Category Archives: Category – Upper Elementary

Ages 9 to 12

Day 168 – My Daddy Snores

After yesterday’s bucolic, idyllic depiction of fatherhood in “I Love My Daddy”, today it was time to “cleanse the palate” with a tale that is a little bit closer to our reality. “My Daddy Snores” by Nancy H. Rothstein and illustrated by Stephen Gilpin provides a comical take on an problem that I think countless families experience – strangely managing to take the issue seriously while at the same time “laughing through the tears” with the outrageous, giggle-inducing illustrations.

snoresFrom night to night, Daddy’s snoring may vary in tone, but not in severity. From a booming dinosaur roar, to an earthquake, to a thundering steam locomotive, daddy’s snoring rips right through the house and keeps mommy from getting a moment’s rest. Even when daddy sleeps outside in a tent, he keeps the birds up all night and their cheeping wakes everyone in the house up far too early in the morning. Eventually, mommy is at the end of her rope and she takes daddy to the doctor – where daddy is cured of his snoring. Ahhhhh. The house is at last silent, until…daddy starts talking in his sleep!

We got a kick out of this book. Well, I did – and our oldest enjoyed some laughs at her daddy’s expense (I’m not absolutely positive mommy saw the humor in it). For some readers, the story may require suspension of disbelief – not to accept the ridiculous places that mommy tries to get some sleep, but to accept the fact that daddy lives long enough to make it to the doctor.

Hmmmm…something just occurred to me. I think I need to go find the doctor from the book…

P.S. the book’s author, Ms. Rothstein, has a site dedicated to raising awareness about snoring and sleep apnea: http://www.mydaddysnores.com/about.html


Day 167 – I Love My Daddy

Are you ready for a flurry of daddy-themed books? June may be our ocean and beach month, but it is also the month for Fathers’ Day! Yesterday we read “Knuffle Bunny”, a humorous tale about how even the most well intentioned daddies can sometimes be so oblivious. Today, we had a little change of pace: a simple, sweet story about the softer side of fatherhood and the connection between father and child. i love my dad

“I Love My Daddy” by Sebastien Braun chronicles a day in the life of a papa bear and his little cub. With charming soft-focus paintings filling every page, Mr. Braun shows papa and cub enjoying playful and quiet moments together – eating honey, playing hide-and-seek, splashing in the river, or just sitting on top of the hill in quiet contemplation. It’s a lovely book – endearing without being sappy – and an especially good bedtime story…and now that I have read over it again, I must go find my children and give them big hugs.

Bye for now.


Day 166 – Knuffle Bunny

It’s Fathers’ Day week, so we have several daddy-themed books on the list – some of them sweet and endearing, and some of them inserted for a dose of (humorous) reality. Falling into the second category today was “Knuffle Bunny” by Mo Willems, a strangely familiar and very funny story. Subtitled “A Cautionary Tale”, it also serves as a reminder for mommies who have forgotten that daddies so often just don’t “get it”.knuffle

One day Trixie goes on to the laundromat with her daddy and her stuffed bunny (“Knuffle Bunny”). She “helps” him put the clothes in the washing machine, after dragging them all over the floor and wearing pants on her head, because…of course! Does daddy lose his cool? No! He is the model of patience. After Trixie inserts the coin into the loaded washer, daddy and Trixie stroll out the door, hand-in-hand with daddy smiling and whistling (perhaps enjoying a beautiful day and quietly congratulating himself on being a wonderful father). As Trixie and her daddy are heading home, however, she realizes something is wrong. Unfortunately, Trixie can’t talk yet, and so all she is able to say is “Aggle flaggle klabble” All her daddy says in response is “That’s right, we’re going home.” She tries, and fails, with increasing vigor, to tell her daddy what is wrong, until finally she works herself into a sobbing fit. By the time they get home, daddy has shed any pretense of patience and is angry, put-upon, and tired of all the unexplained sobbing. He opens the door, and Trixie’s mommy greets him with “where’s Knuffle Bunny?” Oops.

So the family runs to the laundromat, and daddy looks and looks and looks and looks, flinging laundry this way and that. When he eventually finds the lost toy, Trixie hugs it and says “Knuffle Bunny!”…her first (understandable) words ever.

This story really resonated with me…as a father, I do often find myself stymied by some “unexplainable” tantrum, and just when I am at my righteously angry wit’s end, mommy asks me a single question which inspires a self-inflicted slap to the forehead (“when was the last time the girls ate?”, “did you try (insert name of toy or game here)?”, etc.). If I only had a brain. File under “it’s funny because it’s true”.

I think it’s safe to say that we all thought this book was a fun pick for our 365 project. For young listeners, we enjoy reading entertaining stories that also tell us more about how the world works…and this sort of falls into that category. It’s reality-based entertainment. I also really enjoyed Mo Willems’ illustrations, which won the book a Caldecott honor…presumably for the interesting combination of cartoons against a backdrop of black and white photographs. His drawings were a lot of fun – characteristically simple and amusing, evoking an even bigger smile from a story that was already funny on its own.


Day 165 – Curious George Goes to the Beach

Today, on our figurative summertime trip to the beach, we encountered a familiar and well-loved face: Curious George! As you might expect, in “Curious George Goes to the Beach”, Margaret and H.A. Rey’s inquisitive and kind-hearted little monkey has a blast – thoroughly enjoying all the sights, sounds, and sensations of a brand new experience, and managing to save the day along the way.

george at beachWhen the man with the yellow hat (decked out in a delightfully anachronistic one-piece yellow-striped bathing suit) surprises George with a trip to the beach, George is excited – there are so many new, and curious (!) things to try. His little friend, Betsy, isn’t so sure. Betsy has never been to the beach before, and although she is a good swimmer, she is scared of getting in the ocean. For George, however, it’s time to play! After setting up a blanket and umbrella on the sand, George sets out. He tosses a beach ball, digs in the sand, shakes “hands” with a crab, and even sits in the lifeguard’s special chair…without permission (oops!). Hungry after all his adventures, George returns to the blanket for a snack, but everything he sets out for himself disappears before he can eat it, because: seagulls!

Aha! George has discovered a new game – feed the seagulls. Forgetting about his own hunger, George (with help from Betsy) disburses cookies, cake, crackers and even bread for their sandwiches to the growing flock of birds, until the tide comes in and pulls the basket out to sea. George quickly runs to the lifeguard stand and grabs a float – then he swims out to retrieve the basket, and swims back to find that Betsy has jumped in the water and swum out as well! The picnic basket may now be empty, but Betsy and her grandmother have food to spare – and they are happy to share because George has saved the day once again: Betsy is smiling and enjoying herself – she’s no longer afraid of the ocean!

“Curious George Goes to the Beach” is another charming entry in the Curious George canon. We found ourselves once again grateful that Margaret and H.A. Rey remembered to bring the original Curious George manuscript with them when they fled Paris on homemade bicycles back in 1940. But be forewarned – George has so much fun at the beach that this tale of seaside shenanigans may have you packing up the car and heading out as soon as you have read it!


Day 164 – Out of the Ocean

“My mother says you can ask the ocean to bring you something. If you look, she says, you might find it.” A wooden shoe, a sea turtle skull, pelican feathers, coconuts, and a beam from a sunken ship are just a few of the fascinating (and ultimately “necessary”) things found on the beach in today’s book, “Out of the Ocean” by Debra Frasier. Ms. Frasier’s book, illustrated with a combination of colorful collages and photographs against a sandy backdrop, is a thoughtful and charming tribute to the ocean and all the things it can bring you…if you just remember to look!

oceanMs. Frasier narrates her book from the point of view of a little girl, recounting the treasures she has found on the beach and the conversations she has had with her mother about the ocean. Walking the beach, the narrator has asked for and been presented with all manner of treasures, from sea glass to shark’s teeth to skate eggs…to a wooden shoe – and each time, what she has brought home has turned out to be exactly what she wanted.

Meanwhile, the little girl’s mother asks the ocean for things that are too big to bring home: the sun, silver moonlight, the sound of waves, and sea turtle tracks. “Those things are always there”, the little girl tells her mother, “You just have to look for them.” Laughing, her mother tells her that she discovered the secret: “It’s not the asking, it’s the remembering to look.” Some of the biggest gifts the ocean has to give can be missed or taken for granted, if you forget to look.

We thought “Out of the Ocean” was surprisingly sweet and profound. I particularly enjoyed the line about every discovery turning out to be exactly what the little girl wanted – it made me smile, and reminded me of the old saying that happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have. The body of the book makes for a fairly quick read-aloud, but there is also a six-page “Ocean Journal” at the end that is quite informative and worth a read – providing more detail about some of the specific things the author herself has found at the beach. With or without the journal, however, Ms. Frasier has written (and illustrated) a wonderful book that is a great selection for summer-themed reading.


Day 163 – The Paper Bag Princess

In honor of Robert Munsch’s birthday, today we read our very favorite Munsch picture book: “The Paper Bag Princess” – a delightful and irreverent fairy tale that takes the old damsel-in-distress narrative and flips it right on its head.

The story begins with a beautiful princess, Elizabeth, who lives in a castle and is madly in love with the dashing(?) and aloof Prince Ronald. She is supposed to marry Prince Ronald, but one day a dragon suddenly swoops in, burns the castle and all of Elizabeth’s clothes, and absconds with her fiancee. Determined to retrieve Ronald, Elizabeth pursues the dragon wearing a dress made of the only item in the castle not burned to a crisp: a paper bag. When she finally arrives at the dragon’s lair, Elizabeth plays on the dragon’s weakness – his excessive pride – by cajoling him into ever more impressive displays of power, speed and destruction until he is so exhausted that he doesn’t even respond when she walks up and yells in his ear. Walking triumphantly past the defeated dragon, Elizabeth opens the door to the lair only to be scolded by an ungrateful Prince Ronald: “Elizabeth, you are a mess!” he announces, before she can even speak. “You smell like ashes, your hair is all tangled, and you are wearing a dirty paper bag. Come back when you are dressed like a real princess.” “Ronald,” she replies, “your clothes are really pretty and your hair is very neat. You look like a real prince, but you are a bum.” Spoiler alert: they don’t get married after all.paper bag

We absolutely adore this book (our oldest gives it three “loves”…as in “I love, love, love this book!). It has been a favorite in our house for a long time. I am particularly fond of the abrupt and unceremonious way in which Elizabeth cuts bait at the end of the story, although the clever way in which Elizabeth thinks to defeat the dragon is a nice bonus. Michael Martchenko’s expressive and colorful illustrations add to the humor of this very satisfying picture book – a perfect complement to the amusing narrative.

The story conveys what I think is a very important message: it is who you are on the inside and not what you look like on the outside that matters, and if somebody can’t appreciate you for who you are inside, then they are not worth your time…especially if they are self-absorbed, ungrateful pretty boys (that’s what I got out of it, at least).

Day 161 – Manfish (a Story of Jacques Cousteau)

June is our month to read about the beach and the ocean, and it also happens to be National Scuba-diving Month. What better time, then, to read a picture book about Jacques Cousteau, the world’s most famous scuba diver, who also happens to have been born in June (June 10, 1910). “Manfish” by Jennifer Berne and illustrated by Eric Puybaret is a lovely book, with poetic prose, attractive full-page illustrations, and an inspiring story about the explorer and inventor whose many films (over 115!) introduced the world to the wonders of the ocean.manfish

Ms. Berne introduces us to Jacques as a little boy in France – a little boy fascinated with the ocean who dreams that one day he will be able to “fly” and breathe under water. He is also fascinated with machines and with films – which he begins creating with a small home-movie camera he bought by saving his allowance “penny by penny.”  After finishing school, he travels the world as a member of the French Navy, filming everything he sees. Then, one day, wearing a pair of goggles given to him by a friend, he wades into the ocean and his eyes are opened to the wonders below the surface. Driven by a passion to explore the deep as a “manfish”, Jacques eventually invents the “aqualung” – and for the first time a person is able to swim for an extended time below the surface of the ocean. Success! With his cameras, his new invention, his best friends, and his ship (Calypso), he sets out to explore the oceans and to share the experience through his films. Along the way, he discovers amazing creatures the world has never seen and continues to innovate – improving his diving apparatus and even inventing cages for him and his crew to be able to film sharks without being eaten!

We really enjoyed learning more about Jacques Cousteau, including the extra details provided in the Author’s Note at the back and the surprise pull-out page. The story is informative without being dry – this is no “laundry list” of events in the life of a famous explorer. This story is about a little boy’s dream that grew into a man’s passion to become a manfish and fly beneath the waves – and how he worked to share that passion with the world. I think Ms. Berne does a wonderful job of conveying the feeling of wonder that the ocean inspired in Jacques, and which he hoped to inspire in everyone else.


Day 160 – How to Hide an Octopus

Ever wondered how to hide an octopus? How about a cuttlefish? Don’t know what a cuttlefish is? Well, have we got the book for you: “How to Hide an Octopus” by Ruth Heller. With rhythmic, rhyming text, it’s an entertaining and informative read-aloud about some very clever, camouflaged sea creatures.

octopusWhile most children will already be familiar with the titular octopus, Ms. Heller adds interest by introducing readers to some less-well-known denizens of the deep. Along with the aforementioned cuttlefish, there is a (spectacular) sea dragon, a (splendid) sargassum fish, and a (deceptive) decorator crab – just to name a few. In the flow of the book, Ms. Heller presents each animal and then hides it insider her colorful illustrations – great for engaging little listeners: can you find where the octopus is hidden? It’s quite fun. My favorite part was the closing page, which hints at a sequel…after summing up why these sea creatures might want to hide themselves, Ms. Heller observes that:

…predators to live must eat,

so also fade and are discreet,

and then their prey on which they sup

can’t see who’s going to eat them up.

If you’ve been wondering about how to hide an octopus and you’re looking for a light and lively read-aloud on the subject, we’ve found it! Eight tentacles up!


Day 159 – Seashore

It’s summer time – time to head to the beach! What better time to read a book called “Seashore” by Alain Greé. “Seashore” is a captivating book with pages packed full of lovely, vintage (60s & 70s) illustrations. It’s a stunning picture book, and the production quality is excellent.

seashoreThe book includes examples of things you might pack to take to the beach, games you might play at the beach, animals you might see there, food you might eat there, and so on. It’s not really a story book, although there is a bit of narrative flow to it. It is a great book for teaching little listeners sea- and beach-related vocabulary. What makes this book so great, though – and what makes me so happy to have it in our collection – is Mr. Greé’s artwork. This is exactly the kind of book that little readers (and parents) want to pick up page through again and again.


Day 158 – Hattie and the Wild Waves

Another month, another theme, and another wonderful Barbara Cooney book we are able to work into our calendar. For June, we have departed (figuratively) for the beach, and today we came across “Hattie and the Wild Waves”, a beautifully written and illustrated story about a free-spirited little girl named Hattie who is inspired by the wild waves on the beaches of Long Island.hattie

Hattie is the youngest child in a German-American family living on Long Island, presumably around the turn of the century. Hattie’s father is a very successful home-builder, and her parents frequently host big parties for all their German friends and relations. There is plenty of food, including potatoes galore (clouds of mashed kartoffeln), followed by a retreat to the parlor where Mama keeps her two greatest treasures: her rosewood piano and a grand painting called “Cleopatra’s Barge”, a masterpiece by Opa Krippendorf…Hattie’s grandfather. Hattie’s brother Vollie is determined to be a successful businessman alongside his father when he grows up, and her sister Pfiffi has plans to become a beautiful bride. However, when Hattie tells her siblings of her wish to become a painter, they burst out laughing “Dummkopf! Little stupid head! Girls don’t paint houses.” but Hattie is not thinking of houses when she says she wants to be a painter. She is thinking of “…the moon in the sky and the wind in the trees and the wild waves of the ocean.”

With her tiny hands, Hattie is not able to excel at piano (her mother says will never get past The Happy Farmer), her needlework is uneven and her french knots are grimy. Standing still to be fitted for dresses, while her sister preens in the mirror, is particularly trying for restless little Hattie. “Trying to be pretty is a lot of work,” she confides to the cook’s daughter, Little Mouse. What she does love is making pictures – especially during the summer, when Hattie and her family go to their beach house in Far Rockaway. While she is at the beach, Hattie can draw, and wonder what it is that the wild waves are saying. One summer, however, Papa buys a new vacation house called The Oaks – larger and grander than Far Rockaway but nowhere near the beach. Hattie’s siblings, Pfiffi and Vollie are both very excited, but Hattie is unsure. The Oaks is nice; Hattie has a tamed macaw who can fetch tennis balls, and she and Little Mouse can walk arm in arm in the deer park and talk about what they will do when they grow up (Little Mouse will teach and Hattie will paint). But The Oaks isn’t Far Rockaway, and Hattie finds herself wondering: what will the wild waves be saying this summer?

Eventually, Pfiffi is married, Vollie becomes a successful business man, and Papa and Mama and Hattie all go to live in a hotel that Papa has built. Sometimes Hattie can draw, but often (too often) her time is taken up with shopping or playing cards with her mother. One night, however, Hattie sees a woman at the hotel sing her heart out on stage and realizes that it is time for her to paint her heart out. The next morning, a stormy day, Hattie goes to the Art Institute and then to Coney Island. The rides are shut down, but the fortune teller booth is open, and Hattie’s fortune card tells her that she will make beautiful pictures…and then the wild waves crashing on the beach tell her the same. When Hattie tells Mama and Papa what she will do, Mama smiles and says “Just like Opa”…but Hattie replies “no, just like me”.

We love this book, both for the beautiful old-timey illustrations we have come to expect from Ms. Cooney, and for the inspiring nature of the story. Not only does the book remind listeners to be true to themselves, but it stresses the importance of family and paints Hattie’s story against the backdrop of an immigrant family reaping the rewards of their hard work and living out the “American Dream.” After studying German for many years in high school and college, I also enjoyed reading aloud all the German words and phrases that Ms. Cooney worked into the text…it’s an acquired taste, but for those of us who have acquired it…it’s fun!