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Posts Tagged ‘legends’

One of my favorite stories to read when I was a child was The Mitten. It’s a Ukrainian folktale and most often, the version I come across is by Jan Brett.

But the version that I’m more familiar with and if only for sentimental reasons, the one I enjoy more is by Alvin Tresselt and illustrated by Yaroslova.

The story is slightly different in each version, but the basic story line is that animals crowd into a lost mitten in the snow one by one for warmth, until the mitten can hold no more. I prefer the illustrations in the Yaroslova version because you can see the mitten expanding at the seams and eventually becoming threadbare. In Brett’s version the mitten remains very much intact, although it is quite a bit larger by the end. Also, the animals are the ones doing the talking in the Tresselt version, instead of the narrator as in Brett’s.

Whichever version you get your hands on, I’m sure your children will love it. It is most appropriate for 3-5 year olds, but my 2 yr old and 7 yr old were happy to snuggle up in front of the Christmas Tree and listen as well.

If you’re looking for ways to make a lesson out of the book, there are many online resources to supplement. Homeschool Share has a Mitten Lapbook for preschoolers and kindergartners and Jan Brett’s website has coloring pages of the animals as well as a mitten you can color and cut out.

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Tomorrow is the feast of St. Nicholas. You can read all about him and find ideas of how to celebrate his feast day here, at the St. Nicholas Center. But I wanted to highlight two books that we read each year to celebrate this important saint.

The first is by Ann Tompert, simply called Saint Nicholas. I previously reviewed other books by Ann Tompert (here and here), and I consider her with as much respect as Tomie de Paola with regards to her skill in re-telling legends beautifully for children. Her Saint Nicholas book does not disappoint. She draws on the important stories passed down from Nicholas’ life, giving the gold to 3 poor women for their dowries, saving a ship from a terrible storm, among others. She ends with his incarceration during Diocletian’s Rome and his death as the Bishop of Myra.
I should caution though, that there is one part of the story you may want to skip depending on how sensitive your children are. One story goes that there was an innkeeper who had taken some school boys and held them for ransom. Nicholas was called upon to help find the boys. Here’s the part that gets gruesome

…the innkeeper admitted he had butchered the boys and put their remains into pickling barrels…

The story continues that Nicholas waved his crosier and the boys stepped out alive. But anyway, there it is, don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Michael Garland is the illustrator for this book and it done in such a way to look like mosaic tiles placed together to form the images. Very stunning and unique. I’m not so sure that the kids appreciated it, or even noticed, but I think it makes for stunning scenery throughout.


The second book is not so much about Saint Nicholas, but loosely related to his feast day so we read it anyway. It is a story that recounts the origins of the phrase “a baker’s dozen.” The Baker’s Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale tells about a baker in colonial America who learns an important lesson in generosity while making his Nicholas cookies for the feast of St. Nicholas. It’s a fun story. You won’t learn anything about St. Nicholas, but might inspire your children in generosity!

So go practice a random act of generosity and happy feast of St. Nicholas!

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I hope to do more blog entries that are not about our country study, but for now it seems to be when I have the time we are in the midst of geography study and it’s fresh on my mind.  You can read my previous geography entries here for Argentina and here for the spine we are using.

So if you’re looking to get a little introduction to Brazil, here are some books you might want to check out.  Very likely that you’re library has them, so be sure to check there first.  I always have to put a plug for our great libraries.  They get so little funding but provide so much to the community!

One thing about Brazil is that it provides a good jumping off point if you want to learn about rain forests.  We kept it mostly focused on the country for now but I’m sure we’ll make our way back to a rain forest study sometime.

Keeping in mind that there are plenty of educational guides simply about Brazil aimed at older children, I was searching for books that would be for 3rd grade and under, as read-alouds.

Count Your Way Through Brazil written by Jim Haskins and Kathleen Benson is a fun book that gives an introduction to 10 significant characteristics of Brazil.  On each page, it introduces the Portuguese number and explains the topic.  Some of the explanations are rather lengthy, so for a few of them I just picked out the main points to highlight with my kids.  They had fun trying to pronounce the numbers in Portuguese (there’s a pronunciation guide for each one).  The book covers the beginnings of Brazil, products that come from Brazil, foods, national pastimes, music, animals, ethnic groups, and more.

The next one is a kind of an alphabet book, and reminded me of Jerry Pallotta’s alphabet booksB is for Brazil by Maria de Fatima Campos.  This book is similar to the one above, but instead of using numbers it uses letters to teach us 26 things about Brazil.  For instance, R is for rubber which is made from the liquid in the rubber tree and is an export of Brazil.  C is for Carnival, the huge celebration before the start of Lent.  The pictures throughout are actual photographs, which I appreciate for a book about a specific country.

Yet another alphabet type book, A to Z Brazil by Justine and Ron Fontes uses the alphabet to give us 26 categories of information.  F is for food, then the page has the description of a popular Brazilian food.  N is for Nation which includes a full page map showing where Brazil is located in South America, and a large picture of the Brazilian flag.  This book is a good intermediate country book when children are too young to glean much from a long country guide.  Again, the pictures are actual photographs, so it’s nice just to page through it with your child, even if you don’t read every page.

The next three books are literature suggestions that go with Brazil.  Not specifically giving facts about the country but good stories nonetheless.

First is a trickster tale from Brazil called The Dancing Turtle, by Pleasant DeSpain.  A turtle is captured by a native Brazilian family and the father puts him in a cage to be cooked in soup the next day.  His children are asked to watch over him.  Turtle tricks the kids into setting him free.  My 5 year old especially enjoyed this story and loved to imagine this turtle dancing his way out of danger.

The Sea Serpent’s Daughter tells a Brazilian legend about how day and night came to be created.  In this creation story the sea serpents daughter arrives on land, to a village and realizes that so much day-light is too much for her.  So the villagers head out to collect some darkness from the depths of the sea, and so it continues until there is finally a balance of daylight and darkness.

The last literature selection is more specficially about the Amazon Rain Forest.  The Great Kapok Tree tells about a man who begins to cut down a tree in the rainforest.  He ends up falling asleep at the base of the Kapok tree and begins to dream.  In his dream, animals and people of the rain forest visit him and tell him the importance of this tree to their lives.  When he awakes, will he continue to cut down the tree or will he be changed?  I’ll let you and your kids find out!

Finally, if you’re looking for a saint to study with Brazil, check out a previous post of mine, in the Holy Friends book you can find the story of St. Pauline of the Agonizing Heart of Jesus, Brazil’s first saint.

So there it is, Brazil by books!  Please leave a comment if you have other literature suggestions for Brazil.

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Pheidippides!

You say that Fi-DIP-uh-deez.

If you or your kids don’t know who this guy is, then I have just the book for you!

Author Susuan Reynolds says that she got the inspiration for this story after running her first marathon.  The First Marathon:  The Legend of Pheidippides tells the story of a battle between the Greeks and Persians and how we get the word and event marathon.  Pheidippides (yes I do have to keep checking to make sure I’m spelling it correctly!) was a Athenian soldier, but due to his good running skills, he was often used as a herald to deliver messages between generals.  Runners were used instead of horses because the Greek landscape was often too rocky for horses.

The Persians invaded Greece in 490 BC and they landed in the Greek city of Marathon.  Pheidippides was tasked with running to Sparta to get help from the Spartan army.  He had to run 140 miles from Athens to Sparta.  Then, after hearing that the Spartans would not come to help for a while, he had to run all the way back to Athens.  The Athenian army marched to Marathon to defend themselves against the Persians.  The Persians were caught off guard and lost the battle.

Pheidippides was asked to run from Marathon to Athens to tell the news of the battle.  The story goes that soon after he had delivered his message, he breathed his last breath.

Reynolds does a fantastic job bringing this legend to life.  Keep in mind that this story is a legend, so while based on factual events, the details are muddy.

Even if you’re not homeschooling or studying Ancient Greece, it’s a fun story to help your child understand how some of our English words have come about and maybe spark an interest in further word root study!  At the end of the book is a more detailed discussion about which parts are fact and fiction, and how the marathon distance has evolved over time.

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March 17th, the Church celebrates the feast of St. Patrick, patron of Ireland.  As of last year, I only knew of one children’s book to celebrate this saint and the feast day.  This year, we’ve found three more at our library.

The first, and by far my favorite is Tomie dePaola’s Patrick:  Patron Saint of Ireland. I will always fall in love with dePaola’s storytelling abilities and the way his artwork can capture adults and children.

This story starts with Patrick as a young boy being sold into slavery, then tells about the highlights in his life.  It ends with his death and his lasting influence on the country of Ireland, then briefly tells some of the traditional legends told about Saint Patrick.

I like this book because it focuses on the spiritual aspects of Patrick’s work and his travels.  The author doesn’t shy away from telling us that Patrick’s mission was to bring God to every person he encountered.  His mission was to baptize, teach and bring the good news.

He must return to Ireland and take the people the good news of God.

It’s my opinion that you can never go wrong with a saint book by Tomie dePaola!

The second Patrick book is by Ann Tompert, who I only recently discovered and have been impressed by her books.  You can find my review about her other book here.

Saint Patrick is a beautiful, captivating book.  I read this to my 7 and 4 year old boys over snack time, and most of the time I noticed that they weren’t actually eating, because they were so engaged in the story.  Ann Tompert explains in the author’s note that she used Patrick’s own writings in his letter “Confessions” for the basis and inspiration for the story.  She doesn’t include some of the popularly told legends about Patrick, such as the banishing of the snakes or the teaching moment of the shamrock.  But she tells about his life, giving more details about his childhood and life as a slave.  Throughout the story she insert’s quotes from Patrick.

He often went hungry, eating only roots and berries.  Although he suffered many hardships, Patrick never lost hope.  “God kept directing my path,” he said.  “I feared nothing.”

Michael Garland’s illustrations are bold and very crisp and colorful.  Very detailed and beautiful.  This is another well done saint book by Tompert.

The next book we read, is one by Margaret Hodges. You can click on the tag of this post to find other books by her that I’ve have reviewed.   She has a great gift for storytelling and legends.  Saint Patrick and the Peddler is no exception.  However, I caution that by the author’s own admission, she was not so much after getting to the truth of the legend.  Rather, she blended several legends in different areas of Ireland and came up with this story.  Nonetheless, if you’re not after the cold hard facts, which likely wouldn’t be your purpose in reading a St. Patrick book to your kids anyway, this makes for a great story.

Hodges tells of a poor but generous peddler who lived around the time of the potato famine.  He is visited by St. Patrick through his dreams who tells him to go all the way to a bridge in Dublin for some good news.  When he gets there, it’s still not clear to him why he’s there, but he finds out when he returns home.  It’s a lovely story to illustrate how God’s directions sometimes don’t make sense to us but become perfectly clear and utterly perfect if we allow ourselves to follow them.  Hodges has some great lines in here that just make you feel like someone is sitting with you telling the story.

On and on he went, mile after mile, farther than he had ever gone in his life, and then farther.  Don not ask me how he did it, but at long last he came to Dublin and saw the River Liffey, its dark shining water flowing over golden sand.

The other gem of this book is the illustrations, which are paintings by Paul Brett Johnson.  There are two page spreads that are captivating.  From the river scene with the stone bridge, to the town scene with the cobblestone road and carriages, he’s very talented.

This one will definitely be on our list of books to buy for our own home library.

The last book we read is definitely my least favorite, but an ok story overall.  Sheila MacGill-Callahan has written a Patrick book which is based on the legend of Patrick banishing all the snakes from Ireland.  The Last Snake in Ireland:  A Story about St. Patrick is a lighthearted story, obviously not meant to be an inspiring story.

It portrays Patrick as more of a revengeful, prideful bafoon than a spiritual bishop who just wanted to spread God’s love.

The Patrick in this story is irritated by the one last snake that refuses to leave, so he comes up with an idea that is sure to trick the snake.  But the idea backfires many times over.  Finally Patrick thinks he has been successful, he waits many years and checks to see how the snake is getting along in the Loch Ness.  He finds that the snake has grown to an enormous size and is now called the Loch Ness Monster.  It’s an interesting melding of legends but not a particularly effective way to learn more about or be inspired by the faith of a saint.

I hope from these books, you can find something to read to observe St. Patrick’s day this week.  If you have a favorite Patrick book not mentioned here, I’d love to hear about it!

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I previously reviewed a book about the legend of the candy cane. The gist of it is that book had a good idea but the storytelling was lacking.  Well, I found a better option for those wanting to learn about the legend of the candy cane.  This one is creative, weaves a story around one candymaker who developed the candy as a way to teach his granddaughter and other children about the true meaning of Christmas.

David and Helen Haidle have a beautiful story called The Candymaker’s Gift. 

The book tells about the candymaker’s desire to teach the children in his life about Jesus, the real reason for celebrating Christmas.  He creates a new candy, and each step of the process reminds him of some characteristic of Jesus.  Then his granddaughter, Katie, has the idea to add the red stripes to make it pretty, but the candymaker says it reminds him of Jesus’ suffering.

In my opinion, the book goes on too long, with the two characters talking about how they helped each other, something about the flow of the story was off.  But overall, it was a great story and lovely illustrations.

The book also includes ideas of how to incorporate the candy cane theme into Christmas celebrations and a summary of the meaning of the candy cane with relevant scriptures to read.

My kids enjoyed listening to this one with a cup of hot chocolate and candy canes!

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Today the church celebrates the feast of the Epiphany.  Traditionally on January 6, but often moved to the preceding sunday.  Here are some wonderful stories to enhance your children’s observance of this day.

Gennady Spirin has a stunning but simple book entitled We Three Kings. It is quite simply, the words to the carol of the same name.  Each page has just a line or so from the carol, but the pictures are amazingly detailed and colorful.

Another book that would be appropriate for Epiphany is The Last Straw.  You can read my previous review of that one, here.

And of course, my personal favorite would be Tomie DePaola‘s version of the Epiphany story.

“Like a flame of fire that star pointed out God, the King of Kings.

The Story of the Three Wise Kings is a traditional story, pulling on the account in Matthew’s gospel, as well as traditions about the names and attributes of the kings.  I’m definitely a huge fan of DePaola’s style of storytelling and illustrating.

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