Tag Archives: activity idea

The Beasts and Children, Day 12: Christmas with the Mousekins

Christmas with the Mousekins

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!

1 Comment

Filed under book tie-in activity/recipe, review, theme

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!

Leave a comment

Filed under teaching suggestion, theme

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!

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under review, teaching suggestion, theme

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!

Leave a comment

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

Themed Third Thursday: This is Series-ous

As school wraps up in the next couple of weeks, there are the long days of summer stretching ahead of most families. While I hate to suggest that you force daily education down your children’s throats in their downtime, I do strongly suggest you get them interested in a good book! Sometimes, though, kids read one book they like and then fizzle out, and that’s no good. If a kid gets hooked on a series, however, you’ve got picking a book made simple! Here you will find a great variety of series for a great variety of kids!

Cat the CatCat the Cat and Elephant & Piggie books, by Mo Willems (preschool/early elementary): I reviewed these series in a previous post about Mo Willems’ works. While the Cat the Cat books provide great verbal practice and plenty of repetition, the Elephant & Piggie books provide a fabulous chance to practice expression (both the verbal sort and the facial sort). Both make fantastic read-alouds for preschoolers and up, and both are good starter books for independent readers. The Cat the Cat series is a bit simpler than the Elephant & Piggie books, almost like Dick and Jane (with the limited, repetitive, rhyming vocabulary) but TONS more fun! I personally prefer the Elephant & Piggie books, Elephant & Piggieprobably because I love to read aloud dramatically, and Elephant Gerald is just so dramatic! It’s also a great series for shared reading since the books typically feature just the two characters, and all the words are either spoken dialogue or sound effects (and color coded so it’s easy for the readers to know which line belongs to which reader). These are perfect first series books for early readers!

Fancy NancyFancy Nancy, by Jane O’Connor (preschool to middle elementary): Fancy Nancy stars in books from picture books to early leveled readers to stories for middle elementary readers. Fancy Nancy not only likes a lot of glitz and embellishment in her appearance, but she loves to use fancy words, too! (She defines each of her “fancy” words in parentheses after she uses one, so that helps with comprehension if your reader’s vocabulary isn’t the same as Nancy’s.) Great for celebrating chronic girliness and a well-developed vocabulary, these books appeal strongly to little girls like GirlChild who have a bigger vocabulary than they know what to do with but still love the glitter and sparkle of dress-up and decor. (The website, in addition to having lists of the books and printables for crafts and word activities, also has a great page of tips for the adults of aspiring Nancys with entries about planning birthday parties, tea parties, sleepovers, and encouraging reading.)

Junie B. Jones, by Barbara Park Junie B. Jones(early elementary): I have to start with this caveat: Junie B. is a terrible role model! Her grammar is iffy, her vocabulary is often impolite (she uses “stupid” and “hate,” if you’re concerned about your child picking up such things), and her behavior is something not to be emulated. I personally wouldn’t turn GirlChild loose with these books at this point just because we’d be less likely to discuss the implications of Junie B.’s choices (and it must always be Junie B.!), and GirlChild is kind of into pushing the boundaries right now, but they really are kind of hilarious books. Junie B. is like a less-responsible Ramona Quimby (and I would definitely suggest the Ramona books as a series, too–GirlChild just finished reading them and then listening to them on audiobook this year!), and everything is told from her point of view, so you can almost see why she would say or do the outrageous things that she says and does! (I actually read Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business to my third-graders to help announce my pregnancy with GirlChild way back when!) Once you’ve established that your child isn’t going to be easily led astray by Junie B.’s example, I think you’re safe to let your reader enjoy her! (Although Junie B. is in kindergarten and first grade in these books, many of my fifth graders actually loved reading about her! I think age and perspective enhances the humor since an older reader isn’t in the middle of the kindergarten angst that Junie B. is living in her stories, and the fact that they’re a quick and easy read made them attractive as well.)

Fly GuyFly Guy books, by Tedd Arnold (early elementary): My first Tedd Arnold book was Green Wilma, but I had a good collection of Fly Guy books in my classroom when I taught third grade! Completely silly, easy to read, and complete with covers that catch the eye, these are the kind of easy reader that older kids aren’t embarrassed to be seen reading but aren’t intimidating to younger readers. I have to note that GirlChild refuses to read any of these books because she thinks flies are gross, so you might want to save this suggestion for the less squeamish among your young readers. They would probably appeal to the same sort of kids who would like Jon Sciesczka or Dav Pilkey later in life…

Young Cam Jansen mysteries, by David A. Adler Young Cam Jansen(early elementary): The Cam Jansen books with which I’m most familiar are written for older kids (Cam is starting fifth grade in one of them, and they’re recommended for grades 2-5), but this series is just perfect for early elementary readers. Cam (her nickname, based on “Camera,” because of her photographic memory) and her friend Eric solve simple mysteries based on observation and memory. This series has an Easy Reader Level of 3 (transitional reader), and the Guided Reading range is J-M. Because of the nonthreatening mysteries and Cam’s tendency to talk through the clues, young readers can feel like they have mystery-solving skills and might even work on their observational skills in real life! In addition to the books in the Young Cam Jansen series, the original series can help extend an interested reader’s book list once they have become more confident readers.

LuluLulu books, by Hilary McKay (early to middle elementary): Lulu is “famous for animals”; her cousin, Mellie, is famous for losing things (among other things). They are both in Class Three (3rd grade, perhaps?) at school. (The author is British, and the school is presumably also in the UK.) Lulu’s parents have rules about her pets (pretty much that she can have as many animals as she wants as long as she cleans up after them), and her teacher does, too: No. More! (She’s not really an animal person.) Each book in this series is about Lulu having an animal adventure either with her own pets or an animal she finds. The author has also written a series about animals that features a boy protagonist, Charlie. (The author says one of her favorite parts of being a children’s writer is reading letters from kids, so maybe having your children use the Contact Me page on her website or maybe try her publishers (since I can’t find a direct address for her) would be a good extension idea!)

Ivy and Bean, by Annie Barrows and Sophie Blackall Ivy and Bean(middle elementary): Seven-year-old Bean has no intention of making friends with boring, well-behaved Ivy across the street just because her mother says she should. Ivy (who we come to find out is not nearly as boring or well-behaved as she appears) feels similarly about wild-and-crazy Bean. When circumstances intervene (Bean tries to escape punishment when a prank on her sister goes too far, and Ivy helps her hide), they realize that they are well-suited for friendship after all. Ivy has aspirations to become a real-life, potion-making witch (although none of her spells have worked out so far), and Bean is happy to contribute to Ivy’s ever-changing room set-up with its activity zones. (Bean’s mom sets some ground rules for their potion-making plans, including no poisons or explosions, but she is happy to have them play together.) And this is how Ivy and Bean begin their unusual and loyal friendship!

Adventures of the Bailey School KidsThe Adventures of the Bailey School Kids, by Debbie Dadey and Marcia Thornton Jones (middle  to upper elementary): While I inherited several of these from the fifth grade teacher who had my classroom before me, I had never actually read one!  They are pretty solidly middle grade level readers, but the amount of “education” happening in the pages (in the one I read, Werewolves Don’t Run for President, readers get many only-slightly-subtle lessons in government, and there is an appendix with additional facts as well) means that there is content for older readers, too. It’s not surprising that the authors are a teacher and librarian team who used to work together in a school! I wouldn’t try to extol the virtues of the educational aspect to your young readers, but they might end up learning something in spite of themselves. The series begins with the Bailey School Kids (two boys and two girls) in third grade, and they believe their teacher, Mrs. Jeepers, is a vampire. Each book has a similar scenario: 1) Adult behaves oddly. 2) Children believe adult to be some mythical creature. 3) Children solve some issue but never clearly prove or disprove theory about mythical creature. The authors use a lot of loaded figurative language (“howled with laughter,” “Mr. Youngblood stalked across,” “voice was as low and growly as a Doberman pinscher’s”) to support the characters’ assumptions. For a teacher wanting to use these books, the aspect of using loaded language and perspective to influence a reading audience is something that can definitely be used with older students.

The Time Warp Trio, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith Time Warp Trio(middle elementary): These books are deceptively short in that they pack a lot of educational value (and silly, silly stuff!) into their brief pages. Joe’s uncle, a magician, gives him a special book for his birthday: The Book. The Book has the power to transport Joe and his friends Sam and Fred anywhere in time (and, in a couple cases, myths and their summer reading list!). Scieszka and Smith’s quirky humor can make delving into the Wild West, King Arthur’s court, or the Stone Age a hilarious way to pick up tidbits of information about history that might spark further investigation (and we all know that historical and speculative fiction are gateway books to nonfiction research!). Perfect for that hard-to-engage reader with an unconventional funny bone!

Boxcar ChildrenThe Boxcar Children, by Gertrude Chandler Warner (elementary): I read the first Boxcar Children book aloud to both kids, and they were enchanted from the start. Now they play Boxcar Children on a pretty regular basis (GirlChild is either Jessie or Violet, and BoyChild is always Benny!), watch the movie on Netflix regularly, and GirlChild has gotten into the mystery series that follows. While none of them stack up to the original, the extremely lengthy series has been pretty popular in my classrooms (and you don’t get over 100 titles in a series without there being a market for them!). It’s been a long, long while since I had read any of them, so I went ahead and reread Tree House Mystery (#14) just to get a feel for them, and the kids have already aged enough that Benny (the  youngest, just learning his alphabet in the first book) is older than ten, and Henry (the oldest) is driving. More recent additions to the series (like #132, Mystery of the Fallen Treasure) seem to be a modern reboot: Benny is six again, and Henry Googles things on his cell phone. (This is decidedly odd in that the originals were set in the ’30s or ’40s, so the unaccompanied minors living on their own in the woods thing wouldn’t have been as strange as it would be were it happening in the 2000s!) The mysteries are typically pretty mild and the children well-behaved and conscientious. This might be a good series for the kind of child who wants to read mysteries but is sensitive to frightening things or situations (like GirlChild) or as high-interest, low-reading-level series for those who can tolerate well-behaved children and simple mystery stories. And the first book, at the very least, is a good read for any child! (For the truly dedicated, there’s a Boxcar Children Museum in Connecticut in the author’s hometown, and Patricia MacLachlan has even written a sort of prequel!)

Clubhouse Mysteries, by Sharon M. Draper Clubhouse Mysteries/Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs(middle to upper elementary): By the Coretta Scott King award winning author of many YA books and the Sassy series for tween girls, this series has a cast of four black preteen boys from Ohio who, out of boredom after their neighborhood basketball court is destroyed, create a club they call the Black Dinosaurs. They build a clubhouse using old fence sections, and when they dig to bury their club treasures, they discover a buried box full of bones. (This is where the first mystery comes in!) While the slim volumes and attractive but somewhat juvenile cover art make these books look like they are geared toward middle elementary (the kids on the cover look to be second or third graders to me), the characters are actually just out of fifth grade (and are illustrated as such on the inside illustrations), and many references in the book are to historical events and topics that are likely not studied (in school, at least) until fourth or fifth grade (like knowing who the Tuskegee airmen were to better understand a reference to Tuskegee University). GirlChild enjoyed the book, actually, and asked for the next one in the series, but I am fairly sure she didn’t get anything deeper out of it than that some kids made a club and found a box of bones. This six-book series was apparently first published under the title Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs and had more realistic cover art, and I can definitely see it as a teaching tool (for introducing some of the topics brought up in the books) for younger students or as a high-interest/lower-reading-level book for upper elementary (although I think the original covers would make the series more marketable to older kids than the current ones).

Secrets of the ManorSecrets of the Manor, by Adele Whitby (middle to upper elementary): Each book in this historical fiction series focuses on the girls from a noble family based at Chatsworth Manor in the English countryside. The first Elizabeth and Katherine were twins, and the eldest daughter from each following generation is named after the matriarch of that family line. The first Elizabeth’s family line remains at Chatsworth Manor, and Katherine moved to America upon her marriage, so her family line lives at Vandermeer Manor in Rhode Island. As suggested by the title of the series, this is, in part, a mystery series…like American (er, and English) Girl meets the Boxcar Children (but with more money). While the storyline in the first book seemed pretty predictable and slightly anachronistic in regards to attitudes and behaviors, I am not entirely familiar with the time frame in which these books take place (1848-1934 for the first six books in the series (and not in chronological order!)), so I could be stuck thinking of Regency manners and unaware of progress in that area. GirlChild adores these books (the peerage is a step down from royalty, I guess, but it’s close enough for her!), and I’m sure she’ll be excited to read the new ones (set in Paris) that are just coming out, too!

A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony SnicketA Series of Unfortunate Events (upper elementary/middle school): Another quirky series best enjoyed by readers who revel in wordplay and a bit of Gothic parody, I am feeling a distinct reminiscence for Northanger Abbey as I reread the first pages… If your child is sensitive and will take these books seriously (like GirlChild at this point in her reading life), they probably will not enjoy these books at all. If, however, they seem to the sort to really enjoy Monsters Eat Whiny Children and anything by Jon Scieszka, this is more likely their thing. (I’m hoping GirlChild will grow into them, and I see BoyChild as a future fan!) The Baudelaire orphans, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, live a life which is, in fact, a series of unfortunate events from the time of the mysterious death of their parents and their subsequent placement in the care of an unscrupulous relative, Count Olaf. Written from the point of view of a man who is following their trail and reporting their misfortunes, these thirteen books are full of well-meaning but bumbling adults, perilous events, last-minute saves based on Violet’s inventions, Klaus’ intelligence, or Sunny’s sharp incisors (Really.), sly humor, and fabulous vocabulary. If your reader is the sort to tent his or her fingers and plan devious plots (but not actually the sort to go through with them–that’s too far!), he or she might find this series worth a try! (I think the characters in Ivy and Bean might like these books when they’re a little older, actually…)

Who Was...?Who Was…? books (elementary): These biographies are the perfect sort to keep in an elementary classroom. They are written as narratives with occasional inserts of background information on the times or events being discussed. They are written chronologically, are easy to follow and interesting, and the more difficult aspects of lives are not gone into in gory detail, but they are discussed. (For instance, Who Was Ronald Reagan? discusses his father’s alcoholism, his divorce, the assassination attempt, and his Alzheimer’s disease.) Although these books are not written for research purposes, they would make great first-reads for someone needing to write a biographical report because they introduce topics about the person’s life that the reader can then use to guide and inform their further research. (Also includes What Is…?/What Was…?/Who Is…? books for other nonfiction reading!)

Other series previously reviewed/mentioned:

Topsy and Tim

Themed Third Thursday: Princess Possibilities: Princess Posey and The Rescue Princesses and The Royal Diaries

Themed Third Thursday: My Bin of Books: How Do Dinosaurs…? and Pigeon and Llama Llama and Magic Tree House series

Themed Third Thursday: An Incidental Christmas: most of the titles, so click through to the post to find links for the series!

The Very Fairy Princess

Rainbow Magic Fairies (Christmas) (and all the rest on Amazon)

Fun Fourth Friday: Andrew Clements: Keepers of the School

Themed Third Thursday: Anthropomorphic Animals: Geronimo Stilton and Warriors

Themed Third Thursday: The Naughty List Edition: Horrible Harry and Artemis Fowl

(And that’s not all! I just got tired of linking! Search “series” in the search box on the right sidebar to find more!)

What series books would you recommend for summertime reading for kids? Leave your suggestions in the comments!

Leave a comment

Filed under online resources, reader input sought, teaching suggestion, theme

Chalk, by Bill Thomson

Chalk, by Bill Thomson

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!

Additional titles:

Fossil(another wordless book)

Building with Dad(illustrated by the author/illustrator)

Leave a comment

Filed under book tie-in activity/recipe, review, teaching suggestion

Themed Third Thursday: April Showers

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 Kidshttp://69.195.124.116/~jdanielf/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/jdaniel4smom_17_rainy_day_books_collage_title.jpg: 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.Books About Puddles

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!

Umbrella Stories for Kids10 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 5 Rain-Themed Read Aloud Books | This Reading Mamashares 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!

Leave a comment

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