Monthly Archives: March 2016

Day 80 – and then it’s spring

In honor of the first day of spring today we read a whimsical, wonderful book about a little boy and his animal friends waiting for the season to start. The story begins with the little boy, his scarf blowing in the wind and his nose red from the cold, looking into the distance across a barren brown landscape: “First you have brown, all around you have brown…” The text (“First you have…”), the boy’s distant gaze, and the expectant tilt of his dog’s head convey a sense of anticipation…something is coming.spring

Eager to help spring arrive as soon as possible, the boy plants seeds…and he waits. He inspects his handiwork…and he waits. He sits in his little red wagon and fears that his seeds have been devoured by fat little birds or stomped by clumsy bears…and he waits. He sets out bird feeders and hangs a tire swing…and he waits. Meanwhile, underground there is a riot of activity…a “greenish hum” which you can hear “if you put your ear to the ground and close your eyes.” And eventually, one day he walks out and all that brown isn’t around…instead “all around you have green.”

“and then it’s spring” by author Julie Fogliano and illustrator Erin E. Stead is a sweet and lovely book which we thoroughly enjoyed – in English and then in a Spanish translation as well. primaveraLike Kevin Henkes’ “Waiting”, “and then it’s spring” does a marvelous job of combining limited but well-chosen prose with beautifully detailed and subtly humorous artwork to effectively capture what I imagine waiting must feel like through the eyes of a child. We were particularly fond of Ms. Stead’s drawings: the little boy’s confident and determined posture as he pulls his wagon full of gardening supplies, the haphazard arrangement of seed mounds in the little boy’s garden, the little animal vignettes taking place all around him, and especially the small variations from page to page that hint of the coming change in seasons. I recommend reading the book once through to get the flow of Ms. Fogliano’s text first, followed by a slower second pass to truly savor all the fascinating and funny details Ms. Stead has managed to work into every page.



Day 79 – National Quilting Day

In honor of National Quilting Day, which is celebrated each year on the third Saturday in March, we read three quilt-themed books today. Each story stands on its own, but each has at least one key theme in common: the enduring quality of quilts. In each story, a quilt is passed on from one generation to the next, carrying with it the stories of the people and the fabrics used to make it, and providing a sense of continuity and of home.

The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco

Little Anna and her family have only recently moved from Russia to New York, a city which is profoundly different from the home they have left behind. Everyone in the big city is in a hurry, and the English that the children speak at school sounds to Anna like “pebbles dropping into shallow water.” All that Anna has left to remind her of Russia is her old blanket (her “babushka”) and her dress – which is almost too small for her. Anna’s mother decides that the family should make a quilt to always remind them of home. She collects Anna’s dress, her babushka, Uncle Vladimir’s shirt, Aunt Havalah’s nightdress, Aunt Natasha’s old apron, and an entire basket of used clothes besides and invites all the neighborhood ladies to pitch in. So begins the story of “The Keeping Quilt” by Patricia Polacco, another wonderful yarm plucked from the annals of Ms. Polacco’s family history. keeping

The book follows the path of the quilt over multiple generations, from Anna – who is Ms. Polacco’s great-grandmother – all the way to Ms. Polacco’s own children. It is a richly detailed story about the circle of life, and true to Ms. Polacco’s style it is steeped in history and emphasizes the importance of family. It is a tale of joyful weddings, newborn babies, birthday parties, children starting new families of their own, and beloved relatives passing on. There is a sense of continuity to the cycle, and to the traditions shared between generations. While traditions change subtly over time, the quilt is constant. When Great-Grandpa Sasha asks for great-grandma Anna’s hand in marriage he presents her with gifts of a gold coin (for wealth), a dried flower (for love) and salt (so that their lives will always have flavor). By the time we reach Patricia’s wedding, four generations later, her bouquet includes gold, bread (so that she will never know hunger), salt, and a sprinkle of wine (so that she will always know laughter). The quilt is present on both occasions – as a picnic blanket under Sasha and Anna, and as a canopy (or “huppa”) over Patricia and her husband as they say their vows. The quilt’s constancy is emphasized by the fact that it is presented in color on every page, while the rest of Ms. Polacco’s illustrations are rendered in shades of gray charcoal.

We love the way in which Ms. Polacco weaves history into her stories, and the way that she draws connections between the past and her family’s life today. It’s a beautiful concept – and it is further inspiration for us to work on creating our own traditions and family culture – like reading aloud together every day.

The Quilt Story by Tony Johnston and illustrated by Tomie dePaola

The titular quilt of Mr. Johnston’s story is sewn for a little pioneer girl by her mother “to keep her warm when the snow came down, long ago.” The quilt is adorned with shooting stars and the little girl’s name, Abigail. It serves not only as a blanket for warmth, but as a tablecloth for tea parties with dolls, as a gown for pretend trips into town on a wooden horse, and as a (rather ineffective) refuge during games of hide-and-seek. Most importantly, however, the quilt serves as a little piece of home to comfort Abigail when her family moves out west to a brand new log cabin.quilt story

Eventually, old and well-loved the quilt is stowed away in the attic where over the years it is forgotten by the people who placed it there. It remains well-loved and appreciated, however, serving as a nest and a source of nourishment for a family of mice, as a place for a raccoon to store food, and as a comfy bed for a patchwork cat. Ultimately, the quilt is rediscovered by a new little girl, whose mother repairs the damaged quilt – filling it with new stuffing and stitching new tails on the shooting stars.

I liked this story, but I must admit that I was a bit put off by the fact that the quilt is picked up and used by a little girl after it has served for years as bedding for animals in the attic. However, this quibble notwithstanding, “The Quilt Story” is an endearing tale that benefits from the look and feel of Mr. dePaola’s vintage folk-art illustrations. Our oldest, a quilt-maker herself, actually picked this story out as her favorite of the evening.

Mooshka – a Quilt Story by Julie Paschkis

Little Karla has a very unique quilt she calls Mooshka. The quilt was made for Karla by her grandmother, who stitched it together from scraps of fabric she calls “schnitz”. While sewing, she tells Karla the stories behind each scrap. The quilt is very special to Karla and it makes her feel warm and safe – but that is not what makes Mooshka unusual. What is remarkable about Mooshka is that the quilt talks to Karla – telling her “sweet dreams” at bedtime or greeting her in the morning when she wakes up. If Karla is unable to sleep at night, she can touch a schnitz and it will tell her its story.mooshka

This all changes when Karla’s little sister, Hannah, is born. Mooshka no longer speaks to Karla, even when she touches a schnitz and asks for its story. The only sound Karla hears anymore is a baby crying…until she thinks to drape Mooshka over her little sister in her crib. “Sister” says Mooshka – and Hannah stops crying. Karla puts her hand on a schnitz and begins to tell the story herself – and the book closes with both Hannah and Mooshka quiet, and Karla talking “on and on.”

I loved this book. It’s a darling story; as parents of two girls, we especially appreciated the idea of Karla comforting her little sister (just look at the picture on the cover of the book!). The pages are filled with colorful, charming illustrations, and with words like “Mooshka” and “schnitz” it’s also really fun to read aloud.

Day 78 – Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!

For years, Mr. McGreely has had a dream “…of getting his hands dirty, growing yummy vegetables, and…gobbling them all up.” One fine spring day, “by golly,” he decides it is finally time for his dream to become reality. He hoes, and he sows, and he watches his garden grow – but he is not alone! In the corner of his yard, somebunny else has their eyes on Mr. McGreely’s veggies – three somebunnies to be exact!

munchaThat evening…”tippy, tippy, tippy, pat”…the “puff-tailed” interlopers steal into the garden by moonlight and “muncha, muncha, muncha” Mr. McGreely’s carefully cultivated sprouts. What ensues is a rapidly escalating and humorously excessive contest of man against nature – with Mr. McGreely erecting increasingly imposing barriers against these three resourceful and ravenous “lop-eared” larcenists. After building what looks like a maximum-security prison around his garden – complete with moat – it appears he has succeeded in turning away the “twitch-whiskered” trouble-makers…or has he?

Candace Fleming’s “Muncha, Muncha, Muncha” put a big fat smile on my face. The mischievous bunnies, the use of onomatopoeia, and Mr. Greely’s emotional outbursts nam nammade for an engaging read aloud experience (for narrator and listener alike). The repetitive moonlight “refrain” of the bunnies sneaking into the garden – “tippy, tippy, tippy, pat…muncha, muncha, muncha” – is great for beginning readers as well. Perhaps best of all, Ms. Fleming’s book inspired us all to start munching on carrots as our oldest read us the Spanish version of the story.

Candace Fleming is scheduled to be featured in the next online author event at Read Aloud Revival (April 17, 2016). We plan on working in several more of Ms. Fleming’s books between now and then. We can’t wait!

Day 77 – St. Patrick’s Day (a foine bundle o’ books to be sure!)

I may have forgotten to put on any green this morning, but that doesn’t mean we weren’t prepared to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a bundle of carefully selected, holiday-themed story books. We had five books this evening, and I felt four were truly worthy of mention here.

St. Patrick’s Day by Gail Gibbons

If you have a holiday coming up, it’s always a good idea to make sure you have a Gail Gibbons book queued up for the reading list. Her picture books are a great way to introduce the history and traditions of a holiday in a form that is accessible to younger listeners, while almost always sharing some information that is new to the adults in the room as well.patrick

“St. Patrick’s Day” is a relatively quick read but still manages to provide a brief biography of St. Patrick and explain his significance to the Irish people while also introducing all the major symbols people associate with the holiday (except for green beer). New knowledge I acquired from Ms. Gibbons this evening included the fact that St. Patrick was not originally Irish (he was English?!?), that the holiday was first celebrated in (what would become) the United States in 1737 in Boston, and that St. Patrick used the three-leafed shamrock to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity.

Overall, it was a great introduction to a fun and festive holiday, and an entertaining start to our St. Patrick’s day book bundle.

Fiona’s Lace by Patricia Polacco

“Fiona’s Lace” by Patricia Polacco isn’t a St. Patrick’s Day book per se. It is a story about a family – the family of Ms. Polacco’s great-great-grandmother Fiona – who emigrated to the United States from Ireland. Like one of our favorite Christmas books “An Orange for Frankie” (another Polacco creation), “Fiona’s Lace” takes a chapter from Ms. Polacco’s family history and turns it into a delightfully moving storybook that the entire family can enjoy together.

FionaFiona lives in the little village of Glen Kerry, Ireland – not far from Limerick – with her mother, Annie, her father, Mick, and her sister, Ailish. Ailish never tires of hearing their father tell the story of how he and Annie met, and how he was led straight to her door by the pieces of homemade lace she had tied to lamp posts and bushes all along the way. Annie is no longer able to make lace due to the arthritis afflicting her hands, but she is confident that her oldest daughter Fiona’s lacework is destined to be the pride of Limerick.

Unfortunately for Fiona’s family, the textile mill on which the town of Glen Kerry depends for its livelihood is shutting down. Where can the family go to find work? The O’Flarity’s next door have a possible solution: sign a contract to be in domestic service for a rich family in return for passage to America – a country where, Ailish assures Fiona, “…servants have servants of their own.” With tearful farewells, Mick and the girls pack up their belongings and head for Chicago.

After a long and challenging ocean voyage from Ireland to New York, followed by a similarly draining train ride from New York to Chicago,  Fiona’s family arrives at their new home. However, what they find is not the land of bounty that Ailish anticipated – it’s a two room apartment in a rundown area of town that they must share with another family – the O’Flaritys from Glen Kerry! Mrs. O’Flarity educates Fiona’s family on the reality of their new situation: with all of their wages from domestic work going to pay off the cost of their tickets to America, the only way to survive is to find a second job – which they do (Annie scrubbing linens in a local hotel, and Mick at the slaughterhouse).

But there is hope! Mrs. O’Flarity mentions a dressmaker who is looking for fine Irish lace like that which Fiona makes. When presented with Fiona’s samples, the dressmaker tells Annie: “We’ll buy as much as the girl can make!”. Celebrations ensue back at the apartment – Mick talks of using the earnings from selling Fiona’s lace to move the family to their own farm, across the lake in Michigan. That evening, however, while Mick and Annie are working their second jobs, a fire – presumably the Chicago fire – comes tearing through the neighborhood and Fiona and Ailish must flee. They make it to safety, but how will their mother and father find them?

Inspired by Ailish’s favorite story about their parents, Fiona cuts up her beautiful – and now extremely valuable – lace and uses it to mark a path to a basement where the girls eventually lie down to sleep. The next morning, shortly after they awake, they hear a familiar voice cry out “My lambs…my meek little lambs!” It is their father and mother at last – overjoyed at having found their girls amid the devastation of the fire. Ailish is heartbroken over the destruction of Fiona’s lace, but Mick assures them both that their family “…and generations after…will cherish this lace…always!” And they do; according to Ms. Polacco’s end note, those pieces of lace continue to be family heirlooms to this day.

“Fiona’s Lace” is a moving story about the importance of family, of relying on each other and persevering. It is also set against a fascinating backdrop of Irish and American history, and Ms. Polacco’s epilogue adds to the impact of the story by letting the reader know that the tale has tentacles into her life today – that it is part of her family’s lore.

A Fine St. Patrick’s Day by Susan Wojciechowski and illustrated by Tim Curry

The towns of Tralee and Tralah have been rivals “for as far back as anyone can remember.” The two burgs compete with each other annually for the prize of best St. Patrick’s Day decorations – a prize awarded by the official county judge in the form of a golden shamrock. It is a prize that Tralee has never won, but with each defeat they remain confident of next year’s triumph, despite their track record and the taunts from the people of Tralah.fine

This year, little Fiona Riley has a foolproof plan – the people of Tralee must paint the town green…entirely green (except, of course, for the mailboxes which are government property, and the fire hydrants which must remain yellow in order to be seen). Everyone agrees this is an excellent plan, and they all set to work on this arduous task – while their counterparts in Tralah work assiduously to decorate their own town with glittery cardboard shamrocks.

One day before St. Patrick’s day, a stranger (who looks suspiciously like a leprechaun) rides into Tralah seeking aid. His cows have become stuck in a nearby river and he must free them quickly. Unfortunately, the haughty people of Tralah are too busy to spare any time for the stranger, who is forced to seek assistance in Tralee. Led by the example of little Fiona, the people of Tralee are persuaded to abandon their brushes (and their best chance yet to defeat Tralah) so that they may help the stranger wrest his herd from the mud at the bottom of the river. Upon completing the task, they arrive home too exhausted to finish decorating – and they all fall asleep with the town only partially painted.

When they awake, they find that every inch of Tralee has indeed been painted green (except of course for the mailboxes and fire hydrants – as previously explained). There is cheering, whooping, and hollering – and the people of Tralee are finally awarded the golden shamrock; their trophy case is empty no more. When they rush to tell the stranger of their good fortune, however, the only trace of him is a single golden cow bell left in a field. The grateful people of Tralee place the cow bell next to their trophy – on which little Fiona’s name has been inscribed – and decide that they will no longer compete with Tralah. From this day forward they will celebrate and decorate as they will with no regard for judges or prizes, but simply for the sheer joy of it.

I loved reading this book. The oil paint illustrations fill every page with deep and vibrant color, and the text is almost like a song with all the Irish names and expressions: O’Learys and McLeans, Reverend Flaherty, Brogan O’Neill, Fiona Riley, and a little man who keeps exclaiming “sure and begorra” when explaining how his cows are stuck in the mud. It’s a thoroughly satisfying conclusion, as well, with the kind-hearted people of Tralee richly rewarded and finally able to (figuratively) take their ball and go home so they can play their own game according to their own rules.

Oh – and more cowbell! Sorry, had to.

There Once Was a Man Named Michael Finnegan adapted by Mary Ann Hoberman and illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott

This book was very silly and fun. It’s based on the children’s song “Michael Finnegan” and is meant to be sung. Unfortunately for our family, I did not know the tune of the song until I looked it up online later in the evening – but I think everyone enjoyed it…I sure did. It’s repetitive, but the repetition is entertaining, and there’s something about saying the name Michael Finnegan – especially with an Irish accent – that makes me smile. The book also wins extra points because when we first bought it, our youngest wanted to hear it read again and again.

finneganIn this extended version of the song, Michael plays the violin frequently but never very well. He becomes rich being paid not to play, is laughed at by his family for never actually getting any better, and eventually finds a soul mate in a little dog, Quinn, who loves his music. The book ends with the exuberant lines:

Michael takes his violin-igan,
Quinn sits up and starts to grin-igan,
Kisses Michael on his chin-igan,
Happy Michael Finnegan, begin-igan!

And in closing…

May your glass be ever full.
May the roof over your head be always strong.
And may you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead.

There are many great Irish toasts that could be mentioned here, but I have always especially appreciated this one. Sláinte!

Day 76 – Sun and Moon

“Sun and Moon” by Lindsey Yankey presents a variation on the old adage that the grass always appears to be greener on the other side of the fence. Adorned with boldly colored and richly detailed illustrations, it is a lovely story about learning to appreciate the beauty that is already all around you.sun moon

The moon has spent his lifetime in the dark and he feels as though his world is too often lonely and boring. He imagines all the dazzling things that the sun must see on his journeys across the sky, and he wishes that for just one day he could trade places with his daytime counterpart. The sun agrees, but with two conditions: the trade will be irrevocable, and before he makes his decision, the moon “…must spend an entire night in the sky looking very closely at the earth – closer than (he) ever has before.”

The moon is thrilled and agrees to the sun’s conditions, expecting that he will see nothing from his place in the night sky that will change his mind. Instead, he observes (or rediscovers) in his midnight world all manner of enchanting scenes that would never present themselves in the daylight. He watches the “vibrant life of a nighttime carnival”,  foxes heading out to hunt, children dreaming, a family of raccoons on the prowl, and booming fireworks that remind him of wildflowers he has only ever seen in his dreams. Perhaps most moving, however, is his sudden appreciation of the stars: “he hadn’t paid much attention to (them) before, but now they were all around him, so near he could even hear them smile.” By the end of the tale, the moon has learned his lesson. He wishes “for nothing more than to spend the rest of his nights enjoying the exciting and wonderful things that (come) to life in his moonlight.”

Based on what we have learned so far this year about the process of getting a book published, I am especially impressed at writers who are their own illustrators. The two jobs are difficult enough on their own, but Ms. Yankey has managed to do both, to great effect. I really enjoyed reading this book. It is an endearing parable, with imagery and artwork that effectively convey an appreciation for the tranquil beauty of the moon’s nighttime world.

Day 75 – Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present

If you have ever been confounded by the challenge of finding the perfect present for someone important in your life, then perhaps you will identify with the heroine of this evening’s story book. Originally published in 1962, “Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Presents” tells the story of a little girl’s quest to find the right gift for her mother’s birthday, with the assistance of a well-intentioned Mr. Rabbit. The book is written by Charlotte Zolotow and illustrated by Maurice Sendak, whose Impressionistic watercolor artwork won the book a Caldecott Honor.rabbit

The little girl may be short on specific ideas at first, but she knows what colors her mother likes – red, yellow, green and blue. Working together, Mr. Rabbit and the girl brainstorm potential gifts for each color in turn and eventually end up with a fruit basket full of apples, bananas, pears and grapes – a lovely present indeed!

We originally added “Mr. Rabbit” to our list because Mr. Rabbit made the book seasonally appropriate, and because we loved the idea of making a colorful fruit basket for a gift. We also appreciated the fact that we were able to find both an English and a Spanish version at the local library; we like to take advantage of bilingual read aloud opportunities whenever we we can.

ConejoWe weren’t sure about all of Mr. Rabbit’s suggestions to the little girl (red underpants?), and I can’t recall ever seeing blue grapes – but the characters’ brainstorming provides a nice introduction to colors for younger listeners. There is a repetition to the text that is beneficial for beginning readers, and the story promotes kindness to animals and healthy eating – two things we always value in a story book. Your children may actually enjoy an activity of putting together their own fruit basket after reading the book – especially if you have a birthday coming up at home!




Day 74 – Pi Day and Einstein’s Birthday

In honor of Pi Day and Albert Einstein’s birthday today we had another “holiday bundle”. (A brief aside: one of my favorite things about A Storybook Year is how many new holidays we have to celebrate. I think I’ve mentioned this fact before, and I apologize ahead of time for the fact that I will doubtless say it again). Our bundle included several entertaining books, and I will attempt to give each its due here.

Pi Day

The Blueberry Pie Elf

elfOur feature selection today was “The Blueberry Pie Elf” by Jane Thayer and illustrated by Seymour Fleishman. It is a darling little book about an elf named Elmer who loves blueberry pie and whose taste for this delicious confection causes him to go to great lengths to make his love known.

Elmer lives in a house with “some people” who don’t know he’s there because, as Ms. Thayer informs us, “no one can see an elf, no one can hear an elf, and no one can feel an elf.” One day, Elmer helps the people pick blueberries and roll dough for a blueberry pie. After the people go to bed that evening, Elmer jumps into the pie dish and eats “till his elfin stomach bulged.” He then cleans his feet out of courtesy to the people, and curls up in a tea cup to sleep. When he wakes, however, he finds to his dismay that the rest of the pie is gone; consumed by the people for breakfast(?!?). Elmer has a new purpose in life: to find more blueberry pie. Since Elmer can’t be seen, heard, or felt, he begins to take care of chores around the house (sweeping, cleaning dishes, making the bed), hoping that his kind deeds for the people will cause them to make another blueberry pie. However, while they appreciate the efforts of this unseen individual, the people have no way of knowing what it is that Elmer wishes them to do in return. Elmer is distraught; he paces, closes his eyes tight, even hides his head under a pillow trying to block out visions of blueberry pie…to no avail. Meanwhile, the people do bake pies – but not the right ones: apple (yuck), pumpkin (he turns up his nose), and cherry (too sour). However, after sampling the cherry pie, he forgets to clean his feet and leaves tiny footprints on the table. Aha! When the people find the footprints later, they realize at last that they have an elf in the house – that is who has been so helpful lately! If only they knew what to do to thank him…suddenly, while admiring his cherry footprints, Elmer has an epiphany! He jumps into the pie dish and uses his cherry-covered feet to write “Blueberry Pie Please”.  At long last, Elmer’s wish is answered – the people make him a blueberry pie, and the book ends with a heart-felt “Thank You” spelled out on the table with blueberry pie filling.

We found a lot to appreciate about this book. Mr. Fleishman’s vintage illustrations add a significant amount of charm to this quaint parable, and what parent wouldn’t appreciate Elmer’s attempt to “earn” more blueberry pie by working hard and being helpful. Elmer is not only hard working, but considerate: until his happy mistake with the cherry pie, he is has the good manners to wipe his feet whenever he helps himself to some dessert, and he remembers to use his polite words (“please” and “thank you”). He is the quintessential model of good behavior! I fear this message was lost on our oldest, unfortunately; when we later discovered that some of her oatmeal from breakfast had dribbled down the cabinet drawers onto the kitchen floor, she seemed unperturbed and simply suggested that perhaps Elmer had been enjoying the oatmeal. Oh well, we shall take our own lesson from this book: don’t give up. Elmer wouldn’t.

How to Make An Apple Pie and See the World”

apple pie“How to Make an Apple Pie And See the World” by Marjorie Priceman is an exuberant and silly tale about the great lengths one COULD go to in order to make an apple pie. You see, the recipe is rather simple: “get all the ingredients at the market…mix them well, bake, and serve…unless, of course, the market is closed.” When one door closes, another opens, however – and Ms. Priceman takes us on a humorously extreme alternate route to gathering the necessary ingredients which involves a trip around the world in planes, trains, and automobiles, stowed in a banana boat, plopped unceremoniously in a bicycle basket, carried on the end of an elephant trunk, and dropped from a plane into a Vermot apple orchard before heading back home.

Ms. Priceman’s tale is funny and entertaining, and her trip around the world is also informative. The book actually provides a little geography lesson, not only in terms of where certain countries are around the world, but in terms of the kinds of food you would want to gather there (e.g., semolina wheat from Italy, cinnamon from Sri Lanka, and sugar cane from Jamaica).

Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi

sir cumference“Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pie” by Cindy Newuschwander and illustrated by Wayne Geehan is a mathematical fairy tale decorated with rich pastel drawings and full of all sorts of Pi-related puns. The story centers on Radius, the son of Sir Cumference, who inadvertently turns his father into a dragon when he brings him the wrong remedy for his heartburn. Alerted to the presence of a dragon in the kingdom, knights begin gathering from all across the countryside and Radius is in a race against time to turn his father back to human form before he is slain. There is a remedy, but Radius must be careful to give just the right dose, a dose which is the same as the ratio between the circumference of a circle and the diameter. With some help from his mother (Lady Di of Ameter) and the Metry brothers (Geo and Sym), Radius eventually determines that all circles have the same ratio – and he administers a dose of 3 1/7 spoonfuls to his grateful father who parades his son back into a town for a celebratory helping of pie.

We love math (see our dorky reason for picking “Waiting” by Kevin Henkes) and I am particularly fond of bad puns – so this book was perfect for us. It’s not just silliness, however. The expression on the face of the dragon that dominates the cover of the book is the only hint that the characters are in on the joke. There is some real math education here in the context of an engaging story; I actually became pretty invested in Radius and was really pulling for him to figure things out.

Albert Einstein’s Birthday

I Am Albert Einstein

albert“I am Albert Einstein” by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos was a lot of fun to read. Mr. Meltzer’s books are sized just right to be attractive to little hands, and he presents his subjects in a very accessible way – with a combination of simple text and amusing comic strip vignettes (aided significantly by Mr. Eliopoulos’ expressive and playful style of illustration). We read one of Mr. Meltzer’s other kid-centric biographies for Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, but I did not read the little comics out loud at that point – which appears to have been a mistake. I did fortunately read the comics out loud in this evening’s Meltzer selection, and the exchanges therein between Albert and other characters from his life were consistently the funniest parts of the book; did you know that Albert Einstein had awesome hair?

The idea that you could be so misunderstood by everyone around you as a child, or even as a young adult, and yet go on to become widely acknowledged as one of the smartest men ever to have lived, is tremendously appealing. Yes, Albert Einstein’s life story is an inspiring one, and Mr. Meltzer’s book is a great introduction to that story for younger kids.


Day 73 – A Pet for Miss Wright

“A Pet For Miss Wright” by Judy Young and illustrated by Andrea Wesson is a colorful, quirky book about the difficulties of the writing process and the friendship that can develop between the right animal and a person. miss wright

Miss Wright is an author with a quaint Victorian house that looks out over a rocky beach and the ocean. Notwithstanding the beauty of her surroundings, Miss Wright finds writing to be a very lonely job; while the characters in her stories have adventures, she sits alone in a house that is silent except for the clicking of her keys. She decides that the solution to her problems is to acquire a pet. The man at the pet store recommends a mynah bird to break the silence, because “…they repeat everything they hear”. Unfortunately, the mynah bird only imitates the clicking of Miss Wright’s keys. She then embarks upon a series of failed attempts at finding the right pet: a monkey (too mischievous), a fish (too hypnotic) and a cat (too obstructionist and lazy). Sleep deprived and ready to give up, she tells the man at the pet store “No more pets”, but he prevails upon her to try one more animal: a dog. To her surprise, the dog simply wants to sit near her as she works, and she keeps him for “…another day. And another. And another.” Her new pet serves as muse and critic as well, communicating his feelings about her writing with a kiss (he likes it!) a howl (it’s funny!) or a request for a walk (time to go back to the drawing board). Eventually he helps her edit a manuscript which is selected for publishing. The book ends with Miss Wright working on a new book, sitting at her desk typing; “…that’s what authors do…it’s a lonely job…unless you have a dog”.

We did not originally have this book in our March queue, but our oldest discovered it at the library and liked it a lot – so we substituted it in and were not disappointed. We enjoyed the beautifully detailed pictures of Miss Wright’s house and the beach outside her home. The depiction of the writing process as long and difficult but ultimately rewarding was accurate based on what we’ve learned over at the Read Aloud Revival author events, and I hope it was inspiring to our own budding writer. We particularly appreciated the fact that a dog made the perfect pet (I don’t want to betray any biases, but “duh”).

Day 72 – Terry and the Caterpillars

“Terry and the Caterpillars” by Millicent Selsam and illustrated by Arnold Lobel is a charming story of an inquisitive little girl who learns first-hand about the life cycle of caterpillars. Originally published in 1962, this “Science I Can Read Book” is adorned with vintage illustrations from the author of the “Frog and Toad” books, and is a particularly engaging way to introduce young readers (and listeners) to one of the most magical transformations in the natural world.  Terry

One day Terry brings home a big, fat, green caterpillar with orange, yellow, and blue bumps. “What are you going to do with it?” her mother asks. “Keep it!” declares Terry…”this is the biggest, fattest, nicest caterpillar I ever saw.” Terry sets up her new pet in a jar complete with a stick and some leaves. However, Terry is not content with just one caterpillar, and eventually she has three tenants in three individual jars in her menagerie – each jar numbered for careful observation. Terry watches with fascination as her first caterpillar stops eating and begins spinning a cocoon. Eventually, she moves three cocoons to a specially prepared terrarium, and one day a beautiful brown and white moth appears. Terry asks ,”Where did this come from?” After further investigation Terry discovers that the moth came from one of the cocoons. She and her parents work together in shifts to make sure that Terry is able to observe one of her remaining two caterpillars emerging from its cocoon – and she does. Finally, after baby caterpillars hatch from eggs laid in the terrarium, Terry sets her friends loose on the apple tree in the yard. Now she understands the full life cycle of the caterpillar, and the book closes with an illustration of our inquisitive protagonist dancing among a cloud of butterflies and moths.

There is a lot to appreciate about this book. A story that is centered on a little girl who is fascinated enough with the natural world to bring home a big, fat, green bug for observation, to conduct her own research, and to ask intelligent questions about is refreshing. It defies an unfortunate stereotype to which we are particularly sensitive as parents of two girls. The story also provides a nice introduction to the scientific method. Terry asks questions and discovers answers (“What will I feed it?”… “Where did you find it?”…”On the apple tree”…”Then put some apple leaves in the jar”). She and her mother do background research at the library about how best to care for the caterpillars while in their cocoons. Terry constructs a hypothesis about where the brown moth came from. She tests her hypothesis by watching the remaining cocoons. She analyzes the data from her observations, and ultimately she pulls all of her observations together and communicates her findings on the final page when she summarizes the entire life cycle.

“Terry and the Caterpillars” is more than a mere picture book; in a way it is an introduction to chapter books, without chapters. It’s a cute story, too. Terry’s progress should keep your younger listeners engaged, and there is some humor. I thought it was amusing that when the family worked together to make sure Terry could see a moth emerge, it was daddy who got the 4 am shift. If you have a little bit more time one evening, it is well worth a read – and may help inspire some young scientists in your own house.

Day 71 – Chewy Louie

For anyone who has ever owned a puppy, “Chewy Louie” by Howie Schneider will sound very familiar. It is a cautionary parable that becomes a tale of hope, patience, and redemption – and Mr. Schneider’s illustrations of the goofy, exuberantly destructive little puppy of the title are certain to put a smile on your face.Louie

The story is narrated by a young boy whose father brings Louie home one day. Louie is a diminutive black puppy who loves to chew…on everything. He eats all the food his new family puts in his bowl, and then he eats the bowl. He chews up toys, headboards, the back porch, and the veterinarian’s office. He runs off the construction crew hired to repair the house as well as two dog trainers with diametrically opposed approaches to curing Louie of his obsession with chewing. Eventually, the entire family has reached the end of its rope and has resigned themselves to the fact that they will have to part with their Tasmanian devil of a dog…until Louie plays one last game of catch and actually returns the stick without chewing it at all! It seems Louie was just going through a phase – he’s all better now because “he’s not a puppy anymore.”

Every page of this book is littered with pictures of Louie’s handiwork…there are chunks missing from just about everything you can think of. No bites are taken out of the people around Louie – but their clothes, canes, and guitars are not safe. Mr. Schneider’s depiction of Louie’s protruding teeth and pink tongue, his frantically wagging tail, and the almost drunken look of satisfaction on his face in some scenes are quite amusing – especially in contrast to the various looks of horror, astonishment, anger, or even resignation on the faces of the people around him.

It’s a really fun book to read and to look at – and best of all, it gives us a little glimmer of hope that one day our puppies will stop chewing our house.