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Leaving Gee’s Bend by Irene Latham

I picked up Leaving Gee’s Bend at the library because I knew Irene Latham to be an Alabama author.  She had visited some local schools in the past, and while I didn’t attend any of those visits, she was definitely on my radar.  Add to this the fact that a good friend of mine is an avid quilter who has taught me a thing or two about quilting, so I already knew a little bit about Gee’s Bend and its heritage.  I was primed for a story I could recognize and/or identify with. 

What I didn’t expect was a story that blew me away!  It’s the story of Ludelphia Bennett, the ten year old daughter of an African American sharecropping family in the Black Belt of Alabama during the Great Depression.  Shortly after the story opens, Ludelphia’s pregnant mother gives birth to a baby girl with Ludelphia and a neighbor, sixteen year old Etta Mae, in attendance.  There are two problems, however:  Mama is sick, not just pregnant; and Etta Mae, whom Ludelphia has always admired and relied on,  has been accused of witchcraft.  With Mama apparently growing worse, Ludelphia takes matters into her own hands and decides to leave Gee’s Bend for Camden, the nearest town with a doctor.  She has to find a way across the river and find the doctor, all the while avoiding the likes of a certain sharecropping boss’s cruel wife.  This is high adventure with a heart.

The best part about this story, though, is Ludelphia herself.  Ludelphia’s voice in the story is simply beautiful:

I squeezed the water from the cloth pieces and spread them out on the sunny patch of pine straw to dry.  I held the needle between my finger and thumb, gentle enough so as not to draw blood.  Such a tiny little thing.  But just the touch of it made me feel better.  Like right between my fingers I was holding a piece of home. (89)

You see, Ludelphia has a bad eye, and so her Mama taught her how to quilt instead of insisting that she do field work.  Quilting is Ludelphia’s solace and figures heavily into the plot of the story.  In the end, Ludelphia learns some things about herself and home.  She doesn’t exactly save the day in the way she expects, but the story has a very satisyfing ending.  Irene Latham is not only a master at using dialect very unobtrusively, she also has a talent for figurative language.  Again, Ludelphia’s voice is unforgettable.  

This is just a beautiful story.  This book most definitely gets a Highly Recommended from me!  I’m pretty sure it will make my Best of 2010 list.  Although it is classified as juvenile fiction, anyone who enjoys a good story with a winsome protagonist would like this one.  You can read another short excerpt from the novel here, or you can learn more about the author by visiting her website.  She even has a blog!  I’m not making any promises, but there’s a good chance that I’ll have a chance to interview Irene Latham for Hope Is the Word!

It turns out that my girls and I have been enjoying some picture books about quilting lately, too.   I hope to have another quilting and books post up later this week!  Stay tuned!


The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner

We just finished reading The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner yesterday.  This was the first time I’d ever read it, and I confess I picked it up because I assumed it was a mystery (based on the word mystery being appended to “Boxcar Children” in the series that grew out of it).  Since I had never read it, I thought it would be perfect for this month’s Children’s Classics Mystery Challenge.  Too, we had just finished Farmer Boy (read my thoughts here), and I was ready to read something shorter. 

Although I was a little surprised that The Boxcar Children contains very little of what I call mystery, it was a rousing success with my girls.  It is very simply written.  One thing I noticed is that Gertrude Chandler Warner used absolutely no contractions in the writing of this story.   I find it difficult to read a story without using contractions, so it seemed a little bit stilted and “Dick and Jane-ish” to me.  Of course, this didn’t bother my girls in the least–they loved this story.  In fact, Louise wants to re-check it from the library! 

When I think about it, maybe it is a mystery, still.  There are mysterious elements (i.e. unidentified noises, etc.), and it is about four children who are running away from a grandfather whom they don’t like.  There is nothing at all scary in the story, so it is a great way to introduce a few of the elements of mystery, though.  Its resolution is pleasant for everyone involved, including their maligned grandfather.  It is a very gentle story, and I would think that children even younger than mine (currently 5 1/2 and 4) would enjoy it.  In fact, in terms of simplicity (‘though not of genre or storyline) it reminds me a little of the My Father’s Dragon series (read my thoughts on this series here and here and here). 

Despite the fact that The Boxcar Children did not exactly meet my expectations, it was not a disappointment.  I can see why it’s a classic, and I’m glad to have met Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny.  I look forward to sharing more of these stories with my girls.

If you’d like to read about what other bloggers are reading for this month’s Children’s Classics Mystery Challenge, be sure to check out 5 Minutes for Books!

Read Aloud Thursday–Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder


I can’t let this Read Aloud Thursday pass by without commemorating the completion of our first chapter book read aloud for 2010.  We began reading Farmer Boy some time right after Christmas, and we finally finished it last week.  As a child, I always loved Farmer Boy best out of all the Little House books, so I was eager to re-read this one with my girls.  I feel like we got kind of mired down in it somewhere in the middle, mainly because we ended up being out of the house sometimes during our usual chapter-book reading time, which is right after lunch.  I also feel like sometimes the girls really didn’t pay attention since they know it so well.  They have listened to the audiobook of this particular story so many times, they corrected me when I mis-read something.  (Believe it or not, they’re currently listening to it again during rest time!)  It is a great story, though, and it’s a good one to read aloud.  Two things I can say about Almanzo Wilder:  that boy loved to eat, and that boy was born a farmer.  Seriously, don’t read this book if you’re hungry!  One of the biggest memories I have of Farmer Boy from my own childhood is the huge quantities and varieties of food they had at their meals.  I love those descriptions.  My girls especially like it when Almanzo does something mischievous or has some sort of mishap.  We enjoyed this book, but I am glad to be through it and on to our next read-aloud, one that is unfamiliar to all of us:  The Boxcar Children.

As a side note, I am working to update my 2010 booklists.  I’ve done a terrible job of keeping up with them, and here it is already March!  One thing I wanted to do this year is (try to!) keep up with the audiobooks that the girls listen to, also, for future reference.  Look for all of that information in the sidebar some day in the near future!  🙂

What has your family enjoyed together this week?  Please leave a link to your blog, or if you don’t blog, simply leave a comment.

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Have a terrific Read Aloud Thursday!

Kids’ Picks:: All Things American Girl

I have a confession to make.  As soon as the American Girl catalog enters our house (and I peek at it first 😉 –How did they get our address?), I toss it into the trash.  Our girls have way too much stuff.  Way too much.  (In our defense, most of the stuff we don’t buy.  We don’t have to. Other people do it for us.)  I’ve tried to keep this particular overpriced obsession out of the realm of possibilities for our girls.  They did receive little miniature Rebeccas and accompanying Rebecca story collections for Christmas this past year, but other than that and a few kids’ meal “freebies” (yes, I know we’re paying for them), I’ve been successful at keeping our home American Girl-free.

Until now.

It all started with the Josefina story collection in audiobook.  They listened to it (and loved it) several months ago, and then I was able to capture their attention with other audiobook choices for quite a while.  Then Louise spied the Molly story collection  on the audiobook shelves at the library, so we brought it home and the girls listened to the whole collection several times.   Both of these audiobooks went with us on our recent trip, and Steady Eddie and I were ready to listen to anything but Josefina before the trip was over.  😉 Our last trip to the library yielded both Rebecca  and Kit  in audio. 

Honestly, I don’t enjoy listening to the stories.  I find neither the writing nor the narration of the audibooks terribly engaging (patronizing would be a better description, actually), but the girls love them.  They actually wake up in the morning and immediately turn on the CD player, sometimes picking up where they left off the night before (if they went to sleep before the story finished).  At rest time, they listen to another one; they take turns choosing whose story they will listen to this time.   Most nights, it’s another girl and another story.  While I would really prefer their obsession to run in a more literary direction, I remember one of my own many childhood and young adult obsessions, and I don’t think it ruined me as a reader.  The tide will turn, and it will be back to Little House or Charlotte’s Web or even Little Women, which Lulu listened to about a third of before I thought–What will she (and I!?!?) do when Beth dies?–and managed to take it back to the library unfinished.  Until then, they’re learning about the immigrant experience, life in New Mexico in the early 1800s, World War II, the Great Depression, as well as making lots of side jaunts into popular culture.  I think I can live with that.   

(The girls just got up from rest time as I am finishing this post, and now they are under the art table in the school room because “we’re having a blackout.”  The girl of choice for today’s rest time was Molly, whose childhood is permeated by World War II.)

For more Kids’ Picks, check out 5 Minutes for Books!

Akimbo and the Elephants by Alexander McCall Smith

When I saw Akimbo and the Elephants among the audiobook selections at one of our libraries last week, I snatched it right up.  Before I read my first of Alexander McCall Smith’s books, I probably would’ve passed this one over.  By all appearances, it isn’t something that would likely appeal to my girls.  However, I wanted to listen to it, so I checked it out.  I now know how adept McCall Smith is at painting word pictures of life on the African plain, so I wanted to experience his treatment of it for a younger audience.  I believe the reccommended age indicated on the back of the audiobook we listened to is eight and above, and there were a few times when I thought it was getting a little too intense for my girls, but we persevered.  After leaving the library, we had several errands to run, so this one hour long story was almost perfect for our time in the van.  We were all so engrossed in the story that when we got home, we finished the last chapter gathered around our kitchen CD player before we did anything else.  My girls typically begin shedding things (shoes, socks, clothes, etc.) the moment they walk in the door and get on with their plans, so it’s quite a testimony to the appeal of this story that they sat down at the kitchen table to listen at this juncture. 

Akimbo and the Elephants is the simple story of a little boy, Akimbo, who lives on a wild game preserve with his parents.  His father is an odd job man for the game wardens, and he and Akimbo are often invited to go along on various trips across the preserve.  Of all the animals he has seen, Akimbo most loves the elephants.  Once, on a trip with the game wardens to look for evidence of poachers, they stumble upon more evidence than they want:  a dead mother elephant with her newborn calf, left alone to fend for himself.  This picture makes a huge impression on Akimbo.  In fact, it is a turning point in the story and his life.  He determines to find the poachers and hatches quite a plot to do so.  I won’t reveal the details, of course, but it involves deceiving his parents and getting involved with a local man of questionable character.  It all comes out right in the end, of course, and Akimbo learns to call upon his own reserves of courage when he thinks he has none.

McCall Smith’s descriptions of Africa are beautiful, and it is a real plus that he is the narrator of the particular audiobook we had.  I always think it’s interesting to listen for the little nuances that the authors give a story if I am fortunate enough to listen to a story narrated by the author.  Alexander McCall Smith has quite a list of children’s books to his credit, and I would be very happy to share these with my children, especially as they get a little older.  I would think that these particular stories would really appeal to boys, and they are fine writing, to boot.  Highly Recommended.

Trixie Belden and the Mystery Off Glen Road by Julie Campbell

I am excited to share this walk down memory lane that I took thanks to the newmysterychallenge Children’s Classics Mystery Challenge that will be going on for the first half of this year at 5 Minutes for Books.  I randomly chose a Trixie Belden title off my shelf for this first challenge; I read many of the Trixie Belden titles as a teen, so I figured I was acquainted enough with the cast of characters to simply slip back into their world in upstate New York, and I was right.  Although twenty years or so have elapsed since I last cracked open one of these books, I picked right up as if I just left off yesterday.

The Mystery Off Glen Road is number five in the series, so it was apparently written by a real author, Julie Campbell, instead of the pseudonymous Kathryn Kenney, who was actually a team of writers from Western Publishing.  (All this according to the Trixie Belden Homepage.)  It would be interesting to read some of the later books to see if there are any differences in the writing style, etc.  I can’t imagine that the writing could be any less sophisticated, but I don’t know. 

As I mentioned in my introductory Children’s Classics Mystery Challenge post, although I read Nancy Drew, I always liked Trixie better.  This referesher course in all things Bob Whites has confirmed that sentiment–Trixie is a rough-and-tumble tomboy, but everyone loves her for it–even Jim Frayne, whom I realize now (‘though I can’t really remember thinking it way back then) that Trixie has a crush on.  I think the feelings are mutual, actually.  Isn’t it funny that I never really picked up on that as a teen?  I was naive.  😉

I think the funniest thing for me has been the dated words and expressions that the characters use.  “Gleeps!” is one of Trixie’s favorite exclamations.  I couldn’t help but think of Scooby-Doo each time I read one of these vintage slang terms–I could hear Velma or Daphne saying them in my head.  A large part of the plot of this particular mystery hinges on Brian Belden’s plan to buy an old jalopy for $50 from the owner of the general store.  Does anyone seriously refer to an old car as a jalopy any more?  The word is used so often in the story that I began to wish I were being paid $1 for each time I read it.  😉

The other thing I found amusing (and annoying) is the mode of exposition.  Carrie discusses this same issue in her Nancy Drew 1930 vs. Nancy Drew 1959 post, so it was obviously the style of such formula fiction.  Here’s a quick example of what I mean from The Mystery Off Glen Road.  Trixie reminds Honey that she and her brother Mart are “practically twins,” to which Honey replies, “That I do know.  In fact, you are twins for one whole month of the year, because your birthdays are exactly eleven months apart.”  Would two best friends actually ever have that conversation?  I think not.  It’s obvious to me that the author include that little exchange beause she knew she had readers “listening in” on the conversation.

Still, with all its shortcomings, I enjoyed the book.  I probably won’t revisit them again any time soon, but I like having the copies I have for posterity and for old time’s sake.  My copies actually belonged to my older cousin, and I enjoy seeing that fifty year old cousin’s signature on the flyleaves of these old hardbacks.  (Mine look nothing like the one pictured above, by the way.)

If you’re a fan, be sure to visit the Trixie Belden Homepage.  It contains all kinds of interesting facts and neat trivia!  Check out 5 Minutes for Books for more Children’s Classics Mystery Challenge posts, too.

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.)

Bertie’s War by Barbara Tifft Blakey

PhotobucketBertie’s War by Barbara Tifft Blakey is the story of a twelve year old girl, Bertie, who lives with her family in Washington state during the 1960s.  Bertie is the middle child, squashed between an self-confident older sister and a mischievous younger brother.  Fear more or less controls Bertie’s life.  Her number one fear is of the Communists and nuclear war, since this troubling threat is always present on the airwaves and in the newspapers.  In fact, she can’t even go to school without being reminded of the possibility of a nuclear attack–they have drills to prepare for such an eventuality.  Bertie is also afraid of her father–of disappointing him, of disobeying him, of having to visit “the woodshed.”  All of these fears force Bertie into something of  a shell of isolation–she reads a lot and works on fixing up her own nuclear fallout shelter for her family.  She uses the fear to protect herself, much like she expects her new, light-colored winter coat to protect her from radiation when the missiles are launched. 

Bertie’s War is a book in which not much actually happens; it’s definitely more about the internal life of the protagonist than anything else.  I think that’s one reason I had a hard time warming up to it in the beginning, too, although I usually like such books.  It bothered me that a twelve year old girl was so worried and afraid all of the time.  However, I haven’t read much about this historical time period, and so I imagine that the book might give a realistic picture of what it was like to be a sensitive child during the height of the Cold War. 

I received the book Bertie’s War by Barbara Tifft Blakey to review for TOS HomeschoolCrew, and as I’ve already mentioned, it took me a while to warm up to it.  I took the book with me on an overnight business trip I took with Steady Eddie back at the beginning of December, and on the trip I read probably the first half of the book.  I stalled out after that, due to a combination of morning sickness (how long will I use this for an excuse, you’re wondering, I’m sure 😉 ), Christmas preparations, and the general blahs.  However, when I picked it back up again to finish it, I found myself liking it more and more.  I’m not sure that it was any fault of the book’s that I didn’t like it to begin with, but this is a story that comes together more at the end.  Published by the evangelical Christian Kregel Publications, Bertie’s War is not the typical in-your-face-with- the-Gospel approach to a novel.  Although a message is there, it is very subtle, present almost only through symbolism.  I found the light touch to be nice, and in the end, I think that this might be what made me like it so much.  Thoughtful tweens or teens, especially girls, might like this one.  It would also be useful to get a “feeling” for life during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Bertie’s War is available for purchase through Kregel.  If you would like to read more reviews of Bertie’s War visit TOS HomeschoolCrew blog

This book was sent to me free of charge for review purposes.

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::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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Have a terrific Read Aloud Thursday!