The Adventures of Harry & Bella

I’m not posting a ton these days, but that doesn’t mean that we are not reading. I’m just trying to do too many things and running out of time. One series that we happened to stumble upon at the library has definitely topped our list lately. The series is called “The Adventures of Bella and Harry.”

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This series is one of many that is not quite fiction and yet not quite non-fiction. The books follow brother and sister Chihuahuas as they travel the globe with their owners. Older sister Bella acts as tour guide for younger brother Harry as they learn about famous landmarks, food and languages of a variety of countries.

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The books are “intended to be an informative, interactive and exciting way to introduce children to travel, different countries, customs, history and landmarks.” After reading a number of these with J, I have to say – job well done! J likes to pretend that she is Bella and then I read all of the Harry parts, so she is doing most of the reading. She also was so excited by the books that she brought one into school and had one of her classmates read the Harry parts while she played Bella.

One thing that each book does is take a landmark and then show how it is measured in animals to give kids a more concrete idea of how big it really is. For example, in the book where they visit Paris, the Eiffel tower is 986 feet tall and that is “almost 50 giraffes stacked on top of each other!”  For a child who can’t visualize what 986 feet is, using something they understand and can picture makes it easier to comprehend.

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Each book also features a snack time where a local food is highlighted.  I know with my picky eaters, it is always great to show them that if they want to travel, they are going to have to broaden their horizons on food. But on the flip side, it also shows not to be afraid of food with names they don’t recognize like “jambon baguette” which is just a ham sandwich.

At the end of each book they do a scrapbook of photos of places they covered and some that didn’t make it into the book. Then they close with a page of fun phrases and words from each country.

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Another wonderful tool is that their website has tools for teachers on a number of the books which features lesson plans and a teacher’s guide. This helps teacher’s bring these books to life in class and also helps homeschooling families.

We’ve checked out all of the ones from our local library and have purchased 4 additional titles, including the Maui one which doesn’t come out until June. I actually haven’t had a chance to read all of them, but we have gotten a great deal of pleasure out of them. Our favorites at the moment are London, Jerusalem, Venice, Paris and Barcelona. You should definitely check if your local library has them for this is one series that we highly recommend.

in love with ladybug girl

My three year old is completely infatuated with Ladybug Girl. I don’t really mind this, except when she gets upset when return books to the library. My seven year old never really got into the series. I know that we read a few of them, but I think some were even just board book versions and they never really jumped out at her. Now that E is reading them, I have come to really enjoy the series and see them as a great way to teach kids some valuable lessons about independence, believing in yourself, bravery, sharing, caring and friendship. It’s nice when these come wrapped up in fun stories and cute pictures and are not overly dogmatic.

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 9.08.59 PMThe first book that E really got into is Ladybug Girl and the Bug Squad. This is the first official play date of a group that meets during Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy. Ladybug Girl, aka Lulu, has big idea of exactly how the play date will go and what they will do. Things don’t always go her way, but usually she is okay with it. When they are given cupcakes with candles and one child doesn’t blow the candle out exactly as Lulu specified, she blows it out for her resulting in hurt feelings and anger. Lulu feels badly and wants to apologize but doesn’t quite know how. However, Ladybug girl isn’t afraid of anything and figures out how to do it. It is a great story about playing with others and understanding that you can’t always be the boss.

A week or so ago we also checked out the original Ladybug Girl story, which I’m sure we only had in board book version. This is another wonderful book about a little girl who has to figure out what to do with herself for a day and just like most little girls, she looks around her room that is full of toys and says that there is nothing to do. Her older brother is playing baseball and tells her that she is too little to play. Luckily, she has an absolutely awesome backyard to go exploring in and she shows him that she is not too little – she is Ladybug Girl! She has marvelous adventures and proves to herself that she can do anything – from helping ants to building forts and catching flying leaves. Not only does she have a great day, but she is doing it outside.

The only regular Ladybug Girl book that we actually own is Ladybug Girl and the Beach. In this story, Lulu experiences the beach for the first time but is frightened by the pull of the water. She keeps herself busy doing all sorts of other things, but when the ocean starts to pull away her favorite pale it is Ladybug Girl to the rescue and she realizes that the ocean isn’t so scary after all.

We’ve read Bumblebee Boy, but I don’t remember it very well. Looks like I’m going to have to check that out as well as the other two and update this post after we read them. If you’re looking for a great story for young kids, this is a great series.

Color mixing fun

Last night, my 3 year old and I read the book Colors for Zena, by Monica Wellington.

While the writing was incredibly basic and repetitive, the illustrations are vibrant and fun and they started a conversation about mixing colors. Since E loves to paint, I figured that this would be the perfect opportunity to let her get her hands dirty, literally, seeing how colors are made.

The concept of the book is that a little girl wakes up to a gray drab world – “Where did all the colors go?” Outside she finds individual colors, but everything is all one color. After two primary colors meet, the next page is a secondary color. When the secondary colors join her and the primary colors, they are able to paint a beautiful picture with all of the colors in the world.

What was wonderful about this is that it was a way to get E excited about primary and secondary colors. She loves “cooking” and mixing food coloring in water and seeing what colors they will make, but I also wanted her to see the colors more vividly using paint. So today, we got down and dirty with our fingers exploring how mixing colors worked.

We started simple with basic primary combinations plus red and white to make pink.

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It was a little hard for her to fully mix the colors, so there was some motherly help.

photo 2From there I let her pick some additional color combinations – it was hard to explain that mixing any color with black doesn’t get you too much. Orange also tends to mix with anything and make it look brown, but it was fun.

photo 3Finally, I figured it was a good use of all that paint to actually do some painting which is another of her favorite things. She seemed to gravitate towards the various greens that we made, but we also had fun finding out that pink and turquoise make a color very close to the paint on her walls.

photo 4I’m not usually one to get crafty after reading a book, but that is definitely what this book inspired us to do and from the moment she woke up she kept asking when we were going to start mixing the colors. That to me made the book a success.

Hooray for Dr. Seuss!

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My daughter’s elementary school is in full swing Dr. Seuss celebration this week, so I thought it seemed appropriate to to throw in some Dr. Seuss love. I have been a long time fan of Dr. Seuss and even wrote a term paper on him in high school. My love for his stories has changed over the years, but there is no doubt in my mind that this man was a genius. Here are some of my personal favorites.

lorax quoteBy now we all know the story of the Lorax who speaks for the trees, but when I first heard this story in the early ’90s, I was absolutely captivated by it. I’ve never been a big environmentalist, but the story is so spot on about not only speaking up for the environment, but speaking up for those who are unable to stand up for themselves for whatever reasons. It also does highlight all of the atrocious things that we are doing to our environment. Dr. Seuss wrote in back in 1971. I only wonder what he would say if he saw the state of our environment now.

don't give upI have a soft spot for dear old Horton and Horton Hears a Who. Such a marvelous story about a kind-hearted elephant. When he hears voices from a speck of dust, pleading for help, to find a stable, quiet place for them to live, he promises to help them. What he doesn’t expect is that the other animals in the forest are going to make it difficult for him, especially the head kangaroo who doesn’t believe in the Whos and who convinces every other animal that Horton is crazy and that they need to get rid of the speck. I always saw this as a book about standing up for the little people, not allowing a bully to have his way and to stand up for what you believe. Horton has a number of marvelous lines that we know by heart – “I said what I meant and I meant what I said, an elephant’s faithful 100%.”

Yertle_the_Turtle_and_Other_Stories_coverAnother story that was always powerful to me was Yurtle the Turtle. According to Seuss, Yurtle was a representation of Hitler, of a man who let power go to his head and needed to be toppled. Yurtle wanted to be ruler of all he could see and made the other turtles in the pond pile up below him so that his range of vision could keep expanding. Of course, having a pile of turtles on your back is rather difficult and the turtle at the bottom asked for respite. Yurtle refused, but in the end he wound up toppling into the mud.

sneetchesSimilarly, Star Bellied Sneetches, is a very powerful book about anti-Semitism and racism in general. They story of the Sneetches is about yellow bird-like creatures, with some who have stars on their stomachs, and others without. The “in” crowd are those who have the stars, and they look down on those who do not have it. Then a man named McBean comes to town with a machine that will put stars on your belly. When the original “out” crowd has stars, the “in” crowd goes through the machine to have their stars removed. This way, they can differentiate themselves once again and gain their superiority. The birds keep going through the machine until they run out of money and no one can remember if they originally had a star or not. They finally come to realize that they are not so very different after all.

oh-the-places-youll-goDr. Seuss was a man of amazing imagination. His book, Oh the Thinks you can Think, is a fabulous example of encouraging children to be creative. To think outside of the box and even outside of normal vocabulary. These days we put so much pressure on our kids to know all of the right answers that sometimes it is a good reminder that it is vitally important for them to explore, be creative, make mistakes and just have fun.

wacky wednesdayWacky Wednesday is a book that doesn’t get a lot of play, but it was a favorite of mine as a child and now my younger daughter just loves it. Not all of his books had to have deep symbolic, some were just plain fun.

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Oh the Places You Go was one of Dr. Seuss’s last books written in 1990. It gained large popularity as a graduation gift throughout the 1990s which is exactly when I was graduating from high school and college. At the time, I simply couldn’t understand why people thought this was a good graduation gift. Fast forward a number of years and I reread the book and the giant lightbulb went off. Not only could I understand it as a graduation gift, but as a gift to anyone who had gone through some seriously hard times. Not only does the book touch on making those first important life decisions, but it is a story of success and failure, of facing challenging times and finding your way out.

 

diffendooferDr. Seuss’s final book, which actually was never finished and was completed by Jack Prelutsky and Lane Smith, is a powerful book that resonates a ton with parents these days with all of the tests that our kids face – Hooray for Diffendoofer Day! At Diffendoofer School, the teachers don’t necessarily follow all the rules and teach the kids a variety of things, but mainly, they teach them how to think for themselves, how to laugh, how to create. The principal is concerned about whether they are learning certain things and then one day it gets put to a test – “All schools for miles and miles around must take a special test, to see who’s learning such and such – to see which school’s the best.” If the students don’t perform well, they will close Diffendoofer down and everyone will have to go to dreary Flobbertown. Of course, the kids at Diffendoofer out-perform the other schools and everyone is happy in the end. I have a hard time with all of the tests that kids are subjected to these days and wonder if a little creativity isn’t the answer.

I could go on and on, and I’m not even mentioning the Cat in the Hat or Green Eggs and Ham. Dr. Seuss just encouraged children to read and explore and have fun with it all. As I said before, a genius.

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Picture book Monday – week 8

Holy moly! I just looked at my Goodreads list of what we have read in the past week and it is slightly obscene. Between spending some time with my 3 year old at the elementary school library and then finding a slew of awesome books at the public library, we have read 28 new books this week! Of course J, my 7 year old, is still completely hooked on Harry Potter and is nearing the end of book 4, but even she has gotten into the fun of new picture books this week.

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 It is hard to pick stand-outs when the list gets this long, but that won’t stop me :) I have already written posts on Zvuvi’s Israel and Count the Monkeys, two really great books. Here are some of the others we enjoyed.

An Apple Pie for Dinner – E picked this out at the library, which always makes me happy that I wasn’t the one to find it. This story actually reminded me in some ways of Only One Cowry where one item is continually exchanged for another. The main character in this story is a woman who wants to make an apple pie but only has plums. She picks the plums and goes on a journey exchanging them until she gets apples. Along the way, she also helps a family in need and makes friends. She finally gets her apples and invites everyone she has met along the way to come and share her pie with her. The art in this was also special as it was mixed media instead of simple illustrations. A surprising gem.

Rabbit and the Not-So-Big-Bad Wolf – I think E picked this one as well, but J and I read it one day while she napped and we both thought it was pretty darn funny.

No Monkeys, No Chocolate – I had heard so many amazing things about this book that when I saw a copy at our library, I actually gasped in joy. Yes, I am that much of a geek. The book was a wonderful journey on the life of a cocoa bean. It was actually a whole lot more scientific and in-depth than I expected and appropriate for older elementary school aged kids to grasp the concept.

The Princess Knight – At some point last week, E made a comment that she wanted to be a Princess Knight, not knowing that this book existed. I’m more than willing to encourage that concept and told her about the book. She was so excited that she was actually the one to remind me to check it out. Gotta love the mind of a 3 year old. This book is a great story about a girl who is raised with her 3 older brothers to do all of the things they do – jousting, horseback riding and sword-fighting. Her size makes it difficult, but her determination wins out. When her father informs her that there will be a jousting competition and the winner will win her hand in marriage, she secretly joins the competition and of course wins. Her father finally sees the error in his ways and she marries the man she loves. I’m a push-over for a story with a strong female lead like this, and I like that it just feels a little different.

Library Mouse – If you haven’t read these, you should. Both the original and A World to Explore are fabulous books. I wrote about them in more detail back in my post about books regarding the library, but when we were reading these the other night, J even said that these were 2 of her favorite picture books and can I please check if there are more. I put holds on 2 books at the library that night and one just came in today.

Cold Snap – I picked out this book at the library because it was seasonally appropriate. This book is about a town going through a major cold spell.  The first day the kids play in the snow and enjoy themselves, but then it just drags on and everyone is freezing and oddly many people’s heat stops working. One day it actually gets down to zero (gasp!). I found that page particularly funny as there were many days when I lived in Kansas that I would get in my car in the morning and it would be a negative number. I can only imagine what people who live in states that get serious winter think of this book. However, considering that we just got 8 inches of snow that quite seriously shut our town down for 4 days, this seemed very appropriate for my kids. Both of my girls enjoyed watching the icicle on the town founder’s nose grow and grow and there were always things to look for in the illustrations on each page. E has made me read this multiple times in the past week.

A number of our books this week were non-fiction. Some due to random discoveries at the library and some due to my post about 10 non-fiction picture books that we love for #nf10for10. I pulled some books off of our shelves for that post and both girls saw them and asked me to read them. I never argue with that. I will write about those books more on Wednesday for our weekly non-fiction round up.

As always, keeping track of all of the picture books that we read is a part of the 300 picture book challenge hosted by Anne-Marie at Child Led Chaos. The current posts on this topic can be found on her link-up. We are currently at 140 books out of 300 and loving every minute of it. Click over to Anne-Marie’s site to get inspiration of other great picture books out there.

Count the Monkeys…if you can

My 3 year old loves books with counting. So when I saw the book Count the Monkeys at our library, I decided to check it out for her. It turns out that this is a book that my 3 year old and 7 year old both love to read. That is always a win-win situation.

The Goodreads summary is pretty spot on –  “Kids will giggle as they count all the animals that have frightened the monkeys off the pages. Full of fun reader interactions and keeps readers guessing until the very last page! Matching Mac Barnett’s brilliant wit are Kevin Cornell’s luminous illustrations, which will have young readers begging to count the monkeys all over again.”

The joy in this book is that while you think you are going to get to county monkeys, you really get to count everything else. First it’s the king cobra who has scared off all of the monkeys. The reader is told to “turn the page very slowly, very carefully so he doesn’t notice us.” It continues in this vein as each page gives you something to count, but not the monkeys you were looking for. Each page has something for the children to do – roar at grizzly bears, thank the nice beekeepers who shoo off the swarms of bees, high five the lumberjacks.  But then you finally get rid of all of the intruders and there are no pages left!

Interactive books are great fun for kids and make read-aloud time even more special and engaging. My 7 year old mentioned that they read this book in her class and all of her friends loved it as well. If you are looking for a good story-time read, this one is top notch.

10 non-fiction picture books that we love

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I was getting my post ready for Kid Lit Frenzy’s non-fiction picture book Wednesday and discovered that there was also a nonfiction picture book event happening. I love an excuse to make a list, so I had to join in. This event is hosted by Cathy Mere (Reflect and Refine)Mandy Robek (Enjoy and Embrace Learning) and Julie Balen (Write at the Edge).  The blogging event is similar to the #pb10for10 event that I enjoyed in August.

This was a last-minute decision to come up with something, so here are 10 nonfiction picture books that we have really enjoyed. Most of these are books that we own and some are leaping off points for series that we love.

Miss  Moore Thought Otherwise – I completely love this book. When I read it in October it touched me deeply and is such a wonderful book about strong women, libraries and not always following the norm. I highly recommend this book to everyone.

Who Says Women Can’t be Doctors – We found this at the same time we found Miss Moore Thought Otherwise. A great book about Elizabeth Blackwell who “refused to accept the common beliefs that women weren’t smart enough to be doctors, or that they were too weak for such hard work.” We are always looking for good books about strong women.

A Picture Book of Anne Frank – I purchased this at a library used book sale and haven’t read it with my daughter yet. She knows about the Holocaust, but we haven’t gotten into specifics. This book is beyond beautiful and also heartbreaking.

My First Biography: Abraham Lincoln – I’ve long said that picture books are a great vehicle for biographies. This is a wonderful first biography and is part of a larger series of biographies for younger readers.

Thanksgiving on Plymouth Plantation – Also in the history realm, this is a wonderful lesson about the origins of Thanksgiving. The story itself does contain fiction aspects, such as time-traveling siblings, but they time travel to learn a history lesson. Mixing the two worlds is a good way to engage young readers.

The Magic School Bus – Also in the world of non-fiction told through fictional means, we love the Magic School Bus series. Our favorites include the ocean floor, the human body, lost in the solar system, and the waterworks.

Dolphin Talk – J has long been fascinated with marine biology and has a strong affinity for dolphins, whales and penguins. The “Let’s Read and Find Out” series is truly top-notch and this was one of her favorites for a while. We own a large selection of these books and they never disappoint.

Eight Spinning Planets – J’s other love for a while was space. She has unfortunately grown out of that one, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a ton of wonderful books. One that E has really enjoyed is Eight Spinning Planets. This amazing book counts backwards starting with Mercury. Each page focuses on one planet, rhymes, and gives some great details that are easy to remember. There is also a tactile experience since each planet is raised off the page. An awesome book for younger readers.

There’s No Place Like Space! – Another space book that we love is from “The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!” This fun series has the Cat rhyming away about various things. In this book you learn all about the solar system in ways that are wonderfully accessible for early readers. The whole series is pretty spectacular.

A Mink, a Fink, a Skating Rink: What is a Noun? – A great book as kids are learning their parts of speech. As the book says, “it is easier to show than to explain – and this book is brimming with examples!” We have the verb book as well and love it.

I have been trying to bring more non-fiction books into our reading routine. I can’t justify buying all of the books that I keep hearing about, but my fingers are crossed that one day our library will get more of these books. I’ve learned about so many awesome titles from participating in non-fiction picture book Wednesday. I have a strong feeling that this jog is going to produce tons of outstanding resources. To link up, go to Write at the Edge.

Zvuvi’s Israel – a fly’s eye view

It is fun when a random non-fiction book gets thrown into our night-time rotation by someone other than me. Last night, J pulled this one off of our shelf that I purchased when I was prepping a unit on Israel for our Hebrew school. It has been a favorite since it was purchased and it was a really nice change of pace from the chapter books that I’ve been reading with J. Some might argue that this isn’t pure non-fiction since it is told from the viewpoint of a fly and his cousin, but my feeling is that they function as tour guides on a realistic trip across Israel.

The word zvuvi actually means fly in Hebrew, and Zvuvi the fly is our main tour guide. Zvuvi meets up with his cousin Zahava at the Kotel, or wailing wall, and takes us on a brief visit to some of the biggest sites and some attractions that I had no idea even existed when I visited a few years ago. As they fly through the countryside and stop to explore, the reader is given names of places, informed about local crops and get to see how people in Israel live. Tel Aviv is shown as the bustling metropolis that it is, Galilee is the most productive agricultural region, Israeli figure skaters practice in Metulla at the northern tip of Israel, and Zahava begs to get to the spa at the Dead Sea. This is a marvelous book about a land that is far away. I personally have only been once and love that this book sparks a joy in my daughter who is biting at the chance to visit one day.

A side note – as I’ve mentioned multiple times, we are Jewish and I purchased this to teach Hebrew school. I was looking on a review on Goodreads and was shocked that someone found this book to be anti-Arab. Honestly, I had never noticed that and of course went back into the book to see what the images were like. When Zvuvi and Zahava eat a falafel, it had already fallen to the ground and the cook didn’t care. When they are in other parts of the country, they try to eat food that is either being cooked or a part of a picnic and are always swatted away. I don’t believe that it has anything to do with anti-Arab feelings. This is obviously my opinion, but I just thought I would throw it out there.

54e6c-klf_nonfiction2014_smallThis book is a part of Kid Lit Frenzy’s non-fiction picture book Wednesday. We are currently up to 11 non-fiction picture books on the way to our goal of 50. Alyson is also joining up with some other great bloggers to have a #nf10for10 event today, so now I’m going to have to write another post this evening, as I love these events! We are getting the most amazing list of non-fiction picture books due to this challenge and I look forward to it every week. Check out her site for bloggers writing about wonderful non-fiction books.

Monday booklist – week #7

Things have been a little too busy for me to get to blogging, but I wanted to try and get back into routine and to post what we had been reading this past week. I’m sure that many other books were read, as my family was in town and we were snowed in, but these are the ones that I know actually happened. It is nice to see that some non-fiction picture books are being snuck into the reading group.

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Now that birthdays are over, out of town guests are gone (even though that makes me sad), and hopefully the snow is over, I am going to try to get back to my reviews.

For now, if you want to see more from this link-up organized by Child Led Chaos, click here.

The Maze of Bones

I read a lot of children’s books and often get asked by parents and kids what I think of a book. This one has been on my “check it out” list for a while, but I had never gotten around to it. Then one day a few weeks ago a 7 year old boy asked me if I had read this one, so I had to move it up on the list and I am glad that I did. I usually try to include things on this blog that my 7 year old daughter enjoys, but then I would never get to include this review. This is unfortunately not a book that entices J at the moment. She is still deep into Harry Potter and is now also enjoying The Dragon Princess. For her, I have to find books that include some form of magic or fairy tale spin. But a series like this would be great for many others.

The Maze of Bones  (The 39 Clues, #1)

The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan

I’m not sure how the book actually reads, but I was listening to the audio-book and it was well done. The idea behind the story is that matriarch Grace Cahill makes a last minute change to her will and then at her funeral, gives descendants the choice to take one million dollars or participate in a massive scavenger hunt. There are 39 clues scattered around the world that will reveal some great family secret and possibly save the world. Brother and sister Dan and Amy Cahill were exceptionally close to her, having lost their parents, and make the decision that participating is what Grace would have wanted them to do. This book tracks them on the first of 39 clues to solve while also dealing with additional family members trying to knock them out of the running.

The book is a fun mystery and a great read for a young reader. Because the Cahill family is supposed to be the family behind most great people and large events over the past 400 years, there is a ton of history thrown into the books. Book #1 focuses on Benjamin Franklin and his impact. An exciting romp for young readers.

This is shown with a lexile level of 610, so it is probably difficult for younger readers to read on their own. Just for comparison, Harry Potter is 880.

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