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The Beasts and Children, Day 11: A Christmas Goodnight

A Christmas Goodnight

A Christmas Goodnight, by Nola Buck, illustrated by Sarah Jane Wright (2011)

BoyChild was disappointed that “all it had was goodnight!” I think that’s because he is at the age where he prefers a story with a plot, and this cute book would be a great bedtime book for toddlers and preschoolers at Christmas time!

The book opens with a semi-typical depiction of the nativity scene, different only in that they are pictured in a cave (a more likely traditional setting for a stable than a wooden structure). Like usual (and inaccurate to the Biblical account), the Wise Men are there at the birth with the shepherds. (Just getting my beef with many nativity-based stories out of the way!) From that point, the story is more implied than told, and you don’t really fully understand what’s been happening until the end of the book! The book is, as BoyChild said, a series of goodnights. The words and pictures show a goodnight to (among many others) “the baby in the hay” and “the sleepy mother,” a variety of animals, the angels, and the rest of the nativity story characters. The very next page starts with goodnights to the moon and the cold air (with an appropriate image of a rural nightscape), then moves into a house where we see a family with a young child saying goodnight “again, sweet baby” to the baby Jesus from their nativity set, then finally, “Goodnight–God bless the whole wide world, for tomorrow is Christmas Day!”

If you have very young children, you know that going to bed can involve a lot of goodnights to people and inanimate objects; this story seems to tap into that tendency. My understanding is that the whole story is actually part of the child’s nighttime routine at Christmas: say goodnight to all the pieces in the nativity set before saying goodnight to his own surroundings and the world (with one more goodnight for the baby). The pictures help move the text along in that they start with close-ups of all the characters in the nativity story, then zoom out to show some of the surrounding area, then move away from Bethlehem into the fields. They then transition to the snowy outdoors scene, then to the farmhouse window, then inside the home where you see the parents and child with the nativity set. The very last picture, with the words “for tomorrow is Christmas Day” shows a wide view of a snowy Christmas morning on a farm with a small village in the distance. The publisher’s recommended ages are 4-8, but I think that skews a little old for such a simple bedtime book (at least one that hasn’t become tradition for the child) and would suggest starting a little younger. It is a really adorable book for small ones!

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The Beasts and Children, Day 3: Merry Christmas Mr. Mouse

Merry Christmas Mr. Mouse

Merry Christmas Mr. Mouse, by Caralyn Buehner, pictures by Mark Buehner (2015)

This is another one that BoyChild really enjoyed. Part of the fun of this is the built in hidden pictures–but we still haven’t found the cat, T-rex, and rabbit in all of the illustrations! (And I really wish I knew the backstory behind the dedication: “For Mr. Joe, who’s as handsome as a bus and as clever as a tractor”!)

Mr. Mouse hears that there is a spot available for sale under a kitchen stove, so he and his family (a wife and seventeen small mice) move in. As Mr. Mouse is exploring the human house one day, he discovers an evergreen tree covered with lights has been brought in and notices all kinds of new smells and new activities going on. He and his family observe and wonder the reason for all the festivities, so Mouse creeps upstairs and overhears the nativity account and the story of Santa being told. “All that fussing upstairs is for Christmas, and Christmas means joy, and love,” he reports back to his wife. She decides it would be a good idea to decorate and celebrate, too. Mr. Mouse goes around borrowing small items to recreate the decorations he has seen upstairs while Mrs. Mouse makes pajamas for everyone, and they wrap the gifts in scraps of colorful paper. Crumbs of gingerbread and bits of candy cane serve as their treats. Then they gather the whole family for the celebration with games and music, treats and gifts, and a retelling of the Christmas story. They each hang a tiny stocking before bed, just in case. To Mr. Mouse’s surprise, they awaken to find a small gift for each parent and a chocolate chip and a bit of cheese for each little mouse. Mr. and Mrs. Mouse decide that Christmas is worth celebrating every year.

The story is told in rhyming verse (ABCB pattern), but it’s not overly rhythmic, so it doesn’t feel too forced. The illustrations, in addition to the hidden images in each one, feature rich, vibrant colors, and the contents of the Mouse home, in particular, are creatively made using regular household items (much like in The Borrowers, a childhood favorite of mine). Small readers can try to figure out the origins of all the items, from the paperclips and buttons on the sprig tree to the chili powder can they use as a fireplace and the dominoes, Tinker-Toys, and blocks they use as seats for the children. (There’s even the little Scottie dog from a Monopoly game as a table-top decoration and birthday candles used for light!) (In an added twist, I recognized the cover of another Christmas book I’ve reviewed, Christmas Day in the Morning, on the page where the mouse is listening to the humans share Christmas stories–because the illustrator of this book is the one who illustrated that one!)

Even though it’s not heavily emphasized, it’s easy to take the central message of the book and apply it in the lives of our little readers–“Mouse learned that on that night long ago/was born the Lord of the earth,/and the lights and the songs and the giving/were to celebrate His birth.” Great for preschool and early elementary read-alouds.

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Themed Third Throwback Thursday: 1930-1939

When the 1930s started, my grandmother was around the age GirlChild is now–and she’ll be turning 93 next month. It amazes me that some of the books she might have read as an elementary school student are books my little girl is reading now!

[1930 to 1939 book list]

While that helps put this decade in perspective for me, here is a selection of world events from about.com to help other readers orient themselves in time!

1930–Pluto is discovered

1932–Amelia Earhart is first female to complete solo flight across the Atlantic

1933–Prohibition ends in the U.S.

1934–Cheeseburger created

1935–Monopoly released by Parker Brothers; first paperback books published (Penguin books)

1936–Gone with the Wind published

1938–Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs released by Disney; Superman appears in comics

1939–World War II begins

 

All the Newbery Medals awarded during this decade were to women compared to all the medals in the 1920s going to men; I don’t know if there’s a reason for this, but it caught my eye! Of the ten winners, I’m familiar with five of the titles; my mom read Caddie Woodlawn and Roller Skates to us when I was young, and she owns Invincible Louisa (although I don’t remember ever reading it myself).

1930–Hitty, Her First Hundred Years, by Rachel Field

1931–The Cat Who Went to Heaven, by Elizabeth Coatsworth

1932–Waterless Mountain, by Laura Adams Armer

1933–Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze, by Elizabeth Lewis

1934–Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women, by Cornelia Meigs

1935–Dobry, by Monica Shannon

1936–Caddie Woodlawn, by Carol Ryrie Brink

1937–Roller Skates, by Ruth Sawyer

1938–The White Stag, by Kate Seredy

1939–Thimble Summer, by Elizabeth Enright

[UPDATE: I didn’t realize that Caldecott Medals began to be awarded during this decade! The first winner, in 1938, was Animals of the Bible: A Picture Book, illustrated by Dorothy Lathrop, and the 1939 winner was Mei Li, by Thomas Handforth.]

And now to our list!

The Cat Who Went to HeavenThe Cat Who Went to Heaven, by Elizabeth Coatsworth (1930): This book, the story of a cat who inspired a destitute Japanese artist and brought him good fortune in the form of a commission to paint the death of Buddha, was the 1931 Newbery Medal winner. It alternates between third-person prose describing events from the artist’s perspective and brief songs of the elderly housekeeper who first brought the short-tailed cat into their home. The unnamed artist first resists the appearance of the cat since he calls cats a devil and is upset because the housekeeper spent their little money on the cat instead of food, but he seems besotted by her as soon as he sees her. The housekeeper names the cat Good Fortune, and that is what she seems to bring them. The cat appears to pray to their image of Buddha, causing the artist to consider his recent lack of prayer due to his hardships and sadness. After the priest arrives to commission the painting, more and more good things come to the artist. He ponders the Buddha in order to do the painting justice, and he comes to a deeper understanding of the object of his faith and remembers also that cats were the only animals not to receive Buddha’s blessing because they were too proud. The cat’s attention to his painting as he adds animals significant to the story of Buddha so moves him that he disregards his fear that his painting will be rejected and includes a cat in the scene. Good Fortune, so happy to see the cat included, dies suddenly. The priest who receives the painting the next day is in awe of it until he sees the cat pictured and puts it aside for burning, but the artist feels as though he has done the right thing anyway. During the night, the image of the cat moves from the end of the parade of animals to a position under the now-outstretched hand of Buddha (as if in blessing), so the significance of the title refers to this cat who supernaturally (through the painting) received Buddha’s blessing and went to heaven.

Angus and the Cat, by Marjorie Flack (1931): Angus and the CatOne of several books based on the author’s own Scottish terrier dog, Angus and the Cat tells the story of how Angus–old enough and wise enough to deal with many of the things his little world throws at him–finds himself at a loss when a cat suddenly appears in his home and invades his space. Whenever Angus approaches, sometimes innocently, sometimes to defend his territory, the cat lashes out or retreats to a place where Angus can’t reach. When the cat seems to disappear one day (BoyChild loved finding her hiding on the roof next to the gable window where Angus couldn’t see her!), Angus searches all over for her and realizes he is lonely without her. The cat returns at lunchtime, and Angus and the cat seem to come to an understanding and enjoy each other’s company. This book is particularly applicable to us right now because we’re fostering a dog who is doesn’t trust our dog because of a bad experience with a similar animal and medication issues. We’re hoping things end up like this book, where our Angus and the cat (the other dog) learn to get along together!

 

The Story of Babar: The Little ElephantHistoire de Babar (The Story of Babar), by Jean de Brunhoff (1931): Babar is, perhaps, the best-known elephant on the planet. This first story, based on a story the author’s wife made up for their children, tells how Babar came to wear clothing and be the king of the elephants. The English version, translated (I think, but maybe retold in English instead) by A.A. Milne, was published in 1933.

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Dr. Daddy as Babar and GirlChild as Princess Flora.

GirlChild has always loved elephants, and the year she was four, she wanted to be both an elephant and a princess for Halloween, so I turned the whole family into the Babars and decorated our trunk (for trunk-or-treat) with copies of all the Babar books I could find. Dr. Daddy (he’s a vet) made the biggest splash as King Babar himself!

 


 

Little House in the Big WoodsLittle House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1932): The first of the Little House books, this tells the fictionalized story of four-year-old Laura and her family before they pack up to leave the big woods of Wisconsin. Set in the second half of the 1800s, it tells of the day-to-day life of a family living off the land and by their wits. My family loved hearing these stories when I was a kid; we loved the pioneer unit my mom used to teach at school (dress-up in bonnets and pinafores! knead bread! make butter! write on slates!); we loved to build log cabins and smokehouses with our Lincoln Logs like Pa did with the real thing. GirlChild has read this one, too, and we’ve listened to (most of) The Long Winter during a trip during our own long Midwest winter. This book tells the kind of things kids want to know about life long ago, and it helps remind me what a blessing modern conveniences are when I start to romanticize the “old days”!

The Story About Ping, The Story About Pingby Marjorie Flack and Kurt Weise (1933): Inspired by her research into ducks for another Angus story, the author delved even deeper into the world of Peking ducks, and this story is the result. Ping is one of a number of ducks who live on a houseboat (with eyes–creepy, creepy–um, I mean wise–eyes) on the Yangtze River. Every day, the ducks leave the boat to forage, and every evening, they are called back to the boat. The last duck gets a swat from a switch (probably to encourage the ducks to always return quickly), and Ping decides one day–a day when he misses the call and would be the last duck–to spend the night outside rather than risk the spank. As Ping explores the river the next morning while he searches for his home, we get peeks into life on the river for a variety of groups, from the diving birds fishing for their master to the family whose child is out bobbing in the river with a barrel tied to him for a life jacket. The boy’s family wants to eat Ping, but he releases Ping secretly, and Ping finally catches sight of his home, just in time to hear the call and be the last duck back. He decides to risk the spank so he can be back home with his family again.

Mary PoppinsMary Poppins, by P.L. Travers (1934): I remember picking up this book in my elementary school library (it had to be pre-fifth-grade because I remember which library it was, and I changed schools in fifth grade) and being a little shocked that Mary Poppins seemed kind of harsh! My experience with the character was, predictably, limited to the Disney version of her, and she kind of scared me in the book! I remember the magic seeming pretty different, too, and I was pretty confused by an episode with bread wrapped in paper (which reflects the fact that I was unaware that the book was already over 50 years old). With renewed interest in the story due to the movie Saving Mr. Banks in 2013, perhaps it’s a good time to break out the original stories again (it’s a whole series!) before my kids get too spoiled by the Julie Andrews version! (Interestingly, the author herself died twenty years ago this weekend!)

And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Streetby Dr. Seuss (1937): Dr. Seuss’s first children’s book is the rhyming tale of a boy who is instructed by his father to observe what he sees while he travels to school and report what he has seen. The boy thinks that what he has seen is too boring, so he embellishes and embellishes until the man driving a horse and cart becomes a brass band on a trailer being pulled by an elephant and two giraffes being escorted by motorcycle police and watched by the city officials and on and on and on…until he gets home, so excited to tell what he has seen that he can’t even speak, and he finally just reports what he actually saw: a plain horse and cart on Mulberry Street.

Mr. Popper's PenguinsMr. Popper’s Penguins, by Richard and Florence Atwater (1938): I recently read this one to my kids, too. It was one of the books introduced to me, along with Anne of Green Gables, by my second grade teacher who realized I needed more than what her grade-level classroom library had to offer. A Newbery Honor recipient in 1939, Mr. Popper is a painter who dreams of world travel. He loves to read about far-off places, and he greatly admires Admiral Drake and writes him a letter about the “funny penguins” at the South Pole. After telling him, via radio broadcast from the expedition, that he should expect a reply to his letter, Admiral Drake sends him a penguin by air express. They soon add another, a gift from an aquarium as they both try to help the ailing penguins recover, and those two soon start a family. Soon the Poppers have ten baby penguins to add to their collection. The house has been transformed into a funhouse for penguins; they train them to do a little show, and they are offered a good sum to travel with their performing penguins. Eventually, the penguins are sent with Admiral Drake on an expedition to establish a penguin population at the North Pole, and Mr. Popper gets to live his dream by joining them on their trip. While it might be a little difficult for young readers to understand all the cultural differences between this book’s setting and modern times, there really is nothing extra needed to imagine how fun and funny it might be to have penguins as pets, even for just a little while!

Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovelstory and pictures by Virginia Lee Burton (1939): Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel, Mary Anne, are becoming obsolete as new gas and electric steam shovels are developed. They try to prove themselves one more time by offering to dig the cellar for the new town hall in Popperville in just a day. Having an audience always makes them work harder, and a crowd soon gathers to watch their work and see if they really can do all that digging in just one day. Just at sunset, they finish their work to the applause of the townspeople who are all standing around watching. After all that hard, fast work, a little boy (who has been watching all day) notices that Mike and Mary Anne have forgotten to leave a way out. Then the little boy suggests that they simply stay where they are: let Mary Anne be the furnace for the new town hall, and Mike Mulligan can be the janitor. They all agree, and Mike and Mary Anne stay relevant by reinventing themselves and being useful.

Here’s the related list from What We Do All Day: remember that this blogger focuses on lesser-known works, so there’s little overlap this time because of how many well-known works were written during this decade!

 

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Themed Third Throwback Thursday: 1910-1919

Many of the authors that were publishing in the 1900-1909 range continued to publish through the next decade. A whole lot of series adventure books were published, from the Bobbsey Twins to the Boy Scouts and Outdoors Girls. (Tom Swift books, a science fiction/inventor series, were first published in this decade as well, but the only knowledge I have of that character is of the Tom Swift puns, Tom Swifties!)

[1910 to 1919 book list]

Here’s our “when-in-the-world” reference from about.com to understand what was going on in real life while these books were being published!

1910–Boy Scouts established in the U.S. (which might explain all the Boy Scouts books published!)

1911–the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire occurs (I can’t remember where I learned about this tragedy–a social studies text?–but here’s a graphic novel an upper elementary to middle school reader might benefit from reading!)

1912–the Titanic sinks (and Oreos are first introduced!)

1913–Henry Ford invents the moving assembly line

1914–World War I begins

1915–the first transcontinental phone call is made

1916–Jeanette Rankin is the first woman in the U.S. Congress (and Piggly Wiggly opens as the first self-service grocery store in the U.S.)

1917–the U.S. enters WWI

1918–Daylight Saving Time introduced

1919–end of World War I with the Treaty of Versailles

That’s a lot of heavy stuff going on, so it’s really no wonder that there were so many adventure and inventor series being written! The stories that I best remember, though, being a timid child growing up in small-town USA, are the stories of hope and perseverance, childish goodness and wisdom, and “safe” adventures in fantasy! Here’s a list of some of the stories from this era that were most memorable to me and have stood the test of time!

Peter and WendyPeter and Wendy, by J.M. Barrie (1911): While Peter Pan as a character is pretty pervasive in modern culture (peanut butter, Geico commercials, and the many iterations in movies and on stage, just to name a few examples), the actual book from which the character arises is perhaps not as well known (nor, perhaps, that he first appeared in a book for adults and that this book where he is featured is actually an expansion on a long-running play written by the author and is not the original source material). The different versions of Peter don’t all agree on his personality or characteristics (even among Barrie’s works there are some discrepancies), but he is generally portrayed as young, brave, and carefree. Tinker Bell, likewise, has different characteristics among versions, but she is almost always shown to be both fiercely jealous and loyal (although I’m pretty sure the jealousy aspect is either toned down or missing in the Disney Fairies version of her where she isn’t with Peter Pan). Much of the book has a decidedly silly tone to it, despite dealing with such serious ideas as lost babies and murderous pirates. The Darlings have a somewhat ridiculous discussion about their finances while Mrs Darling holds the newborn Wendy, but they finally decide that they will keep their baby and hope for the best cost-wise. They hire a Newfoundland dog as their nanny because they can’t afford a human version but still want to keep up appearances, and the dog bathes the children and walks them to school, but she also lies on the floor in the nanny waiting area and is chained outside when Mr Darling (in a sullen temper and with the guilty understanding that he is being unreasonable) is offended by her supposed disrespect. (She also has dialog, but it’s hard to tell if the author intends for her to be actually speaking or if it is assumed that what she “says” is what she would be thinking or conveying with her demeanor.) Peter’s heavy-handed and obviously manipulative flattery convince the otherwise responsible Wendy to trust and follow him. All in all, I can’t help but think of the avowed absurdity of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland being passed off as absolutely reasonable in this book. My mother read this aloud to us when we were young, and I remember being heartily confused by the nanny/dog bit, but it certainly helped to have a reader who could explain the archaic or confusing parts to us! For independent reading, I’d suggest at least upper elementary age, and there are a vast number of YA books inspired by the story and characters if your reader falls for Peter, too!

The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911): The Secret GardenThis character begins her story as both similar to and wildly different from Burnett’s other classic female character, Sara Crewe. Where Sara, the only child of a doting British officer in India, is sweet-tempered and wise and generous, Mary, the only child of self-centered British parents living in India, is angry and selfish and demanding. Both are orphaned at a young age, and both end up living with a wealthy guardian (after Sara’s stretch at Miss Minchin’s, of course). Both sincerely befriend children who are their social inferiors (Betsy for Sara and Dickon (as well as the servants) for Mary). Where Sara uplifts her fellow students through her goodness, imagination, and inclusiveness, Mary brings her hidden cousin Colin out of his misery with bluntness, stories, and shared secrecy. One theme of the story that seems obvious to me would finding life where there seems to be only death: Mary’s survival when her household is struck down by cholera, the garden being coaxed back to bloom from its abandoned state, and Colin and his father being drawn out of their pain and misery into a more abundant life. I loved this book as a child, and we loved the 1987 Hallmark Hall of Fame movie version (although I know it to be full of inaccuracies, it was what we had, and we loved it!). It is, like the others from this list, an enduring classic, and it would be a good read-aloud for elementary aged children and independent reading from upper elementary on.

PollyannaPollyanna, by Eleanor H. Porter (1913): All that I really recall from reading this book a million-ish years ago (or, you know, maybe 25 or so) is that Pollyanna is cheerful (which may also have something to do with her lasting literary legacy and not my actual memories of the book) and some sort of accident near the end of the book. It actually came to my attention when my daughter mentioned that a friend from her class (a bit of a Pollyanna herself!) was reading it. While the exact plot of the book may not have gone down in history (the basics of the storyline are pretty familiar and common to many books from this era: an orphaned child or child in otherwise desperate straits is sent to live with with better off relatives (usually spinsters or a childless couple) or friends of the parents and brightens their lives considerably), the character of the main character has created a lasting impression, a shorthand way of saying that someone is almost foolishly optimistic (and can, therefore, be used as a bit of an insult). The characterization comes about because of how Pollyanna approaches life, as taught to her by her father, in that she always looks for the bright side of things (which she calls playing “The Glad Game”) and teaches others to do so as well. Pollyanna is so very guileless (she reminds me of GirlChild in this way!) that there are frequent misunderstandings between herself and the people from her mother’s hometown that have secrets they’ve been keeping and feelings they’ve been hiding. When she is gravely injured in an accident and can’t manage to summon up a reason to be glad, all the people in the town visit or send messages to her about how she has changed their lives so that she can have something to be glad about. This is actually a somewhat easier read than many juvenile books from the era, and although some of the inferences might be missed by a young modern reader, I think a middle to upper elementary child could manage the contents decently, even better if read with an adult.

Tarzan of the Apes, by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1914): Tarzan of the ApesI will freely admit that I have never actually read this book. Does that, however, mean it isn’t a book with staying power? Of course not! There are many readers who are not me, after all! Besides, the character of Tarzan has been immortalized in film, and I would imagine that most adults in the English-speaking world could at least identify some characteristics of Tarzan (if not reproduce his yell). Not having a good acquaintance with the book character, I have little to no idea how far the Disney version strays from the original (although, from the fight with Kerchak that I happened to open the book to, I would guess the answer is “pretty darn far”). Still, the man who was raised by apes from infancy, discovered and brought to civilization by Professor Porter and his daughter, and has adventures, marries Jane Porter (although, apparently, not in this book), and has more adventures–his legend lives on. Judging from the bits of the book that I browsed and the hints gleaned from the introduction, I’d say it would be best for readers of at least middle school to high school age, and readers would need to be able to suspend disbelief on a semi-regular basis.

The Real Mother GooseThe Real Mother Goose, illustrated by Blanche Fisher Wright (1916): To me, at least, the cover of this book is the iconic Mother Goose image; it is what I think of when I think of Mother Goose despite all the different available compilations and adaptations of the rhymes contained within. In the interest of full disclosure, I do not remember a lot of the rhymes (“Three Wise Men of Gotham,” really? and “Needles and Pins” about the risks of marriage??), but the image has stuck. Nursery rhymes can be pretty brutal 😉 , but these weren’t composed during this time period, just illustrated. (I prefer Richard Scarry’s Best Mother Goose Ever in terms of contents, actually! Richard Scarry is kind of second only to Dr. Seuss in terms of my childhood reading memories, and Sandra Boynton joins them in my children’s collection of sure-to-be-classics!)

Raggedy Ann Stories, by Johnny Gruelle (1918): Raggedy Ann StoriesI don’t know that I ever read the stories themselves before, but I most definitely knew of Raggedy Ann and Andy! (My kids even have a metal jack-in-the-box that has Raggedy Ann in it!) The stories remind me very much of the Toys Go Out series by Emily Jenkins or the Toy Story movies. Raggedy Ann, despite being just a rag doll passed down to the little girl, Marcella, from her grandmother when she found the doll in her grandma’s attic, becomes the admired leader of the dolls in the nursery. She watches out for them and is the voice of wisdom and reason and love. There is a wealth of quotes in the stories that show what an upbeat and positive doll Raggedy Ann is, like: “So all the other dolls were happy, too, for happiness is very easy to catch when we love one another and are sweet all through.”

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A former Sunday school student with Raggedy Ann and Andy at the Raggedy Ann and Andy Festival in Arcola, IL.

It’s clear that the author also had some marketing in mind, however, when he wrote the story of the dollmaker taking Raggedy Ann in to use as a pattern for mass-production and having another doll say to Raggedy, “For wherever one of the new Raggedy Ann dolls goes there will go with it the love and happiness that you give to others.” The afterword, written by the author’s grandson, states that after the success of this first Raggedy Ann collection, the author wrote at least one new Raggedy Ann title per year until his death 20 years later. He also says, “His books contained nothing to cause fright, glorify mischief, excuse malice, or condone cruelty,” and that is probably why his characters for children endure today! While there used to be a museum and annual festival in the author’s hometown, they have recently suspended operations due to low turnout and volunteers.

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The blogger as an almost-3-year-old with a Raggedy Andy doll

I had a couple more books slated to be shared today, but I realized that they may have had a more limited audience than these other books have had, so they may have only been memorable to me (and other readers like me). Jean Webster’s Daddy-Long-Legs (1912) and Dear Enemy (1915) were books my mother read to us that were published during this decade. Understood Betsy (1916) I discovered on a similarly-inspired book list on the blog What We Do All Day, and I loved that book as a child as well! (You should definitely check there for more books-by-the-decade as the blogger there is trying to emphasize books that might have been forgotten! I promise that I’m avoiding looking at the corresponding lists before I compile my list so I’m not unfairly influenced and so I can compare what we’ve found.)

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Themed Third Thursday: Books Get Meta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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BoyChild Chooses: The 12 Reviews of Christmas, Day 7–Where Did They Hide My Presents?: Silly Dilly Christmas Songs

Where Did They Hide My Presents?

Where Did They Hide My Presents?, by Alan Katz and David Catrow (2005)

It took a little cajoling on GirlChild’s part for BoyChild to choose this book in the first place, but once they had a listen, they both loved it!

The whole book is full of silly songs meant to be sung to the tune of popular Christmas songs. They range from “The Sugarplum Fairy” (to the tune of “The Little Drummer Boy”), a song about a child with pre-performance jitters who really starts to enjoy the applause and looks forward to more performances, to the titular “Where Did They Hide My Presents?” (to the tune of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”) about a child who searches “high and low and low” for the gifts his parents have hidden and can’t find them anywhere.  The pictures help add to the fun of the songs; for instance, you can see several packages tucked into a hollow in a tree (with an owl sleeping next to them) on the pages where the child is seeking out his parents’ hiding places, and the dad is depicted with an open and empty battery compartment for the song “Batteries.” They are silly and over-the-top, and my kids got a good laugh out of them!

GirlChild’s favorite song was “Where Did They Hide My Presents?” and BoyChild liked the song “Batteries” “because footballs and bones don’t need batteries!” (He’s into the absurd right now…) I had to have my husband hum a few bars of the beginning of a couple of the songs because I couldn’t recall how they started, just the chorus, and there were one or two where I never quite got the rhythm quite right to fit with the new lyrics, but it was overall pretty easy to sing the new words to the old tunes! That might be because impromptu parody songs are all the rage in our house; I tend to belt out a rousing rendition of “Everything is Awful” when BoyChild is dramatically protesting something ridiculous, and GirlChild has gotten so good at making up her own that her daddy sometimes mistakes them for real songs! Be warned that the word “dumb” showed up in a couple of the songs, and there is a song about a baby brother who has dirtied his pants, but most of the songs are good, clean fun! Other song parody picture books by the authors include On Top of the Potty and Take Me Out of the Bathtub, but there are several more to share with your little goofballs!

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Fun Fourth Friday: Out Like a Lamb

It’s March, and our weather in Wisconsin has been pretty awful. (Not East Coast snow awful, but arctic chill awful.) The extended forecast, though, is calling for something a little less lion-like and a little more wooly. (Highs above freezing, yeah!) Because the month may possibly be going out like a lamb, I chose sheep for my March theme! (Update: March doesn’t seem to actually be going out like a lamb–we didn’t get the snow we were forecast this week, but many did!–and my kids have been sick to the point of one missing three days of school and the other having a burst eardrum, so this Themed Third Thursday had to revise itself to a Fun Fourth Friday!)

Moo, Baa, La La La!Moo, Baa, La, La, La, by Sandra Boynton (1984, infant/toddler/preschool): I have been reading this book to my children since they were able to, well, listen. So, birth-ish. It’s in bad shape at this point. This is a halfway typical animal sounds book, but it’s Sandra Boynton, so there’s a good bit of silliness thrown in with the rhythm and rhyme that’s in nearly all her books. Sheep figure pretty small, but they’re in there!

Baa, Baa, Black Sheep, as told and illustrated by Iza Trapani Baa Baa Black Sheep(2001, preschool/early elementary): The first page contains the rhyme with which we’re all familiar (and illustrates the black sheep in the doorway to her home wearing a nice shawl around her shoulders). Each additional spread has a different animal asking the black sheep for something as she goes about her day shopping and knitting, and they all seem pretty put out when she says she doesn’t have what they’re asking for. They actually end up all coming to her home to tell her she’s selfish (what?!), and they discover that she’s been doing what she does best (knitting, apparently) and is more than happy to share her wool with all of them, having created a special gift for each of her grumpy friends. In the end, they realize that she shared her best (even if she wasn’t able to share what they asked for at first), and they respond in kind with their best gifts.

Sheep in a JeepSheep in a Jeep, by Nancy Shaw, illustrated by Margot Apple (1986, preschool/early elementary): The titular sheep are none too careful with their vehicle and get into all kinds of trouble with it. Lots of repetition and lots of rhyme make this first of the many Nancy Shaw sheep books both fun and accessible to little listeners and early readers. This board book version gives instructions for making a handprint sheep.

Russell the Sheep, by Rob Scotton Russell the Sheep (2005, preschool/early elementary): Russell’s flock settles down for the night, but Russell is having a hard time getting to sleep. He tries all kinds of tricks and finally gets to sleep when he counts all the sheep…including himself. The story is silly, and the illustrations are quirky; there’s even a little frog pal in each illustration that small children would have a fun time finding. The pictures really add to comprehension, and I found that I had to question BoyChild some to make sure he was catching the implications of certain expressions or actions, and I definitely had to explain the concept of counting sheep so he could get that joke! If you’re teaching a unit on sheep (or whatever unit into which you might fit sheep books), you might want to give that explanation before embarking since references to it abound in sheep books!

The 108th SheepThe 108th Sheep, by Ayano Imai (2006, preschool/early elementary): Emma is having a hard time getting to sleep, and the warm milk and books are not helping. She decides to count sheep, figuring she’ll be asleep by the time she gets to 10. When she gets past 100, she’s surprised, but then something goes wrong; the 108th sheep tells her that he can’t make it over her bed (despite all his training), and this will keep all of them (Emma and the sheep) from getting to sleep. After several attempts to help him succeed, she saws a hole in her headboard so the sheep doesn’t have to jump as high to get over (er, through). He manages at last, and they all fall asleep. In the morning, the hole and the sheep are gone, but little hoofprints on Emma’s blanket convince her that she’ll never have trouble getting to sleep again. Unique illustrations and approach to the sheep counting idea make this book a different kind of book to add to your sheepish collection.

Another Brother, by Matthew Cordell Another Brother(2012, preschool/early elementary): This book is hardly about sheep (the characters are sheep, but they could just as easily be any other creature and the story would still work), but BoyChild loves this book with a passion (he asks for it multiple times a day!), and I’m not sure what the draw is for him since he is neither the oldest nor a devoted follower of his big sister! Davy is the oldest in his family, and his twelve younger brothers follow him everywhere and do everything he does. He’s quite sick of it, but his parents assure him that this is just a phase. When the phase ends suddenly, Davy is thrilled…until he realizes that he is now lonely without a single brother to play with him. One morning, however, something unexpected happens, and Davy now has a baby sister who follows him wherever he goes and does whatever he does, and he is happy once again.

WoolburWoolbur, by Leslie Helakoski, illustrated by Lee Harper (2008, early elementary): Woolbur’s free-spirited ways are a daily struggle for his worried parents and weigh heavily on their minds (but not his grandfather’s–he says not to worry), and they finally tell him that enough is enough and he needs to act like the other sheep. So, after a night pondering this, Woolbur does…because he teaches all the other lambs to act like him! An excellent reminder that thinking outside the box doesn’t mean the thinking is wrong! A very cute story of an enthusiastic sheep who marches to the beat of his own drum and teaches others how, too!

Buford the Little Bighorn, by Bill PeetBuford the Little Bighorn (1967, early/middle elementary): Buford has a bit of a problem–all of his growth seems to be concentrated his horns! They soon grow so long and curved that they have curled right back alongside his body and to the front again! Unable to climb the mountains like the other bighorns, Buford finds refuge in a herd of cattle where he goes unnoticed for quite some time. When hunting season arrives, however, his impressive rack of horns is spotted by some airborne hunters, and he makes his escape by accident–by falling and landing with his hooves on his long, curved horns–and he skis right past the hunters and onto a ski resort where he becomes the star attraction because he is the “only skier ever to grow his own skis.”

Charlie and TessCharlie and Tess, by Martin Hall, pictures by Catherine Walters (1995, early elementary): This mostly realistic fiction book tells the story of an orphaned lamb named Charlie who is raised by the family and thinks of himself as another sheepdog like Tess. When he gets big enough and has to rejoin the flock, he struggles not to play the part of the herding dog, but his learned skills in that area help save the flock when an early snow threatens to strand them in their mountainside pasture. BoyChild liked this book well enough, and it’s one of the few realistic fiction books featuring sheep I found!

Warm as Wool, by Scott Russell Sanders,Warm as Wool illustrated by Helen Cogancherry (1992, early/middle elementary): According to the jacket flap, this historical fiction story is based on information found in an old record book about the first pioneer in Randolph Township, Ohio, to own a flock of sheep in the early 1800s, Betsy Ward. Mrs. Ward had brought all her spinning supplies with her when the family moved from Connecticut, but she had no flock to shear. She had, however, brought a stocking filled with her savings, and she managed to purchase a few sheep from a drover who passed near their land. From those few sheep, she clothed her family and raised up a whole flock.

beforeitwasasweaterWhat Was It Before It Was a Sweater?, by Roseva Shreckhise (1985, preschool/early elementary): This interesting and informative book has a terribly outdated appearance. BoyChild listened patiently as the book told the story of the little girl’s birthday sweater from the birth of a lamb through shearing, the manufacturing process, and even through the wholesaler and the store. If it could be redone (probably along with the rest of the series) with updated illustrations, it would be something I would recommend as a nonfiction book for preschool and primary school classrooms!

How Do They Grow?: From Lamb to Sheep, From Lamb to Sheepby Jillian Powell (2001, early elementary): This simple book pretty much follows the nonfiction template. It includes a table of contents, bold print words defined in a glossary, headings, specific data, a section with further reading (including books, videos, websites, and addresses to contact 4-H), and an index. It gives the information chronologically and with scant detail (particularly on things that could be upsetting or disgusting to a young child, like giving birth, docking tails, and the livestock market).

I’m going to admit right now that I didn’t get the chance to read the chapter books I chose for this theme, so bear with the super-basic summaries for the following!

Agnes the SheepAgnes the Sheep, by William Taylor (1990, elementary): Agnes the sheep is a terror, and Belinda and Joe are suddenly responsible for her when her owner, Mrs. Carpenter dies. The jacket flap says this book is funny, but the few Amazon reviews are somewhat mixed (with one warning that there are a few inappropriate words, and the sheep dies suddenly near the end), so you might want to give it a read-through before you share it with a younger reader.

…And Now Miguel, by Joseph Krumgold, Product Detailsillustrated by Jean Charlot (1953, upper elementary): This book received the 1954 Newbery Medal, yet I have not actually ever read it. (I’ve never read the author’s second Newbery winner, Onion John, either. I think I have some work to do!). The author was a documentary filmmaker and this book is based on the Chavez family who had herded sheep in New Mexico for over one hundred years. Miguel is the middle child of the family, and he is discontent. He wants to be like his older brother, Gabriel, who can get whatever he wants, and he wants to be like his younger brother, Pedro, who is satisfied with whatever he has, but he is stuck in the middle. When his much loved older brother is drafted into the army, he gets his chance (although it’s not how he would have wished it) to join the men on their summer journey into the mountains with the sheep. (Teachers can purchase lesson plans and reading guides for this novel here. I’m sure there are also others available. Also, the image to the right does not feature the original artwork.)

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