Tag Archives: living books

Beetle Mania!

With the arrival of Diana Hutts-Aston’s newest title in her exquisite series— A Beetle is Shy— I thought it would be an opportune time to celebrate all my favorite beetle books.

Listen, I don’t love bugs. Especially not ones that venture into my house. But I do love a few other things that make this subject worth pursuing, namely trivia, art, science, alphabetized lists and vintage readers.  Titles in this collection cover all these areas quite well. And some of these books had me in rapt attention far beyond what I expected.  Beetle books make for excellent strewing titles since there is so much fascinating information to be found in this animal family…

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 First, as mentioned, is the latest from the Hutts-Aston and Long duo: A Beetle is Shy.  I only own ONE of the books in this series, but as a homeschooler and as a curious human being, I hope to acquire all of them someday.  Each one is a graphic feast and beetles are no exception. Couple the facts, lovely text and gorgeous art, and this is a book you will want to pass on to your children some day…

Jerry Pallota is an alphabet wizard. He loves creating alphabetized lists too and has a wonderful line of books covering a broad range of subjects.  The Beetle Alphabet Book delivers large, colorful images and excellent nuggets of trivia for every letter of the alphabet,

 

This book is what kickstarted my beetle fascination.  It had me delighted for the better part of an hour with its beautiful illustrations (stink bugs are beautiful people!) and curious facts.  Did you know that 1 in 5 every living being is a BEETLE?!?  Isn’t that just riveting?!

 

P.D. Eastman is at his finest in this old tale about mischief being righted.  The wee firefly causes mayhem with his messages he lights up around the sky until a wise old owl corrects him… you really can’t improve on some of these old reader books.

 

I admit it. The only reason we love The Grouchy Ladybug (other than it being by Eric Carle) is that it lends itself so well to the arbitrary bully voice that I like to inject whenever possible into stories: “Hey you, wanna fight?” Yes, it teaches manners and how nice it is to share… fine. But I’m not really into stories for the moralizing. I just like to frolic along the pages with different voices.

Dung beetles.  Behold. This is one of the rare times that I break my rule on entertaining “potty humor” in picture books.  And that’s only because it’s educational to learn about how these unfortunately named beetles are able to survive and thrive off of the excrement of animals. Very well done!

 

Here is the classic book that’s listed on most bibliophile’s “Best Summer Picture Books” lists.  The evocative tale of trying to capture the magical light of fireflies and the consequences that come of it. Fireflies and ladybugs are probably the most (and the only) well loved beetles out there…

 

Gail Gibbons has just never failed me yet. Ladybugs, like all of her informational titles, offer just enough information to engage children without overwhelming them.  Perfect for leaving on the back of a toilet for a child to pick up and read! Ha!

 

The Very Clumsy Click Beetle is one of Carle’s lesser known titles but I think it’s just as much fun as his more popular ones. Follow along with the the beetle as he figures out how to the nail the landing on his click-jump.

 

What would one of my Top Ten lists be without an exception?  This isn’t strictly a picture book… more of a coffee-table book actually. But it. is. stunning. If you ever doubted that the world of beetles and bugs could be a beautiful world, this is the book for you. Pheromone is a magnum opus. Check out author Christopher Marley’s website for a taste of what he does.  This book would be an excellent inspiration to budding artists everywhere…

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The Little Friar Who Flew

When I learned of this book’s existence a few years ago, I was frustrated at the lack of information on the book, the expense of out-of-print copies and maddening lack of interior images! I think might be able to find a couple pictures now with a google search, but I thought I’d post my own for curious people.

The Little Friar Who Flew by Patricia Lee Gauch is one of the lesser known saint picture books on the market and not nearly as talked about as illustrator de Paola’s other works are.  I was finally able to buy a reasonably priced copy to add to our bookshelf recently and am quite happy with the purchase. We had seen The Reluctant Saint as a family and enjoyed it very much (the kids laughing hysterically at the flying scenes) so the children were happy to have even more context to learn about St. Joseph of Cupertino.  The book is simple and a perfect introduction to this humble, “little donkey” of a saint. He, along with St. John Vianney, always reassure me with my not-so-academically advanced children… God measures our love, not our IQs.

Please enjoy these inside shots of a lovely, little book:

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A New Noah’s Ark Book… and the Best One Yet

 Up until now, Jerry Pinkney’s gorgeous Noah’s Ark book was as good as one could ever hope for. I mean, it features his beautiful artwork and offers a faithful retelling of the story. I had no complaints and used it faithfully for my Jesse Tree Picture Book readings.

And then, along came the MET to one up him. Released a couple months ago is the most beautiful Noah’s Ark book on the market to date.  Linda Falkin’s Noah’s Ark takes the cake. This one is my new favorite, narrowly eeking past the Pinkney title just for the awesome art appreciation opportunities within its covers. The text is straight from the Bible and each page features a different artist’s full color, full spread reproduction of the famed scenes. It’s awesome and visually engaging and highly recommended. Anytime I can make the great masters part of my children’s everyday life, I will do so with gladness. If you own just one picture book on this story, make it this one.

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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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Nature Anatomy: The Curious Parts & Pieces of the Natural World, and a Giveaway!


“How many ways do I love thee? Let me count the ways…”

The find of the year (so far) for me is this piece of glory from Julia Rothman called Nature Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of the Natural World.  The entire thing is the what makes me love to homeschool (and I needed a new boost in loving that lately).  The book is fabulous, and everything one could wish for in a “textbook.”

First, it’s chock full of interesting facts covering various areas of geology, botany, biology, meteorology and astronomy.  In being such a broad book, do we turn up our noses claiming it can’t offer depth in any one area? Sure. You may look down if you like. But what it DOES offer is so beautifully presented and academically enriching that you’d be missing something great by choosing a dry science book over this one.

And then there are the illustrations. Folksy, detailed, handwoven with love and care and interest.  My goodness, I’m in love!

This author is the same one who brought us Farm Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of Country Life a few years ago. It had raving reviews but it was brand new to me this year.  I figured that I didn’t have a whole heckuva lot of interest in farm life on a technical scale so what would I get out of it?!  Little did I know that I’d lovingly turn each page in this too, admiring the art and the information each page provided.

Both books would be phenomenal springboards for deeper studies into any one area.  Nature Anatomy especially is such a breath of fresh air in this home.

I have the highly lauded (in Charlotte Mason circles anyway) Handbook of Nature Study and while the information in that is excellent, the photos are in greyscale and limited by their time period. And much to my ever-burning shame, it doesn’t get used nearly so much as I had planned. I’d like to think of this new Nature Anatomy filling in the gap in some way as being something fresh, useful, beautiful and worthy to include in our morning basket studies a few times a week. A must have in my opinion… you can virtually browse through it here.

I’m so in love with this book that I’m going to send it to one lucky person during this upcoming Easter season. I don’t know how I’ll choose a winner, but it’ll be non-scientifically random of course. If you have read through this post and are interested in receiving the book, just post a comment about something, anything, I don’t care— by Divine Mercy Sunday.  That day is my birthday and it would give me great delight to share the gift of this book with someone!

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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!!!

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Brother Hugo and the Bear for Lent!


For Valentine’s Day this year, I gifted each of my children a “one free book” coupon and they got to select ANY book they wanted to have shipped to them (all second hand “Like New” copies, to keep it cost effective and I retained veto powers of course…)  With just a hint of guidance, my three year old saw the picture of Brother Hugo and the Bear and declared proudly that it was to be his choice. Yes!

The book came and immediately I fell in love with it. It is a story imagined by Katy Beebe from one tiny little line in a real, historical letter that comments this:

“And send to us, if you please, the great volume of letters by the holy father Augustine, which contains his letters to Saint Jerome, and Saint Jerome’s to him. For it happens that the greater part of our volume was eaten by a bear.”


The book is not Catholic per se. But it is decidedly real and fresh in the dealings with 100% of the characters being monks (except the bear) and the work they do being authentic to that time period.  It opens up, fittingly on Lent as poor Brother Hugo has to recopy the entire manuscript he lost… which makes for a proper seasonal penance. Illustrations are exceptionally well done by Steve Schindler for the book and the illuminated lettering mimics the style (in a nouveaux way) of the medieval masters. 

The book would be a great unit study builder for all things medieval… especially cloistered life, illuminated letters, manuscript making and the 12th century in general. I am going to pair it with a viewing of that oddly strange and beautiful period movie: The Secret of Kells. If I was really motivated, I’d figure out some sort of illuminated letter lesson but I’m pretty sure all our markers are currently lost in heater return vents or chewed up by the puppy. So that may need to wait…  

All in all, I’m delighted to have this book and use it as Lenten reading (not in a pious way, but at least in a relevant, fun way) and highly recommend it to those who are interested in bringing the Middle Aged, monastic life alive for their children. Probably my best picture book purchase in a long time…

Check out this hypnotic video showing the start to finish illustrations, set to chant… 

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Spring Transition Favorites

The coming of spring is probably the most prolific genre of seasonal transition books in the picture book world.  Summer is absolutely the LEAST written about as far as transition time goes… likely because it’s a much more subtle change than the crisping of leaves in fall and falling of snow in winter.  With spring it’s the new life and the great thaw.

I know half the country is blanketed with snow still but here in the Pacific Northwest it’s been downright glorious and unusually warm. The daffodils and tulips are poking out of the ground and we all want to scream at them, “Wait! Not yet! It’s too soon!”  Not because we don’t welcome the sun and 60 degree weather but because we are afraid the frost season isn’t over and this warm spell is some sort of cosmic trickery.

But I will take this opportunity to revel in some of my favorite books of the time and opine about which springtime titles merit being called some of the BEST in “seasonal transition literature.” A couple are pulled from my general Top Ten Springtime Book list.

 Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit: A Book of Changing Seasons by Il Sung Na. I purchased this board book recently for my daughter to fill in our baby book basket. It is delightful and fun.  Il Sung Na’s style is so unique, I am always happy to have her books offer a bit of a different picture than the rich, traditional drawings.  I think this would make a marvelous precursor to her A Book of Babies which seems to be just about perfect springtime reading…

Spring Thaw by Steven Schnur is such an obvious choice with the gorgeous, pastoral setting and oil painted illustrations by Stacey Schuett and the light, quiet text. I discussed it more here.

 And Then It’s Spring by Julie Fogliano and Erin Stead is one of those rare books that I bought at full price right when I saw it.  I was and still am enamored by the cadence and pacing of this book. I declare it to be a must have. When read properly, it’s bliss.

 At Grandpa’s Sugar Bush and/or  Sugarbush Spring by Marsha Wilson Chall.  Any beginning of spring list should include at least one title about tapping maple trees.  Both of these are great choices in their own right. Rich, luscious artwork, either title will make non-New Englanders wish they could trample the slushy snow and tap trees. If I had to choose one, I’d only be able to base it on whether I wanted my child to identify with the female or male voice. Now if anyone reading this happens to know or get a hold of The Sugaring-Off Party, please let me know what you think! I’m dying to see those folksy illustrations up close.

 You’re probably familiar with the winter delight, Owl Moon, but did you know about Goose Moon by Carolyn Arden and Jim Postier? The story kicks off with winter coming when geese fly southward and a little girl enjoys the season of sledding and fun. But eventually it gets tiresome and she longs for springtime. Her grandpa tells her how we can tell spring is coming and the story ends with the arrival of a very special moonlit moment.

 Sun Bread by Elisa Kleven. Another one heavy on the excellent rhyme and meter, I’m in love with this book. A town needs to shake off the cold and positively FORCE springtime into existence with the baking of sun bread. The always enchanting Kleven illustrations bring this one alive.

 When Spring Comes by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock traipses through the various (19th century) activities a girl longs for while she waits for the sun to return after winter. This is also illustrated by Stacey Scheuett who did Spring Thaw. I like the easy amount of text that stands back just enough to let the gorgeous illustrations tell the story.

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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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