Author Archive: michelle @ books my kids read

Touring London with a Cat

kitty kat coverMy older daughter is heading to London this summer with her grandfather. Just in time, Usborne books published the really fun book Kitty Kat, Kitty Kat, Where Have you Been – London.

As you may recall, the original poem is quite simple and goes like this:

Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been?
I’ve been to London to look at the Queen.
Pussy cat, pussy cat, what did you there?
I frightened a little mouse under her chair.

This wonderful picture book pays homage to the original English rhyme, first published in 1805, as a way to tour some of the bigger sites of London.

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In this story, written by Russell Punter and illustrated by Dan Taylor, an owl asks a returning Kitty Kat where he had been. Of course Kitty tells the owl that he had been to London to visit the Queen. When pressed further to say what he saw, Kitty Kat encourages the owl to listen to his story. He then recounts many of the really cool things that he was able to do on his trip to London.

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From going on a boat under London Bridge, seeing the Crown Jewels, hopping on a double decker bus, going to Trafalgar Square,  Westminster Abbey, and Buckingham Palace, Kitty Kat takes a full tour of London. Many of the locations are described within the original rhyme sequence.

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The inside front and back covers have a truly basic map of the region and items that young Kitty Kat sees and even though Kitty wasn’t able to actually see the Queen, he still had a marvelous time in London.

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Books about travel destinations typically engage children through bright and vivid illustrations and this book is no different. The pictures are whimsical yet realistic. A child can get a good sense of what the Tower of London was like and how amazing it is to actually get to see the Crown Jewels. For a child who hasn’t yet been to a location, seeing what another child might have gone to see can help get them excited, especially if there are fun details like how a whisper is heard throughout the dome of Saint Paul’s Cathedral. A place like London has a huge amount of history for kids to be excited by, and this book does a great job for the 4-8 set.

There is also a version that whisks Kitty Kat off on an exciting tour of Paris. Young readers can join him as he cruises down the Seine, climbs the Eiffel Tower, and discovers famous paintings in the Lourve Museum. I don’t have a copy of that yet, but I will 🙂

 

Doing Her Bit: A Story About the Woman’s Land Army of America

Most Americans know the story of Rosie the Riveter, the cultural icon representing the American women who went to work in the factories and shipyards during WWII when the men were away. But what about the women who stepped up to the plate during WWI? It wasn’t so much a problem of having all of the men go to war, but rather, the American farm workers were lured away from their farming jobs to earn higher wages working in manufacturing. There weren’t enough men to handle the crops needed to feed Americans and her allies. Well, it turns out that the Rosie of that time were women who trained to work on farms and got food to the public.

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In her book, Doing Her Bit: A Story About the Woman’s Land Army of America, Erin Hagar shows how young women joined the Women’s Agricultural Camp, which would later become the Women’s Land Army of America. The farmerettes, as they were called, were trained in all aspects of farming, but many farmers still didn’t believe that women were strong enough or skilled enough to do the job right.

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The story that Hagar focuses on is Helen Stevens, who was a real farmerette. Stevens was a college student when she signed up, but many women were dressmakers, factory workers, teachers, and housewives.

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The early Women’s Land Army of America girls had to prove that they could do the job and that they deserved the same wages as men. They were early fighters for equal rights and their story of perseverance and determination deserves to be told.

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As with most non-fiction picture books, the Author’s note was incredibly interesting and full of great facts. The inside front and back covers were filled with actual advertisements that were placed encouraging women to join in the land army.

nfpb2017Every Wednesday I try to post a non-fiction picture book as part of the  Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy. There are truly so many amazing nonfiction picture books being published these days, it can be hard to contain myself sometimes. Make sure to check out Kid Lit Frenzy and the linked blogs to find some more fabulous books!

 

Stand Up and Sing!

Folk music has always held a special place in my heart. Summer camp meant singing time honored songs of this genre, and while others were listening to 80s hair bands, I was happily ensconced in American folk. I grew up knowing the words to almost every song by Peter, Paul and Mary, Simon & Garfunkle, Joan Collins, Bob Dylan and Crosby, Stills & Nash. From an early age this style of music touched me deeply and probably helped form some of my pacifist and liberal ideas.

Bloomsbury Children’s Books has just put out an amazing account of the life of Pete Seeger, one of the fathers of the American Folk movement called Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger, Folk Music, and the Path to Justice. Covering his life from early childhood to his death in 2014, author Susanna Reich put together a book that might help the next generation think more deeply about the world around them and the music they listen to.

For Seeger, music was in his bones, but he also was a very well read and aware of politics at an early age. He was a child of the Great Depression and had a really difficult time understanding why some people had great wealth and some had nothing. His father took him to parades and marches for working people and he saw how music could unite people.

Reich does a great job of showing how Seeger learned various music styles by traveling and being exposed to a wide variety of cultures and experiences. And just as Pete Seeger influenced a slew of other artists, it was Woody Guthrie who took him under his wing and showed him that “music could fill a room with peace and harmony.”

Pete Seeger used his music to try and make important changes in our world. He dreamed of a world where there were fewer people struggling to get by. He believed strongly in workers’ rights and racial equality, things that were considered “un-American” in his time. In the time of McCarthy, Pete was blacklisted for his beliefs.

An interesting part of the book comes when it talks about Seeger’s friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the fact that it was Seeger who introduced King to the song “We Shall Overcome.”

When I think of American Folk music, I think of the anti-war movement of the 1960s and 70s. Some of my all-time favorite tunes were ones that Seeger wrote but which I heard performed by Peter, Paul & Mary – If I Had a Hammer, Turn! Turn! Turn!, and Where have all the Flowers Gone. These were the songs that ached for peace and lamented a war that took so many lives and accomplished little to nothing.To me, folk music is all about bringing people together and lifting them up. Get the right group of adults together today and you can have a really awesome singing fest of music old and new. Music is a tool to inspire people. Pete Seeger inspired a generation of singers and songwriters along with activists and believers. This book is an awesome tribute to his life and his genius.

Every Wednesday I try to post a non-fiction picture book as part of the  Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy. There are truly so many amazing nonfiction picture books being published these days, it can be hard to contain myself sometimes. Make sure to check out Kid Lit Frenzy and the linked blogs to find some more fabulous books!

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Navigating the Orchestra

I love books that encourage children to experience music. Recently, I picked up the book Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin, by Lloyd Moss, at our library and was immediately entranced. What is even more ingenious about this book is that it is a counting book that happens to also build an orchestra.

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We have started taking our children to the orchestra when there is a local show that makes sense for them (Broadway tunes was a big hit). It is difficult to give them tons of information in the auditorium itself, so finding books that help them understand what they are hearing and seeing is especially useful.

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As the book opens, “with mournful moan and silken tune, itself alone came one trombone.” One instrument is a solo musician. Each page adds a new layer, player, description, and number. Through descriptive terminology and colorful illustrations, young readers get a better sense of the instruments that make up an orchestra.

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The book itself was written by Lloyd Moss, a radio personality for NY’s only full-time classical music station. He knows the perfect words to describe the instruments in an orchestra and Marjorie Priceman’s illustrations draw children in with their whimsy and movement.0016705_first_book_about_the_orchestra_300

After finding this book, it made me think about how few children do get to experience seeing an orchestra live. Fortunately, Usborne has a marvelous book that can help fill them in on a variety of key details. In Usborne’s First Book About the Orchestra, children get to see what the instruments that make up most orchestras look like, what families they belong to, and it has good sound that allows them to hear the instruments as well. A very intelligent thing that the First Book About the Orchestra does is that it utilizes one piece of music throughout the entire book showing how each the piece sounds when played by a single grouping of instruments and then how much fuller the sound is when all of the instruments are put together with the full orchestration.meet spread

If you are looking for a way to bring more music education to your child, these two books are a great place to start.

Digging into the American Revolution

Digging into the American Revolution

We have Hamilton fever in this house. One of the great things that has come out of that, apart from listening to the music non-stop, is that it has gotten my girls interested in learning more about our history around the time American Revolution. We had been thrilled to read Aaron and Alexander back in the summer, but when we were at the library recently, I happened upon the section covering this period in history and started grabbing (973.4 for anyone interested). Continue reading →

A Gathering of Goldies

I love taking a look at different versions of well known fairy tales. While the originals are a force to be reckoned with, there is such a wealth of creativity when authors dream up alternate versions of stories that we know by heart. Recently, we decided to take a look at a wide variety of Goldilocks options.

A Gathering of Goldies

james marshall goldiJames Marshall’s version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears is a classic retelling that has been slightly modernized with Marshall’s whimsical illustrations. Goldilocks is a naughty little girl who often ignores her mother’s rules. At the bears’ house, baby bear’s porridge is too hot to eat, so the family goes out for a bike ride and Goldi enters and does her usual damage.

three snow bearsJan Brett takes the classic story and moves it to Alaska. In Three Snow Bears, Goldilocks is a little Inuit girl who wanders into the bears’ igloo when they go out to let their breakfast cool. She drinks his soup, finds his fur lined boots super comfortable, and gets cozy under his furry blanket. Like most Goldilocks heroines, she runs away when the bears come home, but these bears don’t seem to mind that she visited and wave good-bye to her as she leaves.

curlilocksFor those looking for a non-traditional, non-blonde version of Goldilocks, Yolanda King has written Curlilocks and the Three Pink Pandas. In this story Curlilocks gets sidetracked by butterflies while picking blueberries and gets lost. She finds the pink pandas’ house and goes in. She eats their oatmeal with ghee, untangles her curls with their brushes, then falls asleep in the youngest panda’s bed. When she runs home, she tells her parents what happened. They take her back to the panda’s house so that she can apologize for breaking Pumpkin’s comb and messing things up. Then both families enjoy a lovely meal together. A nice update to the story, especially with her going back to their house and making things right.

goldie diane stanelyDiane Stanley put a great spin on the traditional Goldilocks story by modernizing it and making it less about a nosy girl and instead about a little girl who was looking for a friend. In Goldie and the Three Bears, Goldie knows what she likes and what she doesn’t, but she can’t seem to find a friend who gets her and likes to do similar things. One day she accidentally gets off the school bus at the wrong stop and looks for help. She goes into the house of the three bears and has her usual misadventures. When baby bear finds Goldie in her bed, she is m-a-d mad. But when the little bear takes a running leap into the bed to pounce on Goldie, the two girls wind up using the bed like a trampoline. Rather than running away, Goldie explains what happened and she and Baby Bear become good friends.

goldi rocksCorey Rosen Schwartz and Beth Coulton change things up by bringing in a musical aspect in Goldi Rocks and the Three Bears. In this story, the three bears are in a rock band but are in need of a soprano to take their group to the next level. While they go out to hold auditions, Goldi finds their house/studio. Rather than the traditional porridge, chair and bed, Goldi tries out their microphones, headphones and instruments. When the bears return unsuccessful, Goldi hits a perfect high C in fright when they wake her up. Once she gets over her shock, they ask her to join the band and they all live happily ever after.

dusty locksGoldie goes Western in Sunny Lowell’s Dusty Locks and the Three Bears. In this version, Dusty was a dirty little girl who hadn’t bathed in a month. When she runs away from her mother one day, she finds herself at the home of the three bears and barges in. Comically, we are told that if she had just waited, the bears probably would have offered her some of their beans with Western hospitality, but she couldn’t wait. When the bears do come home, they are shocked and amazed by her smell thinking perhaps that she is a skunk. Unlike most Goldilocks stories, this one shows what happens when she gets home – she is scolded for running away and immediately bathed. If she ever ran into the bears again, they wouldn’t recognize her.

goldilocks-dinosaursOne of my all time favorites is Mo Willems’ Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs. In this laugh out loud version, there are three dinosaurs who set up chocolate pudding and then, for no particular reason, they went “Someplace Else and were definitely not hiding in the woods waiting for an unsuspecting kid to come by.” The dinosaurs are trying to make a tasty meal of the nosy child, but she fortunately figures it out and high tales it out of their house before doom befalls her. I actually did a complete review with pictures a few years ago which you can read here.

somebodyMarilyn Tolhurst wrote Somebody and the Three Blaires for her son “who used to be outraged at the way Goldilocks treated the baby bear.” As you may recall, Goldilocks destroys everything that belongs to Baby Bear and then runs away screaming. In this book, the Blaires decide to go for a walk and a bear called Somebody comes into their house. She messes up all sorts of stuff because, as a bear, she doesn’t know any better. Baby Blair thinks each thing is rather comical, especially when he finds Somebody in his crib and says, “Issa big teddy bear.” Somebody escapes down the drainpipe and Baby Blaire invites her to come back to play.

believe meA fun twist on the story comes when we hear the story from a very modern Baby Bear’s perspective. In Believe Me, Goldilocks Rocks!, Nancy Loewen has taken the story that we all know so well and completely turned it on its head. In this story, Sam (aka Baby Bear) can’t stand porridge so his parents make him go for a walk, because if you’re hungry enough, you’ll eat anything. He sneaks back home and finds Goldilocks in his house taking selfies of herself eating porridge and sitting in various chairs – she’s been dared by Red Riding Hood. When Goldi starts jumping on the beds, Sam asks to be let in so they can play together. Sam pretends to chase Goldi out of the house, but while they are running they trade phone numbers. A great addition to the truly fractured fairy tale grouping.

beware of the bearsIn a similar vein, Beware of the Bear, by Alan McDonald, shows the bears attempting to get back at Goldilocks for the havoc she wrecked on their house. The bears enter what they believe is Goldi’s house and mess it up – they have a cereal food fight, dance on her furniture, use her bathroom supplies, and have a pillow fight. When Goldi enters the house, the bears jump out to tell her that they decided to pay her a visit. The extra twist happens when we learn that this was just another of the many houses she randomly sneaks into and that it belongs to the big bad wolf!

It is really amazing how many different versions of the same story are out there. Plus, we also enjoy what Chris Colfer does mashing all of the fairy tales together in The Land of Stories series. Do you have a favorite version of a fairy tale?

Priceless Gifts

We learn many things from folk stories and fairy tales. Once passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth and then in written form, they are becoming less of a staple in the stories that are read to children. An important message that flows through many old tales is that good things come in small packages and that riches are often found in items not worth a lot of money.

Take the traditional story of Beauty and the Beast. In it, Beauty’s father sets off for a trade ship to see if there is anything that he can sell and asks his children what gift they would like him to bring back for them. Of his three daughters, the first two ask for clothing, jewels, and the finest dresses possible while his youngest asks for a rose. The father unfortunately picks a rose in the Beast’s garden after being graciously hosted the previous night and seals Beauty’s fate, but we know how the story resolves in the end.

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In Priceless Gifts, by Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss, we are swept into the time of the old spice trade, where merchants traveled to distant islands to get precious spices in exchange for other goods. They would trade fine items for things that we take for granted, such as cinnamon or nutmeg.

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On one of Antonio’s journeys to the spice islands, he is invited to the King’s Palace for dinner. Antonio is confused when he see servants holding sticks ready to strike and discovered that they were there because the palace was infested with rats who come out of hiding the moment that food is served. In order for people to eat in peace, there needed to be guards ready to beat off the rats. Antonio gives the king two cats from his ship to deal with the problem. He wants nothing in return, but the King is so grateful that he gives him a chest of jewels.

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Another Italian merchant hears of Antonio’s experience and gathers up fine items of his own in hopes of getting his own supply of jewels from the King. The King of the  island is stunned by the treasures that Luigi brings. Luigi is certain that he will be given a chest of jewels at least 20 times as large as Antonio’s. After a long discussion with his advisors over what they should give Luigi in return, the King gifts him with something truly priceless – a kitten from a litter born from Antonio’s cats. Luigi returns to Italy with the kitten. He didn’t return a rich man, but “he was certainly a wiser one.”

This is a wonderful example of how every person values things differently and that simple items that make your life a little easier and better can bring more joy than riches.

 

The Power of The Storyteller

“There is a unique kind of magic that comes from hearing a story told. With only the power of a voice, an entire world can be created. Suddenly, the audience becomes the hero, the villain, or the magic djinn commanding the desert sand storm.”

the-storyteller-9781481435185_hrSo says Evan Turk in the author’s note to his book The Storyteller. Apparently, it is also an old Moroccan saying that “when a storyteller dies, a library burns.” I thought that sharing this book on Read Across America day was especially important.

There is power in telling a story, especially to an audience. While we now have easy access to books, television, movies and so on, we have historically learned from tales passed down orally from generation to generation. Stories teach us the ways of our cultures and feed our souls. Evan Turk shows that feeling in a literal way through this vivid tale.

the-storyteller-9781481435185-in01Long ago, the kingdom of Morocco was formed on the edge of the great, dry Sahara. It had fountains of water to quench the thirst of the desert and storytellers to bring the people together. But just like everywhere else, modernity came and people soon forgot their storytellers and the land soon became parched.

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As a young boy walks home, searching for water, he is given a brass cups from a water seller in the hopes that he might just be lucky enough to find something. What he finds is an old storyteller who calls out to him, assuring him that his thirst will be quenched if he listens to a story. The storyteller spins a tale of the terrible drought and how one family always had enough water to share. The young boy is enthralled, and by the time the old man has finished speaking, the boy’s cup is miraculously filled with cool water.

the-storyteller-9781481435185-in04Through the power of a magical brass cup and the voice of a storyteller, a young boy once again learned the history of his people and slowly brought water back for his own parched thirst. What he didn’t realize was that not only was he physically thirsty for water, he was spiritually thirsty as well.

At the same time that the storyteller is weaving the story for the young boy, a sandstorm is forming. Just as the boy is quenching his thirst with the power of the story, the sandstorm comes to destroy the city in the form of a djinn. He has the power to destroy the city because the fountains have run dry and the fountains have run dry because the people have stopped listening to the storytellers. The boy, realizing the power that the story holds, tricks the djinn into listening to a story before destroying the land. It takes him multiple days to tell the story, but through the power of his tale and the fact that he is telling it in front of an ever expanding audience, the boy refills the city’s fountains and quenches the physical and metaphysical thirsts making the djinn powerless.

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As the author notes, “Morocco, like countries all over the world, including the United States, is at a crossroads where the future threatens to eclipse what is beautiful about the past.” Evan Turk gave us a beautiful reminder to keep the past alive through the power of a good story.

The Storyteller was a beautiful book with haunting illustrations. You can also get a sense of it from the following trailer. May we continue to shine a light on the power of the story.

 

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If You Were the Moon

When children are starting to learn about the sun, moon and planets, there are not a ton of books that really engage them. So I was very excited when I was able to get a hold of an advance copy of If You Were the Moon by Laura Purdie Salas and illustrated by Jaime Kim.

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At first glance, this book looks like a simple bedtime story in fiction format. But once you get past the first spread the entire book is filled with fascinating facts about the moon! A little girl looks up at the moon one night and wishes that she could “do exactly nothing, just like you.” moon-1

The moon responds by telling her all of the various things he does.  Each page has a really basic explanation of the moon’s role with supplementary blocks of text in a different font that give the reader detailed facts. moon-phases

So between the text and the outstanding illustrations, a young mind will understand that the moon impacts Earth’s balance,  that while it appears to glow it is really “catching” and “throwing” light from the sun, and that its gravity is what creates the tides in our oceans.moon-tide

The moon also is important to a lot of different animals and cultures. Nocturnal animals use the moon as an alarm clock. Sea turtle hatchlings need the light of the moon to guide them to the ocean. In terms of people, not only has the moon inspired great works of art, but farmers across the globe have used moon phases to guide their seasons and the race to put a man on the moon challenged our space program.

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There are also silly items like the fact that the moon spins like a ballerina making a full turn every 27 days or that it wouldn’t be very good at playing dodgeball because it never gets out of the way of meteorites that crash into it.

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This is a really wonderful book to share with a young child to get them more interested in astronomy and science. It is also still good for an older child to comprehend some of the more confusing aspects of the moon. There really are not a wealth of great books that engage children on this subject, so this is a welcome addition.

nfpb2017Every Wednesday I try to post a non-fiction picture book as part of the  Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy. There are truly so many amazing nonfiction picture books being published these days, it can be hard to contain myself sometimes. Make sure to check out Kid Lit Frenzy and the linked blogs to find some more fabulous books!

Maggie Celebrates Ayyám-i-Há

This past December my daughter was getting ready for her school’s holiday music celebration when we decided to get a lesson on inclusion. Their music teacher was having them sing a variety of Christmas songs, but had failed to consider other faiths. Enter E, a very strong willed, opinionated, proud little Jewish girl. She decided that singing only Christmas songs wasn’t very inclusive since she doesn’t celebrate Christmas and asked that they also sing a Chanukah song.

So about a week before the performance, she comes home all excited about the new words to the end of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” – now the words have become “we wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a Happy Chanukah, we wish you a loving Ayyám-i-Há and a Happy New Year.” Say what? I couldn’t really understand what she was saying, I thought it was more like a loving Yamaha, but that didn’t make much sense either, so I texted her friend’s mom. Turns out Ayyám-i-Há is a Bahá’í holiday celebrated in late February, but is a time of small gift giving and the closest thing to Christmas that they celebrate.

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According to Wikipedia, “during the Festival of Ayyám-i-Há, Bahá’ís are encouraged to celebrate God and his oneness by showing love, fellowship and unity. In many instances Bahá’ís give and accept gifts to demonstrate these attributes, and it is sometimes seen as a “Bahá’í Christmas”, but many Baha’is only exchange small gifts because gifts are not the main focus. It is also a time of charity and goodwill and Bahá’ís often participate in various projects of a humanitarian nature.”

I needed to find a book about it, so I asked my daughter’s friend for some help. They loaned me a wonderful book that I now share with you.

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In Patti Rae Tomarelli’s book, Maggie Celebrates Ayyám-i-Há, the sun is just starting to go down on February 25th and young Maggie hurries to a hill and uses a compass that her grandfather gave her so that she can face west. She takes in the amazing sunset and then cries in joy, “My God, my Fire and my Light! The days which Thou has named the Ayyám-i-Há in Thy Book have begun!”

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As the day progresses, Maggie find winds to do wonderful acts of kindness. She breaks open her piggy-bank to get at the money she has saved to purchase birdseed and make her own feeder. She bakes cookies with her brother and leaves them as gifts for two elderly friends. She leaves flowers and notes for her parents, brother, and teacher. Then she returns home to meditate.

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I think this holiday is absolutely wonderful. The book even includes information about the holiday, about what Maggie did each day and why, and shows children how to make the bird feeder that she makes as one of her gifts. It was really wonderful for my daughter to see that there are other minority religions out there as well and that we should all take pride in our beliefs and learn to share them with those around us.

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celebrating-around-the-worldWhile I believe that this particular book might be out of print, there is a brand new book that came out in January about the holiday – Celebrating Ayyam-i-Ha Around the World, by Melissa Lopez Charepoo. This book apparently shows a wide spectrum of families around the world celebrating this wonderful holiday.

I love that we learned something new this year and we continue to learn about their faith and experiences. For all of those who will begin celebrating Ayyám-i-Há this weekend, may you have a loving and joyous holiday!
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