Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Favorites

Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree by Robert Barry-- Mr. Willowby sets up his perfect tree only to find that it doesn't quite fit in his living room. As he snips off the top it is passed on to another who will enjoy it, then snipped again and passed on again.  Eventually Mistletoe Mouse ends up with his very own perfect Christmas tree. A fun book with charming illustrations and fun rhyming text.

Mooseltoe by Margie Palatini, Illustrated by Henry Cole -- Mr. Moose is a great Christmas enthusiast getting everything ready and check, check, checking off his list.  But, when Christmas arrives he realizes he has forgotten one very important thing!  A fun read aloud with lot lots of repetition and a cute ending.

McDuff's New Friend by Rosemary Wells and Susan Jeffers -- McDuff is ready for Christmas and waiting for Santa.  When he hears bumps in the night he wakes Lucy and Fred--but nothing is there. Soon a discovery is made and Christmas is saved by McDuff.  A sweet book, that I love for the 1940's inspired illustrations.  Check out the other non Christmas books in the McDuff series.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson -- When the horrible bullying Hurdman children are asked to join the Christmas pageant everyone expects the worst. Instead hilarity and humility follow proving it to truly be the best Christmas Pageant ever. A wonderful hilarious early chapter book to read aloud that everyone will enjoy.  I still remember when my classroom teacher read this to us in third grade.  It has always been one of my favorites!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Amy Krouse Rosenthal

We recently re-read "It's Not Fair" by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and it reminded me how much I love her books.  I then realized that I had only read about half the books she has published and am now on a quest to read the other half.  Her books are quirky, cute and children love them.  Many have been on the New York Times bestseller list.  She has a cute website where you can check out for more information.

It's Not Fair -- One of my favorites to read to my kids when they are having a rough day with each other. Children wonder: "Why'd I get the smaller half? Why don't you yell at her? Why does my team always lose? Why can't we have a pet giraffe?"  The light-hearted illustrations make the book a humorous read.

Little Pea -- a little pea is forced to eat candy for dinner, which he hates, all so he can get spinach for dessert.  A fun book picky eaters everywhere will celebrate.
Little Hoot -- after a busy day playing with his friends a small owl is forced to stay awake by his parents because that's what owls do.
Little Oink -- a little pig tries to stay neat and clean in a world of messy pigs.
One of Those Days -- A list of all those difficult days that we all have: a Not Big Enough Day, a Gutter Ball Day, a Nobody's Listening Day. Presented in a humorous way, a great book for a child having a bad day.

Yes Day! -- A wonderful idea, one day when parents say "Yes" to everything.
Duck, Rabbit! -- a clever illustration that seems to switch between a duck and a rabbit provides for a humorous discussion between two narrators.

Other titles by Amy Krouse Rosenthal:
Bedtime for Mommy
Cookies: Bite Size Life Lessons
The Wonder Book
One Smart Cookie: Bite-Sized Life Lessons for the School Years and Beyond
Sugar Cookie: Sweet Little Lessons on Love
This Plus That: Life's Little Equations
Al Pha's Bet
The OK Book
The Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Gallager Girl Series by Ally Carter

If you're looking for a nice fluffy read for a 12 year old girl (or for yourself!) this is a great series.  Not high on intellect, but full of humor, adventure and mystery. Cammie and her three best friends and roommates all attend an elite school called The Gallagher Academy. However what the outside world doesn't know is that it is actually.... a secret training school for spies!  Cammie and her friends must deal with the trials of teenage life such as first love and making friends all while conversing only in Arabic and learning how to subdue a villain with a spaghetti noodle.

All four books in the series are fun and engaging and they get better as the series progresses.  After the first book the series takes on a more overarching storyline bringing in new characters, reveling long lost secrets and incorporating adventures outside the walls of the school. Cammie, or The Chameleon, as she is called is forced to face some unpleasant truths, decide who she can trust and discover the answers to questions about her past and future.

Check out author Ally Carter's website for additional information about the author and the other series she writes.

The Smithsonian: Ten Great Science Books for Kids

The Smithsonian reviews: Ten Great Science Books for Kids.  By some fluke there are only nine books on the list.  For number ten I vote for Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin. Previously reviewed on this blog here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Variations on a Classic: Stone Soup

Stone Soup by Marcia Brown
This engaging folk tale tells the story of a group of soldiers coming into a small French village.  They tell the villagers not to worry about feeding them because they are going to make stone soup.  Starting with the stone they convince the villagers to keep adding more and more ingredients to the soup until they have a wonderful flavorful broth.  A little trickery and a little cooperation make this a fun story for all. Find below two variations on this wonderful tale. Winner of the 1948 Caldecott Honor.

Kallaloo! A Caribbean Tale by David Gershator. 
In this Caribbean version of stone soup a poor hungry woman convinces the town to help her make Sea Shell Soup.  The sea shell keeps asking for more ingredients for the soup and the townspeople comply. After the soup is done cooking the whole village enjoys a meal together.  The dialog is lively and the illustrations are wonderfully vibrant and bright.

Cactus Soup By Eric A Kimmel. 
Set during the Mexican Revolution this tale follows the original story with a Mexican twist.  Delicious chiles, beans, and garlic are added to the soup along with traditional tomatoes and carrots.  When the soup is done tortillas, tamales, and chorizo are added to the meal and a grand fiesta with dancing and music is enjoyed by the whole village.

Reading these three books together would create wonderful opportunities for comparing and contrasting the stories.  Additionally, the illustrations in each book are wonderfully engaging, but so unique. What is each illustrator trying to say with their illustrations? A book illustrated in 1948 has a much different look than a book illustrated today, why is that?  

Kirkus Reviews: Best Children's Books of 2011

The Kirkus Reviews Best Children's Books of 2011 list is out! This link is to the complete list, however on the side they have links to various subjects including: "Books to Make you Laugh, Book for Animal Lovers, and Adrenaline Rush."  With a little something for everyone, I can't wait to start reading!

If you are unfamiliar with Kirkus Reviews here is a summary of their mission:

Founded in 1933, Kirkus reviews more than 5,000 books each year, including fiction, nonfiction, children's, teen, self-published books (“Indie”) and iPad storybook apps for kids. Our mission is to help readers discover new books, publishers and agents discover new authors, producers discover new stories and characters, and librarians and booksellers discover the best new books pre-release. To help separate books of remarkable merit from the masses released each year, Kirkus’ reviews are crafted by specialists selected for their knowledge and expertise in a particular field. Our critics are tough—if a book is captivating, capable and interesting, we applaud it, but if it’s not, we let readers know.
~Taken from

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman

The Whipping Boy is one of those classics books that I always felt I should read, but never did. So when S picked it up off the audio book shelf I was glad to finally have the chance to hear the story.  We all enjoyed it immensely!  It was a wonderful story with lots of action and a good message. The setting of the story is during the middle ages which gave great opportunities for historical educational tie-ins.

The story is told from the viewpoint of Jemmy, a street orphan.  Jemmy has the unlucky job of being the prince's whipping boy. This job entails being whipped whenever the prince is bad, since the prince can never be punished.  The prince, whose nickname is Prince Brat, takes great pleasure in getting in trouble and watching Jemmy get punished.  While Jemmy is plotting his escape from the castle the prince discovers him and forces Jemmy to take the him along.  Many adventures follow as two boys gradually learn a thing or to from each other and finally become friends. The story is filled with colorful characters such as Cutthroat, Hold-Your-Nose-Billy, Betsy and her dancing bear, and Mr Nibs the Hot-Potato Man.

The old fashioned language, different accents and dialects might make this a challenging read for younger kids or reluctant readers.  It would be a wonderful family read aloud or audio book for a long trip in the car--parents will enjoy it just as much as the kids!

Newberry Medal winner - 1987

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

New York Times -- Best Illustrated Books of 2011

Some of these books book have not yet been released, but check out this article from the New York Times to see the best illustrated children's books of 2011!

Do you have a favorite illustrated book from the last year?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Bunnicula Collection by Deborah and James Howe

This hilarious classic series, first published in 1979, still captives kids today.  We are currently listening to this series on audio book in our car. These stories are fabulously performed by Victor Garber, who brings these wonderful quirky characters to life.  I love listening to my kids laugh and giggle all the way to school and home again.

The story, written by Harold the dog, begins when the Monroe family brings home a bunny they found at the movie theater.  Since they were seeing Dracula the bunny is appropriately named Bunnicula.  Chester, a high thinking and suspicious cat, immediately suspects that Bunnicula is in fact a vampire.  Throughout the book, filled with adventure, mystery, and humor, these animals attempt to discover the truth about Bunnicula. These books will keep kids engaged, entertained, and begging to read the sequels!

Books in the original series are: Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of MysteryHowliday Inn and Celery Stalks at Midnight.  Since the originals were published Howe has now written several additional books in the series including Bunnicula Strikes Again!, Bunnicula meet Edgar Allen Crow, and Return to Howliday Inn.

Have you read Bunnicula?  Which was your favorite book?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Denise Fleming

Denise Fleming is a well known children's author of over twenty-five children's books.  One aspect of Flemings books that makes her so unique are her beautiful, bold, color-filled illustrations.  Each illustration is made with homemade paper and hand cut stencils in a technique called pulp painting.  On Flemings website she gives a detailed description of the time consuming, but rewarding process behind these images. (I sense an art project on the horizon!)

Here are a few of my families favorite Denise Fleming books:

Buster -- A lovely tale of the growth of a friendship between a cat and a dog.  Buster feels left out when his owner "Brown Shoes" bring home a pet kitten, Betty.  Buster wants nothing to do with her, but after a scary experience realizes that it's nice to have a friend at home.

Lunch -- a mouse eats each tantalizing bite of his lunch leaving us clues as to what he is going to eat next.  A great book for the very young.

Count -- a bright colorful counting book my kids have always loved.

In the Tall Tall Grass -- a cheerful, rhyming story of what a child finds hidden in the tall grass.  A great read aloud.

In the Small Small Pond -- similar to In the Tall Tall Grass, this story explores what can be seen around a small pond. A wonderful read aloud and winner of the Caldecott Honor award.

Check out Fleming's webpage to see a full list of her books and check out all of the ideas and activities that tie in with her books.

Do you have a favorite Denise Fleming book?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Oliver Jeffers -- The Incredible Book Eating Boy

Oliver Jeffers -- The Incredible Book Eating Boy

Henry discovers, quite by accident, that he loves to eat books.  He can't stop eating them and as he eats more and more he gets smarted and smarter. But something terrible begins to happen, all those facts in his head start to get mixed up (2+ 6 = elephant?).  In the end he is forced to stop eating and start reading (but sometimes he just can't help himself)!

I discovered this book the other day while trying to get inspired on what to read to S's third grade class.  Third graders still love pictures books, but finding the right blend of maturity and humor can be challenging.  I had not heard of this book, but it sounded cute so I checked it out.  It was a great success!  The kids in S's class loved it and I read it at least four times at home in the two days following.

I'm new to this author and am super excited to check out his other books.

Oliver Jeffers website

Monday, July 11, 2011

Theme Week - Ocean Week

This was one of those weeks that I had a lot planned and we just didn't get to it all. The kids each picked an animal to focus on, but honestly we were not able to do as much with this as I had planned.  S picked the whale, C the hammerhead shark and J the penguin. We had a lot of fun reading ocean books, watching ocean movies, doing some ocean crafts and finishing up with a visit to the Dallas World Aquarium.

Some of the picture books we read:
Into the A, B Sea by Deborah Lee Rose, pictures by Steve Jenkins
The Deep Blue Sea: A Book of Colors: story by Audrey Wood, pictures by Bruce Wood
Dory Story by Jerry Pallotta, pictures by David Biedrzycki
Fidgety Fish and Friends by Paul Bright, pictures by Ruth Galloway

Some fun non-fiction books:
Wish for A Fish: All About Sea Creatures by Bonnie Worth, illustrated by Aristides Ruiz
A Whale of a Tale: All About Porpoises, Dolphins, and Whales by Bonnie Worth, illustrated by Aristides Ruiz and Joe Mathieu

Movies we watched:
Disney's Oceans, Bill Nye the Science Guy: Oceanography (My kids love this series. It is sometimes hard to find, but our library has a great collection of educational movies), The Magic School Bus Catches a Wave: Wet All Over (My kids also love anything Magic School Bus) and IMAX: Dolphins.

I loved the art project we did for this week.  I found a great book called Hand-Print Animal Art by Carolyn Carreiro.  We first painted our backgrounds and the next day added our animals.  I thought they turned out really neat--a bit of impressionistic color blending in the background.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Theme Weeks - Art Week

This is the first summer I have done a week dedicated only to Art, usually I incorporate art into whatever theme we are studying that week. I was inspired by two things:  my friend Holly's art blog and the fact there is a Picasso exhibit at the Kimball Art Museum near our home. I had a lot of fun with this week. It was not as organized as I like to be, but I found some wonderful art books and got a lot of ideas that I plan to work on for next year.

It was interesting to see what my kids came up with during their projects.  My oldest, a rule follower and not a great lover of art projects, gamely attempted everything I came up with, but was upset when some of his projects did not turn out exactly the way he hoped.  My daughter, who loves art and could do art projects all day long, had a great time the whole week.  My youngest, is a free spirit who doesn't like to spend too much time on any kind of project--which is reflected in his art works for the week.

Here are some of the art books we used:

Dickins, Rosie and Mari Griffith. The Usborne Introduction to Art. New York: Scholastic, 2003. -- A good very broad overview of art with internet links included

J's Japanese bridge
Venezia, Mike. The Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artist Series. Chicago: Children's Press, 1988. -- A series written in easy reader format with cartoon drawings interspersed with the text and photos of the original artworks.

S's circle study
Laurence Anholt. A series featuring various artists: Leonardo and the Flying Boy, Picasso and the Girl with the Ponytale, Degas and the Little Dancer, and Camille and the Sunflowers. -- A great series told in a picture book format using many of the artists original works. Each story uses an actual event in the artist life and brings it to life in an enganging way kids will enjoy.

Littlesugar, Amy. Marie in Fourth Position: The Story of Degas' "The Little Dancer." New York: Philomel Books, 1996.

Mayhew, James. Katie's Picture Show, Katie and the British Artists, Katie and the Spanish Princess, Katie Meets the Impressionists, New York: Scholastic.  --A picture book series featuring a young girl who visits various art museums.  In each book she jumps into different works of art and meets the people in them.  A bit contrived, but an easy fun way to intoduce kids to great works of art, artistic periods and artists.

Our still life pictures.
The Dot and Ish  by Peter Reynolds. --Two fun picture books showing how easy it is to produce art.  Wonderful wimsical illustrations and a great message for kids, especially those who think nothing they make is good enough.

Other Activities:

I especially loved J's still life showing
off his free spirit!

My kids loved art week so much we are planning another Art Week later this summer to spend more time on modern art.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Dessert Series my Kids are Reading

My kids love to read what I call 'dessert' books as well as 'main course' books. In the summer I have to remember how important it is for them to read dessert books.  Yesterday at the library S, checked out a Stink book by Megan McDonald which he finished by the time we got home from the library.  Definitely a dessert book, but we all know how nice to read a book and not have to think at all!

I could do without the series books that churn out a new title each month, but I understand why kids love the predicability of these types of books.  This summer we are reading dessert books right along side our main course books and enjoying both!

Some dessert book series my kids are reading this summer:

The Rainbow Fairy Series by Daisy Meadows- a very popular early reader series for girls that never seems to end. Not great literature,  but my daughter loves them and has been reading about one a day.

The Perfectly Princess Series by Alyssa Crowne - An easy reader series for girls printed on purple paper! Another series my daughter loves.
Usborne Fairy Tale Series - A cute easy reader series retelling basic fairy tales with humor and lots of  kid friendly pictures.
Geronimo Stilton - a VERY popular series that seems to go on and on and on. Tells the story of a mouse who runs a newspaper and has crazy adventures with his nephew, sister and cousin.  Lots of bright fun illustrations and quirky use of fonts within the text.
The Time Warp Trio by Jon Sciezka - a great series about three boys who travel back in time.  A lot more fun than The Magic Tree House series.
Dragon Slayers Academy by Kate McMullen - An easy reader series that reminds me of How to Train Your Dragon.  A young boy leaves his family to go learn to fight dragons and become a hero.  Lots of quirky characters and cartoon like drawings highlight the story.