newspaper article page gets read. Quotes on reading, books, librarians, and information technology fill the end papers. The controversy about technology and the proliferation of punny names and book titles probably wouldn’t register with younger readers, so I’d suggest a middle elementary to upper elementary audience for this book.

It's a BookIt’s a Book, by Lane Smith (2010): This book is more for big kids and adults than it is for the picture book crowd (particularly if you don’t want to read/have your kid read the word “jackass” for comedic effect–just giving you a heads-up here!). It features a mouse, a jackass, and a monkey. The monkey is reading a book (with the mouse under his hat, for some reason), and the jackass is using a laptop. The jackass keeps asking the monkey if his book can do some thing that the laptop does (scroll down, connect to wi-fi, play music, etc.), and the monkey keeps responding with, “No, it’s a book” (or some variation on that theme). Then the monkey hands his book over so the jackass can see for himself, and the jackass gets totally absorbed to the point of not wanting to give it back. When the monkey gives in and lets him keep it (he’s going to the library anyway), the jackass offers to charge it up for him when he’s done. That’s when the mouse says, “You don’t have to…it’s a book, jackass.” So, a book that might have been fun to read with small children of the digital generation kind of gets fouled up with a double entendre. If you don’t care and wish to share it with your children anyway, that’s fine; it’s a clever book! If that’s a little more mature than you like to go with your child’s vocabulary (or if you’re a school teacher and probably shouldn’t), you can try It’s a Little Book for the same kind of cleverness but in a board book without the words to make children giggle (and with contents suited for an even younger set).

Books for Older Kids that I Wish I’d Had a Chance to Actually Read and Review Properly But Didn’t:

Secrets of the Book, Secrets of the Bookby Erin Fry (2014, upper elementary): This book features a book called Pandora’s Book which is full of images of positively influential historical people that the guardian of the book can bring to life. That there is a shady man who has a book called Pandora’s Other Book suggests that infamous historical people are included in that book. The heroes of the story are sixth graders: a boy who is losing his sight, another with autism spectrum disorder, and the “resourceful” granddaughter of the previous keeper of the book (who goes missing right after passing the book on).

Archie Greene and the Magician's SecretArchie Greene and the Magician’s Secret, by D. D. Everest (2015, upper elementary): The first in a new series, this book tells the story of Archie Greene, a boy who receives a very old book on his twelfth birthday and learns that he is part of a gifted family given the job of protecting and preserving magical books. Archie himself has some hidden talents as well. The reviews I read suggest that there is a lot of content to process, so this is probably good for a dedicated reader who enjoys the concept of magic hidden in the real world. The summaries made me think strongly of The Librarians show and of Warehouse 13, if you happen to be the adult in charge of selecting books for your tween or early teen and know those series!

Inkheart trilogy, Inkheartby Cornelia Funke (2003, upper elementary to middle school): Meggie’s father, a man who repairs rare books, never reads aloud to her, and she discovers why when one of the characters he accidentally read out of a book (and Meggie’s mother into it) shows up outside their home late one night. This fantasy story starts with the idea that spoken words–particularly words spoken by someone with talent–are powerful, and the three books in the series continue in that vein, and with added elements of the power of skillful storytelling and writing added in, to create a world where a good reader can literally make a book come alive and a good writer can transport you into a book. (I have actually read all of these books, but it was long enough ago that I can’t give a very specific review!)

I know there are many, many more of these books available! Just search the subjects “Libraries–Fiction” and “Books–Fiction” to find a vast selection from which to choose!

 

 

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BoyChild Chooses: The 12 Reviews of Christmas, Day 8–Carl’s Christmas

Carl's Christmas

Carl’s Christmas, by Alexandra Day (1990)

In this endearing tale of child neglect…

Wait, no. I’m just kidding. As confused as I was as a child realizing that Nana in Peter Pan was actually a dog (I thought J.M. Barrie was just going overboard with the characterization and apparently missed something important as my mom read it aloud), the idea that people might leave their young children with just a dog for supervision (in fantasy books, at least!) should not continue to surprise me! I’m willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of my son (who thought this book was hilarious)!

Carl is a Rottweiler whose owners apparently entrust him regularly to watch their toddler child (simply called “the baby”) while they go out and about. In this book, they’re off to Grandma’s and church on Christmas Eve. Who would possibly consider bringing a baby to either of those places?! 😉 Other than the first page where the father tells Carl this (and to take good care of the baby), the only other text in the book is environmental print (signs, gift tags, etc.) to help explain certain events in the plot. The rest of the story is told entirely in beautiful oil paintings of the enterprising dog and his trusting charge. Carl gets the baby out of her crib and brings her downstairs to see the Christmas tree, then they decorate a houseplant together. Carl gets the baby ready for an outing, blue snowsuit and purple hat and all. They go downtown to check out the stores, and they win a Christmas basket full of goodies. The baby donates her hat to a bell-ringer dressed as Santa, and a caroler whose group they join gives her a scarf to warm her head again. (By this time, a scruffy stray dog has started following them.) When they see a couple children inside a house checking the fireplace for Santa, they rush home again (where an apparently stray cat is waiting near the door). They all go inside and enjoy a fire, and they fall asleep on the floor (where they are joined by two mice). Carl hears something and wakes up, rushing out the front door to greet his owners…except it’s not them–it’s Santa and his reindeer in the front yard! Carl helps Santa bring in and distribute gifts to all the inhabitants of the house and is given a new collar himself. Then Santa disappears up the chimney, and Carl brings the baby (wearing her brand-new hat to replace the one she gave away) up to bed, settling in for the night on the floor next to her crib.

The paintings really are gorgeous, but BoyChild just thought it was funny that the baby and dog were out and about on their own! I should have had him do the storytelling for this one, but I had forgotten that these books are basically wordless, so I did the narrating myself while I kept expecting more text to come up! (I would have needed to explain the signs or he probably would have thought that Carl stole the Christmas basket and wouldn’t have understood why the baby was giving her hat to the Salvation Army bell-ringer, but I wonder what else he would have noticed to talk about in the pictures!) As long as you don’t fear that you will raise a child who will become an adult who thinks it’s okay to leave just a dog as a babysitter, these are sweet and funny books to share with your early readers and pre-readers! They give many opportunities to apply reading comprehension strategies (previewing, predicting, asking questions, making connections, etc.) despite the lack of words, and this book (or another in the series) may be a good mentor text for teaching some of these strategies without the distraction or intimidation of large blocks of text. Another possible extension for this text would be to have a child illustrate a story of what he or she would do if left alone with a pet in charge! (BoyChild loves our little French bulldog, so this could be a really funny story. He refuses to draw, however, so it might have to be a story he dictates to me instead!)

(Good Dog, Carl is the original, and there are at least ten books in this series!)

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Themed Third Thursday: SQUIRREL!!!

This is a quote from Up that my family cannot seem to let go, and I couldn’t help thinking about it at story time at the library a few weeks back! The librarian read some of her favorite squirrel books (I’ll let you know the ones she chose so she gets [anonymous] credit!), and the kids did a cute letter S squirrel craft. (BoyChild cannot get enough of story time right now, and he’s loving the crafts afterwards, too! I have never seen him so predictably happy!)

[SQUIRREL!!! book list]

Acorns Everywhere!Acorns Everywhere!, by Kevin Sherry (2009, preschool to early elementary, curated by Marian* the Librarian): The bug-eyed main character is a squirrel with a one-track mind, and it goes: gather! dig! bury! He doesn’t seem to notice that he’s snagging other animals’ treats, and he doesn’t notice the big bear until it’s almost too late…except the bear is after berries, not the squirrel. That little scare, however, makes the squirrel forget where he’s hidden his acorns, and his mind turns instead to berries. While the squirrel stuffs himself with his stolen berries, the other animals raid his forgotten stashes to retrieve their acorns so that they can have something to eat, too. Each page features a few simple, repetitive words and simply illustrated images with photo collage elements (the acorns and berries). Young listeners will need to be clued in to a few things, like the fact that the squirrel is saying “bury” just before the bear goes for the “berries” and that the other animals are frustrated by the squirrels selfishness, but they will find his antics very silly anyway! (*Not her real name.)

Squirrel’s Adventure in Alphabet TownSquirrel's Adventure in Alphabet Town (Read Around Alphabet Town), by Laura Alden, illustrated by Judi Collins (1992, preschool to early elementary): This really simple story utilizes the letter S as a focal point. Squirrel lives in an S-shaped house. She loves everything that starts with S. She even wears size six sneakers! The alliteration emphasizes the sound of the letter for young listeners or early readers, and there are letter-related activities in the back of the book, including identifying names that begin with S, words that begin with S (with sneaky words ending with the S sound thrown in), and an S hunt through the book with the suggestion to write your own S adventure. BoyChild previewed this book and actually gave me a decent summary based on the illustrations, and he was interested to know what the actual story was and to do the activities, so it’s a great book to use with little ones just starting to realize that certain letters make certain sounds as well as older ones practicing their phonics! Part of the (kind of old and maybe not available for purchase) Read Around Alphabet Town series.

Squirrel's Fall SearchSquirrel’s Fall Search, by Anita Loughrey and Daniel Howarth (2013, preschool to early elementary): Squirrel and his little brother are gathering food and playing chase when Squirrel loses sight of his brother in the woods. Soon Squirrel starts to worry about his food and if his brother is taking it, but he can’t remember where he put it! He asks the other animals he passes if they’ve seen it, and they each give him a suggestion for where to look, but it’s Owl who finally spots his brother and the missing food. Instead of being angry, however, Squirrel says that sharing makes things taste better, and they enjoy the food together. At the end of the book, there are a few crafty fall activities adults and children might try together, and there is a list of things readers might have learned about fall from the events of the book. Best shared as a read-aloud with a young child or group of children as part of a unit about fall.

The Busy Little Squirrel, The Busy Little Squirrelby Nancy Tafuri (2007, preschool to early elementary, curated by Marian the Librarian): Squirrel is a very busy creature, and although all the animals make their noises and ask him to join in on their activities, he is just too busy and must hurry on his way. When the owl finally asks him, however, he is not too busy…but he is asleep! The illustrations are more realistic than many other picture books, and the many animal sounds give both listener and reader an opportunity to practice!

Ol' Mama SquirrelOl’ Mama Squirrel, by David Ezra Stein (2013, preschool to early elementary, curated by Marian the Librarian): A read-aloud for those who are interested in imitating the “chook-chook-chook!” of an angry squirrel, this book by the author of Interrupting Chicken and Dinosaur Kisses tells of a protective mother squirrel who, when faced with the threat of a bear, gathers the forces of all the neighboring mother squirrels together to put that bear in his place. A very cute and silly read-aloud.

Leaf Trouble, by Jonathan EmmettLeaf Trouble (2009, preschool to early elementary, curated by Marian the Librarian): Pip, a young squirrel who lives in an oak tree, is caught off-guard by the changing colors of his home and his sudden realization that the leaves are falling! He and his sister Blossom race around trying to gather and replace all the leaves until their mother arrives and assures them that the falling leaves are natural, that the tree is taking a rest and will grow new leaves later. Then the family plays in the leaves until the colors of the setting sun match the beautiful colors of the fallen leaves. The art in this book is a unique kind of collage and layering and is worth exploring with a young child!

Squirrel's New Year's ResolutionSquirrel’s New Year’s Resolution, by Pat Miller, illustrations by Kathi Ember (2010, early elementary): Squirrel gets the idea to make a New Year’s Resolution when she hears the suggestion on the radio. Her first stop is to check with Bear at the library to find out what a resolution is, then she goes around to visit her other woodland friends as she ponders what her resolution could be. When she has almost given up because everyone else already has a resolution and she can’t think of one, all her friends come into the diner where she’s having lunch and acknowledge what she’s done for them that day. Rabbit says that Squirrel seems to be doing a good job on her unspoken resolution “to help someone every day.” A good read-aloud for the younger set that might actually give them a reasonable idea for a resolution! (GirlChild’s are often some serious wishful thinking–like making her bed every day or not being late!)

The Squirrels’ Thanksgiving, The Squirrels' Thanksgivingby Steven Kroll, illustrated by Jeni Bassett (1991, early elementary): Brenda and Buddy Squirrel have a hard time appreciating one another like their parents tell them to do in honor of Thanksgiving, but putting in a little effort (although not perfect–their behavior in the pews at church gets them in some trouble!) produces some good results and pleasant feelings. When their naughty cousins come for Thanksgiving dinner and make everyone pretty miserable before their parents decide they’ll have to try again some other Thanksgiving when the children are better behaved, Brenda and Buddy realize how good they have it with one another! I wouldn’t consider this the best book ever written, but if you’re looking for a squirrel book for Thanksgiving with a side dish of appreciating your family and trying to get along, this might work!

The Secret Life of SquirrelsThe Secret Life of Squirrels, by Nancy Rose (2014, early to middle elementary): While the story itself is cute and well illustrated, the story behind the pictures was the most fascinating part of this book for me! In the book, Mr. Peanuts, “a rather unusual squirrel,” goes about his day doing things other squirrels wouldn’t dream of doing: grilling, playing piano, reading the classics…writing a letter to invite a cousin to come for a visit since he’s lonely. The two of them have a lovely time together doing more things other squirrels wouldn’t dream of doing: playing chess, having a picnic, telling ghost stories… They have a wonderful time together. I was a little surprised to find a section titled “Ten Tips for Photographing Wildlife” since I assumed this was a pet squirrel being photographed, but then there was a brief Q&A with the author/photographer, and I discovered that she creates these sets and puts them on her porch, tempting neighborhood squirrels with hidden treats to try to catch the perfect pose to use! Her website is http://www.secretlifeofsquirrels.com, and you can see many other photographs she has taken of her backyard squirrels! Really fun concept, and an aspiring young photographer might even be able to mimic some of her techniques! (I have a friend of GirlChild who comes to mind, actually, to whom I think I’ll be recommending this book!)

Those Darn Squirrels!, Those Darn Squirrels!by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri (2008, elementary): Although this is just a picture book, the contents are the sort of sly story that it might take a slightly more mature listener or reader to really appreciate. Old Man Fookwire loves birds but hates pretty much everything else (including squirrels). When faced with the prospect of the birds he loves to paint flying away for the winter, he tries to tempt them to stay with beautiful birdfeeders filled with seeds and berries, but the clever squirrels manage to raid the feeders despite all his best (and craziest) efforts. When the birds inevitably leave for the winter, the squirrels feel sorry for Old Man Fookwire and try to cheer him up by giving him a gift to make up for taking all the seeds and berries. Their efforts eventually prove successful when they dress themselves up like birds and Old Man Fookwire is inspired to paint them in their elaborate disguises. (Just a note–BoyChild loved this book and looking through the pictures to create his own version of the story, so younger readers can also appreciate it with a little interest or assistance!)

Scaredy SquirrelScaredy Squirrel, by Mélanie Watt (2006, early to middle elementary, suggested by GirlChild): In this introduction to the series, we meet Scaredy Squirrel, a perpetually worried creature with a contingency plan (and emergency kit) for just about any emergency, from green Martians to killer bees. He stays in his own nut tree and has the same routine day after day: he wakes up, eats, looks at the view, eats, looks at the view, eats, looks at the view, and goes to sleep. One day, however, he sees a killer bee and is so shocked that he drops his emergency kit and jumps to catch it before realizing that he is not wearing his parachute. He is delighted to discover that he is no ordinary squirrel but a flying squirrel! After landing and playing dead for the obligatory two hours, he returns home and makes big plans to add “jump into the unknown” to his daily schedule (at promptly 9:37 a.m.). These books are full of different kinds of fun text, diagrams, and lists, and even the most worried of children will see how silly Scaredy Squirrel is as he faces his days and triumphantly overcomes the mundane!

Animal Ark: Squirrels in the School, Animal Ark: Squirrels in the Schoolby Ben M. Baglio (1996, middle to upper elementary): The Animal Ark series is apparently set somewhere in the U.K. and has been around for over two decades. It features Mandy Hope, the daughter of two veterinarians who run the Animal Ark Veterinary Hospital. Mandy (aided and abetted by her friend, James) is a little overly dedicated to the cause of animals, going so far in this book as to hope that a person is responsible for the damage she discovers to the costumes she is making for a school play rather than believe it of a family of grey squirrels! Crusading animal lovers will appreciate the dramatic sentiment behind Mandy’s interventions and will probably enjoy all the books in the series. They might actually learn a few things, too, since one of Mandy’s character traits is that she is driven to learn all she can about each animal she encounters, and her parents and James are good sources of scientific detail.

Flora and UlyssesFlora and Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo (2013, upper elementary to middle school): Ulysses is the squirrel in question, and he’s quite an amazing squirrel–even cynical Flora can see that! I’ve already reviewed this book here, so I won’t do it again. This is a Newbery Medal winner, however, so it’s worth checking out, particularly for fans of graphic novels!

Nonfiction:

Animals in My Backyard: Squirrels,Animals in my Backyard: Squirrels by Jordan McGill (2012, preschool to early elementary): The face-value contents of this book are very clearly meant for very young listeners or the earliest readers of nonfiction. Each page contains a large photograph of a squirrel with a single sentence (or rarely, two sentences) relating to the photograph. The sentences are mostly very simple statements, and a few are compound. Another feature that makes this book easy to read is the repetition of phrases or words on the page or from one page to the next, and the typeface is a geometric sans-serif font that is the printed equivalent of a preschool teacher’s handwriting (possibly Futura–I’m no expert), increasing letter recognition for children who struggle with letters that are often different in handwriting and books (like ‘a’ and ‘g’). This is a “media enhanced book” by AV2 Books, and I was kind of hoping for an interactive experience that BoyChild could navigate on his own, but the media content (as accessed by going to http://www.av2books.com and entering the unique book code printed inside your book) varies in content between short videos (which BoyChild loved) and weblinks to related pages to simple word searches and reading-based activities (which he can’t do yet), mazes, and matching activities on PDF. It is possible that an adult could print out the worksheet-like pages, although it would be preferable if your PDF viewer supported filling in fields (which mine didn’t, for some reason). There is also an answer key available. I was hoping for a little more interactivity, but just having readily available media extensions, however limited, is a bonus.

Backyard Wildlife: SquirrelsBackyard Wildlife: Squirrels (Blastoff! Readers, level 1), by Derek Zobel (2011, early elementary): This leveled non-fiction reader is perfect for a new reader to learn a little about squirrels. The minimal text on each page is supported by photography intended to aid comprehension, and bold words are defined in the glossary. For further learning, a few books are suggested, and the webpage factsurfer.com (with instructions for how to search for squirrel information) is recommended. This appears to be a very simple curated search engine for kids; not all of the links were helpful, but the Discovery Kids site has promise for regular animal research!

Life Cycles: Squirrels, Life Cycles: Squirrelsby Julie K. Lundgren (2011, early to middle elementary): While this book has a lot more text than the following one, I feel like the age range is just as broad, particularly because it feels like it could be easily read aloud to students. Independent readability is more in the middle elementary range, and independent readers would need to know how to use a glossary for some of the unfamiliar vocabulary that is in bold print but isn’t defined in the text. Large photographs, Did You Know? sidebar trivia, and a simple life cycle diagram at the end to review the information presented in the book add to the readability. Besides the life cycle information, the book includes information about the three basic kinds of squirrels (ground, tree, and flying), a map of where in the world squirrels can be found, and information about predators and attracting squirrels to your yard for your personal entertainment (which is actually against code in my town!). A very nice book for a squirrel unit or basic research.

Backyard Jungle Safari: Gray SquirrelsBackyard Jungle Safari: Gray Squirrels, by Tammy Gagne (2015, early to middle elementary): I’m not sure of this book’s gimmick, but the information seems solid. The human characters in the book, Jack and Sophia, are a brother-sister team of backyard explorers…but we never see them. They speak some, but the majority of the text is a combination of somewhat stilted language and a more casual tone. (So is their dialogue, I suppose. I’ve never heard children use the phrasing these kids sometimes do!) While it’s not exactly a gripping narrative, middle elementary readers will probably learn a good deal in a relatively concise way with many photographs of wildlife (with illustrated backgrounds) and snippets of trivia that might catch their interest. Other topics in the series include foxes, opossums, and raccoons.

Take-Along Guide: Rabbits, Squirrels, and Chipmunks, Take-Along Guide: Rabbits, Squirrels, and Chipmunksby Mel Boring, illustrations by Linda Garrow (1996, middle to upper elementary): While older readers might prefer a less juvenile looking field guide, the contents of this take-along guide to small mammals are perfect for independent use by upper elementary students, particularly if being used for research or for reading straight through for general knowledge. Featuring different varieties of rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks from around the United States, each page has multiple illustrations of the featured animal and text sections for what it looks like, what it eats, where to find it, and an interesting fact. After each section, there are a few activities or crafts to try, such as making a rabbit paperweight, a squirrel nut-ball, or a chipmunk tightrope. There are also some empty pages for scrapbooking pictures or other artifacts related to your small mammal search. The only things I would suggest to improve the usability of this book as a field guide is to include a small map on each page to show the range of the species or to group them by region to make identifying a specimen in the wild easier for young explorers. For simple research purposes, it is fine as it is.

Other:

Squirrels,” by the Beastly Boys (parody of the Beastie Boys’ “Girls”): You might want to give this song a listen before letting your young children hear it just in case it gets stuck in their heads and you don’t care for the lyrics, but this is always my first thought when I think of squirrels because of my brother’s dedication to the Dr. Demento Show as a teenager!

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Reblog: 25 Mini-Adventures in the Library

A school librarian friend of mine pinned this blog post on Pinterest, and it sounds like so much fun! I’m thinking this would be great for people who home school, parents during the summer with their kids, and my sister-in-law for her every-sleepover-trip-to-the-library with her girls and their friends!

 

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