Tag Archives: boys

And now for something peculiar.


Have you met Treehorn yet? I just finished The Treehorn Trilogy and was delighted at the unexpected, unorthodox tales of this odd little boy and his completely aloof, dismissive parents. When Treehorn shrinks, all mother can say is “That’s nice, dear.” When money starts to grow on Treehorn’s tree, it’s a “You can’t go outside after dark, dear.” And when Treehorn has a birthday, he gets a sweater, leftover casserole and left alone with his birthday cake.

Modern parents will not like the Treehorn books. They will be disturbed by the morbid disinterest all the adults have for this child throughout his stories. Of course, the notorious Edward Gorey probably clamored to get this illustrating gig. I’m certain no one else could have so perfectly captured Treehorn’s dull face or the parent’s apathy. His pen and ink drawings are perfect here. I find these stories to be sheer delights. They aren’t the treasures to use for capturing the hearts or inspiring virtue in young children, to be sure… but they are certainly a peculiar and even thought-provoking diversion for slightly older readers: my 10 and 12 year olds found Treehorn dreadfully amusing.

And off-the-beaten-path items that capture their imagination at this age, are items to which I like to introduce my children. To be exposed to the various genres of literature, even in the picture book world, is a valuable thing I think, when properly timed on a developmental level.

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Top 10 Summer Family Read Alouds

While picture books are my bread and butter, all families should be reading aloud longer chapter books with their children.  With summer peeking over the horizon now, it’s a good time to plan out your summer read-aloud(s).  Reading as a family, morning, noon or at night, is an excellent way to stay connected with all the activities of a freewheeling summer.  Audio books make for a superb option as you are road tripping. And certain books are just perfect for this warm season in particular…  here are my choices for optimal summer reading that the whole family will enjoy:

 It’s a classic for a reason. The four siblings are slightly more grounded in this world than the Narnia children, but the similarities are still there.  I was unsure that my children would really get into the fairly descriptive, not-exactly-cliff-hangar-chapters, but they ate it up! Sailing, adventure, independent children soaking up summertime bliss. Something about Ransome’s style just weaves enough magic into the story to make a solid impression on children aged 7-13 in this house! The only unfortunate thing is that while this book makes its way on lots of “best of” lists, not a lot of people make efforts to continue the series; the books are a bit lengthy… but so worth it.  We are knee deep into the sequel: Swallowdale in our family and loving every bit of it.

Don’t be mislead by the sweet cover. While it’s tempting to want to curl up with your 5 year old daughter with this for a cute innocent adventure (try Milly-Molly-Mandy for that), the book is admittedly best suited for slightly older children… maybe age 10 or so. Feuding and intrigue and happy endings… all taking place in the heat of the south. Grab some iced tea and enjoy!

So, it sounds like a Roald Dahl comedy: boy finds a bunch of monkeys who escaped from a circus train.  A large reward goes to whomever can return them to the owner.  But the book isn’t a funny book by design. It’s full of adventure and suspense and for the sake of all that is good, do NOT get the paperback version which has a photograph of the boy on the cover. Photograph covers on books constitute a cardinal sin in my opinion (more on cardinal publishing sins to come)—no room is left for a child to form his own personal impression in their own minds; photograph covers ruin imaginations! Anyway, it’s a great book!

We love Homer Price in this family!  He is just the bee’s knees if you asked my boys and easy, independent chapters of his adventures back in the ‘good ol’ days’ will be perfect for lazy summer reading… don’t forget the sequel! Light, enjoyable reading at its finest.

Boys only please (okay, I would’ve read and loved them as a tomboy ‘tween but your mileage may vary).  These guys have a clubhouse, impressive IQs and adventures galore that would fill your child’s brain with plain old good stuff during summertime.


Summertime is E.B. White time!  This is the time to bust out the glorious, early chapter books to your 5 and 6+ year olds.  Be it Charlotte’s Web or Stuart Little or The Trumpet of the Swan… all are so perfectly suited to long, slow summer days.  I re-read Stuart Little recently with my children and was reminded again at how unique White is in the children’s literature world: the ending is moving and poignant… but not your typical super-happy, loose ends tied up conclusion. Same with Charlotte’s Web now that I think about it. I remember feeling sad at the dear little spiders floating away to find their place in the world… (even though I can only WISH that spiders in my house would float away…)

Oh my! Oh my! Have you seen the “Puffin in Bloom” collection yet?! The covers are stunning!  Yeah, yeah, Heidi is fantastic summertime reading (watch out for the photograph covered editions, blech!). What could be greater than the Alps and a wild child and new friendships?! But seriously, check out this new cover by artist Anna Bond.  And there’s a whole set of them coming soon!  What a stunning gift even an individual title would make here.  Take a look at the individual covers here.

Often called “The boy’s Little House series”, Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers is great for boys and girls in my opinion.  And this title is where it all starts. And let me tell you: these stories are so incredibly satisfying for both parent and child. There is just enough of a hat tip to adult sensibilities to make these books fantastic for everyone.  I bought it on audio and we listened to it on our way to a camping trip last year.  So, so, so good. A must have for anyone who loves the value of hard work, simple humor, and excellent storytelling.

But of course!

Back in print! Back in print!  I’m so excited to find The Happy Hollisters revived in popularity. What is so lovely about this family of five children who get mixed up into lots of little mysteries and adventures is that they are always positive and fun. I devoured almost the entire series of these books when I was about 10 or so and longed for more titles. My cousin and I used to spend hours reading together, pretending we were just reading them to make fun of the funny, vintage language some kids used (“Gee whillakers!”) but that’s because we thought we were too cool to actually enjoy the fun in these books.  Thankfully, my children don’t think they are too cool for these books and they are eating up every copy I manage to acquire. They are all great reading, don’t need to be read consecutively, and some particularly summery titles are The Happy Hollisters on a River Trip and The Happy Hollisters at Sea Gull Beach

 

* * * The Honorable Mention “Next 10″or “After Further Thought” Additions to this list. * * *

 

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Top 10 Little Books

Beatrix Potter knew what she was doing as she created the world of Peter Rabbit. When she turned down initial publisher’s offers (due to their requests to modify her books in length and size), she went ahead and self-published The Tale of Peter Rabbit on her own at first, because she had a very specific vision for her work. Namely, she wanted her books to be small enough to fit in a small child’s hands… and her illustrations were designed to fill the page of one small book.

To this day, while there are many compilations and anthologies of the Peter Rabbit series, nothing… NOTHING compares to the magic of the small, hardback set of single, independent, tiny volumes. If your home library of picture books consists of nothing other than this set, you’ll be leagues ahead of 90% of your parenting peers in the sheer quality of what you’re offering.

Anyway, it got me thinking about the awesomeness of tiny books in general. What child doesn’t love miniature things designed just for their size? Especially when the miniatures are real, be it functional tea cups, utensils, brooms, aprons etc. So it is with books. There is something special about volumes published under 7 inches tall. And the only thing I love more than reading tiny books to my children, is seeing my young ones sprawled out in the grass on their own with a little book of their own fitting so nicely in their little hands.

Little books pack into diaper bags well, fit into stockings, Easter baskets and everyday baskets, and make fantastic little bonus gifts to accompany other items.  Here is my pick of the 10 best little books on the market today:

 The Peter Rabbit books. Of course. Just go ahead and throw all 23 titles into one listing here. Each is excellent.

 The Story of Little Black Sambo. Okay, so all the modern parents prefer The Story of Little Babaji (also on the small side) because it is more PC, but I love the original myself. I have both books and my children like both equally but I have a nostalgic spot for the old one because my mother read it to me so many times…

 The Nutshell Library by Maurice Sendak. Alligators All Around is the standout book in this 4-volume set but they are so well priced as a collection, I’d go ahead and purchase the others with that title.

 Pelle’s New Suit (mini edition). I normally prefer my full-sized Elsa Beskow books, but this one in particular works as a mini because it doesn’t have as much text as most of her other titles.  For that, and the fact that it is the perfect springtime book, it’s on the list.

 A Hole Is to Dig is perhaps my very favorite “nonsensically profound” books (I made that category up; nice eh?). From the silly to the thought provoking, Ruth Krauss found magic in pairing with Sendak on this title.  The hardback is out of print, but worth finding…

 A Boy, a Dog, and a Frog is the first in the series and my favorite Mercer Mayer books by far. They are wordless but tell a lovely story… don’t forget the equally excellent sequels Frog Goes to Dinner,  Frog, Where Are You? and others.

 The Brave Cowboy. My three year old fell in love with the Brave Cowboy when he first met him and it’s still one of his favorite books to call his own and to be found curled up with in a corner somewhere. That’s enough to merit a spot on this list.

 Alphabet of Boats. Linocuts. Boats. Education. Beauty. Simplicity. All under 5 square inches.  I can’t help that so many of the books I love are out of print— sorry!  Just keep your eyes peeled for this little gem.  (Which reminds me… I’ve seen enough good stuff now to warrant “Volume 3” version of Top Ten Alphabet books… hmm, will attend to that soon hopefully.)

 Let’s Be Enemies. Sendak illustrating again!  He excelled at the tiny books. Janice May Undry created a lovely little tale of making and breaking friendships. It’s very fun to read with a 5 year old…

 The Little Train… or really, any Lois Lenski books. All are small. My favorite ones are his seasonal books which are a bit spendy OOP, but any of his occupational books like this one or Policeman Small or The Little Airplane, etc are vintage winners as well.

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And now, some qualifying remarks:


I would’ve included the gorgeous Flower Fairies Alphabet, but I’m mad that they skipped the letter X. You can cheat a little or work around it… but don’t skip the letter altogether!


Also, these are slightly larger than ‘tiny’, but of immense importance in the picture book collector’s world: The Year in Brambly Hedge Set and Adventures in Brambly Hedge Set. Unfortunately these books are long out of print but they are really wonderful to own and cherish… in the same botanical goodness vein as one would find the Beatrix Potter books.


And lastly, I’ve requested an inter-library loan to get my eyes on The Treehorn Trilogy. It looks fabulous. Edward Gorey is not everyone’s cup of pictorial tea but I like him and am eager to see these books!

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The most basic of living books

 

2014 passed by my attention without me noticing this very fun, very engaging new book: Some Bugs.   There is a very happy area between “stories” and “educational content” that has to be very artfully done in the picture book world, especially when the audience is Pre-K.  It’s one of my favorite little niches to explore because I find it very challenging to do well.  Some Bugs by Angela DiTerlizzi nails it.  It’s a very, very simple primer for the pre-school set that is just fun to sit and delight over with a child.  Not only does it keep the text in very simple rhymes, it doesn’t make the mistake that many “edu-stories” make in overloading the child with text and information. This “early living book” technique is perfectly executed here, just like it is in my favorite beginner bird book by Kevin Henkes: Birds. The goal is simply to meet bugs, giggle at the pictures and be inspired to do some hunting in your own front yard.  Education to light a fire, not fill a bucket. Mixed media illustrations by Brendan Wenzel are a positive delight, refreshingly original and quirky.

Simple pleasures like these kinds of books really remind to stop and take an important five minutes in my day to engage with my little ones in a beautiful way… it’s the little things in life.

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The Best Treasuries, Sets and Collections

This is the time of year to be thinking about meaningful gifts. Perhaps even heirloom gifts!  Each Christmas, one of the gifts our kids receive are books… often picked up throughout the year at a thrift store and saved, but sometimes a special title I’ve been eyeing a while and know a particular child would love. Sometimes, we gift a set or deluxe collection of something to a child and these have become treasured components of their personal growing libraries.  You have to be a little bit careful when buying “sets” of books because a couple mistakes are often made:  1- the set is incomplete of what you consider to be essential favorites.  2- The set includes abridged versions of stories. Or the biggest grievance I have: the set includes illustrations that have been truncated, altered or deleted to the point of ruining a good story. (Don’t mess with McCloskey!) But sometimes, despite some of these mistakes, the collection can still be an wonderful investment and treasured gift. Here are a few of what I think are the best of the best offered right now.

BOARD BOOK SETS

 

Gyo Fujikawa’s Little Library. What a deal!  Happy art. Simple text. Tiny books. Perfect for a two year old maybe…

Jan Brett’s Little Library. Contains three of her must have board books: The Mitten, The Hat, and The Gingerbread Baby.

Brown Bear & Friends Board Book Gift Set. All three of the infectious rhyme books that get read over and over again in our home…

Margaret Wise Brown’s: Baby’s First Library A perfect gift for new babies!

The Little Red Box of Bright and Early Board Books. I love P. D. Eastman and my three year old does too.  I don’t mind that these are abridged versions of the classic books (in fact I welcome the shortening since I am currently asked to read Go, Dog Go twice a day, every day.)

 

PICTURE BOOK SETS or ANTHOLOGIES

 

Mad about Madeline. Doesn’t every girl between 5-8 need this collection (and not the later, added on versions…)?!

Frederick and His Friends: Four Favorite Fables. There is another one by the same author but I prefer the titles in the first set if I had to choose just one.

The Complete Adventures of Curious George. Again… the original tales are so beloved! No need to scramble after the dozens of after-tales by other authors. They aren’t “bad”… just not quite as charming as the original.

Once There Was a Boy… Boxed Set. Delighted to find this new this year!!!  I have a son who loves Oliver Jeffers and this just may go under our tree next month!

Eloise Wilkin Stories: Little Golden Book Treasury. For nostalgic mothers who love Wilkin’s work and want to pass the beauty onto their daughters…

Mike Mulligan and More: Four Classic Stories by Virginia Lee Burton. Unabridged and complete illustrations!

Lois Ehlert’s Growing Garden Gift Set. A lovely collection for budding gardeners.

Jan Brett’s Snowy Treasury. Four of her best, snowy books!

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile Storybook Treasury. Lyle is an odd one. Some children don’t really fall in love with him. Others engage and won’t let go. To those children, this is a wonderful collection.

Richard Scarry’s Best Little Golden Books Ever!  A collection of just plain, old fashioned good stories illustrated by the incomparable Scarry.

Maurice Sendak’s Nutshell Library. My favorite… everybody needs Alligators All Around!

Dr. Seuss’s Beginner Book Collection. Pares down the vast Dr. Seuss collection to just the must-have classics.

Babar’s Anniversary Album: 6 Favorite Books. Originals only!

Joy to the World: Tomie’s Christmas Stories. Worth the collection for the Three Kings book alone in it…

The Paddington Treasury: Six Classic Bedtime Stories. Good old Paddington, delighting British children for ages now.  Let’s reignite love for him on this side of the water!

The World of Peter Rabbit: Books 1-23, Presentation Box. Of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without this:  the pièce de résistance‘!

CHAPTER BOOK SETS

Pooh’s Library. Individually bound.  Or in one volume if you prefer.

Mercy Watson Boxed Set: Adventures of a Porcine Wonder.  Let’s be honest. These are barely chapter books.  Indeed, I give them to my eager 8 year old who still stumbles to read independently.  But he feels such a mastery at reading these “official big kid” books… Mercy Watson is a great bridge to real chapter book reading.

Little House Nine-Book Box Set. C’mon. Every home needs this.

Favorite Thornton Burgess Animal Stories Boxed Set . Lots of bang for your buck with the Dover produced classics here!

Old Mother West Wind and 6 Other Stories. Same great bargain, but different titles as above.

Anne of Green Gables, Complete 8-Book Box Set. Because I have a ginger-haired girl who will love this someday.  Well, she acts more cayenne than ginger!

The Chronicles of Narnia. Please, please be certain to buy a version of these books WITHOUT the movie tie-in photographs on the covers!!!  Let imaginations come alive before putting real actor images in their minds!

The Chronicles of Narnia Complete 7 Volume CD Box Set (Unabridged). Audio book to own and play in the car!!! I’ve had my finger hovering over “Buy Now” on this for a couple years now!

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings: Deluxe Pocket Boxed Set. This set is leather bound. Are you kidding me?!  I might buy it for MYSELF since it lends itself so well to re-reading.  And these books do need to be reread many times through one’s life.

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Top Ten Best Authors for Media Saturated Kids

Maybe you want to give a child a book for a gift but you are worried that the book will get tossed into a pile of irrelevancy in favor of Junior’s tablet or the new video game his much cooler aunt bought him.  Maybe your own child has been fed too many cartoons on the tube.  It’s okay; I won’t tell. (I’m not proud of how much “e-living” happens in my own home, after all.) But now, our media saturated children are rather uninterested in the written word— especially when it competes with flashy animations. After all, you can give a kid books, but you can’t make them like ’em… much less even read them.  But I have come to give you hope! And to have it in abundance!

Before we can expect a media glutton to love the beauty of simple things like Make Way for Ducklings or Stone Soup, we have to ease them into the transition of still life and still ink on still paper.  In response to this need for a segue, publishers have been printing a bloated genre of books that supposedly children will love but typically parents hate. These generally include sharp, digital illustrations, flatulence, underpants, aliens and/or mucous emissions. I suppose the idea is that the shock value of these things will get kids reading. Toilet humor—especially to boys— is highly appealing.  So the battered down, desperate parent feels it’s their only hope to get Junior interested in books.  It’s not the only hope… but I’m not going to lie and say that you can just give a child a classic book and expect them to swoon over it.  This is very much like very picky eaters who’ve been given too much junk food and refuse all their vegetables. Once the intellectual appetites have been soiled (in this case by too much electronic stimulation) it is very difficult to reorder it to enjoying the wholesome books. Difficult… but not impossible. The first thing to do is eliminate or drastically limit media of course.  Otherwise, no matter how good your intentions, books will always lose to the drug inducing power of TV (video games are even more destructive to cultivating readers). Then, find some good books to introduce.

Thankfully, there are a number of excellent authors out there who are especially well suited to “reordering appetites.”  Think of them as a good probiotic or something… replenishing the gut with good bacteria (all right enough of the food analogies). Like all my Top Ten lists, this isn’t an exclusive compilation; there are certainly other books and authors that would make for great transitions. The things to look for are humor, weird or unexpected plots, interesting typeset, detailed pictures, and/or novel or irresistible concepts.  Believe it or not, these things can be found without resorting to pooping, iPad wielding aliens in underwear.

After the child has been fed a good diet of these transitional books, they can slowly move onto realizing that there are some true delights to be found in picture books and they’ll want to explore more—even ones with less catchy covers.

So here is my list of the authors to look out for once you decide to move away from media and into the glory of the printed word.

Chris Van Dusen. Van Dusen has the most excellent illustrations to captivate an unsuspecting media glutton. His style LOOKS animated and he’s got a superb natural rhyming that fits all his books so well. If I Built a House would make for a perfect “starting over” book to try and hook kids into the adventures in reading.  And  Randy Riley’s Really Big Hit also has really big appeal. Be sure to also read all the Mr. Magee stories too!

David Weisner.  Weisner is the wordless book master and as we all should know by now, wordless books are not just for kids. Tuesday is his classic tale of bizarre flying frogs but Sector 7 and all his other titles certainly shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle either.  These books are great ones for bored children to just “discover” lying about on an end table somewhere.


Lynley Dodd.  Dodd isn’t so well known in the states for some reason but her Hairy Maclary is quite well known in her New Zealand homeland and elsewhere.  ALL of her books are great.  She has an extraordinary talent for rhyming and for made-up words that just roll off you tongue with delight.  These books are best read aloud and with enthusiasm to capture the full cadence.

Oliver Jeffers. A favorite among boys especially.  Don’t be fooled by Jeffers youthful, simple illustrations—he has an uncanny perception of what is funny and how children think.  I’ve discussed before about my favorite title of his This Moose Belongs to Me, but my children adore Stuck and also The Day the Crayons Quit which he illustrated.

Richard Scarry.  Everyone knows Richard Scarry by now right?!  His characters should be well known in any childhood.  But there is a golden window of opportunity for introducing Scarry to the recovering couch potatoes—and it’s probably only up to age 7 by my estimates because he is aimed toward the younger set. What makes books like What Do People Do All Day so interesting is their very busy-ness. Scarry is fantastic at creating little stories within the story with funny side pictures or car crashes etc.

Chris Van Allsburg. Where Scarry appeals to younger kids, Van Allsburg specializes in the slightly older demographic. And you have to be careful at first because his tales of mystery won’t automatically attract the flies.  You have to start with something peculiar and ever so slightly morbid like The Z Was Zapped— where the demise of alphabet letters is chronicled in a fascinating way. Then go to Two Bad Ants before moving into his more sophisticated works.

Jerry Pallotta. Pallotta gets included in this list for his very high score on the “strewing” factor. He manages to come up with excellent, informative compilations that a kid can’t help wanting to crack open. Even when a child has passed the ideal age for alphabet books, he can’t help but wonder what’s in something like The Icky Bug Alphabet Book, The Yucky Reptile Alphabet Book, The Skull Alphabet Book or his intriguing Who Would Win Series like Polar Bear Vs. Grizzly Bear.  Boys love Pallotta.

Mo Willems. I’ll be honest… I didn’t get the hype about Mo at first. I thought his debut title Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! was silly and overly simplistic when I first saw it.  But the masses have overwhelmingly defied this blogger’s opinion and Mo has since written a bunch of other books that I really like much better.  When it comes to feeding media-hungry kids though, it doesn’t really matter if MY tastes are satisfied (so long as they aren’t offended), kids know what they like and Willems knows what to do. He is a great segue author. The typeset is excellent, short and appealing. And his characters, while simply drawn are engaging to the max. Begin with We Are in a Book! which, if read in an engaging manner, is rather hilarious even to the adult. Other titles are just funny enough to draw in even the most reluctant souls: Edwina, The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct.

William Steig. Steig is one of those quirky authors that you’ll find on a lot of unrelated lists: best authors for boys, funniest authors, classic authors not to miss, and on. If you asked me my favorite, I’d say it was Doctor De Soto, but if you’re looking to ease kids into books, a more obvious choice is something like Pete’s a Pizza or the puzzling C D C ?

Sesyle Joslin. You want shock value mixed with vintage? Pick Joslin. Buried in the fantastically brilliant book on teaching manners from the late fifties, Joslin comes up with things to offend today’s PC parents. In What Do You Say, Dear?, parents get horrified that the character says “Would you like me to shoot a hole in your head?” I don’t really see the big deal.  The kids politely declines: “No, thank you.” This book and its companion What Do You Do, Dear? are a riot of unpredictability. Highly recommended.

 
 
We need desperately, I feel, a noncommercial alternative to what commercialism is trying to do to us. I’m not for censorship, but I’m certainly for self-censorship when it comes to producing or purveying products to America’s children. I think that for people who make anything for children, their first thought should be: Would I want my child to see, hear or touch this? And if the answer is no, just don’t make it.
-Mr. Rogers
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Hello Mr. Hulot!

Kindly direct your attention to Hello Mr. Hulot if you please.  This book is nearly wordless (I have a thing with wordless books…) and packed with witty action.  Monsieur Hulot was a French character created for movies in the mid 20th century by Jacques Tati.  He is something of an early Mr. Bean and has translated beautifully into picture book form by David Merveile.

The delight of this book lies in its very simple humor.  And adults and children alike should be able to appreciate that.  I suspect there’s more to come and am eager to see them!  Look at these small vignettes:

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Saint John Bosco: The Friend of Children and Young People

Our “saint of the month” for January is St. John Bosco (feast day: January 31). I’ve grown to have quite an affection for this man who was such an amazing inspiration for youth in his time.  In reading more and more about him, I’ve started to look to him for a lot of our homeschooling philosophy too.   I love quotes like these:

“Without confidence and love, there can be no true education.”

“The teacher who is seen only in the classroom and nowhere else, is a teacher and nothing more; but let him go with his boys to recreation and he becomes a brother.”

“Frequent Communion and daily Mass are the two pillars of education.”

“[I have] always tried to enlighten the mind while ennobling the heart.”

“Do you want to do a good deed? Teach the young!
Do you want to perform a holy act? Teach the young!
Do you want to do a holy thing? Teach the young!
Truly, now and for the future, among holy things, this is the holiest.”

But I digress.  This is my blog; I’m allowed to digress.  Anyway, we picked up a small book at our parish library to read about Don Bosco this month and I was happily surprised at its digestibility.  See, I’m due any day now with my 6th baby (pray for me!!!) and this is currently one or our “low tide” seasons in homeschooling.  Latin lessons are on hold. Formal science is out.  It’s very basic morning basket time, and then individual math work and copywork.  Maybe a cool Loch Ness Monster documentary in the afternoon…  but frankly this is all I have energy for right now.  Real life will hopefully fill in the gaps but for now, we are busy tidying the home, running errands, readying the nest and resting aching joints to get ready for this babe.  You can expect a winter slowdown on this blog too.

So, like I said, I was happy to not have to devote hours and hours to a biography on Don Bosco.  He isn’t exactly the St. Francis of Assisi to the picture book world either so I was happy to find a little, colorful 65 page story about him from Paulist Media.

Saint John Bosco : The friend of children and young people tells the story from his childhood on up to his death and is both enjoyable and thorough in the process.  You could read it in one sitting, but we have chosen to make it a two-day read, stopping halfway about when he enters adulthood.  The pictures are engaging enough and so far it is holding the attention of my 4-11 year olds… quite a span!

Here are some pictures of the inside of the book to give you an idea of what to expect.

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Oh Mercy!

I’m not sure where I was when the Mercy Watson books hit the shelves in 2009 or so, but they have somehow missed my radar completely until very recently. At our local library, the children’s librarian and I often chat book talk and she and I compare notes and ogle over illustrations together; I’ve even been able to pass on tips to her.  Anyway, she is the one who pulled out Mercy Watson to the Rescue and suggested my kids would like it.  I only checked the book out to be polite, without giving it much glance at the time.

But she was right.  My children—ages 2 thru 11—all love Mercy Watson! Who knew?!  They were written by the same talented Kate DiCamillo who gives us The Tale of Despereaux and illustrated by one of my children’s favorites Chris Van Dusen… whose art is the closest thing to animation in a picture book you’re ever going to see. (We love his A Camping Spree, Learning to Ski, and Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee).

Anyway, Mercy Watson, much like Stuart Little is an animal with human parents.  She is pleasant and plump and curious.  And, just like me, she has an affinity for toast “with a great deal of butter” which is brought up in every book. She is great fun and even funner are the old lady neighbors next door…

These books are FANTASTIC first chapter books.  They are short, highly illustrated, easily digestible, large font chapters. Yet, at a total of 75 pages or so, it could still be read in one sitting to a child out loud in about 15-20 minutes. What more could one want?! Children feel so awesome when they read such “mature” books and this is an excellent segue from picture books into that world. I’m so happy we found them.  After reading four out of the six in the series, I’m confident that I want to buy them all to have on hand for that perfect window of time when a child is ready for a bit more of a challenge than easy readers.  And being a sucker for “boxed sets,” there happens to be an attractive gift option for a certain someone’s upcoming Christmas gift: Mercy Watson Boxed Set: Adventures of a Porcine Wonder.  Superb.

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Top Ten Classic Golden Book/Gift Combos

The best thing about Golden Books is that they are cheap!  The other excellent thing about Golden Books is that many of their classics are still in print. You have to look past much of the commercial titles at a store to find them, but they are readily available online. Books make excellent gifts for Christmas or birthdays… and children like them even better if they are accompanied by an actual toy. (For what it’s worth, I feel just the same about toys as I do about books—looking for ones that inspire play, not ones that play for them—sturdy, excellent materials that’ll last—quality over quantity). Having affordable, hardback books like the Golden ones, makes this a doable goal and here are some obvious and fun pairings I really like:

   with      
                                              The best first bath-time toy ever!

   with    
                                                  A real metal dump truck!

    with   
                                                   A high quality baby doll!

    with   
                                               Three bears wooden dress up!

   with    
                                               The plush Poky Little Puppy!

   with    
                                              Three pigs and a wolf finger puppets!

   with     
                                                 A lovely wooden animal train!

    with    
                                              Tawny Scrawny Lion cube puzzle!

    with   
                                                  A real, working stethoscope!

and the ultimate for firefighters everywhere:

   with    and
                                                     Fire chief dress up!                   The coolest ride-on toy ever!

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