Tag Archives: biography

Themed Third Thursday: This is Series-ous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other series previously reviewed/mentioned:

Topsy and Tim

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

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

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

The Very Fairy Princess

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

Fun Fourth Friday: Andrew Clements: Keepers of the School

Themed Third Thursday: Anthropomorphic Animals: Geronimo Stilton and Warriors

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

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

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


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Themed Third Thursday: Let’s Eat!

I noticed while trying to select picture books for BoyChild recently that there are innumerable books for small children that revolve around food. (Friends, family, and feelings finish off the list of the four f’s of children’s literature, I think.) As I browsed the shelves and picked the mind of our branch children’s librarian, I found that the food theme isn’t limited to picture books! Below you’ll find a selection of books with more than a passing concern for victuals for a wide range of ages and interests–books about food, books with a lot of incidental food included, chef biographies, cookbooks, and cookbooks about food in books. It’s rather astonishing, really. Bon appétit!

The Baker's DozenThe Baker’s Dozen: A Counting Book, by Dan Andreasen (2007): When the clock shows the early hour of 5 a.m., we see the baker start his day by making one cream éclair. By the time 6:20 rolls around, he’s on seven tarts, and when the clock strikes 8:00, he’s got twelve small cupcakes ready to go to open the door to his thirteen waiting customers! Cute illustrations of a very cheery chef making a diverse collection of treats will entertain young readers and counters and more definitely inspire requests for a snack! Perfect for preschoolers and early elementary children.

Pancakes, Pancakes! by Eric Carle (1990): Pancakes, Pancakes!In this leveled reader (Ready-to-Read Level One), Jack has to gather what his mother needs to make pancakes (from threshing the wheat to milking the cow!) before he can have his breakfast. While many of the words may be unfamiliar to a child who hasn’t farmed the land, they are at least simple to sound out, and the pictures and progression of the story lend themselves to predictions and picture clue strategies for understanding the text. Don’t let the scary pancake face on the cover fool you…there are no talking breakfast foods in this book! Good for early readers (particularly those fond of pancakes and/or Eric Carle books) and a great mentor text for writing a simple story about putting together a meal (and then doing so)!

Perfect Pancakes if You PleasePerfect Pancakes if You Please, by William Wise, pictures by Richard Egielski (1997): King Felix is a greedy and picky ruler, and he promises the hand of his daughter Princess Elizabeth in marriage in exchange for the perfect stack of pancakes. Her mother comforts her by saying that there is no such thing as a stack of perfect pancakes…unless you used “black magic itself,” and only Maximillian, the Evil Inventor, still used it in their kingdom, and he is so old that she believes he is probably dead by now. She is, unfortunately, incorrect, and when Princess Elizabeth refuses to marry him, he leaves his pancake-making invention to keep making pancakes until they overwhelm the kingdom. A tall, handsome scientist whom Princess Elizabeth had admired during the contest invents a flying machine to take the pancake-making machine to the moon, and the evil inventor gets trapped inside and shipped off with his machine. Princess Elizabeth marries the handsome young scientist, and not another pancake is eaten in all the kingdom ever again. Best for early elementary independent reading and read-alouds.

Gator Gumbo, by Candace Fleming, Gator Gumbopictures by Sally Anne Lambert (2004): A bayou version of The Little Red Hen, Gator Gumbo tells the story of Monsieur Gator who is so old he can’t catch food anymore and is endlessly mocked by his former prey while he sadly eats his vegetables for every meal. One day he gets so angry at their taunts that he gets “hot…red hot…hotter than…Gumbo!” and gets a great idea. You can tell that there’s something stewing in his head more than in his pot by the look in his eye as he asks possum, otter, and skunk if they will help add each ingredient and gets the response, “I ain’t” (instead of “Not I!”) from each of them, so it’s barely a surprise when finally agrees to let the loafers try some tasty gumbo…and they all fall in the pot, the last and best ingredients in his gumbo. A little macabre, sure, but you have to tip your hat to Monsieur Gator for his ingenuity! A good read-aloud for preschool and early elementary or independent read for middle elementary readers.

Amelia Bedelia Bakes OffAmelia Bedelia Bakes Off, by Herman Parish, pictures by Lynn Sweat (2010): I already wrote about the cake and some of the book elements in a previous blog entry, so you can get the details there. In short, in this installment in the series (written by the nephew of the original author after her death), Amelia Bedelia (who we already know is a good cook!) helps out in a bakery with her cousin Alcolu (whose name I cannot pronounce! AL-coe-loo? Al-COE-loo? AL-cuh-loo? Al-cuh-LOO?) as a favor for the baker who is taking the day off. Typical Amelia-Bedelia-ness occurs. And then she makes an impossibly perfect cake out of a basic (but tasty!) recipe. Sure to bring out giggle-fits in less literally-minded children with the background knowledge to understand the misunderstandings. 🙂 An excellent choice for early elementary, particularly children with a pun-ny sense of humor and some baking experience in their personal history. Alternately, this book could be used to introduce some baking knowledge to encourage an attempt at baking (like it did with us!).

George Crum and the Saratoga Chip, George Crum and the Saratoga Chipby Gaylia Taylor, illustrated by Frank Morrison (2006): The author notes the inconsistency and scarcity of historical accounts about the creator of the potato chip, George Crum, a chef at Moon’s Lake House in Saratoga Springs, New York back in the 1800s, but she pieces what she can together into a brief biographical story of the man whose feisty (love that word!) attitude and distaste for being looked down upon helped him stumble accidentally upon a recipe for one of America’s favorite snack foods. With its rich illustrations in acrylic and its text-heavy pages, this picture book is best as a read-aloud for a smallish group of good listeners or for independent middle elementary readers. (Three other picture book biographies I didn’t have a chance to actual read to review are Hiromi’s Hands, The Adventurous Chef: Alexis Soyer, and Bon Appétit!: The Delicious Life of Julia Child, and they all look great!)

All in Just One CookieAll in Just One Cookie, by Susan E. Goodman, illustrated by Timothy Bush (2006): Grandma’s expecting company, so she’s baking up a batch of cookies. Her cat and dog (I don’t know why) go on a quest to discover where each of the ingredients originates. With each new ingredient (conveniently listed with instructions like amounts and how to mix it in) comes an explanation of where and how the ingredient is produced for use at home. While this isn’t the sort of book most kids will pore over alone, it would certainly go over well with the curious and those just wanting those chocolate chip cookies at the end! Best for elementary age children with an adult for assistance.

Chocolate Fever, by Robert Kimmel Smith Chocolate Fever(1972): I read this chocolate-themed classic for the first time ever when I was searching for books for this list, and I was pleasantly surprised. While the book clearly has some extremely silly parts (I mean, the kid breaks out in chocolate spots, for Pete’s sake), the gentle references to racism brought up by Mac (the truck driver from whom Henry catches a ride), his reminders to Henry about how his actions must be making his loving parents feel, and the bullying Henry faces on the playground because of his appearance all bring up important and serious topics within the funny framework of a boy catching chocolate fever. Chocolate-loving Henry makes a good story for middle elementary students for independent or group reading.

Lisa the Lollipop FairyLisa the Lollipop Fairy (Rainbow Magic: The Sugar & Spice Fairies), by Daisy Meadows (2013): One of the seven books in the Sugar & Spice Fairies branch of the Rainbow Magic series, Lisa the Lollipop Fairy tells the story of what happens when Jack Frost steals Lisa’s fairy charm and all sugary treats lose their sweetness. Just like in the tooth fairy book from the same series, Kirsty and Rachel save the day (as far as lollipops are concerned–stay tuned for the next book to see if they save ice cream, too!). GirlChild, for some girly-girl reason, really loves these books, so I’d say that the “appeals to 2nd-3rd graders” recommendation from the back of the book can be extended to include almost-first graders and that the “grade 4” reading level might be overstating things a little. Heaven forbid your child wants to have this book read aloud (not my cup of tea, but maybe yours!), but they make fun, light reading for fairy-obsessed little girls.

Pie, by Sarah Weeks (2011): Product DetailsAlice’s Aunt Polly had run the town’s pie shop–just called PIE–for years, and her award-winning (and very secret!) crust recipe was the envy of all. When she dies suddenly, her will reveals the incomprehensible bequest of her secret recipe to Lardo, her cat, and the somewhat hateful cat to her niece Alice. After these already unusual events, Pie is robbed, and no one can figure out who would have done it. Alice and her friend Charlie investigate the mysterious goings-on and try their hands at some pies (much like everyone else in town). The epilogue isn’t the traditional predictable ending, and a lot of reviewers seemed upset by that, but I thought it was a perfectly reasonable outcome and satisfying closure. Recommended for mother/daughter book clubs, this book includes the recipes for the different pies mentioned in the story (but not the crust recipe!), and the book page on the author’s website includes a number of ideas for using the book in the classroom as well. Readers in middle elementary to middle school would find this simple (but not simplistic) book an enjoyable read.

CookieCookie, by Jacqueline Wilson, illustrated by Nick Sharratt (2008): While I had never heard of this author before finding the book while browsing the shelves, she is apparently quite the thing in places where they get a better selection of books written by English authors, and she deals with a number of tough topics in her vast bibliography of children’s books for a range of ages. Another common thread I noticed among her books is the relatively unusual names of her female protagonists, and Beauty, the main character of this book, is no exception. While the book’s main conflict comes from the emotional abuse dished out by Beauty’s dad to both her and her mother, it still ties in with the food theme for a couple reasons. Beauty’s father uses food as part of his repertoire of insults and intimidation (according to him, Beauty eats too much of it, and her mother is an incompetent cook), and the redemption in the end comes from Beauty’s mother overcoming his harassment and actually making a name and an independence for herself as a cookie baker. Beauty, through helping her mother’s new business and finding her voice in the world, regains the confidence and happiness that she had lost under her father’s tyranny. Serious themes, obviously, but a good book for upper elementary and middle school readers.

The Flavor of Wisconsin for Kids, Flavor of Wisconsin for Kidsby Terese Allen and Bobbie Malone (2012): While you might not live in Wisconsin, you can use the subject search “Cooking–[your state name]” at your local library to find a similar cookbook for your own area! This particular book is organized by different “flavors from” categories, like forests (berries and maple sugar), waters and wetlands (fish and water-grown plants), meat and dairy farms (cheese, of course!), and foods from the different immigrant and native groups that have a strong presence in the area and an impact on regional cuisine. A brief introduction prefaces each section, and historical information is followed by a selection of relatively simple recipes that fit that category. Based on the complexity of the book and the somewhat mature palates necessary to enjoy many of these recipes, I’d recommend it for upper elementary and middle school readers and cooks (and their responsible adults at home or school).

Cool World CookingCool World Cooking: Fun and Tasty Recipes for Kids!, by Lisa Wagner (2013): I didn’t get a chance to try any of these recipes with GirlChild yet, but I love the set-up of the book. It is perfect for elementary age children to use with an adult or by themselves (with minimal adult help for safety purposes). There are several pages of cooking tools with pictures so kids know what they are and cooking terms with photo illustrations for clarity. Each section (Mexican, French, Italian, African, Middle Eastern, and Chinese and Japanese) includes information about the area, a pronunciation guide for the foods, a photo glossary of the ingredients needed for the recipes, and relatively simple recipes with some photographs for directions where it may be unclear. Lists of ingredients, tools needed, and symbols for warnings (oven use, sharp utensil use, nut warning) and variations are included on each recipe. Also includes an index and glossary at the end of the book.

The Unofficial Narnia Cookbook, Product Detailsby Dinah Bucholz (2012): One of several of her cookbooks based off of foods mentioned in some of her favorite books, this cookbook features recipes meant to replicate pretty much every single food or meal mentioned in the entire Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. The author includes a brief introduction to each menu or single recipe that includes a reference to where the food is mentioned in the books so you can look it up when you enjoy the meal. Many of the recipes are kind of complex, so this is definitely a cookbook meant to be used with an adult, not independently. While the index includes the food names, I do wish there were a section where the meals from each book were listed together so it would be easier to find the foods that went along with the book you’re reading without having to comb through the book for what foods are included. These recipes, as well as the ones in the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook by the same author, are best suited to parents and children who are fans of the respective series (with reading ability of at least one of them in the upper elementary and above range), and they’d be great to use as part of a summer reading push or homeschooling unit.




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Fun Fourth Friday: The Presidential Edition

I know Presidents’ Day is long gone by now, but there’s always next year (and fifth grade president reports this spring, right? people still do those?)!

While many kids learn all they know about the POTUS through their parents’ gritted teeth or abject praises, there are somewhat more subjective (and citable!) ways for children to learn about the lives and legacies of the past and present inhabitants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. In addition to a couple books about individual presidents (had a hard time finding too many that weren’t your standard elementary biography) and several encyclopedic anthologies, I’m including a list of some books that look fun and with focuses on others who have made their homes under the presidential roof.

George Washington and the General's DogGeorge Washington and the General’s Dog, by Frank Murphy, illustrated by Richard Walz (2002): This Step Into Reading book (my edition says step 2–early independent readers, 1st-3rd grade-ish) focuses on George Washington’s love of animals and one particular, obscure incident where he returned the opposing general’s dog to him after it was separated from him during battle as an acknowledgment of the bond between master and dog. Although the setting is obviously wartime, there is no blood or mention of casualties, so the story reveals a facet of Washington’s personality through a true story and is completely appropriate for very young readers. Included in the author’s note are images of George Washington on his horse, the note sent about the dog, Alexander Hamilton (who penned the note), and William Howe.

Looking at Lincoln, by Maira KalmanLooking at Lincoln, by Maira Kalman (2012): Decidedly whimsical, this book reproduces (in the illustrator’s own style) many iconic images relating to one of the most celebrated presidents of the United States. The author’s periodic musings throughout, as she interacts with the researched information, appear to be hand-lettered, and this helps set them apart from the statements of fact gleaned from the sources listed at the end of the book. Also included at the end are some brief notes of explanation for some of the images and people and events mentioned in the text.

So You Want to Be President?So You Want to Be President?, by Judith St. George, illustrated by David Small (2000): Sadly, the only copy of this I can find is terribly out-of-date–the last president it discusses is George H. W. Bush (and just calls him George Bush since there was no need for differentiation when it was published) and it mentions the lack of diversity in the office, and that has changed since its printing as well. (Reviews on Amazon say it’s been updated, but I can’t find a copy to confirm that.) I love the piecemeal approach of the So You Want to Be… series in that it brings up connections and names and random facts that are interesting enough to spark further research; it’s definitely not a book for research in itself! This book also won the Caldecott Medal in 2001 for its fun illustrations representing the presidents. Perhaps my favorite part of this book, however, is the ending pages where the author encourages any child who wants to be president to emulate the good qualities of the presidents who have gone before–no one is perfect, but everyone can try to do the best he or she can do!

Don't Know Much About the Presidents, by Kenneth C. DavisDon’t Know Much About the Presidents, by Kenneth C. Davis, illustrated by Pedro Martin (2002): I have always really liked Kenneth C. Davis’ Don’t Know Much About… books. Intended for elementary-aged children, this book (like the others in the series) tackles simple questions that children might have (“Why is it called the White House?”) as well as creating some other questions to impart trivia or important information about the subject. Although more for curiosity’s sake than for research, each president’s section gives information about his years in office and a timeline that helps place the president’s term(s) in history. Always a fun series to have in a classroom or library! (My copy only goes through George W. Bush, but there seems to be an update available that is the one linked through the cover image!)

The Presidents of the United States, by Simon AdamsThe Presidents of the United States, by Simon Andrews (2001): With timelines for major events in the lives and presidencies of each man and a brief sidebar telling the term, party, vice-president, first lady, and the number of states in the union, this book provides information that is suited to elementary age students. The text is written with headings, important terms in bold (defined in a simple glossary), and highlighted with reproductions and images of related paintings, sculptures, and documents from that president’s life, making this much like a social studies text for elementary students (maybe a homeschool textbook?). I actually really like this book for research for young learners or older students who need a simpler style or reading level. Unfortunately, no more recent editions of this book have come out, so it ends with our 43rd president. (Also, the George Washington cherry tree story is reported in a text box and is not labeled a legend; there could be other snippets like that which I missed, but it seems less likely with the less “legendary” presidents.)

Presidents (Eyewitness Books) (2000)Presidents (Eyewitness Books), written by James Braber in association with the Smithsonian Institution (2000): As is typical of Eyewitness Books, this book about the Presidents is big on images and information, but most of the content is to be found in the captions and short paragraphs on each topic. My copy is out an out-of-date edition, but the newest edition has a CDROM of clip art, a wall chart, and is apparently updated to include presidents through Barack Obama. (My copy ends with Clinton.) Because of the way the information is organized, the book is great for browsing and for finding fast facts (birth and death information and term dates are found in sidebars for each president). The presidents with more contributions to history (such as Washington, Eisenhower, and FDR) and more recent presidents have the most extensive sidebars of information and include information such as the exact date of inauguration, the age of the president, political party, and family information in addition to key historical events for the most influential presidents of the past. With an index for finding key information, this book could be used for some research, but the information is patchy enough that it is more likely a book for middle to upper elementary age students with an interest in tidbits of information about the presidents rather than extensive research.

Our Country's Presidents, by Ann BaumanOur Country’s Presidents (3rd edition), by Ann Bausum, foreword by President Barack Obama (2009): Since this National Geographic book was published in 2009, it has only a scant entry on the writer of the foreword, Barack Obama. However, the rest of the book is overflowing with detail, images, sidebars of information, and interrupting essays about historical events and other information with timelines that help place the presidents where they belong in history (which can be an extremely vague concept to many people, especially children). While it is definitely not the kind of book most people would just sit down and read through, the beginning of the book offers explanations of how it is set up and how to use the contents. Some interesting parts of each entry include a copy of the official presidential portrait (mostly paintings, some photographs), each president’s signature, and many images of primary source documents, photographs, mementos, and paintings from each term. Perfect for research or reference, budding historians, and future presidential hopefuls in upper elementary and middle school. (There is a more current edition, published in 2013. The large image of President Obama has been subbed out for an image of Washington; Obama is now shown in the strip at the bottom of the cover instead of Washington, and this is possibly because the 2009 edition was updated and printed to be put out in time for Obama’s inauguration and reverts to a more standard image with our first president as the “headliner” for the newest edition. Strangely, however, the image of Kennedy in the showcase at the bottom has been replaced by an image of Reagan instead–perhaps to avoid having three Democratic presidents featured and only Lincoln as a Republican?)

Michael Townsend's Where Do Presidents Come From?: And Other Presidential Stuff of Super-Great Importance

Michael Townsend’s Where Do Presidents Come From?: And other Presidential Stuff of Super-Great Importance, by Michael Townsend (2012): As you can probably tell by both the title and the cover image, this book is a somewhat unorthodox book about the presidency. It’s actually printed in graphic novel (also known as comic book) style and presents a huge amount of information (from presidential elections to the job of the president to presidential retirement) in a silly, accessible way. Recommended for upper elementary to middle school students because of the vast amount of information and unusual presentation style, this book is a good way to get an uninterested reader interested in the office of the president.

Lives of the Presidents: Fame, Shame (and What the Neighbors Thought)Lives of the Presidents: Fame, Shame (and What the Neighbors Thought), by Kathleen Krull and Kathryn Hewitt (2011): Covering all United States presidents from one to forty-four, some (the most notable and most recent) more deeply than others, this book provides primarily child-friendly, balanced information that would be of interest to upper elementary and middle school students. The public and private behavior of the presidents and their wives, their children and pets, any major accomplishments or scandals, and any inconsistencies between their private beliefs and their political opinions and actions are discussed in addition to the more trivial information. (This means that potentially PG-13 topics such as affairs, indiscretions, and unhealthy habits are mentioned in matter-of-fact, non-graphic ways, and anything suspected or gossiped about but unproven is typically stated as such. While these topics are not as big of a focus as they seemed in the artists book of the same series, I do recommend that a responsible adult previews this book and knows his or her child’s ability to handle more mature information before handing it over for independent perusal.) Interestingly, the one bit of information you will not find in this book is each president’s political party; a child is left to form an opinion of the person without the label to influence the decision. (I must admit that I feel decidedly more charitable toward Andrew Jackson–a president I remember for his irreverent treatment of the White House furniture!–now that I’ve learned that, shortly before he took office, his young wife died of an apparent heart attack brought on by stress due to the personal-attack campaign of his adversaries.) Besides their life in office, many of the mini-biographies include personal background information and what the president did after leaving office. Includes a bibliography.

Related titles:

First Ladies (Eyewitness Books)First Ladies (Eyewitness Books), by Amy Pastan in association with the Smithsonian Institution (2009): Again, an Eyewitness Book is a great browsing book with a ton of information tucked away in captions, images, and charts. Obviously less space is dedicated to each of these women than to their presidential spouses in the companion book, but the pictures and information will delight anyone interested in knowing more about the women in the White House! (In the Find Out More section at the end of the book, you can find websites and tourist attractions related to these women and their accomplishments!)

White House Kids: The Perks, Pleasures, Problems, andWhite House Kids Pratfalls of the Presidents’ Children, by Joe Rhatigan (2012): Organized not by president but by general topic, this book provides a look into the lives of children in the White House. Photographs, illustrations, and other images are included to illustrate the information, presented as short blurbs of related information under a heading such as “The Most Daring Stunts.” Also includes several appendices with further information about the presidential children mentioned, a list of the presidents and their wives, a bibliography, and an index to help find information scattered throughout the text about specific people.

Presidential PetsPresidential Pets: The Weird, Wacky, Little, Big, Scary, Strange Animals That Have Lived in the White House, by Julie Moberg, illustrated by Jeff Albrecht Studios (2012): This book is cleverly disguised as being about the presidential pets (and might be a way to sneak a book about the presidents into the hands of an animal lover!), but it actually is another book that gives basic facts about each of the presidents. Each president’s page has a (somewhat cheesy) poem about the president’s pets as well as a “Tell Me More!” list that both discusses more about the pets and the president. Each page also has an “Accomplishments & Events” (of the president, not the pets!) and “Presidential Stats” (basic info) list as well as a large and silly illustration about the pets mentioned.

I know I didn’t even begin to scratch the surface here, but if you know of any high-quality biographies (particularly ones that aren’t the typical stale fare–those are everywhere!) about a president, please leave a comment to share your bounty!

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