Tag Archives: girls

Butterfly Tree: Pick of the Week

Often when an author makes a children’s picture book based on a memory he or she had, the result falls flat.  It’s hard to convey sometimes the significance and specialness of an event in a way that complete strangers (and young strangers to boot) will appreciate.  In the picture book world, there are exceptions to this of course. Authors like Allen Say or Barbara Cooney for example, both excel at making lovely stories out of personal memories.

Sandra Markle’s Butterfly Tree is a book in this vein.  The text, though not rhyming, is written in stanzas and the fuzzy (oil paint?) illustrations give the book a somber tone and set a thoughtful pace.  The story is about a girl witnessing a giant migration of monarch butterflies: it looks like it’s raining black pepper from a clear blue sky.  She is confused and frightened at first as she and her mother go to investigate in the woods.  All her senses seem heightened as she goes through the trees noticing things until suddenly An explosion of golden-orange bits fills the sunlight streaming between the branches.

 I especially appreciated the endnotes in this book as it fills in the gaps on a personal level with the author and shows an informative map illustrating the migration routes of Monarchs.  The book would make an excellent fill in on a butterfly study or general winter preparation/migration/hibernation studies for animals.

First Chapter Books

Many moms wonder when is that perfect age when you quit picture books and begin chapter books.  My first thought is that one should never quit picture books.  Even when your child is reading independently, picture books offer a sense of familiarity and ease which will boost the confidence any kid has in his/her reading skills.  Secondly, it’s like chicken soup for the soul.  I can’t count how many times I’ve begun reading an easy, familiar book to my toddler set only to have my older sons sidle their way over to sit on the edge of the couch.  The rhythm of mom’s voice, the rustle of turning pages, the vibrance of good art… it all beckons.  I see no need to end that at a certain age.  Finally, the reason that one should never “quit” picture books is that there are often excellent points or reflections to delight adults as well as children.  I think immediately of a book like the innovative The Arrival, or the nostalgic Roxaboxen for example.

Anyway, there does exist a wonderful transition when one does introduce chapter books into a child’s life to complement the regular picture book diet.  I have very recently discovered the “Special Read Aloud Edition” of  Stuart Little. What made it so special was its size.  It is printed as a very large, hardback picture book with blown up illustrations and large text. These books are so inviting for a cozy read aloud snuggled on the couch with Mama or Papa.  I found a couple other “Special Read Aloud Editions” out there, notably The Mouse and the MotorcycleLittle House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie.  But it seems these are all out of print and I’d be very careful buying from an amazon seller to make sure you are getting the right edition you pay for.  The Narnia series and Charlotte’s Web Special Read Aloud Editions seem to be in print still.

So what age should one begin chapter books?  I’d say it depends on the child but the most likely window will be between 5-6-ish.  Some four years olds will love read alouds and even younger toddlers might listen in on the stories told to their older siblings with apparent interest.  Even if a child isn’t totally grasping every metaphor or vocabulary word, just the exposure of richer vocabulary and sentence structure will be good for them in addition to the increase of listening and attention skills.  I was worried about reading the Narnia books to my then-five year old son because I wanted him to be old enough to understand the great Christian analogies, but he ate The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe right up!  And the reason those books are classics is because they will weather well under another reading at a later age.

What books should you read first?  The short answer is “Whatever you feel like!”  Read what interests your child (using your own parental discretion of course).  There is no mandatory introduction to chapter book list that’ll adequately cover ALL the greats.  But I can share with you my list that worked!  I like to start with books that have short chapters and illustrations to acclimate the child to longer readings.  So, as it’s an enormous task to list all great chapter books out there in general, here’s a list of earliest, first chapter books that were hits with my boys (or that I know will be a hit with my daughter).

  • James and the Giant Peach
  • My Father’s Dragon
  • Homer Price
  • Winnie the Pooh
  • The Cricket in Times Square
  • Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook
  • Just So Stories
  • Mr. Popper’s Penguins
  • The Princess and the Goblin
  • Just So Stories
  • Captains Courageous
  • The Indian in the Cupboard
  • Betsy Tacy
  • Little House on the Prairie series
  • ^ Farmer Boy (especially to hook boys)
  • Birdbrain Amos
  • Paddington Bear
  • The Narnia series
  • Happy Little Family
  • The Children of Noisy Village

E-books fail

Technology has its place and I’m grateful to its additions in my life.  Even e-books have their place.  I think they are especially fantastic for storing reference materials or bulky multi-volume sets that hog up precious real estate on your bookshelves.  I do not believe and will not ever believe that e-books can be a good substitute for children’s picture books.  At best they are a tolerable second choice.  But that’s only if extenuating circumstances make the primary bound picture books unavailable for whatever reason.

Turns out that new research mostly agrees with me.

“This whole explosion of e-books has been great, and we love seeing what’s happening with the innovation, but now it’s time to start thinking more purposefully and thoughtfully into what goes into the creation of an e-book.”

I would add to the parents who remark that a child is more “engaged” with e-books than regular books this: Of course they are!  What kid doesn’t like stimulation in that way?!  However, books are like food are like toys are like anything in a child’s life:  when you feed them a steady diet of something that is always taking their taste buds to the next level… or that is always doing the playing for the child with new tricks and sounds and movements… that their appetites become deadened.  They resist what is simple.  They are bored with carrot sticks or building blocks or stories like The Wind in the Willows because they’ve become desensitized to the excitement of simple pleasures.  They are hungry for better, faster, more explosive, more gimmicks, more, more, more.    

The super exciting flavor blasted junk foods…
Or the baby doll who does all the imagining for you…

And so… that is why I don’t think story books need sound effects or interactive games with which to distract them.  We wonder why on earth children are suffering from attention deficits more and more as time goes on.  Well, I’m no expert but part of the answer seems obvious to me.  Consider what you want your children to focus on.  Consider the ways you whet their appetites: in what they play with, in what they eat, and in what they read.


Flicka, Snapp, Snurr.

Do you know Maj Lindman? Seeing how she’s a Swedish author and during the wintertime, I’m hot and heavy over all things Scandinavian, I thought it a good time to rave about the wonderful little series she created in the 1930s and 40s. They’re still in print today!

Snipp, Snapp, and Snurr are three young triplets who get into all sorts of fun predicaments before a happy ending and good moral end the story. We’re not talking phenomenal storytelling here. But don’t be deceived by the Dick and Jane vintage illustrations either… there is a real, good, edifying story to be told. It’s so charming and happy and just the sort of thing to read to a houseful of rowdy boys to perhaps interest them into wanting a respectable sort of day.
My personal favorite is Snipp, Snapp, Snurr, and the Gingerbreadbecause you are guaranteed giggles over three batter covered boys…
Of course, there’s also Flicka, Ricka and Dicka who were something of heroines to me when I was a young girl. I always wished they could have been quadruplets and I could’ve been, oh I don’t know… Nicka? Sticka? Blicka? Whatever… I just wanted to have a gaggle of girls around me to have as much fun as these three had. I loved the story of Flicka, Ricka, Dicka and the New Dotted Dresseseven if it was terribly predictable.
See what’s so charming about these books is that they are so happily virtuous. They would never exist in today’s children’s literature world. The drama would be amped up. The girls would be seeking their individuality. But it’s quite refreshing to read a sweet, simple story about sweet, simple girls. And I think kids are inwardly hungry for this kind of innocent goodness. Think of Snipp, Snapp, Snurr, Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka as you would a warm bowl of oatmeal in the morning topped off with a dollop of honey and cinnamon… wholesome, sweet, simply good for you.
Here’s a quick, random video that shows the inside of Flicka, Ricka, Dicka and their New Skates. The new edition comes complete with paper dolls!

Top 10 Best Winter Books

I had a hard time with this list because there are many sub-categories of winter which could fill out their OWN Top 10 lists. I could have lists on snow, on winter animals, or winter sports. There’s just a lot of fun to be had in this season. And let’s not forget some of the fall books that overlap here for super great reading like Snowsong Whistling or Waiting for Winter. Be that as it may, we have to start somewhere, so here I go. Books that try to be fairly general on the season:

 Winter Story by Jill Barklem. As always, Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge books top my list of seasonal must-haves. The Snow Ball is coming!! Enjoy the fantastic preparations…

 I Like Winter by Lois Lenski. Why is it that all the best books are out of print?! Like Barklem, Lenski’s seasonal books deserve to be on your shelf. Keep your eye out while you’re thrifting around!

Grandmother Winter by Phyllis Root. A new find for me this year and one I love oh so much! Old Grandmother Winter (in person) is creating a beautiful winter quilt to wrap around the world. Such awesome illustrations here!

The Mitten by Jan Brett. Jan Brett really shines in winter. It’s because all her Scandinavian art and detail are in full glory. The Mitten is probably her best-selling book and comes in a board version as well. Don’t forget to check out The Hat, Trouble with Trolls, the Gingerbread stories etc. I love the peekaboo frames that reveal the upcoming plot.

Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton. If I would’ve filled out a Top 11 Author/Illustrators, Burton would have filled out that last slot. I really, really love and appreciate her books; my boys do too. What’s more, the treasury Mike Mulligan and More: Four Classic Stories by Virginia Lee Burton, has got to be one of the best bargains ever in children’s books. For a little more than what would be $3 a book, you get four of the best stories that AREN’T abridged, with complete artwork, in one nice hardback cover.

Snow Moon by Nicholas Brunelle. We discovered this one last year and we loved it! The story is super simple and solemn and lovely. And there’s a touch of whimsy at the very end that makes you wonder whether it was all just a dream or what. Very nice…

The Tomten and the Fox by Astrid Lindgren. The author who brought us Pippi Longstocking has quite a name in the picture book world too. This book, like it’s companion The Tomten are wonderfully told in slow, somber, quiet voices… it’s almost as if you can feel the snow falling outside when you do it this way… isn’t that right Reynard?

Ollie’s Ski Trip by Elsa Beskow. Good old Beskow delivers again. I love the weepy gray thaw lady who is trying to elude King Winter and Ollie on his brand new pair of skis.

The Race of the Birkebeiners by Lise Lunge-Larsen. This is a fantastic story with fantastic Mary Azarian woodcuts. Something about winter makes us want to drink up everything of Nordic countries we can… this is a historically accurate book that has adventure slipped all through it.

The Story of the Snow Children by Sibylle von Olfers. I admit that my boys didn’t really jump with joy over this book; they listen to it just fine and don’t complain, but what really makes it special is something that little girls will see: a birthday tea party, princesses, a Snow Queen, oh yeah… they’ll eat this up.

“Circling the moon, they brushed off the light with a touch of their wings.”
-Snow Moon


The Motherload List of Excellent Catholic Picture Books

***last updated August 2018***

catholic-picture-booksHere is my personal, comprehensive list of excellent picture books that help nurture a love for the Catholic faith and Christianity in general. This is just my opinion, mind you.  There are certainly other Catholic books out there but I have been pretty selective in highlighting only ones that I either have or would buy myself. You won’t see ugly or inane books on this list; I don’t think we should buy/read “twaddle” even if it comes packaged as a “saint story.”No sense in dumbing down the beautiful!  However, there are a couple compromises on this point… only because either the pictures or the text are in and of themselves absolutely worth your time. This used to be a post linking you to my Listmania lists on amazon.com but they limit you to 40 titles.  🙂 I also left out the entire St. Joseph Picture Books series (which admittedly do have their place, especially being thin, cheap and Mass-friendly), as well as most Christmas books since that genre is too big for my purposes here, another time maybe…  I’m interested only in STORY picture books here, that happen to reinforce specifically Catholic/Christian values.  I starred *books that are my own very special favorites. Either way, enjoy the list!

An Alphabet of Saints*
Saints for Girls: A First Book for Little Catholic Girls
Saints for Boys: A First Book for Little Catholic Boys
Lives and Legends of the Saints
Saints: Lives and Illuminations
More Saints: Lives and Illuminations


The Lady of Guadalupe
Our Lady of Guadalupe*
Our Lady of Guadalupe
Gifts of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Mary and the Little Shepards of Fatima
The Life of Mary
Mary: The Mother of Jesus
The Lady in the Blue Cloak: Legends from the Texas Missions

St. Francis
Clare and Francis*
Saint Francis of Assisi: A Life of Joy*
Francis Woke Up Early
St. Francis and the Proud Crow
Wolf of Gubbio
Saint Francis of Assisi
Canticle of the Sun: Saint Francis of Assisi
Brother Sun, Sister Moon*
The Good Man of Assisi
Brother Juniper*
Saint Francis

Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc*
Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc

St. Nicholas
The Real Santa Claus: Legends of Saint Nicholas*
The Baker’s Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale
Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend
A Special Place for Santa: A Legend for Our Time*
The Legend of Saint Nicholas*
Saint Nicholas and the Nine Gold Coins

St. Wenceslaus
Good King Wenceslas
Good King Wenceslas
Stephen’s Feast

St. Valentine

Saint Valentine*
Saint Valentine

St. Hildegard
Hildegard’s Gift
The Secret World Of Hildegard

St. Christopher
Legend of Saint Christopher*
Christopher: The Holy Giant

St. George
Saint George and the Dragon (more legend than fact, but still fun to read…)
Saint George and the Dragon

St. Benedict
The Life of Saint Benedict
The Holy Twins: Benedict and Scholastica*

St. Martin de Porres
The Pied Piper of Peru
Martin de Porres: The Rose in the Desert
Martin’s Mice
Snow on Martinmas

St. Patrick

Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland
Patrick: Saint of Ireland*
The Life of St. Patrick: Enlightener of the Irish

St. Columba
Across a Dark and Wild Sea
Man Who Loved Books

Other Irish Saints
The Blackbird’s Nest: Saint Kevin of Ireland*
The Ravens of Farne: A Tale of Saint Cuthbert
The Life of Saint Brigid: Abbess of Kildare
The Saint and his Bees (St. Modomnoc)
Saint Ciaran: The Tale of a Saint of Ireland

Misc. Saints
St. Anthony the Great
Bernadette and the Miracle of Lourdes
A Saint and His Lion: The Story of Tekla of Ethiopia
St. Jerome and the Lion
Pascual and the Kitchen Angels*
The Wonderful Life of Saint Sergius of Radonezh*
Saint Brendan And The Voyage Before Columbus*
Peter Claver, Patron Saint of Slaves/Pedro Claver, Santo Patrono de los Esclavos
John Mary Vianney: The Holy Cure of Ars
Bernadette: The Little Girl from Lourdes
Lucia, Saint of Light
The Little Friar Who Flew (St. Joseph of Cupertino)
Saint Jude: A Friend in Hard Times
Saint Felix and the Spider
Mother Teresa
Yes! The Life of Blessed Josemaria for Young Readers*
Lolek – The Boy Who Became Pope John Paul II
Roses in the Snow: A Tale of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary
Kristoph and the First Christmas Tree
St. John Bosco and His Big Gray Dog


Bible Stories
Old Testament
Noah’s Ark*
Noah’s Ark
The Tower of Babel*
Sarah Laughs
Moses: The Long Road to Freedom
The Angel and the Donkey*
Jonah and the Whale*
The Book of Jonah
The Story Of Ruth
The Story of the Call of Samuel
Jacob and Esau
Benjamin and the Silver Goblet*
The Coat of Many Colors
David and Goliath
The Wisest Man in the World
Kings and Queens of the Bible
Old Testament Rhymes
Queen Esther Saves Her People*
The Story of Esther: A Purim Tale
Daniel and the Lord of Lions
The Lord is My Shepherd
To Every Thing There Is A Season*

New Testament
The Nativity: Six Glorious Pop-Up Scenes*
The Miracles of Jesus
The Parables of Jesus
Loaves & Fishes
Parable of the Good Samaritan
The Parable of the Vineyard
The Parable of the Sower
Parable of the Bridesmaids
The Twelve Apostles
The Easter Story*
The Thornbush
St. Peter’s Story
St. Joseph’s Story
Love Is . . .
The Way of the Cross: Holy Week, the Stations of the Cross, and the Resurrection

The Saving Name of God the Son *
The Weight of a Mass: A Tale of Faith*

Angel Stories from the Bible
Twice Yours
I Believe: The Nicene Creed
The Lord’s Prayer
This Little Prayer of Mine
This Is What I Pray Today: Divine Hours Prayers For Children
Prayer for a Child
If Jesus Came to My House*
If Jesus Came to My House (newer edition)
A Child’s Rule of Life
Friendship with Jesus: Pope Benedict XVI Talks to Children on Their First Holy Communion
A Is for Altar, B Is for Bible
Our Holy Father, the Pope: The Papacy from Saint Peter to the Present
Manners in God’s House: First Prayers and First Missal
I Believe: The Creed, Confession and the Ten Commandments for Little Catholics
Just For Today*
I Went to Mass: What did I See?


The White Cat and the Monk
The End of the Fiery Sword
Into the Sea, Out of the Tomb
Jacinta’s Story
Brother Hugo and the Bear*
The Miracle of St. Nicholas*
Brother Bartholomew and the Apple Grove
The Clown of God*
The Little Juggler*
The Acrobat and the Angel
The Monk Who Grew Prayer*
The Little Rose of Sharon*
The Princess and the Kiss: A Story of God’s Gift of Purity
The Squire and the Scroll
Brother William’s Year: A Monk at Westminster Abbey*
Joseph’s Hands*
Sister Anne’s Hands
The Tale of Three Trees: A Traditional Folktale
Song of the Swallows
The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane
Brother Giovanni’s Little Reward: How the Pretzel Was Born*
Joseph and Chico: The Life of Pope Benedict XVI as Told by a Cat
Max and Benedict: A Bird’s Eye View of the Pope’s Daily Life
The Monks Daily Bread
The Monks Stormy Night


More than just sheep, hobbits and Russell Crowe

New Zealand has contributed to the world in a fine way. It gives us such delights as excellent wool, scenery from the Lord of the Rings movies, and of course Russell Crowe. (Swoon to some of my favorite movies of his: Cinderella Man, Gladiator, and more recently: The Next Three Days) Something must be going right in that “other” (smaller, more expensive) place down under.

But this country has born to us a superb author as well who often escapes the notice of millions of well meaning booklists that I’ve read: Lynley Dodd. Lynley Dodd is best known for her mischievous, bumbling dog: Hairy Maclary. Her books are each a rhyming masterpiece and her adjectives–be they real words or not– are sizzling, stunningly, superb. Indeed, if one was ambitious, these books could be used as vocabulary units all on their own. Joining Hairy Maclary are other snaffling creatures like Slinky Malinky, Zachary Quack and my favorite: Schnitzel Von Krumm. Isn’t that a glorious name?! Let’s indulge ourselves again: Schnitzel Von Krumm.

As if being a talented writer and poet isn’t enough, Dodd illustrates her own books too. While her artwork isn’t necessarily the masterpieces of some, it is an exactly perfect accompaniment to the text. Indeed I can not envision someone like Barbara Cooney or Robert McCloskey being able to capture the antics of her animals as well as she does.

In New Zealand, children there were once able to watch animated versions of Lynley Dodd’s books on television. I’ll post an example simply so you can get an idea of the text, not because I’m a fan of animated story books. In fact, keep in mind that these books weren’t MEANT to be cartoons and as such, the speed and cadence with which the voice-over is narrating is all wrong. It comes out much smoother and more flowing from a kind hearted mother holding the hard copy book, especially if she’s able to mimic some kind of European accent. I’ve done it in English, German and Irish accents so far… I may find it more amusing than my kids but just you try it: there’s just something delicious about Dodd’s cadence and word choice that begs for an irregular voice. So get thee to the library and place some books on hold and laugh for me when you meet the likes of Bitzer Maloney, “all skinny and bony”…


Browsing Richard Scarry

“Browsy” can be a very bad thing. No one likes browsy people in line at McDonald’s for instance; they’ve had the same menu for decades and people need to simply choose to have a McNasty with cheese or without and then get out of line. Ooh! And it’s frustrating being behind a browsy person at a potluck when you’ve already had to wait in a 20 minute line for food–at that point, you’ll take ANY food– but Browsy Betty over here is carefully choosing which celery cut looks freshest and slowly choosing the unbroken chips one by blessed one out of the bowl. My husband gets very browsy when he’s in the wood section of a home improvement store. He carefully examines the different grains and inspects the knots and smells each piece to make sure they didn’t misclassify their treated vs. untreated cedars. Oy.

And then browsy can be a good thing. I am browsy at bookstores… no, not browsy– delightfully and deliberately lazy and timeless sinking into the books. I also tend toward a browsy attitude when I’m at a garage or rummage sale or at the grocery store unless children are in tow: when my brood is with me, I get what I need and get out of there as fast as I can.

In children’s books, browsy is almost always a good thing. Well, when I’m reading a chapter book aloud and there’s a quick, indiscriminate sketch on a page, I tend to get mildly annoyed if a kid wants to look at it for what I deem to be too long of a time. Or if my two-year-old keeps wanting to turn BACK the page to talk about the bird or bathtub or whathaveyou… and I’m trying to push through the book just for the sake of a naptime routine, browsy isn’t a welcome word. Generally though, I encourage my children to drink in all the wonders and delights of a beautiful illustration and enjoy noticing all the details of a fun book.

Richard Scarry is the king of browsy picture books. I can’t say he’s the “best” illustrator in a purely artistic sense, but he wins the award for best, most fun details for all the pages in every book he’s produced. My children love noticing the mishaps of Huckle and counting all the bunny children or looking for Goldbug. You’ve got to get some Richard Scarry. If you like, save browsy books and bring them out only for those ‘needed’ situations:

  • In the waiting room of any kind of appointment.
  • For the potty when you just need Gilbert to relax and be distracted long enough to let it all go.
  • For any kind of outing in public where you are in a confined space and babies are frowned upon.
  • So you can escape for ten minutes and take a shower.
  • When you need to impress your inlaws with how quietly Gilbert can sit and focus on a story.
  • So you can escape for ten minutes and create a brother for Gilbert.

You get the idea. Every home shouldn’t be without special books that are kept novel in order to maximize the quiet time you get from them. I recommend Richard Scarry…


(Theoretical) Library Pick of the Week

This is theoretical because we’ve not actually checked this book out. It was on our holds queue and I was devastated when I couldn’t pick it up. Truth be told, we are currently blocked from the county library system. Apparently they don’t tolerate a $40 bill. See, when your library charges 25 cents/day/book for overdue items, this really, really adds up when you are checking out 30-40 books at a time. Now, there is no excuse really, we live within walking distance to our local library. But the trouble is when we “lose” a book (it’s under a mattress or behind the piano) and another user has holds on it, it is unable to be renewed… and accrues late fees. Couple that with an unfortunate incident involving a wiggly boy, a large glass of water and a $20 book, and your account quickly goes into the delinquent status. (As I type we are racking up fees for one errant book: Babar Visits Another Planet— because it is unable to be renewed since our account is delinquent and it is nowhere to be found) Meanwhile, the library keeps sending me notices that I have holds to be picked up which agonize me that I can’t pick up until our account is paid off–maybe next payday. But I digress.

I am certain that A Butterfly Is Patientis a fantastic book in the same vein as this author’s other two mentioned books here: An Egg Is Quietand A Seed Is Sleepy. I loved how the other two books wove readers into a spell of story and science and found the illustrations and prose delightfully engaging… these would certainly be worthwhile books to invest in full price for both the sake of its beauty and its academic merit. A Butterfly is Patient was released this May and after a 30 second perusal at a small bookstore on the Oregon Coast, I was convinced it merited mention even if I’ve not read it in its entirety yet. So look for it and its predecessors as soon as you’re in the mood for delight!