Tag Archives: novelty (toy) book

Themed Third Thursday: Heroic Reads

A friend of mine is a teacher at a school where the theme next year is “Reading Is My Superpower.” I don’t know if I necessarily agree that reading is a superpower so much as that reading gives me superpowers, but perhaps that’s just semantics. 🙂 I had also forgotten that the Milwaukee Public Library theme last summer and this one is Super Readers, and I stumbled across the display at my local branch and filled up my library bag with some of their suggestions, too. So, if your summer isn’t saturated enough by Marvel’s superheroes (and I will include some of them, just to give you fair warning!), your young readers will have a chance to explore what makes a hero super! (Weird fast fact: My family was playing the board game Life a couple of days ago, and one of the action cards called for the kids to state their superpowers. GirlChild said strength, speed, and wisdom. BoyChild said punching people in the face. Oy. That child.)

Super Reader selection

The Super Reader summer reading display at the Mill Road branch of the Milwaukee Public Library (before I pillaged it).

Superhero Me!Superhero Me!, by Karen Katz (2009, toddler to preschool): Karen Katz appears to have a board book for nearly every occasion! Her typical round-faced, happy toddlers try out different superhero identities, from Super Rexosaur to Puddle-Jumper, in this rhyming touch-and-feel book. My children have always loved these simple, bright books and are drawn to them in the board book section of the library with regularity even now! This is a perfect first introduction to the idea of superhero play for little ones!

Super Duck, by Jez Alborough Super Duck(2009, toddler to preschool): Like all his other Duck books, this Alborough installment features the very eager duck, several somewhat exasperated barnyard friends, and a lot of rhyming! When Sheep, Goat, and Frog are trying to fly a kite, Duck proclaims that he is Super Duck and tries his best to help (with mixed results). When Frog gets swept away with the kite, Duck actually comes to the rescue and gets him safely back to the ground. Sheep and Goat are so happy that they call him Super Duck, too!

Do Super Heroes Have Teddy Bears?Do Super Heroes Have Teddy Bears?, by Carmela LaVigna Coyle, illustrated by Mike Gordon (2012, preschool to early elementary): This picture book asks questions (“Do super heroes make capes with blankies and string?”) followed by italicized answers (“We can turn blankies into most anything.“) Judging by the illustrations (and I didn’t quite get it at first), members of a family are asking questions of one another about super heroes (based on the daily activities the self-styled super hero brother and (potentially) sidekick little sister). Many of the questions are from little sister to older brother and some are the kids to their parents. (A helpful comprehension activity might be to work with your little listener to figure out who the speakers are on each spread.) I have definitely had these kinds of conversations going on randomly throughout the day at my house (topic based on whatever long-term role-play my kids are currently into), so once you get the hang of the abruptly changing speaker concept, this story is pretty representative of real kids doing what they do best–imagining!

Superhero School, Superhero Schoolby Thierry Robberecht and Philippe Goossens (2011, preschool to early elementary): You can kind of tell that this book is a translation (from Dutch, if anyone’s interested) because it just feels a little off in the cadence and phrasing. Still, my kids enjoyed the storyline! Henry (who wears headgear that suggests a jester’s cap) attends superhero school, but he is kind of the class clown and struggles with his superhero studies. He can’t fly, isn’t super strong, and believes pranks to be his only superpower. When a horrible monster comes to the school, Henry’s classmates are quickly neutralized, but Henry’s quick-thinking prank catches the monster off-guard, and his tickles drain the monster’s strength. The others step back in and ship the monster back to the planet he came from, but Henry is celebrated for saving the day!

These Are the AvengersThese Are the Avengers, adapted by Thomas Macri (2012, preschool to early elementary): This early reader book introduces the six Mighty Avengers: Captain America, Ant-Man, Wasp, the Hulk, Thor, and Iron Man. (So, you know, not the cinematic universe version of the Avengers.) The book gives the basic information about the six characters in short, easy to read sentences. (BoyChild enjoys this as a quick read-aloud, but a budding reader with some knowledge about Marvel characters could handle it as a simple text for independent reading.) There are a number more of these books available, and there are games and other activities available on the Marvel Kids website as well. You can compare the different levels and types of books available about Marvel characters by checking out This Is Thor (World of Reading: Level 1, preschool to early elementary), Heroes of Asgard (World of Reading: Level 2, early elementary), and Marvel Adventures: The Avengers: Thor (a graphic novel, middle school to high school).

Ten Rules of Being a Superhero, Ten Rules of Being a Superheroby Deb Pilutti (2014, preschool to early elementary): A young boy and his superhero action figure present the ten rules of being a superhero. (The action figure appears to be living in each scenario, but he is toy-sized and sometimes his movement is controlled by the boy, so I’m assuming all life-like qualities are just the boy’s imagination shown as reality.) My favorite rules are Rule Number 1: “A superhero must ALWAYS respond to a call for help…even if the odds are against him” (and showing a number of other toys in dire situations that need to be rescued) and Rule Number 4: “A superhero must use his power in a good way” (as opposed to the selfish villain thinking about using his powers in a bad way). The last rule, Rule Number 10, is also a good one: “Every superhero needs a sidekick. Because saving the day is more fun with a friend.”

The Day I Lost My SuperpowersThe Day I Lost My Superpowers, by MichaĂ«l Escoffier and Kris Di Giacomo (2014, preschool to early elementary): A small child discovers one day (with the help of her father’s hands tossing her in the air) that she can fly! She realizes she has a variety of other powers, too…like making things disappear (although that works better with cupcakes than with peas) and becoming invisible herself (with the help of the underside of her bed). One day, however, she falls when “flying” (with the help of her dog and a string), and she realizes she has lost her superpowers (and hurt her knee)! Her mom comes to the rescue, however, with a magic kiss that makes her feel “all better (even if [her] knee still hurt[s] a little),” and she is excited to realize that her mom might have superpowers, too! The illustrations help tell the story by revealing the reality behind her superpower statements, and they help young readers and listeners feel like they’re in on the joke (as well as give them good ideas for superhero play of their own).

SuperHero ABC, SuperHero ABCby Bob McLeod (2006, preschool to early elementary): While a typical alphabet book has a limited audience (based on those who are still getting comfortable with the alphabet), the contents of this book will bring in a greater range of readers (and will make some parents shy away!). Twenty-six superheroes (or superhero groups) represent the letters of the alphabet, and some of the powers get downright gross (like Goo Girl (who “shoots gobs of goo at gangsters”) and The Volcano (who “vomits on villains”)) and the characteristics silly (Upside-Down Man “wears his uniform under his underwear” and Astro-Man has asthma (?!)) as the real-life-comic-book-artist author puts as many of the featured letter onto the pages as possible. My only gripe with the book is that, although the general public depicted in the art is reasonably diverse, the vast majority of the featured heroes/heroines (and there are a decent number of females) are pretty pale (with just a couple exceptions…and a few aliens).

Dex: The Heart of a HeroDex: The Heart of a Hero, by Caralyn Buehner, illustrated by Mark Buehner (2004, preschool to early elementary): Dexter is a dachshund dog (living in a world populated by anthropomorphic dogs, cats, and rodents) who dreams big dreams. (The ultra-dramatic superhero-esque thoughts are written in comic book handwritten style in yellow text boxes.) He is very ordinary and very small, but he decides that if he wants to be a hero, he needs to make himself one! He begins training by exercising to get strong, climbing trash piles to gain endurance, and pushing himself those extra few circles before lying down to sleep. When his efforts pay off, he completes his transformation with a mail-order costume. His heroic acts are all pretty mild but satisfying–helping a puppy cross the street, finding a lost kitten, and organizing a neighborhood clean-up day–until the night that Cleevis the tomcat finds himself in a precarious situation high in a tree. Dex uses his wits and the resources around him (in this case, a teeter-totter and a crowd of onlookers) to save Cleevis and win his respect…and a partner in crime-fighting!

Superhero, Superheroby Marc Tauss (2005, preschool to early elementary): All in black-and-white enhanced photographs, the story starts in the front endpapers with Maleek (the main character, a young boy) browsing an aisle full of different comic books. (Maleek likes to “catch up on his fellow superheroes’ adventures.”) Maleek wears a costume with goggles and a cape with a large M on it, and he builds inventions in his laboratory. When he reads in the newspaper one day that all the city parks and playgrounds have disappeared (replaced by tall buildings), he and his robot jump into their time machine and go back 500 years to collect plant specimens that he uses to create GIGUNDO JUICE. He sprays his concoction all over the city, and large, beautiful plants spring up to replace many of the big buildings. His work complete, Maleek goes back to his comics again. The last page shows him reading a comic book and with other props around him that appear to have contributed to the superhero daydream he seems to have been having, and the final endpapers show Maleek in full costume wandering the same aisle…which is now full of comics about himself.

Eliot Jones: Midnight SuperheroEliot Jones, Midnight Superhero, by Anne Cottringer, illustrated by Alex T. Smith (2008, preschool to early elementary): Eliot is a quiet boy who spends his days doing quiet things. Once the clock strikes midnight, however, he is a superhero. He answers the call of everyone from the Coast Guard to the queen, and his skills and powers are always up to the task at hand! His mission tonight involves saving the world from a rogue meteor, and he blasts it just in time. At the end of the story, we are back to the beginning, in Eliot’s quiet room, and we are told that “being a Midnight Superhero is very tiring. It doesn’t leave Eliot with much energy. So by day…Eliot is quiet.” This is a cute story that might leave kids wondering what secrets lurk behind the commonplace faces they see every day!

Wonder Woman: The Story of the Amazon Princess, Wonder Woman: The Story of the Amazon Princesswritten and illustrated by Ralph Cosentino (2011, early elementary): This almost-picture-book graphic novel is written in first person as Wonder Woman explains her origins, her powers, and how she came to be Wonder Woman. It even introduces many of her chief antagonists, like Cheetah and Ares, and states her mission: “to teach peace and respect to all…and to show the world how to live in harmony with nature.” Some companion books to this one are Batman: The Story of the Dark Knight and Superman: The Story of the Man of Steel. These books are a simple way to introduce your young readers to the most famous DC superheroes!

Buzz Boy and Fly Guy, Buzz Boy and Fly Guyby Tedd Arnold (2010, early elementary): In this book from the Fly Guy series, Buzz writes a book that stars him and Fly Guy as superheroes! Buzz (Buzz Boy!) is the same size as Fly Guy, and Fly Guy can talk! They use their wits and their superpowers to defeat wicked pirates, befriend a dragon, and return home safely. A great first chapter book (which is mostly a simple graphic novel divided into chapters) for young readers, parents or teachers might (subtly, so as not to spook an inspired reader into thinking it’s a homework assignment!) suggest that the reader write a comic book about himself or herself as a superhero with an animal sidekick.

Fireboy to the Rescue: A Fire SaFireboy to the Rescuefety Book, by Edward Miller (2010, early elementary): As the title suggests, this is more a fire safety book than a superhero story. Fireboy is a narrator of sorts, telling about the good and bad things about fire. Although he is the title character, the book sticks to facts about fire safety, including what you should do in case of a fire (from calling 911 to how to evacuate a home, high-rise building, and school), how firefighters respond, and how to prevent fires. This book serves as a PSA about fire for young readers, and both GirlChild and BoyChild loved it as much as if it had an actual storyline! (GirlChild is really into fire safety anyway because of school, and BoyChild has asked several times (possibly because he heard GirlChild ask, partly because it sounds cool) about the fire escape ladders we’re going to have to buy when we move into a two-story home this summer! The author has written a couple other health and safety books that I’m sure my children would love as well!)

Extraordinary Warren: A Super Chicken, Extraordinary Warren: A Super Chickenby Sarah Dillard (2014, middle elementary): Warren is a typical chicken, but he has grown tired of all the pecking and peeping and general blandness of his life on the farm. None of the other chickens agree, however, and he feels very alone. He happens upon a rat who is digging through the trash and bemoaning the lack of really good food…and he accidentally sets himself up to be on the rat’s menu! He (literally) bumps into an egg on his way home to tell the other chickens about the fact that someone considers him “Chicken Supreme,” and he tells the egg his story and that the egg can be his sidekick. When he leaves his unsuccessful flying lesson that day, he sees the rat with a cookbook and realizes the truth of what’s going on! In his attempts to convince the other chickens of the danger and to stop the rat’s plans, Warren has to rescue the egg, and it ends up hatching. Then Warren and his willing sidekick, Egg, set off together to continue to right wrongs and save the other chickens from the dangers that lurk nearby.

Zero the Hero, Zero the Heroby Joan Holub and Tom Lichtenheld (2012, elementary): Although this is technically a picture book (Joan Holub has an impressive list of both fiction and nonfiction children’s books for a range of ages, and Tom Lichtenheld is the illustrator of BoyChild’s favorite bedtime book (among many, many others)), the concepts explored range from the additive and commutative properties of addition to Roman numerals and place value, making the audience much wider. The fact that zero times anything is zero is vital to the climax of the story (as well as being part of the original conflict). Math teachers who like Math Curse or Sir Cumference and the First Round Table are likely to enjoy this book for their cross-curricular endeavors as well! (And I always have to plug Erin McEwan, Your Days Are Numbered, too–I used to read it to my fifth graders at the beginning of the year!)

Night of the Scaredy CrowsDC Super-Pets: Night of the Scaredy Crows, by Sarah Hines Stephens, illustrated by Art Baltazar (2012, elementary): In this series of books, the superheroes’ pets come to the rescue! And, not surprisingly, the villains’ pets are the cause of most of the problems. This particular book is about Ace the Bat-Hound and the troubles caused by Scarecrow’s pets/minions, Croward and the scaredy crows, as Halloween approaches. A Word Power page at the end of the book gives definitions and pronunciations for some of the more unusual words (like toxic and utility collar). There is quite a bit of text on each page, but there are frequent full-color illustrations to break it up. The text is larger than a typical chapter book but smaller than a picture book, and, at an approximate third-grade reading level, it could be a high-interest book for older kids who need a slightly simpler story that’s still interesting. (Marvel doesn’t have a monopoly on super-hero easy readers, either. The I Can Read series of books has several DC character stories, like Batman: Winter Wasteland (Level 2) and others on Amazon.)

Captain Raptor and the Moon Mystery, Captain Raptor and the Moon Mysteryby Kevin O’Malley, illustrations by Patrick O’Brien (2005, elementary): I’m not sure this technically qualifies as a superhero story…but technologically advanced dinosaurs with space gadgets who fight off a beast who attacks a group of aliens (um, humans) and save the day (combined with the graphic novel format and typical superhero (well, like the old Batman show, at least) cliffhanger moments) certainly make Captain Raptor and his crew seem like superheroes! Jurassic Park meets Tony Stark meets Star Trek, maybe? Although this was shelved with the picture books, the graphic novel style and the realistic, detailed art make this more of a middle elementary and up kind of book.

Flora and UlyssesFlora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K.G. Campbell (2013, upper elementary to middle school): In this Newbery Medal winner, 10-year-old Flora embraces her mother’s description of her as a “natural-born cynic” and strives to observe, not hope. (We can tell by her obsession with the superhero Incandesto and her frequent need to remind herself to observe, not hope, that she is not as natural a cynic as she and her mother try to believe.) When her neighbor Tootie’s new vacuum cleaner, the Ulysses 2000X, runs amok in the yard and nearly kills a squirrel, Flora runs to the rescue and discovers that the experience has somehow imbued the hapless, now hairless, squirrel with special powers–strength, flight, and understanding. Occasional comic-book style panels are part of the story and not just illustrations. Flora and Ulysses (the squirrel) discover things about themselves that they would have never dreamed they’d discover before their first encounter.

Public School Superhero, Public School Superheroby James Patterson and Chris Tebbets (2015, upper elementary to middle school): Technically, there is no actual superhero in this book. In Washington, DC, in an inner-city neighborhood and school, Kenny escapes his mild-mannered alter-ego’s stress by imagining himself as Stainlezz Steel…a hero as brave and heroic as Kenny feels intimidated and embarrassed. (The superhero moments are shown in comic-book style panels, so it’s easy to tell when he’s taking a mental break, and there is typically a segue statement where Kenny acknowledges that it is wishful thinking.) Kenny–a chess-playing, superhero-loving sixth grader–is just starting middle school in an overcrowded, rundown local building, and things aren’t looking good. A misunderstanding (compounded by the lack of interest of the principal) results in his first ever detention, but he manages to hide it from his involved grandmother. When that principal leaves abruptly, Dr. Yetty takes over, and she really cares about both the school and the children in it. Kenny finds himself in trouble once again, but his consequence is to teach Ray-Ray, the boy who instigated the issue, how to play chess. Ray-Ray eventually offers to teach Kenny how to not be so easily intimidated, and Kenny (against his better judgment) accepts…and hides all the shady goings-on from his grandmother, too. The characters and the situations feel very real, and the book demonstrates the idea that we can’t all be superheroes but that we can each do something to make our world a better place.

SidekickedSidekicked, by John David Anderson (2013, middle school): 13-year-old Andrew Macon Bean has a rare sensory disorder that makes him acutely aware of pretty much everything (although, luckily for him, his sense of touch is only slightly amped up so he isn’t tickled to death just by getting dressed in the morning), and that makes him perfectly suited for one thing: suiting up. Yes, his overpowered senses make him a perfect candidate for sidekick training (and, eventually, superhero-dom), and The Sensationalist is born! Drew’s only problem (well, biggest problem–he is thirteen!) is that his assigned superhero doesn’t really want to have anything to do with him or the superhero business anymore. And that becomes even more of a problem when the villain he was thought to have defeated (and who was supposedly killed in an explosion during the final battle) springs his minions out of prison and starts knocking off banks and taking out superheroes…and their sidekicks. Like his erstwhile hero says: maybe it’s time for Drew to save himself! (Companion novel: Minion)

Marvel Encyclopedia: Marvel EncyclopediaThe Definitive Guide to the Characters of the Marvel Universe (revised 2014): This book is really for the die-hard fan. With a foreword by Ralph Macchio and an introduction by Stan Lee, the intended audience appears to be mainly the men and women who grew up with these comic books as their constant reading material, those who care deeply for canon and who can discuss the similarities and differences between different timelines and reboots and all the different forms of media where Marvel super heroes can be found. (It might also help for the uninitiated significant others of these longtime fans to give them an idea of who exactly it is they’re watching in the cinematic universe–my personal background information on these characters all comes from a quick internet search before my husband and I go see a movie together (or afterward when I’m already confused)!) There are entries for individuals and teams, and both heroes and villains are covered. There is a “Factfile” sidebar for the major characters, and each character’s first appearance, powers, occupation, and base are included. A brief summary and illustration (both modern and old-school styles are shown for many characters) of each is also included. For families whose children are old enough to watch the new movies, this book might be a good way to introduce upper elementary and older ages to some of their parents’ favorite characters, and there will be some kids/teenagers who will pore over this volume for hours, I’m sure! BoyChild actually spent some time looking through the book to find pictures of his favorites–Captain America and Iron Man–and ask about other characters he saw, but he’s nowhere near old enough for either the movies or the detailed information in the book, so his exposure was limited to that!

Finally, here are some links just for the adults in the house.

First, a Lunar Baboon cartoon that shows us that encouragement can be a superpower.

Next, a blog talking about an online Bible curriculum from Orange (252 Basics) called Stand Up: Get in the Story.

Finally, a link to Amazon where you can find a vast assortment of mass marketed and indie superhero books and stories for adults, teens, and children! There’s even a (not-for-children) short story written by a college friend of mine–and it’s free to borrow on Kindle with Amazon Prime!

Another finally! I forgot to link to my friend’s custom art page! He does art called Your Face Heroes (I am so proud of the word play!); you send him a couple photographs of the person you want hero-ified along with some information about them to inform his imagination, and he’ll create a custom superhero work of art. Check out his work here! The image to the left is a quick sketch he did of me as Word Girl (not a commissioned piece) from a (very) old photograph!



Filed under theme

O Holy Night: Christmas with the Boys Choir of Harlem, pictures by Faith Ringgold

O Holy Night: Christmas with the Boys Choir of Harlem

O Holy Night: Christmas with the Boys Choir of Harlem, pictures by Faith Ringgold (2004)

Here are five traditional English Christmas carols on this twelfth day of Christmas book reviews, performed by the Boys Choir of Harlem and illustrated by the inimitable Faith Ringgold!

The book begins with the text of Luke 2:1-20 from the King James Version (the one I memorized growing up!) in block text just as an introduction. Then it moves into the illustrated carols, and the rest of the text is written as song lyrics, so they look more like poetry than prose (as they should) and, after the first few lines, are printed in white on a gold box with a character from the story illustrated at the top of the box. “Silent Night” is the first song, and you’ll notice that a verse from the performance is missing in the text and that the verse that is printed is not sung. There is an adult female soloist for this song, and it is not the traditional arrangement. “O Come, All Ye Faithful” is next, and it is recognizable as the standard arrangement performed with a traditional choir sound. There is one verse printed in the book that is not performed on the cd. “O Holy Night” is a somewhat subdued gospel choir arrangement, and this one is actually my favorite! I love the voice of the soloist on the “sweet hymns of joy” section, and I love the joy and energy of the whole arrangement as well as the experimentation with volume and voice groupings. It sounds as though it may have been recorded live. The last two songs, “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” and “Joy to the World” seem to be pretty traditional renditions, and the lyrics match the performances. My favorite part of these two is that they seem to have trumpet accompaniment (or maybe even full orchestra–but years of playing trumpet makes my ears tune in most to that!) and fanfares.

Since she earned the Caldecott in 1992 for Tar Beach, Faith Ringgold’s work has been a familiar part of most picture book collections. (The one with which I’m most familiar is Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky–it was a trade book that came with a reading series my school used when I taught fifth grade.) I am no art expert, so I’m unsure if the paintings are done in oil or acrylic, but they start in the endpapers with Mary and Joseph arriving at the stable and end with them leaving it. (It should be noted that these are the only times that Mary is shown not wearing the blue outer garment with white and gold spots that identifies her in all the other illustrations. Joseph always wears an orange robe with gold accents, and Jesus is in various styles of clothing but always white with blue. They also all have the traditional halo circle behind their heads.) Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and most of the other characters have skin tones that are varying shades of brown, but some of the angels and a few other people within groups have lighter skin tones and hair. I wonder if Ms. Ringgold was rendering an actual group of people and not just a variety of random faces, particularly among the angels; the features and hairstyles just seem too unique and detailed to be fully dreamed up in the artist’s mind! (I’m thinking particularly of one male angel with curly red hair, a long nose, and a distinctive mustache…) While the paintings don’t seem to refer specifically to the song they illustrate, they all depict either a scene from the nativity or Jesus (sometimes without his family and sometimes with Mary or Mary and Joseph) partially out of context (so you can’t really identify if a specific scene is intended). Jesus is also shown at various ages from infant to adult. Some other elements that caught my eye were the setting-less backgrounds (except in the endpapers) and the appearance of a variety of unexpected animals (like the black and white bulldogs at Mary’s feet and a pinkish animal on the title page that I couldn’t quite identify) and large crowds of brightly dressed people (who can’t be identified specifically as shepherds or wise men), sometimes adoring Jesus (who sometimes wears a crown), sometimes offering gifts. The colors are bright and rich, and the pages are full of detail to explore.

GirlChild and BoyChild’s Reactions: GirlChild read the book independently before we realized there was actually a cd with it, but she knew some of the songs, and she made up tunes to sing with the others! When I realized she was singing randomly, I joined her to teach her the actual tunes of the ones she didn’t know. When I had them listen to the cd, she noticed right away that “Silent Night” wasn’t the arrangement we’re used to hearing, but she said it was her favorite of all of them anyway. BoyChild looked at the cover and said, “Did their skin change colors?” This is why I like to choose Bible stories and nativity books with a variety of illustrations! I had the chance to explain to him that no one knows exactly what Jesus looked like, so people imagine him and draw him in a lot of different ways, including different skin tones. I don’t know exactly how to recommend using this book–it’s not really the kind of book most kids would sit down and read through (although, of course, GirlChild did just that despite the unfamiliar vocabulary present in the songs), but it would be hard to read it aloud because of the singing element. What I ended up doing was setting the book up at the table while the kids were eating (so they wouldn’t have to sit through twenty minutes of music with nothing to occupy their hands) and played the cd for them while I turned the pages to stay with the lyrics. Because some of the lyrics don’t match the music, that could be confusing, though. I think, perhaps, it would be a perfect book to have available in a listening corner (they still have those in younger grades, right?!) during the Christmas season or during a unit study of Faith Ringgold’s works (or just at your own house for quiet rest time!). It’s definitely the sort of book that you can just sit and look at the pictures without worrying about the complex text, and the musical accompaniment would make it that much more enjoyable!



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Themed Third Thursday: Grandparents Edition

My father officially retired at the beginning of this month after about a billion years (more or less–probably less) working for a local John Deere store. (Both GirlChild and BoyChild know that–in our family, at least!–the only real tractor is a stunning green!) In honor of his newly-free grandparenthood, I’m reviewing books this month about grandparents! (Also, this gives you tons of time to find that perfect book about grandparents before Grandparents’ Day in September!)

How to Babysit a GrandpaHow to Babysit a Grandpa, by Jean Reagan, illustrated by Lee Wildish (2012): As every little boy knows, sometimes he will have to babysit his grandfather. (*winkwink*) This little boy gives tips for what to do when a grandpa arrives (hide, then surprise him!), how to entertain him, what to feed him, and what to do during his naptime. Even BoyChild knows that you can’t just wait for a grandpa to wake up–you might have to yell, “Wake up, sleepyhead!” or crow, “Croc-o-dile-doo!” (BoyChild still isn’t great with the cockadoodledoo noise…) so that you can get cleaned up before your parents return! Saying goodbye is made easier when you give hugs and kisses, a picture you drew as a gift, and a request to babysit again soon. Cute illustrations complement the realistic depictions of what might go on in a little boy’s head while a grandpa is babysitting. I just might have to buy this book for BoyChild and his grandpas to read together, especially since my parents will be staying with our kids for a few days next month! (Also recently published by the author, How to Babysit a Grandma!)

Spot Visits his Grandparents, Spot Visits his Grandparentsby Eric Hill (1995): A typical Spot lift-the-flap book, this book follows Spot as he visits his grandparents and gets into some mischief with his grandfather (which they hide from his grandmother) while they are outside working in the garden and playing. Spot happens to find a ball in the garden that had belonged to his mother, and he happily shares his discovery with her when he returns home.

The Napping HouseThe Napping House, by Audrey Wood and Don Wood (1984): The cumulative nature of the story, where everything starts on a rainy day with a napping house and a cozy bed, leads to listener participation and prediction, and the illustrations (gently listing toward the reader as each page is turned, a subtle shift in perspective I didn’t even notice until almost the end of the book) provide comprehension clues and endless detail that make rereadings even more fun. This classic book has aged beautifully–while many children’s books get dated because of the illustrations, these are absolutely timeless! This was actually the first time I read this book to my children (I don’t know why!), and GirlChild was the first to be able to predict which napper would join the pile next, but BoyChild’s sharp eyes were the ones who figured out the flea! (GirlChild also predicted that the bed would break…but she was several pages too early in her prediction. 🙂 )

My Pop Pop and Me, My Pop Pop and Meby Irene Smalls, illustrated by Cathy Ann Johnson (2006): Onomatopoeia, repetition, and rhyme characterize this book about a little boy baking with his beloved Pop Pop. The illustrations are brimming over with the joyful togetherness of boy and grandfather, and they even clean up after themselves! The book includes a recipe for the Lemon Bar Cake Bake that they are making together in the book. The author has also written My Nana and Me, but I wasn’t able to find a copy of that title to review!

I'm Going to Grandma'sI’m Going to Grandma’s, by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke (2007): The little girl who is going to Grandma’s is very excited and enjoys time with her grandma and grandpa and the puppy, but she starts to get nervous as bedtime nears. Her grandmother shares with her the story of the patchwork quilt on her bed, how it was made by her grandmother’s grandmother out of pieces of outgrown clothing, and each patch had a story to tell. The little girl then peacefully drifts off to sleep, dreaming of a story quilt all her own. The rhyme scheme in this book has an AAAB, CCCB, DDDB continuing pattern throughout (each page ending with a word that rhymes with “night”), so it would likely make a good mentor text for teaching that sort of continuity in a multi-stanza poem. Mary Ann Hoberman is also the author of the You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You books and several poetry compilations.

Sleepover at Gramma’s House, Sleepover at Gramma's Houseby Barbara Joose, illustrated by Jan Jutte (2010): A little elephant girl is really excited to go visit her gramma because they “love each other so.” She and her grandmother do all sorts of silly and irresponsible things together, and they end the day sitting on the porch swing listening to a summer storm because “the very best way to fall asleep is inside a hug.” I would recommend this as a read-aloud suitable for preschoolers to early elementary, but the unusual vocabulary and flow of the text and the punctuation irregularities might make it difficult for the intended audience to read independently.

Grandpa GreenGrandpa Green, by Lane Smith (2011): Lane Smith may be best known for his illustrations for books by Jon Scieszka (at least to me!), but he is also the author-illustrator of other titles, like The Happy Hocky Family and It’s a Book. This book–a 2012 Caldecott Honor recipient–is very different from his usual bizarre humor, however. It is written as a child telling about his great-grandfather’s life, but the life events are illustrated as topiary trees that the boy is helping tend in an elaborate garden. The great-grandfather apparently uses the garden to help him remember the things that his advanced age would otherwise cause him to forget. The last touching illustration shows the little boy beginning to create his own topiary to help him remember: a life-sized version of his great-grandfather.

What! Cried Granny: An Almost Bedtime Story, What! Cried Grannyby Kate Lum, pictures by Adrian Johnson (1998): Patrick goes to his granny’s house for an overnight trip, but as Granny tries to send him to bed, he realizes he’s missing one thing after another–from a bed to a teddy bear–and his overzealous grandmother hand-crafts each missing item in this tall-tale of a bedtime delay story. (She actually shears some sheep, spins the yarn, knits a blanket, and dyes it when it becomes clear he has no blanket to tuck under his chin.) In the end, he’s lacking nothing…but it’s already daylight again. Poor Granny. (BoyChild didn’t like that she cries at the end!)

Singing with Momma LouSinging with Momma Lou, by Linda Jacobs Altman, illustrations by Larry Johnson (2002): Tamika doesn’t really like visiting Momma Lou in the nursing home every Sunday. Momma Lou used to be her confidante, but now that her grandmother is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, she has to remind Momma Lou who she is every time she comes in. After one particularly unhappy visit, Tamika’s father shares with her a scrapbook of her grandmother’s photographs and newspaper clippings, and Tamika decides to try to connect with her again through these mementos. She starts with the picture of Momma Lou holding Tamika as a baby and ends with sharing the clipping of Momma Lou and fellow protesters in jail after a civil rights demonstration. After that last one, Momma Lou no longer has any lucid moments, but Tamika takes the memory of that clipping and sings “We Shall Overcome,” the song they sang in jail and in the nursing home sitting room as they remembered the event, to make herself feel happier when she’s sad.

Zero Grandparents (A Jackson Friends Book), Zero Grandparentsby Michelle Edwards (2001): Second grader Calliope James is unhappy to find that her class will be celebrating Grandparents Day the next week since she no longer has any grandparents. She struggles with her feelings of embarrassment and exclusion, refusing her friends’ offers to share their grandparents with her. Finally, she finds a solution in sharing about one of her grandmothers, the one whom she most resembles and whose picture and belongings she brings to class with her, and her friends’ grandmothers tell her how proud her grandma would have been of her. The second of three books in the Jackson Friends series.

Whether your child calls his or her grandparents Grandma and Grandpa, Meemaw and Pawpaw, Nana and Papa, Oma and Opa, or any regional, language, or family variation in between, sharing these books about grandparents is a great way to keep their grandparents fresh in their minds and on their hearts! (There are a million other great books about grandparents out there, I know! Share some of your favorites in the comments!)

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The Game of Light, by HervĂ© Tullet

The Game of Light, by Herve Tullet

The Game of Light, by Hervé Tullet (2011)

We picked up a couple really fun books at the library today, but this one we saved for bedtime (for soon to be obvious reasons)!

HervĂ© Tullet is a French writer who  specializes in interactive books for children. (I reviewed Press Here in a previous post and noted that he is called the “prince of preschool books” in his native country (and with good cause).) The Game of Light is a board book with very brief text accompanied by cutouts on each page. Its main intended use is with a flashlight in a darkened room, but the cutouts and bright colors of the pages mean that reading through it in the light before the show begins is still a fun experience! Once the lights are out, using a single beam flashlight, shine the light through each page onto the walls or ceiling. This book might even inspire children to create their own cutout pages to make playing shadow puppets just a little more creative!

GirlChild and BoyChild’s Reactions: Both GirlChild and BoyChild loved this book! (GirlChild even asked if we could read it every night while we have it checked out!) They both enjoy doing shadow puppets with Daddy, so I knew that this extension of the concept would interest them. They share a room, so they each sat on a bed and watched as I turned the pages and moved the images around. You might also try reading each page again (using the flashlight, of course) before you project each image to refresh your listener’s memory. Our flashlight had two LED bulbs, and the images had ghost images from the second bulb, so make sure you use a flashlight with just one strong bulb for best results. The only complaint I have about the book is that the pages are a little too small and allow too much light to shine out around them when you’re creating the images. I would recommend for any young children still intrigued by shadow puppets and playing games with light (so, you know, any age). This might even be a good book to partner with Switch on the Night for a child who is still a little nervous about the dark and needs some encouragement to go to sleep at night.

Additional titles:

The Game in the Dark, by Herve Tullet

(a glow-in-the-dark option!)

The Game of Shadows, by Herve Tullet

(a book for storytelling with shadows)

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Themed Third Thursday: Bedtime Edition

While reading a book about bedtime at bedtime isn’t necessary, it’s always good to have that option! Here’s a list of some good bedtime books based on interests your kids probably already have!

If your child likes:

Product DetailsMy Big Book of Trucks and Diggers, by Caterpillar (2011), then try Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld (2011). The board book is full of photographs of construction equipment, first a large image on the left, then four smaller images of the different parts of that truck or digger on the right page. BoyChild’s digger vocabulary increased dramatically after reading this book since all the photographs are labeled! (Now I get to hear, “Mommy, EX-CUH-VAY-TOR!” and “Mommy, BACKHOE!” instead of just “Mommy, DIGGER!” every time we pass a construction site…) Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site features many of the same technical vocabulary words, but it is written in soothing verse and has softly rendered illustrations ofProduct Details anthropomorphic construction equipment getting ready for bed (just like your little one should be doing). We loved the three weeks of reading these two books daily while we had them checked out at the library, and they’re both on BoyChild’s Christmas list! Perfect for any digger lover from toddlerhood through early elementary!

Product DetailsCat the Cat, Who Is THAT?, by Mo Willems (2010), then try Time to Sleep, Sheep the Sheep!, by Mo Willems (2010).Product Details I’ve written about both of these books before, but Mo Willems always bears repeating (as you’ll see when you read the Pigeon recommendation…)! The Cat the Cat books utilize simple sentences, repetition, rhyme, and predictability to make these books for new readers simple to enjoy. There’s always an amusing twist at the end (the Blarggie monster in Cat the Cat, Who Is THAT? and the owl for whom it is NOT time to sleep in Time to Sleep, Sheep the Sheep!), and visual gags are also common. Early elementary for independent readers, and even toddlers can enjoy it as a read-aloud!

Product DetailsDon’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (2003), by Mo Willems, then try Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late! (2006), by Mo Willems. If your child loves the Pigeon, then this book is the way to go. Just be prepared for little sleep-fighters to pull lines from theProduct Details book at bedtime! (Or maybe it’s just my children who like to do humorous duet acting events by performing the Pigeon books by memory with each other… “Is that a hot dog?” “Iss not A hot dog! Iss MY hot dog!” and so forth…) Don’t worry, though; the Pigeon does fall asleep eventually, just like your preschooler does!

Product DetailsBut Not the Hippopotamus (1982), by Sandra Boynton, then try The Going to Bed Book (1982) Product Detailsor Pajama Time (2000), by Sandra Boynton. We got The Going to Bed Book from the program our local library did when GirlChild was born where every baby born in the local hospitals got a board book, singing storytime cd, and library information in a packet before going home; this was where I first heard of Sandra Boynton, and we’ve loved her ever since! Pajama Time came soon after from my sister, a youth services librarian, who got it as a library discard because it was so well-used. Product Details(Pajama Time is also a song on the Philadelphia Chickens cd, and we always sing it!) (Oh, and does Sandra Boynton sound familiar? That’s probably because I’ve written about her a whole bunch, too! Just type her name in the search box on the right side of this page to find which posts feature at least one of her books!)

Product DetailsI Love You, Every Little Bit: A Pop-Up Book, written by Margaret Wang, illustrated by John Butler (2006), then try Time for Bed, by Mem Fox, illustrated by Jane Dyer (1997). Our copy of I Love You, Every Little Bit is maimed almost beyond use by now (the hippo mommy is missing her head, both elephants their trunks, and several other animals don’t move like they used to…), but that’s because my kids really liked it (and it’s a pop-up book). Product DetailsIt’s a great book to use when you’re snuggling a little one on your lap as you read the little rhymes and kissing your little one’s own “cheeks so round and sweet.” Time for Bed has similar rhymes, and each page has another animal parent putting a little one down to sleep. Both books ooze sweet parental love, and they’re great for little bitties (as long as you monitor use of the pop-up one!)!

Llama Llama Time to ShareLlama Llama Time to Share, by Anna Dewdney (2012), then try Llama Llama Red Pajama, by Anna Dewdney (2005): Llama Llama is a preschool llama with all the typical preschool issues (including a limited ability to share)! Disaster strikes when new neighbor Nelly Gnu (get it? she’s their “gnu” neighbor? hahaha!) pushes Llama Llama’s willingness to share by playing with Fuzzy Llama, and a struggle resulting in a torn arm ensues. Mama Llama’s cool head (and mending abilities) prevail (as always), and Llama Llama and Nelly Gnu learn to share and become friends. In Llama Llama Red Pajama, little Llama (called “Baby Llama” in this book) gets a little anxious after his mama puts him down for bed and goes downstairs to work on the dishes. Llama Llama Red PajamaWhen she doesn’t come immediately when he calls, he first gets cranky, then alarmed, and he throws a pretty major fit. Mama Llama chastises him a little for the “tizzy” because “sometime’s Mama’s very busy,” but she reassures him that she loves him and is always close by even when she’s not right there. The cadence and rhyme of these books makes them incredibly fun read-alouds, perfect to share with your little llamas, er, children.

Good Thing You're Not an Octopus!Good Thing You’re Not an Octopus!, by Julie Markes, illustrated by Maggie Smith (2001), then try Shhhhh! Everybody’s Sleeping!, by Julie Markes, illustrated by David Parkins (2005): In Good Thing You’re Not an Octopus!, small readers learn that, despite their complaints about things like getting dressed or a taking nap, things aren’t really so bad for them since an octopus has to deal with eight legs getting dressed and bears sleep all winter long! Shhhhh! Everybody’s Sleeping! Shhhhh! Everybody's Sleeping!similarly helps children keep things in perspective by listing all the community helpers who are also sleeping (like the child should be doing!). Markes’ humorous approach and the funny illustrations keep either of these books from being didactic despite the overall message of (gently) “Get over it; it’s not so bad!” 😉

Polar Bear MorningPolar Bear Morning, by Lauren Thompson, pictures by Stephen Savage (2013), then try Polar Bear Night, by Lauren Thompson, pictures by Stephen Savage (2004): Geometric, spare illustrations in muted shades help tell the story of a little polar bear’s adventures outside her cave. In Polar Bear Morning, the little polar bear ventures out of her cave one morning and meets a new friend. In Polar Bear Night, Polar Bear Nightshe explores the world outside while her mother sleeps on, experiencing a meteor shower and a borealis, then she goes back to her cave and her mother at home. These picture books are deceptively simple; the questions posed to the reader (mimicking think-alouds) and occasionally complex vocabulary require an adult reader with a younger child, and they make the books that much more enriching and no less cute!

The Lion & the MouseThe Lion & the Mouse, by Jerry Pinkney (2009), then try Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, by Jerry Pinkney (2011): Both of these books are all about the lush illustrations. The Lion & the Mouse, a wordless retelling (of sorts) of the Aesop fable, won the Caldecott Medal in 2010. Although I probably should have studied up on the fable a little more before sharing the book with my children, GirlChild did a pretty good job of understanding the story based on the illustrations without my help. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star(I did point out small details that I thought she might miss and asked questions to guide her commentary.) Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star includes the well-known lyrics (as well as other verses not so well-known), but the illustrations take a little more finesse to interpret because they don’t actually illustrate the song; they show a little chipmunk who is having a very big dream! Pinkney’s extremely detailed art will give small readers a lot to explore with a parent or on their own.

If none of these titles piques your interest, try searching “Sleep–Fiction” or “Bedtime–Fiction” in the subject search of your local library’s online catalog to find a book for bedtime that matches your child’s interests.

BONUS! Ten, Nine, Eight, by Molly Bang (1996): Ten, Nine, Eight, by Molly BangI couldn’t think of a read-alike for this one other than counting books in general, but this cute bedtime counting book by Molly Bang is a Caldecott Honor book and definitely a good one for your collection!

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Themed Third Thursday: Fun on the Farm

BoyChild is rather fond of tractors and farm animals (he and his grandpa have found a common love of the green machines with the yellow, hoofed mascot), and I thought that–so soon after his second birthday!–it would be fun to feature a topic that he likes for a change! (Also, my uncle is retiring from his dairy farm at the end of this month, so I’m waxing a little nostalgic!) Here is a collection of fiction and nonfiction books with a farm theme for the very youngest readers up through middle school.

Spot Goes to the Farm, by Eric Hill (1987, reissued 2003): In this classic lift-the-flap book in the Spot series, Spot and his dad visit a farm to meet the new babies. Little readers learn the names of baby animals as they lift the flaps. A basic book for toddlers.

Moo Moo, Brown Cow, by Jakki Wood, illustrated by Rog Bonner (1991): With predictable repetition and animal noises, the kitty asks each animal if they have any babies (using the appropriate term for each), and they respond affirmatively with a number that grows by one with each asking. Concepts addressed in this board book are animal noises, animal baby names, colors, and counting!

Barnyard Dance!, by Sandra Boynton (1993): “Stomp your feet! Clap your hands! Everybody ready for a barnyard dance!” This is a square dance in board book format, and the animals do-si-do all over the barnyard. Written in Boynton’s standard silly rhyming style, this is a perfect farm book for a toddler or preschool Boyton lover! (Hear the audio version on the Philadelphia Chickens cd!)

Moo, by Matthew VanFleet, pictures by Brian Stanton (2011): The duo that brought you Dog now presents a farm theme! With the same fun rhymes and interactivity, young readers are introduced to proper farm animal names (calf, cow, and bull, for instance), animal sounds, and other related words and actions (like wallowing for the pigs and milking the cow). We don’t own this one yet, but, because of how much both BoyChild and GirlChild love Van Fleet’s other books, it’s on our list!

Tractor Day, by Candice F. Ransom, illustrated by Laura J. Bryant (2007): A little girl joins her daddy for farm chores using the tractor in a book that shows the day from beginning to end. Simple four-line stanzas in an ABCB rhyming pattern describe what is happening on each page. A trio of crows shows up on each spread except for the very last page…where the little girl has a black feather on her nightstand as she sleeps.

Farm Animals (DK Readers), by DK Publishing (2004): This pre-reader level book is meant to be shared with preschoolers who are learning to read and like to follow along. Each spread features a simple sentence, photograph of an animal with its babies, and labels for the animals.

Farm Tractors, by Kristen L. Nelson (2003): This book has all the features of  typical nonfiction and is written at an early reader level, so it is suitable for use with early elementary independent readers. Each page has a photograph of farm machinery or other farm features and one or two simple sentences of text about tractors and their uses on a farm. Preschoolers with an interest in tractors may also enjoy this as a read-aloud.

Senses on the Farm, by Shelley Rotner (2009): Each page has a photograph of a scene on a farm and a basic imperative sentence relating to one of the five senses, such as “Taste the farm-fresh milk.” Good for including a lesson on the senses in a farm themed unit.

The Cow Who Clucked, by Denise Fleming (2006): When Cow loses her moo, she (accompanied by the Chicks of Foreshadowing) sets off across the farm to find out who has it. As she meets each animal, she clucks a greeting, is answered with the appropriate animal sound (except the odd inclusion of “warf” for the dog), and concludes that the animal does not have her moo. At the end of the day, she returns exhausted to the barn and almost ignores Hen…who moos.

Tough Chicks, by Cece Meng, illustrated by Melissa Suber (2009): Penny, Polly, and Molly are no ordinary chicks. While every animal on the farm (and even the farmer!) admonish their mother to make them be good, she knows that they are good…and smart…and tough! When something goes wrong with the tractor and it’s on a collision course with the henhouse, the quick-thinking, quick-moving, tough chicks pop in to solve the problem fast! A very cute story with cute illustrations…and the important message that it’s okay to be a tough chick!

Old MacDonald Drives a Tractor, by Don Carter (2007): Although you may be tempted to try to sing this book to the song (adding the appropriate E-I-E-I-Os where needed), don’t! The rhythm will be completely off as you say words like “cultivator” and “harvester” in the same breath as you would say “cow” in the original! Perfect for young farmers and little ones who want to know exactly what that green machine you pass out in the field is called and what it does!

An Edible Alphabet: 26 Reasons to Love the Farm, by Carol Watterson, illustrated by Michaela Sorrentino (2011): Originally published in Canada under the title Alfalfabet A to Z, The Wonderful Words from Agriculture, this book features a plenitude of farm facts for each letter of the alphabet (including the heading “Stink, Stank, Stunk” for S…to discuss manure and decomposition). Each spread has full-color collage art to add to the fun. While the alphabet concept may make this book seem like a title for young readers, the vast amount of information and more sophisticated vocabulary make this either a good book to share with the kindergarten crowd as a read-aloud or for more advanced independent readers, but any elementary age student with an interest in agriculture would enjoy the information (if he or she could get past the idea that alphabet books are only for “little” kids)!

Mary and Her Little Lamb: The True Story of the Famous Nursery Rhyme, by Will Moses (2011): Oil paintings, some full-spread, accent this simple account of the true story of Mary Elizabeth Sawyer of Sudbury, Massachusetts, and the rejected lamb twin she rescued and befriended as a child. The art reveals beautiful images of a New England farm in the early 1800s, and the text describes Mary’s interactions with the farm animals, particularly the unnamed lamb. The nursery rhyme itself (well, the first stanza) was written by John Roulstone, a visitor to the one-room schoolhouse on the day that Mary’s little lamb followed her to school, and was given to Mary because the writer so enjoyed the event. (By the way, the author/illustrator is none other than the grandson of the artist Grandma Moses!) Independent reading for elementary students, this would make an excellent read-aloud for all ages.

Serious Farm, by Tim Egan (2003): Although this farm and its inhabitants are all very serious, I was giggling by the third page with its illustration of the deadly serious animals. Okay, I was laughing on the first page when Farmer Fred said, “Nothing funny about corn.” The animals decide that they need to do something to get some laughter on the farm, and they do increasingly silly things to try to get Farmer Fred to laugh, but nothing works. Finally, they get so discouraged that they decide to leave. When Farmer Fred discovers they are missing, he is sad, and he sets out to find them. Farmer Fred actually chuckles a little when he finds them in the woods and thinks about them “runnin’ wild” out there, and the animals decide that he’s right about them all needing each other, so they go on home to the serious farm where they can sometimes get Farmer Fred to laugh a little…but never about corn. Available for Kindle and used in hardback and paperback.

A Fairy in the Dairy, by Lucy Nolan, illustrated by Laura J. Bryant (2003): Buttermilk Hollow is starting to suffer population loss, and Farmer Blue confides in Pixie, his favorite cow, that he’s worried about the future of the town now that a toothpick factory is wanting to buy up all the farmland, and he thinks the town needs a fairy godmother to sort things out. Then, strange things start happening, and the dairy business starts to flourish despite Mayor Clabber’s efforts to get others to join him in selling out. The fairy in the dairy gives this dairy town another chance. Full of  cheese-themed puns, this book would be good for early elementary age readers and listeners (particularly those who know their cheeses!).

Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie: A Story About Edna Lewis, by Robbin Gourley (2000): This is a pseudo-biography  of a year in the life of chef Edna Lewis (1916-2006) as a child on a farm with her family. (It’s a work of fiction, but the real Edna Lewis did grow up on a family farm in Freetown, Virginia!) From springtime to the onset of winter, Edna and her family harvest crops and pick berries and share “garden lore” with one another as they work and dream of what they’ll make with the food they pick. The book also contains some of Edna Lewis’ recipes (modified for modern tastes) at the end. This book would make a great read-aloud for any preschool or elementary age, and early elementary to middle elementary readers would enjoy it independently.

Farm (Eyewitness Books), by Ned Halley (1996): Eyewitness Books contain all the features of a nonfiction book, and they are stuffed full of photographs and illustrations with detailed captions for young readers to explore! The history of farming as well as a variety of different kinds of animal husbandry and crop cultivation are covered. Perfect for interested readers in the early elementary grades for independent reading and for simple reference for all elementary ages.

Charlotte’s Web, by E. B. White, illustrated by Garth Williams (1952): A Newbery Honor Book in 1952, this classic farm tale tells the story of Wilbur–the runt pig that farm girl Fern rescues as a piglet–and Charlotte–the benevolent barn spider–and their quest to keep Wilbur safe from slaughter as he grows into “some pig.” The 2006 live action film adaptation features Dakota Fanning as Fern and the voice of Julia Roberts as Charlotte.

Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, illustrated by Garth Williams (1953): Originally published in 1933, this book is a fictionalized account of a year in the life of Almanzo Wilder (husband of the author) on a prosperous farm in upstate New York in the late 1800s. I remember that when my mom read this book aloud to us when we were kids, I was constantly hungry because it seems like all his family ever does is eat! Reading the other Little House books (of which series this is a part), I wonder if her focus on the food and relative wealth of the family is because this part of his life was so very different from the hard times Laura grew up experiencing. The main character turns nine in this book, so reading this book with 3rd-5th graders might give them an idea of how very different life is for nine-year-olds now from how it was then! Then again, I’ve never been a child on a farm (well, not since I was a baby), so I don’t know if modern farm kids are as heavily involved in the work of the farm as they were then, so maybe it would only surprise the “city” kids!

Barn Boot Blues, by Catherine Friend (2011): Taylor’s parents unexpectedly move the family from Minneapolis to a farm outside of Melberg to fulfill her mother’s lifelong dream, and Taylor is anything but happy about it. While she likes a few of the friendlier animals, she misses the mall, her friends, and going to school without evidence of the dirty work of a farm on her somewhere. She also misses her parents since her dad still commutes to the city for work and her mom is busy with the constant work needed on the farm, and things don’t seem to be going very well between them either. Taylor finds a sympathetic friend at school who vows to help her with the TEFF project: Taylor Escapes From Farm. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Taylor is willing to do anything–even sacrifice her reputation at school–to get away from the farm that seems to be ruining all their lives. For upper elementary and middle school readers.

And for a couple things completely different…

Our Farm: By the Animals of Farm Sanctuary, poems written by Maya Gottfried, paintings by Robert Rahway Zakanitch (2010): Beautiful, realistic paintings add visual interest to this collection of a variety of poems in different styles “written” by animals from Farm Sanctuary, a sanctuary in for “neglected and abused farm animals” with farms in California and New York. These are very cute poems for independent reading or sharing with even the youngest of listeners, and the illustrations will hold small listeners’ attention while the poems are being read aloud.

1-2-3 Draw: Pets and Farm Animals, by Freddie Levin (2001): One of the how-to-draw books that gives step-by-step instructions for drawing animals (some more simple than others). For budding elementary aged artists.

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Themed Third Thursday: Give the Gift of Books

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

Birth to Toddler:

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

Preschool to Kindergarten:

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

Primary Grades/Early Readers:

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

Middle Elementary/Confident Readers:

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

Upper Elementary/Middle School:

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

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

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

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


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