Tag Archives: boys

Accidentally Thrifty

We didn’t mean to actually BUY anything at this particular thrift store; we always pass it up to go to the one in the next town over which has a much better selection.  But we had a few minutes to kill and oops, $90 later… 10 of those dollars were spent on these 13 books. (The other 80 went toward two pairs of winter boots, a maternity shirt, dress shoes, shirts, a rockin’ Burl Ives record, three games, a skirt, building/shop books, gloves and a bike helmet if you must know)

So surprised and pleased at this happy handful of children’s books.  Just posting this picture to inspire and remind you all to seek out picture books second hand: 90% of my ‘healthy’ library are now thrift store/garage sale finds… less than a buck a piece usually. I’m not going to add many notes except I already had some of these so I either saw they were in excellent shape and bought them as gifts or I wanted to replace my beat-up paperback versions. Super excited especially to find the Poetry for Young People series book for Kipling, whom we are studying next term, a mint hardback of James and the Giant Peach, which will be gifted to my almost 7 year old on his birthday in a couple weeks, another Billy and Blaze book, which are the best books for horse loving BOYS, and a fresh replacement copy of our well-loved board book, Harry the Dirty Dog.

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Loving Lessac

Lately, I’ve been enjoying the work of a wonderful author and illustrator—Frané Lessac.  Her style is deceptively childlike: at first you see her paintings and think Psssh! My 8 year old colors like that! I guess anyone can illustrate children’s books. Then you look a little closer or turn a few pages and realize that her folk art is absolutely filled with thoughtfulness and detail… color and feeling.  This is more than what most children can do— Lessac has a bright ability to make stories come alive with innovative attention to detail.  And every new book I see illustrated by her, I inevitably love.

She spent part of her life living on the Carribean island of Montserrat and this has influenced her work heavily.  The story My Little Island  was the first encounter I had with her and I was struck with how fitting her style is with summery, beachy, island themes, similar I guess to the way that Jan Brett really shines brightest in her Scandinavian themed books.  The flavors of island life practically jump from the pages in My Little Island.  And they do this as well with Drummer Boy of John John which is a fun story about the upcoming festival of Carnival featuring lots of foot stomping, hand clapping onomatopoeia.

The next time I stumbled across Frané was when I picked up On the Same Day in March at the thrift store.  What a gem! I really love LIVING social studies books and this one immediately went into my homeschooling basket for my 2nd grade and under crew. It examines different parts of the world at the exact same time of year.  It is so fun to see the differences in weather and lifestyle!

Next I found Monday on the Mississippi at the library and marveled at how beautifully the text and pictures complemented each other.  This book takes the reader from the headwaters all the way to the Gulf of Mexico… I immediately pegged it as a great companion to Minn of the Mississippi and any other studies of this river or rivers in general.

I really loved Lessac’s illustrations in Queen Esther Saves Her People by Rita Gelman also.  I think it can be a challenge to translate many Bible stories into children’s books while retaining the story element. But this one absolutely brings the fantastic story alive and wonderful to kids while remaining faithful to the story of Esther.

Lastly, I want to highlight the best World War I picture book I’ve seen so far: The Donkey of Gallipoli: A True Story of Courage in World War I.  How do you bring the horrors of war into a picture book without horrifying young children?  I think the answer to this is in the art of storytelling and the way the pictures fill in the blanks.  For example, while Patricia Polacco’s highly acclaimed Pink and Say is a moving story taking place during the Civil War, I removed it from our collection.  I just had an aversion the graphic depiction of blood even if it was couched in beautiful sentiment.  But the Donkey of Gallipoli is balanced beautifully.  There are war scenes to be sure and the story doesn’t avoid the topic of death.  Yet, the folk style of Lessac really helps to soften the harshness of what is being read and the lovely story really is one that all children will enjoy.  The ending leaves us thoughtful and hopeful… not scared or disturbed.  Highly recommended!

Frané Lessac is a wonderful artist whose style is a refreshing and quirky change on my bookshelf of classic artists.  There are many other books she’s collaborated on not listed here which I am eager to get my hands on… and I understand she has many more in the works so keep your eyes open for her vivid bursts of delightful art.

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The Tale of Lazy Lizard Canyon… etc.

I’ve said before that asking a bibliozealot to choose a favorite book is like asking her to choose a favorite child.  And although I have dozens and dozens of “absolute, 100%, very, very favorite books”, I think I’m ready to back-peddle on that statement.  I do have a favorite book.  This post isn’t about that though… a thorough post on that is coming…

This post is about a title by the same illustrator: Doris Burn.  I have made a point to collect all the books that were written and illustrated by Doris Burn (there are only three and two are out of print).  But she has illustrated a half dozen books in addition to these.  A fellow Washingtonian, Doris Burn won my heart with Andrew Henry’s Meadow years ago. Then I stumbled on my precious, precious favorite which she illustrated We Were Tired of Living in a House.  I’m not linking it because I don’t want my unwitting readers to accidentally buy the new, awful version of that book… more on this later.

Last year, I acquired The Summerfolk and loved it.  This year, I finally got my hands on the missing part of the trifecta— I’ll offer pictures before commentary:

The first thing I noticed about the book was the departure from her earlier style of simple black and white sketching.  In this title, Burn uses a brown pencil wash which is actually quite fitting for the Old West themed story.
The story itself didn’t immediately grab me in the way her other titles have.  This is written in a true, olden time fashion.  Unlike modern cowboy books, Doris doesn’t shy away from whiskey, guns or brawls.  She tells it like it is to which many contemporary parents will probably stick up their noses.  The tale is of two feuding families ultimately brought together by a romantic, non-fighting son and a pretty lil’ Miss.  This isn’t something I would read to my 6 and under set, but my 8 and 10 year old boys found it to be amusing, while I found the writing… the STORYTELLING to be indeed very deliberate and authentic.  I don’t think you will find much in children’s picture books these days about the authentic Old West… fun, stylized versions, yes… but the nitty, gritty, dag-nabbit, root-tootin mess that it often was?!  Not likely.  So this book is nice to fill in that area.  
That said, it wasn’t an area that I felt essential to get into and I wouldn’t call this title a MUST-HAVE for anyone other than die-hard Doris Burn lovers like myself…

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Top Ten Best Disney Alternatives

Well everybody has an opinion on Disney, I may as well chime in with my two cents. In a nutshell: I love classic Disney movies. I also appreciate the occasional recent movie from the company as well.  What I don’t love is the current huge, bloated, over-commericalized Disney industry. I have other complaints from an artistic and ethical standpoint also, but I’ve not the energy to lay all that out there.  Generally speaking, I am disheartened by the commercialization of children. I want my daughter to love princesses sure. But do they have to always come with a trademark symbol after their name?!

So, here we have it then. My top ten alternatives to the Disney Empire. Keep in mind that many of the original fairy tales were actually written for adults, so the themes can get very dark, graphic or mature.  The books I have here are much more faithful to the original fairy tale (or myth or history) than the movies Walt and his contemporaries have made and may have some of those darker elements. Even if you are a Disney lover, reading these books would be an interesting lesson in “compare and contrast” for children of multiple ages.

1. Snow White illustrated by Charles Santore. Rich, traditional illustrations make this a great choice, and my boys especially love what they call “the big head dwarves.” But I do confess to having a soft spot also for the version by Paul Heins because Trina Schart Hyman adds the detail of a Marian image on one wall… plus the princess seems to age a little more congruently in her story.

2. Cinderella by K.Y. Craft definitely takes the cake here. Craft’s vibrant and ornate style is especially suited to this fairy tale. Barbara McClintock’s version of the story gets an honorable mention for a fun story and a young George Washington looking prince!






3. Aladdin And The Enchanted Lamp will substitute nicely for the letdown of Disney’s version; if you aren’t familiar with the story, you will be surprised at the liberties taken and unnecessary changes the movie made. Aladdin and the Magic Lamp by James Kunstler also looks promising (not having read it myself) as well as this version adapted by Eric Kimmel (of whom I am generally a great fan).

4. Hercules by Robert Burleigh is my favorite picture book alternative to the Disney movie.  Though this story only details the final of the twelve labors, it’s just the right size for younger children. While James Riordan’s book The Twelve Labors of Hercules is extremely well done and faithful to original story, it is fairly long and pretty graphic. There is the question of whether or not some of those images need picture representation at all. However, if we want to leave the book category altogether, I don’t think you’ll find a better retelling of the Hercules tale than that done by Jim Weiss.

5. Rapunzel by Alix Berenzy is my favorite adaptation of the Brothers Grimm tale. This one is far more popular but I think the author got a little sloppy with how Rapunzel got pregnant. In the original tale, and in Berenzy’s work, the symbol of her laying her hand in the prince’s seems to be what suffices for marriage vows. Then the story tastefully goes on with the prince finding Rapunzel at long last with their twins. At least with this there is no question of Rapunzel’s virtue being held intact.  The version of Rapunzel done by Barbara Rogasky (illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman) is also a winner and deals with the marriage situation artfully through omission. Rogasky actually states when the twins come in that Rapunzel and the prince were married by then and it’s done in a way that children won’t be asking “Wait, when did that happen?!”

6. Beauty and the Beast by Max Eilenberg is my favorite. The illustrations by Angela Barrett are just right: full, captivating, moody, and evocative. This particular version isn’t 100% accurate to the tale, but it is still full and rich and  the very minor embellishments just add to the beauty in my opinion. There are two other good options out there as well: the one by Jan Brett is clean, fairly simple and of course features the always lovely Brett artwork. And then the book by Marianna Mayer is pretty neat too. My only aversion to this one is that the illustrations of the beast (done by Mercer Mayer) are truly frightening. His eyes pop out in a very sort of disturbing way… but maybe it’s just me.

7. Pocahontas by the D’Aulaires is the only really solid alternative to the mediocre Disney movie. The movie itself was fairly informative but it of course avoided some of the uglier sides of the story (e.g. how the English treated her tribe). Reportedly, Disney turned down the offer of Native Americans who wanted to help the company produce a more accurate movie, but that’s just hearsay. But at least we have one great biography by the excellent Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaire. Their fun and appealing art is always a treat for children. I have seen a couple other books on Pocahontas but none stick out in my mind as pushing past mediocrity.  I think it’s time for someone to produce a beautiful and lavish book on this fascinating princess!

8. The Little Mermaid is the reason I wanted to write this post. Like any other little girl, I loved the Disney version of Little Mermaid. When I grew up and finally read the original tale, I was shocked at how dumbed down the cartoon version was… and how the ultimate ending of sacrifice and references to the eternal life were entirely omitted. But hey, Disney is in it for happy endings and I get that. The original tale is kind of an ambivalent ending: mermaid doesn’t get her prince, but she will get the chance to earn her afterlife. The versions available are tricky… I wanted to find something that still guarded the modesty of the mermaids without it being obvious or kitschy (e.g. clam shell bras). That unfortunately ruled out some beautiful versions of the story, most notably that done by Charles Santore (there is a new version available for pre-order on this one). I also was looking for something that preserved as much of the original language of the story as possible since it is just so extraordinary. This combination, tasteful illustrations and excellent text, was hard to come by. Robert Sabuda has a pop-up book (and I’m certain that ‘hardcover’ price will change in time) coming out later this year that could be excellent. Initial pictures of the pop-outs are incredible but I don’t know how the text will be yet. So I eventually settled on the the version the adaptation by Anthea Bell and illustrated by Chihiro Iwasaki. The story is simplified somewhat so the text isn’t as wonderful as Santore’s, and I was a little disappointed that the sea witch didn’t seem very evil but I really appreciate the watery, ethereal illustrations by Iwasaki. Even if they aren’t traditionally rich and bold, the simple sketch and watercolor technique is very fitting for this particular tale.

9. FA Mulan: The Story of a Woman Warrior by Robert San Souci is a very well done story about the Chinese folk hero, Mulan. This book is the actual one Disney used for the basis of their movies. And I have to admit, the movie version of this tale isn’t too far out there or ridiculous at all! For a later-released Disney flick, it was surprisingly well done all said and done.  Anyway, as usual though, the book is better!  And the illustrations here by Jean & Mou-Sien Tseng are, like Iwasaki’s Little Mermaid, the perfect fit for this story. They are bright, ornate and faithful. China’s Bravest Girl is another title you can look up in your library if this one is missing…

10. The Sleeping Beauty by Trina Schart Hyman is a narrow winner for this story. I also really love this version illustrated by K.Y. Craft.  But in the luxurious pictures in Craft’s book, the good fairy’s good body is fairly suggestively shown once (hey I’ve got four boys who don’t need that titillation!) and the witch in the tale is incredibly scary looking. In Hyman’s book, she gets major points for having the most handsome prince of all the fairy tale books I’ve ever seen. I admit this is just personal preference, but I really have no use for effeminate looking men in tights who’ve never needed a razor.  Craft’s Prince Charming comes with facial hair and looks manly and rugged and like someone who could definitely defend a princess from a dragon!

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More Wintry Titles

Aside from the titles, on my Top Ten Winter Book list, we’ve gone on another library binge of snowy titles in a desperate attempt to will some snow to come before spring!  So here I’m just throwing out some collected seasonal picks as we round out our wintertime.

Snow by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Lauren Stringer. A completely evocative book, slow and deliberate, with a delicious, stunning spread of a pink sunset reflecting on the snow. I’ve never seen THAT moment captured in an illustration before this… lovely all around.

Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner and Christopher Silas. An easy, living book if there ever was one. Contemporary, clean illustrations.

Over the snow, the fire crackles, and parks shoot up to the stars.  I lick sticky marshmallow from my lips and lean back with heavy eyes. Shadows dance in the flames.  Under the snow, a queen bumblebee drowses away December, all alone.  She’ll rule a new colony in spring.


Learning to Ski with Mr. Magee by Chris Van Dusen. I’ve been thinking on Van Dusen for some time… just how I want to pinpoint him as an author/illustrator and decided he deserves his own post quite soon.  So look for that. Until then, suffice it to say, we are big fans of Mr. Magee in this house!

The Snow Globe Family. A novel little story that will make you wish you had your own living snow globe family.

Snowmen at Night by Carolyn and Mark Buehner. Rhyme time!  Best enjoyed by the younger crew and recommended as a board book!

Snipp, Snapp, Snurr and the Yellow Sled by the one and only Maj Lindman.  As a child, I couldn’t get enough of these Swedish triplet boys and their female counterparts Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka. I know the 1940s innocence of these stories are a bit contrived but I can’t help loving them nonetheless. Such sweet morals and goodness in these series.

Winter Shoes for Shadow Horse by Linda Oatman High and Ted Lewin.  I was surprised that this book had no written reviews on Amazon, so I had to make one. It isn’t really snow focused. It’s just a lovely, well written book about a young boy learning to do a man’s work under the watchful eye of his father.

I pry, and salve, and whisper, and tap and nip and rasp and clinch, Papa’s hand on my shoulder. Shadow Horses’s back ripples and I flinch, scared. “Go on,” Papa whispers, his hand heavy and strong.

Cold Snap by Eileen Spinelli and Marjorie Priceman. New in 2012, this book is bright and vividly illustrated; the ultimate snow storm picture book emphasizing community! Includes simple and yummy recipe at the end. Now all we need is some snow to make it happen!

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An Open Letter to Oliver Jeffers

Dear Oliver Jeffers,

     Your books are quite simplistic.  And sometimes strange.  And always fun to look at.  For that, I love you. You first won the hearts of my children when one of them found the book The Incredible Book Eating Boy. They were horrified that the child who’d checked the book out previously from the library had taken a bite out of it and then had the audacity to return the book– unpaid!
     Still, though the book was a fun little diversion, we didn’t bother noticing the author’s name on the cover. Your artwork wasn’t the classically beautiful Robert McCloskey or Jan Brett type after all. It takes a quirky heart to appreciate both the figures and the humor you play with. It wasn’t until we chanced across the video of you reading Stuck, that we finally woke up, recovered from our giggles and went searching for more of your titles (having a soft spot for author/illustrators, see). And then, we feasted. The kids enjoyed The New Sweater, likening it to Max Lucado’s If Only I Had a Green Nose in chronicling the perils of peer pressure. I especially loved the page of the Huey who had the word “Want” written above him when he first saw the sweater.  After this, we delved into the adventures of the Boy and agreed that we liked him best in How to Catch a Star.

But the manner in which you really won my heart Mr. Jeffers, came about quite unexpectedly and in an improbable title.  It happened in the book This Moose Belongs to Me.  The book itself is absurd of course and makes no sense and I was about to miss the whimsy train when all of a sudden, I read it.  What may be the very best line ever written in children’s books since the ridiculous “Goodnight Nobody” line from Goodnight Moon. You wrote:

But in his haste, and miles from anywhere, he tripped over his string and got tangled up.  And there he lay.  Wilfred was beginning to get a little bit worried.  It was getting late and the monsters would be out soon.  He had just ruled out the last of his options… when along came the moose…

 Just like that.  In passing.  In an extraordinary sense of the perfect understanding that monsters are a real phenomenon (as any child knows of course) and could be brought up casually in a story that had nothing whatsoever to do with monsters.  For that, and for this super excellent video on how you make your books, I will forever count you among my favorites.

Love, etc.

A Fan

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Here Comes Jack Frost

This isn’t exactly new (2009) and it isn’t exactly obscure but I wanted to give a plug for a new addition to our Winter Basket this year: Here Comes Jack Frost by Kazuno Kohara.  Kohara made waves in the picture book world with her Halloween title Ghosts in the House but I think Jack Frost is really where she shines best.

The books screams WINTER through and through because of its crisp two toned blues and whites and it’s sharp linocut illustrations.  It’s lighthearted, sparkly and a fun addition to the mid-late winter category of books. Jack Frost visits a bored little boy and they have all sorts of fun until the hint of spring chases Jack Frost away.  The book would make an excellent springboard for resist-art based projects with children.  I’m particularly fond of this winter birch tree art project (then again, I’m particularly fond of birch trees in general…) which seems very, very easy to do! Enjoy the book!

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Top 10 Best Bedtime Stories

A good story is a good story.  And a good story is always a good choice for bedtime.  But some books are specifically about bedtime, sleep or goodnight rituals and are particularly dear to have on hand for toddler sets.  What makes a good bedtime book?  Excellent art.  A slow pace.  A lyrical cadence.  Or all of the above. Many of the titles below embody all of those qualities…  here is my personal Top 10 Goodnight/Sleep/Bedtime storybooks:

 A Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na. Relatively new on the bedtime scene, this book is an instant classic. The illustrations are sublime. Period.

 Time for Bed by Mem Fox. This was the first, full price picture book I think I ever bought. And I bought it, interestingly for one of the same reasons that one reviewer on Amazon poo-poohed it: it’s size. You can get this as a board book and a smaller paperback, but I bought the large book edition. I loved the idea of having such large, lovely illustrations totally fill in a child’s line of vision before bedtime. Now, it’s not so big as to be awkward and unwieldy… it’s just a nice, jumbo size book. Many sleep books aren’t.

 Sailor Song by Nancy Jewell. I chose this for pure nostalgia’s sake. I read it often to my firstborn when his papa was overseas; it is a homecoming bedtime tale. Sweet and soft. The illustrations are done by Stefano Vitale, whose work I admire very much.

 Night Knight by Davey Owen. Just found and discovered and loved a few weeks ago. You can read more about that here.

 It’s Time to Sleep, My Love by Eric Metaxes. The rhyming on this is very much like Time for Bed. The artwork is surreal. There are elements of it that appear strange or eerie in a lovely, only-half-awake kind of way; my three year old daughter loves this one.

When the Wind Stops by Charlotte Zolotow.  “And where do clouds go when they move across the sky?”  “To make shade somewhere else.”  So goes this classic, gorgeous question and answer discussion between a young lad and his mother.  Stefano Vitale is featured again here in exquisite form. So it may or may not be a “must read” but if you do read it, When the Wind Stops is definitely a “must love.”

 Grandfather Twilight by Barbara Berger. The small pearl becomes the moon. A few, well placed words. I love Barbara Berger… and she does not disappoint with this one.

 A Mouse Told His Mother by Bethany Roberts. Excellent bedtime banter here not too unlike Runaway Bunny. The art is detailed and wonderful and as it should, the adventures end with young mouse falling asleep.

 If You’re Afraid of the Dark Remember the Night Rainbow by Cooper Edens. Perfect for children and teens and adults; this book was given to me on my 15th birthday and I treasure it’s strange, lovely quirkiness still.

 Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. Did you really think I’d forget this? As one of the bestselling children’s books of all time, even non-discerning parents often have this on their shelves. Their seems to be an unspoken code that this is a mandatory title. I held out for a long time just because things this popular spark the ‘go against the grain rebel’ in me.  But eventually, I caved and like so many others, can recite it practically by heart now.  That makes me happy.

“Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.” 
Madeleine L’Engle
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Raising Discerning Souls

It was one of those beautiful, mothering moments when you are just so exquisitely happy and relieved that something you’ve tried to model and teach by example… has stuck:

My nine year old rifling through the bin of books to collect his prize for the library summer reading program– Mom holding her breath, as she does every year waiting to veto a Goosebumps title or to simply roll her eyes at the twaddle-rific Star Wars books. (These types are always plentiful in giveaway programs.) So he finally makes his selection and brings it to me: 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

“Nothing else looked very good,” he states casually.

Mother bursts with pride… for we have no time to waste with the mediocre.

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An Education in Pictures

As it’s not in the scope of this blog to discuss homeschooling philosophies, I wanted to give just a glimpse at our upcoming year in a picture.  Our education is based on good, living books, and that’s largely what you see here.  I’m showing you a picture of our spine, not the myriad of supplemental picture and chapter books, copybooks or online resources that reinforce all that we are learning (especially with art, science, music, history, religion and poetry). Plus there’s a lot of overlap between these years as we’ll be doing much of this reading together.  I also haven’t put in the math for my 4th grader yet; can’t seem to win any auctions on e-bay for Teaching Textbooks 5!  As it is, while I love designing curriculum, I am becoming more and more of a Charlotte Mason purist. This is mostly for two reasons: when the rubber meets the road, you have to abandon your glorious ideals on a pedestal and do what works for your own family; also, the methods of a true Charlotte Mason education are incompatible with having a diverse plan of attack (e.g. There’s no sense in insisting on copywork if you are also forcing the child to do spelling sheets, handwriting workbooks and grammar lessons too.)  So while homeschoolers can certainly have a “Charlotte Mason flavor” to their curriculum… I sort of feel like the “atmosphere, discipline and life” is an all or nothing approach, at least for our purposes. So, just for novelty’s sake I present parts of the 2012/2013 year (beginning in August!) for my boys:

Kindergarten:

3rd Grade:

4th Grade:

“Thought breeds thought; children familiar with great thoughts take as naturally to thinking for themselves as the well-nourished body takes to growing; and we must bear in mind that growth, physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual, is the sole end of education.” 
-Charlotte Mason 


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