Tag Archives: must-reads

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




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.



7 Picture Books for Grads

High school graduates throwing their mortarboards in the air --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

On graduation day, many people turn to the old standby of Oh, The Places You’ll Go! for a sweet gift to inspire those stepping into the world.  It’s a great book, to be sure, but I guarantee you that if it’s all wrapped up in a nice flat package, everyone will know what it is already.  Consider a book that is just slightly “left-of-expected” to inspire and encourage people of all ages.  Any of these titles below would be excellent for teens leaving junior high all the way thru post-grad students!

What Do You Do With an Idea? For innovators. For inventors. For artists. For thinkers. For all human beings who have the capacity for amazing potential but need a little encouragement to realize their dreams. The book touches on how to deal with people who’ll tell you your ideas are no good, and how to make your idea grow (spend time with it and feed it good food of course!)  A very inspiring sort of book…



If You’re Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow by Cooper Edens.  This treasure is sadly out of print but it’s well worth a dedicated hunt. I was given this book on my 16th birthday and it has stayed with me for years. It is perfect and whimsical and thoughtful.  “If tomorrow morning, the sky falls… have clouds for breakfast.  If you have butterflies in your stomach… invite them into your heart.”  Just a delight all around. One of my all time favorites.



Everything I Need To Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book (Little Golden Books. This is perfect for parents to give their (grown) children who were raised on Little Golden Books. It features all the best of illustrators like Eloise Wilkins, Garth Williams, Richard Scarry etc. along with sweet little reminders on how to get the most out of life…


 Just For Today is the new release by illustrator Bimba Landmann, of whom I am an admiring fan. It takes the words from St. John XXIII’s famous decalogue (also used by AA) and puts them into picture book form in an offbeat but reverent way.  It starts with  Just for today, I will seek to live the livelong day positively without wishing to solve the problems of my life all at once.” And ends with: “Just for today, I will have no fears. In particular, I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and to believe in goodness. Indeed, for twelve hours I can certainly do what might cause me consternation were I to believe I had to do it all my life.” Wise words for all of us…


Maps is your treat for the up and coming world traveler or your domestic, wanna-be world traveler. I spent the better part of an hour oohing and ahhing over this book and drinking in the wonderful little interpretations by Aleksandra Mizielinska. Each page is a gorgeous spread filled with factual and beautiful details… all done in a whimsical, but not exclusively childish way.



 So Few of Me by Peter Reynolds is the book I would give someone like myself— someone who feels like the enormity of her to-do list is beyond her and wants a clone.  Well, the child in this book gets a clone… and then some, to help him with everything to do. In a busy, frenetic world, this simple book steps back and reminds us of the very profound idea that we don’t need to do more or BE more: “What if we did less… but did our best?”



 Whatever You Are, Be a Good One: 100 Inspirational Quotations Hand-Lettered by Lisa Congdon. Admittedly, this is cheating. It’s not technically designed for children… but it sure is lovely. And it’s perfect for inspiring people (okay, frankly… girls) who are headed into the world.  Many of the quotes in here are ones I’d want to cut out and frame and hang on my wall… because I like the quote, I like the person who said it and I like the art: case in point: “Believe there is a great power silently working all things for good, behave yourself and never mind the rest.”  —Beatrix Potter.




Fear-mongering and the Price of Community

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a community. (In the upcoming issue of Soul Gardening, I have an article about one unexpected aspect of my life as an urban dweller. Tune in for that!) Of course we have the community of believers, and we have the community (be it ever so fluid) of family. But what about the literal, physical community in our neighborhoods?  How has that changed over time? I think we could all agree that it has changed drastically.  Not least of the reasons being due to global connectivity and the greater access to social networks which have the counter-intuitive effect of actually isolating us more.  Despite being more connected than ever, our communities seem to be more withdrawn than ever… not from other communities necessarily, but from the individual. Having the security of their families and friends on their online network, families often close in on themselves away from the neighborhood around them.


illustration by Elisa Kleven in One Little Chicken.

Something else that I also think has had a large effect on community is what I personally see as an overblown concept of “stranger danger.” All parents can share stories of what things were like when they were kids—being allowed to roam the woods all the live long day, riding bikes across town at the age of seven, being able to eat homemade candies from strangers etc. While there were certainly “bad guys” back then, the dangers children faced certain seem to be far fewer than they are now. Today, we parents are fiercely protective. All Halloween candy gets inspected. Children are not allowed to talk to strangers. They are not allowed out of our eye sight in public places.  They are most certainly not allowed to roam the live long day in the woods! Don’t they know there are drunken predators lurking in there just waiting for innocent children to come along!!!  And while I don’t want to trivialize the very real gravity of childhood abduction or sexual exploitation that does exist and that does seem to make all the news headlines, it needs to be put in its proper place.


The Little House by Virgina Lee Burton

The polarities are frigid, extreme places to dwell after all. While there is a grave danger of being a helicopter parent—hovering constantly over your children to protect them from every physical and emotional danger, it’s similarly dangerous to just abandon your kids to be formed by whatever influences they find in the streets also. Where is the happy medium? I believe with all my heart that the happy medium is not in trying to control our environments so much as it is in trying to control ourselves and our relationships with our kids. Statistically speaking, children who have loving, healthy relationships with their parents are much less likely to fall victim to predators. The ‘bad guys’ know this too; a child who is likely to tell mom and dad everything, who is secure in who they are and where they come from, will be a lot harder to abuse than kids from damaged homes where the parents are either absent, negligent or abusive themselves. Sadly those homes are far too common in society but we can only do our part to shape what we can.

I don’t really believe there are more bad guys looking to steal our kids now than there were in the 1950s (or even 80s). But what can we do to stay properly vigilant without becoming paranoid parents?! Forbidding children to talk to strangers or to go out alone in their neighborhoods inherently means they know their neighbors less, their communities less. And this will perhaps develop into a whole generation of individuals that do not have any sort of vested interest in protecting and nurturing their communities. Our children will grow up as people who have a very carefully guarded network of acceptable acquaintances and indirectly taught to view everyone else with either disinterest or suspicion. The consequences of what this means for us as a nation can’t be understated. How can we expect our little birds to grow their wings and fly when we are constantly forbidding them to fall from the nest?


Seriously. Just read it.

They have to be proactively taught awareness (not fear) and how to handle situations that they may face. We’ve had uncomfortable conversations with our children starting at a very young age about “What to do if…” situations.  They weren’t fun to talk about and it hurt me to even think about someone trying to abuse or abduct my children, but I am confident that our children will know what to do if God-forbid a situation like that arises. We live in an urban area. There are some seedy characters in our neighborhood. Crime happens here. Sometimes we even put the children on house arrest while an incident is taking place outside. Some people I know raise eyebrows that I let my 8 year old walk to the church alone even though it’s only one block away and within sight of our house. I also let the boys ride their bikes around our neighborhood and play with children in the park that I don’t know. And as I type this, my boys are sleeping in a homemade teepee right there in my yard where the derelicts could find them if they wanted to. God have mercy.


Belonging by Jeannie Baker

“Pray. Hope. And don’t worry.” Therein lies our solution. But the solution won’t look the same for all of us. We have to be at peace, not live in fear and trust our instincts. Every parent has to decide for themselves just what temperature of ‘free range’ they’re willing to allow. Like homeschooling or vaccinating or gluten-free eating, this is not a faith issue… and we need to remember that. It’s a parenting issue and we ought to do our best to give people the benefit of the doubt that they want what’s best for their children and are doing the best they can. That said, however, I do hope to see some deliberate efforts made to refocus on the concept of community living be it in a rural, urban or suburban setting. Being local and sustainable and community oriented isn’t just for the progressive, hipster demographics. We all need to have a vested interest in the people around us and in the place we live… not just to teach good stewardship of our community, but to foster real and meaningful relationships with people of all ages, sizes and colors in face-to-face encounters. That’s how we plumb the depths of the human experience; that’s how we can know the many faces of God.


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. * * *



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.

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!


Easter Basket Board Books…

Eloise Wilkins. Garth Williams. Tibor Gergely. The Provensens. These are the names of some of the best illustrators in Golden Books history.  Some of the old Golden Books are superb. And publishers are now waking up to the fact that we MISS those books, so they are slowly bringing back into print some of the nostalgic pieces of yesteryear. We are happy.

What is even happier is when the Golden Books upgrade from their fairly fragile spines to the sturdiness of board books! Here is a list of some of these board books that are the best of that grouping… the ones that are readily available to arrive in prompt shipping style for a certain upcoming holiday (other little treasures can, of course, be found and patiently waited for from third party sellers…)


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… 


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.


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.