Category Archives: Category – Upper Elementary

Ages 9 to 12

Day 182 – Sea Story (Brambly Hedge)

sea-storyIs there a day summer day – or any day, really – that isn’t made better by reading aloud together about the mice of Brambly Hedge? Today’s book, “Sea Story,” is another outstanding entry in Jill Barklem’s Brambly hedge series, telling the story of Dusty, Poppy, Primrose and Wilfred who set off for the sea in Dusty’s boat, the Periwinkle to stock up on salt.

The mice set off together on a beautiful, breezy and warm summer day to pay a much-needed visit on their cousins, the Sea Mice. Along with a little bit of peril on the “high seas”, this lovely little tale has some delightful vocabulary, charming characters (with interesting names), and of course Ms. Barklem’s intricate and fascinating illustrations! We were once again quite impressed not only by the care apparent in Ms. Barklem’s artwork, but by the colorful details of everyday life that she works into the narrative – details which really help to bring her characters and the world of Brambly Hedge alive.

Can’t wait for the next time we get to pop in on Ms. Barklem’s friends!

 


Day 179 – Island Boy

island-boy

“Island Boy” is another charming tale of historical fiction from one of our favorite author/illustrators, Barbara Cooney.

Matthais is born on Tibbets Island, Maine and his life is inextricably tied to the sea. After traveling the world as a young man, he returns to the island to marry his sweetheart and raise a family. The story crosses generations, sprinkles in some Maine history, and also includes a fascinating map in the back for children and parents alike to pore over. The ending is a little bit sad, but the book is as charming and beautiful as you would expect from Ms. Cooney. We thoroughly enjoyed it.


Day 178 – Over in the Ocean

 

Over in the ocean
Far away from the sun
Lived a mother octopus
And her octopus one

‘Squirt’ said the mother
‘I squirt’ said the one
So they squirted in the reef
Far away from the sun”

over-in-the-oceanSo begins Marianne Berkes’ “Over in the the Ocean”, a wonderfully catchy rhyming and counting book that also serves as an introduction to some of the amazing animals that live along the coral reef. Set to the rhythm and tune of Olive Wadsworth’s classic rhyme “Over in the Meadow”, “Over in the Ocean” is a delightful read aloud experience made all the more entertaining by Jeanette Canyon’s intricate “relief” illustrations.

We had a lot of fun reading this book. The pace and rhyme scheme are addictive – it rolls right off your tongue and should keep little listeners thoroughly engaged. In the back of the hardcover edition that we read there is also a copy of the music to go with the rhyme and some additional information about the coral reef and the animals in the book. The end notes also include some tips from Ms. Canyon – who created all of the illustrations in the book with polymer clay(!) We love finding these kinds of extra “goodies” as part of our reading adventures – it’s so fun!

For some additional background information, you can watch a video about Ms. Canyon’s work on “Over in the Ocean” by clicking here.


Day 175 – A Stick is an Excellent Thing

Today we read a perfect book for summertime – a playful and breezy book of poems about outdoor play called “A Stick is an Excellent Thing” by Marylin Singer and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. With jaunty, rhyming text and joyful depictions of children enjoying the outdoors to the fullest, it had us ready to drop everything and head outside to play!stick

Ms. Singer’s poems pay tribute to all the fantastic fun that can be had outdoors with the simplest of toys – a sprinkler, bubbles, jacks, a red rubber ball, a jump rope, some sidewalk chalk, and (yes) excellent sticks! It’s a great reminder that having fun on a hot summer day doesn’t necessarily require any planning or expensive toys, just a few simple props and some space to move (of course, around these parts you also often need some Off repellant – which I noticed was not mentioned in any of Ms. Singer’s poems!)

The rhyming text is fun to read aloud, and the fast-paced format is perfect for short attention spans (whether it’s the reader or the listener with the short attention span). I’m not sure which poem was my favorite, but my favorite illustration accompanied the poem “Upside Down” about looking at the world from another angle while hanging from a swing. I agree wholeheartedly with Ms. Singer: a stick is an excellent thing. I have seen it many times with my own eyes – which is why just reading the title of this book makes me smile. Ding-ding! Another winner.


Day 174 – The Seashore Book

Has life got you down? Having trouble finding your happy place? Well, today’s book might just be right up your alley – assuming your happy place is a relaxing stroll along the beach! “The Seashore Book” by Charlotte Zolotow and illustrated by Wendell Minor is a quiet and comforting book about a mother describing a trip to the seashore for her son, who has never been. Filled with vivid, poetic prose and decorated with realistic watercolor renderings of the imaginary journey, “The Seashore Book” is just the kind of book that will have little listeners closing their eyes and drifting off to the seashore themselves.

seashore bookThe little boy in the book has lived in the mountains his whole life. When he asks his mother what the seashore is like, she replies by saying, “Let’s pretend, it is early morning at the seashore and it’s hard to tell where the sea stops and the sky begins.” Interrupted by the occasional question, the little boy’s mother continues to narrate their fictional stroll along the beach in similarly colorful and soothing fashion. She describes for her son how the sea water feels refreshing like peppermint on his skin, how the swish-swashing of the waves lulls him to sleep on the sand, and how the fishing pier is white as a snowfall with hundreds of crying gulls waiting for the fishing boats to come in at sunset. As one review I read online put it: “Zolotow’s words are so descriptive that the paintings seem almost redundant.” I thought that was a particularly apt characterization. The gentle way this book was written also reminded us of the nighttime meditation stories that our oldest used to listen to when she was little. It’s the kind of prose that is tailor made for bedtime.

This is not the first Charlotte Zolotow book we have enjoyed reading this year, and we hope it won’t be the last. We quite enjoyed “I Like to be Little”, as you will know if you’ve been following us. That book also centered on a conversation between mother and child, although the role of storyteller and listener are reversed. Either book is a great choice for read-aloud, but “The Seashore Book” in particular is a great choice for summertime, for reading about the beach, and for winding down and relaxing at bedtime.


Day 173 – The Raft

For June 21, in honor of the first (official) day of summer, we read a magical summer story called “The Raft” by Jim LaMarche. As the author himself says in his Author’s Note at the beginning, “The Raft” is a semiautobiographical tale about “a summer in the woods, a special grandparent, becoming a river rat, and becoming an artist.” It’s an outstanding book that gets extra points from me for how much it resonated with our oldest daughter.the raft

Nicky is a little city boy who begins the book in the car with his father, despondent at the soul-crushing prospect of spending a summer alone in the country with his “river rat” grandma. For crying out loud, Grandma doesn’t even have a TV! Unperturbed by Nicky’s attitude, Grandma – whose house is full of her sketches and wood sculptures – keeps Nicky busy stacking firewood, cleaning gutters, changing spark plugs on her old truck, and fishing for dinner (unsuccessfully). Nicky seems determined not to enjoy himself, until, a few days into his summer, an old raft bumps into the dock where Nicky is sitting with his fishing pole. The raft is accompanied by a flock of birds and it has drawings of animals all over it. His curiosity piqued (who drew those pictures?), Nicky corrals the mysterious raft. The next day he and his Grandma go on a raft trip together, and grandma teaches Nicky to pole the raft himself. From that point forward, Nicky can’t wait to finish his chores so that he can explore the river on his own, watching the animals along the bank and sketching them. Sometimes, grandma and Nicky picnic together on the river as Nicky does cannonballs from the raft, and he even occasionally sets up a tent and sleeps on the raft.

One day late in the summer, Nicky rescues a little fawn who he observes from the raft. The fawn is caught in the mud, so Nicky poles over, sets him free and carries him up to his mother. Afterwards, he sketches the fawn on the raft, and his grandma helps him to outline his drawing with oil paint. “Now, you’ll always be a part of the river,” she tells him…a river rat just like grandma.

This was another three-love book (as in “I love love love” this book) for our oldest. Mr. Lamarche’s warm, earth-tone illustrations are soft and comforting, and the story is sweet and inspiring. Reading this book made me want to get our girls out to the country side before they are too much older – to play and explore in the woods.


Day 172 – Can’t You Sleep Little Bear?

We may be past Fathers’ Day now (where is the time going?), but we had one more particularly charming book with a Fathers’ Day theme left in the queue, and we read it today. “Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear” by Martin Waddell and illustrated by Barbara Firth is a delightful and touching story about a restless little bear and his papa’s efforts to comfort him so that he is ready to fall asleep. It is beautifully illustrated, and the story had elements that really resonated with us, making this one of our favorite (if not THE favorite) Fathers’ Day book we read this past week.Sleep

The story unfolds with Big Bear tucking Little Bear into bed and settling down to read his Big Bear book. But Little Bear can’t sleep: he is scared of the dark at the back of their cave. Big Bear brings Little Bear three lanterns in succession, a tiny one, a medium one, and a big one. After each lantern is hung, Big Bear settles back in to read only to be interrupted again by little bear. Even after the final, largest lantern is hung, little bear is still scared – of the darkness outside the cave! Big Bear is at a loss – “all the lamps in the world (can’t) light up the dark outside”. But then Big Bear has a thought, he takes Little Bear outside to see that the darkness is not complete. He shows Little Bear the moon and the stars, and there under the peaceful moonlit sky, Little Bear finally falls fast asleep in Big Bear’s arms. Big Bear heads back inside to finish his book, and falls asleep in his chair with his book in one hand and Little Bear on his arm.

We thought this book was adorable. We loved the soft but expressive watercolor illustrations that gave the tale a feeling of real storybook magic – especially in the picture of Big Bear and Little Bear looking at the moon. I appreciated the way in which Big Bear reacts to Little Bear’s fear of the dark – initially seeming frustrated, he remains compassionate, and each time he rises he realizes that Little Bear has a point. I think that this may also be a good book for little ones who are scared of the dark – it always seemed like stepping outside to look at the moon helped to relax our girls when they were younger and having trouble settling down to go to sleep. “Little Bear” really is a sweet story, and a wonderful choice for Fathers’ Day (even if it was a day late!).

Bonus observation: look closely at Big Bear’s book when he sets it down – he’s reading the same book you are!
P.S. this review (and the image above) are from the October 2002 Special Anniversary Edition

Day 171 – My Dad Thinks He’s Funny

For every kid who has ever rolled their eyes and said “my dad thinks he’s soooooo funny,” have we ever found the book for you! “My Dad Thinks He’s Funny” by Katrina Germein and illustrated by Tom Jellett is a delightful book that really resonated with our oldest and made us all laugh out loud.

dad thinksThe book is narrated by a little boy who is (ostensibly) SO OVER his dad’s corny sense of humor. His dad never seems to be serious, answering seemingly every question or statement with a silly quip. Say “I’m hungry” and dad says, “Hello, hungry. Nice to meet you.” Tell dad you think you have something in your eye, and dad says, “Yeah – an eyeball.” Heading out to go swimming? Dad cautions, “Try not to get wet.” At this point, I expect many children listening to the book will be rolling their eyes and empathizing with the narrator: “My dad thinks he’s funny, too.” Or maybe that’s just what happened around our house. Of course, at the same time that little ones are rolling their eyes, I expect there are an equal and opposite number of dads nodding their heads approvingly: “That’s a good one!” Hmmm. Maybe that was just our house, too. Personally, I don’t think the jokes in this book ever get old, but by far the best one – and the one that made us laugh out loud – was when the narrator cautioned “and when dad says, ‘Time for a special announcement’, we leave the room fast, before it really starts to smell!” Dads do think they are funny.

No matter how jaded the narrator seems, however, the illustration on the last page gives him away – as we see him giving dad a big hug! I thought this book was not only funny, but cute – and so very true to life. The illustrations are playful and expressive and add to the fun – especially the page that demonstrates the “eye-roll”. We give this very amusing book a cumulative family thumbs-up! I recommend checking this book out from the library and reading for Father’s Day, dad’s birthday, belly laugh day, or any day. Now, if you can hang on for a second, I have a special announcement to make…


Day 170 – My Dad

Tired of dad books yet? I hope not, cuz we found another fun one today: “My Dad” by Anthony Browne – an endearing tribute to the way in which a child’s love for his father can cause him to exaggerate daddy’s best traits…just a tad.my dad

The little boy in Mr. Browne’s book has a dad that isn’t afraid of anything – even the Big Bad Wolf. This little boy’s dad can leap over the moon, walk on tightropes, wrestle giants, and easily beat all the other fathers in a footrace. He’s as strong as a gorilla, wise as an owl (with an important caveat), and happy as a hippopotamus. He can eat like a horse, and swim like a fish – and even though he’s big as a house, he’s also soft as a teddy bear. He has several other impressive traits, but the best of all: he loves his son, and he always will.

I thought this book was charming. The illustrations are entertaining and off-beat; I particularly enjoyed how the little boy imagines his father displaying all these remarkable characteristics and accomplishing astounding feats while dressed in his pajamas and his plaid robe. Mr. Browne’s narrator looks at his dad the way that I think many dad’s like to believe their children see them. In many cases, I believe that is how children view their fathers. It’s a lovely thought – for me at least – and a great book for the week of Fathers’ Day in particular.


Day 169 – Oh Daddy!

After finding some over-the-top humor in daddy’s deafening snores yesterday, today we opted for something a little more whimsical and sweet. “Oh, Daddy” by Bob Shea is an amusing tale told from the point of view of a little boy whose daddy is just too silly to make it through life without a little help. The simple illustrations are charming and expressive – adding humor and heart to a storyline that should be familiar to many dads, and certainly resonated with me.oh daddy

Mr. Shea’s narrator may be little, but he is “as smart as two eight-year-olds!” In fact, the narrator informs us that he is so smart, he has to show his dad how to do things, and his dad is a grown up! Meanwhile, daddy is asleep on the couch and snoring away with abandon. When it’s time to get dressed in the morning, daddy puts underpants on his head and asks, “Is this how you get dressed?” When it’s time to drive to grandma’s, daddy tries climbing through the passenger-side window, asking, “Is this how you get in the car?” When it’s time to eat, Daddy spills his carrots everywhere: “Is this how you eat carrots?” Daddy is even confused about how to do big hugs, lumbering around the house and rolling on the floor while trying to wrap his arms around himself. “Is this how you give big hugs?” Oh, daddy! Fortunately, every time daddy gets confused, our narrator is there to show him how things are supposed to be done – including giving big hugs. Clever daddy.

This book gave me a big smile. With an economy of words, Mr. Shea does an excellent job of capturing how I imagine many young children think about their silly fathers. I believe our oldest has long been confused about some of the very simple things in life that her father doesn’t seem to understand, and I could easily see her identifying with Mr. Shea’s narrator. I also enjoyed the subtle humor in the expressions on the faces of the parents and the little boy. This is a really cute book.

Now, I need to print out this review and book myself a helicopter ride so that I can put this review into the “cloud”. This whole interweb thing is so confusing.

Oh, daddy!