Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Coziness of Jan Brett

I don't know of many other author/illustrators who produce more engaging and cozy, animal stories than Jan Brett...
So when I came home last night from a flower arranging class with my little teapot full of roses, snapdragons, and stock, I knew just which book to display it with:  Jan Brett's Town Mouse Country Mouse!
Her version of this classic tale goes back and forth between a country mouse couple visiting an elegant Victorian townhouse and a town mouse couple trying out the lush green countryside.  Each couple faces challenges and predators (mainly an owl and a cat) that often show up in the page border illustrations!
In the end, each couple ends up in their own home.  But you'll have to read the book to see what happens to their predators!
"There's no place like home." sighed the town mouse, as he and
his wife settled into a warm slipper.
(Like Jan Brett's style?  Also see my posts on Valerie Greeley and Beatrix Potter, two of my other favorite animal story author/illustrators).

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Take it From an Expert: Reading Aloud Costs Nothing But Time

Did you know that a seventh (and final) edition of Jim Trelease's The Read Aloud Handbook has just been published?  If you read my very first blog post, you know that this book helped me immensely as I ventured into the arena of libraries and reading aloud with my own children.  It was our treasure map to books, where some our first discoveries included My Father's Dragon,  Ira Sleeps Over, Kermit the Hermit, and The Stories Julian Tells.

"Mother Goose Stories" (Frederick Sands Brunner 1886-1954)

Three decades have passed since The Read Aloud Handbook was first published in 1982.  So who is Jim Trelease?  He's a dad (now a grandfather) and retired journalist, artist, and lecturer who is passionate about reading aloud to kids...
This is the edition I had, printed in 1985
True story: One afternoon, a few years after discovering Mr. Trelease's book (thanks to my mother-in-law, who was a first grade teacher at the time), I came across a magazine article that really frustrated me.  It was written by a mom who had basically given up reading to her son because he didn't like it!  I think she sarcastically mentioned some classics and how only girls like them.

I wrote a letter to the editor about how Jim Trelease's book had helped me.  My letter was published, and one afternoon I heard a voice starting to leave a message on our answering machine (we screened all our calls during our homeschooling years):  "Hello, Wendy.  This is Jim Trelease calling..."  

I picked up the phone immediately.  Jim's adult daughter had seen my letter in the magazine and had told him about it.  He was calling to thank me.  Of course I thanked him! (My kids still tease me about how long I left that message on our machine!) 

Here's an excerpt from the introduction to the seventh edition of this invaluable book:

In the thirty years since the first edition of this book, much has changed in the world, as well as in American education. And so, too, the book has evolved. 

Back in 1982, there was no Internet or email, no cell phones, DVD players, iTunes, iPods, iPads, Amazon, e-books, Wi-Fi, or Facebook. The closest thing to an "instant message" was a facial expression that exasperated mothers gave their children. "Texting" was something you did on a typewriter. The first CD player was just going on sale, Starbucks was just a coffee-bean shop in Seattle, and if you said "laptop" to people they'd have thought you were talking about some kind of TV-dinner tray...

Want more?  The Read Aloud Handbook, 7th Edition, is now available, with revised and updated chapters, and the ever-valuable "Treasury of Read-Alouds" (over 300 recommended books!) at the back of the book with nine categories of books and their descriptions, listed alphabetically by title.  There is also an author/illustrator index.

Chapter titles include:
Why Read Aloud?
Digital Learning: Good News and Bad News
Dad - What's the Score?
A Hyper Kid's Road to Reading

Can't wait?  Before you get this new edition from your bookstore or local library, you can peruse Jim's excellent website at no charge - here.  
Didn't we tell you? Reading aloud costs nothing but time!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Decorating with Books

“Books are not made for furniture, but there is nothing else that so beautifully furnishes a house.” ― Henry Ward Beecher

Sharing some favorite pins today from my "Library and Reading Spaces" Pinterest Board...


Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Bohemian Artist, and the Oldest American Picture Book Still In Print

Wanda Hazel Gág {source}
Wanda Hazel Gág - pronounced "Gog" (1893–1946) was an American artist, author, translator and illustrator.  She is most noted for writing and illustrating the children's book, Millions of Cats, which won a 1928 Newbery Honor award - a rarity for a picture book. It is the oldest American picture book still in print!

I decided to do some research about this author/illustrator after I bought her charming Snippy and Snappy book (1931) for 50 cents at a library bookstore in Indiana when I was visiting my mom.

Just like in Millions of Cats, all the illustrations (except for the cover art) are black and white, with the hand drawn text often rolling across the page, woven in and out of the artwork...

"Snippy and Snappy were two little field-mice.
Snippy was Snappy's sister.
Snappy was Snippy's brother.
They lived with their father and mother in 
a cozy nook in a hay field"

One day Snippy and Snappy wander away from home while playing with their mother's yarn ball. 

While they are sleeping in the woods, a hand reaches down and snatches their ball of yarn.  So ...

Their journey takes them to a large house full of mysterious things, including cupboards full of wonderful-smelling cheese.

Just as Snappy begins to nibble at a piece of cheese in a mousetrap, their father jumps down to rescue them and lead them safely back home.

At the time Wanda Gág began writing children's stories, there was a movement among educators against fairy tales. They said realistic literature was more worthwhile than fairy tales for children.   Wanda Gág disagreed, saying,"I know I should feel bitterly cheated if, as a child, I had been deprived of all fairy lore..."
She translated and published Tales from Grimm in 1936. 

Two years later she translated and illustrated Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as a reaction against the "trivialized, sterilized, and sentimentalized" Disney film version.

You can read and see all of Wanda Gág's illustrations for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs here on Project Gutenberg.  (Do her illustrations remind anyone else of Virginia Lee Burton's artwork?)

To read about Wanda Gág's life, go here, to the website of the Wanda Gág House - her childhood home in New Ulm, Minnesota that is now a museum and interpretive center.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Mystery Photo

Don't you think this sweet grandmother reading with her grandchild looks at home on my blog?  I'm guessing the photo is from the early 1900's; but who its subjects are will always be mystery...

You see, I just couldn't leave behind this old fashioned, cardboard mounted photograph after I found it in a little antique mall I was exploring with my Mom and my son on a recent trip to Bloomington, Indiana.  So it came home with me!

I've been trying to think of a caption for it. Which quote do you think best suits it? (they're all favorites!)

1- No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.  - C.S. Lewis

2- To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.  -Victor Hugo

3- There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we believe we left without having lived them, those we spent with a favorite book.  -Marcel Proust

4- At one magical instant in your early childhood, the page of a book - that string of confused, alien ciphers - shivered into meaning. Words spoke to you, gave up their secrets; at that moment, whole universes opened. You became, irrevocably, a reader.  -Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading

5- There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island.  -Walt Disney

6- Richer than I you can never be - I had a [Grand]Mother who read to me.  -Strickland Gillian 

Ultimately, I guess the details of where, when, and who in regards to this precious photo don't really matter: reading with children is timeless and universally enjoyed!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Library Treasures in Bloomington!

source: Facebook
My recent trip to Bloomington, Indiana, wouldn't have been complete without a re-visit to the Public Library, of course!  The library bookstore is amazing.  It was a treasure trove for my Mom, my son, and myself - all three of us are self admitted thrift store, antique shop, and used bookstore addicts.
And really, who could resist children's books for 50 cents??

I bought a ton.

Needed to baggage check a box of them for the flight home.

(Happy) Sigh.

I've got so much to blog about!!!!  Stay tuned.

There is some interesting history behind Bloomington's Monroe County Public Library.  The first public library in Monroe County was established in 1820 in Bloomington's beautiful courthouse, located in the center of the town square.
County Courthouse, Bloomington, IN
Libraries built by Andrew Carnegie began appearing all over the United States at the turn of the nineteenth century, and Bloomington got one! 
Andrew Carnegie - More photos here.
Biography here.
In February 1918 the new Carnegie-built Bloomington Public Library opened its doors to patrons. The building would serve the needs of county residents for the next 52 years.
The original Carnegie building that housed the
Bloomington Public Library is now a museum. [photo source]

..."Indiana built more Carnegie libraries than any other state..."
In 1965, the Bloomington Public Library merged with the Monroe County Public Library system. Library service continued in the Carnegie building until 1970, with the completion of the current larger, more modern, library facility just a few blocks away.
They have a great children's services department, as you can see from the fun window display in the photo at the top of my post.  Stop in for a visit, if you ever find yourself in Bloomington, Indiana!  And watch my next post for some of the paper treasures I brought home...

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Memorable Trip

To be a Christian is to be a traveler.
Spiritually we are always on the move.
We are on a journey through the inward space of the heart,
a journey not measured by the hours of our watch
or the days of the calendar,
for it is a journey out of time into eternity.
       - Met. Kallistos Ware

I recently traveled with my oldest son to Bloomington, Indiana for my Dad's one-year Memorial at All Saints Orthodox Church.  (You can read my post about Dad's final journey,  here.)  

An Orthodox Memorial service is not just a poignant reminder of our loved one's absence, but a beautiful and hopeful prayer of expectation for our resurrection in Christ.
"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into
the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears
much fruit."  John 12:24
At the end of the service, "Kolyva" - boiled wheat kernels mixed with powdered sugar, raisins, and almonds - is served to all present at the memorial.  The wheat symbolizes everlasting life.  In the same way that new life rises from the buried kernel of wheat, so the Church believes that the one buried will rise one day to a new life in God.  The sugar and raisins symbolize the sweetness of eternal life in Heaven.
After the service, we all made a little procession out to Dad's graveside. When the prayers were over a soft rain began falling - along with some tears.  It's a moment I'll never forget, and I'm so glad my son and I were able to be there with my Mom and my brother and his family.

But something else that made this trip to Indiana special was the memories it brought back of places I'd been with my Dad and Mom.  My Mom and I were looking forward to re-visiting some of them with my son. We even found some new things in and around Bloomington...

A beautiful State Park -
Indiana is full of lovely state parks, and McCormick's Creek State Park is not to be missed.  There are miles of hiking trails, a limestone canyon, caves, horseback riding, small waterfalls, and even a lodge.  This would be a perfect site for a family reunion.

Dad had lots of favorites. On my first visit to Bloomington after my parents moved here a few years ago, we discovered a wonderful little coffee house - the Runcible SpoonI love good coffee, and am always in search of freshly roasted coffee beans to take home and brew in my french press!
Remember "they dined on mince, and slices of quince, which they
ate with a runcible spoon" from Edward Lear's The Owl and the Pussycat?
I love the bookshelves full of interesting books to peruse while you sip!

A Statue on the IU Campus...
Hoagy Carmichael was born in Bloomington in 1899 and earned both his bachelor's degree (1925) and his law degree (1926) from Indian University.  As a student at IU, he began to compose songs and perform regularly with Carmichael's Collegians, the first band he led at the university.
After law school, he worked briefly as a law clerk before pursuing a music career, writing many of the songs that have become American jazz standards, including "Stardust," "Heart and Soul" and "Georgia on My Mind." Carmichael won the 1952 Oscar for his song "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening," had his own television show and even acted in several movies.
Hoagy statue at IU
Photo: Courtesy of Indiana University

An Antique Mall with Vintage Books...
One of my Dad's favorite places to be!

Going Home
Visiting all these places was wonderful, but just not quite the same without Dad.  And suddenly, it was time to go back home. Made me think of this Gospel song that Dad sang when I was young: "This World is Not My Home, I'm Just a Passin' Through". 

Can't wait to be with you again, Dad.  Heaven will be even better.

Thursday, July 4, 2013


During the 19th century, Francis Scott Key's “The Star-Spangled Banner” became one of the nation’s best-loved patriotic songs, performed during both public events and more personal gatherings.  Did you know that some young teen aged girls helped make the flag that inspired the song?
Illustration by Bess Bruce Cleaveland (1925)

"In the summer of 1813, Mary Pickersgill (1776–1857) was contracted to sew two flags for Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland. The one that became the "Star-Spangled Banner" was a 30 x 42–foot garrison flag; the other was a 17 x 25–foot storm flag for use in inclement weather. Pickersgill, a thirty-seven-year-old widow, was an experienced maker of ships’ colors and signal flags. She filled orders for many of the military and merchant ships that sailed into Baltimore’s busy port. 

Helping Pickersgill make the flags were her thirteen-year-old daughter Caroline; nieces Eliza Young (thirteen) and Margaret Young (fifteen); and a thirteen-year-old African American indentured servant, Grace Wisher. Pickersgill’s elderly mother, Rebecca Young, from whom she had learned flagmaking, may have helped as well. 

Pickersgill and her assistants spent about seven weeks making the two flags. They assembled the blue canton and the red and white stripes of the flag by piecing together strips of loosely woven English wool bunting that were only 12 or 18 inches wide."  {Read More...SOURCE: Smithsonian American History}

The Flag Maker by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, illustrated by Claire A. Nivola.  (K-2)
This book, set in lyrical prose, is the story of the flag which came to be known as the Star-Spangled Banner.  After seeing the flag at the Smithsonian Institution, author Susan Campbell Bartoletti became curious about the hands that had sewn it. Here is her story of this flag as seen through the eyes of flag maker Mary Pickersgill's daughter, young Caroline Pickersgill. Through the story we realize how this flag initiates action and emotion, brings people together, and inspires hope and courage.

Mary Young Pickersgill: Flag Maker of the Star Spangled Banner by Sally Johnston and Pat Pilling. (Ages 10 and up).
This fascinating chapter book explains how Mary Pickersgill learned to make flags, where she obtained the four hundred yards of fabric, woven only in England, to make the flag, how she organized a small work force of young women, including a free African-American indentured servant, to sew the flags and where she found a workplace to make such large flags.