Tag Archives: books

Balderdash!

One of the best things that has come out of blogging is being a part of the blogging community of amazing children’s literature reviewers. Learning about new books and getting other takes on how to encourage a love of books in all children is why I do this. Since we don’t live in a city with tons of great book stores and large libraries, there are many times that the only way I know a book exists is through the pages of other people’s blogs.

As long-time readers will know, I try really hard to be a part of the nonfiction picture book challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy every week. This week, Alyson posted about three books she had recently read, but one stood out to me, partially because this week also happens to be Children’s Book Week. The book was Balderdash! John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books, by Michelle Markel. I happened to be at one of our local libraries that evening for a CBW event and did a happy dance when I found a copy there.

balderdash cover

Balderdash! is a great biography about a man whose name is synonymous with children’s literature. The cover of the book even has such a wonderful illustration by Nancy Carpenter that the book screams out to be read. But even with Newbery being such an important name in children’s literature, I admit that I didn’t know much about him before reading this book. Continue reading →

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In Praise of Your Local Librarian

In Praise of Your Local Librarian

National Library week occurs every year towards the beginning of April. I may have missed the actual celebration this year, but in my mind, we should always be celebrating the librarian, so I’ve put together a few outstanding nonfiction picture books about librarians for this week’s nonfiction picture book challenge.

miss moore coverOne of my all time favorites is Miss Moore Thought Otherwise, by Jan Pinborough. This book tells the story of how Anne Carroll Moore created libraries for children. It is hard for children today to comprehend that we live in a world where girls are not expected to just stay home and take care of the children. It is also hard for children, and adults for that matter, to comprehend a time when children were not welcome in libraries. When librarians didn’t want kids to touch books for fear that they would hurt them (a la The Library Dragon). It was not until 1896 that the first library room designed for children was even created, and Miss Moore was given free rein to implement her ideas about how it should be run, including a pledge for kids wanting to take out books, story times, and the removal of “silence” signs. Miss Anne Moore was a major force behind publishing companies seeing the sense in publishing more books aimed at children and to make sure that they were quality books. This book is full of wonderful history about Miss Moore and about the public library system. Continue reading →

A book lover’s adventure

J has been on a great kick of reading a slightly wider variety of books these days. Not that she doesn’t still love her fairy tale themed stories, but we are definitely taking a look at other options. Since she is truly a mini-me, she has the annoying habit of constantly adding to her to-read list, so it can be hard to keep track of everything. Such a horrible problem to have – just kidding! You simply can’t argue with a child who has a deep and profound love of books. So deep is her love that at a recent fund raiser for her school, we were more than thrilled to win J getting to be “Librarian for the Day.”

One of her recent favorites is “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” by Chris Grabenstein. I read it when it first came out and enjoyed it, but reading it through the eyes of a book loving child made it that much better. What is so fabulous about this book is that it tackles a wide variety of topics through the guise of a treasure hunt in one of the most amazing libraries of all time – if only it was real!

The main premise of the book is that twelve children get to experience a lock-in at their brand-new, local library. The next morning, they are also challenged to find a way out. The main character, Kyle, is an an ardent fan of all games: board games, word games, and particularly video games. He isn’t much of a student and definitely is not a fan of reading. However, he desperately wants a chance to participate in the lock-in when he discovers that the library was built by his idol, game-maker extraordinaire, Luigi Lemoncello.

At the same time that these kids are learning about classic literature, the dewey decimal system, and utilizing logic skills to solve clues, there is also a great deal being taught about friendship, fair play, and teamwork. There of course is the “bad guy” character who will stop at nothing to win. There are kids who have reasons that they want to win the challenge that have nothing to do with a love of books or games. We also watch as some of the kids decide to join into alliances understanding that collective strengths can work better than relying on individual knowledge at times. In addition to dealing with different characters, the reader also gets the opportunity to help solve some of the clues and encourages new looks at logic puzzles.

I think that this book has a little bit of something for everyone. J specifically felt a kinship with Sierra Russell. Sierra lives for reading and spends the early parts of the book as a loner, but she grows as a person by participating on a team and forging friendships. Reluctant readers will probably identify with Kyle. Through his adventures in the library, Kyle realizes that there are all kinds of books and that the stories in some can be quite exciting and even pose challenges just like his games. As he proceeds through the challenge, he keeps finding books that he should add to his own brand new to-read list. Each of the characters has strengths and weaknesses that make them seem like people you might actually meet in a school.

One of the assignments in J’s class this year is that every week they have to write a letter to a classmate about a book that they are reading. She not only wrote about this book, but has started loaning out the book to her classmates. That’s the power of a good book!

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The Various Tales of Little Red Riding Hood

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.

little red

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.

photo 1Little 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.

photo 2Red 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 Artellpetite rouge inside
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.

salma insidePretty 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.

classic chapter books

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.

classic chapter1

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.

Hanukkah round-up part 2 – Our Favorite Tales

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.

favorite-tales

herschel goblinsHershel 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-9780439769907When 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.

HanukkahGuestThe 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-DreidelsThe 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.

chanukkah treeThe 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.

miracle of the latkesThe 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 applesauceLatkes 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.

HanukkahMoon300Hanukkah 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:

bugsChanukkah 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.

 babys dreidelWhere 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_candlesLight 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.

georgeHappy 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.

biographies of three strong women

three_strong_women

I am always on the lookout for something new to strike J’s fancy. Since starting this blog, I also look for books that I think are cool. I found these books from a variety of sources and was thrilled when our local library had them. I know that J liked one of these books, but we have been in the midst of packing, moving and unpacking, so she didn’t read any of them with me. But if you are looking for a good picture book that also introduces your child to the world of biographies, these are great. What I find extra special about these books is that they focus on strong women who changed the world that we live in. They are about women who made a difference and remind us that we all need to stand up and make a difference too.

miss-moore-thought-otherwise_hresMiss Moore Thought Otherwise, by Jan Pinborough, might be one of my favorite books of the year. This book tells the story of how Anne Carroll Moore created libraries for children. What is truly amazing about the book is how it continually shows how things were done in the late 1800s when Anne Moore was growing up and in the early 1900s, but when Miss Moore was faced with people telling her that girls “didn’t” or “shouldn’t” do something, the common refrain was “Miss Moore thought otherwise.”

It is hard for children today to comprehend that we live in a world where girls are not expected to just stay home and take care of the children. They can be stay-at-home moms, and my children see me and many others happily doing that, but a woman can choose to be almost anything she wants depending on the sacrifices that she is willing to make (just like a man). However, we are all well aware that this wasn’t always the case. As the book says, “In the 1870s many people thought a girl should stay inside and do quiet things such as sewing and embroidery.” But Anne Moore wanted to be like her 7 brothers out having fun and she wanted an education like them too.

It is also hard for children, and adults for that matter, to comprehend a time when children were not welcome in libraries. When librarians didn’t want kids to touch books for fear that they would hurt them (a la The Library Dragon). It was not until 1896 that the first library room designed for children was even created, and Miss Moore was given free rein to implement her ideas about how it should be run, including a pledge for kids wanting to take out books, story times, and the removal of “silence” signs. Miss Anne Moore was a major force behind publishing companies seeing the sense in publishing more books aimed at children and to make sure that they were quality books.

This book is full of wonderful history about Miss Moore and about the public library system.

doctors

In the same feminist vein, I would also recommend Who Says Women Can’t be Doctors?, by Tanya Lee Stone. It starts out with the same point that Miss Moore Thought Otherwise was saying – “I’ll bet you’ve met plenty of doctors in your life. And I’ll bet lots of them were women. Well, you might find this hard to believe, but there once was a time when girls weren’t allowed to become doctors.” This book tells the story of Elizabeth Blackwell who became the first woman doctor in America.

In a very straight-forward manner, the book gives a great sense of who Elizabeth Blackwell was and how she wound up becoming a doctor. She was a girl who was spunky, strong, smart and who never walked away from a challenge. She was a curious girl who wanted to know more about the world around her She also never imagined being a doctor until a friend who was very ill put the idea in her head. Of course she was laughed at and rejected, but one school finally admitted her. “Elizabeth proved she was as smart as any boy.”

The book does breeze over the fact that even after she graduated she struggled immensely as people were still not ready to accept a female doctor. The information is there in the author’s note and is a good place to start a conversation with your child about what people can and cannot do. It is also a great lesson about how strong women from many years ago got us to where we are today. We need to be strong and smart in our own ways for future generations.

Brave-Girl-Markel-Michelle-9780061804427Brave Girl is the story of young Clara Lemlich who helps organize a strike of shirtwaist makers in 1909. I’m not sure how much we enjoyed this book given J’s age and interests, but it still deserves a place on this list.

When Lemlich’s family immigrates to the United States from the Ukraine at the turn of the century, Lemlich must go to work in the garment industry to help her family. There she is confronted by the exceptionally harsh rules of the time – 5 minutes late and you’re docked a half a day’s pay, prick your finger and bleed a drop on the cloth and you can be fired, not to mention the actual working conditions in cramped rooms without enough air where they are often locked in. Lemlich helped organize many strikes, including a massive general walkout where 20,000 employees refused to work.

I liked the concept of this book, but am not sure exactly what age group it was intended for. I think this makes more sense for 8-10 year olds, which is unfortunate, because there are a lot of great things to be learned from the story.  This is one that we will have to check out again when J gets older or perhaps if she starts to study this period of history.

Chapter Books for Young Girls – Fairies, Princesses and other Magical Beings

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.

chapter-books-fairies

autumnRainbow 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.

chocolate fairyThe 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.

rescue princessesThe 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.

WhateverAfter1Whatever AfterAs 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 talesMermaid 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.

twlightMy 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 ponyMagic 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.

The Return of the Library Dragon

I haven’t forgotten this blog, it has just been crazy busy around here and I haven’t found the time to write, but I am definitely going to get my act back in gear. So in honor of my own return, here are our thoughts on the Return of the Library Dragon.

In 1994, Carmen Agra Deedy wrote the outstandingly good book, The Library Dragon, in which Miss Lotta Scales takes over the Sunrise Elementary School library, but won’t let the children touch the books. With the help of little Molly Brickmeyer, Miss Lotta learns that the children belong in the library and need to touch books in order to grow from them. It is a remarkable book that praises books, storytelling, reading, and definitely librarians.

Fast forward to 2012, and the landscape of an elementary school library has dramatically changed. No longer are they even called libraries, but are now known as media centers. So it is more than appropriate for Ms. Deedy to come back with a similarly awesome book The Return of the Library Dragon.

library dragon returnsIn this installment, Miss Lotty Scales is retiring! When she arrives at school on her last day of work, all of the books in the library have been removed by Mike Krochip, an IT guy from Central Office. The books are gone, computers are in, and welcome to the new cybrary.

“‘It’s a brave new world,’ Krochip beamed at Lotty. ‘Books stain and tear and take up room. Check out the Book-be-Gone 5000. It’ll kindle your fire!'”

But the kids want the books back because even though you can put 10,000 books on an e-reader, “10,000 books on a screen all look the same.”  “Right, but 10,000 books in a library all look and feel different.”

dragon returnsAnd just as you think that the old-school way of libraries only housing books has won the battle, one of the children turns on a “MePod” and everyone else crowds around to see the amazing new technology. This of course brings the Library Dragon back in full force.

What brings Miss Lotty back to normal, just as before, is little Molly Brickmeyer. Now she is all grown-up and taking over as Sunrise Elementary School’s school librarian, but only if all of the books find their way back to the shelves immediately. Miss Molly is the balancing point of the new way of doing things. She knows that computers and technology are a good thing and that our children need to be learning and experimenting with them, but she also knows that it is important to unplug. She learned from the best and understands that a school librarian should still dress up in goofy costumes from time to time and enjoy reading to kids, but that they also have to be media savvy and understand how kids of this crazy technologically advanced generation function. So even though Miss Lotty introduces Miss Molly as the new “media-library-cyber-book specialist,” Miss Molly still prefers just being known as the “librarian.”

As I said, we loved the original Library Dragon, and this book just took it to another level. Our kids are definitely going to wind up using e-readers and they have to be incredibly comfortable with the computer world, but we are walking a fine line and it is doubtful that we will be able to instill a love of reading to our children if they don’t get to experience the joy of seeing the vivid beautiful colors of a well-done picture book. There is also the sense of joy in checking out books from the library, running your hands over the spines of well-loved books, and as my daughter likes to do, lining your books up across the floor in the order that you plan to read them.

The inside covers had tons of wonderful quotes about books, libraries and librarians and I leave you with this one: “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers; a librarian can bring you back the right one.” (Neil Gaiman) To all the librarians out there – we love you!

our library haul

September is national library card sign-up month. If you hadn’t already figured it out, I would be completely and utterly lost without the local public library. Buying books is great, but finding books in the library allows us to read a much wider variety of great books. I still have fond memories of the library where I grew up, and we are fortunate to have two libraries here even if I do have to pay to use one of them. Granted, I still miss living in a bigger city with multiple connected libraries, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Sometimes I go to the library with a specific list of books I want to get for the girls and sometimes I just randomly pull things off the shelves. I’ve gotten really lucky the past few times and wanted to share a bunch of gems that we’ve found.

isabella

We fell in love with the original My Name is Not Isabella, and I was thrilled to find another of her adventures on our local library’s bookshelves. Isabella: Star of the Story is an homage to books and to the library in general. How could we not love it? Isabella goes to the library with her parents and checks out Peter Pan, Goldilocks, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Black Beauty, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and The Wizard of Oz.

wildThe title of this book attracted me, and both my 2 year old and 6 year old LOVE it. This fabulous rhyming story dedicated to Dr. Seuss brings a librarian and her bookmobile into the zoo. There she lures the animals into a love affair with books in the same way that we all hope to lure our children into loving books. With absolutely beautiful artwork by Marc Brown, we watch as the librarian finds just the right book for each animal. The crocodiles read Peter Pan while giraffes want “tall books” on subjects like basketball and skyscrapers and the Pandas demand “more books in Chinese.” By the end, the animals are writing their own stories and opening a zoobrary. The animals are wild about books and we are wild about this one too.

unicornI was actually shocked to find this on the shelves of our small town library as it is a brand new book. The story is about a goat who thinks he’s pretty hot stuff until a unicorn moves into town. When the unicorn flies, makes it rain cupcakes and turns things to gold the goat gets a case of the green eyed monster. Then one day, while moping around eating some goat cheese pizza, the unicorn comes up and is jealous of all the things that make goat special. The two realize that they each have qualities that make them pretty awesome and that together they would make an unstoppable team. It is a great story about being happy with yourself while learning that the grass only looks greener on the other side.

Sophie's Lovely Locks Cover_smI picked up this book because we struggle with J and keeping her hair brushed, let alone pulled back in pretty barrettes. So imagine my shock when we get to the end and Sophie decides to chop off her hair and give it to “Locks for Kids,” a hybrid of Locks of Love and Wigs for Kids. What seemed like a superficial story turned out to be a lesson in humanity. It is hard to explain to a 6 year old that kids can get cancer too, but this is a truly wonderful story.

marthaFor all of the picky eaters out there, I present a ridiculous story of a little girl who refused to eat her green beans until the beans came to town and kidnapped her parents. The only way for her to save her parents from those mean old beans was to eat them, but the beans didn’t think she could do it. This was a silly tale that shows that you shouldn’t be afraid of your food. We read a lot of semi-serious picture books, and those are usually the books that make it onto the blog, but a little fluff now and then is important too 🙂

sky colorPeter Reynolds gets a lot of press in September with the 15th being International Dot Day. The Dot is a marvelous book with a great lesson, but in looking for that on the shelf, I came across the lesser known, but stunningly wonderful Sky Color. Reynolds’s books encourage kids to nurture their inner artists, but what I love about this one is that it takes someone who is comfortable with her inner artist and forces her to think outside of the box. Marisol’s class is going to paint a mural and she volunteers to paint the sky, but when she goes to the paint box there is no blue. “How am I going to make the sky without blue paint?” Marisol watched the sky to try and figure out a solution and dreamt of a sky of swirling colors, mixed together “making too many colors to count.” Her final product shows how many ways to look at things there are. I loved the colors and her frustrations and her attempts to figure it out. An unusual, but impressive little book.