Tag Archives: children’s literature


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 →

Let’s Talk About Banned Books

It is banned books week and that got me thinking about Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics. This book has never been on the banned book list, but it is a great way to get kids to understand the concept and to start up a conversation about banned books.


J and I eagerly read Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics as soon as it came out. We actually had to buy 2 copies because she took it to school and someone snagged it from her! But the book was great, so I’m okay supporting the cause.

61nmnjejmjl-_sx336_bo1204203200_For those unaware of this series by Chris Grabenstein, the first book, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, is about a group of kids who find themselves locked in a brand-new, state of the art library designed by a famous game maker. One of the main characters is a reluctant reader, but there is a little bit of something for everyone in this book. Those who remain locked in the library for the game must solve every clue and figure out every secret puzzle to find the hidden escape route. It is a great book about the library system and books in general.

lemoncello-olympics-200Book 2 found us returning to the library but with teams from all across America to compete in the first-ever Library Olympics. But something suspicious is going on . . . books are missing from Mr. Lemoncello’s library. Is someone trying to censor what the kids are reading?! Now it’s not just a game—can Mr. Lemoncello find the real defenders of books and champions of libraries? In between figuring out mind-boggling challenges, the kids will have to band together to get to the bottom of this mystery.

So what was the mystery? Banned books. J didn’t fully understand the concept of banned books, but this story really got us talking about it. What exactly are banned books? As per wikipedia, “Banned books are books or other printed works such as essays or plays which are prohibited by law or to which free access is not permitted by other means. The practice of banning books is a form of censorship, from political, legal, religious, moral, or (less often) commercial motives.”e5db5a80-f003-0132-f0cc-0ed54733f8f5

Mr. Lemoncello gave us the perfect opportunity to discuss banned books. Books are banned or challenged for a variety of reasons. Many times it is because they tackle topics that are uncomfortable for us to deal with or because people have differing opinions. But as I’ve mentioned before, we learn so many things about our society and ourselves from books, sometimes it is important to challenge traditional ways of thinking or doing things.bannedbooks I remember when we were reading Mr. Lemoncello’s Olympics we talked about the fact that the Harry Potter series is the most challenged book for the past decade. Given J’s love with all things HP she couldn’t comprehend that, but I tried to explain how the notion of magic and wizardry as taboo for some people and went against their religious values. Judy Blume, who J hasn’t read much of yet, is also one of the most challenged authors because of her frank take on puberty and sexuality.

There are times when I am just sad that books wind up on the challenged list. For example, there is a wonderful picture book called And Tango Makes Three. 81saez2go5lThis book is number 4 on the 100 most banned list. Why? Apparently people think that it is anti-family, promotes homosexuality, has a political viewpoint, has a religious viewpoint, and is generally unsuited for age group. Really? This is the product description on Amazon:

And Tango Makes Three is the bestselling, heartwarming true story of two penguins who create a nontraditional family. At the penguin house at the Central Park Zoo, two penguins named Roy and Silo were a little bit different from the others. But their desire for a family was the same. And with the help of a kindly zookeeper, Roy and Silo get the chance to welcome a baby penguin of their very own.

I get that if a book doesn’t make you comfortable and doesn’t suit your family’s core belief system, then you shouldn’t read it. But to ban a book from a library goes against other people’s rights to make their own decisions about what they want to read. So go out today and read a banned book!




It’s all about Perspective

Last summer when the Battle of the Books list came out, I printed out a copy hoping to encourage J to read some of the books over the summer to expand her reading options even though she knew should wouldn’t be allowed to be on the team this year. It was a nice thought on my part, but even though she thought a bunch of the titles sounded good, she really did not care to read them. I actually started reading a number of them on my own, but completely dropped the subject with her. Over winter break, she decided on her own that she was ready to tackle the list.

The first book that she read after making this decision was Tuck Everlasting. She had already read The Lemonade War and Because of Winn-Dixie, and I think she picked Tuck because it had been brought up at our last kids’ book club as an option of a book that has a movie. The main theme of Tuck Everlasting is the notion of immortality and whether it is a blessing or a curse. The Goodreads synopsis says:

tuck everlasting“Doomed to – or blessed with – eternal life after drinking from a magic spring, the Tuck family wanders about trying to live as inconspicuously and comfortably as they can. When ten-year-old Winnie Foster stumbles on their secret, the Tucks take her home and explain why living forever at one age is less a blessing that it might seem. Complications arise when Winnie is followed by a stranger who wants to market the spring water for a fortune.”

I was actually hoping to read it before she got a chance, but I wasn’t fast enough. I did wind up reading a chunk of the middle with her, but only because she still enjoys our reading time together before bed. J really enjoyed it and is now thrilled by the notion that there is a Broadway musical coming out. She understood that eternal life isn’t something that we would necessarily want to have, to watch those you love die before you. I think the other reason that she liked the book was because the characters were so well developed and real, even with their ability to never die.

The second book that she read, which got me thinking about the theme of perspective, is “A Dog’s Life – The Autobiography of  a Stray.” In Tuck Everlasting you are considering the notion of eternal life. From the outside, it might sound rather appealing, but when you go through the experience yourself, there are many challenges that come up and make living forever not such an enticing goal. The book A Dog’s Life does a really exceptional job of considering the world from a dog’s perspective from birth through to old age. This dog happens to also be a stray whose life gets impacted tremendously by the other people, both human and animal, that are in her life.

dog's life

The Goodreads synopsis of A Dog’s Life says: “Squirrel and her brother Bone begin their lives in a toolshed behind someone’s summer house. Their mother nurtures them and teaches them the many skills they will need to survive as stray dogs. But when their mother is taken from them suddenly and too soon, the puppies are forced to make their own way in the world, facing humans both gentle and brutal, busy highways, other animals, and the changing seasons. When Bone and Squirrel become separated, Squirrel must fend for herself, and in the process makes two friends who in very different ways define her fate.”

A Dog’s Life is incredibly far away from the books that J would typically tend to read, yet she absolutely loved it. Author Ann Martin writes with simplicity and clarity and makes even non-dog lovers feel for her characters. When a family treats Squirrel with cruelty, J and I had a conversation on how people could be that way and how important it is to care for others. There were so many moments in this book that resonated with us and brought out strong feelings.

When I asked J what she liked the most with A Dog’s Life, she really enjoyed that it was from the dog’s perspective and written in her voice. She had done work in her third grade class on perspective before winter break, but this seemed to impact her on a stronger level then writing a short piece. I’m just glad that she’s understanding things on a variety of levels and enjoying stories that stray from the predictable.

I am lucky that J loves to read as much as she does. We are looking forward to the time when she can officially be on the Battle of the Books team. She struggles with the fact that her classmates read books so that they can take reading counts tests on them. She loves books and doesn’t have a competitive bone in her body when it comes to them, she just wants to share her love of books with anyone who will listen to her, but she doesn’t want to quantify what she is reading. I think that she will thrive being allowed onto the Battle of the Books team next year so that she will have a group of people reading the same books and feeling them with the same sense of passion that she does and she could use a little drive of competition as well. For now, because she is reading things that many of her friends are not, if she wants to have a conversation about a book she either has one with me or else she finishes a book and tries to figure out which of her friends might read next.

It has been great to see her gain a different type of perspective on life by reading things that challenge her notions. The Battle of the Books will continue to allow her to get additional perspective and be surrounded by those who appreciate books the way that she does.

Hosting a book club on Matilda

Maybe a year ago a good friend started a kid’s book club for our, at the time, first graders. Most of this had actually started because a few of them had gotten into Harry Potter and they had a lot of fun watching the movie together and then discussing the differences. So when deciding to start a book club for such young readers, and given the fact that they needed more than just a book to read and discuss, we went with books that also had movie counterparts. The group fizzled out due to a variety of reasons, but a few weeks ago I decided to give it new life.

Over the holidays I purchased some soundtracks for my Broadway loving 8 year old. One of the picks was Matilda: The Musical. I wasn’t initially enamored with the soundtrack, but it has definitely grown on me, especially since I listen to it EVERY DAY. That said, it can be hard for a kid to fully understand what is going on just by listening to songs. So when we were driving with another friend one day, I tried to explain some of the story to them. Then I said, “You know, we should read this for our book club and then we can watch the movie.” Needless to say, the girls loved the idea.

J had already read two Roald Dahl books in the past, one being The BFG with our book club, but she didn’t seem all that interested in reading others. Perhaps because they both had male leads and she has a thing about strong female protagonists. Regardless, her love of Roald Dahl has done a complete turnaround.

matildaThe story of Matilda is about a little girl who loves to read but is completely misunderstood by her parents who are completely self-absorbed and think the television should be the center of their universe. Mom plays bingo all day (leaving Matilda on her own) and Dad is a crooked used car salesman. Matilda sticks out like a sore thumb having learned to read by age 3 and her parents generally think of her as a nuisance or a scab. When she finally convinces her parents to sign her up for school she winds up at a horrible place run by Miss. Trunchbull, who happens to also hate children. Luckily, she does have a wonderful teacher and she discovers that she has some remarkable powers of her own to deal with grown-ups who are so awful to children.

J immediately took to reading Matilda. We started reading it together because that is fun, but she quickly left me in the dust and read it on her own. When she finished, I asked her what she thought and this was her response: “It was a really good book. It told all about this girl that had a family who didn’t love her and how she escaped them. It also tells how girls can be strong. Matilda has a family that thinks she is weird so they send her off to school with a mean principal who is evil. Matilda has special powers to make things move with her mind and she escapes.”

The magical powers was a theme that the kids really loved. When we got 4 girls together yesterday to talk about the book and watch the movie her superpowers and the chalk writing scene came up. J also later talked about how it was cool that she used her powers to get Ms. Honey’s doll out of Ms. Trunchbull’s house without going back on her promise of not actually going into the house.

Matilda is also a great story to encourage kids to think about writing themselves. One of our book club members talked about how she liked that there were unexpected twists and turns in the book, similar to the much loved Harry Potter. She added that among the books that she has been reading, a lot of them don’t have that aspect. That led us to a conversation about what makes good writing and thinking about books that we look forward to reading.

Hosting a children’s book club is an awesome way to get kids engaged in what they are reading and to help make it that much more fun. It is great to see how these young minds thing about the books that they read and it is always wonderful to broaden their horizons about the books that they are reading.

matilda quote

a lucky find – the lion, the witch and the wardrobe

I went into one of our local used book stores the other day and made a great find – an illustrated abridged version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

I’ve wanted to bring J in to the world of Narnia for some time, but we started with The Magician’s Nephew and I believe she got bored. The story jumped around a lot. I think that The Lion is a more cohesive story and J immediately got sucked in to it. She thought I had brought home yet another library book and when she realized that she got to keep this one she was incredibly excited. I also purchased a used copy of the full The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe knowing that at some point in the not to distant future she would want to read that as well.

What makes this book special is that it is not a dumbed-down version of the story and it is filled with absolutely beautiful illustrations. There are other illustrated versions out there, we just got lucky to find this one at a used shop. The original is still the best, but sometimes these editions help draw our kids in.

Here are some other illustrated versions I was able to find online.

lion blue

aimed at ages 4-8


graphic novel – age 8+


Picture Book Challenge Week #1

So we are done with week #1 of our 300 picture books in 2014 challenge hosted by Child Led Chaos. This week was pretty easy since all books read were considered “new,” at least the first time we read them this week.  I’m only counting them if I’ve actually read them to one of the girls, and this week I’ve read 15. That’s a pretty decent number, especially considering that these days J is usually reading to me from one of her longer books. I enjoyed keeping track of what we were reading on Goodreads.

Looking at the books now, it really is a random smattering of books – some pulled from our shelves, some library. As they get older, there really does seem to be a desire to only read new picture books, so  most of J’s books are ones we picked from the library and E is pulling randomly from her bookshelf at bedtime. Some of these books I love and some I dread when I see them for the umpteenth time.  I’m not going to go into great depth on all of them, but I will say a few words about some.

Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 10.14.12 PM

Corduroy is always a favorite. Classic, timeless and always wonderful.

Isabella: Star of the Story is a fun book that I talked about on a previous post. Every time we go to the library, E pulls this one off of the shelf. It is currently still in the “new” section so it is really easy to find, but she just loves it. The pictures are bright and colorful and it takes us into so many stories that we already love.

Fairy Houses is was a wonderfully sweet book. A little girl goes on vacation with her family and her parents tell her there will be a special treat waiting for her. The treat is that people have built fairy houses and that people are encouraged to build more houses as long as they adhere to the rules of not using pieces that are alive or artificial. The girl, Kristen, starts to build a house and each day she adds to her creation. Each day, she also comes back and finds animals enjoying the pieces that she has put onto her fairy house. It is wonderful reminder to be kind to nature and to find joy in outdoor activities

Bear Snores On is the first in a series that a close friend gave us. This is my favorite of all of those books and incredibly fun to read. A cast of animals comes into a hibernating bear’s cave and have a party while he sleeps. When he wakes up unexpectedly, he is very upset to have been left out of the fun. It has great rhythm and places to use voices. A great winter-time book.

The Mitten is also a great classic tale that is winter appropriate. A little boy asks his grandmother to knit him a pair of white mittens and when he loses one in the snow, a number of animals find their way into it, stretching it way past capacity. It is fun to look through the pictures and see what other items you can see and to watch the little boy in the side images, completely unaware of the home his mitten has become. I love that at the end he gives his grandmother both mittens – one completely stretched out and one normal.

Sunshine Makes the Seasons, Mary Walker Wears the Pants, I Want to Go to the Moon and Manfish are non-fiction picture books that I will be talking about on a slower basis for my non-fiction picture book challenge. We got a lot of really great books at the library to end our winter vacation and will continue to have great fun with this challenge.

To see more of the week 1 linked blogs, click here.

kids and audiobooks

This is a slight deviation from my normal type of blog post, but well worth it. I have recently been reminded just how amazing audiobooks are for kids. When J was younger, she liked to listen to audiobooks, memorize the stories, then “read” them herself. Then for many years, we didn’t listen to them at all. All of a sudden, audiobooks have come back into our lives big time.

For the younger set (3-5), audiobooks are a means of helping kids learn how to read through memorization. Part of the reading process is knowing when to turn pages and to recognize the words. I’ve found that my kids get a sense of accomplishment from “reading” without mommy around. These days many audiobooks out there also feature the voices from animated features, which is a big draw for little children, and anything that gets them excited about books works for me.

E has been obsessed with audiobooks for a while now. She turned 3 in October and it was probably around that time that she really got excited by stories on CD, or mommy’s iPhone. For a period of time, she had a CD of four 20 minute Disney stories that she would listen to each night at bedtime. For Hanukkah I suggested books with CDs and she listened to Frozen over and over again. There are times during the day that she will shut herself in her room and listen to audiobooks. At other times, she grabs a pile of regular books and plays librarian. All in all, I am sure that I am raising a reader.

J really liked the Disney books with CDs when she was in that age range. Then at some point we moved into audiobooks for chapter books that she enjoyed listening to only if she had the book in front of her to follow along – a great thing, but also a hinderance when I tried to borrow audiobooks from the library for books we didn’t have. She listened to many Magic Treehouse books and Charlotte’s Web during this phase.

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 9.39.20 PMAt some point, we found the Barefoot Books podcasts. If you don’t know Barefoot Books is an awesome “independent publisher specializing in carefully crafted books, gifts and digital content for children that combine the best of the present with the best of the past to educate our children as the caretakers of tomorrow.” I’ve thought about selling their books, but for the time being, I just buy them through a friend (shameless plug for Lauren). Anyway, as I was saying, for a long time there were putting out weekly podcasts of stories from around the globe narrated by some amazing talents. Some of our favorites were “The Musicians of Bremen,” “The Faeries and the Cake,” and “The White Mare.” These are classic fairy tales told in their original formats, rather than the overly sweetened versions we have grown accustomed to. There are 135 currently available at iTunes and they are free downloads.

Then for a period, we really stopped listening to audiobooks. I believe that it has been our infatuation with Harry Potter coupled with E’s love of Disney stories that encouraged J to start listening again. When J loves a book, she reads it over and over and over again. She enjoyed listening to Harry Potter, and who wouldn’t with the marvelous Jim Dale doing the reading? Then she heard me listening to The Land of Stories – The Enchantress Returns, and desperately wanted to read and listen to the first book, The Wishing Spell, herself. As I mentioned in the last post, we got her the book and she has been devouring it. A few days ago, our hold of the audiobook came in and she has started listening to the book as well as reading it – she is at different parts of the book with each format! We both agree, Chris Colfer has done an absolutely amazing job narrating his own story. If you want an example of perfect audiobook for kids, this is it. J listens to this whenever she gets the chance and goes to sleep with it every night.

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 9.38.33 PMWe have also been listening to the original Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland through the website Storynory, which is a free online collection of stories. They are also available through iTunes, but the stories that J enjoys tend to have lots of parts, or chapters, and it is easier to just download them or let her listen straight through their website, which also allows kids to follow along with the story. While writing this post, I just realized that they had the Snow Queen in 3 parts and have downloaded that for our collection.

Just like there are many ways to write  -pen on paper, straight to computer – there are also many ways to read a book. I never used to understand the lure of audiobooks, and then I found a few that really work that way and allow me to listen to a book while doing something like cleaning the house or driving. That does not mean that all books lend themselves to be listened to, but it is another way to bring it to life. J has talked about being an author and now she is seeing that it can combine her two biggest loves – stories and acting. Audiobooks are a great thing to have for long car rides and a great thing to enjoy at home. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t read to our children ourselves, but who can argue with another source for them to love books?

I’m continuing to look for other great ways to download audiobooks for my girls to enjoy. There are a lot of great places out there, if you have a favorite, please let me know!

encouraging new books

Children are creatures of habit. They find something that they like and they stick with it. When J was really little, it was Dora everything. When she first found the Magic Treehouse and Rainbow Magic series, we went through them as if there were no other books out there.  E, my 3 year old, is currently in love with Disney princesses, but she has less of the obsessive personality that J does. Each time either girl moves on to something else, I’m so excited. Lately, J has 2 big loves – Harry Potter and The Land of Stories.

I’ve mentioned HP before, but she keeps begging me to write more about it. In her words, “Harry Potter is so extremely magical that I felt that I could hold my breath for a million years.” She is part way through book 3, The Prisoner of Azkaban, but I think they are getting a bit darker so we do seem to be slowing down and she has been enjoying the lighter side of The Land of Stories.

Harry Potter is a great series. I held off having her read it for a long time because even though her reading level is high, I always have to keep in mind that she is only 6. Like a child her age, she finds herself falling into books. When I asked her why she liked HP so much she said that “I really did feel that I was a part of the story. The magic that they were using excited me and sometimes in the books there are clues” about things coming up. Even though she initially didn’t like Hermione and didn’t believe me that she was an awesome character, she now loves her and felt like “she was me and I was her.” There are already plans for her to be Hermione for Halloween, but who knows.

Then the other day she heard a little bit of the audiobook I was listening to – The Land of Stories: The Enchantress Returns. She must have heard one of the princesses names and started asking me questions. I filled her in a bit on what the story was about, explaining more about book 1, The Wishing Spell. That piqued her interest and she started begging me to check the audiobook or digital book from the library. Of course, nothing was available. A friend had recently been telling me about how she and her daughter were reading it together, but her daughter is in 3rd grade. Still, I had a feeling that this would be one of those books that she would really enjoy and one she would probably want to read over and over. I was right and I’m really glad that I decided to buy her the book so she can read it over and over again. Even though she found the beginning slow (it is), she is loving it and wanting to read it all the time.

The basic synopsis is as follows:  The story itself is of two twins, Alex and Connor, who find themselves inside “the land of stories.” In order to get out, they attempt to find 8 objects necessary to complete the wishing spell. Those objects include things like a lock of Rapunzel’s hair, Cinderella’s glass slipper and a piece of Red Riding Hood’s original basket. While going through the land of fairy tales, they meet a wide cast of characters and see how their stories have played out. All didn’t turn out perfectly for Sleeping Beauty when her kingdom awoke from it’s 100 year sleep; the Wolves from Red Riding Hood are out for revenge; and the evil queen from Snow White has escaped from prison. The evil queen plays a large role in the story and by the end gets to tell her side of what happened. The point made with her story is that “a villain is just a victim whose story hasn’t been told.”

We still read picture books (look for a review of Greek mythology coming up), but she wants to spend all day reading The Land of Stories even going as far as taking it to the park the other day. Encouraging new picture books was always easy, getting her to be entranced by longer chapter books is definitely more of a challenge, but the response is well worth it.

Cinderella – The tale told around the world

You didn’t think I could stop with Little Red Riding Hood, did you? When I was finding those books in the library, various Cinderella tales attracted my attention as well. In fact, I almost find Cinderella more amazing because it truly is a multicultural phenomenon. Every country seems to have its own take on the story and it is an amazing way to see how similar we all are throughout our differences.

cinderella collage

Walt Disney’s Cinderella
disneyI know it seems crazy to start with this, but those of us with children know this story the best. My 3 year old listened to some of the other Cinderella stories below and would make comments about how she liked the Cinderella with the yellow hair better. In this version, Cinderella is friends with the animals, the mice talk, and the fairy godmother makes everything possible for our heroine. It is a prettified version of the Brothers Grimm version, but loved by children around the world.

mcclintockBarbara McClintock’s version of Cinderella is based on the French telling of the story, complete with stately French dresses. The illustrations in this version are what make it stunning and it most closely mirrors the story that most of us think of when we envision Cinderella. In this tale, as in the original, Cinderella is a very kind soul even when confronted with the cruelty of her step-sisters. She offers them oranges at the ball and yearns for their friendship. In the end, she forgives them their cruelty and finds husbands for both of her sisters.

Bigfoot Cinderrrrrella
This is an incredibly fun take on the Cinderella story. The Bigfoot prince is a nature lover looking for a bride. All of the female bigfoots want to win his love, but it is Rrrrella, with her big feet, ability to knock him off a log, and hatred of wearing flowers that wins his love. A completely unexpected twist on the old classic.

Adelita – A Mexian Cinderella Story
adelita spreadTomie dePaola’s imaginative retelling is absolutely beautiful. No princesses, no fairies, no magic other than love. In this tale, Adelita’s mother dies early on, but her nanny Esperenza helps raise her. Her father remarries a cold woman who of course gets worse after Adelita’s father dies. Adelita spends her time in the kitchen to be near Esperenza and bask in her love, until Doña Micaela sends Esperenza away. When the family is invited to a party and Adelita is left home, Esperenza swoops in like the fairy godmother. When Adelita goes to the party, she asks to be called Cinderella. The young man of course falls in love with her and the book ends with a happy ending. The magic to me was how real the story felt. The splashes of Spanish and the sheer simplicity in the story are charming. My 6 year old also loved it, even though my 3 year old still prefers the Disney version.

The Orphan – A Cinderella story from Greece
orphan insideThis is not the Greek version, per se. The author’s note says that it is inspired by 2 Greek versions. In this tale, they are paying homage to the original notion of Cinderella going to a second ball and losing her glass slipper there, however, instead of a ball, everyone tries to gain the prince’s favor at a church service. The authors also note that they had their Cinderella “step out of the traditional role in which she waits patiently for her prince.” Rather than wait in the cinders, she heeds the words of her dead mother and gets herself to the church to meet the prince. An interesting take on the classic tale and a nice look at Greek culture.

Gospel Cinderella
Joyce Carol Thomas creates a completely different take on the classic tale in this version. Here, Cinderella is separated from her mother, Queen Mother Rhythm, after a hurricane and is taken in by the mean Crooked Foster Mother who wants a kitchen hand. Years later, the Great Gospel Choir is looking for a new lead singer. Cinderella has her mother’s voice, but of course is not allowed to audition. She is drawn to the gospel convention anyway and wows everyone, then disappears. In the end, she is found and reunited with her mother. A beautiful story that portrays the importance of gospel and music in the African American community.

Ella’s Big Chance
ella spreadShirley Hughes transforms the Cinderella story with the glamour of the jazz age. Ella Cinders is a top-notch dress maker in her father’s shop. Her father remarries a woman who changes everything at the shop making Ella’s life much harder. The only source of happiness in her life is her friendship with Buttons, the loyal delivery boy at the shop, who would sing songs and dance with Ella to remind them of happier times. Ella manages to go to a special party where she meets the Duke and he falls in love with her. The awesome twist is that Ella realizes that she doesn’t love the fancy Duke, but rather, her heart belongs to Buttons, her long-time friend and confidant. There is something completely charming about the fact that Ella doesn’t feel the need to run away with the prince/duke. Life isn’t about riches but instead about finding true happiness.

Yeh-Shen – A Cinderella story from China
This Chinese version of Cinderella pre-dates the European version we are so familiar with by about 1000 years. In this story, Yeh-Shen’s father had two wives who each bore a daughter, but Yeh-Shen’s mother dies when she is very young. The only friend that Yeh-Shen has is a fish that she caught and raised. Her step-mother kills the fish and cooks it for dinner. A spirit tells Yeh-Shen that there is power in the bones of the fish and it helps to keep her alive. When the spring festival comes, where Chinese go in hopes to find a husband or wife, Yeh-Shen is not allowed to go, but she asks the bones to help her borrow clothes fit to wear to the feast. She is given a beautiful dress and woven shoes and told not to lose the shoes. As she is leaving the party, since her sister found her familiar looking, she accidentally loses a slipper. The King gets hold of her second shoe and looks for its owner. Yeh-Shen gets the shoe back late at night when no one can see her and the King is entranced by her beauty. When she put both shoes on, she was once again transformed into the outfit she wore to the party. The King falls in love and they are married. It is very interesting to read a story so similar to our traditional Cinderella story.

Kongi and Potgi – A Cinderella story from Korea
kongi insideOki Han tells the story of Cinderella as her father told her as a child in Seoul, Korea. In this story, Kongi and Potgi are step-sisters. Kongi is treated poorly and made to do harder work while Potgi gets the soft bed and simpler tasks. Even though Kongi has to do more work, she never has a bad word to say about her step-mother or sister and when it seems a task is insurmountable, the animals always seem to lend her a hand. When a party was to be held for the prince to find a bride, Kongi’s step-mother tried to give her a task that could never be done in time. Thanks to birds who came to help and angels who gave her beautiful clothes, Kongi was able to go. The story ends with Kongi becoming Queen and even her step-mother and step-sister changing their ways and helping others. Both J and I really enjoyed this story. She liked the notion of it being similar to the original story but Kongi only having one sister. I like the fact that it is Kongi’s kindness that brings out the kindness in the animals. This is also one of the rare stories that doesn’t have both of Cinderella’s parents die. The illustrations and depictions of the Korean way of life are also wonderful.

Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal – A Worldwide Cinderella
world singleThis book is amazing and the inside front cover puts it perfectly – “Once upon a time in Mexico…in Iran…in Ireland…in Zimbabwe…There lived a girl who worked all day in the rice fields…cooked in the royal kitchen…tended the cattle…then spent the night by the hearth, sleeping among the cinders. Her story has spanned centuries and continents, changing to match its surrounds.” This book manages to tell the Cinderella story from a variety of perspectives, each page showing what country the story is from, some pages going back and forth between different countries to show how the same story changes slightly from place to place – “And on the girl’s feet appeared a pair of glass slippers (France)…diamond anklets (India)…sandals of gold (Iraq).” This is a must read for all lovers of the Cinderella story.

worldwide spread

Fascinated with Frozen

Both of my girls are obsessed with Frozen. We saw the movie over Thanksgiving weekend and it has been three weeks of non-stop Frozen in this house since then. I know this doesn’t seem like something to discuss on a blog about books, but go with me on this.

The story, if you somehow missed it, is loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen.  The official synopsis says “When a prophecy traps a kingdom in eternal winter, Anna, a fearless optimist, teams up with extreme mountain man Kristoff and his sidekick reindeer Sven on an epic journey to find Anna’s sister Elsa, the Snow Queen, and put an end to her icy spell. Encountering mystical trolls, a funny snowman named Olaf, Everest-like extremes and magic at every turn, Anna and Kristoff battle the elements in a race to save the kingdom from destruction.”

By now, everyone is talking about the movie, so I shouldn’t be giving anything away when I say that it is a change for Disney to have made a movie that focuses on the power of the love of two sisters. So as a mom of two girls, I love to see my girls so infatuated with this movie and sharing the experience with each other. We have the full CD and it gets played over and over and over again – actually, they each have a copy burned and it is what is listened to every night at bedtime.  This past weekend found the two of them “rehearsing” the story and then acting it out with costumes and everything. In the same way that the sisters Anna and Elsa are kept apart from each other at the beginning of the movie, Frozen has in some ways brought my girls even closer together.

It doesn’t surprise me that my book obsessed girls are also obsessed with the books that go along with Frozen. E got a copy of the story with CD for Hanukkah and it is a great option, especially for little ones who enjoy listening to their stories on CD, which is her current favorite thing. We have also purchased the large Golden Book, which is miles better than the small Golden book and completely worth the $9. It tells the whole story rather than a very condensed version.

While those are the only books we currently own, we have  spent enough time in the local bookstores reading all of the other books that I feel pretty comfortable highlighting a few of those as well. There is a book that is  “2 books in 1” – each book goes until the center staple and it comes with stickers. The stories are incredibly shortened and told from the point of view of each girl, but it completely captivates E and I am asked to read it whenever she can get her hands on it.

There are a ton of step into reading books and a junior novelization to encourage readers to pick up a book on a familiar topic. We don’t need to buy any of those since J isn’t a reluctant reader, but they are a great thing to have and marvelous for emerging readers. We might find ourselves purchasing the Essential Guide put out by DK as we have enjoyed other versions of those in the past.

Finally, what is interesting about a story like this is that it can also encourage kids to read the original Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale which inspired not only Frozen, but The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the more recent story Breadcrumbs, and countless others. We have a book of Hans Christian Anderson stories as they were originally written, but this particular story is the longest that he wrote and very hard to follow in the original version. We came home from the movie and immediately looked at it, but there was no way for my 6 year old to grasp it.

That doesn’t mean that reading the original is out of the question.  In looking around, there seems to be a beautiful version by Barefoot Books that comes with a CD or as a paperback confident reader.

It is wonderful when a modern take on a story can help encourage a child to go back to the original and the fairy tales that have served as inspiration for so many years are always worth revisiting.