Amy is back with Read Aloud Thursday! It’s a great place to get recommendations for books to read with your kids. She has a fantastic recommendation today for a math picture book that I’m going to add to our list.
We read less and less picture books together as a family. This makes me sad sometimes, but it’s also because my kids are reading more and more on their own. So it’s more bittersweet than bitter. This month I got all the Cybils fiction picture book nominees out of the library and read them with various combinations of kids. (Mostly with the 7 and 10 year old. But my 13 year old still always reads all the picture books in the basket on his own even if he’s not around when we read them together.)
My favorite of the nominees was Brendan Wenzel’s They all Saw a Cat. A cat travels through the world “with its whiskers, ears and paws….” and encounters a dog, a child, a bird, a bee, a fox, a mouse, a snake, a fish, a flea, a skunk, a worm and a bat. Each page shows how the different creature sees the cat. We see differences in perspective (a bird’s eye view) and differences in how animals see (the snake sees in heat waves) and differences in perception (the mouse sees the cat as a huge scary beast). The text is simple and repetitive but the illustrations elicited a lot of good conversation from my kids about the way each creature “saw”. Bonus points because the repetitive refrain reminded me of one of my favorite poems by Pablo Neruda.
Honorable mentions for me would go to:
A Hungry Lion or a Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins
There’s a Bear on My Chair by Ross Collins
Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev
Cummins’s book is funny and unexpected. And vaguely disturbing (comment by my 10 year old vegetarian son). Collins’s Bear and Mouse reminded me of the Bear and Mouse in Bonny Becker’s fantastic series of books except that in this case it’s the Mouse that is the curmudgeon of sorts. And Mantchev’s book about a boy with a tiny elephant pet who is left out of the neighborhood pet club is sweet and funny.
Our current family read-aloud is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It’s been fun to read these out loud. The boys have read them on their own but this is the first time through for Ruth and we are enjoying sharing the world of Harry with her. We also listened to Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon as our most recent audiobook. We have multiple audiobooks on hold as our next potential listen but I’m not sure what to do next as our next read aloud. Any suggestions?
And don’t forget to stop by Hope is the Word for more reading aloud!
Susan Jeffers’s The Twelve Days of Christmas is pretty much exactly what you would expect and that’s a good thing. The text is mostly just the familiar song. The illustrations are the lush colorful paintings typical of Jeffers complete with plenty of glitter. Jeffers adds a bit of a story to the carol, told mainly through the illustrations and a little bit of added text. A girl named Emma breaks her snow globe and is transported to a magical land by Santa. If you have a girl who enjoys other Jeffers books, she will likely be delighted by this one as well.
We love the Duck books by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin. This Christmas edition is just as fun and goofy. Duck as usual is up to his old tricks and manages to get all the animals stuck in Farmer Brown’s chimney. Luckily there is someone coming who can save the day!
Our Christmas book basket has become our favorite Advent tradition. (As I might have mentioned once or twice or a hundred times.) Some days we read funny books (like Click, Clack, Ho! Ho! Ho! )Some days we read beautifully illustrated books. Some days we read books with favorite characters. Some days we read books that make me cry. Some days we read books that remind us all of the real reason for Advent.
So far what has been the most memorable book of the season is one that is none of those things. In fact, it is memorable mainly for being so bizarre that we all couldn’t stop laughing from the sheer weirdness of it. Christmas at the Toy Museum by David Lucas is just weird. The story is basically that the toys have no presents to unwrap so they decide to wrap themselves. Then they take turns unwrapping each other and being excited. Alert readers may have discovered the problem with this plan. What does the last toy that gets unwrapped have to unwrap? Perhaps it’s enough to say that my 13 year old loved this book because of it’s so awesomely stupid (his words) and couldn’t wait for me to blog about it. I’ll leave it at that.
A few of the new-to-us books in our Advent Book Basket this year. Kate Westerlund’s The Message of the Birds is a sweet simple story about the birds of the world spreading the message of Christmas to the children of the world. It bothered me a bit that the message of Christmas becomes distilled down to Peace on Earth. That is part of the message but not the whole message. I don’t mind secular Christmas books but ones that are a watered down version of the real story do bother me. The illustrations by Feridun Oral are beautiful, especially if you like birds. My kids also really liked the last page that featured a word cloud of the word Peace in many different languages. We’ve been to several Christmas events this Advent season with different languages featured which has stirred a general interest/awareness of languages in the kids and this was a nice addition to that.
Maple and Willow’s Christmas Tree is the newest addition to the Lori Nichols’s Maple and Willow series about two young sisters. I really like this series because I think is a perfect example of what has become rare in children’s fiction: simple non-quirky, non-snarky stories about real kids. This Christmas addition is just as sweet as the other books. The girls are thrilled to get their first REAL Christmas tree but then it turns out Maple is allergic to the tree. They figure out a way to make Christmas special. Another thing I like about this series is that Lori Nichols gets the relationship between sisters perfectly. It’s sweet but not unrealistically sugary sweet. My favorite dialogue: “I’m sorry for ruining Christmas”. (Maple) “I’m sorry you ruined Christmas too.” (Willow). As the parent of three kids, I could completely hear that being said in our house by siblings that love each other (most of the time).
The Reindeer Wish is another book that is part of a series, although we hadn’t read the others. The story is by Lori Evert and features breathtaking photographs by her husband Per Breiehagen of their daughter Anja. The story is fairly predictable: Anja discovers a baby reindeer and raises it but then must one day realizes he would be happier living with other reindeer. So she delivers him to Santa to live and work with Santa’s sled team. The photographs are amazingly beautiful though and will make even the most snow-hating person want to move to a Nordic country to live.
Another book that we enjoyed more for the illustrations than the story was Santa Claus and the Three Bears by Maria Modugno (illustrations by Jane Dyer and Brooke Dyer) . That is probably due more to my kids ages than the book itself. This was a straight-forward telling of the familiar story of the Three Bears but with Santa Claus instead of Goldilocks. The illustrations are fun with lots of details. Recommended for families with preschoolers as fun Christmas reading.
Are you watching?
Project Feederwatch is one of the best recurring projects we do in our homeschool every year. It’s simple. You just count birds at a site in your yard up to days a week from Nov-May. You can count every week or you can do it once or twice. Once you count, you enter your data on the website. There is a small fee. The first year you get a great poster of common birds in your area and some other materials. The website stores your data from previous years and it’s fun to go back and look at trends of birds. My kids love doing it and it hones their skills of observation and awareness of nature. It also is a great way to be involved in citizen science.
The season started last week but it’s not too late to sign up and count this year.
And because everything finds its way back to books, a bird themed book list for your young bird and book lovers:
Fiction Picture Books:
Seven Hungry Babies by Candace Fleming
The Perfect Nest by Catherine Friend
Leaving the Nest by Moredecai Gerstein
Those Darn Squirrels by Adam Rubin
Louise: the Adventures of a Chicken by Kate DiCamillo and Harry Bliss
Telephone by Mac Barnett
Feathers for Lunch by Lois Ehlert
Falcon by Tim Jessell
The Odd Egg by Emily Gravett
Non-Fiction Picture Books:
The Boy Who Drew Birds by Jacqueline Davies (biography of Audubon)
United Tweets of America by Hudson Talbott (state birds)
Mama Built a Little Nest by Jennifer Ward
Look Up! Bird Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate
Bird Talk by Lita Judge
The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate by Scott Nash
Swordbird (and sequels) by Nancy Yi Fan
Our favorite Field Guide:
Birds of Virginia by Stan Tekiela- We have others but we use this one the most because it is organized by color which is such a easy way for a beginner to try to find the bird that you are looking at.
You may have noticed I rarely review picture books anymore. This is for two reasons.
1) We read a lot less picture books. I find that kind of sad but also just part of having kids get older. I don’t think my kids are too old for picture books and they all still like them. We still get a stack out of the library each time we go. But now all three kids read on their own and typically go through that stack before I even get to crack a cover. Our family read-aloud time is usually chapter books or books that are somehow related to school.
2) I blog a lot less than I used to (shocking news, I know). Most of the time I know that a hundred other more prolific and faithful kid- lit bloggers have already reviewed anything that I have read. Even when I do read a picture book that I think “Oh, I really need to share this,” it’s rare that I then find the time to write about it.
All that to say that The Rules of the House was one of the few picture books I’ve read lately that I felt compelled to write about. I haven’t looked to see how many other reviews there are because I just don’t care. I loved this book and want to tell you about it.
I’m not always a fan of Mac Barnett books. I have absolutely adored some (Extra Yarn, Battle Bunny) and been left cold by others (Chloe and the Lion). But one thing I do really appreciate about all his books is that they are unexpected. I kept thinking I knew what predictable thing would happen next in this book, and then something else happened. And the something else was always way funnier than the thing I expected.
A brief synopsis of the plot is that a brother and sister go to the woods on vacation with their Dad. The brother always follows rules. The sister always breaks them. The story is about what happens when the sister breaks the rules of the house they are staying in. As you can tell from the cover, there is some mild scariness. It’s a great book for this time of year, although it doesn’t actually mention Halloween.
We read this one along with a bunch of others from the library basket one morning before starting school. I can’t remember why exactly, but Ruth was grumpy. It was the week after we returned from vacation and she was jet-lagged and sick and just not wanting to do school. So to ease her into the day, I offered to have reading time. She, David and I snuggled into bed and read through a bunch of books. None of the others stood out as much as The Rules of the House but the sweetness of the time together reminded me that we should find a way to do that more often.
I’ve spent the past week reading the 2016 Newbery Award Winners. I didn’t exactly plan to read them all at once, but they all arrived for me at the library at the same time so it seemed serendipitous.
Matt de La Pena’s Last Stop on Market Street is clearly the big topic of conversation this year, as the first true picture book to win the Newbery Medal. It also was named as a Caldecott Honor Book. The book tells the story of a young boy, CJ, and his Nana as they travel on the bus after church to the last stop on Market Street. CJ is a typical young kid who asks his Nana a lot of questions and expressed dissatisfaction with life as it is (Why don’t they have a car? Why do they always have to go where they are going on Sundays? Why can’t he have an MP3 player like the other boys on the bus?) His Nana lovingly and wisely answers his questions and helps to show him the beauty in the everyday world around him. The language is realistic and has the cadence and sound of real people talking but is also sprinkled with lovely and unexpected imagery.
My first impression after reading it was probably similar to a lot of people’s. It is a great book but I was a little confused about why it was deemed the Newbery Medal Winner, an honor I associate with much more complex books. And much longer books. However, the more I think about it the more I like the choice. So often I see parents want to move their kids along from picture books because they are “just for little kids”. As soon as kids start reading on their own we push them towards chapter books and out of the picture book section of the library. But there are so many wonderful picture books out there and I think by giving one of them the Newbery the committee has legitimized the idea that a good picture book is worth reading for all ages of kids, even those who have “graduated” on to much longer books. I love that my seventh grader still reads through the stack of picture books we bring home from the library each week. He likes good books, and I love that he doesn’t see himself as too old to enjoy a good picture book.
After serving on the Cybils selection commitee two years ago, I realize that the very concept of picking the ONE BEST BOOK is just ridiculous. There are so many wonderful books for kids and so many different reasons that a book might appeal to a committee at a particular time. I do think that this book was probably picked partially because the issue of diversity in children’s literature is a very hot topic right now. However, that doesn’t mean Last Stop on Market Street is not also without literary merit. It just happened to be a beautiful book that also fits in with the current thoughts about what is important and desired in kid lit. I’ve been reading along with Amy’s Newbery Through the Decades Challenge for the past year and one thing I’ve learned is how much books reflect their time and place.
I also read the three Newbery Honor Books this week and thought all three of them were very deserving of the honor. The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley and Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan were both WWII era stories. Echo has some fairy-tale and fantasy elements that weave together three different tales about three children in difficult circumstances during WWII. Music is the theme that binds together all three stories. I enjoyed it but I really loved The War that Saved My Life, which tells the story of Ada, a young girl in London with a clubfoot who has been locked inside a room her entire life by her mother. When WWII begins Ada finds a way to escape with the other child evacuees to the country where she slowly begins to find a new life. I loved that the happy ending is not something that is easy. Ada struggles with being afraid of being happy and loved as it might all be taken away from her again. It’s a book that felt very real.
Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl also felt very real. Almost too real, like experiencing all the angst of middle school all over again. Perhaps this is the year of the graphic novel for me as I was totally charmed by this story of Astrid, a girl who is trying to figure out where she belongs. Her best friend is becoming interested in fashion and boys and ballet and Astrid feels left out and unsure of who she is until she finds her tribe at a roller derby camp. One thing I really liked is that Astrid is complex, not always likable, but always realistic and sympathetic. Similarly, we see that the friend isn’t all bad. It isn’t that girls who like ballet and fashion are bad and girls who like roller derby are good. It’s more how do you figure out how to become your own person while still hanging on to the friends you had when you were little and things were simpler. I would highly recommend this one for anyone in the middle school or almost middle school age.
We recently finished a unit study on Africa (part of a larger year long world geography/cultures study). I previously shared some of the broader survey type of books we read and some of the young adult and middle grade fiction that we’ve read. We also read quite a few non-fiction and fiction picture books. Interestingly, many of the non-fiction picture books fall in the general category of “inspirational stories”.
Laurie Ann Thompson’s Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmauel Ofosu Yeboah is certainly inspirational. It tells the story of a young boy born with a severely malformed right leg who grows up to bicycle across Ghana with one leg. More than just succeeding at a challenge for himself, he aims to change the view in his country of people with disabilities as people who are worthless or cursed. It’s a beautiful story (and has also been made into a documentary) that was nominated for the Cybils this year in the non-fiction elementary/middle grade category.
Another inspiring story and Cybils nominee is Miranda Paul’s One Plastic Bag: Isatou
Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia. This one tells the story of how one woman began a campaign to clean her country of the thousands of plastic bags that were littering the countryside. She learns how to cut the plastic bags into strips, crochet them and make them into purses. You can see how they do this on this YouTube video (and there are links to purchase the bags themselves if you are so inclined). Another inspiring story of enivromental activism was Franck Prevot’s Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees. Maathai was the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner for her work in reforestation in Kenya.
The Red Bicycle: The Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle by Jude Isabella is not about one person’s inspiring story but instead looks at the good one donated bicycle can do. A red bicycle is loved by Leo, a boy in a small North American town. But eventually he outgrows the bike and he decides to donate it to an organization that takes bikes overseas. The bicycle is followed as it belongs first to a young girl in Burkina Faso who uses the bike to help her grandmother bring items to the market and then as it finds a third life as a hospital ambulance.
Other Africa themed books we read and enjoyed:
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba
Why Mosquitos Buzz in People’s Ears by Verna Aardema
Zomo the Rabbit: A Trickster Tale from West Africa by Gerald McDermott
Anansi and the Talking Melon by Eric Kimmel (just one of many Anansi stories)
Old Mikamba Had a Farm by Rachel Isadora
We read a lot of picture books, although less than we used to and less than I wish we did. Today I have to share a small, somewhat random sample of some recent finds from our library’s new shelf that we have enjoyed. The first, Penguins in Peril, finds a penguin the unwilling captive of three dastardly cats. The cats have spent all their money on movies instead of food and craft. They come up with a plan to perpetrate the most daring robbery of all time and get all the fishes they want. But first they need a secret weapon: the penguin. The penguin outwits them in the end and the cat’s plan is thwarted. A first book by Helen Hancocks, this one definitely takes a dry sense of humor to appreciate. The somewhat flat text and graphically simple illustrations have a certain plain-Jane charm. My kids liked it when reading it the first time but I haven’t seen them reading it again on their own or seeking it out for second or third readings.
On the other end of the spectrum from the conniving cats in Penguins in Peril, is Sarah Weeks’ Glamourpuss, the title character in what can best be described as the Fancy Nancy of the feline world. Glamourpuss is, well, glamorous. The most glamorous pet ever. But then Bluebell, a tiny toy dog, comes to visit. Bluebell wears fancy clothes: hoopskirts and tiaras and fruit-covered turbans. Bluebell dances and does tricks. Glamourpuss starts to doubt herself. Then however, Bluebell tears up all her fancy clothes and Glamourpuss realizes that maybe there is room for two fabulous pets in the same house. David Small’s (one of my favorite illustrators) humorous illustrations are a perfect paring for this quirky and sweet story.
And for my last offering, we go back to simple, at least in concept. Mac Barnett’s Telephone takes the game of telephone and imagines how it would go as played by birds on a wire. The concept is simple but the execution is picture perfect. The message gets more and more garbled. Illustrator Jen Corace’s birds tell a story of their own as each bird changes the message according to his own job or hobby.
One reason we don’t read as many picture books as I might like is that with older kids, we spend more time reading chapter books. Chapter books are great fun as well to read, and I love our nightly “special book” time. But I think too often parents think that once their kids are old enough to move on to reading “big books” that the time for picture books is over. I recently discovered that my sixth grader still reads every picture book I bring home from the library on his own. It makes me happy that he doesn’t feel too old to enjoy what some kids might feel are books just for little kids.
Stop by Hope is the Word for Read Aloud Thursday and share what you family is reading together.
Ruth and I just finished a unit on food for kindergarten. One of the favorite books we read was a new one by Emily Jenkins, A Fine Dessert. Jenkins follows four families over four hundred years making the same dessert: blackberry fool. Each family prepares the dessert following the same basic steps. The repetition in the text of the recipe and the similarities between the centuries (each child gets to lick the bowl) create continuity. However, the charm is in the differences. The first mother and daughter pair living in Lyme, England in 1710 use a whisk made out of twigs and cool their dessert in an ice pit in the hillside. The 2010 family (the only father and son pair in the book) live in San Diego and serve the dessert to a multicultural group of friends after preparing it with all the modern conveniences. Sophie Blackall’s delicately detailed illustrations draw the reader into each time period and further serve to tie the centuries together while also showing how clothing and housing and people have changed.
Pat Brisson’s Before We Eat: From Farm to Table is another new book about food. This
one take a less personal approach and looks instead at all the people who are involved in getting the food we eat on our table. There are farmers and ranchers, yes. But also, truck drivers and grocery clerks and home cooks. The woodcut illustrations by Mary Azarian (illustrator of the Caldecott winning Snowflake Bentley) are beautiful and complement the simple text.
We also enjoyed looking through What the World Eats by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio. This one is chock full of information but it was a bit too much for five year old Ruth. However, the photos were fascinating. The main interest for us was a photospread for each country showing a typical family and all the food they eat in a month. It was really eye-opening for my kids to see how much less processed food most of the world eats and to see how little some people have to eat in a week.
Other food themed books we recommend:
Minette’s Feast by Susanna Reich
Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell and Lillian Hoban
Cloudy with a Chance for Meatballs by Judi and Ronald Barrett
The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman
Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin
Pinkalicious by Victoria Kann
Time to Eat by Steve Jenkins
It’s not hard to see why Daniel Beaty’s Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me has gotten great reviews (and is a Cybils picture book finalist). The young boy narrator begins by telling about the game his and his Dad play every morning. The boy clearly adores his Dad and his Dad loves him. But one day the Dad doesn’t come home. The boy sends him a letter and waits for a response. When the Dad finally writes back his answer is both heartbreaking I will not be coming home and beautiful No longer will I be there to knock on your door, so you must learn to knock for yourself.
Like all great illustrators, Bryan Collier watercolor and collage paintings tell the story along with the text. The expressions on the boy’s face are tender and sad and warm and compelling. I loved that the illustrations also went further than the text alone. As we hear the father’s words to the boy, we see images of the boy growing up and becoming a man with children of his own.
Diversity is a big buzz-word in kid lit this year. The fact that the boy in this book is African-American certainly makes this book a needed addition to a library. However, even more of a factor is that fact that the father in the book is in prison and that the story is based on the author’s own childhood and father. The fact that the father is in prison is not ever stated directly in the book, which might be confusing or upsetting for some kids if they think he has just left. However, I think leaving it vague was a wise decision. It mirrors the boy’s own confusion at what has happened and it leaves some space for discussion.
I’m often a bit torn about “issue books”. In general, I think adults like books that help kids deal with divorce or death or bullying much better than kids like reading those books. But I also believe that reading a book about a kid going through something similar to what he is going through can truly help. Mostly I see a place for those kinds of book but I don’t particularly seek them out to read and enjoy with my own kids. Knock Knock is the rare book that transcends the “issue” genre. Yes, it would be a wonderful book for kids who are faced with the loss of a parent for any reason. Yes, it is great for children of color to see someone who looks like them in a book. Yes, it is good for kids who don’t live in cities and who don’t have parents who are in prison to read about people who are different from them. But more than any of that, it’s a good book.