Opening yourself to new adventures – Because of Winn Dixie

In our attempt to broaden our reading horizons this summer, I have been encouraging J to read from the Battle of the Books list for the upcoming year. She is not allowed to participate yet, but the list of books is amazing and it definitely removes us from our normal comfort zone of witches, wizards, fairy tales and princesses. The first book that we managed to read off of the list was also one that we chose for our Book/Movie club and it was a rousing success.

Our school had already read Kate DiCamillo’s Edward Tulane as a part of the One School, One Book program, so we were accustomed to her writing style. That said, I don’t think either of us were prepared for how much we loved Because of Winn-Dixie.

winn-dixie coverIndia Opal Buloni is a lonely little girl who has just moved to Naomi, Florida with her father, the preacher. Her mother had left them years earlier and her father is often too busy in his role as preacher to perform his role of father. One day Opal goes into the Winn-Dixie supermarket and comes out with a dog. A big, ugly, suffering dog with a sterling sense of humor. A dog she dubs Winn-Dixie. This dog will manage to change her life.

In her loneliness, Opal opens up to Winn-Dixie and gathers up the courage to ask her father about her mother. Because of Winn-Dixie, the preacher tells Opal ten things about her absent mother, one for each year Opal has been alive. Winn-Dixie also helps Opal make the friends that she so desperately craves. They are not exactly typical friends for a 10 year old girl, but each one helps her learn something about the world around her and about herself. First there is the local librarian, Miss Franny Block, who once fought off a bear with a copy of War and Peace and whose great-grandfather, Littmus W. Block, invented a candy makes you feel a touch sad. This is to help you understand about how to survive sorrow and the blending of sweetness and sadness in life (think Inside Out).  winn dixie quoteThen they meet Gloria Dump, who is nearly blind but sees with her heart, and who helps Opal learn not to judge others by what she sees. Finally there is Otis, an ex-con who sets the animals in his pet shop loose after hours, then lulls them with his guitar. Opal spends all that sweet summer collecting stories about her new friends and thinking about her mother. But because of Winn-Dixie, or perhaps because she has grown, Opal learns to let go, just a little, and that friendship—and forgiveness—can sneak up on you like a sudden summer storm.

J and I first started reading this book together and it was the kind of book that you start and don’t want to put down. After the first three chapters I did make her go to bed and then the next day she picked the book back up without me and finished it on her own. I think I would have enjoyed this book even more if we had been able to read it together so that I could hear her thoughts as the book went along, but I was amazed by it all on my own. This is one of those magical books where you have no idea what to expect from the story and then it just completely touches your heart.

When I asked J about her favorite part, she told me that it was when they were having a party at the end of the book and Winn-Dixie went missing. She also simply loves using the word “pathological” now because she learned the Winn-Dixie had a pathological fear of thunder storms. I have to admit, the ending of the book when she believed Winn-Dixie was missing was one of my favorite parts as well, but probably because of how much I felt Opal had grown and how she was able to let go.

winn dixie quote 2We had the book/movie club meeting a few weeks ago and I was highly impressed by how well the book had captured everyone’s attention. They had really recalled a number of details and all seemed to enjoy the book. While I have read other books by Kate DiCamillo, this was the first one where I truly understood why people love her so much.

The lexile level for this book is 610 and is aimed at grades 3-5. This is one of those times where I think that the grade level is pretty accurate. Our group read it as they were all finishing 2nd grade. The biggest issue is less about whether they will actually be able to read the book on their own and more about if they are able to comprehend and appreciate the story. A great book of realistic fiction that kids really enjoy.

Separate is Never Equal

Most of us are well versed with the history of school segregation in the American South, but did you know that there was a massive issue in California as well? The issue in California was not with the segregation of African Americans, but rather, with the Hispanic community. When we found the book Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh at the library, it was eye-opening.

separate-is-never-equal-sylvia-mendez-and-her-familys-fight-for-desegragationAlmost 10 years before Brown vs. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez and her parents helped end school segregation in California. An American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage who spoke and wrote perfect English, Mendez was denied enrollment to a “Whites only” school. Instead, Sylvia and her siblings had to go to “the Mexican school.” Their school was a clapboard shack surrounded by a cow pasture. The kids had to eat outside, pestered by the flies from the cows, and there was no playground for them to use.

Her father’s initial course of action was to mobilize the other Hispanics in their community, but the other families didn’t want to rock the boat – they feared that they would lose their jobs if they supported his petition. A truck driver who had heard of their plight encouraged Mr. Mendez to file a lawsuit. Someone had recently done that in San Bernardino to help integrate the public swimming pools and won. Mr. Mendez hired the same lawyer who had won that case and they found other families dealing with segregation throughout Orange County, CA  who were willing to participate.Sylvia3

In 1945 the lawsuit went to court and the dialogue from the trial is horrifying. Duncan Tonatiuh actually interviewed Sylvia Mendez and took parts of the court scenes from actual transcripts of the trial. The superintendents at the time claimed that they were separating the Mexican children so that they could work on their English more, but they never tested their abilities. It was also claimed that they “need to learn cleanliness of mind, manner, and dress. They are not learning that at home.” The superintendent at the time honestly felt that white students were superior to Mexicans in personal hygiene, scholastic ability, economic outlook, clothing and ability to take part in the activities of the school. When children came forward to testify, they showed how senseless his comments had been.

RGB_SylviaMendez_INT_32largeIt took a year for the ruling, but the judge ruled in favor of the Mendez family. Of course, the School Board appealed, but since it had moved to state court, more organizations joined in the battle – the NAACP, Japanese Citizens League, American Jewish Congress and others. Sylvia’s mother puts it perfectly by saying, “when you fight for justice, others will follow.”

In April, 1947, the judges of the Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled in favor of the Mendez family.

Sylvia found it difficult at the integrated school in Westminster, but she remembered how they fought to have her attend the school and to have equal opportunities. She ignored the whispers and pointed fingers and held her head high, “and by the end of the year, she had made many friends of different backgrounds.”

This book is so vitally important for children and adults and it is written in a truly accessible manner. Everyone needs to understand that when we talk about integration, it wasn’t just for African-Americans in the 1960s. The Mendez trial paved the way for the Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Freedom is something that we will continue to fight for, be it religious, social, political, racial or gender (or many other things). It is due to the fights and struggles that so many people have gone through in years gone by that allow us to have the freedoms we take for granted today. This book is wonderfully written about a topic you simply don’t hear a lot about.

Seeing the World through the eyes of Humphrey

There are a ton of intermediate reader series out there these days, but finding one that holds your child’s attention and is at the right level can be truly daunting. That was actually the reason that I started this blog a few years ago. It becomes complicated to write about chapter books, but I am making it a mission to focus on that more, especially since we are finished with the full Harry Potter series and expanding our own horizons.

A few years ago a good friend suggested that we read the series The World According to Humphrey. For whatever reason, at the time J wanted nothing to do with it. Perhaps it was that she has always been more interested in books with princesses and fairies, and then when she moved from those, books had to have a strong female lead. A book with a hamster on the front cover did nothing for her. Fast forward to Christmas of this past year when her beloved second grade teacher gave her a copy of Winter According to Humphrey. I was shocked when I went into her room one night to find her eating it up.

Humphrey is a hamster. In the initial book of the series he is purchased as a class pet by a teacher. That teacher winds up moving to Brazil and leaving Humphrey behind with a new teacher who is not so thrilled by his existence. Ms. Mac, the first teacher, brings Humphrey in because “You can learn a lot about life by observing another species,” as well as by taking care of another species. Now most would think that this is a statement for the the children to learn by taking care of Humphrey, but Humphrey also learns a great deal about the children and adults who take care of him.

The fun thing about the Humphrey books is that they are told from Humphrey’s perspective. Since the new teacher, Ms. Brisbane, does not initially like Humphrey, he gets sent home with a different student each weekend (although his first weekend is with the Principal, Mr. Morales). The students are able to learn by taking care of this amazing hamster, but he also learns a great deal about them by observing them in their natural habitats.

A great example from the book has to do with a little girl named Sayeh. Ms. Brisbane has been trying to get her to participate in class more often. They make a deal that if Sayeh raises her hand at least one time during a given week, Ms. Brisbane won’t send a note home about her lack of participation. Sayeh does raise her hand to volunteer to take Humphrey home. When he goes home with her, he learns that English is not spoken in her home and that she is afraid that the other kids will make fun of her accent. While Humphrey is home with her, Sayeh gets the courage to tell her family that since he only understands English, they have to speak English that weekend. Humphrey gets a better understanding of who Sayeh is as a person and Sayeh believes in herself a bit more.

The series continues in a marvelous fashion and the books don’t need to be read in any specific order. Some of the themes that are covered are friendship, doing the right thing, racism, and cultural differences.  J likes to read the books and says “Even though all the humans hear is Squeak-Squeak-Squeak, Humphrey helps them solve their problems. He’s everyone’s favorite classroom pet!

The Humphrey books tend to have a Lexile level somewhere in the 600s or 700s. Typically that is the 3-6th grade level. That said, I believe that these books are more age appropriate for 6-9 year olds. At 8, they are sort of perfect for J even if they are super easy reads for her. A great read aloud for a 1st grader and perhaps something to encourage them to read more on their own.

The Lessons of Betty Bunny

The other day when my 4 year old and I were in the library, she picked out a book that I had never heard of – “Betty Bunny Wants Everything,” by Michael Kaplan. I had myself a good chuckle over this one as just the day before we had had a long conversation with her about the fact that you can’t purchase everything that you want and how shopping can become a dangerous addiction. So when she wanted to take this book home, of course I said yes.

betty bunnyWhat we learned in taking home this book was that not only was it fabulous, but there are other Betty Bunny Books! We managed to find 2 others in our local libraries and have been pleasantly surprised by the wonderful messages that the books aim to get across. The common theme through all of the books is that “Betty Bunny is a handful,” even if she has no idea what that means. She is just like the preschoolers that we have in our homes who want everything and they want it RIGHT NOW! She has problems with patience and perseverance. However, she has intelligent parents and 3 older siblings that try to help her figure out her way in the world. Both my 4 year old and my 8 year old enjoy reading these books and I love the little lessons that they impart.

Betty Bunny Wants Everything

betty bunny everythingWhile this isn’t the first book in the series, it was our initial introduction to Betty Bunny. Betty is a cute preschooler who wants every toy in the toy store. When her mother says that she and her siblings can each pick out one toy to take home, she picks a cute doll and then starts to grab at every other toy around her. She wants EVERYTHING, even if she doesn’t exactly know what the toy is or how to use it. Being unable to pick one, her mother carries her out of the store kicking and screaming and she cries the entire way home (sound familiar? I’ve had this experience a few too many times.).

Betty’s parents want her to understand that she can’t have everything. She doesn’t need them, she won’t actually play with them, and she has no room for them. Her siblings tell her not to be greedy, but she doesn’t yet understand that greed is a bad thing. I have been in her mother’s position where you want to explain to the child in the moment, but you can’t because a) you have other kids in tow, b) you are facing a massive melt-down in a public place and c) sometimes the lesson of leaving without anything is the best lesson of them all. That said, you want your child to understand WHY they can’t have everything. Back at home, Betty’s father comes up with a fabulous idea in an effort to get her to understand the value of money. He suggests that her mother take them back to the store, give Betty and her siblings actual cash to spend and then explain that when it runs out you don’t get anymore. “It will help you understand why you can’t have everything you want.”

Just as her father expected, she likes the dollar bills that she has and realizes that if she uses it to buy toys then she won’t have her money anymore. She makes the grown up decision to buy a small toy and save the rest.

This is a cute story about over-consumption and the childhood desire to have everything. Kids have a really hard time with the concept of money and not understanding that we can’t purchase everything that we see. This is a great introduction to moderation and I might be trying out the idea of cold hard cash and letting my 4 year old figure it out.

Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake

betty bunny cakeThis is the first book in the actual series where we are introduced to Betty and her family. In this, Betty tastes chocolate cake for the first time and decides that it is the yummiest thing in the world. Once she tastes cake she can think of nothing else and refuses to eat her standard fare of healthy food. Her mother explains that “sometimes you can’t have what you want right away, so you need to wait. And that’s called patience.”

But what 3-4 year old do you know who has mastered patience? Definitely not Betty Bunny. Mom had to suggest putting a piece aside for the next day when she eats a healthy meal because perhaps knowing that it is there waiting for her might make it easier to wait. The knowledge did help, although the next morning she decided to carry the cake with her as well and she had to learn that “putting a piece of cake in your pocket is not really the same as being patient.”

Both of my children really enjoyed this book. It is a very fun tale that imparts a wonderful lesson. I will say that from a parent’s perspective this was my least favorite book of the 3 we read, but I still enjoyed it.

Betty Bunny Wants A Goal

betty bunny goalBetty Bunny strikes again. In Betty Bunny Wants a Goal, this headstrong preschooler has started playing soccer and expects immediate success. She wants to be the star of the team and expects to score 10 goals in her first game. Unfortunately, she must learn patience and the importance of practice.

Poor Betty is jealous when her teammate scores the first goal in their game. Alyse was showered with attention and Betty was sad. She continues to struggle in her first game and when it is over she decides that she hates soccer and wants to quit. Her parents send her three siblings to get her to change her mind and the lure of a trophy at the end of the season makes her give it a second chance.

The second game isn’t much better. On the drive home, one of her brothers suggests that maybe she just isn’t that good. Their father agrees that he might have a point – “Trying is important, but if you want to get good at something, you also have to practice.”

With that, her older brother now has to help her practice every day after school. At the next soccer game, Betty Bunny manages to score her first goal. This book wonderfully imparts the lesson that “if you keep trying and you practice, there’s nothing that you can’t do.”

While these books have been out for years, they have only recently hit our small town and I couldn’t be more thrilled. They are a wonderful teaching tool and generally just fun to read. A great addition to your collection!

Gimme Mo (Willems)

Mo Willems is probably best known for his Knuffle Bunny books. We have never been huge fans of that series, but we have thoroughly enjoyed a ton of his other stories. While vacationing at my parents’ house, I always make a stop at the local library to keep my kids in books. I went looking for some Elephant and Piggie books for my 4 year old and  found some additional books that were new to us. Perhaps some of these will be new to you as well.

my new friendElephant and Piggie is a series about two friends and their comical adventures. The books are mainly written in comic book style with very few words on each page. Gerald the Elephant is an overly dramatic worrier and Piggie is his rock. E loves reading the book “We Are in a Book!” where the pair realize that they are in a book and then figure out how to get the reader to say certain things. When she sees the covers of these books she lights up and begs for me to read them. We had a lot of fun with “My New Friend is So Fun” as well.E+P.breakfast

dont-let-the-pigeon-drive-the-busThe Pigeon books are also quite hysterical. We first get introduced to Pigeon in “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!” In that story a bus driver takes a break and tells the reader that he shouldn’t allow the pigeon drive the bus. It is a fun way to include the children in the story as they are expected to answer the pigeon back every time he asks a question. Most of the other books in this series also feature the pigeon wanting something and begging for it. From pigeon’s excitement in finding a hot dog to his outrage when Duckling gets a cookie (and he thinks he doesn’t), pigeons antics are sure to keep young children laughing. The image below is from Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!pigeon_late

Amanda-cover

In the adorable “Hooray for Amanda & Her Alligator!” Amanda’s stuffed alligator is full of life. Adults can imagine how kids envision their beloved friends and it is a great way to encourage children to truly make their stuffed animals good friends. Unfortunately, Alligator gets bored when Amanda isn’t around. Initially she is off at the library bringing home a bunch of books in her weekly trip (yay!) and Alligator hopes that she will have a surprise for him as he loves surprises. But Amanda doesn’t always want to play with Alligator, sometimes she just wants to read a book. When she brings home a new stuffed animal Alligator is concerned and then realizes that now he has a new friend to play with while Amanda is gone. A very cute story about friendship that both of my girls enjoyed.alligator surprisesGoldi hc c

This book isn’t new to us, but we loved Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs the first time we found it so I grabbed a copy for our vacation pile. This is a very funny take on the classic Goldilocks tale where instead of three bears, Goldilocks goes into the home of three dinosaurs. However, those dinosaurs know the three bears story pretty well and have their home set up to try and turn Goldie into a “chocolate-filled-little-girl-bonbon.” This book is always good for a laugh.

goldilocks insideedwinaWillems must enjoy drawing dinosaurs because we also found the cute book Edwina: The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct. Edwina is the town dinosaur who is helpful and friendly and loves to bake chocolate chip cookies for everyone in town. Everyone likes her….everyone except Reginald Von Hoobie Doobie. Reginald is a know-it-all who likes to have people pay attention to him, but when he tries to tell the town that dinosaurs are extinct, no one will listen. Finally, Edwina listens to him but in the end she just doesn’t care. Now that someone has finally paid attention to him, Reginald doesn’t care anymore either. A cute story with fun illustrations.edwina-2We hope that you enjoy these as much as we have!

Diving into the Titanic

titanic

As I mentioned before, we are going through a period of loving to read about the Titanic. I am more than happy to search the library and bookstores for good books on the subject.

Discovering all of the information about the Titanic has really got J thinking. She is deeply saddened by the loss of life. She doesn’t understand how the Captain could make such bad decisions. In her words, “if you were sailing in the North Atlantic, would you put the ship on high speed?” She thinks that no ships should be allowed to sail in the North Atlantic during iceberg season. It really has been great for her to tackle a non-fiction subject like this, so I thought that I would share some of the fiction and non-fiction books that we have managed to find recently.

pig on the titanicBased on the true story of a music box owned by Edith Rosenbaum, A Pig on the Titanic is a beautiful picture book that helps bring the story of the titanic to life. Miss Edith takes Maxixe the music box pig with her all over the majestic ship, or at least the 1st class parts. Then tragedy strikes as they hit the iceberg. You can see the ear in the passengers eyes as families get separated and people flee the ship. The music from the pig helps entertain boys and girls in the lifeboat until at last a rescue ship comes for them. It doesn’t touch on a lot of the harder to comprehend aspects of that horrible day, but it is a picture book aimed at a younger audience, so the tone is spot on. A great starting point.

all stations distressMoving away from the picture book story format, we found the great book All Stations!  Distress! This is a non-fiction long format picture book by Illustrator Don Brown. It almost reads like a chapter book, but Brown has made the information very accessible for kids in the younger elementary grades. A wonderful addition to a collection and very informative.

on board the titanicTaking another step towards serious non-fiction, On Board the Titanic takes readers through the experience on the Titanic in narrative form through the eyes of two survivors. It is filled with illustrations and paintings from the actual ship. The illustrations of how the iceberg hit and how the compartments failed are especially useful to comprehending what happened.

magic tree house titanicOf course Mary Pope Osborn produced a wonderful fact tracker to go along with the Magic Tree House book Tonight on the Titanic. J hasn’t been excited by Magic Tree House in a long time, but she still knows that their fact trackers are impeccably written and fun to read. This book aims to answer many of the questions that children would have about the Titanic that get brought up in the fictionalized account. How many people were aboard the Titanic? Why weren’t there enough lifeboats for all the passengers? How did this “unsinkable” ship sink? Even if you are not reading the companion books  that the fact trackers go along with, these are definitely worth checking out.

can you survive the titanicWe happened to find the book Can You Survive the Titanic?: An Interactive Survival Adventure at the library and it quickly became one of J’s favorites. This is a “you choose” book which is like a choose your own adventure in a factual situation. It pairs fact based information with create story paths. Your choice in this book is to either follow a surgeon’s assistant, a governess to a first class family, or a 12 year old boy. Everyone starts out at the same point with excellent information to set the scene. The choices that you are asked to make are choices real people probably had to make as well and could mean the difference between life and death. For example, men that chose one side of the ship versus the other had different chances of survival based on the ship steward on either side and how strict they were about only allowing women and children on or allowing men to also flee the ship. It was a great way to really make you understand what happened on board the ship.

i survivedThe “I survived” series takes the most terrifying events in recent history and brings them to life in fictionalized stories. I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912 was the first in this series and from J’s response, I have a feeling we will be reading many more of these in the future. This creates the story of a 10 year old boy and his little sister sailing on the Titanic. By utilizing historical fiction the author manages to make history more accessible to kids who prefer “stories” to “facts.”

 However you do it, getting kids excited about non-fiction subjects is a wonderful thing that opens up a new world of possibilities and thought. Now we have to find another subject to add to our list!

Dream Big Little Girl

As far as our society has come, it can still be challenging to find books that encourage little girls to consider anything and everything in terms of what they are capable of. We love finding good books that also reinforce the message that girls can do anything they want. In honor of women’s history month, here are a few of the newer books that we have discovered that fit this mold. For any other books in this category, you can also find books we have talked about by checking out the tag “a mighty girl.”

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when i was a girl i dreamedAuthors Margaret Baker and Justin Matott along with illustrator Mark Ludy have put together visually stunning book with the perfect message that little girls can dream big in When I Was a Girl I Dreamed. The book follows the memories of a grandmotherly woman saying all of the dreams that she had as a little girl – from being the lead in a ballet to exploring the seven wonders of the world in a hot air balloon, from being an artist in Paris to being a big time basketball player. Each page repeats the phrase that encourages little girls to follow their dreams. In the end, the woman turns out to have become an award winning writer and getting immense pleasure from hearing that people love her books, but it never says that she didn’t also pursue the amazing adventures that she dreamed about as a child. The wonderful part is that I know my 8 year old definitely got the message as when I asked her why she liked it she said “You can dream anything and you can be anything.” A wonderful book that we were lucky enough to receive as a gift with an autographed illustration by Mark Ludy. There is also a boy version although I haven’t actually seen it.

rosie revereRosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty is one of my favorite books and one that my 4 year old can listen to over and over. This is the story of Rosie Revere who dreamed of becoming a great engineer. “Where some people see rubbish, Rosie sees inspiration.” Rosie loves to invent things, but after an uncle laughed at one of her inventions, she became afraid to show anyone anything. When her great-great-aunt Rose (Rosie the Riveter) comes for a visit and mentions a life-long dream of flying, Rosie sets out to create a flying machine for her. It hovers for a moment and then crashes and Rosie again feels like a failure. Her aunt Rose, on the other hand, sees her invention as a marvelous success because you can only fail if you quit. This is a great book to encourage experimentation and to remember to believe in yourself.

most magnificent thingIn the same vein of creating new things, we also love The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires. This is the story of a little girl and her dog who love to do things together. One day, she gets a marvelous idea to make the most magnificent thing. She knows just how it will work and starts drawing up plans and then she gets to work in front of her house and starts to build. She figures that building it will be easy-peasy, but it’s not. She tries over and over again and just can’t get it right. She gets frustrated and then even gets mad. Her dog convinces her to go for a walk and it manages to clear her head and by the time she gets back, she has figured out exactly how to build her project. This book is awesome in its display of perseverance and creativity.

stand tallFor a wonderful book both about believing in yourself as well as bullying, we recently purchased Stand Tall, Molly Lou Mellon, by Patty Lovell. Little Molly Lou Mellon is tiny, buck-toothed and clumsy but her grandmother has always taught her to believe in herself. When she moves to a new school the local bully taunts her in various ways but each time she just stands up for herself and turns whatever he has said to her around. If he makes fun of her buck teeth, she wows everyone by balancing pennies on them. She manages to put the bully in his place and gains many friends in the process. In the end, she calls her grandma to let her know that all of the thing she had taught her were true. Sometimes it is really hard to be different, but this book shows how believing in yourself allows your differences to shine.

graceIn a completely different vein, we have also enjoyed reading Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio. In this great book, Grace’s class is learning about American presidents when she learns that there has never been a female President of the United States. She sets out to change that by first running for class President in a mock election. The race is between Grace and a little boy and for the most part it becomes a boys vs girls election, but it also shows the boy making popular promises while Grace actually tries to figure out how to make change. While learning a great deal about elections and the electoral process this book shows you how hard work, determination and independent thought can help you move mountains. One voter makes all the difference when a little boy chooses Grace over the boy candidate because he thought that she would do a better job. A great book about elections and a great way to inspire our young girls to be interested in politics and to make changes in their world.

We love our mighty girl books which is why we are always looking for new ones. Here are some of our favorite resources:
A Mighty Girl
What Do We Do All Day?
Pragmatic Mom
No Time for Flash Cards
And other great lists that I find on Pinterest – here is my children’s book link

Let’s encourage our girls to go out and change the world!

Passover Books for Older Kids

passover older-001

As you saw with my last post, I have a deep love for all things Passover and so we have a wealth of materials in our house. It is not only my favorite holiday, but my older daughter’s as well. With that said, we of course wanted to present books that are more appropriate for older kids, especially those still in elementary school.

toby belferFor a perfect explanation of the Passover seder, look no further. Toby Belfer’s Seder by Gloria Pushker was written as a Passover primer for everyone. As the opening page explains, “The idea for this story was suggested by non-Jewish friends who wanted to know the meaning of Passover.” With that in mind, it is the story of two best friends who happen to be different religions. Toby invites Donna to her family’s seder but Donna isn’t quite sure what she should wear and what she is supposed to do. Throughout the lovely story, items of Passover are explained, with key terms in bold. The basic story of Passover is also included as well as transliterations of key blessings. This is an awesome book for Jewish and non-Jewish children.

penny

While the main concept of Penny and the Four Questions by Nancy Krulick is the questions and the fact that the youngest child at the table gets to read them, it is also a lesson in friendship and understanding. Penny is super excited to get to read the four questions for the first time. When her mother tells her that a new family from Russia will be at their seder and that their daughter is actually younger and has been practicing the questions, Penny is crushed. She mopes around until she actually gets to meet Natasha. As the girls get to know each other, Penny realizes how difficult life had been for them in Russia, what fleeing meant, and generally how much easier she has had it. This is Natasha’s first seder because they were not allowed to celebrate in Russia. Penny realizes that tonight is more special for Natasha and that she should in fact get to ask the questions.

We love this book partially because of my older daughter’s obsession with asking the four questions, but also because it is a lesson in humility. In the end, the girls wind up asking the questions together – supporting each other as best friends do.

miriam's cupMiriam’s Cup, by Fran Manushkin, tells an important part of the Passover story that is often left out of seders. We all know of the prophet Elijah. In this book, young Miriam’s mother decides to tell her daughter the story of the “other” passover prophet – Miriam. Miriam was Moses’s sister who had tremendous amounts of faith and courage. She knew of the coming of Moses, watched over him in the bulrushes, and made it possible for their mother, Joheved, to be his nursemaid. Miriam praised God with her song, specifically when they crossed the red sea, and He remembered her by creating a well of water that traveled with the Jews through the 40 years in the dessert. We should all remember and honor Miriam. I feel that this book is especially important in homes with strong Jewish women.

passover parrotThe Passover Parrot is a very silly story by Evelyn Zusman that tells the importance of the four questions and the hunt for the afikomen. Right before Passover Leba is given a parrot. When she needs to practice the four questions, the parrot is the only one that will listen to her and, of course, he started to squawk the questions too. At the seder the children steal the afikomen from their father so the can ransom it to him later. Leba hides it in her room. She winds up having to also bring the parrot upstairs when he wants to ask the four questions with her. When they go to get the afikomen, both it and the bird are gone! The parrot is on a tree branch outside and Leba realizes that the easiest way to get the afikomen back is by singing the questions – Hametz the parrot just can’t resist singing along. This is a sweet story that also ties in the holiday.

mrs katzThis is not a Passover book, per se, but there is a section that does touch on the holiday in a truly beautiful way. In Mrs. Katz and Tush by Patricia Polacco, young Larnel asks if he can join Mrs. Katz for Passover so she teaches him about the holiday. She explains that the Jews, like African Americans, were once slaves as well. The Jews prayed to God for freedom. Then she says that we have a large feast to celebrate our freedom, but we also take note to remember those who suffered so that we could be free – the Jews that came before and the Egyptians that suffered from the plagues. This book is a beautiful read all year long, but I loved what it had to say about Passover. For the complete review, click here.

matzah and miraclesNo list of Passover books for slightly older kids would be complete without including Matzah & Miracles: A Passover Musical, by January M. Akselrad. We got this about 2 years ago and at the time, I promise you that we listened to it NONSTOP! So, when you buy this it comes with a chapter book and a CD. I am sure that J read the story, but more than that, we listened to it. The story is about two kids who think Passover is boring – they want magic and miracles to keep them entertained. Their Bubbe (grandmother) starts spinning the story of Passover such that they go back in time and become key characters in the story. Pharaoh is as evil as ever singing of his evil decree that “ever first born male child must be thrown into the sea.” We learned more about Miriam and Joheved in this story than anything that had come before and the kids are encouraged to think what it would be like if they had been in Moses or Miriam’s positions. It is an awesome way to bring the story to life.

escapeOne final book that I couldn’t leave out is Scarlett and Sam Escape from Egypt by Eric A. Kimmel. This was released in January of 2015 and we only got our copy yesterday. That said, we have always been highly impressed with Kimmel’s work and the premise sounds fabulous (although a little similar to Matzah and Miracles)

From Amazon – One minute, twins Scarlett and Sam are bickering about who’s going to read the Four Questions at the Passover seder. The next minute, they’ve been swept up by Grandma Mina’s time-traveling carpet and dumped in the ancient Egyptian desert! And as if being stranded 3,000 years in the past isn’t bad enough, they also find their fellow Hebrews suffering in slavery. So they team up with Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to help free the slaves. The future’s looking bright! But the story they know so well doesn’t turn out the way they expected…

This last one will come with us on the airplane to California. Chag Sameach!

Passover Books for Preschoolers

passover preschool-001Hello spring! Aside from the outrageous allergies, spring is definitely one of my favorite times of the year. It is wonderful to see the trees start to flower and life come out of hibernation. Spring is also the time of year that we celebrate Passover – the Jewish holiday that celebrates the exodus out of Egypt and out of slavery. Passover has long been my favorite holiday and I am happy to say that it is also my older daughter’s favorite. In terms of the Jewish religion, Passover is understandably one of the more important holidays, so there is a veritable wealth of books available for children of various levels. We actually have so many that I decided to write two posts about them based on appropriate age levels.

seder time coverKar-Ben Publishing has a marvelous series for preschoolers by Latifa Berry Kropf that I call the “It’s Time” series.  These books illustrate various holidays as celebrated by kids in a Jewish preschool. For Passover, they have “It’s Seder Time!”which does a great job of easily explaining how we get ready for Passover, some basic parts of the seder and a quick telling of the Passover story. By using preschoolers, kids can see themselves celebrating this important holiday. This is a fabulous book for a preschool classroom.seder time inside

GehlSheepAnother wonderful book that we recently got our hands on is And Then Another Sheep Turned Up, by Laura Gehl. This comical story takes us from Passover house preparations through the seder to the traditional saying of “next year in Jerusalem.” What keeps kids so engaged is the repetitive action that just when they think that everyone is seated, another sheep turns up! Just like the Sammy Spider books, I had my daughter say this line each time we got to it. She also found it funny as young Noah’s yawns grew larger and larger as the seder progressed. This is one that we have definitely enjoyed. To read an interview with author Laura Gehl, click here.

sweet passover coverWe were shocked to find this little gem at our Scholastic book fair this year. A Sweet Passover, by Leslea Newman focuses on a little girl named Miriam who loves celebrating Passover at her grandparents’ house, loves singing the four questions and searching for the afikomen (just like my little girls). Miriam also loves eating matzah and she describes her favorite ways to enjoy it. But on the 8th day of Passover, Miriam has had enough. She is SICK of matzah and she just wants BREAD! When her grandfather refuses to come down for breakfast, he tells her that he is making French Toast, but he is actually making matzah brei. Miriam refuses to eat it. The whole family joins at the breakfast table and everyone enjoys the matzah brei with different toppings, but still “Miriam is never eating matzah again.” Her parents are shocked. They explain to her that matzah reminds us of when our ancestors were slaves in Egypt, we see that “even the plainest food eaten in freedom tastes sweeter than the fanciest food eaten in slavery.” Her family tells her all of the many reasons that we eat matzah and, as if that weren’t enough, “your grandfather makes the best matzah brei in the world.” She finally agrees and grandpa teaches her the art of making it herself. The book even closes with a recipe. A very fun book about what happens AFTER the seder is over.

mouse old coverThe Mouse in the Matzah Factory, by Francine Medoff was given to us by a family friend from her days of teaching in a Jewish preschool. This book describes the preparation for the shmurah matzah eaten by the especially observant Jews. Shmurah matzah is watched over from the time of planting through production, but it is a great teaching tool about how matzah is made in general. The story follows a little field mouse who watched the watchers. He was curious as to why the wheat was so special, so he followed it. He saw it ground into flour and packed into trucks. Then he hops on the truck with it and arrives in the city at the matzah factory where he sees the real magic happen in under 18 minutes each time. A marvelous way to show how matzah is made especially if followed up by a hands on experiment.

The-Little-Red-HenWe are all familiar with the story of the Little Red Hen who finds a grain of wheat and asks the other animals to help plant, harvest, thresh, mill and bake it into bread. In The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah, by Leslie Kimmelman,  rather than finding a grain of wheat, the hen is making special preparations for matzah for her seder dinner. Her friends get rude in always saying no, but she goes on and gets the matzah ready herself. When Passover arrives, her animal friends are at her door ready to celebrate. She gets quite upset, scolds them and asks why she should share her seder meal with them, but she remembers the words in the Haggadah – “let all who are hungry come and eat.” Her table had seemed oddly empty without her friends, but now it can be a true celebration. Of course, she did make them all clean up the dishes.

let my people go

Let My People Go! by Tilda Balsley is a great retelling of the 10 plagues, a part of the Passover story that is vitally important and yet often confusing to young children. This takes us into the part of the story where Moses repeatedly asks Pharaoh to let the Jews leave Egypt. Then with marvelous illustrations, the children can actually see what each of those plagues meant to the Egyptians. Even when the people of Egypt begged the Pharaoh to end the plagues and let the Jews go, he said no. Not until the 10th and worst plague were the Jews finally set free, we might even use portions of it in our seder this year.let my people go frogs

P is for passover coverP is for Passover – A simple, poetic journey through Passover from afikomen to zzzz – the sleepy sounds that kids make at the end of a long seder. Alphabet books are always a wonderful addition to any library.

p-is-for-passover-33835p

However you celebrate the spring holidays, if you are looking for a way to educate a preschooler on Passover, these books should definitely be on your list.

When the Student Teaches the Teacher – The Wonderful book Willow

willow coverWhen we first opened the pages of Willow, the strains of Harry Chapin Carpenter’s  “Flowers Are Red” floated through my head. Given that this was a favorite song from my youth, I was immediately captivated by this book. Multiple readings with my 4 year old only made the book that much better.

Willow is the story of a little girl with a big imagination and a deep love of art. The only problem is that her art teacher cares more for order and conformity than for creativity. With today’s climate of teachers being so limited by new rules and regulations and a need to teach to the test rather than inspire and focus on creativity, this book really touched home.

Every day when the kids entered their art class, the room felt cold and definitely devoid of creativity. Their art teacher, Miss Hawthorne, isn’t what you would expect from an elementary school art teacher. She expects the room to be in order with nothing out of place and no broken crayons.

willow paintingEach week Miss Hawthorne gives them assignments with an example of what she would like to see. Then all of the children in the class copy what she does. “Everyone except Willow.” Willow takes the assignment and then paints what she sees when she closes her eyes. Each time Willow gets told things like trees are not pink and apples are not blue.

Willow-Childrens-Art-Book-Interior-2This would crush most children, but Willow has a deep love of art and a favorite art book at home and so each time she is told that she has done it “wrong,” she brings in her art book and shows another famous painting that didn’t follow the rules.willow art book

When winter break comes, only Willow thinks to give Miss Hawthorne a gift – her beloved art book that inspires her. All alone during the break, Miss Hawthorne allows herself to be creative and the children come back to a brand new world of art.

This is a marvelous book that encourages children of all ages to use their imaginations and to believe in themselves. It is also a good way to see that famous artists often saw things outside of the box and created fabulous works that viewed the world in different ways. It is through art that we can have pink trees swaying in the breeze. It is through art that you can combine parts of many different animals into one.

My 4 year old loves this book because she has a very vivid imagination. My 8 year old has started to enjoy art more and this is a nice way to encourage her to believe in her own vision and start wanting to visit art museums with us. As Harry Chapin Carpenter said

There are so many colors in the rainbow,

so many colors in the morning sun,

so many colors in the flowers and I see every one.

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