Tag Archives: must-haves

All Things Folk Tales

What is a folk tale?

folk tales

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I just wanted to take some time to celebrate how much I love folk tales in our home. I don’t fully understand why, but stories like The Three Little Pigs or Henny Penny are just timeless and my children love them in the same way I loved them when I was a child.

We always enjoy new library books we find with fun stories or beautiful illustrations (Honestly my favorite genre to enjoy ‘new’ is picture book biographies; the most brilliant books in this area have all tended to be published in the last 15-20 years and they are often only getting better!) but there is something about classic, simple stories that have been told for centuries to America’s children.

I often use folk tales to practice my oral storytelling skills to my children. I know most of them by heart and find it fairly easy to tell them from memory, with a few colorful details and voices, at times when oral stories want to be told. My children find it incredibly entertaining/impressive if I can whip out a story from my head at bedtime. I love being able to switch things up and embellish characters and practice excellent eye contact and facial expressions that my kids wouldn’t get in the standard written story.  Something about storytelling… I feel like different parts of the brain and heart are engaged when I do this and folk tales allow me to have an instant stock of base material from which I can draw.

I wanted to share one very awesome book with you that we recently discovered: The Folk Tale Classics Treasury  is brought to you by my favorite folk teller: Paul Galdone. The reason we love Galdone is that he is no-nonsense. He tells the story perfectly and faithful to tradition and he illustrates them simply. Now, I’m someone whose heart rate speeds up and practically salivates when she sees glorious, intricate illustrations like those done by Bimba Landmann or Kinuko Craft.  But those would not be fitting for the golden simplicity of The Three Billy Goats Gruff. I mean, it’d probably look brilliant. But I wonder if it would just be too distracting from the story. Not all picture books need to be a six course, high feast… sometimes a simple bowl of oatmeal is perfectly satisfying in and of themselves.  Anyway, this treasury by Galdone is a gem because the stories are the originals that can be found in his stand-alone books and the illustrations are a generous full page, unlike the squished format found in so many picture book anthologies or treasuries.  The book would be an exquisite gift to anyone looking to kickstart a beautiful library for a child.

Another way to get your hands on some of the best folk tales (for cheap!) is to look at some of the classic Golden Books like The Little Red Hen, The Three Bears, or The Saggy Baggy Elephant.

Lastly, it’s such a fantastic experience to expose our kids to the folk traditions of other cultures. We adore Erik Kimmel’s treatment of Anansi the Spider the most in his books like this and subsequent titles.  And Isaac Bashevis Singer is another international storyteller favorite around here. And I would be remiss if I forgot to mention The Story of Little Babaji which my own mother read to me a hundred times and I loved it every, single time.

In subsequent posts, I’ll talk about fairy tales, fables, myths, etc… but for now, I hope you all take a minute to read (or tell!) a folk tale to your child today and appreciate their place in our cultural traditions. The simplicity and goodness of these stories are things that will stay with your child for their entire lives. Happy storytelling!

“For most of human history, ‘literature,’ both fiction and poetry, has been narrated, not written — heard, not read. So fairy tales, folk tales, stories from the oral tradition, are all of them the most vital connection we have with the imaginations of the ordinary men and women whose labor created our world.”
― Angela Carter

 

 

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Summer Pursuits

girl readingSome people categorize reading books as escapism or a guilty pleasure.  For me, reading is more like the necessities of breathing or eating or sleeping. Summer reading just means more time to give to the pursuit of a life fully lived since I’m not putting as much time into homeschooling. And all readers know that so many dimensions of the experience of life can only be found by crawling inside the written word of another person’s intellect or imagination.

There are lots of summer “must read” lists already circulating online so I won’t bother tampering with those. But I can share what has my attention right now. The books I’m reading (and yes, I habitually read multiple titles at once, alternating to accommodate various moods or circumstances) are what I consider pursuits to knowledge or leisure or empathy… not mere escapes!

I purchased this in 2013 and started it in February of this year. It’ll surpass Anna Karenina to claim the prize as the heftiest book I’ve ever read.  It is supremely satisfying with one of the most accomplished character developments and writing styles I’ve ever known, but it’s heavy. And I’ve taken frequent, extended breaks from it to dive into lighter literature…

 

 

I started The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books a couple months ago and have found them to be light but soulful… and outside of my usual spectrum of interest. Something about how Smith writes about Botswana just makes me pause and deliberate a little bit more in my own life. This title will be the third one I’ve read in the series.

 

 

What a vanilla title on a book that is bursting with excellence! I thought this would be your run of the mill “love your vocation” books and almost didn’t give it a shot. But I’m so thankful I read it. And I plan on buying and re-reading it periodically in my life. There is so much goodness here on the DUTY Christians have to create a beautiful life and to use their gifts.  This is written by the mother of Susan Shaeffer MacCauley who wrote the excellent For the Children’s Sake.  I consider The Hidden Art of Homemaking as mandatory reading now and wish I would’ve found it years ago…
I just started this book and have such high hopes for it already.  I first learned about Etty from Fr. Jacques Philippe in a footnote from Time for God (Seriously, do yourself a favor and read every book this man has ever written please. ) and immediately felt a weird supernatural connection to this woman based on what very little I knew about her.  I’m not sure what it is yet, but I suspect that I have a Russian-Dutch-Jewish soul sister here.  More on that later…

 

I really hope to squeeze this one in before summer’s over also.  My sister gave it to me for my birthday and I’ve desperately wanted to spend some time studying the art of storytelling… something about the oral narrative tradition being lost in today’s world really resonates with me and Sawyer’s book seems like a great place to start.

 

 Eww! Ick! Hiss!  I loathe books that contain photographs on the covers!!!  It is the single most deadly of the 7 deadly publishing sins (a riveting post coming up soon…) for all the offenses against imagination it strikes!  But alas, the Eliot Family Trilogy came back into print and the most affordable way to purchase these books is to get the new editions. I finished Pilgrim’s Inn (aka The Herb of Grace) this spring and found it even better than the original book The Bird in the Tree (and you really do need to start there.  Anyway, Goudge is probably in my top three favorite fiction authors of all time (outside the picture book world that is…) and this series was sort of her magnum opus in my opinion. Luckily, she’s fairly prolific and I can’t wait to work through all her books.

 

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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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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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Subtlety and Christmas Mice

I can’t tell you how many books there are out there that forget what I think is the point of a picture book: to engage a child’s imagination in a beautiful way.  I suppose the logic is that if you put some colorful characters on paper, a child will be more receptive to the “message” that the author wants to get across.  The effect of this is thousands of well-meaning but poorly executed books on manners, virtues, going to the doctor, anger therapy, and yes even (maybe especially!) religion.

I always find it such a joy to discover a book where the “message” may be there, but it is so artfully made that the story is engaging enough without having to convince children to pick it up and read it.  The message may be obvious as in the exquisite What Do You Say, Dear? and What Do You Do, Dear? books… where manners are taught but in such an unexpected and fun way that a child simply has to love it.  Or there are other books which weave in a message within the story without preaching at the child.  Think of Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs which isn’t designed to be a bereavement therapy program… but it is nonetheless.  This is where the art of subtlety comes in.  Some authors have it. Others don’t.

A relevant case right now is in the world of Christmas picture books. I think there are many categories of books—indeed something to suit everyone— within this genre and all have their place, whether you’re looking for a beautifully illustrated Nativity story or a thought provoking piece of history.  But I’ve slowly come to realize something about myself in this category: my very favorite books are ones that are fun or sweet but have a hint toward the spiritual meaning of the holiday. I don’t necessarily need the full blown preaching on the gift of Jesus. I don’t need the tear jerker “true spirit of Christmas” charity-toward-the-poor or the be-kind-to-others story. I don’t even need the cutesy board books so much.  What I do need… what are my very favorites… are the picture books that tell a lovely story and then somehow the reader is left with a little warm feeling inside that there is something special going on here. And the child doesn’t need to be told how to felt. And the child may feel just a twinge of wonder after the book is closed.  It’s the same way I feel about music. My very favorite music is definitely not overtly “Christian”… but it is heartfelt and full of depth and meaning and the complexity of human nature. Off the top of my head, when I think of the Christmas books in this category they mostly involve the humble little mouse! How funny that mice are such dear, beloved creatures warming their cute paws by the fire in picture books… but in real life they are loathed and hunted. But I digress:

Mousekin’s Christmas Eve
Mortimer and the Christmas Manger (a quite similar book to Mousekin, only newer and cheaper)
The Little Drummer Mouse
Drummer Boy (not a mouse… but a wee, dear toy instead)

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Transitioning to Winter…

I love the shifting of seasons.  Sometimes it happens slowly and the leaves deepen in hue and drop off one by one… other times it’s an abrupt wake-up call and a brave little iris is poking its head out of the cold ground.  Here in the Pacific Northwest, we were enjoying a normal, wet, mild, windy fall when all of a sudden the bitter cold came yesterday and left a quarter inch of snow dusting the ground.  Winter already?  I marvel in the rhythms of nature… and so many picture books do too.  I have Top Ten lists for all the seasons already, limited though they are. But we all know there exist a myriad of books that really hinge on a very specific part of the season, specifically its inception.  Best are the books emphasizing the beginning of spring and the beginning of winter.  Summer and Fall (well, there is the blooming “harvest time” genre…) are not as common for some reason, at least it seems to me…

Anyway, I read a book that’s new this year that made me think of all my favorite “transitioning to winter” titles.  The book is this one:

Winter is Coming

… and it is stunning.  It might well be my favorite book of the year.  I just love the tone; it’s poetic without being contrived and Jim La Marche could not have been a better illustrator for this book.  The whole story is simply a young girl watching wildlife and how they respond to the shifting of seasons.  In many ways, I was struck by how it felt like the female version of The Raft.  In that book, Winter Is Coming is going on my gifting ideas list because it is just beautiful.
The story is developed in a traditional way but the similarities between a child sketching wildlife in opposite seasons was wonderful; they’d make a great side-by-side comparison for the enterprising teacher.

A couple of the other books that I cherish this time of year are sadly out of print.  All can be found in my local library however, so I suspect they’re available in others.  One is called Waiting for Winter and it is glorious and messy and funny and endearing.  I can’t fathom why it went out of print so soon!  Meschenmoser illustrated it in sparse colors with a scribblish technique that captures the bitter end of fall so well. The little squirrel is waiting for snow and trying to figure out what exactly it’ll be like…

Snowsong Whistling is another one of my favorites because Elisa Kleven is like the bacon of the picture book world… add her illustrations to anything and it’ll turn out amazing.  In this book, the world again waits for the first snow and spritely verses dance across the pages as winter knocks at the door.

Still in the OUT OF PRINT world, there are other goodies also… like Hurry Hurry Mary Dear a very fun book about Mary running about tucking things in, getting ready for the big, blustery winter on its way.  The book is really an depiction of what illustrator Erik Blevgard calls a “domestic drama” but it sure is fun to be watching it all unfold!

So there you are… the best of the “transition” books in my opinion…

 “The quiet transition from autumn to winter is not a bad time at all. It’s a time for protecting and securing things and for making sure you’ve got in as many supplies as you can. It’s nice to gather together everything you possess as close to you as possible, to store up your warmth and your thoughts and burrow yourself into a deep hole inside, a core of safety where you can defend what is important and precious and your very own. Then the cold and the storms and the darkness can do their worst. They can grope their way up the walls looking for a way in, but they won’t find one, everything is shut, and you sit inside, laughing in your warmth and your solitude, for you have had foresight.” 
-Tove Jansson
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A Picture Book Thanksgiving

In nearly thirteen years of married life, I have cooked exactly one turkey.  Thursday will mark my second attempt. I say attempt because the first was a failure of significant proportions. We went to a local farm on the island we lived on and agreed to pay a pretty price for one of the turkeys trotting about the premises.  Part of the agreement was that my husband and sons would get to come help kill the bird so our children would know that food doesn’t come from a freezer and we support a local economy, etc.  Lofty goals…

The bird was slaughtered; defeathered and sent home with excited young eyeballs proud to call it our own. I had never cooked a turkey before so I just winged it (I’m so punny!)… thinking it would be hard to screw up.  Well, I screwed it up.  Birds that have room to roam are ipso facto leaner birds. The meat needed a little bit of TLC to get that famous “Butterball” taste I was used to.  I didn’t really know what I was doing and we gnawed on tough meat with sacrificial spirits, rather than thankful ones… thinking about how much money we spent on this ‘quality’ ‘local’ meat.  At least the pie was good…

But I digress. We’ve somehow managed to get invited elsewhere or visit family for most of our other Thanksgiving holidays and so I’ve no real experience in developing solid family traditions for this day.  I am asked to please make sure Great-Grandma’s Sweet Potato Casserole gets made but everything else can pretty much come or go any given year.  Perhaps that’s why I’m not particularly excited about Thanksgiving-themed picture books.  I just don’t get really jazzed up about this holiday for some reason.  I have precisely the books I want to have and am not really licking my chops hunting for the newer and better ones that I’m certain exist (google “Thanksgiving picture books” and you’ll get an eyeful if you want).

So, realizing there has been a void in Thanksgiving posts since I started this blog 3 years ago, I’ll share with you what I have and a brief bit about why I have them, just for my die-hard dozen of curious people. But know that this isn’t a comprehensive list of all great books out there for Turkey Day by any stretch of the imagination.  I read these during the week prior to Thursday.

Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving: This gives the story of Squanto obviously and I like having a first person focus for this story. It’s well done and offers a friendly bit of truth regarding Spanish Catholic monks that isn’t too common to see in secular history accounts.

The Thanksgiving Story: Tells the tale. The text is a tad lengthy but the art style is beautiful as to be expected.  This is the “official story” book I go to. This year, I’m reading it over a couple days as part of our school’s morning basket.

Cranberry Thanksgiving: I love Cranberry-ville! This is fun and fresh and not focused on the history at all.  Vintage… happy that Purple House Press brought these back in print.

Mousekins Thanksgiving: I wish Mousekin was back in print; he’s a Charlotte Masoner’s dream! This is a gentle tale, full of natural goodness typical of Mousekin and ends in a satisfying and sweet way that captures the ‘spirit’ of Thanksgiving generosity.

Three Young Pilgrims. For my younger children specifically to get a taste of history with the personal narrative to go with it.  It’s colorful and engaging.

N.C. Wyeth’s Pilgrims: I bought this when we were studying N.C. Wyeth as an artist.  The story is a faithful rendition of the original history but I really don’t make a point to read from this book so much as to just enjoy the pictures (Though the scene is picturesque and romanticized a bit, it’s still a good piece of Americana to get nostalgic about).

The Thanksgiving Door: Something off the beaten path a bit and full of Thanksgiving “spirit” again.  I like to find tales that get a new angle on this holiday because there’s only so many books you can read about the history before your eyes blur over.

p.s. Regarding seasonal out of print books. If you don’t already know this, they are horrifyingly overpriced when it gets close to that season.  Do not shop for OOP holiday books in the same month that the holiday is celebrated.  I buy my OOP Christmas books no later than October and shake my head as prices skyrocket just weeks later… so you have to think ahead of the game a little bit. 

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The Best Treasuries, Sets and Collections

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

BOARD BOOK SETS

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

PICTURE BOOK SETS or ANTHOLOGIES

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER BOOK SETS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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