Saturday, October 30, 2010


Thank you, Dad, for snapping this photo of The Norris Public Library on Main Street in Rutherfordton, NC!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Pat Hutchins

Pat Hutchins is another fantastic British author / illustrator that you must read.  Today, I'm just featuring two of her books.

From the moment you open up The Wind Blew, Hutchins' illustrations transport you to a "blustery windy day" as my eldest describes.  Even as you gloss past the title and copyright pages, trees bend as the wind carries leaves and seed pods.  Discover what else the wind snatches from people along its windswept path set against the backdrop of an English countryside with a few recognizable British landmarks.  Through her rhyming verse, Hutchins delightfully personifies wind as a mischievous, good-natured prankster, making this quite a captivating story.

In Good-Night, Owl!, nocturnal Owl tries to sleep but is thwarted.  Count along as the narrator names the hindrances to that rest.  This book onomatopoeically articulates the wonderful sounds of woodland tree dwellers through repetition, employing wonderful learning tools for the younger set.  But best of all your children will enjoy the humorous unexpected ending so much that they'll insist you immediately read it again.  Mine belly-laughed out loud!  Note: the title is a bit of a misnomer . . . tongue-in-cheek I'm sure.  The kids might not pick up on that, though.

Readers, what is your favorite Pat Hutchins story?

"Whisky Frisky"

Whisky Frisky
author unknown

Whisky Frisky,
Up he goes
To the treetop!

Whirly, twirly,
Round and round,
Down he scampers
To the ground.

Furly, curly,
What a tail!
Tall as a feather,
Broad as a sail!

Where's his supper?
In the shell,
Snap, cracky,
Out it fell.

Ask your child what this poem describes . . . a squirrel.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Thank goodness we've had two rainy, fall days!  You know the kind: where you wish you could snuggle in bed all morning long, especially after you look into the misty, rainy, leaf dropping day.

Have you read Umbrella by Taro Yashima?  It's wonderful!  It's about a Japanese girl named Momo ("the peach") living in New York City who receives rubber boots and an umbrella for her third birthday.  Momo longs for a rainy day . . . a rainy day where she can wear her rubber boots and use her umbrella.  Yashima's rhythmic use of language echos the "bon polo" (pitter-patter) of raindrops falling on an umbrella, making the textual imagery a bit musical to read aloud.  The illustrations also evoke the look of falling rain in its composition.  In addition, Japanese characters and their definitions are sprinkled throughout the text.  So read this one aloud, and then help your children unveil the riddle at the end!

Also of noteworthy mention, Yashima's Umbrella was a 1959 Caldecott Honor Winner.

James Mayhew

Rarely do we get to hear an artists' process of how he composes a work.  So I know you'll be pleased along with me when you read the story behind the composition of the Katie series straight from the author, James Mayhew, himself.  Check out his blog (, and you'll find a talented illustrator whose personal story gives even more depth and meaning to the Katie series.  Now, I know you're going to want to check out Mayhew's Katie books!  And do let me know if you can get your hands on any that I haven't featured!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Art History

I was looking for some books in which to introduce famous works of art to my children.  Then one day as I eavesdropped -- accidentally, I might add . . . okay, maybe I was snooping a little after the cover caught my eye -- in another person's hold que at the library, I ran across the book Katie Meets the Impressionists.  Quickly, I scribbled the title down on a scrap of paper and came home to further research it.  This is what I discovered:

James Mayhew cleverly introduces specific periods, artists, and works of art to children through his  adventurous stories where the beguiling character, Katie, runs into "close calls" while jumping in and out of the art museum's paintings.  Note that Mayhew has published many more "Katie" books; these were the only ones I could get my hands on.

Katie Meets the Impressionists ~ focuses on the Impressionists painters and features: The Luncheon and Field of Poppies by Claude Monet; Girl with a Watering Can and Her First Evening Out by Pierre Auguste Renoir; The Blue Dancers by Edgar Degas.  I find the story and illustrations of this particular book the most charming in the series.

Katie and the Sunflowers ~ focuses on the Postimpressionists, specifically: Sunflowers and Cafe Terrace at Night by Vincent van Gogh; Breton Girls Dancing and Tahitian Pastorals by Paul Gauguin; and Still Life with Apples and Oranges by Paul Cezanne.  This is my second favorite story of the series.

Katie and the Mona Lisa ~ focuses on masterpieces from the Italian Renaissance, specifically: Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, An Angel with a Lute by one of Leonardo's students, St. George and the Dragon by Raphael, Primavera by Sandro Botticelli, and The Lion of St. Mark by Vittore Carpaccio.

Katie's Sunday Afternoon ~ focuses on the Pointillists, specifically: Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Bathers at Asnieres, and Entree du port de Honfleur by Georges-Pierre Seurat; Woman Hanging up the Washing by Camille Pissarro; and Portrait of Felix Feneon by Paul Signac.

    On another note, Dogs' Night by Meredith Hooper and illustrated by Allan Curless and Mark Burgess gives a fanciful introduction to paintings (4 specific) in the National Gallery in London.  As the story goes, each year the dogs jump out of their paintings for a frolic.  But this year, mayhem ensues when several return to the wrong paintings.

    Note: These books are recommended for ages 4-8.

    So readers, please weigh in with any other child friendly art history suggestions?  I'm just an eavesdropping novice in this genre.

    Friday, October 22, 2010

    Patricia Polacco

    Are you ready for another phenomenal author / illustrator?   Once you discover Patricia Polacco for yourself, you'll be asking, "So do I like her captivating storytelling OR her stylized illustrations better?"  Well, it's certainly a toss up!  Polacco draws from her personal experiences when writing and illustrating.  She also incorporates diversity and universal themes in her stories.  After you become acquainted with her charming books, you'll be stunned to find out that Polacco didn't learn to read until almost 14 years of age when she discovered she had dyslexia.  Read her biography at  Her story is similar to her colleague Jerry Pinkney in that they both triumphantly overcome their era's odds against learning disabilities.

    Of course, Emma Kate is our family's personal favorite.  Emma Kate narrates the endearing friendship between a young girl and a young elephant.  Both do everything together; they go to school together, ride their bikes together, they even have their tonsils out together. The colorful marker illustrations juxtaposed against the pencil drawings help to differentiate the twist at the end of the story.  Note that you'll probably have to explain the story's twist to your child.

    Thunder Cake originates from Polacco's experience with her Babushka (Russian grandmother) who helps her conquer her fear of the intimidating sound of thunder.  Grandma coaxes her granddaughter out from underneath the bed by persuading her to help make a Thunder Cake.  Count the thunderclaps as granddaughter gathers the cake ingredients, and discover what happens in the end.  Polacco includes the Thunder Cake recipe!  Check out this great story, and help a child of any age overcome his/her fear of thunderstorms.

    Here are two more Polacco books we just checked out as we get ready for our trip to a goat farm tomorrow.  G is for Goat catalogs the alphabet with letter by letter discriptions of goats and their activities.  Oh Look! gives Polacco's darling retelling of "going on a bear hunt" when three children chase three runaway goats.  See how far the children have to pursue the goats before they're frightened into returning home.  We love the fetching images of goats in these two books that are best suited for kindergarten ages and younger.

    We enjoy so many of Polacco's books that it's too difficult to spotlight them all in one post.  Instead, I'll have to spread out our top Polacco recommendations over the course of the next year or so.  Do note that I have not read all of Polacco's books like I have for most of the authors I highlight.  So please comment on Polacco's books that work best for your family!

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010

    Bear Feels Sick

    I picked up a head cold from my dear children last week, and it's slowly made it's way to my chest.  So, with the exception of the Mister, we've all been sneezing and coughing.  I'm telling you, the Puffs, Ricola, Honey Chestal, humidifier, and Vicks Vapor Rub are all taking up some prime real estate around here!  Anyone want to come over?  :)

    Our go to book in times of illness is Bear Feels Sick by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Jane Chapman.  Wilson writes her story in rhyming verse, so it's especially catchy with the preschool and kindergarten ages.  We soon learn that bear has caught an "autumn" cold.  The kids love saying the repetitive refrain throughout the book; all I have to do is pause, and they quickly jump in with "And the bear feels sick!"  Bear's friends Mouse, Hare, Badger, Gopher, Mole, Raven, Owl, and Wren all come together to take care of him with such tenderness.  Taking Wilson's text a bit further, Chapman's sweet, cozy illustrations compliment Wilson's story with specific ways the friends care for bear.  Then the story concludes with a twist that you  mothers will not be surprised by.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010

    Don Freeman

    We all know author and illustrator Don Freeman best by his iconic, beloved, green-overalled, button-less bear, Corduroy.  How many times have you read this favorite to your children?  It's a classic!  Now, let me recommend a few more Freeman titles to give you a break from reading Corduroy.

    Since it's fall, start out with Earl the Squirrel. Earl's mother tells him that it's "high time you went out and learned how to find acorns on your own."  Find out how Earl acquires his bright red scarf, the only color that vibrates through Freeman's black-and-white scratchboard illustrations.  Then join Earl on his adventurous quest to forage acorns for the winter. 

    My friend Tarin recommended our very favorite Freeman book Dandelion.  The charming, lovable lion receives an invitation to a birthday party and decides to spiffy himself up before arrival.  This delightful story uses humor to teach the timeless lesson "just be yourself."  We had to go out and purchase this one!

    And then there's Mop Top.  Oh where to begin with Mop Top . . . first I'd have to stop howling with laughter.  We've all known a mop top, and I for one think that I'd like to save this for the tween / teen years when I can start handing it out.  Laughter aside, this is a witty story about a little boy who never wants to have his hair cut.

    So readers, please, please share your comments on your favorite Don Freeman book!

    Sunday, October 17, 2010


    Okay, how many of you out there enjoy reading about the changing seasons as much as we do?  It's so much fun to identify spring, summer, fall, and winter by the different clothing we wear, alterations in nature, traditions we take part in, specific songs or poetry we sing, the food we eat, and the seasonable rhythms we fall into.  The first three books pictured below are our most loved "reads" on the seasons.  The kids select them several times each month.  I hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

    A Book of Seasons by Alice and Martin Provensen ~ This is our very favorite book about the changing of the seasons!

    The Year at Maple Hill Farm by Alice and Martin Provensen ~ Not only does this book guide you through the seasons, it guides you through each month through the perspective of a farmer evaluating his family's annual duties.  I recommend this for the older young children.

    Mama Loves by Rebecca Kai Dotlich and illustrated by Kathryn Brown ~ a nostalgic book that subtly chronicles different seasons of the year through a child's point-of-view, written in blank verse, of what his/her mother loves to do with him/her.  Another one of the kids' very favorites. Note: makes a wonderful Mother's Day gift to mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers.  My own mother gave this to me for my very first Mother's Day.

    Out and About by Shirley Hughes ~ contains several individual poems to identify each season of the year with delightful illustrations from the English born Shirley Hughes.  Ask: what season does this poem remind you of?

    Colors by Shirley Hughes ~ poetic word lists for each color, with Hughes' lovely illustrations.  I recommend this for the tots.

    Around the Year by Tasha Tudor ~ With her noted illustrations from yesteryear, Tudor chronicles each month with nineteenth century tasks.

    A Child's Year by Joan Walsh Anglund ~ Anglund's Hallmalk card like illustrations feature each month.  I suggest this for the youngest children.

    My Favorite Time of Year by Susan Pearson ~ one family's story of experiencing the changing seasons.  It's a little wordy for the young ones to sit through.

    Saturday, October 16, 2010


    "A" learned this poem at school.  We enjoyed it so much, I thought I'd share it with you.


    October is the month
    When the smallest breeze
    Gives us a shower of autumn leaves.
    Bonfires and pumpkins,
    Leaves sailing down,
    October is red and golden and brown.

    ~ author unknown (said "Arthur Unknown" as if that was "his" name)

    Tuesday, October 12, 2010

    Chug a chug a choo chooooo

    For this post, I have consulted with my very own personal authority on trains -- hats off to my sister-in-law Tara!  Tara's three boys began their language with train vocabulary.  The eldest's first word was actually the compound word "hub cap" (I guess this is technically car vocabulary, but you see where he was headed.), shortly followed by "coupling," which I had to have defined for me.  Since then, the three have been walking train encyclopedias ~ we're talking about 2 to 3 year olds at the time.

    Tara takes it from here:
    Our family's love of trains began 9 years ago on our eldest son's first birthday.  He received a small Thomas the Tank Engine train set.  Well, that train set has grown greatly and so has our enjoyment of trains.  It probably helps that all three of our children are boys.  

    We were fortunate to have a wonderful librarian in our town's public library.  We asked her about train books, and she opened the door to train literature for us - from the non-fiction picture books to wonderful fiction stories about trains.  Her first recommendation was Puff-Puff, Chugga-Chugga by Christopher Wormell.  The boys loved it so much that we bought it for Christmas that year.  
    Another stellar recommendation was the Bill Peet books The Caboose Who Got Loose and Farewell to Shady Glade.  The stories are fantastic with a good lesson for our children, and the illustrations are the best I've ever seen.  To give you an indication, Peet worked with Walt Disney on many movie illustrations, including Dumbo!  

    Along the way we have discovered other wonderful trains books.  The Rev. W. Awdry wrote all of the Thomas stories.  For the most part we find them to be very good, however, the British language sometimes throws our boys.  The stories sometimes show the trains dealing with bad attitudes and pride.  A wonderful board book for younger children is Red Train by Will Grace.  The book is helpful with counting and colors.  
    The boys all love the Little Golden Book, a gift and recommendation by this blog's writer, The Little Red Caboose.  A list of wonderful train books would be lacking if it did not include the popular Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg.  
    Another little known book that we discovered at the local library Steam, Smoke, and Steel:  Back in Time With Trains by Patrick O'Brien is better for the more mature children.  It is a clever book about a boy who wants to drive a train when he grows up.  It goes on to trace back the long family line of train drivers and the way trains were different in the past.  The illustrations are wonderful.  Each page contains a cat that the children can try to find; our boys showed us this.  The historical aspect of trains in this book is very good.  [Suggested reading level 4 - 9]

    Happy journey with trains in literature!

    Here's a few more for your Train Reading List:

    Tara mentioned The Little Red Caboose by Marian Potter ~ tells why children wait to wave at the little red caboose lagging behind at the very end of the train.

    The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper illustrated by George and Doris Hauman ~ a true classic!! ~ an excellent story in perseverance, with the familiar adage: "I think I can. I think I can."  Yes, I confess I took this to college with me!  Note: do check out the original illustrations as the publishers have recently updated the illustrations for none the better.

    Freight Train by Donald Crews ~ perfect for the beginning train lover!  Also, this was a 1979 Caldecott Honor Winner.

    The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit ~ a classic in children's literature and Edith Nesbit's best known work.  When their father is called away, three siblings and their mother move from the suburbs to the English countryside.  The children, lonely at first, discover a railway tunnel where the Station Master befriends them and where their adventures with the neighboring railway begin.  This also makes a great book to give to a family that's moving away.  Suggested reading level: 9 - 12+.

    Although, I have yet to read the following books, I'm quite familiar with the authors, so you may want to try them out for additional books to your Train Reading List:  Inside Freight Train by Donald Crews, The Little Train by Lois Lenski, Two Little Trains by Margaret Wise Brown, and All Aboard Trains by Mary Harding.  Readers, what are your children's favorite train books?  Do you have any childhood memories with train books?  Thank you Tara and boys for the train recommendations!

    Monday, October 11, 2010

    Tikki Tikki Tembo

    Have you read Tikki Tikki Tembo yet?  I haven't read it to a child thus far (and I've read it to many ~ it's a babysitter's standby) who didn't want it read to them regularly.  Is it the rhythm of the text or the universality of this Chinese story that kids most love?

    Tikki Tikki Tembo retold by Arlene Mosel and illustrated by Blair Lent tells of two young brothers facing the consequence of their traditional birth-ordered name lengths when they disregard their mother's warnings to stay away from the local well.  Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo is the first born son, and Chang is the second born son.  The fable explains why "the Chinese have always thought it wise to give all their children little, short names instead of great long names."  Whether it's the folktale or the ink-and-wash drawings that make this book unforgettable will be for you, reader, to answer.

    Sunday, October 10, 2010


    My sister-in-law Meg introduced me to the all-American Betsy-Tacy series written by Maud Hart Lovelace and illustrated by Lois Lenski.  Meg insisted that I read Betsy-Tacy, loaning me the volume she grew up reading.  As I got into the first few chapters, I realized this just might be a good chapter book to begin reading aloud to my 4 year old.  From the very beginning, she was hooked, begging me to continue reading the next chapter (and the next).

    For you first timers to Betsy-Tacy series, let me describe them to you:
    • Betsy and Tacy become inseparable friends almost as soon as they meet each other at the age of four. 
    • The girls vastly differ in physical features and personality, but you find how well their traits complement each other.  
    • Lovelace loosely bases the stories on her own childhood.  
    • Lovelace began telling her childhood stories to her daughter before writing the fictitious stories of Betsy, Tacy, and then Tib.
    • For you Little House on the Prairie lovers: do you remember Wilder writing about "Pa" going to Mankato, Minnesota?  Well, Betsy and Tacy grow up in Mankato during the turn of the century.  So we see a different midwestern life than the hardships Laura Ingalls Wilder faces.
    We're on our third reading of Betsy-Tacy within the past nine months, and we've also read Winona's Pony Cart.  Betsy and Tacy live on the town's outskirts, and Winona lives right downtown Mankato, so it's interesting to discover the different perspectives of growing up in Mankato.  Now, I'll have to be honest with you, there's a reason why we've only gotten as far as Betsy-Tacy; when I previewed Betsy-Tacy and Tib, I realized there's quite a bit of good, clean mischief that these darling little girls get into.  But I'm just not quite sure my own Little Bit of Mischief needs any fresh ideas (i.e. cutting her little friends' hair all off).  However, in time, she will mature to a level where I can read the next in the series.  So take note, readers, I'm WILD about these books, and we'll be reading all of them over and over in due time!  I want to give a big shout-out "Thank you!" to Meg who introduced us to these wonderful heartland stories.

    Please, please take the time to check out the Betsy-Tacy Society website for more information  Here are some resources we found on the site:
    • a chart of Lovelace's Betsy-Tacy series with corresponding ages
    • reading comprehension questions
    • a Maud Hart Lovelace bio
    • coloring pages
    • crafts
    • birthday party ideas
    • word puzzles
    • a personality quiz
    • and more

    Readers, please comment on your favorite of the Betsy-Tacy books.  Did you grow up reading this series?  Any memorable moments/chapters?

    Thursday, October 7, 2010

    Autumn Leaves

    On the first day that it actually felt cool and crisp, we went outside to pick up some of our falling leaves and brought them in to compare them to the pages in these two books.  Then a few days later, our neighbor came over with her granddaughter, suggesting that we collect leaves and make crayon rubbings to pass the time.  Well, the kids sat outside coloring and rubbing their collected leaves for 45 minutes.  This could be a record!  What I like about the following two books is that they're informative and educational without being wordy or overwhelming, making leaf identification an elementary adventure.

    • Autumn Leaves by Ken Robbins ~ I have just two words to say: excellent photography.  You feel like you can pick up the leaf right off the page, making it easy to identify the leaves in your yard or neighborhood.  The publishers best described the book in the jacket cover: This sumptuous picture book is a primer on tree and leaf identification.  Close-up pictures reveal leaf details, a simple text provides easy clues for identifying trees, and notes in the back explain just how and why leaves change color in the fall.  Award-winning author/photographer Ken Robbins invites very young children to learn about thirteen different trees from all across the country in this glorious portrait of nature's most colorful season.  On our nature walk, we could identify 11 of the 13 leaves/trees.  Also, you may notice that I mentioned this same author in the apple book list for his title Apples.  I find this book the best of the two.

    • Leaf Jumpers by Carole Gerber ~ Gerber identifies eight different leaves through a rhyming story.  Leslie Evans' linoleum-cut illustrations helped us to quickly identify seven of the eight leaves on our neighborhood walk. 
    Here's one of our leaf rubbings.

        Wednesday, October 6, 2010

        "October's Party"

            October's Party
                 by George Cooper

        October gave a party:
            The leaves by hundreds came --
        The Chestnuts, Oaks and Maples,
            And leaves of every name.
        The Sunshine spread a carpet,
            And everything was grand,
        Miss Weather led the dancing,
            Professor Wind the band.

        The Chestnuts came in yellow,
            The Oaks in crimson dressed;
        The lovely Misses Maple
            In scarlet looked their best;
        All balanced to their partners,
            And gaily fluttered by;
        The sight was like a rainbow
            New fallen from the sky.

        Then, in the rustic hollow,
            At hide-and-seek they played,
        The party closed at sundown,
            And everybody stayed.
        Professor Wind played louder;
            They flew along the ground;
        And then the party ended
            In jolly "hands around."

         Buell, Ellen.  Read Me a Poem: Children's Favorite Poetry.  New York: Grossett & Dunlap, 1965.

        Note:  I used the first stanza of this poem (and credits) for my daughter's birthday party invitations last year.

        Tuesday, October 5, 2010


        How many books have you read that have instantly drawn you in by the dedication?  Personally, I can think of only one.  Pumpkin Moonshine's charm begins with Tasha Tudor's dedication: A Wee Story for A Very Sweet Wee Person.  Tudor writes and illustrates this winsome and subtly humorous story about Sylvie Ann's visit to her grandparents' farm, complete with pumpkin hunt, runaway pumpkin, and jack-o-lantern carving.  This is one of my all time favorite stories because it begs to be read aloud, attributable to its alliterative and onomatopoeic words.  The kids listen to it mesmerized by the quaint and lively narrative.  Make sure to look for Wiggy the dog throughout the illustrations!

        Here are a few more pumpkin books to check out:
        • It's Pumpkin Time! by Zoe Hall ~ explains the growth cycle of a "jack-o-lantern patch" in story format from two siblings' point of view.  You'll remember this author also penning The Apple Pie Tree.   Note: also available in Spanish.

        • From Seed to Pumpkin by Wendy Pfeffer ~ excellently explains the life cycle of a pumpkin in easily understood language.

        • The Pumpkin Patch by Elizabeth Kind ~ a photographic narrative a farmer's year in the pumpkin patch.

        • A Day at the Pumpkin Patch by Megan Faulkner & Adam Krawesky ~ photographically chronicles a day at the pumpkin patch and the life cycle of pumpkins.  Note: a Scholastic book.

        Friday, October 1, 2010

        Apples Again

        Have you been checking out apple books yet?  Please weigh in, commenting on your favorites!

        We've found a few more that I'd like to share with you:

        Apple Cider Making Days by Ann Purmell beautifully illustrates the symbiotic relationship between the apple orchard farmer and his/her orchard.  Purmell thoroughly details the process of taking an apple to make cider.  I also love that this book subtly and overtly promotes families and extended families coming together to help one another and enjoy the beauty of the season!

        The Life Cycle of an Apple by Ruth Thompson gives a simple explanation of the life cycle of an apple from seed to tree to table.  I'd recommend reading it to a child as young as 2 years due to the short and simple explanations and the accompanying pictures. 

        Apples by Ken Robbins also explains the growth process of an apple.  However, Robbins gives a little more wordy text more suitable for an older 4 year old or 5 year old and up.  Robbins' thorough information satisfies the inquisitive child.  Note: this is a Scholastic book, too. 

        Apple Pie Tree by Zoe Hall tells the apple growth process in story fashion, perfect for slipping science to young children who prefer stories.  I'd recommend 2-3 years of age and up.  Note: another Scholastic book.

        We've also read a few beginning to read books of Johnny Appleseed.