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Kids’ Picks–Audiobooks Galore!

It has been a long time since I’ve had enough foresight to participate in Kids’ Picks over at 5 Minutes for Books, but I’ve had this post percolating in my brain for a long time.  I’m glad to finally have the motivation to get it written and posted!

As I’ve said more times than I can count, audiobooks are a staple here at the House of Hope.  I honestly believe that Lulu, especially, would spend half of her day everyday listening to something (and it would be something related to Little House, usually).  I would estimate that the girls average 1 1/2 to 2 hours of listening time on most days:  one hour at rest time and the remainder at bedtime or other snatches of time during the day when they need occupying.  In fact, I hear Little Town on the Prairie even as I’m writing this. 

I often feel disconnected from what they’re listening to since I’m usually using that time to do other things, so I don’t always write about it here at Hope Is the Word.  However, there have been a few stories they’ve listened to over the past six months or so that I really want to record here, and due to various circumstances, I feel like I have at least a little bit to say about them, so here goes:
I’m not sure how I missed Eleanor Estes’ Newbery Medal-winning Ginger Pye as a child, but I’m really glad my girls have had the pleasure of enjoying this fun and suspenseful story (over and over and over again 😉 ).  They’ve listened to it enough times that I know the whole story, more or less, and I have been amused by the things they’ve picked up and used in their imaginative play as a result.  Louise, especially, has an affinity for names, and more than one of her imaginary playmates or dolls has been named Addie Eagan (spelling? Remember, when I haven’t read it, I’m not responsible  for spelling it correctly!).  Ginger Pye is a heartwarming dog story with some quirky characters, and it’s a mystery, to boot.  I think it would make a great choice for the Children’s Classics Mystery Challenge.  I think I might just read it aloud to my girls for the challenge!  (I really am always curious after I listen to some work to see just how all of those names, etc., are spelled.)  My girls like this one so much, they’ll be thrilled!

This next book is one I picked out for them at the library for purely sentimental reasons:  I loved it myself as a child.  Since my girls love pioneer stories, I figured they’d enjoy this one, too.   They listened to it several times, and we listened to part of the story on at least one short trip.  Carol Ryrie Brink’s Caddie Woodlawn is another Newbery Medal winner.  I’m sure that most people are familiar with the story, but I wanted to share it here because my girls did love it and I have my own particular memory of it:  I have never, ever forgotten the fact that one of the brothers (Warren, I think) messed up his recitation for school.  He was supposed to say, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”  Instead, he said, “If at first you don’t fricassee, fry, fry a hen.”  I’ll leave it to you, dear readers, to determine why this has remained lodged in my brain.  😉

The next couple of audiobooks are ones I’m not as familiar with, but they definitely qualify as kids’ picks.  I picked up a couple of the Mercy Watson stories simply on name recognition:  I’ve read enough of Kate DiCamillo to know that she’s good.  My girls found the endearing stories about this beloved pet pig to be laugh-out-loud funny, and I’ll admit that I did, too. We listened to a couple of the stories over and over again when we went on vacation last fall, and we all got in on the fun.  Since then, we’ve checked out another one of the collections (there are two stories per each collection, I believe), and it was met with just as much enthusiasm and laughter all around.  Since I’ve never seen an actual copy of one of these books, I can’t say for sure, but Ms. DiCamillo’s website has them categorized as “Early Chapter Books,” so I’m thinking these might be a good series to keep in mind for my blossoming reader.

Speaking of a blossoming reader (nice segway, huh?), I just have to share this last book, not just because it’s fun and my girls really liked it in audio, but also because I think it might mark a turning point in Lulu’s journey toward independent reading.  We ran errands on Saturday and went on a little roadtrip to a neighboring town for shopping, etc.–mainly just to get out of the house after a week of sickness and being mostly cooped up.  We usually do bring along a longer audiobook for any trip of an hour or more, but I failed to get one and put it in the van.  Louise had chosen How I Became a Pirate as her bring-along entertainment for the trip, and it just so happens that this particular book is one that came with a CD of the story.  Guess what we listened to five or six times before we even made it out of town?  You guessed it.  It is a fun story, and I think my girls were perplexed about the whole pirate thing (we haven’t read anything with pirates in it to my recollection up until now)–Green teeth?  “Aaargh?”  Sea chanteys?   “Shiver me timbers”?  I don’t think they looked at the pictures much in the van; they just enjoyed listening.  When we got home, Lulu brought me the book and proudly read to me from a page in the middle of the story.  Granted, she had listened to it multiple times that day, but she was obviously working hard to sound out the words.  Bingo!  While she is making great progress in her reading, she is a little bit reluctant to apply it outside of “school time.”  This has changed somewhat over the past few weeks, but I was thrilled when she voluntarily brought me this picture book and shared with me what she could do.  I definitely consider that a Kid’s Pick!

Reading aloud to my children is truly one of the highlights of my day, but I am so thankful to have access to so many great audiobooks to supplement what I do with them.  Right now for my girls a day without an audiobook is almost unthinkable.  While I suspect this will probably change as they both become independent readers, I’m glad that they have been able to meet so many wonderful characters through the stories they’ve heard in this way.

Would you like to see what others bloggers’ kids are picking these days?  Click over to Kids’ Picks at 5 Minutes for Books!


Read Aloud Thursday–Best of 2009


My girls and I have read a lot of good books together this year, so when I first began to think about how I wanted to end the year for Read Aloud Thursday, I thought I might actually try to go back and check out from the library as many of the picture books I’ve reviewed this year as I could and let my girls pick their favorites.  Then I decided I’m not nearly as brave (or energetic!) as Carrie and promptly abandoned that idea.  I just don’t think I could even begin to pick a favorite, favorite, favorite picture book for myself (or even a few of them), let alone get my girls to do it by just looking at the covers on the computer screen.  My always-a-work-in-progress Best Picture Books list will have to suffice. 

What I decided to do instead is highlight the best chapter book read-alouds we did this year.  Actually, it seems more and more that chapter books are becoming the norm around the House of Hope for read-alouds; Lulu tends to request them, and Louise just goes along for the ride.  Oh, by no means am I giving up reading picture books!  No way!  I think I just got a little overwhelmed the past couple of months with the holidays and early pregnancy funk.  Besides, with a new little one on his or her way,  there will be plenty of picture books to read and enjoy all over again, as well as new ones to discover! 

Anyway, back to the best chapter books discussion.  Looking over the list of what we’ve read together (click and then scroll down to see it), I think my favorite of all was our saunter through The House at Pooh Corner, but I’m just very sentimental that way.  Read this post for proof of my extreme sentimentality.  

I read the list of books we’ve finished aloud to the girls just before bedtime last night, and Lulu predictably voted The Best Christmas Pageant Ever as her favorite, so little sister (also predictably) followed.  I don’t know if they really loved it that much, if they remember it best since it’s the last one we read, or if they loved it because we saw their cousins perform in a stage production of it while we were in the middle of reading it, but that was their number one pick.  Of course, Lulu had to give a loyalty vote to Little House on the Prairie, which I hope and believe she will always hold near and dear to her heart.  I know we’ve spent many, many, many hours listening to the audiobooks of that series here at the House of Hope this year.

Honestly, it would be very difficult for me to pick which book I think they enjoyed the most.  I could more easily pick the ones I think didn’t go over as well, but what would be the fun in that?  😉  If I were to pick a top three five six, though, not including the above choices, the list would include

  • All things Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.  The girls loved this book and its sequel, found it hilarious, and much to my chagrin, actually “got” the mischief the children got themselves into. 
  • Charlotte’s Web.  How can I not include this one?  I consider this book the pinnacle of read-aloud perfection:  immensely readable text, perfect illustrations by none other than Garth Williams of Little House fame, and a perfect story.  To have it read by the author raises it to an even higher plane.  This book has also provided lots of fodder for my girls’ imaginations.   This year was our second trip through, and I daresay it won’t be our last. 
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  This read-aloud brought me as much joy as any I’ve shared with them yet, and that’s saying a mouthful for sure.  The fact that Lulu saw a large read-aloud copy I just purchased and requested another trip back into the Wardrobe is testimony to me of the power of this story. The girls have even listened to this one in audio a few times.  However, they share a CD player during rest time, their normal audiobook-listening time, and some of the scenes with the White Witch are a little too intense for Louise, so she usually votes against this one, at least the dramatized audio version we have. 
  • The Story of Helen Keller was an unexpected treat for my girls.  This sort of links back (like many, many things here at the House of Hope) to the Ingalls family, since Mary was blind.  They really soaked up Helen Keller’s inspiring story, and yes, we took a field trip to Ivy Green, even if I never managed to share the pictures here like I promised to do. 
  • Betsy-Tacy enchanted us all.  I’ll never forget lying in bed in our hotel room on vacation and finishing this book with the girls.  I look forward to sharing the sequels with them in the future. 
  • .Last but certainly not least, Tumtum and NutmegThese books were a joy to read, and Louise still gets a kick out of Madame Tiptoe and her pogo-ing ballerinas in the second story.  I don’t think I expected a modern book to be this much fun and imaginative for some reason, but rest assured that there is still good children’s literature being written today. 

As for 2010, I’m not sure which direction we’ll travel.  Rest assured, though, I’ll share whatever we discover together here at Read Aloud Thursday!  🙂

What about your family?  Care to tell us your top picks of 2009, or maybe just what you’ve been enjoying lately?  Link up your blog post below, or simply leave a comment.  Oh, and don’t forget about the Read Aloud Thursday buttons!

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Have a magnificent last day of 2009!  What better way to go out than a Read Aloud Thursday! 🙂

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!  🙂

Friday’s Vintage Find::The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson

My girls and I finished our latest chapter book read-aloud after an intermission from it which was precipitated by the Thanksgiving holiday and all the accompanying hullaballo.  We read The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson.  I had seen this title repeatedly on numerous homeschooling message board threads, etc., so I thought we’d give it a go.  It turns out that it was a winner and it was also a timely read in that it is set during the Christmas holiday season.

The Family Under the Bridge is set in Paris.  It is the story of the Calcet family:  a mother, an older sister named Suzy, a brother named Paul, and the baby sister named Evelyne.  After losing their home, they inadvertently occupy the home of a longstanding homeless man named Armand.  Armand is an older man who is rather happy with his lot (or lack thereof) in life, but he is not happy about giving up his abode under the bridge to three winsome little children.  Of course, as one would expect from such a story, Armand begins to take the children under his wings, and the story ends up promisingly and happily for them all.

This story was first published in 1958 and is a Newbery honor book.  Much of the story itself and the attitudes, however subtle, are dated.  This really didn’t bother me too much, but I’m not too politically correct anyway.  One example:  there is a huge group (family?) of gypsies in the story, and while they are portrayed positively, some of the stereotypes (i.e. the idea that they are thieves, the inevitable fortune-telling, etc.) are brought out, but it seemed to me that most often Carlson was trying to combat those stereotypes.  The other issue that occurred to me is the issue of homelessness.  Armand really is portrayed as a little bit lazy; he seems perfectly happy to be homeless and without responsibility.  However, he is “rehabilitated” by the love of this little family in the end. 

The only real problem I had with this story is that I CANNOT pronounce French words AT ALL, so that hampered my reading.  (I took two years of Spanish and one year of Russian, believe it or not, in high school, so everything about French eludes me.)  I think my girls enjoyed this one, as evidenced by their cries of “one more chapter” every time I finished a chapter.  However, I’m beginning to wonder if this is an adequate measure of success for a read-aloud because I can’t remember a time in the past year when they didn’t say that.  🙂  This story didn’t resonate with me as much as a lot of our other recent read-alouds have, but I still think it’s a worthwhile read-aloud.

Children’s Classics–My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

childrensclassicsMy Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George is one book I’m glad I took the time to read!  Life has been very hectic around here, and when I realized on Saturday that the Children’s Classics bookclub over at 5 Minutes for Books was coming up shortly, I panicked (a little).  I mean, I think I’m the one who suggested this month’s theme of adventure!  (You can correct me if I’m wrong, girls.  🙂 )  I was in the middle of two books at the time, one of which was an overdue interlibrary loan book that racks up overdue charges at the rate of fifty cents a day!   I began to scan the shelves at home, all the while thinking that I could just write up a glowing review of  The Cayor Hatchet from memory.  However, I spied the Newbery honor-winning story of Sam Gribley and his falcon, Frightful, and, thinking it is a story that I surely should’ve read by now, I designated it as my weekend book-of-choice. 

This is a great little book.  Published in 1959, it has a real innocence about it that I love.  My more modern (and motherly) sensibilities are a little shaken by the idea that Sam runs away and no one finds him for several months.  Wow!  However, I can appreciate his yearning to get out of the noise and chaos of New York City (not that I’ve ever lived there, but I can imagine).  Sam seems a little wise beyond his years because he knows so much about living in the wild (and this before the days of all those television programs that show men eating all sorts of digusting interesting things!).  However, Jean Craighead George did manage to retain an innocency about Sam, all the same. When I had read enough into the book to learn that Sam is actually an (old?) teenager, I was surprised, nonetheless.  His knowledge of the wild makes him seem old, but his innocence about life makes him seem younger than that.  I think I saw him as a twelve year old. 

I love that George wrote this book to read as excerpts from Sam’s journal, scratched down on bark.  I also loved his drawings of plants, animals, the tools he makes, etc.   Reading this book makes me want to get out into nature and really listen even more; I know I have a deficit of nature in my life.  I’m sorry that I missed this book as a child–I think this book would really fuel a childish imagination.  However, I’m glad I found it when I did.  I look forward to reading this one to my girls in a few years.  The only thing I didn’t much like about My Side of the Mountain is the ending, but I know there are a couple of sequels, so there is hope for redemption.  🙂

This is actually my first experience with Jean Craighead George’s books.  No, I’ve never read Julie of the Wolves.  Can you believe it?  Looking over Jean Craighead George’s website, I can see that she is a very prolific writer, and I look forward to reading more of her works.

Read Aloud Thursday


Well, we finally did it–we finished Little House on the Prairie as a read-aloud after the girls have what I figure must at least be the equivalent of a high school education in all things Laura Ingalls Wilder.  (Seriously, we often refer to Lulu as the World’s Youngest Living Expert on LIW.)  It has been entertaining for me to read this book aloud to them after they have listened to the audiobook a mere 278 times.  I have been corrected more than once on word pronounciations and mis-read words.  I love that Lulu can put the whole series in chronological order.  She bases this on place–she knows the Ingalls family started out in the Big Woods, from whence they moved to “Indian Territory.”  From there it was to Plum Creek, then Silver Lake, and finally, to the place where they lived in town–“Little Town on the Prairie.”  While she couldn’t place these locations on a map, they are very real in her imagination. 

I began a running list of things that the girls have mentioned that I know they have learned through their immersion in these stories, and I have a few more addendum.  Both of these came from the lips of five year old Lulu:

  • “We could put in a puncheon floor.” (Said to me while I was pondering what type of flooring to put in our bathroom which we hope to remodel soon.)  When I asked her what, exactly, is a puncheon floor, she replied, “A plank floor.” 
  • “What is a building boom?”

I know there have been more; LIW really colors our days.

Lest this turn into (merely) a shameless mommy brag, I want to say that there really is a point to this Read Aloud Thursday post.  I remember from my days in library science school that the Little House books have fallen under scrutiny because of their treatment (or, at times, lack of treatment) of Native Americans.  I particularly remember tbat Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark House was suggested as an alternative or addendum to Little House in the Big Woods to illustrate the fact that the Big Woods were not quite as unpopulated as Pa thought.  After reading for myself Little House on the Prairie for the first time in probably twenty-five years (and not just eavesdropping on my girls’ listening to it on audiobook), I will admit that I was somewhat taken aback by the references to Native Americans and the sentiment of the Ingalls’ neighbors, the Scotts, that “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Keep in mind that I taught public school long enough to be extremely sensitized to being “P.C.”  Still, though, I plugged on reading the story because I figure that Pa’s more balanced view of their Native American neighbors comes across enough that surely my very perceptive little girls can figure out the truth of the situation.  Historical context (even in historical fiction–maybe especially in historical fiction) is extremely important, and while my girls are too young to get that yet, I know that day is just around the corner.  I also happen to think that the stories have enough merits to counterbalance what might be considered negativity due to this treatment of Native Americans.  For example, the sheer self-sufficiency of the pioneers really struck me this time through the story.  Witness:

Pa said he would make a door that very day.  He wanted more than a quilt between them and the wolves, next time.                                                                                                                                                                           

“I have no more nails, but I’ll not keep on waiting till I can make a trip to Independence,” he said.  “A man doesn’t need nails to build a house or make a door.”

After breakfast he hitched up Pet and Patty, and taking his ax he went to get timber for the door.  Laura helped wash the dishes and make the beds, but Mary minded the baby.  Laura helped Pa make the door.  Mary watched, but Laura handed him the tools.

With the saw he sawed logs the right length for a door.  He sawed shorter lengths for cross-pieces.  Then with the ax he split the logs into slabs, and smoothed them nicely.  He laid the long slabs together on the ground and placed the shorter slabs across them.  Then with the auger he bored holes through the cross-pieces into the long slabs.  Into every hole he drove a wooden peg that fitted tightly. 

That made the door.  It was a good oak door, solid and strong.  (“Two Stout Doors,” Little House on the Prairie)

All that after traveling from Wisconsin to Kansas in a covered wagon, finding a place to live, and building the house himself.  We could learn a lot from his spirit.  

What have you been reading aloud with your family this week?  Share in the comments by simply commenting or by leaving a link to your own Read Aloud Thursday post!

Audiobook Review–Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Does your library have a good selection of audiobooks?  Ours does, and as my girls age and mature, I know that it will get better and better.  Audiobooks are a staple at the House of Hope.  We listen to them daily.  The girls always have one going during our 1 to 1 1/2 hour daily rest time (unless they accidentally fall asleep before the prescribed 15-20 minutes of lying-down-listening-to-soothing-music-time is up).  We usually have one in the van with us for any trips over twenty minutes in length (it’s our answer to the portable DVD player).  Although I prefer reading a book over listening to it, listening comes in a close second.  As we all know, an expressive reader can turn a good story into a please-just-read-one-more-page story.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater is one audiobook we have rediscovered this week.  We listened to it for the first time last summer, I think, when we went on a trip.  I picked it up again at the library on our last trip there to add a little variety to our Little House saturated rest-times.  Mr. Popper’s Penguins has also passed the cool pre-adolescent boy test, too.  The girls and I, along with my sister and nephews, recently took a day trip to a water park an hour away from our home.  Since my nine and ten year old nephews (the two Es) were along, I gathered Mr. Popper and his captivating penguins up with the beach towels and sunscreen and tossed them into the van.  I thought the two Es would find find it amusing, and they did.  It is a great mark of approval that the eldest E actually laughed aloud a time or two while listening to this tale.

Most of the audiobooks at our library are from the Recorded Books company, and every one of these we have listened to has been of very high quality.  This particular recording of Mr. Popper’s Penguins is read by Paul Hecht.  Hecht’s voice provides just the amount of dignity needed to make this outrageous story seem completely believable.  The story itself is a must-read that I somehow managed to miss in my own book-obsessed childhood but that I have found every bit as hilarious and delightful as an adult.  In short, Mr. and Mrs. Popper and their two children live a very quiet life in Stillwater until Mr. Popper receives a huge package from Admiral Drake, a south pole explorer whom he greatly admires.  The package, of course, contains a live penguin, and a wild, zany, and side-splittingly funny time ensues. This Newbery honor book published in 1938 is fun any way you enjoy it–as an audiobook or a good, old-fashioned read-aloud.  Highly, highly recommended!

Book Review–The Underneath by Kathi Appelt

I spent the first 3/4 of this novel cautiously enjoying it and being baffled by its designation as a  Newbery honor book this year, since the Newbery is an award for children’s literature.  I just couldn’t imagine reading this book myself as a child, and I can’t imagine my own ultrasensitive children reading it before they are older than the 10 & up age designation given by the publisher.

That is not to say that it is poorly written.  Actually, it is beautifully written, with nuances and prose patterns that elevate the story in places to the status of myth or legend .  And it is not all parts of this multi-faceted story that I found problematic or difficult–actually, it was only the part about Grandmother Mocassin, the shapeshifting snake whose own bitterness and unforgiveness have locked her in a pottery jar of a prison for 1000 years.  Well, that and the hatefilled Gar Face, who drowns one cat out of pure meanness, attemps to drown two more, and repeatedly brutalizes his own hunting dog. The main story, though, the one that occurs in the present, is one that is appealing and child-like.  It is the story of an old, worn out, crippled hunting dog, and a mama cat and her babies who find shelter and make an unlikely family in the Underneath with him.  The dog, Ranger, loves his cat family, and he goes to great lengths to save them from the fate that Gar Face designs for them.  It has a happy ending, though, like all good children’s literature should.   Appelt’s weaving together of two disparate stories is what made me really like this story in the end.   Once the ancient story was finally relegated to the past and the pace of the present story picked up, I could be comfortable with the wole thing and enjoy it.  (Don’t mind me, really–I’m kind of funny about some types of literature, myths and legends being one of them.)

Appelt’s prose is thoughtful, poignant, and just all-around lovely.  Here are a few of my favorite snippets:

It’s a fact that kittens are hard to manage.  And these two, growing sleek and nimble, were no different.  There is also that whole thing about curiosity.  Anyone who has ever known a cat knows that they are filled up with it.

Bones, fur, milk, curiosity.  That is what cats are made of. (71)

The calico cat looked hard at her beautiful baby, her boy kitten.  And right there, tucked beside him in the dark burlap bag, she loved him as hard as she could, loved him so much that her heart nearly burst.  “You are the son I dreamed of,” she told him.  “I never wanted any other son but you.”  She licked him on the top of his head, right on the crescent moon.  (76)

The last 1/4 of the book rivals my all-time favorite animal story, Where the Red Fern Grows, as a picture of animal devotion and selfless love.  I give this one my “highly recommended” designation, but with the caveat that it might be difficult for some sensitive children to read.

I read this book for the Semicolon Book Club.  It was the May selection, and I actually finished it in May, but I’m just now getting around to putting my thoughts together about it.  Sherry’s review is more thorough than mine, and she links some other reviews in it.  I also found this interview with Kathi Appelt (and you know how I love an author interview) in the comments on Sherry’s review.

Read Aloud Thursday

read-aloud211After Read Aloud Week last week, I’ve just about exhausted all of the blog-worthy picture books we’ve read lately, so I thought I’d share what we’ve been reading on the chapter book front.

My girls and I average a chapter a day in whatever chapter book we’re reading at the time.  We always read a chapter in said book as the girls finish their lunch (Lulu always wants “one more thing” and Louise will eat as long as we sit at the table, so there’s always time for this).  The girls usually ask for more from our chapter book read-aloud at various other times during the day, so sometimes we read more than one chapter if time permits.  We’ve been sharing chapter books as read-alouds for well over a year now; I would guess we started when Lulu was not yet four.  Due to this, the girls have developed fairly long attention spans for these read-alouds.  (Click here and scroll down for the chapter books we’ve enjoyed together this year.)

We finished re-reading Charlotte’s Web last week, and yes, I cried again.  We read it for the first time last spring (I remember because we read some of it outside on pretty days), and the girls have listened to the audiobook (my review here) several times.  I wanted to read it again because we had the opportunity a few weeks ago to attend a local children’s theater production of a play adaptation of Charlotte’s Web.  Although it was a very loose interpretation (texting lambs and Charlotte in high heels, anyone?), the girls really enjoyed it.  It was a big day for us.  Nothing, and I do mean nothing, though, beats the original.  I adore White’s descriptive prose:

The barn was very large.  It was very old.  It smelled of hay and it smelled of manure.  It smelled of the perspiration of tired horses and the wonderful sweet breath of patient cows.  It often had a sort of peaceful smell–as though nothing bad could happen ever again in this world.  It smelled of grain and of harness dressing and of axle grease and of rubber boots and of new rope.  And whenever the cat was given a fish-head to eat, the barn would smell of fish.  But mostly it smelled of hay, for there was always hay in the great loft up overhead.  And there was always hay being pitched down to the cows and the horses and the sheep.  (Charlotte’s Web, chapter 3)

Isn’t that perfect?  Charlotte’s Web also has what I think is the best ending line for a book in the English language.  Read it already if you haven’t.  Better yet, share it with someone you love.

After Charlotte, I was eager to plunge into The Trumpet of the Swan (we’ve read Stuart Little already, and while the girls didn’t love it, they have shown interest again in our audiobook version).  Alas, I cannot find the copy I’m sure I possessed at some point in my life, and the library we frequent either doesn’t own it or it’s always checked out (I haven’t checked because I really want my own copy).  I’m going to order it from Paperback Swap when I have earned enough credit.  (I found it at a local used bookstore before this post went to press!)

So the question then was what do we read next?  I posed this question to the girls, and OF COURSE, they clamored for a Laura Ingalls Wilder book.  (If you haven’t been reading here at Hope Is the Word for very long, you can read here and here about our Laura-obsession.)  Never mind the fact that they listen to at least an hour’s worth of a LIW audiobook every day during rest time–they wanted more!  I couldn’t find my copy of Little House in the Big Woods so I pulled Little House on the Prairie and commenced reading.  I haven’t read all of these books since I was a little girl, so I have forgotten how beautiful and simple they are.  The beatific expression on my girls’ faces during read-aloud time now is priceless.  I love that they know the story so well that they get excited about what is coming next.  I usually make them stay quiet about it, though, because I don’t want any spoilers myself.  🙂  We have had so many interesting conversations as a result of their love for all things Laura–from history to geography to vocabulary to music, it’s all there.  It is the sharing of wonderful books like this that really makes me eager to home educate my children.  I’m pretty sure that if they went to traditional school, their affinity for stories like this would diminish mainly because of lack of time to immerse themselves in both the stories and imaginative play about the stories.  Of course, that’s another post for another time.

What is your family enjoying right now as a read-aloud?  Please share in the comments or leave a link to your blog post.  Oh, and don’t forget to grab the Read Aloud Thursday button!

Friday’s Vintage Find::Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey

A few weeks ago we were at the library and we had just returned Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, so we were in need of a new chapter book read aloud.  Lulu and Louise are in that in-between stage when it comes to chapter books, I think.  Of course, neither of them can read, but they both have rather long attention spans when it comes to listening to stories.  However, I think I have tried their patience in the past with the likes of The Wind in the Willows, with its British and much-more-formal-than-we-speak-here-in-the-House-of-Hope-English and long, long chapters.  For some reason, I’ve wanted to save such childhood classics as the Ramona books for when they can read them aloud to me, so I was fresh out of ideas for read-alouds.  I approached our favorite children’s librarian and asked her for a recommendation.  She paused for a moment and said, “How about Miss Hickory?”  I had never read it, but I was game.  She assured me that it had a few “slightly scary” parts (I would call them more intense than scary, but with small children, one never knows), but that it is a fun story.  After finishing it today, I must concur with her appraisal.

Published in 1946, Miss Hickory is the Newbery Award winning story of a small twig doll named Miss Hickory because her head is made of a hickory nut.  Miss Hickory lives in the New Hampshire countryside.  In the book’s beginning, she lives in a small corncob house under a lilac bush on the windowsill of the Old Place.  However, once her owners vacate the Old Place, she moves into an abandoned nest in the apple orchard.  She gets to know many of her neighbors and has quite a few adventures.  She even loses her head to a hungry squirrel near the end of the story!  This part is actually a little weird to me, but it didn’t seem to bother my girls.  (They did have an extreme and perhaps morbid interest in the illustration that accompanies this chapter, however.)  The best part of this story, though, is the description of the countryside, nature, and animal life.  There is a hidden gem in the middle of the story, too, in a short little Christmas sketch which recounts the legend of the appearance of a small, baby-sized hollow that appears in the grain that is in the manger of the old barn, which all the forest and farm creatures witness.  I’m sure that this is a well-known legend, or at least the combination of a few legends (I’m thinking here of The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter, in which the animals can talk on Christmas Eve), but it was new to me and completely charming.  There is a lovely, two-page spread illustration in the middle of this Christmas chapter which shows all manner of four legged beasts (including elephants, lions, and giraffes) streaming into the barn, the Christmas star shining brightly overhead.

The story ends rather oddly, I thought, and I know that it had an impression on my girls because Lulu has brought it up again.  Miss Hickory, after losing her head, returns to the apple tree and grafts herself into it.  She is referred to as a scion at this point in the story, so in addition to being entertained and charmed (and yes, even weirded-out at times) by this story, I also added a new word to my vocabulary.  When I read the word scion, I immediately thought of a strange-looking little car (no offense to the Scion drivers or fans among my readership), but come to find out, it does indeed mean “a shoot or twig, especially one cut for grafting or planting.” Reading these vintage finds is enlightening in so many ways!

Miss Hickory was written by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey and was illustrated by Ruth Gannet, who illustrated the Elmer Elevator books.