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 19, 2012


In today's post, I thought it would be fun to share some book covers from over the years that have encased J.M. Barrie's imaginative story of Peter Pan. The first one I'll mention - shown below - is a classically illustrated edition, with the artwork of over 16 illustrators, compiled by Cooper Edens.  I would highly recommend it, especially if you're interested to see how different illustrators have captured Peter in graphic depiction.

[If you missed my post about Peter Pan last summer, you can find it here: "Make This the Summer You Read Aloud J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan".]
This story is delightful for children and adults alike. Throughout the book, the omniscient narrator interjects many humorous asides and explanations to the reader - apparently Barrie's attempt to remind us adults, who surely have lost touch with our childhood imaginations, about the inborn behavior of children. But I think he also wants to admonish children to appreciate their carefree youth while they have it. Young children may not fully grasp the meaning of what is discussed throughout the novel, but they will love the adventures of Peter, Wendy, John and Michael.

The story of Peter Pan has always been special to our family. My dad (Peter) fondly remembers as a boy being taken to see the play, starring Mary Martin.  My own daughter became a fan of the story as an eighth grader when she read the illustrated edition (pictured above) for the first time. And she was thrilled when she was given the dance (and flying!!!)  role of "Peter" for her ballet studio's production. Then there's my nephew, Peter who cried because the adventure was over when they finished reading Peter Pan aloud as a family (he was nine at the time).

Here are some of my favorite covers, and their illustrators (click on the illustrator's name to see more):

Arthur Rackham
F.D. Bedford

Edmund Blampied
Gwynedd M. Hudson
Mabel Lucie Atwell

Eyvind Earle
Michael Hague
 A Game of cards appeared around the same time that the play and the book were at the height of their popularity. The illustrations in this game were taken from the original pen and water colour drawings by Charles A. Buchel. He was a famous theatrical illustrator and artist of the day who had designed the original posters for the first performance of Peter Pan in 1904. He loved the theatre and claimed that he “probably had as sitters, more actors and actresses than any other living artist”. It seems very likely that his designs of the costumes and characters in the illustrations are based on the those of the original performances. [source: The Virtual Museum of Childhood]
Buchel's original theatre poster for the 1904 production of Peter Pan

Monday, June 11, 2012

Take a Trip to the Beach in a Book!

Here in Southern California, graduation parties are in full swing and beach weather has arrived. 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 unique books...

RHINOS WHO SURF, by Julie Mammano (for ages 3-5) A bright picture book, with playful text, and even a surf lingo glossary! Hilarious!

WAVE by Suzy Lee. (ages 3-5) Discover with your child the sense of wonder that the ocean inspires through a little girl's day at the beach in this wordless picture book.

FLOTSAM by David Wiesner. Another beautiful wordless picture book. (ages 4 and up) A boy finds a camera at the beach and the film inside reveals fascinating underwater pictures as well as children around the world, so the boy takes his own picture and returns the camera to the sea where it will journey to another child. (Caldecott 2007)

BATS AT THE BEACH by Brian Lies. (ages 4-8) An unconvential beach story about bats visiting the beach in the moonlight.  This fun picture book is full of stunning illustrations, revealing how the bats travel silently throught the night with picnic baskets, moon-tan lotion, and kites.

KERMIT THE HERMIT by Bill Peet (ages 5-8) Wonderful story told in rhyme (Dr. Seuss 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 this picture book 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 10-13) A 1961 Newbury Medal was awarded to this riveting novel. The book was inspired by the real-life story of a 12-year-old American Indian girl, Karana, and her fight for survival on the island of San Nicholas, off the coast of Santa Barbara, CA. Definitely in our Top-Ten-Family-Favorites!  
Do you have a favorite beach book?
You might also like Night of the Moonjellies by Mark Shasha (click the title to read my past post.)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Books Even Busy Boys Will Come Inside For

Look at my muddy sons!  This photo brings back fun memories.  In our family, summertime meant lots of outdoor playtime, swim lessons, and jaunts to the beach.  But we also encouraged trips to the library and summer reading. 

How could books ever compete with sunny days full of bikes and mud??  With choices like the ones below (as promised, I'll be blogging about fun summer reading for the month of June).

Books Even Boys Will Come Inside For...eventually:
The Stories Julian Tells (series) by Ann Cameron. 
I immediately went out and found this book at the library after reading Jim Trelease's summary in his Read Aloud Handbook. "The author takes six short stories involving Julian and his brother and weaves them into a fabric that glows with the mischief, magic, and imagination of childhood. Though centered on commonplace subjects like desserts, gardens, loose teeth, and new neighbors, these stories of family life are written in an uncommon way that will both amuse and touch young listeners." It really engaged our boys' imaginations.

The Great Brain (series) by John D. Fitzgerald. (ages 8-12)
This book was an all time favorite of my oldest son, about the 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.)

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl (ages 8-12). 
These books made a huge impact on my oldest son.  Along with Norman Jester's The Phantom Tollbooth, Roald Dahl's books introduced him to imaginative fantasy through quirky humor and fun wordplay. Dahl's books are 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!

Maniac McGee, by Jerry Spinelli (ages 9-12). 
This is the story of a 12-year-old runaway boy. As a stranger to the town of Two Mills, he 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.

The Indian in the Cupboard (series), by Lynne Reid Banks. (Ages 8-12) 
Exciting, absorbing, and thought provoking story, alive with magic as two boys discover they can bring their toys to life by putting them in an old medicine cabinet that one of them receives - along with a small plastic Indian - for his birthday. They are faced with the responsibility of this tiny person and the consequences of their actions. Gives new meaning to the phrase, "the dignity of human life".

Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls.
I guarantee your boys won't be able to put this book down! (If you missed it, you can read my past post here). Independent Readers: grades 5 and up. Family Read Aloud: ages 9 and up.

Friday, June 1, 2012


Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass on a summer day listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is hardly a waste of time. ~John Lubbock

Memorial Day weekend is over and June has begun, bringing with it the promise of warm sunny days as the school year winds down.  Mom and Dad's taxi service gets a bit of a rest and there is unscheduled time for kids to be creative, get outdoors, and just lie around reading - for fun!

Starting the summer I was about nine or ten, a search began in earnest for "chapter books" that I could get lost in.  I think it all began with the adventuresome and wacky Pippi Longstocking books, moving on to the Little House series.

Finally, the summer I was eleven or twelve, I was solving mysteries with Nancy Drew. (What is it that we love so much about red-headed heroines? Have you read my post about Lauren Child's illustrations for Pippi Longstocking and Anne of Green Gables?)

Some of my old Nancy Drew books - remember Bess and George,
and Nancy's blue roadster convertible?
As my children became independent readers, I encouraged them to find fun books for summer reading.  It brought me back to my own childhood to see them curled up with a good book on a lazy summer day.

I've decided to dedicate my June posts to reviewing/reposting some of our favorite summer picks for independent readers who want fun chapter books.  I've started a list below - watch for my posts about these great books.  And let me know which of your favorites I've left out!

(and other books by Roald Dahl)