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Author/Illustrator Spotlight::Robert McCloskey

I’m probably coming a little late to the party for this particular author and illustrator, but my only exposure to him as a child that I recall is Make Way for Ducklings.  It is certainly a charming book in its own right (not to mention that it’s a Caldecott Medal winner!), but I must’ve been a little too old (or something?) for it to make a huge impression on me.  (Either that, or now I’m reverting back to my second childhood.)  When I discovered One Morning in Maine, I positively fell in love.  I’m not sure what it is about this book–the relationship we’ve already established with the younger Sal through Blueberries for Sal, the fact that my girls are just about the age that Sal is in One Morning in Maine, or just the simple fact that this somewhat lengthy picture book has so many interesting details about life in coastal Maine.  (An island, even!) Sal’s delight over losing a tooth; her consternation over losing (as in misplacing) that tooth while going clam digging with her father; and her fastidious care for her little sister while they travel by boat across the bay to do some shopping are just perfect–McCloskey really nailed the age, I think.   This one’s definitely going on my Best Picture Books list.

I was interested to note that McCloskey only wrote eight books.  To quote Eleanor Blau, the author of McCloskey’s NY Times obituary, “It had to be right, and it often was.”  My girls and I have also enjoyed Time of Wonder, another book for which McCloskey won the Caldecott Medal.  It didn’t grab me quite as much as One Morning in Maine, but it also doesn’t have such an endearing heroine.  I also think I prefer the black-and-white illustrations of his earlier works over the color ones in Time of Wonder.

I would really like to read McCloskey’s Homer Price and its sequel, Centerburg Tales: More Adventures of Homer Price.  His obituary states that these are full of tall tales; I’m not sure if this means they are tall tales or if they contain tall tales.  Something I’ve read before about them makes me think the latter.  Has anyone read these?

If you haven’t introduced your children to the wonder of Robert McCloskey, don’t wait.  I’m planning to “Row” Lentil some time this spring.  I can’t wait!  (For more on Lentil, check out Lisa’s post.)


Read Aloud Thursday


This week we’ve hit the jackpot with some good read-alouds–so many that I’m having to ration them for various blog posts.  🙂  That’s a good problem to have, though, right?

I am never “up” on new books, mainly because I just browse at the library and find most of our good books serendipitously.  Even after reading this post over at Brimful Curiosities, I mostly just thought it would be nice to happen upon the new Caldecott Medal winner one day.  Well, I was following my usual protocol at the library last week when I happened to see that beautiful bookcover staring back at me from a display shelf, smack by the library’s front door.  It was meant to be!  Jerry Pinkney’s The Lion & the Mouse is everything a wordless picture book should be.  (Keep in mind that I usually don’t even like wordless picture books.)  First of all, the story is familiar enough that we didn’t lose the narrative in the middle of deciphering the pictures.  Second, the illustrations themselves do a great job of carrying the story–there aren’t any gaps.  Third, well, it’s by Jerry Pinkney–need I say more?  (We’ve enjoyed his work before.)  Fourth, it isn’t truly, completely wordless–there are lots of onomatopoeic animal sounds in the book–all done up in large, illustrative type, which is perfect for a beginning reader.  I’d love to add this one to our collection.  I think I’m beginning to appreciate wordless picture books more.  🙂
Maybe I should’ve called this edition of Read Aloud Thursday the fable/folktale edition; this next book is a retelling of a familiar folktale.  Out of the Egg by Tina Matthews is sort of a fractured version of “The Little Red Hen.”  Actually, I think I’d call it a redeemed version, not a fractured version.  The story goes along predictably until the Little Red Hen lays a perfect, white egg.  Out of this perfect, white egg comes the cutest little red chick.  The little red chick then has the opportunity the undo some of the selfishness of the past. . . Okay, this sounds way too serious–it’s really a great little picture book, and I know we could pull all sorts of lessons out of it.  What I really want to highlight, though, are the pictures!  With a palette of only four colors, Tina Matthews showcases the woodblock print technique beautifully.  The reds and greens are surprising against the stark black and white backgrounds, which is perfect for this tale that ends in a surprising way.  Highly Recommended!

Okay, maybe this post is more about beautiful illustrations than anything this week.  😉  I saw Uri Shulevitz‘s Snow on display at the library and picked it up despite the fact that we had already finished our study of all things snowy.  I’m really glad I went ahead and picked this one up, though.  The story is rather sparse, actually–a little boy is excited because it is snowing.  No one he encounters, though, will admit that it might actually snow more than a flake or two or share in his excitement.  Even the weather forecasters side against him, but thankfully, “snowflakes don’t listen to radio” and “snowflakes don’t watch television.”  The story ends with some fantastical elements–a Mother Goose and nursery rhyme characters literally come off of a bookstore sign and frolic in the snow with the believing boy.  What this book is really all about to me, though, is the pictures.  (It turns out that Uri Shulevitz won a Caldecott honor for this book the same year Snowflake Bentley won the Medal.)   You can tell by the cover illustration that gray figures heavily into the color scheme, which is entirely appropriate for a snowy day.  I love the way the artist emphasizes the strengthening of the snowstorm as the book progresses.  On one of the first illustrations, there is just that one snowflake, a mere dot of white on a gray field of sky.  We found it to be surprising and delightful.  I’d definitely add this one to my winter book collection!

Oh, I’m just basking in the joy that is beautifully written and even more beautifully illustrated picture books!  What a privilege it is to share these with my children!  🙂

Would you like to share your joy at your family’s read-alouds? (Or even perhaps steer others away from certain books?)  Simply write up your own Read Aloud Thursday blog post and link it up below.  If you don’t blog, simply leave a comment!

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Friday’s Vintage Find::The Big Snow by Berta and Elmer Hader

Just in case I haven’t shared enough books about show this week, I thought I’d share one more.  (You can read my other posts here and here.)  😉  The Big Snow by Berta and Elmer Hader was published in 1948 and won the 1949 Caldecott Medal.  (Newsflash:  I just realized that I usually refer to this as the Caldecott Award, when its title is actually the Caldecott Medal.  I stand corrected.)  This book is as deserving of this medal as any I’ve seen; reading this book is like looking through an artist’s nature sketchbook.  The illustrations alternate between color and black and white.  It’s very vintage-y, as one would expect from a book over fifty years old.  It was probably just that familiar musty smell, but our borrowed library copy reminds me of something (old encyclopedias, I think) that I used to read at my grandparents’ house.  The story itself is very simple–a huge variety of animals get ready for a big snow.  In the end, many of them depend on humans to feed them.  Reading this book made me want to get out in the freezing (for Alabama, anyway) cold weather and finally put up those bird feeders we bought back in October. 

I give this one a Highly Recommended.

Read Aloud Thursday::Katy and the Big Snow Go-Alongs

I generally prefer for my Read Aloud Thursday posts to be all nice and random, but life, with all its requisite nightly activities, has begun in earnest at the House of Hope this week.  The girls have resumed their music classes, and I, alas, must hie me to the local community college twice weekly for instructing students in reading skills.  (Appropriate, huh?)  I wanted to make the books we’ve enjoyed as a part of our Five in a Row unit on Katy and the Big Snow all its own post, but I’m killing two birds with one stone here for sake of time.

I’ve highlighted Ezra Jack Keats before here at Hope Is the Word, but I only mentioned The Snowy Day briefly in that post.  However, no sharing of books about snow would be complete without this Caldecott Award-winning book!  The Snowy Day is about Keats’ most famous (only?) character, Peter, and the fun he has out-of-doors on an unexpected snowy day.  With simple, colorful illustrations and a story line that capitalizes on the fun even a city boy can have when his world turns white with snow, this is a perfect example of how good a simple picture book can be.  Highly, highly recommended, and I’m adding it to my Best Picture Books list to prove it!  🙂

This next one is pure silliness, but I like it.  There Was a Cold Lady Who Swallowed Some Snow! by Lucille Colandro is my favorite of the ones of read of her “Old Lady Who” series, and I’ll admit that it took a second reading for me to even get that in this book she isn’t the “old” lady, but the “cold” lady.  Cute, huh?  More perceptive readers than I will probably recognize what it is, exactly, that’s percolating in that cavernous stomach of hers (based on what she swallows), but I thought it was very clever.  My girls like this one a lot, too, and the illustrations by Jared Lee are just as appropriately colorful and silly.

I don’t usually like wordless picture books, but I do like Emily Arnold McCully’s illustrations (and her writing, too, for that matter), and this one works for us.   (Ironically enough, we inadvertently ended up with two McCully books from one library run, and they’ve both made Read Aloud Thursday!)  I’m beginning to suspect it’s because Louise is much more willing to narrate the story for us, and now that she’s old enough, Lulu’s predilections don’t have as much sway over what we read, etc.  Anyway, First Snow is a sweet, sweet picture book about a family of mice who take a day to go sledding, and one little girl mouse overcomes her fright of going down the big hill to have the best time of all.  One good thing about wordless picture books is that they force you to really stop and inspect each page.  I have such respect and admiration for children’s book illustrators that this is always a good thing for me.

This last book really deserves a post all its own, but as you know, I’m trying to kill the proverbial two (or three or four) birds with one stone here. 
I’ve been on a quest to purchase all of Robert Sabuda’s pop-up books ever since the fateful day I ran across his Narnia book at my local Tuesday Morning.  Since then we’ve added Peter Pan: A Classic Collectible Pop-Up, and just before Christmas I ran across a banged up copy of Winter’s Tale at T.J. Maxx.  I paid more than I should’ve for it, given its condition (some of the pop-ups are a little crumpled; some feature, I suspect musical, at the end of the book just doesn’t work), but I couldn’t resist.  I’d already given the book a place of honor on our shelf, next to our other pop-up titles, when I happened to remember it.  I’m so glad I did!  The girls really enjoyed this 3-D version of a world covered in snow, and we all marvelled at Sabuda’s ability to create such intricate likenesses of snow-bound creatures like an owl, a family of deer, and a moose.  This would make a great companion to any book that focuses on snow and its effects on the animal world.  One bonus for me was that since the book is already less-than-perfect, it was easier for me to give in and let the girls really look at it.  If you’re unfamiliar with Robert Sabuda, be sure to visit his website for a taste of what this amazing paper engineer has to offer.  You’ll be hooked, too!   🙂

One last title that I want to share in detail here is another Caldecott Award winner.  Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and illustrated by Mary Azarian actually appears in a later volume of Five in a Row (we’re currently in volume one), but I couldn’t resist sharing it with my girls this time through.  It is the true story of Wilson Bentley, a Vermont farmer whose passion in life was collecting and photographing snowflakes.  The story is all about his determination to follow his dream, despite the hard work and sacrifice.  My girls enjoyed this book tremendously, and while I didn’t read every detail about his life to them (there is more information in the “sidebars” of the story), they liked it enough to request it twice in a row.  The illustrations truly are worthy of their Caldecott distinction–woodcuts with watercolors–beautiful!  I’m pretty sure there’s no shortage of resources out there for this book, but I did want to link the Original Wilson Bentley images website for those of you who are unfamiliar with this remarkable story. 

We did read a few more titles, of course, which I’ll  list here:

Some other titles which we’ve read before would’ve made a great addition to this unit, if only I’d had the foresight to borrow them again from the library:

I had planned to read The Long Winter for our next chapter book selection (Louise having declared that she’s afraid of the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which was my other choice), but it turns out that I no longer own this book, or at least I can’t find it.  I settled on Farmer Boy instead; since it is set in New York, I figured that much of the book has to take place in a winter time decidedly more winter-ish than ours. 

I was inspired by Candace’s Winter Nature Study post at His Mercy Is New, also. 

Whew!  That’s an unusually long Read Aloud Thursday post, and if you’re still with me, thank you!  🙂  I actually have at least one more book to share, but it will wait for Friday since it’s actually a Vintage Find.  😉  I also hope to share some pictures of our lapbooks, but since we haven’t put them together, that will also have to wait for a future post.  Stay tuned!

What about your family?  Is it cold enough where you live for everyone to hunker down by the fireplace for some good, old-fashioned entertainment in the form of shared stories?  Please tell us about it by either leaving a comment or linking up you blog post below! 

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Read Aloud Thursday

Are you guys feeling the Christmas cheer through the books you’re enjoying together these days? We are, but it seems like our read-aloud time has been cut in half (or fourth, actually) due to various and sundry “must dos” that are always on the list.I have a neat anthology of Christmas stories called A Newbery Christmas that I picked up for a few dollars at my library’s used bookstore, but alas, we haven’t read the first story out of it.  It is a compilation of fourteen stories written by Newbery award-winning authors.  Some of the authors represented in this anthology include Eleanor Estes, E. L. Konigsburg, Madeleine L’Engle, Lois Lenski, and Beverly Cleary.  So why am I telling you about this, if we haven’t even cracked it open?  I don’t know.  Good intentions, maybe.  🙂

We have read and delighted in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, though.   Honestly, I would probably have waited until my girls are a little older to read this one aloud, but I had motivation this year:  my nephews are in a local theater production of this heartwarming story this week.  We went to the public performance on Sunday, and ‘though we hadn’t finished the book then, the looks on my girls’ faces were priceless:  They KNEW the Herdmans!  I find Barbara Robinson’s take on the Christmas story so poignant; of course I was teary-eyed and quavery-voiced by the end (my girls are used to this by now).  This is the bit that got me right in the heart:

But as far as I’m concerned, Mary is always going to look a lot like Imogene Herdman–sort of nervous and bewildered, but ready clobber anyone who laid a hand on her baby.  And the Wise Men are always going to be Leroy and his brothers, bearing ham. 

Even if you have no children with whom to share this story, read this one.  It’s good.

We revisited The Polar Express yesterday and enjoyed pulling out the paints and brushes for a little related art project.  There’s really not much for me to say about this picture book classic, so I won’t.  However, I will point you in the direction of a great resource book I’ve used a few times with my girls and expect to use even more as they get a little older.  It’s Storybook Art: Hands-On Art for Children in the Styles of 100 Great Picture Book Illustrators by MaryAnn F. Kohl and Jean Potter.  It contains art projects that mimic or somehow highlight the styles of art used by 100 picture book illustrators.  I’ve been completely enamored of this book since I’ve had it, and I’m really itching to be able to use it even more with my girls.

So how’s that for a Read Aloud Thursday post?  One book we haven’t actually read, one book we did read (but that I admit I would normally have put off for a few years), and one book we read but I only used to point you in the direction of an instructional book, of all things.  I’m sorry.  Once this holiday season is over, I plan to get back to my usual blathering on and on about how much I love this book and that one.  🙂

I do have one more little bit of business to take care of this Read Aloud Thursday!  A giveaway–from last week’s Read Aloud Thursday anniversary post!  Someone is going to have a great little  big anthology coming to her door. . . .



. . . and that someone is Stephanie, who commented

Every year I think of wrapping my books up for the girls and always remember a few days after the start of December. Maybe next year. I’m not sure I’ll get time to do a read-aloud post today … or pick a favorite Christmas book! I’m going to go with The Night Before Christmas because it’s a childhood favorite. If you asked my N2, she would pick The Grinch and if you asked N1, she “might” pick The Nutcracker because we are reading through it right now, but who knows?

Stephanie, I’ll be emailing you ASAP to get this wonderful collection on its merry way to your home!

So how about your family?  What are you reading together as Christmas nears?  Please leave a link to your blog entry below, or simply leave a comment.

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Oh, and one more thing:  there will be NO Read Aloud Thursday next week in honor of Christmas Eve, but Read Aloud Thursday will be back on December 31 with a special year-in-review edition.  Stay tuned!  🙂

Author/Illustrator Spotlight::Allen Say

Taking a cue from Stephanie, I decided that we would try to read our Five in a Row selections geographically–that is, read books set in the same part of the world together, rather than spreading them out over the year.  After reading (and loving!) Masako Matsuno’s A Pair of Red Clogs ( my thoughts here), we picked up Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say.  I feel like this Caldecott Award-winning book hardly needs an introduction .  It is the touching biographical sketch of Allen Say’s gradfather’s immigration to the United States as a young man and his eventual return to Japan as an old man.  It is all about discovering a new country and missing an old country.  It is about restlessness and wanderlust.  It makes me cry, and despite that, my girls love it.  🙂 

Even before we read Grandfather’s Journey, we had read several books about Japanese people assimilating into American culture.  The girls thought they were hilarious, and I really enjoyed reading them aloud.  What I didn’t realize, though, is that we would be gaining so much of Allen Say’s perspective either through his writing or his illustrations.  The one the girls loved most is How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina R. Friedman.  In this humorous story, a young girl explains how both chopsticks and knives and forks came to be the utensils of choice in her home.  It is the story of her Japanese mother and her American father, a sailor stationed in Yokohoma.  We read of the beginning of their romance, which is speeded along when her father learns his ship will be leaving in three weeks.  The young couple has enjoyed spending time together, but they have never eaten together due to their discomfort at each other’s manner of eating.  What follows is a story faintly remisicent of “The Gift of the Magi” in which each person sacrifices to learn the other’s traditions.  Allen Say‘s illustrations are recognizable in this story.  In fact, my girls were pretty sure that the young woman in How My Parents Learned to Eat is the same one in the next selection. . .

Tea with Milk by Allen Say might be subtitled “Mother’s Journey,” for it is the story of Allen Say’s mother, and while it is a continuation of the story begun in Grandfather’s Journey, in many ways these companion stories are opposites.  In this story, a young girl is born outside San Francisco and spends her youth there, until her Japanese father grows so homesick for Japan that he relocates his family there.  Masako cannot assimilate into life in Japan, and she eventually grows restless enough to move away from her parents’ village into the larger city of Osaka.  In Osaka she gains employment in a department store, and it is there that she eventually meets her future husband (the father of Allen Say).  Their meeting is through a unique turn of events that happens precisely because they both, though they are both Asian, speak English.

Allen Say is obviously both a talented author and illustrator.  His illustrations, particularly in his own books, are more portrait-like than most children’s book illustrations.  However, this style fits the tone and subject matter of his books very well.

We actually read another book which Allen Say illustrated, and I’m including it in this post even though it is a totally different type of book.  The Boy of the Three Year Nap by Dianne Snyder reads like a  Japanese folktale.  It is the story of a lazy boy named Taro who maneuvers to marry the daughter of a wealthy neighbor, but his exasperated mother turns the tables on him in order to teach him a lesson and win the girl.  Lulu thought this book was really funny–she really seemed to grasp what Taro was trying to do.  Louise, on the other hand, didn’t like this one as much.  She seemed a little frightened by the scary costume Taro dons when he dresses up as a village ujigami (god) to trick his neighbor.  Allen Say’s illustrations in this one are very colorful and humorous.  All of the characters are represented in a way which captures the emotion and humor in the story.

We read several other books in our study of Japan, but we didn’t really do anything other than read, talk, and look at Japan on the map.  (I hope to share about these books later.)  Oh, we also ate at a new Asian restaurant and tried our hand at using chopsticks, much to the amusement of our waiter.  We never did master it.  🙂


More Books Monday

I haven’t done a More Books Monday post in a while, mainly because these posts were adding to my TBR list at an alarming rate.  As slowly as I read, it will take me two years just to read the books I’ve acquired in the past couple of months.  And yet the list still grows. . .  🙂

However, this week’s More Books Monday is not about books I want to read.  Instead, I’m sharing about a couple of book finds I’ve happened across in the last month that I thought might help you all stretch your book/education/gift giving budgets just a bit. 

You all know how much I love my library, right?  I love, love, love it.  I don’t think I’ve mentioned before, though, that it took actually going to library school myself for me to realize that I didn’t have to buy every book I want–I can just check them out and let someone else keep them for me when I’m through.  That was a true epiphany, and one for which Steady Eddie is forever grateful. 

However, there are some books that we just need.  Since we are actively engaged in educating our children at home , I am always on the lookout for books on our list (i.e. Five in a Row titles, curriculum, etc.) wherever I go.  The girls and I went to Sam’s Club with my mom back last month, and if you know anything at all about Sam’s Club, you know they have a huge selection of books of all kinds.  I was really surprised, though, to find Bob Books sets there!  We already had Set 1, which I hate to admit we paid full price for at our local big box bookstore.  The sets I found at Sam’s are larger in size, and they are more of a kit–they include stickers, a door hanger, etc.  Best of all, though, they were only about $10 a set!  I couldn’t find an exact link on Amazon to share, but it might be worth a trip to Sam’s if you’re in need of some very basic phonics readers.

The other find happened just a couple of weekends ago.  Our Kohl’s department store has a display near the cash registers for their Kohl’s Cares for Kids merchandise.  I have found some great books there for $5 each.  In my world, this is a great price for a new book, not to mention the fact that these books are usually high quality literature.  Our latest purchases there were books by Steve Jenkins.  We’ve already enjoyed  What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? , so I knew we needed a copy of it for our own home library. We also purchased Biggest, Strongest, Fastest and Actual Size , and although we have yet to read these (I’m waiting for a serendipitous educational opportunity 😉 ), I’m pretty sure they’ll be winners, too.

I call that $15 well spent! 

Do you have any favorite, unexpected places to purchase books?  Do share!

Have a marvelous Monday!

Read Aloud Thursday


Do you guys ever find yourselves checking books out and realizing once you get home with them that they are a little on the young side for your children?  I did that on one of my recent trips to the library.  It seems that I cannot reconcile myself to the fact that I have a five year old and an almost four year old.  Where does the time go?  Sigh.

Even though my girls wanted to dismiss How Big Is a Pig as a baby book, they still sat through it and studied the illustrations, so I suppose this makes it appropriate for preschoolers down.  The concept behind this book, written and illustrated by Clare Beaton, is to set up contrasts between groups of farm animals.   Each page contains a rhyming couplet and ends with the question, “How big is a pig?”  This is a great preschool book because it offers ample opportunity to look at contrasts and to count animals, etc.  What I like most about this book, though, are the illustrations.  According to the publication information in the book, “the illustrations were prepared in felt with brain, beads, and sequins.”  The result are very tactile, interesting pictures that almost look quilted.  I give this one a Highly Recommended for the younger set, and if you can convince your kindergartener who is learning to read to give this one a try (I couldn’t), it might even pass for an early reader.  🙂

This next book is pure silliness with lots of kid appeal.  No More Water in the Tub! by Tedd Arnold is the highly entertaining story of a boy named William whose brother overfills the bathtub, thus sending William and the tub out the door and down the steps in his apartment building, collecting neighbors as he goes.  The fun of this one is the “House That Jack  Built” style repetition which always ends with a new passenger on this flood of bathwater, and the new passenger always rides on something interesting.  For example, “Sue and Vern clung to a fern” while “Uncle Nash sat in the trash.”  My girls LOVE this.  Tedd Arnold’s illustrations are just as bright, colorful, and fun as you would expect.  This is one fun read-aloud!

This last one kind of surprised me–I didn’t know if Lulu and Louise would go for it at all.  However, we had read another version of Rapunzel already, and they really liked it, so I thought we’d give it a try.   According to the author notes, Paul O. Zelinsky’s Rapunzel is a hybrid of the Grimm’s fairy tale and earlier versions, with more details than I remembered.  Rapunzel’s parents appear in this story, as does the sorceress, the prince, and Rapunzel and the prince’s children.  I honestly think the reason this book appeals so much to Lulu is because it begins with Rapunzel’s mother’s pregnancy, and in the story both she and later Rapunzel give birth.  Of course, there is nothing detailed about the circumstances or the process, but Lulu is very interested in this right now (which is, of course, another post for another day).  However, the illustrations alone in this book make it worth more than a glance.  Paul O. Zelinsky created this portraits in the style of Renaissance art, and they are gorgeous.  This book even won the Caldecott award!  If your children enjoy fairy tales (and even if they don’t!), this one is not to be missed.

Whew!  I started with the youngest audiences and ended with a book that is entirely appropriate for even the oldest listener! How’s that for random?  😉

How about your family?  What have you been enjoying reading together as a family?  Click below to enter a link to your blog, or just leave a comment if you aren’t a blogger.  We’d still love to hear about your read alouds!  (I’m trying out a MckLinky today, after a long absence of Mister Linky.  We’ll see how it goes.  WordPress just doesn’t love these extra little bloggy hickey-dos.)

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Have a terrific Read Aloud Thursday!

Storm in the Night Go-Alongs (Fiction)

I might have gone a little overboard at the library while I was looking for go-alongs for Storm in the Night; I checked out more books about rain, storms, lightning, etc., than we could possibly read.  It turned out that the girls enjoyed the story books much more than the nonfiction selections we read, but of course, each type of book serves a purpose in learning.  I decided to split the books into two posts so that it’s not too long and tedious.  However, I am just sharing the best of what we read.  One day I’ll learn moderation in my real life, not just in blogging.  😉

Hands down, the book my girls loved the most that we read alongside Storm in the Night was Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco.  Have I highlighted Patricia Palacco here at Hope Is the Word?  No?  Well, that must be remedied, and soon.  Until then, I will just mention this gem of a book.  My girls first experienced Thunder Cake with their nana, so that makes it doubly special to them.  This book makes the perfect go-along for Storm in the Night because it is the story of a girl and her grandmother who weather a storm together.  The grandmother and her granddaughter work on making a special cake, Thunder Cake, which can only be made during a thunderstorm.  They gather the ingredients (fresh, as they live on a farm), and the girl shows courage in robbing Nellie Peck Hen of her eggs and old Kick Cow of her milk.  This display is not lost on Grandma, of course, and she finally points out the girl’s bravery to her in the face of the impending storm.  This story, like many of Polacco’s,  is told as an autobiographical sketch from her own life in Michigan with her Russian-immigrant babushka.  Her illustrations are bright, colorful, and very easy to recognize once you see her style.  This one is Highly Recommended for sure!
The Rain by Michael Laser is one of those books that surprised us.  I expected it to merely be a few observations about the rain, but it’s more than that–it’s a story that starts out in very disparate places and ends with a few shared experiences.  A young man, an older man, a woman, and two children all experience a warm-weather shower, and they all enjoy it in their own ways.  I particularly love that the rain motivates the woman, a busy teacher, to pull out her old watercolors and paint a picture of “the yellow house across the street [that] looked so pretty, with the wet flowers in front and the rain bouncing off the walk.”  My girls love the interaction between the brother and sister who play in the rain:  they tease each other and sing together, and this especially appeals to Louise, our own resident nightingale.  Jeffrey Green’s  illustrations are right on target–soft, muted, and blurred.  We’ve returned to this one time and again, and we’ve all enjoyed it each time.

After investigating thunderstorms and a gentle rain, Hide and Seek Fog provided a little different take on precipitation.  I’m really glad I came across this Caldecott Honor book.  It is Alvin Tresselt’s story of a fog that overtakes a small fishing and lobstering village for three days.  Tresselt very lyrically describes how the fog rolls in from the sea and creeps over the whole village, until it disrupts life completely.  My favorite lines capture the spirit of the story:  “Only the children liked the fog.  They played hide-and-seek in and out among the gray-wrapped rocks.  They spoddled in the lazy lapping waves on the beach, and they got lost–right in front of their own cottages!”  Obviously, Roger Duvoisin’s illustrations really provide a peek into what a fog can do to obscure one’s vision.  We really liked this one, too.   

I’m sure there are other great books about weather, especially thunderstorms and rain, out there.  However, we enjoyed these tremendously, and this trio seemed to be just enough, with Storm in the Night and a few nonfiction titles (which I’ll post later), to give us plenty to read, think about, and discuss.

The Carrot Seed Go-Alongs and a Sweet Little Experiment

As I wrote earlier this week, we have thoroughly enjoyed The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss here at the House of Hope.  This is a picture book that is accessible across the ages due to its simplicity.  Although our schooling has definitely taken a backseat to swimming and splashing at the local splash pad over the past month, we have kept up our reading aloud, as well as a few other schoolish activities.  This is our last official Before Five in a Row selection before we begin kindergarten next month!

When we read The Carrot Seed , I knew just the book to pair with it.  We read The Giant Carrot by Jan Peck some time ago, and the first reading was just as good as the tenth.  This charming and funny picture book is an adaptation of a Russian folktale entitled “The Turnip.”  This version is peopled with rustic characters very appropriately described as tall Papa Joe, wide Mama Bess, strong Brother Abel, and sweet Little Isabelle.  Through the combined effort of Papa Joe’s composting, Mama Bess’ weeding, Brother Abel’s watering, but mostly Little Isabelle’s singing, they grow a gigantic carrot which will not come out of the ground until sweet Little Isabelle lends her strength (and her voice) to her very able-bodied family’s efforts.  This is all told with humor, repetition, and dialect which my girls just loved.  Barry Root‘s illustrations are really a grand addition to this delightful tale–the spread of the carrot forcefully coming out of the ground always dissolves my girls into hysterical giggles.  This story is the perfect companion to The Carrot Seed.

Another great go-along for The Carrot Seed is the Caldecott honor book Tops & Bottoms by Janet Stevens.  This book purportedly picks up where “The Tortoise and the Hare” leaves off, only this time, the wily hare snookers a lazy bear.  The hare figures out a way to get the food he and his family needs:  he will trick the bear into giving it to them!  I don’t want to ruin the surprise if you’re unfamiliar with this story (or if you can’t figure it out from the title 😉 ), but it’s a good one!  It also has the distinction of being a picture book that opens vertically rather than horizontally, so it really gets the kids’ attention. 

 Of course, I couldn’t bear to read a book about root vegetables and pass up an opportunity to do a little science experiment.  It helped that we already had a sweet potato sprouting in the cabinet!  😉  (Hey–books are my thing, not home organization, as evidenced not only by the potato, but also the dirty window!)


sweet potato 1

I figured it was probably a little late to do the trusty potato-in-the-glass experiment, but at the very least, I thought it would illustrate phototropism for the girls. This is the potato in the glass on Thursday, July 2:


sweet potato 2

And here it is on Monday, July 6:
sweet potato 3


It looks like I was right! 

The most memorable part of this experiment for me was Louise’s question as we were preparing to submerge the potato in the water. She queried, “Will it be able to see in there?”  Although I’m really not sure that sweet potatoes have eyes like potatoes do, I got my chuckle of the day out of it, at least.  🙂