We all know the story of Little Red Riding Hood. A little girl is sent to deliver food to her sick grandma with the stern warning to stay on her path and not talk to strangers. On her way she meets a wolf who rushes to grandma’s house, eats her, then tricks and eats Little Red. In the end, the huntsman comes and miraculously saves them by cutting open the wolf.
But the amazing thing about classic fairy tales is that they have been told and retold by countless generations. J is currently in a production of Red Riding Hood and the kids are getting to help write their own version. That plus the fact that I was at the library the other day and randomly found the book Little Red Hot meant that this post was born – a fun look at adaptions at Little Red Riding Hood.
One thing that I’ve noticed is that current tellings of the story often shy away from the violence of the wolf eating grandma or Little Red. Fairy tales were told to teach lessons to children and at times intended to scare them away from bad behaviors. In our world of highly protective parenting, we don’t seem to want to show them the scary consequences that can occur when they go and talk to strangers, which is the main point of Little Red. As awful as it might seem, kids still need to learn to stay away from the Big Bad Wolf.
Little Red Riding Hood – Adapted from the Brothers Grimm by Gennady Spirin
Of all of the versions that I could get my hands on, this one stays truest to the original Grimm version, down to her red cap rather than cloak. Little Red’s mother sends her off with the reminder to “mind your manners and do not leave the path for any reason.” The wolf is larger than life, fancily dressed. and he fiercely attacks Little Red’s grandmother. Upon hearing the wolf’s loud snores after his grand meal, the hunters manage to save Little Red and her grandmother and Little Red learns to never speak to strangers and always listen to her mother.
Little Red Riding Hood – The Brother’s Grimm, Illustrated by Bernadette Watts
This is the version the Brother’s Grimm wrote down that most of us know, complete with the red cap and the wolf being stuffed with stones at the end. The only reason that this one doesn’t resonate as much with me quite as much as the Gennady Spirin version is that the illustrations are too beautiful. The wolf is just a large dog and you never see him gobble anyone up. It is a lovely version, but less exciting and visually gripping for a young child.
Red Riding Hood – James Marshall
The James Marshall version is a well loved version that stays true to the original while being zany enough to capture a child’s attention. Marshall’s illustrations are a more modern, fun take on Little Red. The wolf in this tale was not vicious, instead he tricks her by being charming and well-mannered and, once he realizes that he can eat both of them, he offers to escort her to grandma’s. While she stops to pick flowers, he runs ahead and gobbles up granny. Another neighbor hears his post-feast snoring and comes to save the day. Red ends the story telling that she will never speak to strangers, “charming manners or not.”
The Wolf’s Story – Toby Forward
Since we all think we know what really happened that day in the woods, Toby Forward offers up the wolf’s side of the story. According to this story, the wolf was a health nut who did odd jobs for granny. Red had met him many times, but never really liked him. When granny accidentally knocks her head in the closet, the wolf panicked and tried to pretend he was granny. He didn’t want to eat Little Red, but she tried to pop a sticky toffee in his mouth and he was jumping away from her. At that moment the huntsman came in and wolfy ran away. He’s looking for a new job now, so if you know anyone…It’s a cute looking at the fact that there is always another side of the story.
Little Red Hot – Eric Kimmel
Eric Kimmel takes us to Texas to meet Little Red Hot, a girl who loves to eat hot peppers…on everything. When granny gets ill, her mom asks her to stop by and Little Red Hot decides to make her a hot pepper pie to knock the cold germs out. On her way to granny’s, all of the cowboys warn her that Señor Lobo, the Big Bad Wolf, is out prowling. Señor Lobo tries to trick her that he is just a coyote who wouldn’t hurt a fly. Of course, he runs to grandma’s but she jumps out the window and runs away. The wolf pretends to be grandma and engages in the traditional “what big eyes” conversation with Little Red. However, when it gets to teeth, Little Red knows what they are for – “They’re for eatin’ this hot pepper pie” which she shoves into his mouth. Her hot pepper pie blows Señor Lobo through the roof and he’ll never be hurting her again. It doesn’t really teach the “don’t talk to strangers” lesson, but it is a very fun retelling of a classic tale.
Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood – Mike Artell
Rather than visiting Texas, Mike Artell takes us to Cajun country in this rendition which features a brave little duck dressed in red who had to bring some gumbo to her ailing grand-mére. What makes this story go over the top is that it is told in hilarious rhyme with Cajun flair – this is one that must be read aloud. Instead of a wolf, Petite Rouge is stopped by Claude the Crocodile who would like Petite Rouge to share some of her tasty goods with him. He can’t sneak up on Granny due to his size, so she runs next door. But Petite Rouge knows something is up with Claude’s green bumpy skin and her trusty cat TeJean soaks the boudin (sausage) that Claude wants with hot sauce. Grand-mére, Petite Rouge and TeJean all laugh themselves silly at ol’ Claude who thinks that he ate Petite Rouge and now thinks people are too hot for him. Definitely misses out on the “don’t talk to strangers” message, but stands firmly in the stick up for yourself and think on your feet boat.
Pretty Salma: A Little Red Riding Hood Story from Africa – Niki Daly
This was a very different retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood Story that I’m not a huge fan of, but J really enjoys it and I do enjoy letting her see a culture that we don’t get in a lot of our books. The story is transported to West Africa where little Salma is sent to the market by her grandmother. She is told to go straight there and back without talking to strangers. After picking up all of her goods, Salma decides to take a short-cut home through the wild side of town. She sings her favorite song along the way and Mr. Dog, a very strange looking creature, offers to help her carry her basket. He slowly tricks her into giving him all of her clothing and told her that he wouldn’t give them back until she taught him her favorite song, so he could use it to trick her grandma. Salma starts to get frightened by him and he turns on her. She runs away and finds her grandfather dressed in his Anansi costume, telling stories. Grandfather doesn’t think the story has such a happy ending, so off they go to save Grandma. Grandma must be partially blind as she doesn’t seem to notice that Mr. Dog is not Salma until he takes a bath and she notices that he has a tail. Granny hides from the mean Mr. Dog in her cooking pot (?!?) and gets frightened away when Salma and Grandpa come to the door in their masks. “The next day, Granny sent Salma to market to buy new clothes. Salma went straight there and back. And she never talked to strangers again.”
Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China – Ed Young
A friend whose daughter is also in our production of Little Red Riding Hood loaned us this version of the tale. In the Chinese take on the story, rather than the mom sending the little girl off to granny’s house, mom goes to visit grandma on her birthday leaving her three daughters at home. After mother has gone, the wolf comes to their door pretending to be their Po Po. The children realize that something is off and find a way to trick the wolf and keep themselves safe. This is a much darker story with dark illustrations. It is a very interesting take on the story and shows a cleverness in the girls, but is more appropriate for older children.
I haven’t been posting much recently because J has gotten sucked into the world of Harry Potter. I encouraged her to start reading book 1 with me just after Halloween to try something outside of her normal style and she just finished book 2 tonight. What started as me doing most of the reading, and her re-reading parts because she is just that way, has turned into her doing most of the reading on her own. That reminded me that some time ago I wrote a post on chapter books about princesses, fairies and other magical beings with the plan of writing other lists of chapter-style books. I’m back on it with a list of great classics that younger readers can really enjoy.
The Wizard of Oz (L. Frank Baum) – Who doesn’t love this story? When J first read this, it was a classic illustrated version that was a wordy picture book. Then she saw the movie and we moved on to the Great Illustrated Classics version. After reading that at least 5 times, she moved on to the complete Oz series and has read the first 5 books. This is a great book for stepping it up to the next level since the story is so familiar.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl) – This was one of our earlier “advanced” books that J got truly excited about. Dahl speaks to young children and the story simply moves along keeping them engaged and excited. The characters are more caricatures and yet somehow relatable.
Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White) – I can’t believe I haven’t written about this yet! We absolutely loved reading this book. Charlotte’s Web actually might have been our first classic chapter book that we read and was J’s favorite book for months at the beginning of kindergarten. This is beyond a doubt one of the best books written. I’m not sure how deeply J understood this book, but deep down this is a story about friendship, loyalty and self-sacrifice. I think that she gets that even if she doesn’t understand that she gets it. It will be interesting when she reads it again at a slightly older age. Regardless, this is a good book for growing readers.
The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett) – I encouraged J to read this book because she was in the play, so it is hard for me to truly say what the best age for this is, but if you get your hands on an illustrated classics version (B&N sells some great ones), then it is an awesome way to read a classic. The book is about kids navigating difficult situations, so while kids won’t necessarily understand all of the deeper meaning, they will get the story.
The Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis) – J only just started reading The Magician’s Nephew and we didn’t start it together, but a close friend read this with her 1st grade son and they loved it. I think the Narnia books are a great series for young readers because, again, the main characters are their age, are full of curiosity, and they make mistakes based on their limited knowledge and naivety. If I can get J to put the Harry Potter books down for a moment, perhaps we can read this one together too.
The Littles (John Lawrence Patterson) – This is a much forgotten book that I am singlehandedly trying to get back into the hands of young readers and which apparently has other books in the series. One of our Hanukkah books made me remember this story and J has really enjoyed reading it. The concept is that the Littles family lives within the walls of the Bigg family and in return for providing them with everything they need, they make sure that everything in the Bigg house runs smoothly. Almost like elves, but with tails. When the Biggs go away for the summer, another family moves in and brings a cat along with them – “how will this little family get out of big trouble?” Another great book that moves away from fairies and princesses, but still encourages the young imagination.
James and the Giant Peach (Roald Dahl) – I remember loving this book as a child. While J hasn’t read it yet, it is on our list of books that we want to read and a classic story that I think younger readers will enjoy. Once you get past the ludicrous and cruel start of this book – a child’s parents are killed by a rhinoceros and he goes to live with two horrible aunts who beat him and don’t feed him properly – the magic takes hold as James goes on the adventure of his life. A classic tale for the independent spirit.
Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery) – I just purchased a classic starts version of this book as I believe we are about ready to read it. The story is of Anne–a talkative, dreamy, red-haired, freckle-faced 11-year-old orphaned little girl who transforms her adoptive family’s life forever and fills it with love and joy. If we do well with this, Amazon was recently selling the complete series on the kindle (the original version, not the classic starts) for free so I downloaded that just in case.
Harry Potter - I realize this isn’t officially a classic, but it is going to be considered one and it fit well on this list for me. J has absolutely loved this series so far. I’ve had to explain some things to her, but all in all, she is comprehending the story. During the first book, the thing she had the most difficulty with was the fact that Draco Malfoy was a bully and no one stopped him. As we move into book 3, I am starting to have concerns about her age and the content, so we are proceeding with caution. It makes a book loving mom’s heart sing to see the excitement she gets from this book. At the moment, she is planning to have a Harry Potter birthday and dress up as Hermione for Halloween next year. This of course changes on a daily basis, but it shows the love she feels. She is also already heart-broken by the fact that there are only 7 books. It is awesome to see her get sucked in to this series that I myself love so much.
There are of course tons of other great books, but this is our current starting point.
Oh Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah
Come light the menorah
A holiday with lots of books,
The kids keep screaming more-a
Gather in a circle, I’ll read you a book
Make-believe and magic, come on take a look…
Okay, so the song is cheesy, but Hanukkah is one of the few Jewish holidays that really has a ton of books. The other two are Purim and Passover, so we have a lot of fun with those as well. With Hanukkah, a number of the books are in the spirit of the holiday rather than specifically about the holiday. These are a few of our favorites. I will note that 5 out of the 12 are written by Eric Kimmel, but after you’ve read one of two of his books, you will understand why.
Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins – J brought this book home from the school library at some point last year after the Hanukkah holiday. The story is a parable about standing up for yourself and taking pride in your religion, important themes for Hanukkah. Hershel is passing through a Jewish village on the first night of Hanukkah and notices that none of the homes have menorahs in them – tradition dictates that we leave menorahs to glow in the windows for all to see and remember the miracle. The villagers explain that goblins have taken over the synagogue and that they hate Hanukkah and won’t permit people to light the candles. The only way to defeat the goblins is to have the biggest, scariest goblin light all eight of the candles. Hershel is up for the challenge and finds ways to out-wit a different goblin each night. On the eighth night, the biggest, scariest goblin appears, and of course little Hershel tricks him into lighting the candles thus bringing Hanukkah back to the village. Not only did J love this book, but she convinced a non-Jewish friend to check it out of the library as well. A great read for 5-10 year olds.
When Mindy Saved Hanukkah – This is J’s favorite book at the moment. When asked why, she just told me that she really loves this story. It reminds me of “The Little” which I never read, but I did watch as a child. In this book, the Klein family is a little family that lives behind the walls of the Eldridge Street Synagogue. On the day before Hanukkah, the father has gone to fetch a candle so they can make their Hanukkah candles, but the new synagogue cat, “a fierce Antiochus of a cat,” nearly had him for dinner. Mindy decides to save the day and we watch her find ways to get onto the bimah and into the ark where an extra candle was just waiting for her. When the cat comes out of no where, her grandfather, armed with a piece of herring and a bottle-cap shield comes to divert the cat’s attention. Together, Zayde and Mindy save the day. “As the Maccabees of old proved to King Antiochus, you don’t have to be big to be mighty.” A great read for kids 4-10.
The Chanukkah Guest – This is a wonderfully silly book about a 97 year old woman who mistakes a bear for a visiting rabbi. The bear wakes from his winter slumber only to smell Bubba Brayna’s latkes. She is nearly blind and deaf and doesn’t realize that a bear has come to her door. She offers him the latkes she has made for him and the other villagers and they share a lovely meal together. After eating all of the latkes, the bear is ready to go back to sleep, and she sends him back to hibernation with a hand-made scarf only to be surprised when the real rabbi and villagers appear for Hanukkah dinner. When the children realize that it was a bear that had been in her house, she giggles at her foolishness. But never-mind, if everyone helps, more latkes can be made and they can continue to celebrate. The themes behind this book are welcoming people and working together to enjoy what you have. The original version of this book that we own was published in 1990 and a revised edition actually came out this year with the name, Hanukkah Bear. It is made for slightly younger children, but the premise is the same. Children 4-8 will enjoy the Hanukkah Bear while The Chanukkah Guest is more appropriate for 6-10.
The Magic Dreidels – In this tale by Kimmel, Hanukkah is coming and everyone in Jacob’s family is getting the house ready, except for Jacob who is playing with his new dreidel. His mother sends him to the well for water and he accidentally drops his dreidel in. Thinking he can splash it out, he starts dropping rocks in the well. The nice goblin who lives there isn’t thrilled by this and gives J a magical dreidel that spins out latkes. Before he can bring it home and show his family, he is stopped by Fruma Sarah who tricks him by giving him an ordinary dreidel. He also forgot the bucket of water, so his mother sends him back to the well. He calls to the goblin, who gives him another dreidel, this one spins out gelt. Fruma Sarah tricks him again but this time he is sent to his room for not helping out like the rest of the family. He sneaks out and goes back to the well where the goblin tells him that Fruma Sarah stole his dreidels. The goblin gives him one more that should make Fruma Sarah give Jacob back his magical dreidels. This is a fun story with the symbols of Hanukkah for kids 4-8.
The Chanukkah Tree – A Chanukkah Tree? in Chelm? A Christmas tree peddler tricks the Jewish village of Chelm into buying a tree. The peddler tells them that in America they have Chanukkah trees that they wind with strings of popcorn and berries, decorate with ornaments and colored lights and top it with a star. When they don’t have those items, they decorate the tree their own way – with latkes, dreidels candles and the door from the synagogue with a Jewish star. They love their tree and are very sad when someone tells them they have been tricked. When a heavy snow falls and blankets the town, the tree becomes a gift for birds with food, warmth and shelter. They felt bamboozled for buying a Chanukkah tree, but in the end, they are proud to have the only Chanukkah Tree. Good for kids 4-8.
The Miracle of the Potato Latkes – Tante Golda makes the most delicious potato latkes in all of Russia. She loves to share them with friends and neighbors and through her motto “God will provide,” she always has enough potatoes to last the entire winter. When a severe drought hits, she doesn’t have enough potatoes to throw her normal party for the first night of Hanukkah. She goes to friends and family to ask for a potato, but everyone is suffering the same problems that she is. She uses her one lone potato to make latkes for herself when a beggar knocks at her door. They share a meal and the beggar thanks her for the latkes “nourish body and soul. They are a miracle, and one miracle leads to another. You’ll see.” Just as the oil miraculously lasted for 8 days, Tante Golda miraculously receives additional potatoes. It is a wonderful tale about miracles, sharing and caring for others. We were pleasantly surprised when we found this little gem. Great for kids 6-10.
Latkes and Applesauce – This is a charming story about Hanukkah miracles. When a family is surprised by an early snow, they find themselves without potatoes or apples to make their Hanukkah feast. Regardless, they still enjoyed each other’s company and celebrated the holiday. On the first night, little Rebecca hears a noise from outside and opens the door to find a kitten who is hungry and cold. Being one of God’s creatures, they take her in. The next night, Ezra opens the door to a starving puppy. Even though the family barely has food to feed themselves, they take him in as well. As the nights of Hanukkah continue, they start running out of food. Finally, on the 8th night the storm finally clears and they go outside. The dog starts digging in the snow, as dogs are natural diggers, and miraculously finds potatoes! The cat climbs the tree and finds the last few apples. That night, the family shares in the Hanukkah miracle by making a feast of latkes and applesauce. Good for kids 4-8.
Hanukkah Moon – This is not only a wonderful Hanukkah tale, but it shines the light on the Latin Jewish community that is often not represented. Isobel and her family go to Aunt Luisa’s house to celebrate Hanukkah and a very special Hanukkah party – the celebration of the Hanukkah Moon. ”I’ve heard of the blue moon and even a man in the moon – but never a Hanukkah Moon.” As she learns Latin American ways of celebrating the holiday, she also learns that the Hanukkah Moon is the new moon of Hanukkah ushering in the month of Tevet. Rosh Chodesh is a special time for Jewish women. When Moses was on Mt. Sinai getting the Ten Commandments, many Israelites were worshiping a golden calf. The women refused to give their gold to build an idol and their reward was a special holiday once a month on the new moon. Rosh Chodesh was also one of the three commandments the Syrians prohibited before the Maccabees defeated them. On a deeper level, Rosh Chodesh symbolizes renewal, the ability of the Jewish People to rise up from oblivion and restore itself to its past greatness. “Just as the moon disappears at the end of each month, but returns and grows to fullness, so Israel may suffer exile and decline, but it always renews itself.” A very different type of Hanukkah story for 6-10 year olds.
Lest we forget the little ones, here are 3 great books for the younger crowd:
Chanukkah Bugs – My 3 year old loves this book. She loved it last year as a 2 year old as well. It is a fanciful celebration of the eight nights of Chanukah pop-up bugs in keeping with the holiday – the Shammash Bug, the Dizzy Dreidel Bug, the Bubby bug and many others. Great for kids once they stop trying to rip pop-up books.
Where is Baby’s Dreidel - Similarly, this book is a lift-the-flap book that shows various symbols of Hanukkah as baby looks for his dreidel. A great introduction for little children about latkes, gelt, and other symbols of the holiday. The only downside is that we have ripped off the flaps more than once, especially the curtains in the front of the book.
Light the Candles – Another lift-the-flap book that is great for kids is Light the Candles. This has a page for each day of Hanukkah and each flap shows something special about the holiday from giving presents, eating gelt, playing dreidels, saying blessings, and just singing and having fun with your family. Another good introduction about the holiday.
Happy Hanukkah, Curious George – for the slightly older set, this is a marvelous book about the games and symbols of Hanukkah. What is especially nice about this is that the final page adds in the part about Hanukkah being a time for mitzvot, or good deeds. The final poem has George doing various favors for friends and neighbors like cleaning the kitchen and bringing latkes to a sick friend, and then knowing that he will carry the joy of Hanukkah with him throughout the year by doing mitzvahs all year long.
Hanukkah is a joyous time to celebrate those around us and to feel proud about being Jewish. I hope you will enjoy sharing some of these great books with your family.
If you weren’t already aware of this, Hanukkah is super early this year. In fact, it starts the day BEFORE Thanksgiving. I am finding it very hard to get into the festive spirit, but we have opened up our Hanukkah box, we started decorating the house, and we are reading our beloved Hanukkah books.
For many Jewish holidays there is not a wealth of quality kids books to choose from, but since Hanukkah has become such a popular holiday in the United States, there is no way that I could limit my selection to one post. So this is my first post on books that are meant to be educational books teaching the true meaning of Hanukkah.
The First Night of Hanukkah (Nicki Weiss) – This book is written as an early reader, so it works well as a book that young children can read to themselves as well as one that you can enjoy together. I read it to my daughter’s kindergarten class last year and it was the perfect level for that group as well as for first graders. This book simplifies the language and helps you pronounce some of the more difficult names. It also has very accessible illustrations that help tell the story. One of the other nice parts about this book is that it begins and ends with a little girl learning about the story of Hanukkah from her uncle. He passes down a family tradition to her since family and tradition are such an important part of the holiday. Highly recommended for ages 4-8.
Festival of Lights: The Story of Hanukkah (Maida Silverman) – This is a marvelous retelling of the story of Hanukkah that is simple enough for young children to understand, but factual enough that older children and adults will still get something from it. The demands of Antiochus for the Jews to bow down to Greek gods and not keep the Sabbath is repeated in a variety of ways to get the point across. It also easily explains how Judah Maccabee taught people to fight, and how they prayed to God to help their small army defeat the much larger enemy. When the Jews returned to the Temple, images of every man, woman and child helping get the Temple ready for rededication shows that your help is needed, no matter how small you might be. Surprisingly, the one thing this story doesn’t do is mention the miracle of the oil. That is told in a page after the story titled “The Legend of the Menorah.” Regardless, it is a well written book that is good for children 4-8.
The Story of Hanukkah (Bobbi Katz) – This is a more religious retelling of the Hanukkah story, but also a more in-depth historical view. The illustrations help flesh out the story, but can get more graphic as in the page where Antiochus is about to slaughter a pig on the Temple’s alter. No blood is shown, but the text mentions that its blood gets splattered on the sacred Torah scrolls. This is a great book for inquisitive young Jewish minds, but not one that I would recommend for reading in a non-Jewish classroom until 2nd or 3rd grade. Recommended for ages 6-10.
The Story of Hanukkah (David Adler) – Adler’s retelling is short and to the point with bright illustrations by Jill Weber. Much of this story is about the battle and how the small, untrained, Jewish army managed to defeat Antiochus’s larger army. This book also has two pages at the end of the story describing how Hanukkah is celebrated today – lighting candles, singing songs, eating latkes and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts), gifts and playing dreidel. Recommended for ages 4-8.
All About Hanukkah (Judyth Groner & Madeline Wikler) – This is a great retelling of the story, although it is more word heavy and less like a picture book. The book explains many pieces well for younger children, such as explaining what an idol is and why the Jews refused to bow down to them. This book, like the Festival of Lights, only mentions the miracle of the oil on a separate page not as part of the Hanukkah story. The book also gives important information for how to light the candles and what blessings to say. After the candle lighting section, it offers lessons to use on each night of Hanukkah with questions to encourage children think more about the holiday and why it should matter to them. It also suggests that children find ways to help heal the world and to help those in need, major themes of Hanukkah that people often forget. A great resource for Jewish families.
Celebrate Hanukkah with Light, Latkes, and Dreidels (Deborah Heiligman) – This book is a National Geographic selection about holidays around the world. What sets this book apart is that it utilizes actual photos of Jews all over the world celebrating in different ways. While a small minority in the world, there are still many faces of the Jewish religion and it is nice to see Jews in various countries with their various traditions. Recommended for ages 6-10.
This is by no means an exclusive list, just the books that we have on hand that fit into the non-fiction category. Do you have other holiday favorites?
Classics are marvelous because they have withstood the test of time. Not every book can manage to resonate as the years go by, but those that do are often pretty darn amazing. Of course there are many beloved classic picture books, but my heart swells when J and I are able to enjoy a more grown-up classic together. One way that we have been able to do this is through outstanding adaptations like Great Illustrated Classics and Great Classics For Children, among others. We enjoyed a version of The Wizard of Oz many times this way before J moved on to the complete works as written by L. Frank Baum and recently, we fell in love with The Secret Garden.
A few weeks ago, J was in a local production of The Secret Garden, put on by the absolutely awesome Missoula Children’s Theater. I had seen the movie years ago, but honestly I couldn’t remember much of the story myself except that it was somewhat dark. I knew that J was going to be excited to be in a play, let alone a musical, but I also wanted her to be excited by the story. I was thrilled to find a great adaptation of the story at our library and the two of us dug right in during our bedtime reading.
The story is rather deep for a 6 year old to fully comprehend, but even on our first go round, she enjoyed the story immensely. The thing about these adaptations is that they understand their audience and abridge the stories in such a way that kids can understand the plot without getting weighed down by too many details. It is important to cut down a bit on the length to make the books more accessible to younger readers – 178 large print pages with illustrations versus nearly 300. The only downside to the version that we read was that Martha, Dickon and Ben spoke with many thou’s and thy’s, but by her second reading, J didn’t even mind those.
The story itself, in case you have forgotten as well, is that young Mary Lennox is orphaned in India when her parents die of Cholera. No one even realized that she survived the horrible sickness that spread through their home. She is sent to England to live with her reclusive uncle, Archibald Craven. Mary goes from being fully dependent on servants to do everything for her, including getting her dressed and keeping her entertained, to being expected to take care of herself and keep herself occupied without messing up the house. Her maid-servant, Martha, tells her of a garden that had once belonged to Mrs. Craven who had died ten years earlier. Mary strolls the grounds trying to find this hidden space. With the help of a robin, Mary discovers the garden. The garden is like her, abandoned and unloved, and she takes it upon herself to bring it back to life. She goes from being a sullen, sickly little girl to one teeming with life.
At the same time, she discovers another secret to the Craven household – sickly young Colin Craven. She hears his moans throughout the house and wonders what could be making those sounds. Colin suffers from some un-named ailment and everyone tells him that he might be humpbacked. He is confined to his bed and never gets to see the light of day or have any visitors. When Mary finds him, they are able to see similarities in each other and wind up enjoying each other’s company. Mary doesn’t put up with his princely ways and instead starts to tell him of the outside world encouraging him to leave his room. When he finally does, the fresh air and friendship help heal him the same way that they have healed Mary. Colin, Mary, Martha, and Dickon conspire to keep Colin’s improving health from the house staff until his father returns and can see it himself. All Colin really wants is the love of his father and his father has been convinced that Colin is sickly that he fears allowing himself to love and lose another. The garden and Mary manage to heal father and son.
The book is marvelous. Reading it definitely helped J for the play, even as simplified as the play was. Reading classics like these with multitudes of layers of meaning is important for growing minds. It’s great that J can read books with a voracious appetite, but fairies and princesses only get you so far. Even the awesome Magic Treehouse books she loves don’t manage to carry the meaty lessons these classics do. I will definitely be on the lookout for other great illustrated classics.
And just because I’m also a proud momma, here is a short clip from the performance. J is one of the plants in the secret garden and is the plant on the left. The garden appeared multiple times in the performance urging Mary to come take care of them.
The Boy Who Loved Math is an unusual biography of Paul Erdos, an eccentric mathematician who grew up in Budapest during WWI. His mother was a math teacher and he was extraordinarily comfortable with numbers. As a child, he wasn’t comfortable with much of anything else, but math made sense to him and helped put order in his life. He didn’t start making friends until he went to high school and there were others like him who enjoyed math and liked to question the world around them. Erdos never fit into the world where people stay in one place and learn to do things for themselves, but he made a world for himself and spread his love of math far and wide.
I loved that the book played with numbers as a part of the illustrations and included facts that even young children could grasp on to, like how can a number be less than zero. The facts themselves got harder as his math knowledge increased, but the illustrations are charming enough that children should still be able to enjoy it.
The final message that you are left with is about being true to your own nature, as crazy as that nature might be. Rather than trying to conform to the boxes that society puts on us, when you have a true passion for something, as Erdos did, there are ways to follow your heart and make something of yourself. The book is a great lesson about Erdos, about the wonders of mathematics and about loving something completely.
I happen to be a big fan of math. I was never someone who was exceptionally comfortable with creative acts like painting or even story telling, but logic problems, puzzles and math itself was something I always loved. This book spoke to that part of me that knows the love of numbers and black and white answers. I am also a big proponent of nurturing the love of math and numbers in children, so this was a win to me. The beginning speaks well to children of all ages, while the second half of the book seems more appropriate for older children.
When I started this blog, a big impetus was because my daughter is advanced in her reading abilities and finding books that are age appropriate and yet still challenging is incredibly complicated. There are tons of great books out there, but it can be overwhelming to find books to keep kids occupied that are not beyond their emotional intelligence and maturity. I’ve reviewed a lot of picture books because you are never too old to enjoy a good picture book, but I was inspired by the blog Pragmatic Mom to put together a grouped list. While thinking about it, I realized that it actually made more sense to come up with a couple of lists, so here is the first of a series on chapter books for young girls. My 6 year old is still fairly obsessed with princess and fairies, so these are some of her current favorites. If you know of additional series, I would love to hear them.
Rainbow Magic – This is a great series that will appeal to the 4-8 year old crowd, as I explained in this previous post. The books are incredibly formulaic, but that is appealing to emerging readers. The book focuses on two young girls, Rachel and Kristy, who always find a way to help whatever fairy has had her enchanted object stolen by Jack Frost.
The Candy Fairies – For girls who enjoy Rainbow Magic books but are ready for a slight change of scenery, this sugary sweet series is sure to please. Instead of evil goblins lead by Jack Frost, the bad guy is Mogu the troll (and some goblins for good measure). The candy fairies work together to solve problems such as why the candy crops are melting, how to stop two fairies from arguing and who stole the chocolate eggs. As a parent, I’m shocked to say that I would prefer reading Rainbow Magic over these, but J loves this series, so they obviously speak to their market.
The Rescue Princesses – This is a new series that we have found that I’ve been meaning to write about. A full post will come soon. In the meantime, in this charming series 4 young princesses meet at a Grand Ball and find that they are all more than fancy dresses and perfect manners. Each book find the girls saving an animal in trouble using their smarts and skills. This is definitely a great series for the 6-10 crowd.
Whatever After – As mentioned previously, this is a fun series that takes a different twist on fairy tales. Brother and sister duo discover that there is a mirror in their basement that magically transports them to fairy tales. They learn, however, that just by being there the fairy tales change – Snow White doesn’t bite the poisoned apple and Cinderella doesn’t marry the prince. They are told in a fun manner and get kids thinking that the stories they know so well don’t always have to have the same ending.
Mermaid Tales – We haven’t actually read book 1 in this series, “Trouble at Trident Academy.” However, J has read “Battle of the Best Friends” and “The Lost Princess” and enjoyed both of them. The story follows young mermaids and mermen in their 3rd grade class at Trident Academy. The books show how the young mermaids deal with normal, and some not so normal, events that are a part of growing up – new social circles, starting a new school, taking a trip to somewhere new, finding out that you’re a princess…At least it is a nice change from fairies.
My Little Pony Chapter Books – If your daughter likes the My Little Pony Friendship is Magic series, she will love these books. They are written very much like the show, minus the musical numbers. The nice part is that they are not a retelling of episodes your child has already seen, but seem to be stand alone works. As with the show, there is usually some kind of nice moral message to go along with the story.
Magic Pony Series – Okay, so this one isn’t fairies or princesses, but these books feature a little girl who has a magical poster where the pony comes alive at random times. The young girl, Annie, buys a poster at a magic shop and her life is changed. Now she finally has a pony of her own, but she has to keep him secret. This is a very sweet series that probably would attract the 4-8 range.
I am not an artist. I watch my younger daughter wield a crayon and my older daughter find fascination in mixing colors together to find new ones with awe and admiration. But just because I don’t like to draw myself doesn’t mean that I don’t have a strong appreciation for art itself. I have a love for certain painters and can’t wait until my girls are old enough to enjoy roaming art museums with me. There are lots of books out there about crayons not getting along and children painting themselves and the walls, but A Day with no Crayons shows how art exists everywhere and that we don’t even need a box of crayons to make some special art.
In this lovely book by Elizabeth Rusch, little Liza loved her crayons but got in some serious trouble one day when she ran out of paper and decided to draw on a much larger canvas – her wall. Understandably she got in trouble and her mom took her crayons away. A day with no crayons for Liza would be like a day with no books for J.
Once her crayons are taken away, her world turns grey. But as she mopes around, she unknowingly starts to make art and colors appear here and there. She smears toothpaste in the sink in an impressive recreation of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” Then she trudges through the puddles and stomps around the basketball courts creating her own Pollack creation. She finally sits down and realizes that there are green grass stains on her pants and thinks that it looks like a mixture of two types of green crayons. This opens her eyes to the colors all around her and her spirits begin to lift, “Liza suddenly saw color everywhere!”
Her crayons may be gone, but Liza starts to create with nature. She uses a muddy stick to draw a tree and real leaves to fill it in. An old red brick can be scraped across the sidewalk like chalk. Pebbles, flower petals and leaves suddenly come alive. Her mother lets her have her crayons back, but Liza has now discovered the world of mixed media and is already letting her art shine.
I really enjoyed this book and I think that J liked the notion that you could use other things to make art. I also liked how much nature played a role in the story. We struggle sometimes getting J to explore outside, but there is a whole world out there to explore and experiment with.
In my daughter’s first grade class, they have been learning a ton about adjectives and making a special point of using them in all of their sentences. It is an important part of the learning process to utilize good words to describe what you are talking about. My little teacher’s pet loves the concept and has spent parts of her fall break finding colorful ways to explain everything from her New York trip to the yummy macaroni and cheese at Panera. So when we found the book “If you were an Adjective” a few weeks ago at the library, I knew it was going to be something that she enjoyed.
This great book by Michael Dahl is part of a four book word fun series that includes if you were a noun, a verb, an adjective and an adverb. We have nouns and verbs down, so I’m going to have to go check the adverb one out of our local library.
The book starts by telling kids to look for adjectives by finding the big color words in the example sentences throughout the book. If you were an adjective, then you would be…
Then, in simple language, it talks about all of the things that adjectives can do – they describe nouns, they tell us how something looks, sounds, feels or behaves. It also adds a section showing how adjectives can help you compare things.
With beautiful, bright pages the book can really capture the attention of a young child and show them how fun it is to use descriptive words.
While I was writing this post, I happened to also find this great blog post which says that not only did Michael Dahl write these great 4 books, but there are additional books in the series and some on math as well. Definitely worth checking out!