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)

Saturday, July 30, 2011


"I often work within the realm of fairy-tales and folk-lore." 
-Artist Sue Blackwell
Alice in Wonderland was one of Su Blackwell's favorite
childhood stories.
British artist Su Blackwell's book sculpture art brings images from children's stories like Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella  to life.  Watch this fascinating video interview with her:

"I often work within the realm of fairy-tales and folk-lore. I began making a series of book-sculpture, cutting-out images from old books to create three-dimensional diorama's, and displaying them inside wooden boxes...
For the cut-out illustrations, I tend to lean towards young-girl characters, placing them in haunting, fragile settings, expressing the vulnerability of childhood, while also conveying a sense of childhood anxiety and wonder. There is a quiet melancholy in the work, depicted in the material used, and choice of subtle colour...
Paper has been used for communication since its invention; either between humans or in an attempt to communicate with the spirit world. I employ this delicate, accessible medium and use irreversible, destructive processes to reflect on the precariousness of the world we inhabit and the fragility of our life, dreams and ambitions." -Su Blackwell (click on her name to go to her website.)

If you liked this post about these amazing book sculptures, you might also enjoy my post about dress sculptures/paper dresses.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


"This beautifully illustrated picture book evokes the fullness of a New England childhood through descriptions of a single summer day."
—Publishers Weekly

NIGHT OF THE MOONJELLIES by Mark Shasha. This book was inspired by the author's memories of working at his grandmother's hot dog stand by the sea in New London, Connecticut in the 1970s. It features the warm relationship between the main character and his grandmother, along with the hustle and bustle of the busy day at the hot dog stand. Seven-year-old Mark finds "something that felt like jelly" on the beach. After their busy day at work, Gram and Mark take a boat out to sea, where Mark sees an oceanful of shimmering white lights--moonjellies--and returns his to the water.

What exactly are "moonjellies"? Visit Mark Shasha's website to find out.  (Hint:  they're not "jellyfish".)

Many homeschoolers have discovered this story and used it as part of literature-based FIVE IN A ROW cirriculum...look at what this inspired mom did with her kids, while they read and completed activities for NIGHT OF THE MOONJELLIES - click here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


When I was young, living in the South, there was nothing I liked better on warm summer nights than hunting "Lightning Bugs" (which is what we called Fireflies).  Are you lucky enough to live where there are Fireflies? If not, share this wonderfully entrancing video I found on Youtube with your kids and you'll feel like you're there...then go and find today's recommended books!

SAM AND THE FIREFLY, by P.D. Eastman. When Sam, the owl, teaches Gus, the firefly, to write words in the sky, cars crash, movies are free, and hot dogs are cold.
Sam and the Firefly

THE VERY LONELY FIREFLY by Eric Carle. The firefly buzzes off in search of companionship, but keeps following other lights by mistake--a candle, a flashlight, a lantern--and these in turn are all leading in the direction of a fireworks display. Finally, the lonely firefly finds the friends it is seeking--a dozen or more other fireflies (you child will love the surprise on the last page!)
The Very Lonely Firefly

Monday, July 25, 2011


Alaska's Midnight Sun, by Deb Vanasse. In Alaska, kids can go to bed as late as 11 p.m. and still have light outside their window! This sweet poetic book, illustrated by award-winner Jeremiah Trammell, showcases the many pleasures of this unique time as a little girl dances, fishes, plays games, watches moose and fox, and communes with family and nature.  She manages to stay awake past midnight, before finally winding down and falling asleep.

Have you ever read the poem BED IN SUMMER by Robert Louis Stevenson? It captures perfectly the frustration I remember feeling as a young child in the summer when, while lying in bed, I could still see light outside my window and hear the older neighborhood kids playing games like "Kick the Can".

In Winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candle light.
In Summer, quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.

I have to go to bed and see
The birds still hopping on the tree,
Or hear the grown-up people's feet
Still going past me in the street.

And does it not seem hard to you,
When all the sky is clear and blue,
And I should like so much to play,
To have to go to bed by day?

When I was older, I was finally allowed to stay out until dark and have fun. We caught fireflies (we called them "lightning bugs" - more about that in tomorrow's post) and played the fun hybrid game of tag and hide-and-go-seek, "Kick the Can" -- the bigger the can the louder the "CLANG", when it was kicked.  (Another fun nighttime game is "Flashlight Tag" - CLICK HERE to learn more.)


Friday, July 22, 2011


LAND OF ENCHANTMENT, by Norman Rockwell

"A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it."
~ Samuel Johnson

How do you raise a reader?
Here are some facts parents should know, from JIM TRELEASE, author of THE READ-ALOUD HANDBOOK...

1. READING is the most important subject in school. Why? Because a child needs reading in order to master most of the other subjects.
2. ACROSS the world, children who read the most, read the best.
3. WE humans are pleasure-seekers, doing things over and over if we like it.
4. READ aloud to your children, even as infants. Initially, the sound of your voice is a beacon of calmness, conditioning the child to associate you and the book with security.
5. LISTENING comprehension comes before reading comprehension. You must hear a word before you can say it or read and write it.
6. CHILDREN usually read on one level and listen on a higher level.
7. THE top winter Olympians come from states where they have the most ice and snow. And reading research shows that children who come from homes with the most print—books, magazines, and newspapers—have the highest reading scores. They also use the library more than those with lower scores.
8. THERE is a strong connection between over-viewing of TV by children and under-achieving in school. Simply put: those who watch the most know the least.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Bella becomes her little brother's hero when she figures out a
way to get back his stuffed animal, "Dogger".

DOGGER, by Shirley Hughes, is a favorite picture book of children everywhere.  It won the Kate Greenway Medal - the British version of America's Caldecott Medal - in 1977, as well as the all-time favorite, "Greenway of Greenways" in 2007.  This book is not to be missed! The ending of this beautiful story will probably bring a tear to your eye.  The example of kindness shown from a sister towards her little brother is heartwarming for parents, and might encourage your own children to show small acts of kindness towards each other.
When Dave loses his favorite friend - his stuffed animal "Dogger" - he is heartbroken. The family practically turns their house upside down looking for Dave's special toy, but to no avail. When Dogger turns up for sale at a neighborhood fair, everything seems all right—until someone else buys him before Dave can get the money!  Then Dave's older sister Bella does a remarkable thing:  she offers the teddy bear she has just won in a raffle in exchange for Dogger!

This book is a great summer read aloud. Kids are off school and can oftentimes get bored and irritated with their siblings.  What better story to share on a warm summer afternoon?  For ages 3-7.

Another "sibling book" that won the Kate Greenway Medal (in 2001):  I WILL NOT NEVER EVER EAT A TOMATO, by Lauren Child.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Well, I guess July is National Blueberry Month as well as National Ice Cream Month (and boy, do they taste yummy together!)  Did you know that ice cream dates dates back to the 2nd century B.C.? Alexander the Great liked snow and ice flavored with honey and nectar. (You can read more about the history of ice cream HERE.)

BLUEBERRIES aren't just good tasting, they're healthy...according to the North American Blueberry Council (yes, there is such an organization): out of 40 different fruits, juices and vegetables, the blueberry has the highest antioxidant level.  And just three and a half ounces of blueberries are equivalent to over 1700 International Units of vitamin E. (Find some snack recipes with blueberries HERE for kids).

And while you and your kids enjoy a bowl of ice cream (topped with blueberries of course!), take the opportunity to read them one of my favorite picture books, BLUEBERRIES FOR SAL by Robert McCloskey. Your children are bound to love his (now retro) illustrations and the "kerplunk, kerplunk" of the blueberries hitting the bottom of Sal's pail -- well, they're at the bottom until she eats them!

In the story, Sal and her mother decide to go out and search for 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!

Don't worry - it all turns out okay in the end!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Have you read the book, THE HUNDRED DRESSES by Eleanor Estes? Lois Slobodkin's beautiful watercolor illustrations echo the wistful tone of this classic story.  Never out of print since its 1944 publication, this tender story offers readers of all ages a timeless message of compassion and understanding. At its heart is Wanda Petronski, an immigrant girl in an American school, who is ridiculed for wearing the same faded blue dress every day. When she tells her classmates that she has one hundred dresses at home, she unwittingly triggers a game of teasing that eventually ends in a lesson for all.

Many of us, even as young girls, were drawn to beautifully made dresses, fancy frills, and fashion!  My first exposure to haute couture was probably from the Hollywood musical, FUNNY FACE, starring Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire. I'll never forget the shot of Audrey, descending the broad stone stairway at the LOUVRE MUSEUM in Paris, looking like the "Winged Victory" herself, arms extended above her head, with her red drape billowing behind her as she floated past the Greek goddess, NIKE. (Edith Head and Givenchy made quite a good team!)
Haute couture is French for "high sewing" and refers to custom-fitted and designed clothing, made to order for a specific customer.  I recently came across a different kind of couture: dress design as art, in the form of dress sculptures and paper dresses.
Here's a dress made out of phonebook pages, by Jolis Paons.
I love this miniature paper-cut, by Elsa Mora.
Here are two PAPER DRESS SCULPTURES done by Eloise Corr Danch for window displays...
Lady Dulcinea, Anthropologie Rockefeller Center Gallery, 2008
Ruffian Paper Doll, 2009 (photo, Geoff Green)

The train on this dress is made up of 1,000 paper cranes! (by Yuliya Krypo,
 made from recycled newspaper)
An ILLUMINATED gown from an exhibit of recycled fashion in Montreal...
This dress sculpture is made of book pages, milled paper,
typewriter parts, linen rope and binders.
Close up of details.
Author Claire Massey, in a fairytale PAPER DRESS, commissioned for Britain's Lancaster Literature Festival last October...

The "Word Dress", made entirely from the pages of books, was designed and 
hand crafted by Lancashire bridal designer, Jennifer Pritchard Couchman.

Inspired? Make your own newspaper dress like the one below! Click HERE for a step-by-step tutorial.

Monday, July 18, 2011


As I did with the GOOD BOOKS FOR TEEN GIRLS List, I'll be including books from all genres for TEEN BOYS - classics, biographies, historical fiction, and fantasy, not just "Young Adult" contemporary fiction, which is a genre in itself that you'll find in bookstores and libraries, aimed at ages 13-18. You can read about a recent study that took a look at the level of sexuality presented in YA books HERE. (Some of those books would do well to have a label saying "Reader Discretion Advised"!)


As my sons got into high school, they both participated in track and field, were acolytes at church, and found a love of music (piano, singing, guitar, and drums).  Their busy schedules really limited the amount of reading time they had and we knew it was important to help them find engaging and worthwhile books.  Here are some good recommendations (many were found in my go-to-resource, BOOKS THAT BUILD CHARACTER by William Kilpatrick):

TOM'S MIDNIGHT GARDEN by Philipa Pearce. (for ages 12-14)  Review from BOOKS THAT BUILD CHARACTER: "This novel is widely considered to be one of the masterpieces of children's literature...critic Humphrey Carpenter has noted that TOM'S MIDNIGHT GARDEN is, in essence, a reversal of PETER PAN.  In Pearces's novel, a boy has to come to terms with the fact that time cannot be stopped, that change and growth and loss are part of human existence...Tom's brother has measles, and so Tom is forced (unhappily) to spend the summer with his aunt and uncle...one night he hears an old grandfather clock strike thirteen.  When he goes down to investigate, he decides to step outside, and he discovers himself in a beautiful garden rather than a paved driveway...he meets a pretty young girl named Hatty. After many puzzling visits, he begins to realize that each one occurs at a different point in time in Hatty's life...she perceives him as a ghost who appears only after long absences...The author resolves these mysteries in a satisfying and moving conclusion.  Tom's experiences cause him to leave his angry, self-preoccupied life behind, and learn something about love, time, and the importance of memory." The descriptive writing and plot in this book made a huge impression on my older son. To this day, he sites it as a favorite.
Tom's Midnight Garden

HATCHET by Gary Paulsen. (ages 12-14) A survival story about a thirteen-year-old boy, Brian Robeson, who is flying in a small plane to visit his father.  The pilot of the plane has a heart attack, but Brian manages to guide the plane to a lake and emerges unhurt. Alone in the forests of Canada, he learns to survive.  There is never a question the situation is desperate, the author's tone is never sentimental, as Brian learns patience, self-reliance, the value of hard work, and a respect for nature. Even reluctant readers will get into this story - a favorite of my younger son!
Hatchet By Gary Paulsen

LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding. (Ages 14 and up) Before there were THE HUNGER GAMES, there was Lord of the Flies.  William Kilpatrick says, "This is an ugly book (though beautifully written).  But if the ugliness in LORD OF THE FLIES is related to something deep within human nature, how can we afford to look away? It suggests that what we call civilization is a very thin layer of order covering passions and emotions that could easily rip it apart...a cautionary tale meant to shock us into an awareness of the fragility of moral and political life."  The story involves a plane crash on a tropical island, a group of British schoolboys, and a power struggle.  Without the protection of the adult generation, the older children find themselves drawn into all the sins of their parents' world - blind ambition, vanity, greed, and hate. I read this one aloud to my kids. It was a hard book to get through (emotionally), but spurned some really good discussion. (Lord of the flies website here)

THE ARTHURIAN TRILOGY by Rosemary Sutcliff. A masterful retelling.
The Light Beyond the Forest: The Quest for the Holy Grail
The Light beyond the Forest: The Quest for the Holy Grail (Arthurian Trilogy)
The Sword and the Circle: King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table
The Sword and the Circle: King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table
The Road to Camlann: The Death of King Arthur
Road to Camlann: The Death of King Arthur

THE DARK IS RISING SEQUENCE by Susan Cooper. Susan Cooper, in her five-title Dark Is Rising sequence (steeped in Celtic and Welsh legends), creates a world where the conflict between good and evil reaches epic proportions. She ranks with C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien in her ability to deliver a moral vision in the context of breathtaking adventure. My husband really enjoyed reading this too!
The Dark is Rising (Newbery Honor); Over Sea, Under Stone; Greenwitch; The Grey King (Newbery Medal); Silver on the Tree.
The Dark Is Rising Sequence: Silver on the Tree; The Grey King; Greenwitch; The Dark Is Rising; and Over Sea, Under Stone

THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain. Another great recommendation from BOOKS THAT BUILD CHARACTER by William Kilpatrick: "In the famous 'Notice' at the beginning of this book, Mark Twain warns that anyone 'attempting to find a moral' in the novel 'will be banished'. As usual, Twain was being humorously ironic, since this American classic is shot through with profound moral dilemmas...full of adventure and comedy, this novel is far more complex and thematically rich than its predecessor, THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER (which should be read first as preparation...When Huck and the runaway slave Jim head out on the Mississippi on their raft, they encounter a series of events that shows the corruption and hypocrisy of what is often call 'respectable' society...Huck, a child, and Jim, a slave - the weakest member of this society - are forced to use their wits to survive." A favorite of my older son.

FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelley. (high school and up) From BOOKS THAT BUILD CHARACTER by William Kilpatrick: "Before the Advent of the modern horror movie, with its gore-for-gore's-sake mentality, the great writers of ghost stories and Gothic novels explored a deeper and more profound realm of the human spirit...older children encounter the reality of evil, and the dangers of curiosity untempered by common sense and moral restraints...At the heart of this myth is the pride of the scientist who would take God's place and become a Creator in his own right. What Mary Shelley dramatizes so vividly is that man cannot create something new; he can only re-create from the materials around him.  But this process of re-creation involves him in dangers and mysteries that are beyond his power to control..."

DAVID COPPERFIELD, by Charles Dickens. This is truly the best coming-of-age book any boy could ask for.  It's language is old fashioned and daunting at first, but a mature reader should do fine.  I'm happy to say my youngest - who is still a challenged reader - was finally motivated, at the age of 19, to get through this 1,000-plus-page classic. And he loved it! The quote I'm sharing about this book is something I read years ago, by an Orthodox monk, that lead me to realize the influence that good literature could have on my children's souls:
David Copperfield (Penguin Classics)"A boy can read something like David Copperfield, which describes a boy growing up: not some kind of monk or ascetic hero, but just an ordinary boy growing up in a different time .... It's true that this is a worldly book about people living in the world - but that world is quite different. Already you get a different perspective on things: that the world has not always been the way it is now; that the standard which is now in the air is one kind of world and there are other kinds; and that this is a different, normal world in which, although the element of sex is present, it has a definite role. You get strength from seeing what was normal in that time, from the way Dickens describes this young boy growing up and falling in love. He is embarrassed to be around the girl and never thinks about dirty things because nothing like that ever comes up; whereas if you read any contemporary novel that's all you get. This book shows a much higher view of love, which is of course for the sake of marriage, which is for the sake of children. The whole of one's life is bound up with this, and the thought never comes up in this book that one can have some kind of momentary satisfaction and then pass on to the next girl. David Copperfield is full of dreams of this woman, how he is going to live with her and be a big man of the world. It is assumed that he has sexual relations after he is married, but this is involved with what one is going to do with one's whole life." -Fr. Seraphim Rose (You can read more from "Forming Young Souls", HERE)

THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS series, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Do I really need to say how much enjoyment your boys (and ANYONE) will get from these?
The Hobbit: 70th Anniversary Edition The Lord of the Rings

THE SPACE TRILOGY by C.S. Lewis (again, from William Kilpatrick: "Before C.S.Lewis wrote the CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, he became concerned with an ideological frame of mind he called "scientism". According to Lewis, scientism was the belief that technology would liberate mankind from the moral traditions of the past; the end result would be the elevation of certain scientists to the status of godhood, with the power of life and death over the whole human race....The three novels that constitute THE SPACE TRILOGY dramatize the conflict between scientism and the moral tradition of the West."
Out of the Silent Planet - A Cambridge University scholar named Ransom accidentally stumbles onto a scheme in which two men, one a scientist and the other a huckster with intellectual pretensions, prepare to travel to Mars and plunder its rich and strange culture.
 Out of the Silent Planet (Space Trilogy, Book One)
Perelandra Ransom is brought to Venus, where he finds a new Adam and Eve, who are being tempted by the evil scientists from the first novel.
Perelandra (Space Trilogy, Book 2)
That Hideous Strength The cosmic struggle between good and evil takes place on Earth, as a scientific institute comes close to asserting its power over the world.
That Hideous Strength (Space Trilogy, Book 3)

CARRY ON, MR. BOWDITCH by Jean Lee Latham. (Newbery Medal) Fascinating biography of Nathaniel Bowditch, an eighteenth-century nautical wonder and mathematical wizard. (This can also be read aloud to younger middle readers, who are studying Earl American history.  As a family, we were excited to visit Salem, and try and picture how it would have looked during this brilliant young man's lifetime.)
Carry On, Mr. Bowditch

ROBINSON CRUSOE by Daniel Defoe illustrated by N.C. Wyeth. (The "granddaddy" of all adventure stories). In his own words, Robinson Crusoe tells of the terrible storm that drowned all his shipmates and left him marooned on a deserted island. Forced to overcome despair, doubt, and self-pity, he struggles to create a life for himself in the wilderness. From practically nothing, Crusoe painstakingly learns how to make pottery, grow crops, domesticate livestock, and build a house. His many adventures are recounted in vivid detail, including a fierce battle with cannibals and his rescue of Friday, the man who becomes his trusted companion. Full of enchanting detail and daring heroics, Robinson Crusoe is a celebration of courage, patience, ingenuity, and hard work.
Robinson Crusoe (Scribner's Illustrated Classics)

ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. (high school and up) This story concerns a single day in the life of a Soviet prisoner, Ivan, in the Soviet gulag, a prison camp in remote and frigid Siberia, where prisoners are stripped of everything - freedom, possessions, health.  But there is one thing that cannot be taken away: a man's soul.  "It should be read both as a reminder of the continuing plight of political prisoners and as a humane celebration of the oral and spiritual dimensions of human nature." - William Kilpatrick.
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

FATHER ARSENY, translated by Vera Bouteneff. A narrative comprised of encounters with Father Arseny, a former art historian and priest imprisoned in the Gulag. An intimate testimony of what it means to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Father Arseny became Prisoner No. 18736 in the brutal 'special sector' of the Soviet prison camp system. In the darkness of systematic degradation of body and soul, he shone with the light of Christ's peace and compassion. I wept, reading this aloud to our teens.  We all loved this book.
Father Arseny, 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father : Being the Narratives Compiled by the Servant of God Alexander Concerning His Spiritual Father