Christmas with the Mousekins, by Maggie Smith (2010)
As we enter the last two weeks leading up to Christmas, this book about a mouse family’s activities during the same time might lead to some inspiration…and maybe some cinnamon snails!
The book opens as Papa Mousekin starts getting out the Christmas decorations two weeks before Christmas. (I’m actually right there with him this year!) The family–Papa, Mama, Mimi, Momo, and Baby–goes to find the perfect tree, and before they even get it set up at home, Nana Mousekin arrives for her Christmas visit. She and the older children make decorations while Papa and Mama set up the tree, and the children write their letters to Santa while the adults get the lights up. Then they all decorate the tree. Ten days before Christmas is the baking day; they bake cookies of all sorts to give as gifts (and to keep for themselves!). A week before Christmas is spent ice skating, sledding, and building snowmice in the fresh snow. Five days before Christmas, the carolers come around, and the Mousekin family has cookies and hot drinks to share. The day before Christmas, everyone is hurrying to finish up their gifts for one another. When everything is finished, Nana tells the story of Papa Mousekin’s first Christmas, the one where Santa Mouse had to rescue Grandpa Mouse from a snowstorm and delivered him down the chimney! On Christmas morning, the children come down the stairs to see the stockings filled and the tree surrounded by gifts. Finally, after their Christmas dinner, the Mousekins go around to all their friends and neighbors to deliver Christmas cookies, then they return home to enjoy their gifts together. On the very last page, on the day after Christmas, Mimi writes a thank-you letter to Santa for “all the good cheer that Santa Mouse brought to her family this year.”
It might not be possible to explore all of this book in one sitting with a young listener, and an independent reader might get sidetracked by ideas, too–even the endpapers are filled with craft instructions! BoyChild was obsessed with the speech-bubble-esque words in the illustrations (no actual speech bubbles, but spoken words in hand-written text to differentiate from the italicized story font), and I had to stop reading the story to read each word that was spoken by the mice in the pictures. There are so many details in each image that a child could spend an hour just looking through the book and still not catch everything. Then there are the craft instructions and recipes interspersed with the story, and there are even some items pictured (like the felt skates with paper clip blades and pinwheel cookies) that don’t get an explanation because there just isn’t enough space! This would be a great book to use with your elementary aged children to create a personalized family timeline of Christmas plans (maybe opting to start decorating a little earlier and not wait until the last minute to finish craft projects!) to both pace your Christmas activities and to help manage anticipation by laying out what comes next. You might get some great ideas for spending time together, too!
Chalk, by Bill Thomson (2010)
This wordless book has become BoyChild’s favorite this week!
What drew BoyChild to this book initially was the dinosaur (well, dinosaur ride-on toy) on the cover. We picked it out once before sometime last year, and he and GirlChild both browsed it, but this time, it has been an every day request! We started by just looking at the pictures and discussing what was going on in them, but then BoyChild asked me to make up a story to go with it. Janelle, Christina, and Billy are the children’s names in my story, and if I forget to roar in the right places, BoyChild lets me know! Because there aren’t any printed words at all, the reader can make up any storyline at all and include as much dialogue or as many sound effects as necessary to hold the listener’s attention (or let the little “reader” make the story up him or herself–I love listening to BoyChild tell stories to himself!). The basic plot is that some kids are out on a rainy day and find a bag of chalk that makes drawings come to life!
The illustrations are nearly photo realistic, and the back pages contain a note assuring the reader that the artist is not using photographs or computer illustrations…these were done in acrylics and colored pencil! It’s almost hard to believe when you look at the sheen on the dinosaur toy, the texture of the concrete, the level of detail given to even the smallest things (like the back of an earring). The illustrator plays with angles and perspective so you feel like you’re sometimes spying from above, sometimes in the thick of things, sometimes looking on from the sidelines. There’s a distinct Jumanji feel to the story and the illustrations, but it is definitely still a unique work!
Although the illustrations are amazing and the appeal obvious, one of the best things about this book is, I think, the variety of possible extensions beyond the pages. I have asked BoyChild what he would draw (a dinosaur…but that’s pretty much all he does draw!), where he thinks the chalks came from (another boy put them there), where he thinks the chalks got their magic (he couldn’t figure that one out)…on and on! This is not only a fantastic one-on-one exercise to practice comprehension and critical thinking, but I believe that this book would be an amazing springboard for a creative writing/art project in any elementary grade. What a child in kindergarten might draw and write about would differ completely from what a fifth grader might dream up, and therein lies the beauty! There is just so much a teacher or parent could do with this…I could even see a library summer reading program from it! Check out the book, grab a bag of chalks, and enjoy!
(another wordless book)
(illustrated by the author/illustrator)
Okay, so it’s been another one of those months. (Guess what! BoyChild gets to get his third set of ear tubes soon! Um, yay?) Instead of our regularly scheduled programming, I’m going to share websites and blogs with book lists and activities for rainy days!
17 Rainy Day Books for Kids: JDaniel4’s Mom shares seventeen picture and informational books about rain for younger readers and listeners. These range from Mo Willems’ Are You Ready to Play Outside? (an Elephant and Piggie book) to The Big Storm: A Very Soggy Counting Book. A good resource for rain-themed reading for preschool and early elementary aged children.
Puddle Play Rainy Day Ideas: Fantastic Fun and Learning gathered a collection of links for rainy day activities (indoor and out!) and a list of puddle books for small children. A preschool or kindergarten teacher might find a rainy day saved with some of these ideas!
10 Umbrella Stories for All Types of Weather: This book list by Edventures for Kids has books for kids from preschool to middle school. I did not realize there was this kind of variety in books about umbrellas! (My personal favorite book that has an umbrella in it–be it ever so briefly–is Un Lun Dun, a great read for upper elementary and middle school readers!)
FREE Rainy Day Pre-K/K Pack: This Reading Mama shares a download that includes lesson plans and worksheets for the littles along with her list of five rain-themed read aloud books to go with the lessons. Looks like a great resource for homeschoolers and preschool and kindergarten teachers!
And for the grown-ups? Pretty much any book is a rainy day book! My favorite current series for adult readers is the Jane Austen Mysteries series by Stephanie Barron!