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, May 28, 2010


Some books are so loved, they almost become part of the family! Certainly that was true for us. Maybe because she didn't have any sisters, our daughter, Mary, was especially drawn to books with girl characters. To this day (she's 23), she recalls with fondness several of her childhood "friends" from favorite books.

The BETSY TACY series (ages 5 and up), by Maud Hart Lovelace, has to rank right up at the top! (Well, maybe after CINDERELLA, but that's a separate blogpost.) These stories are so endearing and have such a following that there is even a Betsy-Tacy Society! http://www.betsy-tacysociety.org/. Mothers and daughters alike enjoy the books so much they've been re-printed several times and are passed down from one generation to the next. We especially liked the editions illustrated by Lois Lenski.

A good friend of mine with a daughter Mary's age turned us on to the books. She had read them as a child and knew our girls would enjoy them. I had never even heard of BETSY-TACY and am so glad she recommended the books. Our girls had fun reading all the books at the same time! (The books are written on a progressively more difficult reading level as their characters progress in age).

The series - based on the author's life - is set in a small town in Minnesota at the turn of the twentieth century. The first book, BETSY-TACY, takes place with Betsy and her best friend, Tacy, being five years old. By the second book, they've added a new friend, Tib. The series follows the girls' friendships all the way through to Betsy's wedding! There is so much heartfelt humor, detail, and realistic emotion in the writing, you really get a feeling for life at the turn of the century - from school days and friendships, to falling in love and travel. Girls will have fun growing up with Betsy, Tacy, and Tib as their friends!


HEIDI (ages 6-8), by Johanna Spyri, illustrations by Ruth Sanderson. Please do not substitute reading this beautiful story by watching the movie or made-for-television-versions instead! The descriptive writing about Heidi's struggle to learn to read, as well as her relationships with her grandfather, the Alps, the goats, Klara, and Peter and his blind grandmother are not to be missed. What touched me most was the underlying story of the stern grandfather ("Alm Uncle") as a prodigal son figure who has his heart softened by his tender granddaughter.

BALLET SHOES (ages 6 and up), by Noel Streatfeild. The story of three orphaned babies, Pauline, Petrova, and Posy Fossil, who are all adopted by "GUM" - Great Uncle Matthew. (Uncle Gum is an archaeolgist, who brought home lots of fossils to his home in England, until he was injured and decided to travel the world!) The girls are not siblings, but are adopted one by one and raised by Gum's great-niece, Sylvia, and Nana, her old nurse. (There is a whole series of "Shoe Books", but this is the only one we read.)

LITTLE PRINCESS, by Frances Hodgsdon Burnett, illustrated by Tasha Tudor. (ages 8-12). "Whatever comes," she said, "cannot alter one thing. If I am a princess in rags and tatters, I can be a princess inside. It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it." Was there ever a sweeter, more unselfish girl than Sara Crewe? (Yes - Cinderella!) Again, please do not bypass this book for the movie! (Although there was a very good BBC Wonderworks adaptation made in 1987 stayed true to the text.)

LITTLE HOUSE SERIES, by Laura Ingalls Wilder (ages 8-12) Wonderful historical fiction, loved by boys and girls alike! Eight books in the series...following Laura and her family, with lots of detail about their life as a pioneer family and it's joys and hardships. The stories start in a cabin on the frontier, around 1870. Well known illustrator, Garth Williams, spent years researching Laura's family and his artwork is a wonderful reflection of that.

LITTLE WOMEN, by Louisa May Alcott (ages 8-12) One of the most popular and unforgettable children's novels in American history! Your daughter will never forget Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy March and how instead of buying Christmas presents for themselves, they buy gifts for their mother, "Marmee". This quest to be selfless, their antics with Laurie, the boy next door, their deep family loyalty and coming of age experiences, endear us to this family living during the Civil War. The 1994 movie adaptation is wonderful too! (But read the book first!)

THE PRINCESS AND THE GOBLIN and THE PRINCESS AND CURDIE, by George MacDonald (ages 8-12). Fantasy story about a young princess (Irene) and a miner boy named Curdie. The princess's great-great-grandmother, who lives high up in the castle turret and appears either as very old or young and beautiful, admonishes Irene to behave courageously and to overcome her fears as Curdie strives to save her from the evil goblin's plan to kidnap her.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Some days it was a challenge to lure my boys away from digging holes in the backyard, playing with their action figures, riding bikes, shooting baskets, building with their Legos, or constructing forts - in order to have them sit for a little while and read a book.

Thanks to book lists from William Kilpatrick's BOOKS THAT BUILD CHARACTER and Jim Trelease's READ ALOUD HANDBOOK, I was able to find plenty that not only kept their attention by capturing their imaginations with exciting adventures, but also inspired them to strength of character, courage, and kindness...many times, with lots of laughter along the way!

Age ranges are approximations, depending on whether you're reading these books aloud, or your children are reading them on their own...

-MY FATHER'S DRAGON (series), by Ruth S. Gannett (ages 6-8) The narrator relates the tales as adventures his father had as a boy. Exciting exploits with hair-raising escapes and wonderful creatures. VERY imaginative and a perfect transition book into "more story with less pictures". This fantasy novel has been around since 1948!

-JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH, by Roald Dahl (ages 6-10). Clever fantasy with lots of fun word play. Dahl's style is almost like Dicken's in describing the miserable plight of orphaned James...horrible mean aunts, outlandish characters, and a magic peach pit will engross your listener with hours of fun reading.

-CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY and sequel, CHARLIE AND THE GREAT GLASS ELEVATOR, by Roald Dahl (ages 8-12). More fantasy from Dahl about childhood justice and delight, full of imagination and the best kind of storytelling. Charlie Bucket lives with his mother and four bedridden grandparents in their one-room home. Charlie wins a trip into the magical, fantastical world of Williy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. A satirical look at want and need, greed and generosity, all remedied through the methods of the eccentric candy maker. Not to be missed!

-THE GREAT BRAIN (series) by John D. Fitzgerald (ages 8-12) Hilarious adventures of an Irish-Catholic family in Mormon Utah in 1896. Tom - a.k.a. the Great Brain - is a 10-year-old genius con man, always interested in making a profit (and always learning a lesson.)

-MANIAC MCGEE, by Jerry Spinelli (ages 9-12). This is the story of a 12-year-old boy, who as a stranger in Two Mills (a runaway, actually), is naively ignorant of the racial divide between the East and West sides of town. He's also unaware that his life will become legend as he performs one amazing feat after another (like running 49 touchdowns in a single game!) You won't believe the miraculous things he does - the most courageous being the healing of the division in the town and the end of the racial prejudice there. Good contemporary fiction.

-A DOG ON BARKHAM STREET and sequel, THE BULLY OF BARKHAM STREET, by Mary Stolz (ages 9-12) There are two problems facing 9-year-old Edward: Martin Hastings, the neighborhood bully, and the fact that Edward's mom and dad don't consider him responsible enough to own a dog. Then his Uncle Josh comes for a visit and brings him - a dog! The plot takes a turn and Edward becomes disallusioned and wants to run away. His father's steady reliability teaches him about love and responsibility in caring for others. In the sequel, you find out what made Martin - the "bully" - behave the way he does as we get the story from the bully's perspective!

-FRINDLE, by Andrew Clements (ages 10-12) Humorous, yet thought provoking story celebrating the glory of language. Nicholas, 5th grader and bit of a class clown, invents the word "frindle" to replace "pen", after his teacher gives him an extra assignment about how new entries are added to the dictionary. Hilarity ensues as the whole school begins to use the word. In the end, the student and teacher find a true appreciation of each other.

-THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, by Norman Jester (ages 10-12) Fantasy story of a mysterious tollbooth appearing in the home of a young and bored time-waster, a boy named Milo. Packed with humor, wordplay, and brain teasers galore as Milo stumbles upon many adventures of the mind! (An example of the quirky humor, fun use of words and logic: Milo arrives at the "Island of Conclusions" in an unusual fashion - he jumps, of course!)

LLOYD ALEXANDER'S THE PRYDAIN CHRONICLES  (ages 9-12) Fun and imaginative series about a would-be hero, Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper to the wizard Dallben. Taran doesn't always make the smartest decisions, but learns along the way (which is part of his charm!) Boys and girls alike will love this series!  THE BOOK OF THREE; THE BLACK CALDRON; THE CASTLE OF LLYR; TARAN WANDERER; THE HIGH KING.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


"I am a 'girly-girl' through and through. As a child, I loved dolls, ballet, tea parties, dress up, and fairy tales...something we always did together as a family, and that we were also encouraged and even required to do on our own, was to read. And, being the 'dainty' girl I was, one of my favorite stories of all time was CINDERELLA.

My mom found different adaptations of the story, featuring various storytellers' and illustrators' perspectives. I loved the story so much and I think I've always understood it as a tale of endurance. It seems that many fairytales are just that; however, I feel that Cinderella is in fact a true fairytale in the sense that the power of the story, the characters, and the morals of the tale, will live forever, even if it never took place in history. And not only that, apart from the Fairy Godmother (who really just bedazzled everyone a bit - as "Cinders" did all the real work), this rags to riches story could actually have (and has many times) happened in the real world.

You see, "Cinders" is a beautiful and lovely girl, who, even in what should be her moments of greatest despair, never loses hope, respect, patience, or love. Children can relate to and learn so much from this story. While we may not have all grown up with an evil stepmother and mean, tormenting stepsisters, or had only animals for friends, and endured patiently - until one day we stumble upon our fairy godmother who helps us meet our prince and makes all our dreams come true - any person can empathize with this story. In various ways we've been there - we've lived through a painful situation in life. But who can say that they offered kindness, respect, and love in return for the harsh treatment or hatred that might have been given? Children can often relate to the circumstances the princess finds herself in, yet the story teaches them to aspire to act and forgive like Cinderella (as she came to be called).

I watched the Disney CINDERELLA animated movie two or three times as a child, and certanly when I pictured her in my head, it was the face of this timeless and beautiful classic that I saw looking back at me. But even with its charm, enduring characters, beautiful animation, and enchanting score, the film can't take a child to the same place that the storybook can. In the film, the hard work is done for us (and what a work of imaginative genius it is!) allowing us the luxury of sitting back for an hour or two while we enjoy the tale unfolding before us. Yet, with the storybook, even with pictures, we learn to live and relate in a whole new way, as our imaginations do the hard work to lead us to the "happily ever after" on the last page.

Guess who?
I had the great privilege of representing Disney's Cinderella at the DISNEYLAND PARIS Theme Park in France for 8 months last year. I cannot tell you what a joy this "job" (though I laugh to call it that) was to me, and how much I learned about children there. So many of these little dears were concerned for me: for how my stepsisters had been treating me lately? For how hurt my feelings must have been when my stepmother said such mean things? For how sad I must have been for all those years up in my tower, all alone, only able to dream of happiness? They understood my story - my life - that it had been difficult and full of trials. And some of them even related in ways that made me very sad. Yet, with this heroine they always had the example of hope, of graceful acceptance, and everlasting endurance.

So, even as a woman now, I think I shall love this story forever! After all, it couldn't be pure coincidence that CINDERELLA was my favorite fairytale, my first Barbie, my favorite movie, my favorite Halloween costume, the centerpiece of my 10th birthday cake, my "model" for my first high school prom (which I attended with my very own Prince Charming - yes, we got married!), and my favorite job ever. But without the storybook, and the love for the special young girl - who was 'no less good than beautiful' - that it sparked in my imagination, none of this could have meant what it has, and that's the truth!"
The author and her Mom in front of Cinderella's coach, Disneyland Paris.

MARY'S favorite illustrators of CINDERELLA:
-MARCIA BROWN (sumptuous watercolors);
-RUTH SANDERSON (haven't actually read this one, but her adaptation of THE TWELVE DANCING PRINCESSES is incredible!);
-K.Y.CRAFT (illustrations are reminiscent of opulent 17-18th Century France);
-SUSAN JEFFERS (very natural looking artwork);
-WALT DISNEY'S CINDERELLA, by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Mary Blair;
-THE EGYPTIAN CINDERELLA, by Shirley Climo, illustrated by Ruth Heller

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


As the school year comes to a close, kids love to start making summer plans. And whether or not you live anywhere near an ocean, nothing screams "summer" more than the thought of the sand and surf! Take a trip to the sea in one of these four very unique books...

RHINOS WHO SURF, by Julie Mammano (for ages 4-6) Bright pictures, playful text, and even a surf lingo glossary! Hilarious!

KERMIT THE HERMIT, by Bill Peet (for ages 5-8) Wonderful story told in rhyme (Dr. Suess style) about a Hermit Crab. Kermit is a "selfish shellfish" who hoards all kinds of unnecessary things. He is saved from a near mishap by a boy and discovers the value of sharing. My kids asked for this story over and over. Mr. Peet was a top writer and illustrator for several of DISNEY'S animated films, before becoming a children's book author/illustrator in the 1960's.

HATTIE AND THE WILD WAVES, by Barbara Cooney (for ages 5-8) Read about a little girl who lives by the sea, off the New England Coast at the turn of the century. Her dream is to become an artist. You'll love the richly detailed paintings as much as your child will!

ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS, by Scott O'Dell (for ages 10-12) A Newbury Medal was awarded for this riveting novel, inspired by the real-life story of a 12-year-old American Indian girl, Karana, and her fight for survival on an island off the coast of Santa Barbara, CA. One of my sons' and daughter's favorites.

Monday, May 24, 2010


If your kids liked the movie RATATOUILLE, they'll like the picture book ANATOLE (written by Eve Titus, illustrated byPaul Galdone.) Anatole is a mouse who sneaks into the Duvall Cheese Factory to taste the cheese. He even leaves little notes, commenting on the quality of the cheese. Things begin to change for the better for the factory when his advice is followed...fun reading and great art in a classic Caldecott Honor book.


MADELINE (Caldecott Medal winner, by Ludwig Bemelmans) is a favorite of young girls and boys alike. Stanzas like "an old house in Paris that was covered in vines" and "twelve little girls in two straight lines" are appealing to kids not only because of the rhyme, but because of the order that is established. Then along comes Madeleine, the heroine and smallest of the girls, who proceeds to destroy that order with her impetuous mischief! There's also Miss Clavel, the nun who is constantly trying keep Madeleine out of trouble... and Pepito, the Spanish Ambassador's son from next door, who will make brothers want to listen in to their sister's "girl books"!


THE HAPPY LION (by Louise Fatio, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin) is about a friendly lion in a small French zoo who enjoys the visits each day of the townspeople. See what happens when the zookeeper forgets to close the cage door.


MONSIEUR SAGUETTE AND HIS BAGUETTE (by Frank Asch) is a silly story in which a baguette becomes the handy solution for impending disaster during Monsieur's very eventful walk home!

ADELE AND SIMON (by Barbara McClintock) Adele cautions her brother not to lose anything on their way home from school...well, you can guess what happens! Gorgeous illustrations of neighborhoods and landmarks bring to life a simple story, set in early 20th century Paris. Not to be missed! (Note: with careful searching each of Simon's lost items can be found!)

Friday, May 21, 2010


More than once, I have been reminded of another furry friend when our Yorkshire Terrier, Sebastian, stares up at me with his bright, black eyes. Took me forever to figure out exactly who he was reminding me of - that is, until last night...

We had just finished dinner and were still sitting at the kitchen table when Sebastian popped his little head up over the back of the couch (about ten feet away from us) to see what we were up to. And it came to me: he's Paddington Bear!!!!

So today I've decided to tell you about the fun Paddington Bear books by Michael Bond...

The series starts with A BEAR CALLED PADDINGTON, as the Brown family finds a new friend in a London train station. He has a tag around his neck that says, "Please look after this Bear." They take him home and the adventures begin! Paddington - like Sebastian - is constantly getting into mischief. But he always makes friends along the way with his innocent and sweet personality.
A Bear Called Paddington
Paddington Bear has charmed readers with his fun misadventures and love of marmalade since 1958. The original series consists of 11 chapter books for ages 7 and up. (Many new shorter stories have been written as board books for little ones, but for the true charm of the stories, make sure you try the originals when your children are old enough to pay attention to chapter books.)

Go to http://www.paddingtonbear.com/, the Official Paddington Bear Website, for a list of all the books and some fun activities for kids.