Hours and hours in the car on summer vacation leads to a lot of good reading time for the young one. We found a new series before hitting the road that J has just been devouring – The Grimmtastic Girls.
We saw these books when wandering the aisles of a Barnes & Noble. Total tangent here, but this is why it is so sad that books stores are failing. You find new books by just wandering. I love my little local book store, but it can’t compare to a store with more room to house a wider selection of books. Okay, I digress. These books are written by Joan Holub of the Goddess Girls series, which actually made me have to think about whether or not J could read them. I am not a fan of the Goddess Girls books. I started reading the first book in the series and was put off by the writing, the pettiness, and the sheer brainless conversation. In looking at Wikipedia, I see now that the first book was written in 2003 and the later books were not written until 2010, so perhaps they improve greatly – they get good reviews from people I trust, so I do need to give them a better chance. For now, the Grimmtastic Girls series seems like a better group of books and so far J has inhaled the first two.
The concept behind this series is that the characters live in Grimmlandia and attend the prestigious Grimm Academy. We first meet Cinda on her first day of school where her step-sisters, “the steps,” try to make her life miserable by not informing her about rules at the school, give her bad information, and yet want her to cozy up to the new Prince so that he dances with them at the upcoming ball. Luckily, Cinda befriends Red, Rapunzel and Snow White and together they maneuver the school.
J laughs out loud when she reads these books. She feels connected to the characters and has already decided that she is most like Red who has a love of acting. The books take a start from the classic fairy tales, but they are definite retellings and the characters have unique characteristic traits. Cinda is a tomboy who hates dancing and loves sports. She signs up for balls class because her step-sisters have convinced her that it is the equivalent of gym. Red is a girl born to act who unfortunately has a bade case of stage freight. Red also has a bad sense of direction and a crush on a boy named Wolfgang who just might be a member of the E.V.I.L. society.
These are a fun read for a young reader 2nd grade and up.
Summer is upon us and that means that it is time to find ways to keep kids engaged with their books and reading. Getting J to read isn’t a problem, but I would like to find ways to spice it up for the summer. I also really want to encourage her to keep writing about what she reads. She loves a good challenge and she also loves this blog, so my mind has started to churn.
One big way to make summer reading fun is to make sure that all of her friends are reading and perhaps even taking some cues from the books that she loves. J always enjoys sharing her books with her friends, although her reading level can at times make this challenging. J often talks about being a teacher, so we will be working on our summer reading list for her friends. I’m hoping to get her to write a line or two about each book and why she liked it.
There are a slew of summer reading challenges out there. One big thing that tends to get focused on is reading for a certain amount of time each day. As I said, this is not an issue for us, since I often have to tell her to stop reading and go outside, but I thought it would be fun to join in. Our local library has a wonderful program that encourages reading and coming to great programs at the library. I tried doing the program last year, but struggled with recording the minutes that she read. I just signed her up (locals go to http://tinyurl.com/spplsrp to sign up!) with a goal of 1500 minutes. I have no idea if that is high or low. I figured that it is 13 weeks and it seemed like a nice round number. We also joined Scholastic’s reading program which has a reading timer app that I installed on J’s iPad. The program at our library allows kids to earn “book bucks” as they read and the more they read, the bigger the prizes they can receive at the end of summer. We will get additional bucks for coming to some awesome programs that the library is having over the summer kicking off with a Mad Scientist Lab. It’s already on my calendar!J is super excited for some books that we are going to be reading this summer. Until we get our book list going, here is her list of summer reads….
1. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – I’ve made her wait months before she could move on to book 5 in this series. Given that this book is 870 pages, it might actually take us a little time to get through it!
2. Wednesdays at the Tower (Castle Glower #2) – we both loved Tuesdays at the Castle. This series features an incredibly strong female lead and her siblings who are sworn to protect the castle that they live in. The castle just happens to also be alive and adds something to the building every Tuesday. The first book finds them fighting against an outside presence that wants to take over the castle. In the second book, the castle is hiding some new secret.
3. A Grimm Warning (The Land of Stories #3) – This series by Chris Colfer has become one of our definite favorites that we recommend to EVERYONE! Seriously, girl or boy, adult or child, this is a great series. Who knows what new test the Bailey twins will come up against in this installment.
4. Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot – A friend recommended this book series so I went ahead and bought the boxed set of the first 4 books. The series looks sweet and I think J will enjoy it.
5. Rosemary in Paris (The Hourglass Adventures #2) – We just finished book #1 in this series where a 10 year old girl travels back in time and meets a 10 year old relative. The books are a nice melding of adventure, travel and brain teasers as Rosemary Rita solves various problems and puzzles.
That’s our jumping off point. What summer books are you planning on reading?
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.
I haven’t been posting much recently because J has gotten sucked into the world of Harry Potter. I encouraged her to start reading book 1 with me just after Halloween to try something outside of her normal style and she just finished book 2 tonight. What started as me doing most of the reading, and her re-reading parts because she is just that way, has turned into her doing most of the reading on her own. That reminded me that some time ago I wrote a post on chapter books about princesses, fairies and other magical beings with the plan of writing other lists of chapter-style books. I’m back on it with a list of great classics that younger readers can really enjoy.
The Wizard of Oz (L. Frank Baum) – Who doesn’t love this story? When J first read this, it was a classic illustrated version that was a wordy picture book. Then she saw the movie and we moved on to the Great Illustrated Classics version. After reading that at least 5 times, she moved on to the complete Oz series and has read the first 5 books. This is a great book for stepping it up to the next level since the story is so familiar.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl) – This was one of our earlier “advanced” books that J got truly excited about. Dahl speaks to young children and the story simply moves along keeping them engaged and excited. The characters are more caricatures and yet somehow relatable.
Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White) – I can’t believe I haven’t written about this yet! We absolutely loved reading this book. Charlotte’s Web actually might have been our first classic chapter book that we read and was J’s favorite book for months at the beginning of kindergarten. This is beyond a doubt one of the best books written. I’m not sure how deeply J understood this book, but deep down this is a story about friendship, loyalty and self-sacrifice. I think that she gets that even if she doesn’t understand that she gets it. It will be interesting when she reads it again at a slightly older age. Regardless, this is a good book for growing readers.
The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett) – I encouraged J to read this book because she was in the play, so it is hard for me to truly say what the best age for this is, but if you get your hands on an illustrated classics version (B&N sells some great ones), then it is an awesome way to read a classic. The book is about kids navigating difficult situations, so while kids won’t necessarily understand all of the deeper meaning, they will get the story.
The Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis) – J only just started reading The Magician’s Nephew and we didn’t start it together, but a close friend read this with her 1st grade son and they loved it. I think the Narnia books are a great series for young readers because, again, the main characters are their age, are full of curiosity, and they make mistakes based on their limited knowledge and naivety. If I can get J to put the Harry Potter books down for a moment, perhaps we can read this one together too.
The Littles (John Lawrence Patterson) – This is a much forgotten book that I am singlehandedly trying to get back into the hands of young readers and which apparently has other books in the series. One of our Hanukkah books made me remember this story and J has really enjoyed reading it. The concept is that the Littles family lives within the walls of the Bigg family and in return for providing them with everything they need, they make sure that everything in the Bigg house runs smoothly. Almost like elves, but with tails. When the Biggs go away for the summer, another family moves in and brings a cat along with them – “how will this little family get out of big trouble?” Another great book that moves away from fairies and princesses, but still encourages the young imagination.
James and the Giant Peach (Roald Dahl) – I remember loving this book as a child. While J hasn’t read it yet, it is on our list of books that we want to read and a classic story that I think younger readers will enjoy. Once you get past the ludicrous and cruel start of this book – a child’s parents are killed by a rhinoceros and he goes to live with two horrible aunts who beat him and don’t feed him properly – the magic takes hold as James goes on the adventure of his life. A classic tale for the independent spirit.
Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery) – I just purchased a classic starts version of this book as I believe we are about ready to read it. The story is of Anne–a talkative, dreamy, red-haired, freckle-faced 11-year-old orphaned little girl who transforms her adoptive family’s life forever and fills it with love and joy. If we do well with this, Amazon was recently selling the complete series on the kindle (the original version, not the classic starts) for free so I downloaded that just in case.
Harry Potter – I realize this isn’t officially a classic, but it is going to be considered one and it fit well on this list for me. J has absolutely loved this series so far. I’ve had to explain some things to her, but all in all, she is comprehending the story. During the first book, the thing she had the most difficulty with was the fact that Draco Malfoy was a bully and no one stopped him. As we move into book 3, I am starting to have concerns about her age and the content, so we are proceeding with caution. It makes a book loving mom’s heart sing to see the excitement she gets from this book. At the moment, she is planning to have a Harry Potter birthday and dress up as Hermione for Halloween next year. This of course changes on a daily basis, but it shows the love she feels. She is also already heart-broken by the fact that there are only 7 books. It is awesome to see her get sucked in to this series that I myself love so much.
There are of course tons of other great books, but this is our current starting point.
Classics are marvelous because they have withstood the test of time. Not every book can manage to resonate as the years go by, but those that do are often pretty darn amazing. Of course there are many beloved classic picture books, but my heart swells when J and I are able to enjoy a more grown-up classic together. One way that we have been able to do this is through outstanding adaptations like Great Illustrated Classics and Great Classics For Children, among others. We enjoyed a version of The Wizard of Oz many times this way before J moved on to the complete works as written by L. Frank Baum and recently, we fell in love with The Secret Garden.
A few weeks ago, J was in a local production of The Secret Garden, put on by the absolutely awesome Missoula Children’s Theater. I had seen the movie years ago, but honestly I couldn’t remember much of the story myself except that it was somewhat dark. I knew that J was going to be excited to be in a play, let alone a musical, but I also wanted her to be excited by the story. I was thrilled to find a great adaptation of the story at our library and the two of us dug right in during our bedtime reading.
The story is rather deep for a 6 year old to fully comprehend, but even on our first go round, she enjoyed the story immensely. The thing about these adaptations is that they understand their audience and abridge the stories in such a way that kids can understand the plot without getting weighed down by too many details. It is important to cut down a bit on the length to make the books more accessible to younger readers – 178 large print pages with illustrations versus nearly 300. The only downside to the version that we read was that Martha, Dickon and Ben spoke with many thou’s and thy’s, but by her second reading, J didn’t even mind those.
The story itself, in case you have forgotten as well, is that young Mary Lennox is orphaned in India when her parents die of Cholera. No one even realized that she survived the horrible sickness that spread through their home. She is sent to England to live with her reclusive uncle, Archibald Craven. Mary goes from being fully dependent on servants to do everything for her, including getting her dressed and keeping her entertained, to being expected to take care of herself and keep herself occupied without messing up the house. Her maid-servant, Martha, tells her of a garden that had once belonged to Mrs. Craven who had died ten years earlier. Mary strolls the grounds trying to find this hidden space. With the help of a robin, Mary discovers the garden. The garden is like her, abandoned and unloved, and she takes it upon herself to bring it back to life. She goes from being a sullen, sickly little girl to one teeming with life.
At the same time, she discovers another secret to the Craven household – sickly young Colin Craven. She hears his moans throughout the house and wonders what could be making those sounds. Colin suffers from some un-named ailment and everyone tells him that he might be humpbacked. He is confined to his bed and never gets to see the light of day or have any visitors. When Mary finds him, they are able to see similarities in each other and wind up enjoying each other’s company. Mary doesn’t put up with his princely ways and instead starts to tell him of the outside world encouraging him to leave his room. When he finally does, the fresh air and friendship help heal him the same way that they have healed Mary. Colin, Mary, Martha, and Dickon conspire to keep Colin’s improving health from the house staff until his father returns and can see it himself. All Colin really wants is the love of his father and his father has been convinced that Colin is sickly that he fears allowing himself to love and lose another. The garden and Mary manage to heal father and son.
The book is marvelous. Reading it definitely helped J for the play, even as simplified as the play was. Reading classics like these with multitudes of layers of meaning is important for growing minds. It’s great that J can read books with a voracious appetite, but fairies and princesses only get you so far. Even the awesome Magic Treehouse books she loves don’t manage to carry the meaty lessons these classics do. I will definitely be on the lookout for other great illustrated classics.
And just because I’m also a proud momma, here is a short clip from the performance. J is one of the plants in the secret garden and is the plant on the left. The garden appeared multiple times in the performance urging Mary to come take care of them.
Maybe a month ago, I picked up a book at the local library for J that I had heard about from a friend. It was the second book in a series, but the only one that was available. The book? Whatever After – If the Shoe Fits. We starting reading the beginning of the together and J instantly loved it. Even I thought it was pretty fun. We wanted to read the rest of the series, but the libraries here only have book #2 and none of the bookstores carry the series. I was going to buy them all through Amazon, but thanks to the Scholastic book club, they will all be in our hands in a week or so at a great price.
The premise of the series is that 10 year old Abby and her 7 year old brother Jonah get magically transported inside fairy tales through a magic mirror in their basement. In the first book, they apparently stop Snow White from eating the poisoned apple but then realize that without that, she never meets her prince, never falls in love and doesn’t live happily ever after. So with book #2, when they wind up in Cinderella’s story, they vow to not keep her from meeting and marrying the prince. However, just by being in the story, they have altered it and have to work to keep the ending correct. Book #3 takes place in The Little Mermaid and book #4 is Sleeping Beauty. Book 4 technically doesn’t come out until the end of November, but the Scholastic website doesn’t mention that, so who knows when we’ll see that one.
Scholastic has these marked as for grades 3-5. I don’t get it. J loved this book and is drooling over the other 3. Every day she asks when they are getting here. They are slightly longer at about 176 pages, but the stories are still pretty light. Plus, we heard about them from a friend whose daughter has just started 2nd grade and she and her friends read them for their own book club. There has been some talk about why we need to separate books so much by grade and reading level. Either kids like the book or they don’t. Either they can read it, or it is too hard for them.
Anyway, I would highly recommend this series for young girls. Below is also the book trailer, the newest craze in the book world.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. A perennial favorite. I grew up in the 1980s and the Gene Wilder movie version (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) was something that I remember with great fondness. But you know what? I never read the book until a few months ago when I decided that J might enjoy it if we read it together. Turns out that we both loved it!
As a child, I did not read much by Dahl. I do remember reading and loving James and the Giant Peach, but that is about it. Regardless, in an effort to let J see a wider variety of the types of books out there, I hit upon this.
Everyone knows the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Young Charlie Bucket is very poor and when Willy Wonka runs a contest to actually get to see the chocolate factory that he walks by every day, he of course wants to win. Charlie miraculously gets the final of 5 golden tickets and takes his grandfather to the factory with him. The 4 other children are devious, self-serving children that are caricatures of some of the awful behavior that we often see in children – Augustus Gloop (gluttony), Veruca Salt (greed), Violet Beauregarde (the need to always be first), and Mike Teavee (addicted to television).
I think this book stood out for us because it was just so different. The characters were larger than life and easy to understand – even a 6 year old gets that Veruca Salt is a spoiled brat. The scenes were also so full of imagery that it truly was as if Dahl was painting the scene for you. J loved to sing the oompa loompa songs, or poems as it were in the book, which made our readings rather entertaining. The songs themselves actually got incredibly long and could be didactic at times.
Normally when I read to J at night we either read 2 picture books or 2 chapters from a chapter book. We would get to the end of a chapter and she would beg me to read more. She read the entire book herself, but I think she enjoyed our nightly readings of it together as much as I did. She was even more thrilled when we found an old copy of the book that once belong to her uncle and is now hers.
For me, it was so interesting to see how the book differed from the movie. I thought that they were both fabulous in very different ways. What shocked me was to find how much Roald Dahl hated the Gene Wilder version of the the film. According to Wikipedia:
Roald Dahl disowned the film, the script of which was rewritten by David Seltzer, after Dahl failed to meet deadlines. Dahl said he was “disappointed” because “he thought it placed too much emphasis on Willy Wonka and not enough on Charlie,” as well as the non-casting of Milligan. He was also “infuriated” by the deviations in the plot Seltzer devised in his draft of the screenplay, including the conversion of Slugworth into a spy and the “belching” scene.
J hasn’t seen the movie yet, but I think that one of these days we’ll find a copy of it for her – the original, not the Johnny Depp version. I also might have to buy the CD 🙂
According to Scholastic.com, here is how they show reading level:
Interest Level – Grade 4-6 (younger kids will love it too)
Lexile – 810
Reading Level – 5.9
Guided Reading Level – R
The Wizard of Oz is one of those stories that I hold near and dear to my heart. J has had a strong love of the story for a few years now, even going as far as having a Wizard of Oz themed birthday party when she turned 5. But her love of the story and the characters did not start with the movie, it started with the books.
When J was about 4 1/2 I had to take her to the doctor’s office one night. I happened to bring an illustrated version of the story that I had picked up at a used book store. I wasn’t sure is J was old enough to enjoy the story, but she instantly took to it. She read that book multiple times over the next few days.
Somewhere around this time we also had a 6 hour car ride ahead of us and I let her watch the film for the first time (which had been a gift to me when I left NYC for Kansas). I thought that she might be afraid of certain scenes, but again, no problem. She LOVED it.
The wonderful thing about the Wizard of Oz is that there are marvelous renditions of the story that are appropriate for developing readers. The version that we first read is 48 pages. It has lush illustrations but a lot of text.
The story stays very true to the original – silver shoes instead of ruby, Dorothy is protected by a kiss from the Good Witch of the North, there is a whole lot more traveling that needs to be done to get to Emerald City, they had to wear green glasses within Emerald City, and she has to travel to meet Glinda, the Good Witch of the South in order to return to Kansas and meets additional people on the way.
We have also read and re-read a wonderful version that is part of the series “Great Illustrated Classics.” The book is 240 pages and yet J has checked this out of the library more times that I can remember.
This story is timeless. Both J and her 2 1/2 year old sister sing the songs to the movie at the top of their lungs. We have actually put on the play in our living room and just this past weekend while on vacation in the mountains. I even started her love of Michael Jackson with getting her hooked on the music from “The Wiz.”
As a mom, I love some of the messages that are subtly told through this story. Dorothy always had the power to take herself home. You might think that you aren’t smart or courageous, but you have more strength within then you know. The love of family is a bond that cannot be broken. And trusting in your friends and friendship itself can make all of the difference in the world.
I grew up loving all of the other books in the series and even saw the not very good “Return to Oz” a number of times. I’m not sure when I will introduce the other books, I honestly want to take a look at them first.
Who doesn’t love Oz?
When I was a kid, I LOVED the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series. I have no concept of when I read them, but recall thinking that the concept was so much fun. In these books, you are part of the story. The stories are written in the second person and the reader gets to take on a role in the book. As you read through the book, you follow directions at the bottom of each page about where to go next and from time to time you make a decision based on two choices.
Honestly, I hadn’t thought much about them for my own little reader. I somehow assumed that the old books would still be out there, but hadn’t checked into it yet. As it turns out, in 2005 one of the authors of many of the books, R.A. Montgomery, started his own publishing company to reprint these old books – with some updated editing and artwork. Thanks to a good friend and fellow book addict, we borrowed one of these books and quickly ordered the first four to have in our own collection.
Each book starts out the same, with this warning to grab a kid’s attention:
This book is different from other books.
You and YOU ALONE are in charge of what happens in this story.
There are dangers, choices, adventures, and consequences. YOU must use all of your numerous talents and much of your enormous intelligence. The wrong decision could end in disaster – even death. But, don’t despair. At any time, YOU can go back and make another choice, alter the path of your story, and change its result.
What kid doesn’t like to be in control? My daughter definitely loves it and J thinks these books are awesome. I was a little concerned since the one we got our hands on was Secret of the Ninja, which isn’t exactly her favorite subject, but once she started playing around with the concept and realized that she was a part of the story, she was hooked. I think she read that one book about 5 times in one day, each time getting a different ending. She read it to me repeatedly so that I could make the decisions about where we should go. She read it to her father. She almost read it to her uncle via skype!
I love that she is excited by this series. They say that the books are for kids age 9 and up, but for most 6 year olds you could read it with them and they would get it. It always offers great opportunities to explain things that they don’t understand.
There is also a series within Choose Your Own Adventure called Dragonlark which is aimed at younger readers. They actually look pretty cool too, but I haven’t actually gotten my hands on one yet.