Category Archives: Healthy Living

Day 147 – Go, Little Green Truck

I like trucks – especially classic pickup trucks – and today’s storybook must have seen me coming a mile away. When I saw the snazzy cover illustration with the bright green pickup truck, I was a sitting duck. I had to pick it up – and I am glad I did. “Go, Little Green Truck” by Roni Schotter and illustrated by Julia Kuo is a cute story (and a beautiful book) about family, redemption…and farmer’s markets.

little greenWhether he is hauling food and livestock around the farm, or running errands to the post office and grocery store, Little Green is about as proud as a little truck can be. Every day he works hard to help Farmer Gray and his family…until one morning Farmer Gray brings home a brand new truck – Big Blue. The Gray family farm is growing, and Farmer Gray is proud of his big new truck, which can take on even bigger jobs that Little Green could handle. Little Green is retired, and left in the meadow to rust.

Missing Little Green one afternoon, Fern Gray – Farmer Gray’s daughter – walks out to find the abandoned truck and curls up in his bed with her cat. When her father and mother find her, Fern suggests that they use Little Green to haul vegetables to the farmers market; Big Blue, she says, is too big and bumpy for the city streets. The family works together to clean Little Green, and Fern even paints some animals, foods, and flowers on him. Everybody at the farmers market loves Little Green, and he starts to feel better and better because, well, now Farmer Gray always uses Little Green for his smaller, gentler jobs, while Big Blue gets the heavier ones. Everyone has their role on the Gray farm, and everyone is happy!

We really enjoyed this story. We appreciated the focus on family, the idea of shopping at the farmer’s market for food fresh from the fields, and (of course) the trucks. Despite my affinity for the trucks, I think our oldest actually was this book’s biggest fan. She really loved the illustrations – which have a pleasing combination of vibrant colors, clean lines, and a style that is rather unique. Two (green) thumbs up!

Day 131 – Jo MacDonald Had a Garden

With Mothers’ Day in the rear-view mirror today, we got back to our themes of flowers, gardens, and growing with “Jo MacDonald Had a Garden” by Mary Quattlebaum and illustrated by Laura Bryant. Like the other books in Ms. Quattlebaum’s Jo MacDonald series, “Jo MacDonald Had a Garden” plays on a familiar tune that helps grab the reader’s attention for a story that focuses on children getting outside and experiencing nature first hand. It’s a theme we especially love, all bundled up with some playful watercolor illustrations in a fun and engaging read-aloud package.macdonald

In the book, Jo and her cousin Mike set out to create a garden – with a bit of a twist: they plan not only to only grow plants that feed people (tomatoes, squash, etc.), but to create an environment that will attract and help sustain wild animals as well. To this end, Jo plants sunflowers for cardinals, coneflowers for bees, and even lays out a flat rock for butterflies to rest. The back of the book provides additional information about some of the plants and animals in Jo’s garden community, and there are some suggested indoor and outdoor activities – including some questions about specific details you may have missed in Ms. Bryant’s artwork the first time through the book!

Upon further research, I discovered that Ms. Quattlebaum actually grew up on a farm, and that her own father served as inspiration for Jo’s grandfather in the book (Old MacDonald). After listening to her talk about her work, I appreciated this book that much more. It was a truly delightful read…and so I’ll sign off with a book, book here…and a book, book there…here a book…there a book…everywhere a picture book…e-i-e-i-o…

Day 107 – How Does My Garden Grow?

Today, in keeping with one of our monthly themes, we read another spectacular Gerda Muller book: “How Does My Garden Grow?” The book is crammed full of information about gardening, with language that is easily accessible to younger listeners. Ms. Muller (as she always does) decorates the pages with her wonderfully colorful, expressive, and comforting images. In this particular book we enjoyed the illustrations of a family working together to plant, tend, and harvest crops on the

Sophie is a city girl, but this summer she is going to stay with her grandparents on their farm in the French countryside, where she is looking forward to doing all kinds of fun things in the garden! Over the summer Sophie learns about planting seeds, mulching, composting, and caring for the vegetables in the garden.  She learns about the impact – both positive and negative – that birds, insects, worms, burrowing mammals, and even bats (!) can have for plants on the farm. Perhaps most importantly, she gains an appreciation for the mouth-watering flavors and amazing varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables that can be grown on the farm. Even when the summer ends and she must go back to school, Sophie keeps coming back through fall and winter to visit and help around the farm. At the end of the year, Sophie is sad to be packing up all the gardening equipment for the winter, but her grandfather has a surprise present for her to help her feel better when spring rolls around: a package full of herb and vegetable seeds to start a garden in the big city!

I have had my eye on this book ever since it was placed in our April basket because of the beautiful cover image of Sophie watering plants plants in the garden – surrounded by artichokes, carrots, beets, and a towering tomato plant. Ms. Muller does an excellent job, as we have seen her do in other books, of telling a compelling story that also happens to be a great learning experience. I love the emphasis on family, on spending time outdoors, and on enjoying fresh home-grown produce. The large format of the book really does Ms. Muller’s illustrations justice – it is a stunning overall production and a joy to flip through again and again.

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 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 57 – Flicka, Ricka, Dicka and the Strawberries

In honor of National Strawberry Day tomorrow, this evening we read “Flicka, Ricka, Dicka and the Strawberries” by Maj Lindman. We have blogged here before about how much we love the old-time charm of Ms. Lindman’s illustrations and stories, in our Day 30 post and on our Favorites page.Strawberries

In “Strawberries”, the Swedish triplets of the title are excited at the possibility of earning some money of their very own by picking wild strawberries with which their mother can fill the empty jars in the kitchen. The girls take off on a grand adventure, pick heaping baskets of strawberries, and enjoy a picnic lunch. Unfortunately, they get lost on the way home and are forced to seek assistance from a young girl, Mary, who lives with her mother and little brother in a modest house in the forest. Mary’s mother is unable to spare any milk for the girls, but she does give them some water and lends them the services of Mary, who is able to lead them to the edge of the forest and put them back on their path home.

Upon returning with their delicious strawberry cargo, the girl’s collect their hard-earned silver pieces from their grateful mother. However, rather than making plans for how to spend the money on themselves, the girls decide they must use their money to express their gratitude to Mary and her mother – by buying Mary a new dress and her brother a soft, brown teddy bear. Bearing these gifts, and a basket of homemade strawberry jam, the girls set off to Mary’s house. After bestowing their gifts, the girls end the story by heading out into the forest to play with their new-found friend.

“Flicka, Ricka, Dicka and the Strawberries” is a story very much like Ms. Lindman’s “Snipp, Snapp, Snurr and the Yellow Sled”. Our heroines are compensated for their hard work, and then decide to give away their rewards to a child who is less fortunate. As with “The Yellow Sled”, “Strawberries” is a story that might otherwise seem overly syrupy but it feels just right delivered in Ms. Lindman’s quaint, charming, vintage style. We are big fans.

Day 54 – Herb the Vegetarian Dragon

Have you ever felt a conviction so deeply that you would be willing to walk the plank into a moat full of ravenous alligators rather than act against that conviction? If so, then you have something in common with the hero of “Herb the Vegetarian Dragon” by Jules Bass and Debbie Harter, our read-aloud selection this evening. herb

Every dragon in the forest of Nogard is a meat-eater, except for Herb. While his fire-breathing brethren eat “all the best boar meat” in the forest and terrorize the people of Castle Dark each night to enjoy “the sweet taste of royal princesses and the crispy crunch of brave knights,” Herb is content to spend his time tending his vegetable garden. Eventually, the brave knights of Castle Dark, led by Bernard the Bold, have had enough and hatch a plan to hunt down all the dragons in the forest and make them walk the plank into the alligator-infested moat. The carnivorous dragons of Nogard – led by the aptly-named Meathook – are forewarned of the danger and go into hiding. Herb, who is blissfully unaware of Bernard’s plan, remains in the open and is eventually captured and chained up at Castle Dark. On the evening before his execution by alligator, Herb receives a visit from a devilish Meathook who offers to spring him from his cell if Herb will prove his loyalty by eating a piece of wild boar meat. Staying true to himself, Herb refuses Meathook’s offer, saying “I’ll take my chances.”

The next day, just as he is about to be pushed into the moat, Herb is saved by the intervention of a little girl who attests to Herb’s gentle nature. However, an eavesdropping Meathook is captured and dragged before the king, who spares his life on the condition that the dragons of Nogard give up eating people forever. Meathook confers with his gang, and after much deliberation they decide that they can learn to survive on boar’s meat and can learn from Herb how to grow their own vegetables in order that they may live in peace with the people of Castle Dark. The book ends with dragons and people – vegetarians and meat-eaters alike – living together in harmony. Kumbaya.

All joking aside, our girls enjoyed this book for its colorful and goofy illustrations – and the text, while lengthy, is fun to read aloud with plenty of opportunities for silly voices and dramatic narration. Another nice thing about the book is the fact that Herb clearly enjoys tending to his vegetable garden, and eating vegetables is important to him. At the same time, the moral of the story – that it is okay to be different and to stand up for what you believe in even in the face of peer pressure – is delivered in a rather ham-handed manner and with some inconsistencies. Parents may also find fault with the (sometimes gory) violence and name-calling in the book. We did.

If these shortcomings do not bother you, we discovered that the book will also be available in Spanish on March 31, 2016.

Day 47 – The Fruit Bowl and Vegetable Soup

Like many parents, we began to focus more on healthy eating after the birth of our first child. Unfortunately, at the same time we noticed that junk food played a role (sometimes the primary role) in many of the board books and story books we found to read together, and we became interested in finding books that would help to normalize the idea of eating fresh, healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. Tonight’s book was one we discovered back then and have kept in our collection ever since.

“The Fruit Bowl/Vegetable Soup” by Dianne Warren and Susan Smith Jonesfruit bowl is a two-for-one collection of short poems about fruits and vegetables. I say two-for-one because it really is two books bound together in one volume; “The Fruit Bowl” begins on one side and ends near the middle of the book – at which point you can flip the book around and read “Vegetable Soup” from the other side back toward the middle as well. Both collections of poems are alphabetized – “Vegetable Soup” actually walks through the entire alphabet – and the poems are frequently filled with alliteration (which can be helpful for beginning readers as well).

What we particularly like about this book is that it is a simple introduction to all kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables in a format that is attractive to young children. It is not preachy, nor does it push or denigrate any particular dietary choice. I also recommend perusing the “To The Reader” page in the middle of the book before reading aloud. In this section, the authors provide some insight into the time and care they took putting this book together – time and care intended to help make the book more interactive. They suggest opportunities for discussion (e.g., “Broccoli begins with “B”, can you think of any other fruits or vegetables that begin with “B”?, or “How many peas can we count in this pod?”), and point out the extra details provided in the illustrations on each page (e.g., the pictures in the margins of “The Fruit Bowl” show the growth cycle for the fruit in question).

I will admit that the illustrations on the cover of the book don’t look quite as polished as some children’s fare, but the drawings and poems in the book caught the attention of our youngest, and we think it is a worthy addition to our 365 storybook reading list.

Disclaimer: please note that, the importance of healthy eating notwithstanding, we do have plans to enjoy Chocolate Mint Day to its fullest this Friday. We hope you do too.