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Archive for the ‘Just for Fun’ Category

I wanted to take a moment to highlight a book series that my 5 year old is into every day here. I can’t tell you exactly what his reading level is, as I’ve never done any test to see. But for comparison sake, when he reads to me from the level 3 Faith and Freedom readers, he never stumbles or needs help with words (excepting a few proper names he’s never seen).

Anyway, while he’s a very strong reader, he had it in his head that he would not read anything that resembled a chapter book. With one exception, The Silver Chair from the Narnia Series, which he read cover to cover a few pages a night. I’m not sure how much he was stumbling on the words but it sure seemed that he was getting every bit of it and he persevered of his own volition for many nights before bed. But if I ever tried to get him interested in other chapter books, he had it in his mind that they were too hard and should only be reserved for his older brother. Until I finally convinced him to try one of the Magic Tree House books.

Now he’s hooked. I think he realized, that he could speed through chapter books as easily as picture books and it gave him confidence.

MTH books are simple chapter books, with siblings Jack and Annie as the main characters. Through the tree house they are able to travel through time and witness some important historical events…pirates, moon landing, mummies, knights, etc. Each book tells of a new adventure. They are heavy with dialogue and simple sentence structure. These are perfect for transitioning kids from picture books to chapter books. Also fun for supplementing any history education you are doing.


I should caution that while these are great readers they don’t qualify as stellar read aloud literature in my mind. We listened to one on audio and let’s just say it was not a big hit with any of my kids (and frankly not me either). But they love to read them on their own at this stage.

Each of the MTH books (at least the early ones) also have a corresponding “Research Guide” that gives more background info on the topic being studied.

So if you have an up and coming reader who needs a little push to head towards chapter books, be sure to check out the Magic Tree House series. I also came across the MTH website that looks like it has some fun games and activities for kids as a supplement to the books.

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Don’t know?   Then you need to read Scranimals. Jack Prelutsky has a fun book of poetry called Scranimals that answers such questions.  A parrot plus otter is a Parrotter, of course. From the book…

The Parrotters lie on their backs in the sea,
calling to cormorants,
yapping at auks,
they cannot stop prattling,
though most would agree
that no one pays heed
when a parrotter talks.

This is a book just for fun, and great to get the imagination going in kids. Spinach plus chicken? Spinachickens, of course!

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My just-turned-5-year-old read a book to me today.  He’s been reading on his own for a while, but mostly easy reader type books.  Today he read a book to me that no one has read to him in a long time, I was shocked at how much he has improved!  At the same time I was reminded how much I enjoy the book, Edward the Emu.  This is a short picture book for ages 3-6 by Sheena Knowles and illustrated by Rod Clement.  Edward the Emu is about, yep, you guessed it, Edward the emu.  Edward lives at the zoo and decides one day that he doesn’t like being an emu.  He thought it was boring.  So one night he slips out of his cage and tries to pass himself off as a seal.  This works well until a zoo-goer comments how the seals are not his favorite animal to see.  Then Edward is off each night, slipping out of his cage trying out life as a different animal.  Each day  he hears that such and such animal is better.  So the next day he tries something new.   At the end it turns out that being an emu is likely the best and it turns out that’s where he belongs.

I know this story line is not a new concept, there are many books for children in which a character decides he doesn’t like him/herself and decides to change himself in a silly way.  In the end, the character realizes that it’s ok to just be who he is and enjoy his life. So the story line has been done before, and likely it will be done again .

But it’s a story that kids don’t get tired of hearing.  It’s good for them to know that sometimes we all wish we could have the characteristics of someone else.  But at the end of the day, we are unique and loved and we need to be happy with who we are.

Knowles does a great job of simply telling the story in a fun way.  Each page has about four lines and the story is written more like a poem.  There are many rhyming words, but it doesn’t feel too sing-song.

Rod Clement’s illustrations are great.  They are pencil drawings and as you can see from the cover, they only show the animals.  There is very little setting or background in the pictures.  Just a white page with the animals on them.  It’s a neat style because it helps the kids to focus on the subtle changes that Edward is making to try to fit in with the animal he’s bunking with at the time.

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There are so many great books on dragons and knights and I wish I had the time to post them here.  My son goes through these books faster than I can get to reading them myself.  But I know it will be an ongoing theme for me to review here.  We usually manage to have at least one of this kind of book in our library basket.

The most recent one that we’ve read is an abriged version of a story by Kenneth Grahame.  He is the author of The Wind in the Willows which was our family read-aloud at the beginning of the summer.  Inga Moore abridged and illustrated The Reluctant Dragon and as a result we are left with a great picture book.  This is a longer story, each page has several longer paragraphs, so it would be probably for kindergarten ages or up as a read-aloud. 

The story is about a little boy who befriends a kindhearted, poetry loving dragon and helps to keep peace in his village.  The villagers find out there is a dragon about and decide that he must be a vicious creature.  They create all kinds of tales about the dragon’s horrible deeds and employ the help of St. George to deliver them from this wicked creature.  The shepherd boy meanwhile loves spending time with the dragon, discussing poetry and stories and is frightened for the dragon’s life.  He goes to St. George to help him understand the mix-up with the villagers.  Together, with the dragon they hatch a plan to give the villagers their battle between knight and dragon, at the same time allowing the dragon to live in peace.

I won’t spoil it for you, though.  You’ll have to read it to your kids to find out the rest!

The illustrations are colorful drawings, sometimes two page spreads and while I’ve never been to the Downs where it takes place, the drawings make me want to visit!  The dragon’s face shows his kindhearted personality and yet, gives you a sense that he could look fierce if he needed to.

My only minor quip about this book is that St. George is called “St. George” in the story.  Rather odd, and maybe it’s part of the humor to be addressing someone as “Saint” before they’re dead.

Although this isn’t directly about St. George it would be a fun read in April for that feast day as well.

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Do you have a knight in your house?

Sometimes I think I do.

Many the day when my 7 year old son walks around with cardboard creations all over him as chain mail.  He bought a GI Joe helmet at a yard sale with his own money so he could wear it backwards and pretend it’s a knight’s helmet.  He uses plastic storage bins as shields and calls his brothers “Sir Gallonhead.”

So one book that my son regularly checks out of the library (and by regularly I mean it’s quite possible that no one else in the county has ever checked it out) is a very colorful and fun tale of Sir James.  Patrick O’Brien has written a wonderful book about knighthood from a child’s perspective called The Making of a Knight.

The story tells of James who is 7 and sent to a castle to become a page.  This was the first step in eventually becoming a knight.  Through James’ experiences in the castle, the reader learns all about the years of training the knights receive.  We learn about the weapons and armor used, how he learns to hunt, and the steps he goes through to prove himself worthy of knighthood.

O’Brien is the illustrator as well, and the pictures are done in oil on canvas.  He does a great job of capturing the earthy castle scenes as well as the bright colors of the tournaments.

Summer could be a great time for a boy to do fun reading about knights and castles.  I hope to post some other ideas soon for books in that category.

Also, if you are looking for a more in depth project, check out homeschool share’s knight lapbook (and the books to supplement).

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Hats

My 2 year old is very much into books lately.  It is only recently that I’ve begun to get books out of the library for him, as we have quite a home library full of board books and non-board books that are appropriate for his age.  But he’s to the age that he loves to see new books too, and believe it or not he does eventually get tired of books!

On my last trip to the library, I confess, I was quite rushed and frazzled and just grabbed a few from the shelf for my 2 year old boy, but didn’t have time to even flip through them.  I grabbed purely by title, and what the outside cover looked like. It’s not a bad way to go sometimes.  I’ve found great books that way.  I’ve found some real stinkers that way too, though.  But I’m always up for a book adventure.

So the book I grabbed this time is Do You Have a Hat? written by Eileen Spinelli.

My first impressions were accurate, that the illustrations would be perfect for my little guy.  Bright, bold, happy and fun looking people and animals.  White poofy clouds, bright blue water, just lovely pictures to look at.  Many different sizes of people and animals on each page.  That translates to an ability to keep a toddler’s interest…”oooh, can you find the bird hiding on this page?”

On each page, the story poetically tells us about a famous person in history who was known for his or her hat, then boldly asks the reader “Do YOU have a hat?”  I love the repetition of each page, and the short rhyming poems.  Those two things are both perfect for early childhood and getting tykes ready to read.

But this is where the positives of the book end for me.  I definitely wouldn’t put this in my Friday Fail category, but there’s something of a mismatch in the story.  The illustrations, repetition and cutesy rhymes are indicative of a younger audience.  However, the historical figures chosen seem to be trying to reach a much older crowd of children.  It’s a fun idea to meet historical figures, such as Abe Lincoln, Igor Stravinsky, Francisco de Goya, and Walt Whitman through the study of what kind of curious hat they wore.  But I don’t know too many 18mo to 3 year olds who would benefit from such name dropping.

On the other hand, this is purely based on my own children and what they could get out of the book.  Overall it’s still a fun book, an interesting idea and lovely illustrations.

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So you’re sitting around the dinner table enjoying Friday night pizza with your kiddos and your 4 year old asks you, “where did this cheese come from?”  I have just the book to help you out!

Extra Cheese, Please!  Mozzarella’s Journey from Cow to Pizza is a fun story that teaches us how cheese is made.  Author Cris Peterson takes the reader on a journey where we meet Annabelle the cow and follow her milk all the way to the cheese factory.  What I love about this book is that each page is filled with real photographs (by Alvis Upitis) that detail the process.  There’s an up close picture of Annabelle, another of the food she eats, the barn she lives in, all the way through to the final cheese product.  This is one type of book that is best served with real photographs instead of drawings.  The explanations of the process is simple but not oversimplified, enough to challenge little minds.  The story ends with a recipe for homemade pizza, as well as a glossary of terms and other book ideas for further reading.

So there’s a book to go along with your pizza next time.  Enjoy!

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My almost 7 year old son has been living on his own on the side of a mountain for the past couple weeks.  At least he does every afternoon during his free reading time when he cracks open Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain. This work of fiction, a chapter book, and Newberry Honor Book is rather a stereotypical innocent boy book.

Sam Gribley is a young boy who decides to run away and live on his own, on the property he had heard about from his father.  He lives in NY city and heads upstate with a penknife, a ball of cord, an ax, $40, some flint and steel.  The novel tells of all his adventures, living in a tree on the side of a mountain.  Teaching himself how to survive with his own intelligence, bravery and sheer determination, even through the coldest winter and blizzards.  I haven’t read the book, myself, but have listened to about half of it on audio.  It reads a bit like journal entries from Sam, sometimes detailing his thought process about trying to find a solution to a particular problem, sometimes his emotions about living on his own, away from his family. I found myself quite taken in by Sam’s story and very curious to find how he could survive on so little.  As the author says in the preface, in most of us there’s a desire to run away at some point and see if we can make it on our own.  In this story, Sam does just that.  For the rest of us, it’s fun just to run away in a book for a while.

I would say the typical age range for reading the book is 9 to 12.  My 7 year old is an advanced reader and loves the idea of surviving in the wilderness, so he’s loving it.  But even my 4 year old enjoyed the audio version in the car.

My son is looking forward to the other 2 books in the series.  In addition, there’s a movie of the same title, although with the way movies made from books go, I’m not sure if we’ll bother with that.  The book has been too much fun.

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As a child, a favorite book of mine was Virginia Lee Burton’s The Little House.  Growing up in a county which was constantly losing it’s farmlands and forests to new housing developments, I empathized with the little house.  I loved that Burton made the text of the words go in the shape of the roads on the facing page, and the details of the city being built up around the house.  I never read any of her other stories until I had my own children.

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel is a timeless classic like The Little House that comes out every now and then and is deeply loved by my kids.  This one is about Mike Mulligan’s steam shovel, Mary Anne who is powerful and strong and a bit prideful but is eventually sidelined for digging jobs by the more powerful diesel engines. 

As in The Little House, the theme of old things being tossed aside for new in the name of progress is evident.  In both stories, both the house, and Mary Anne find new lives and new purpose, despite their age and decrepitude.

The other day I just learned of another of Burton’s books, Katy and the Big Snow. This one is about Katy the snow plow who comes to the rescue of the town of Geoppolis when they are hit with huge amounts of snow.

Katy is the only plow able to dig out the town.  This book has Burton’s signature illustrations weaving from side to side across the page and the lovely detailed drawings.  There isn’t as much of a message about old things becoming new again as in the previous books, but it’s a fun story nonetheless.

Burton has several other books probably of equal quality that I hope to get a hold of soon:  Life Story, Choo Choo, Maybelle the Cable Car, and Calico the Wonder Horse.

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I recently wrote about Don Quixote for kids and wanted to give an update to another book we found in the library.  Margaret Hodges is a wonderful author of children’s books and most everything I’ve read by her I give high marks.  Our most recent read by her was St. Jerome and the Lion. We also own St. George and the Dragon.  She has a real gift for bringing legends and stories alive for children.  I did a search on other books by her and found that she has an adaptation of Don Quixote called Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

This version is definitely longer than the other I reviewed.  It’s 72 pages, with chapters, so would work better for an older child or as a read aloud.  I can’t comment on the literary quality yet, as I haevn’t gotten around to reading it yet.  But the illustrations are nice and I think I can actually get to the end of this version without being sick to my stomach!

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