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)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


"A long time ago there lived over the waters
A Duchess, A
and their family of daughters -- Madeleine, Gwendolyn, Jane
and Clothilde,
Caroline, Genevive, Maude and Mathilde,
Guinevere, Joan and
And the youngest of all was the baby,

Children 3 years old and up will love this story of fun and rhyming (and, no, it's not a medieval version of MADELINE) as they hear about a Duchess who is trying to bake a "lovely light luscious delectable cake." Hilarity and chaos ensue when the Duchess - who won't listen to the Cook - adds too much yeast. THE DUCHESS BAKES A CAKE was written and illustrated by Virginia Kahl.

A MEDIEVAL FEAST by Aliki (ages 5 & up) is another fun book set in medieval times. My kids were engrossed by this detailed book of everything that goes into preparing a feast for the king's visit. Gorgeous watercolor artwork...

A third Medieval picture book that I'd like to mention is CHANTICLEER AND THE FOX, for ages 5 & up, adapted and illustrated by Barbara Cooney (from Geoffrey Chaucer's CANTERBURY TALES). In this story, a rooster almost becomes a sly fox's feast! In this wonderful re-telling and Caldecott Medal winner, you'll learn how proud Chanticleer learns not to trust in flattery - or foxes.

Monday, June 28, 2010


I just started a novel by Wendell Berry (thanks Corinne!) about a young boy in the 1940's who travels by himself on a bus to go visit his grandparents, who live about 10 miles away, in rural Ohio. He's looking back on this experience as an older man and nostalgically recalls: "It was as though a curtain had fallen on a stage and the credulous audience (I, that is to say) was now in a different world from the one I had waked up in only a short time ago. The world I was in now was an older one that had been in existence a long time, though it would last only a few more years. The time was about over when a boy traveling into the Port William community might be met by a team of mules and a wagon...I knew well at that time that the two worlds existed and that I lived in both...That the worlds were in mortal contention had never occurred to me. When in a few years one had entirely consumed the other, so that no place anywhere would ever again be satisfied to be what it was, I was surprised, and I am more surprised now by the rapidity of the change than I was then. In only a few years the world of pavement, speed, and universal dissatisfaction had extended itself into nearly every place and nearly every mind, and the old world of a mule team and wagon was simply gone, leaving behind it a scatter of less and less intelligible relics."

Robert McCloskey also wrote about this time era and he definitely explored the same rapidity of change in his children's books. Born in 1914, in a small Ohio town, McCloskey wrote and illustrated stories that reflect a simpler time. He often said he didn't know anything about children's literature. "I think in pictures," he said. "I fill in between pictures with words. My first book I wrote in order to have something to illustrate."

His first book, LENTIL (for ages 6-10), is about a boy in a small town in Ohio during the 1940's, who cannot sing (or even whistle), but learns to play a harmonica and saves the day when a grumpy old man tries to ruin the town's homecoming celebration. HOMER PRICE (for ages 6-10)is a collection of 6 stories, also about a small-town boy. In one of the stories, a crowd gathers to watch as shy Homer - who works at his uncle's coffee shop - turns out thousands of donuts from his uncle's newfangled automatic donut machine. The book is a funny, charming look at unhurried life in 1940's America as it slowly experiences the changes being brought about by modern machinery and ideas.

Another endearing story, this time set in the big city of Boston, is MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS (for ages 4-8). This gently told tale of duck parents searching for a safe home to bring up their children, is bound to connect with your child (and they'll love memorizing all the ducklings names). Lots of landmarks in Boston are shown, often from a flying duck's-eye view. When we traveled with our children to Boston years ago, we went to Boston's Public Gardens and saw bronze statues of Mother Mallard and the 8 ducklings, as well as Swan Boats mentioned in the book! (yes, you can still ride in them.)

BLUEBERRIES FOR SAL, though, is my all time favorite McCloskey book! I loved the illustrations and the "kerplunk, kerplunk" of the blueberries hitting the bottom of Sal's pail (well, they're in the bottom until she eats them!) In the story, Sal and her mother are in search of blueberries at the same time as a mother bear and her cub. This story is sweetly and humorously told, as Sal and the cub wander off and absentmindedly trail behind the wrong mothers!

In this time, with all our rapid changes in technology and communication, I know you'll enjoy reading these stories with your children of a simpler, slower-paced life, where community, family, and responsibility are honored and cherished. (And you might also look into the book I'm reading, ANDY CATLETT, EARLY TRAVELS by Wendell Berry.)

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Living in Orange County, it's hard not to immediately think of Disney when questioned about popular mouse stories. But I was able to reach back into the deep recesses of my Mommy Memory and come up with some other "famouse" mice that were our favorites from the literary world...

MOUSE TALES by Arnold Lobel. Great transition into chapter books. (ages 4-8) Seven mouse brothers can't sleep and ask their "Papa" to tell them a story. He tells them seven stories, one for each boy! Another by Lobel: MOUSE SOUP - a mouse is caught by a weasel in order to become the main ingredient for the weasel's "mouse soup". But the mouse tells the weasel that the soup won't taste good unless he stirs some stories into it. You'll read four stories the mouse relates while he devises a plan to stay out of the soup pot. (Think Scheherazade with ears and a long tail!)
BRODERICK by Edward Ormondroyd, with illustrations by John Larrecq. (ages 4-8) I racked my brain and finally remembered this book! It's about a mouse who takes his tongue-depressor-surfboard out into the world. Out of print - you'll have to look at the library for this one, and it's worth it! Cute pen and ink drawings.
STUART LITTLE by E.B. White/Illustrated by Garth Williams. (ages 8 & up). Follow Stuart (a little, talking mouse born to a human family in New York city) on a journey of adventures as he proves himself to be a noble mouse - a humorous, melancholy, touching fantasy tale.
THE MOUSE AND THE MOTORCYCLE (series) by Beverly Cleary. (published in 1965, ages 8 & up). Ralph Mouse has led an ordinary life in the knothole of a hotel room, until a family comes with their son, Keith, who has a toy motorcycle. Kids love what happens when curiosity overcomes caution and Ralph decides he must go for a ride!
BEN AND ME: AN ASTONISHING LIFE OF BENJMIN FRANKLIN BY HIS GOOD MOUSE AMOS, by Robert Lawson (ages 8 & up). The "biography" of Ben Franklin told with wit and wisdom by his mouse, Amos (a less-than-humble rodent).
REDWALL (series) by Brian Jacques. (see my entries about Redwall and Brian Jacques, here).

PICTURE BOOKS (ages 4-8):
SHY CHARLES By Rosemary Wells
MOUSE PAINT by Ellen Stoll Walsh
MOUSE MESS by Linnea Asplind Riley
A MOUSE TOLD HIS MOTHER by Bethany Roberts
THE GRUFFALO by Julia Donaldson
AMOS AND BORIS by William Steig
ANATOLE by Eve Titus
WHOSE MOUSE ARE YOU? by Robert Kraus

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


I'm stepping out of the world of children's literature today to share a few favorites from my own bookshelf (in case any of you grown-ups need some summer reading ideas!) And please share yours with me - I'm always looking for a good book!

HISTORICAL FICTION--Gillian Bradshaw has written several novels that utilize fictional characters to illuminate historical figures - in my two favorites, the protagonists are women:

THE BEACON AT ALEXANDRIA - St. Athanasius has a "bit part" in this story about Charis, a 4th Century young woman who, after being forbidden to become a doctor, disguises herself as a eunuch and flees to Alexandria.
IMPERIAL PURPLE - The twists and turns of the plot in this story surround Demetrius, a Byzantine era state slave in Tyre, who is secretly ordered to weave a cloak of royal purple as part of a scheme to overthrow Emporor Theodosius II. She and her husband are drawn into the treacherous plot and end up in Constantinople themselves.

KRISTIN LAVRENSDATTER: The Bridal Wreath; The Mistress of Husaby; The Cross by Sigrid Undset. This historical epic trilogy, set in 14th Century Norway, chronicles the life of a passionate and headstrong woman from her youth to her death. Kristin's joys and trials in the different seasons of her life are universal. Intelligent, but impetuous, she stuggles through her teen years, makes choices (some are bad ones), and lives with the consequences of her choices. Undset's writing is very descriptive and emotional and her characters are very real, with a balance between character action and contemplation. It is a study of human nature that will hold your attention, despite it's length.

THE FRIENDLY PERSUASON by Jessamyn West. I started this book mainly because the author once lived very close to my house! (There is now a park there in her name.) It's a collection of short stories, very light-hearted, about a Quaker family, headed up by Jess Birdwell (a rather free-spirited Quaker) and his wife, Eliza Birdwell (a Quaker clergywoman!), set in Civil War-era Indiana. Humorous and sweet!

THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett. Set in Jackson, MS, during the early years of the civil rights movement, "The Help" refers to the black maids who worked for the white women and basically raised their children for them. The Washington Post says, "In a page-turner that brings new resonance to the moral issues involved, Ms. Stockett spins a story of social awakening as seen from both sides of the American racial divide." Great characters and story - I literally couldn't put this book down!

84 CHARING CROSS ROAD by Helene Hanff. Hanff's simple wit really sets her writing apart for me...this is a collection of 20 years of correspondence between the author (an outspoken writer, living in New York) and a London bookseller and the friendship that develops between them. Their letters are written between 1949 and 1969 and though they never meet, Helene and Frank become pen pals and not only exchange book orders, but news of their lives and families. Poignant ending that is bitter-sweet - this is a quick read and a beautiful story.
Other favorites by the same author: UNDERFOOT IN SHOW BUSINESS (Hanff's first book, published in 1961, is the humorous account of her unpredictable struggles to make it as a playwright in the world of showbusiness in New York.); Q'S LEGACY (an autobiography of how she came to be a writer in the first place: she searched for books on English Literature, starting with "A", and found nothing readable. There was only one "Q", ON THE ART OF WRITING, by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch...she ends up losing it, looks up "Out of Print Books" and discovers the bookstore in London, located on 84 Charing Cross Road!); DUCHESS OF BLOOMSBURY STREET (the sequel to 84 C.C.Road); APPLE OF MY EYE (a celebration of the author's lifelong love of New York City - almost a walking tourist's guide).

LORD PETER: THE COMPLETE LORD PETER WIMSEY STORIES by Dorothy Sayers. I started with this colletion of shorter mysteries and then moved on to the longer novels with "love interest", Harriet Vane: STRONG POISON; HAVE HIS CARCASE; GAUDY NIGHT; BUSMAN'S HONEYMOON; THRONES, DOMINATIONS. If you ever read and enjoyed any Agatha Christie mysteries, you'll love Dorothy Sayers' stories of this 1920's London gentleman detective even more!

Summer is a great time to catch up on the Classics that you never read (or want to re-read) by Dickens, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Tolstoy...

I SPY...

For parents who've heard, "How long until we get there?" (from the backseat) or "How much longer do we have to wait?" (often asked at doctor visits) - these books are for you! Filled with hidden objects, animals, people, and fairytale characters, the artwork and photographs in these books will keep your children happily occupied during long drives, plane trips, waiting time at doctor appointments, or just good old Quiet Time!

The WHERE'S WALDO? books, by Martin Hanford, became a craze in the late 1980's. While I can't deny that this cartoon-style series is fun, see my recommendations below for some extra special choices...

EACH PEACH PEAR PLUM by Allan Ahlberg, illustrations by Janet Ahlberg (ages 4-8) Nursery rhyme characters sneak their way into gentle drawings - in the cupboard, on the stairs, in the forest...little ones will love this clever story! Also look for: THE JOLLY POSTMAN, where every other page is an envelope containing letters to fairytale characters. For example, there's a note for the Three Bears from Goldilocks, who not only apologizes for the trouble she's caused, but invites Baby Bear to her birthday party. Adorable!!

ANIMALIA by Graeme Base. (ages 4-8) This, the first of many original books by Base, is an elaborately illustrated alphabet book of paintings like no other you've ever seen! Packed with detail and layers and layers of objects matched to their corresponding letter on each two-page spread.

I SPY... (series) by Walter Wick, began with I SPY: A PICTURE BOOK OF RIDDLES, published in 1992. All the books have riddles by Jean Marzollo, in two-page spreads of objects hidden in photographs by Walter Wick.

CAN YOU SEE WHAT I SEE? (newer series, ages 4-8) written and photographed by Walter Wick. These books not only have riddles, but also puzzles and brain teasers matched to the pages jam-packed with photos of objects to be found.

CAN YOU SEE WHAT I SEE, SEYMOUR? (ages baby-preschool) Same as above, but for a younger crowd.

LOOK-ALIKES: THE MORE YOU LOOK, THE MORE YOU SEE! (series, ages 5 & up) by Joan Steiner. These amazing books are full of photographs and riddles, but unlike Walter Wick's series, Steiner photographs three dimensional scenes that are made of everyday objects - like matchboxes, pretzels, crayons, and slices of bread, that double as trucks, chairs, a sidewalk, etc. Delightfully deceiving!!!

LOOK-ALIKES JR. (series, ages 2 & up) "To Look-Alike Land! We're blasting full throttle on a spaceship that looks like a THERMOS BOTTLE!" You've got to see it to believe it.

Monday, June 21, 2010


If you're not familiar with author/illustrator Jan Brett, get ready to experience lots of fun animal stories, all beautifully illustrated with colorful detail and imaginative border "story within a story" pages that hint at what will happen later in the book. Brett writes about human and animal cultures ranging from Scandinavia to Africa. Her extensive travel, in order to get a better idea of the architecture, landscapes, and costumes of the countries she draws in her books, really sets her stories apart.

Her website, http://www.janbrett.com/ is full of (free!) fun activities, coloring pages, games, and cards that go with each of her books. This could keep you and your child busy all summer long! (But you'll want to save some for winter, because she's written quite a few Christmas and snow stories too, that I didn't even list!)

Some of our favorites (all for preschool & up):