Tag Archives: family

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. * * *



Therapy in Picture Books

This post is for my sister—a soon to be licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.  She asked for my opinion on books that deal with difficult subjects in a delicate way… to aid children in making sense of trauma or sadness or difficulty in their lives.

Note that I have NOT read every single one of these books. What I did, was pore over many, many lists, follow many rabbit-trails, read a few message boards, evaluated many reviews and compiled these titles that looked to be the most promising. This is certainly not exhaustive—I don’t doubt I’m missing some great titles.  But I did go ahead and ignore 90% of what was recommended for therapy books precisely because that’s what they were designed to be (e.g. “Mommy and Daddy Dinosaur Got a Divorce” or somesuch). In this scope (as in most others) I seek stories primarily… good messages secondarily.

There are some exceptions, but I do think the art of subtlety in this area is perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when reading books with children. Kids aren’t stupid. They see through things that moralize or patronize very quickly.  But again… I have not read all these books personally so maybe a few of them do exactly this… let me know! I am only bookmarking this list for people to peruse who may want to investigate ways to cope with life stressors through the welcoming, non-threatening medium of picture books.  If you know of something that I’m missing here, please comment!!!


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:


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 


Bonus of audio books…

We went on a trip last weekend and we listened to this wonderfully told version of E.B. White’s Stuart Little. Mid story, I discovered something that goes decisively on the “Pro” side of why one should use audio books here and there. We already know that they can be time savers, attention holders and time passers on the road, but they should also be praised for their consistency. Sometimes, when I’m reading aloud to the kids, I trail off during an exciting part and quickly read ahead to myself. I can’t help it! The kids have to nudge me back to the present because I’d unconsciously forgotten about them and the stalled story! Terrible I know. Anyway, audio books are an excellent remedy to that situation. While we listened to the gentle tales (more about that topic later, by the way) of dear Stuart, we ALL got to experience the full suspense as he got dumped into the garbage truck; we ALL felt the tension heighten as Snowbell got ready to pounce on Margolo. It was fantastic… very bonding.

I’ve been waiting for the right time and money to buy this edition of the entire Narnia series on audio. It would be a good investment since these are stories that definitely merit more than one reading… and they are full of adventure which could really use a more attentive and less spacey storyteller than myself!
“All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.”
-E.B. White

On sentiments and fathers

I am one of those readers who does not particularly appreciate books about sentiments. When I read a story to a child, I want it to be a story… not a eulogy about how much I love the child or how special he is. While I can readily admit that certain “sentiment books” can be well written and nicely illustrated, I tend to find the genre itself to be saccharine and contrived. Children don’t– or at least shouldn’t– need books to feel like they are special in your eyes, or that they are loved. One book on which I stand against the crowd is the very popular Love You Forever by Robert Munsch (Do note that for the sake of charity, I do NOT link books that I myself would not buy.) This is one of those books that is on a ton of bookshelves across America, whether or not the parents are bibliozealots or not. It is the only children’s book I’ve ever seen on Amazon that has over 1000 (by and large positive) reviews. I’m not sure what it is about it. People just seem to love the message of this book: mom loves little boy unconditionally as he grows up. The final moments are when the tables get turned and the boy (now a full sized man) is holding his elderly mother in the rocking chair. So not only is there a lack of a real plot, I also struggle with one of the pages in particular. The mother, at one point, crawls up a ladder to her grown man son’s bedroom to hold and love him while he is sleeping. I find this rather creepy. There are other sentiment books that I don’t particularly like either. I do however have more tolerance for books which at least have some interesting elements to add to the story, as is the case in The Runaway Bunny where at least the illustrations are fun and imaginative.

So with Father’s Day just around the corner, it would be easy to find a few sappy ‘I Love Daddy” books to recommend that fall into the sentimental category. Instead, let’s discuss a few books that have good fatherly messages or figures without being quite so overt about it.

Anatole and the Toyshop by Eve Titus. I’m always willing to give a plug to the Anatole books; we love him around here. And in this particular story, Anatole gets to shine as the hero who saves his family from a tyrranical shop owner. Family is the ends; courage is the means.
Pop’s Bridge by C.F. Payne gets double points for being based on history. (I love that.) In this book a boy admires his hardworking dad as he helps to build the Golden Gate Bridge. The sacrifices of men are noted and laborers of all kinds are celebrated in the end. Kids today don’t often get to see their fathers doing meaningful work. Back in the pioneer days, children worked alongside fathers out in the fields or in the stables. Since the industrial revolution, the actual sight of men at work is removed from most kids. So when dad gets home, often all they see is him lazing about on the couch or glued in front of a T.V. or somesuch. Not exactly images that inspire virtues of strength, commitment, sacrifice and integrity in young people. (Now this is a topic for another time, another blog… but while I have you reading here, if you’d like to explore this idea further see the excellent, short book Successful Fathers: The Subtle but Powerful Ways Fathers Mold Their Children’s Characters.)
Papa Piccolo by Carol Talley was mentioned before in a thrifting thread. It’s been a good addition to our home library. Piccolo becomes a reluctant adoptive father to two spritely little kittens. After spending a lot of time trying to dodge them; their disappearance causes him concern and he finally embraces his role as papa and teacher. I suspect I’ll be mentioning this one last time in a future post when I write about my favorite books to use as curriculum units. (The glories of Venice are in top form here.)
If: A Father’s Advice to his Son. Now I’m breaking all the rules on this one. Not only is this a “sentiment book” of sorts, and it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with fathers specifically, it’s a book I’ve not even SEEN in real life yet! I stumbled on it one day on Amazon.com. This is the famous poem by Rudyard Kipling (whose pedigree speaks for itself) illustrated with photographs by Charles R. Smith Jr. I am a tremendous fan of this poem. It will be one of the longer poems my boys are forced to memorize and I hope its message sticks with them. If you’re not familiar with “If”, I’ll post it here for your good pleasure. Drink it up, then force the koolaid on your kids too. As it is, I just found out that it’s in our library system so I’ve just put a hold on it for further perusal.

by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!