Wednesday, December 31, 2008

This Blog Post Was Brought to You by the Makers of the Venn Diagram

My mom and I took the kids to see The Tale of Despereaux on Monday afternoon. Altogether we had four kids with us. They all enjoyed the popcorn. Apologies to the movie theater staff for the copious amounts left on the floor! All four kids enjoyed the movie, although they found it sad and scary at parts. Of the six of us, only my daughter and I had read the book. On the drive home, Hayden spent a good deal of time listing the differences between the book and movie. In her opinion, the book was better. She felt the movie was less frightening than the book. Roscuro gets too sympathetic a treatment in the film according to my pint sized critic. The council meeting was different in the film. The circumstances of how Miggory Sow ended up at the castle are different. Her list went on and on. At the same time, there were many similarities. Hayden was emphatic that it was a good thing Despereaux kept his extremely large ears for the film version. She was so strong on this point I imagine she might have stalked out of the theater had a small eared mouse appeared on the screen. The best part of the comparison Hayden made is that it piqued my sons' curiosity about the book. Perhaps they will want to read it. It also got my older son to comment how amazing it is that Kate DiCamillo could write two books so different as Because of Winn Dixie, which he has read, and The Tale of Despereaux.

By the way, did you know there was an actual John Venn? He introduced his diagrams back in 1880, or so my friends at Wikipedia tell me.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Plea for Help

Dear Internet,

I am in desperate need of your assistance! Please help me find a book that will convince my nine year old son of the importance of nicely written thank you notes. It would be perfect if the book illustrates how writing such notes will make a boy taller, faster, better at video games, or something similar. He has not been convinced by arguments about good manners and writing practice. It need not be long. In fact, brevity would be welcomed so said boy can get back to doing the "millions of other better things" he could be doing in lieu of writing thank you notes. It would be helpful, but not necessary, if the book could stress the importance of good penmanship. No one expects the flourishes and sketches produced joyfully on thank you notes by a certain eight year old girl we know, but legibility is always appreciated.
If you know of such a volume, please alert The Book Bench ASAP.
Gratefully (and desperately),
Christine Burt

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire

This blog is intended to be about the things my family is reading. Sometimes my posts are only tenuously linked to our reading. This one isn't about our reading at all. Well, how about this? Let me say I am glad my husband and I didn't stay home and read last night. We went to see Slumdog Millionaire, and we both loved it. It is visually stunning, breath taking at times. It is, by turns, exhilarating, painfully sad, raw, and wonderful. I can honestly say it is the best movie I have seen in at least eleven years. (We were out for our eleventh wedding anniversary.) Wait, I can connect this a little closer to reading. Slumdog Millionaire is based on a book, Q & A, but I don't think I want to read it. I want the story to stay in my brain exactly as it is.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Warm Little Tree to Share

This small book, Little Tree, written by e.e. cummings and illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray, is so sweet and warm that I actually expect the pages to be warm to the touch like a mug of cocoa or a slice of buttery toast. The text is e. e. cummings' lovely poem in which a child addresses a Christmas tree. It begins, "little tree, little silent Christmas tree, you are so little, you are more like a flower." The boy goes on to wonder if the tree was sorry to leave the green forest, and comforts it with offers of a hug and a kiss and decorations. He says "look the spangles, that sleep all the year in a dark box, dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine." He tells the tree to put up its arms to be dressed and he and his sister will sing Noel.
The gentle words are matched with soft illustrations which depict a young boy and girl bundled up against the cold bringing a little tree home from the lot, decorating it, and setting it in their front window for passersby to admire.
I've had my copy of this book for nine or ten years, and I've read it over the years to students and my own children. I've never focused on the setting. A recent visit to my son's suburban kindergarten class gave me another way to discuss it. The teacher was talking to the students at circle time about books that are set in cities and apartments. Apartment living seemed so glamorous to that group of five year olds. They mentioned two of my favorites, Knufflebunny and Corduroy. When we took Little Tree out this year, we talked about the setting. My kids think it is set either in Hoboken, NJ or my brother's Brooklyn neighborhood. It started us wondering how people in different parts of our country and world might decorate for the holidays. Isn't it great when an old favorite can inspire new conversations?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Pop Go the Holidays

The ultimate Christmas book to me is a pop up book. We've all seen pop up versions of The Night Before Christmas and The Twelve Days of Christmas and the like. Pop up books make great gifts as well. Robert Sabuda is, of course, the master of the holiday pop up book. My daughter has his version of Alice in Wonderland, a gift from her aunt and uncle, that is a source of endless wonder and fascination to her. He has a great segment floating around the internet from Martha Stewart's show where he teaches Martha to make a pop up Christmas card. Although you kind of always get the sense that Martha is not being taught anything new by anyone and could have figured it out on her own. It was educational to me though. Anyway, since pop up books say Christmas to me and I love all of you for stopping by at this busy time of year, but I don't know where you all live to send you gifts, this video is my little Christmas present to you. I've picked up this book ABC3D at the bookstore and played with it. It's addictive, I warn you. Happy viewing!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Six or seven inches of snow fell in my neck of the woods yesterday. And I do mean woods. We are incredibly blessed to live in a house in the woods. Those woods are especially beautiful to me in fog and snow. My kids are more interested in the snow. They spent hours yesterday sledding, making snow angels, and clomping through the woods in their snowboots. I did some shoveling and took a few pictures, but spent most of the day indoors, enjoying looking out the window at flying flakes and laughing children. When I was outside though, the kids and I recited bits of Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." We keep a magical picture book version of it in our living room. The illustrations by Susan Jeffers really capture the peaceful quiet of the poem. When I went looking for a picture of the book's cover to post, I found this page from the book first. It should give you a good idea of how excellent the illustrations are, and it contains my favorite bit from the poem, "The woods are lovely, dark and deep." Here's wishing you a snow day soon!

Friday, December 19, 2008

What The World Eats for Foodie Friday

This is a long post, but I cannot restrain myself. This book is too amazing to be brief.
Back when I was teaching high school English literature, creative writing, and journalism, a social studies teaching friend of mine and I used to say we could easily use The New York Times in place of textbooks to teach our courses. I don't think this was a lack of humility on our parts; rather we felt the Times provided such a daily wealth of material that we'd have more than enough from which to lesson plan. Sometimes at lunch we'd point out articles or features that would be great to use in other disciplines as well, let's say an article from the Science Times section for a health class. It was a fun mental exercise.
Recently, I've come across a book that I am convinced every school teacher in America, from kindergarten through high school could make use of. It wouldn't substitute for a textbook, but it would be a wonderful supplementary material. What the World Eats by Peter Menzel and Faith D'Alusio could easily be used to help teach biology, chemistry, math, nutrition, geography, sociology, writing, public speaking, art, music, economics, world languages, health, and much more.
What the World Eats is a child friendly version of 2005's Hungry Planet: What the World Eats. Peter Menzel took stunning photographs and Faith D'Alusio wrote the informative text for this gorgeous book in which they visit 25 families in 21 countries to document what each family eats in a typical week. Each chapter begins with a photograph of a family surrounded by their groceries for a week. To look at those 25 portraits alone is fascinating. My children and their friends who have picked up this book immediately begin comparing the diets of these families to their own. They quickly notice that families from countries with lower incomes rely heavily on grains, fruits and vegetables. They easily see that families from wealthier countries consume more meats, dairy products, packaged foods and beverages.
Each chapter includes interviews with the families and detailed grocery lists, broken down by type, cost, and quantity. Each chapter places the featured country on a world map and presents facts such as population, average income, and life expectancy. There are also photos of the families obtaining the food (whether at a supermarket, open air market, or on a seal hunt), preparing it, and eating it. This too is quite enlightening to young readers.
As I've said, What the World Eats would make a great addition to any classroom library, but it would be equally at home on a coffee table or older child's bookshelf. Its information about nutrition and the global economy are timely and valuable, and the photographs are truly captivating.
My son happened to read the author blurb on the book's jacket and is very excited to check out another book by Menzel and D'Alusio, winner of the 1999 James Beard Award for References and Writings on Food. It's called Man Eating Bugs: The Art and Science of Eating Insects. Talk about a catchy title!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Well Stuffed Stocking

I love an old school Christmas stocking. Not one with an orange and some penny candy from the general store. That's a little too old school for me. I really feel Santa and the elves were at the top their stocking stuffing game in the 1970s. During that decade, my older brothers and I were always sure to find a candy cane, a Matchbox car (pink for me), an interesting coin like a silver or half dollar, a ChapStick, probably some Silly Putty or a bouncy ball, and various other small fun items in our stockings. That is exactly the kind of stocking I hope my kids will receive this year on Christmas morning, fat with hands on fun, and thin on electronic gadgetry. I imagine Santa might round out their state quarter collections with Hawaii. We'll see. They'll probably also each get a book or two. That's how Santa has been doing it for the 2000s. There have board books, easy readers, and first chapter books. One year, Dan Gutman's Miss Holly is Too Jolly was quite popular. His entire My Weird School series is terrific for first and second graders. If Santa wants to go old school, he might throw in a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys for the older kids. For my kindergartner there are several Christmas and wintry Geronimo Stilton and Jigsaw Jones books he could choose. New in paperback this year is Megan McDonald's holiday offering from the Judy Moody and Stink collection, The Holly Joliday. Santa has so many paperback books to choose from, but if he asked my advice, I would suggest Bart King's The Pocket Guide to Mischief. It is the perfect size to fit in the toe of a stocking, it is full of fun, and has a retro look and feel that make it seem like it belongs in one of those 1970s stockings that thrilled me so.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Oops! and Who Knew?

The picture I put up yesterday of Lang Lang's book was of a different book by Lang Lang. That's right; he's got more than one out. I wrote about Lang Lang: Journey of a Thousand Miles, but accidentally used a photo of Lang Lang: Playing with Flying Keys which is also an autobiography. This one was written with Michael French for a 9 to 12 year old audience.

Monday, December 15, 2008

My Husband and I: Like a Couple of Teenagers

Actually, my husband and I aren't very much like teenagers. Caring for a pair of sick kids, getting the Christmas decorations up, and dealing with a broken water tank made us seem more like a couple of grumpy old men this week. However, we each read biographies that would make good reading for teenagers. Bill read Lang Lang: Journey of a Thousand Miles written by the pianist Lang Lang with David Ritz. Bill found the story of this world renowned musician fascinating and said he learned a great deal about modern Chinese history and culture as well. It seems that Lang Lang's intense relationship with his father is at the heart of the book. I just finished The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts written by Tom Farley, Jr. and Tanner Colby. It too presents a successful performer affected by a complex father-son relationship. This is a funny and incredibly sad story which of course ends with Chris Farley's death from a drug overdose. It includes over a hundred interviews with Farley's family, friends, and coworkers, including his three brothers, David Spade, and Chris Rock. The interviews are pieced together seamlessly to make The Chris Farley Show read in an easy, chronological way.
My husband and I found ourselves telling bits of our books to each other and discussing the themes of fame and success over the last week or so as we read our separate books. Given the right book at the right time, that is how teenagers can act.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

T-Shirt Reader

I'm a fan of the well written t-shirt. It's an art form, really, to get a reaction such as a chuckle or an amen from as few words as can fit on the average t-shirt. I tend to like subtler ones that make you think, such as my son's t-shirt which says "Hockey" followed by a picture of an oscillating fan. Marathons (which I've cheered at , not competed in) are often good venues for clever ones, such as this on the back of a pink shirt, "If you can read this, you're being beat by a girl" or "Run like there's a sale at Kate Spade." But recently I got a big laugh out of a less subtle t-shirt that teacherninja at linked to. It hearkens back to the musical one hit wonder of the early 1990's by Sir Mix-A-Lot and reads, "I Like Big Books and I Cannot Lie." I think Santa needs to drop that under my tree, perhaps with some fat David McCullough tome to carry around in order to prove the point.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Fannie in the Kitchen on Foodie Friday

One of the first recipes I learned to make on my own was the one my mom uses to make peanut butter cookies. It comes from Marion Cunningham's Fannie Farmer Baking Book, and for years, the page of that recipe was marked by a piece of plastic. I think it was the corner my mom cut off a bag of brown sugar, one of that recipe's ingredients. It makes the most delicious peanut butter cookies I've ever tried. I always assumed that Fannie Farmer was a made up name like Betty Crocker or Aunt Jemima, and it wasn't until I read this wonderful picture book, Fannie in the Kitchen, by Deborah Hopkinson, that I learned differently. It is a sort of historical fiction picture book about Fannie Merritt Farmer who is responsible for creating modern recipes with standardized and levelled measurements. Rather than tell Fannie Farmer's entire life story, Hopkinson creates a story about Fannie working as a mother's helper and teaching Marcia, the daughter of the house, to cook and deal with the birth of a new baby in the house. Hopkinson does include that Farmer went on to write a book of recipes and to teach at the Boston Cooking School. Fannie Farmer's actual cooking tips are sprinkled throughout the book and an easy to follow recipe for griddle cakes is included at the end.
I must mention the excellent illustrations by Nancy Carpenter. They perfectly capture the feeling of the late 19th century. They have both a sense of authenticity and fun.
This is, to be honest, a book that will appeal more to girls than boys. The eight and 38 year old girls in my house just love it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How Great is This Cover?!

Sometimes you see a book's cover and you just have to read the book. I know absolutely nothing about this book except that I cannot wait to get my hands on it!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

God Bless Reading Teachers, Every One!

I've rewritten Tiny Tim's famous line for the title of this post because people who teach others to read give a priceless gift. We've been quite blessed in this family that my children have become strong, enthusiastic readers thanks to some awesome teachers. They are also much more sophisticated (?), reflective readers than I ever was at their age. I think that is in large part due to the way reading is taught in our school district. My kids have greatly benefited from mini lessons, reading workshops, and reading conferences with their teachers. While reading Raymond and Graham Rule the School the other night, my son said, "I can make a text to text connection between the character of Mrs. Gibson in this book and Spud Murphy in The Legend of Spud Murphy." Their reading lessons at school have given them the vocabulary to make text to text, text to self, and text to world connections. While they would still love when Spud Murphy "accidentally" gives Marty an I LOVE BARBIE hand stamp and when Graham shaves off his eyebrow, their reading is more meaningful when they make connections about these incidents. They are active readers, and I am so grateful for it. As I wrote yesterday, Raymond and Graham inspired my daughter to read a version of A Christmas Carol (nicely retold by Pamela Kennedy and illustrated by Carol Heyer). Now, no two books could be more different, but Hayden has learned from her teachers that reading one can enrich her appreciation of the other, and that inspired today's blog post. My son Aaron suggested that I attempt to make a plum pudding so they can eat it and make a text to self connection to both books, but they don't need that meaningful of a reading experience.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Raymond and Graham Rule the School

My kids and I needed a good book that they would all agree on for our nightly shared reading. Usually if a book is funny, they will all agree on it. I had heard about Raymond and Graham Rule the School by Mike Knudson and Steve Wilkinson a few months ago. It looked both good and funny so it would be perfect for us. Unfortunately, I had a hard time getting my hands on a copy. So, we read and enjoyed other books. Just as we finished one and planned to start reading a Christmasy chapter book, a copy of Raymond and Graham arrived for me at my library through an interlibrary loan. Since it is pretty short (136 pages) we decided to read it before the Christmas book. No one regrets the decision! What a fun book this is!
Best friends Raymond and Graham have been waiting for the fourth grade, their turn to rule East Millcreek Elementary School, for years. Only it doesn't turn out to be quite the perfect year they had imagined. There is an accidentally shaved off eyebrow, an embarrassing role in the school's production of A Christmas Carol, and a weekend of diarrhea brought on by way too much prune eating. Not surprisingly, the diarrhea humor was a big hit with my boys. My daughter chuckled along too and was inspired to read a picture book version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The chapter we are currently on, "A Sick Plan" involves Raymond attempting to catch a cold from a sick girl in his class. It is revoltingly hilarious.
I have a sense that the next book in the series, Raymond and Graham:Dancing Dudes, would be a welcome find under the Christmas tree for any one of my kids.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Foodie Friday: Gingerbread Round Up

(Gingerbread house picture courtesy of the Burt children)

For me, two of the most enjoyable activities in the weeks before Christmas are baking gingerbread cookies and decorating gingerbread houses. The smell of ginger, cloves, and cinnamon in the house and all of that candy to nibble is a little bit of heaven. It's nice to complete such an afternoon with reading some version of the gingerbread man story. There are many to choose from, but they all provide the satisfaction of seeing that impish, trash talking cookie get his comeuppance in the end. Here are three we've had fun reading over the years.

The Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett is as beautifully illustrated as all of her other books. There is a twist at the end; the gingerbread baby isn't eaten by a fox, but gets what's coming to him all the same for his mischief and taunting. It's worth noting that Jan Brett has a great website with many fun activities and printable pages at

The Gingerbread Boy by Richard Egielski remains true to the classic storyline, but is set in New York City. He eludes his captors by jumping off a fire escape, riding the E train and so forth, but eventually meets up with a fox in Central Park.

The Gingerbread Man by Jim Aylesworth and illustrated by Barbara McClintock is a good retelling which comes with a recipe. I just love a book that comes with a recipe!

These books are a yummy way to get into the holiday spirit and teach a lesson about the dangers of talking smack. Now, run, run, as fast as you can, and read a version of the gingerbread man!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Kindergarten Math and Alcohol Consumption

My youngest son is currently in kindergarten. He has a fantastic teacher. She is creative, energetic, experienced, organized, and fun. She also encourages parents to come in and volunteer with the class. I love going in there even though it often requires a few Excedrin on the way out. Obviously, I enjoy getting a glimpse of my son's day. I also think it is smart of the teacher to use parent volunteers to work one on one with the kids on crafts or to make copies or cut out project pieces. freeing up her time for the important business of teaching. Recently I showed up in the class for my scheduled volunteering, but the classroom was empty. The kids must have been on their way back from gym or art class. I stood awkwardly in the middle of the room for a minute or two. I certainly wasn't going to try to wedge myself Goldilocks-like in one of the kids' chairs, and it probably would have been too much of an invasion of space to sit in the teacher's chair. I wandered around the room and ended up in the Math Center. It held various manipulatives, toy money and clocks, and some interesting books. My favorite was Sorting, part of the Math Counts series by Henry Pluckrose. It reminded me of the kinds of conversations I should be having with my kindergartner but sometimes forget about in the rush to get everything done. We could talk about the groceries and how to sort them. By color? By temperature? By size? How should we sort laundry? Another way to introduce those mathematical concepts of classifying, sets, and subsets is to play the old game "Which one doesn't belong?" That used to be my favorite part on Sesame Street (Sing it with me. "One of these things is not like the others...").

That same wonderful teacher who allows me to come volunteer and poke around her classroom bookshelves sent home a neat "Thanksgiving Math" assignment last week. It was designed to get the children to see the numbers in any situation, even Thanksgiving dinner. Some questions from the assignment:

*How many people were at your Thanksgiving dinner? Children? Adults? In all? (24, by the way)

*How many turkeys did you have?

*How much did the turkey(s) weigh?

*What was the house number where you ate?

*What time did you eat dinner?

*How many kinds of pies were there?

God bless my family, my sister-in-law's family, and friends who patiently helped Ethan with the homework and allowed themselves to be interviewed about their favorite part of the turkey for the Turkey Graph section of the assignment. Let me say this about them though, it's a good thing the "Thanksgiving Math" sheet didn't ask these questions:

*How many bottles of wine were finished? Red? White? In all?

* How many beer bottles went out to the recycling bin?

*How many sambuca shots were thrown back?

Had those questions been asked and answered honestly, Ethan's counting skills would have gotten a good workout but there might have been a decrease in my appearances on the parent volunteer schedule.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Ridiculous Reading Memory

From seventh grade through high school graduation, I had tons of babysitting gigs. The hands down best was watching the two little boys that lived a few houses away from my family. First, because when the parents came home, the mom would pay me and I could walk home in less than sixty seconds. I could avoid the whole awkwardly quiet drive home with a dad. The second great thing about that house was that there was a sewing/storage room with walls of bookshelves that held hundreds of paperback romance novels. They were all bodice rippers featuring wealthy landowners, shipping captains, powerful businessmen and naive but passionate heroines. I would hustle those two boys into bed, pour a tall glass of Coke, fill a bowl with potato chips, and get reading for hours. It never bothered me that the story was always the same with just different settings and names. Nope, I was in it for the flirting, the heaving chests, straining breeches, bruising kisses, and tender embraces. Talk about guilty pleasures and escapist fiction! It was bliss!

This memory of mine was inspired by the Tuesday Writing Prompts over at

Monday, December 1, 2008

7 Ways We Used "The Night Before Christmas" and Not One of Them Was "Reading Material"

Thanksgiving is behind us, the lights are on our house, gingerbread houses have been decorated. It's time to start reading those classic Christmas books with the kids, right? Sort of. One of my children took Clement C. Moore's The Night Before Christmas illustrated by Mary Engelbreit down from the shelf last week. We never got around to reading it, but we did use it in the following ways:

1. Lap Desk It ended up in the minivan (everything we own ends up in the minivan), and my daughter used it as a hard surface on which to write out her homework. That's right, homework gets done in the minivan also.

2. Artist's inspiration The same child who used it for homework also used it when looking for a model from which to draw Santa Claus.

3. Weapon The hard cover and substantial weight made it a good choice for my five year old when he chose something to pick up and whack his brother's butt with.

4. Object of delusion I kept telling myself it wound be the linchpin in a cozy evening of hot cocoa and snuggling together for a good book. Didn't happen.

5. Paper flattener It flattened a Thanksgiving drawing that came out of a backpack all wrinkled and "ruined" last Wednesday. After a few hours in this book, the drawing was good as new!

6. Bribe I tried in vain several times to say, "If you'll just ___________ or____________. we can drink hot cocoa and read some good books later. See #4- it didn't happen.

7. Upper arm workout Carrying this book along with other books, hockey equipment, and backpacks in and out of the car and up and down stairs hopefully provided my upper arms with some desperately needed definition.

A Merry December to all and to all a good night!

Check out more lists over at

Friday, November 28, 2008

Foodie Babies Wear Bibs on Foodie Friday

Today's Foodie Friday pick is for the babies in the house! Toddlers too. Come to think of it, it's a pretty good gift for foodie parents and parents-to-be as well. It is part of the Urban Babies Wear Black series of board books written by Michelle Sinclair Colman and illustrated with hip, retro-inspired flair by Nathalie Dion. On each page, babies are featured in foodie pursuits such as enjoying finger foods and small plates, dining al fresco and and touring farmer's markets. Of course the farmer's market trip is undertaken in a backpack carrier and the al fresco dining is done in a stroller. This book is bound to appeal to babies and toddlers because other babies and toddlers are their own movie stars. Push any newly speaking baby through the mall and he or she will excitedly point and shout "Baby!Baby!" every time one passes in the same way I would shout "Brad Pitt!" if I saw him strolling through the mall. So it's a given that Foodie Babies Wear Bibs will appeal to babies for the subject of the illustrations and to grownups for their style. I particularly like the page where we learn that foodie babies know their way around the kitchen, and the baby is sitting in the cabinet of a gorgeously decorated kitchen playing with pots and pans.

Any one of the books in this series would pair nicely with a baby shower gift. This one would be lovely, of course, with bottles, sippy cups, baby utensils, a high chair and so on. Winter Babies Wear Layers would wrap up nicely with a snowsuit or hat. Eco Babies Wear Green is begging to be gifted with onesies made from recycled or sustainable fabric. You get the idea.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hee Hee- Thanksgiving Version

What sound do turkeys make in outer space?
hubble, hubble, hubble
What did the widow turkey say to her naughty son?
If your father could see you, he'd turn over in his gravy!
What do you get if you cross a turkey with a bottle of glue?
Why did the turkey stuffing go on strike?
It wanted a higher celery!
The last two jokes came from Turkey Riddles, an easy reader from Puffin Books by Katy Hall and Lisa Eisenberg. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Thanksgiving Visitor

If you read just one story this Thanksgiving, it should be Truman Capote's "The Thanksgiving Visitor." No, you won't learn much about the Pilgrims, the Indians, or how to bake a pumpkin pie, but you will be moved by the writing and events in this poignant tale. Perhaps you are familiar with Capote's "A Christmas Memory" and its protagonists, the young Buddy and his eccentric, elderly best friend and aunt Miss Sook. They are the center of this story as well. Buddy narrates, and with wonderful Southern turns of phrase describes their Thanksgiving preparations. He also describes the bullying he receives at the hands of Odd Henderson for being a sissy. It is almost unimaginable that Miss Sook invites Odd to Thanksgiving dinner. The conflict and disappointment that unfold are powerful. Miss Sook counsels Buddy that Odd "... can't help acting ugly; he doesn't know any different." Often at Thanksgiving, we focus on gratitude.This Thanksgiving tale also gets readers thinking about compassion and graciousness. It's a provocative and well written holiday read for children from eight up, especially if you can find the picture book illustrated with wistful paintings by Beth Peck.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Some Thoughts on Art Appreciation

On Friday, I took my children to visit the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. As soup was the feature of Foodie Friday, I couldn't resist taking the photo (no flash of course) you see here of them admiring Andy Warhol's cans of soup. My favorite moment in the museum was when they spotted a Jackson Pollack painting and shouted, "It's the painting from Olivia!" Of all the amusing things that happen in all of Ian Falconer's Olivia books, our favorite is when she recreates a Jackson Pollack painting on her wall at home. We all enjoyed the Van Gogh exhibit. How can you not feel good standing in front of that starry night? My daughter lectured us all about Van Gogh's application of paint and choice of subject. Clearly the art program at our local public school is excellent!What fascinated me was that all three kids seemed physically drawn to Jasper Johns' Map. It is an eye catching work, but I'm curious as to what exactly is so attractive about it to my children. Maybe it's that they recognize the subject matter, a map of the United States. Maybe it is the use of bright. primary colors. Who knows? Unbeknownst to them, I recently checked out Bob Raczka's gorgeous picture book The Art of Freedom: How Artists See America and had it in my car. Once home from Manhattan, we looked at the book. They were so excited to see Map on the cover and recognize it from our museum visit. I had gotten the book because of what it says about America in simple text, statements such as "America is sacrifice," "America is immigrants," "America is native peoples," and "America is a work in progress." Each statement is accompanied by a piece of artwork. That last definition, for example, faces Gilbert Stuart's famous unfinished portrait of George Washington. My original intention was to read the book and discuss it with my kids in light of the recent presidential election. It turned out to be a nice book to read after a trip to a museum as well. It is beautiful and would make a great gift for a child or a teacher of art or American history.
Speaking of gifts, my sister was a godsend that day, helping me entertain, feed, and herd three kids around the Big Apple! Thanks, Corinne!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Stone Soup's On for Foodie Friday

Tuesday night was Soup Night at my house. With the price of groceries going up and the temperature and my prep time going down, soup is a quick, healthy, and affordable option for dinner. I wish I could tell you I made one of our favorite soup recipes like Brazilian Black Bean or Grandpa and Linda's Kale Soup from scratch. Unfortunately, between homework and ice hockey practice, we only had time for the canned variety served with crackers. But it was warm and filling and inspired some great table conversation. We talked about soup kitchens and why they are called soup kitchens when they serve foods other than soup. The kids had me tell them yet again about a time back in the early 1990's when I peeled eight dozen hard boiled eggs to be turned into deviled eggs at a soup kitchen. I thought my fingertips and my taste for hard boiled eggs would never recover.

All three children reminisced about cooking Stone Soup in their preschool. After reading the story, the teachers had each child bring in a vegetable to add to a soup they started early in the morning. I was fortunate to be able to come in as a volunteer helping the children chop those vegetables. Cutting carrots with a plastic knife is no easy task I assure you. Each year parents (present company included) expressed shock when their picky eaters tried the soup.

I told the kids that my mom remembers when my brother read Marcia Brown's Stone Soup back in his elementary school days and then cooked soup. Since they think I'm pretty ancient and he's my older brother, they are convinced that kids have been reading Stone Soup for a loooong time. In fact, this 1947 Caldecott winner is based on an even older French tale of three soldiers who outwit a village into providing them with the makings of a feast. The picture book is a funny, clever, great read on Soup Night.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Big Book of Girl Stuff

My daughter has owned The Daring Book for Girls for about a year now. She occasionally uses it as a reference when playing games or making crafts and has nice things to say about it. It has a lot of stuff for girls in it. That is why I almost didn't check The Big Book of Girl Stuff, written by Bart King and his five sisters, out of the library for her. Luckily, I did. This book proves what we all know: everything is better with humor. There are as many funny one-liners in here as there are tips and trivia. The result is that my eight year old is reading it from cover to cover. The cover is, by the way, reversible to a pink marble notebook look so girls can read it surreptitiously in school.

There is so much interesting information and humor in The Big Book of Girl Stuff that my daughter is reading sections that might not usually be of interest to her because she doesn't want to miss out on the laughs. While I cannot figure out a rhyme or reason to the organization of the sections, they all have good information and liveliness in common. A few of these sections are "Babysitting," "Fun Stuff to Do," "Sports," and "Slang." Proof that the book never takes itself too seriously is in the quotes which open each section, such as Gilda Radner's "I base most of my fashion taste on what doesn't itch" at the beginning of the section on fashion. Of course there is gross out humor in the "Ick" section which is good. That should not be reserved only for books marketed to boys.

On a personal note, there are two more things that made me happy I checked this book out for Hayden. First, she recently stopped reading and excitedly ran to ask me,"Do you know the meaning of the word blogging? Do you want to know?" I did know, but pretended I didn't as I was so touched that she was enthusiastic to share something from her book that she thought would interest me. I also like the fact that there is a section on nicknames because the author is not the only person who likes trivia. One of the best bits floating around in my brain is that there was once a Viking warrior nicknamed "Ivan the Boneless." This book gave me the reason to share that with my daughter and now you.

I can't say enough good about this fun book for tween girls. It really is, as I learned from the section on slang, a "sherbitt."

Ignore the Couch

Even though I do not love the couch in my basement and fear you will look closely and see popcorn and crumbs peeking out from under the cushions, I need to share this most beautiful of photos I took this morning. My two older children so love the books they are currently reading (Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for him and Bart King's The Big Book of Girl Stuff for her) that they abandoned their usual post-breakfast pre-schoolbus bickering, SpongeBob watching, and more bickering to lie on the couch reading for the half hour after breakfast. I could break into the song from Oklahoma, "Oh What a Beautiful Morning," but my singing voice is even scarier than the pattern on the couch.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Foodie Friday!

There are so many terrific cookbooks for kids and kids' books that feature foods and recipes that I've decided to try a feature here at thebookbench, Foodie Fridays. My selection for the first ever Foodie Friday was a no brainer, Wende and Harry Devlin's classic Cranberry Thanksgiving. I still have my hardcover copy from the 1970s, and I make "Grandmother's Famous Cranberry Bread" recipe from the back cover about half a dozen times each year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It's delicious.
In the story, Maggie and her grandmother who live at the edge of a cranberry bog each invite a guest to their Thanksgiving dinner. Maggie invites her friend Mr. Whiskers who Grandmother suspects is out to steal her secret recipe. She in turn invites the very elegant Mr. Horace. We later learn, with some help from Mr. Whiskers, that you shouldn't trust a man just because he smells of lavender and carries a gold cane.
It gives me tremendous joy each November when my children insist that I read this book to them. They seem to love it as much as I always have. We love the tradition of reading the book, the taste of the bread, the gentle humor, and the illustrations. What is interesting to me is that I was always captivated by the pictures of the interior of Maggie and Grandmother's house especially the big fireplace where Grandmother hides her recipe behind a brick. My children, on the other hand, usually comment on how much the illustrations of the exterior remind them of Cape Cod which is a place dear to them.
Inevitably, at Thanksgiving dinner this year, we will do our own variation on this exchange from Cranberry Thanksgiving:
"How delicious," said Maggie.
"How delightful," said Grandmother.
"How about another piece?" said Mr. Whiskers.
If you are looking for further cranberry fun, check out the Ocean Spray website,, where you'll learn, among other facts, that cranberries bounce, cranberries float in water, and there are about 4,400 cranberries in one gallon of juice.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Get thee to Wordle

I love being a SAHM, really I do, but sometimes I read a book or editorial, I find a new website or get caught up in a news story that makes me ache to be back in a classroom with high school students. I teach a fourth grade religious education class at my church and that gives me a little weekly fix of lesson planning and creativity, and of course I discuss those books, editorials, websites, and stories that intrigue me with family and friends, but it's not the same. Recently, I began playing around on Wordle ( and my brain started buzzing with classroom applications. It almost makes me want to turn in my jeans and minivan keys for heels and a piece of chalk. Wordle is an online tool or toy, depending on how you look at it, that generates "word clouds" from text that you provide. Greater prominence is generally assigned to words that appear with more frequency in the text. It was created by Jonathan Feinberg, a software engineer at IBM Research, and can be fairly addictive. Oh, the things I could do with Romeo and Juliet and Wordle! Or vocabulary words and Wordle! Or test reviews and Wordle! Someday I'll get back to that. In the meantime, I've got my eyes on my daughter and son's spelling word lists...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Ursus Non Grata

I am done posting about books with bears in them. Goodbye, Paddington! Sayonara, Corduroy! And hey, Berenstain Family, don't let the door hit you in your hindquarters on the way out! Three weeks ago, a mother black bear and her three cubs went through my garbage cans that were out to be collected. It was a few days after we had enjoyed Taco Night so you can imagine how fun the clean up was! On Election Night, as my husband and I sat watching the red and blue states come in, we heard a horrific bang on our garage door. My husband went onto our porch and saw a huge bear trying to get in. Then this morning he noticed a bear in the yard as he was about to put out the garbage before work. The bear went up a tree, apparently waiting for us to deliver its snack. Several weeks ago I posed the question, "Is Stephen Colbert reading thebookbench?" Who knows? But I think the black bears of northern New Jersey are. They got the (mistaken) impression that since we welcome literary bears, we'd welcome them. We don't. It's November 10; go into hibernation already! For my part, I'm done blogging about bears.

But let me just squeeze this in quick. I recently had to buy a present for a baby shower and purchased two family favorites that include adorable bears. If you are looking for a great board book to wrap up with a baby shower gift, here are two.

Jamberry written and illustrated by Bruce Degen joins a boy and a rhyme spouting bear on a delightful berry collection.

Teddy Bears' Picnic illustrated by Bruce Whatley and featuring a bear on the cover who bears (no pun intended) a remarkable resemblance to Jerry Garcia. It's perfect to read or sing to tired little teddy bears.

That's it now, bears. Show's over. I'm done writing about you. Stay away from my yard. please.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Tuesday is Veterans Day

Thank a veteran, buy a poppy, say a prayer, read an enlightening book- remember to observe Veterans Day this Tuesday. Two years ago, my then six and seven year old children came home from school early in November and reported that they had made cards for veterans. I asked what their cards looked like or said. Both children had written "Thank You," but one had colored a flag on his card and the other had colored puppies. Puppies? It seems she thought it was Veterinarians Day. Obviously, we needed to do some explaining. The history of Veterans Day and how it developed from Armistice Day is really quite interesting, but maybe too much information for the four to eight year old set. Here are two books which are great for them: Veterans Day by Marlene Targ Brill and Veterans Day by Jacqueline S. Cotton. A nice feature of the latter is that it suggests ways to honor vets. Also appropriate for this age group is Eve Bunting's picture book The Wall. With moving text and simple yet powerful illustrations by Ronald Himler, The Wall tells the story of a boy and his father who visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. to search for the name of the boy's grandfather. I actually think this book could be put to good use in a classroom up to fifth grade.
For older children and young adults, there are more interesting and thought provoking books about wars than I could list here. Two that I know are frequently used in middle schools in my area are Walter Dean Myers' Fallen Angels, a young adult coming of age novel set during the Vietnam War, and Paul Fleischman's Bull Run, which recreates the first great battle of the Civil War from a variety of points of view. One nonfiction suggestion for readers ten and up is The Tuskegee Airmen, Black Heroes of World War II by Jacqueline Harris.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Happy Birthday Mom!

Happy Birthday to the person who introduced me to Mother Goose, Corduroy, Hitty, the Ingalls girls and so many more.
Mom, you're the best!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Big Chocolate Omission

When posting my list of chocolatey good books on Monday, I left out perhaps the best YA book ever written, Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War. I could blame it on election excitement or all of the candy I consumed over the weekend, but there really is no excuse. My bad.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day

I do not vote alone. No, I'm not referring to the predicted record breaking voter turnout for this election, although I think that's excellent. I always end up with my children in the voting booth with me. Ask any mother of young children who has tried to pee, shower, or try on clothing behind a closed door or curtain- it ain't happening solo. So too with voting. Kids want to be where the action is. For voting, that's a good thing. I want my children to grow up as active citizens. I want them to participate in our democracy and know their parents did as well. This year, my youngest is in kindergarten so I could actually go to my polling place alone this morning, but I plan to wait until this afternoon when all three kids will be home from school. This is a historic election. They have asked to accompany me and I want them to accompany me. Plus, my polling place is our town library. In fact, the booths are on the second floor where the children's section is located. Is this a great country or what?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Seven Chocolatey Good Books

I am suffering a serious case of eater's remorse and parental shame. I overindulged on my children's trick or treating loot and on a bag of Heath bars I picked up for 50% off at Target two days after Halloween. In case you did the same, and need food for thought rather than food in thighs, here are some calorie free chocolate indulgences.

1. Max's Chocolate Chicken by Rosemary Wells. This book featuring Max of Max and Ruby fame is not just for Easter time and is fun for 2 to 5 year olds.

2. The M & M Brand Counting Book by Barbara Barbieri McGrath is a fun little board book for 3 to 7 year olds that could work well in a classroom.

3. Also great for classroom use is any one of Jerry Palotta's books which combine chocolate treats and math skills, such as his Hershey's Milk Chocolate Weights and Measures.

4. Curious George Goes to the Chocolate Factory by Margaret and H.A. Rey. You know it's going to be fun from the title.

5. Hot Fudge by James Howe is an easy reader from the Bunnicula and Friends series. This is a cute little whodunit for emerging readers ages 5 to 8.

6. The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling is a retelling of the story of King Midas where everything a boy touches turns to chocolate. This is a good chapter book for 8 to 10 year olds.

7. The granddaddy of all chocolate books is, of course, Roald Dahl's magnificent Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!!!!

(For more list fun, check out anna over at who got me started with the Monday lists.)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Project Kitchen Table

Last night while trick or treating my eight year old daughter looked fierce in her homemade skeleton costume. She decided months ago that she wanted us to make a "cute skeleton" for her to wear on Halloween. We promptly spent $15 on a black sweatsuit and gloves and white craft foam at WalMart with vague ideas of sewing something soon. That was a whole lot of procrastination ago, as I hate to sew and I shouldn't do it when my children are around as there is a great deal of cursing involved. Perhaps that's why I so adore Project Runway. I am in awe of the designers. It really is the best tv reality show ever, bar none.
We lived out our own version here in my kitchen two weeks ago. A friend of my daughter's called to invite her to an impromptu costume party in about 36 hours! It was like Heidi Klum issuing the challenge, and of course, the ultimate auf weidersehen is to disappoint your child. No time for how-to books from the library. Where did we turn? that's where. I can't recommend it highly enough for parents searching for reasonable, do-able craft, costume, and party ideas. We printed out a bone template for a Mr. Rattles costume, and my husband and I set to "making it work." He cut out the bones and I sewed them on. My third grader provided several Tim Gunn moments, cruising past the kitchen table and applying her critical eye to the creation. She felt a skull mask would be too much and not in keeping with the "cute skeleton" concept. Unlike some of the designers on Project Runway, I took the advice of my pint-sized Tim Gunn to heart. As she headed off to the party in black lipstick and white hairspray, carrying a self-designed "bag of bones," she owned that look.
The whole experience and its Project Runway parallels has me wondering what books did Tim Gunn enjoy as a child? Did any of them influence his impeccable taste and style aesthetic from a young age?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What to Read After the First Snowfall of the Year

It snowed here in northwestern New Jersey yesterday. The first snowfall of each year is, of course, the most magical one. It begs twirling and touching, and leaning one's head back with a tongue out for collecting flakes. The first snowfall of the year reminds us that miracles and mysteries are happening in the sky. Subsequent snowstorms, at least for adults, are more about shoveling than sharing. In our family, we love a beautiful and inspiring picture book called Snowflake Bentley, which captures the wonder of snow. This Caldecott medal winning book written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and illustrated with woodcuts by Mary Azarian, tells the story of Wilson Bentley. He was born in Vermont in 1865, and in the author's words, "Willie Bentley's happiest days were snowstorm days. He watched snowflakes fall on his mittens, on the dried grass of Vermont farm fields, on the dark metal handle of the barn door. He said snow was as beautiful as butterflies or apple blossoms." As a boy, Bentley observed snowflakes under an old microscope and drew scores of snow crystals. Often the crystals melted before he could record them. As a teenager, he longed for a camera with its own microscope. Part of the beauty of this book is its illustrations, part is Bentley's enthusiasm, and a great part is the fact that his dairy farming parents spent their savings to help him buy that camera. Over the years and with much experimentation, Bentley was able to make hundreds of pictures of snow crystals even though his Vermont neighbors laughed at the idea of photographing something so common. Though he never became wealthy, in his lifetime he did publish a book of his photographs and receive recognition from scientists for his contributions. It was he who revealed the hexagonal shape and infinite possibility of designs in snowflakes. Snowflake Bentley is the perfect book to read once warm inside after enjoying the first snowfall of the year. It's also ideal in any season to encourage children to follow their passions and interests.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Burt Family Pumpkins Revisited

If you think the pumpkins look happy to be out in October snow, you should see their carvers!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Burt Family Pumpkins 2008

A Natural Progression

For years the most popular Halloween book in my house was Five Little Pumpkins, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino. This wonderful board book has very simple text, the popular rhyme which begins, "Five little pumpkins sitting on a gate. The first one said, "Oh my, it's getting late." We hear what each pumpkin has to say until, "Ooooooooo went the wind and out went the light. And the five little pumpkins rolled out of sight." It is great in so many ways, from the bold illustrations to the counting skills involved. No wonder my kids have loved it for years. But they are older now. Ghost stories and chapter books have entered the picture. They have also discovered Extreme Pumpkins and Extreme Pumpkins II by Tom Nardone. Even though my five year old thinks they are fabulous, I do not recommend these for very young children. The creativity and gross-out factor will appeal to older kids however. The books include "Diabolical do-it-yourself designs to amuse your friends and scare your neighbors." Some of the pumpkins are creepy, some are funny, like the peeing baby pumpkin, and some are gross, such as the puking pumpkin. Nardone has also put together a great website, that is fun to explore. We consulted it before carving our own family jack o'lanterns last night. While my boys especially enjoyed a creation that looked like a guy "chucking a moon" as we used to say, I'm relieved to report that they ended up drawing more traditional faces on their own pumpkins, perhaps inspired by all of our many readings of Five Little Pumpkins over the years.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Is Stephen Colbert Reading TheBookBench?

Last night on The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert read from a Richard Scary book and mentioned Paddington Bear! That's my kind of political satire. Although he was even more brilliant earlier in October pointing out "parallels" between Obama and Hamlet and McCain and Macbeth (Macmaverick) with Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespearean scholar and author of Will in the World. It's on YouTube and worth the search.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Why I Am Jealous Of My Children And May Be Kicked Out of Oprah's Book Club

I have been reading David Wroblewski's The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. It has gotten some very good reviews and is Oprah's current book club selection. That means it was sold at 40% off on a day I happened to have a gift card to my local bookstore. I'm a sucker for a little buzz and a big discount, so I bought it. It's a good book, but I've been finding it a little slow going. My daughter, on the other hand, is flying through Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy. She's been reading it in bed and at the bus stop. She took it into the bathtub the other night. On her recommendation, my son is reading and loving Roald Dahl's Matilda. He is having fun retelling the funny bits to me, and there are quite a few of them. We all get a kick out of the name of Matilda's school headmistress, Miss Trunchbull. So of course I'm envious of my children with their juicy, engrossing books, or at least I was until Sunday afternoon. On Sunday, I picked up a copy of Trenton Lee Stewart's The Mysterious Benedict Society. Holy cow, this book is awesome! I intended to save it as our next nighttime read aloud book, but couldn't resist reading just a few pages. I cannot put it down. I'm halfway through it. Last night my daughter woke up around 11 and came into my bedroom where I was reading it and said in an accusatory voice,"I thought you were going to wait to read it with us!" Look who's jealous now!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Christmas in October

While shopping for candy corns in Target two weeks ago, my boys started shouting, "Look! Look at the light-up reindeer!" That made no sense, as it was early October and I was standing next to Halloween costumes, but I followed the sound of their voices (not a difficult task), and what to my wondering eyes should appear but Christmas decorations. There was a story about this phenomena on the news that weekend. It seems the marketing people have pushed the Christmas merchandise out early in an attempt to deal with the situation of the American economy being so deep in the toilet. What's good enough for the people at Target is good enough for me. I'm not even trying to sell anything; I'm just going to tell you about some lovely Christmas books.
As I'm sure you know, there are hundreds of holiday board, picture, and chapter books in print. I kind of love them all because they combine two delicious acts, anticipation with reading, often with good illustrations. Perhaps my favorite Christmas book of recent years is my favorite because of its gorgeous illustrations, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, illustrated by P.J. Lynch and written by Susan Wojciechowski. I read it to my children at Christmas, and they love it, so last year I read it to the fourth grade CCD class I teach, and my students hung on every word and wanted to discuss the plot and pictures long after I was done reading. It tells the story of a widow and her son who come to ask a woodcarver, Jonathan Toomey, to carve a new creche for them. It is the kind of book that you read and immediately think of people to whom you will give it as a gift.
So you can imagine how thrilled I was to learn that P.J. Lynch has illustrated another holiday classic, O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi. We all know the story of the married couple Della and Jim who sell their most prized possessions in order to afford Christmas presents for each other. She sells her hair to buy a chain for his pocket watch, and he sells his pocket watch to buy combs for her hair. This story is taught in so many English and writing classes. I think this version would be particularly nice for high school students to visualize the time and place. Lynch's warm illustrations bring their humble flat and turn of the century New York City to life.
Finally, I'll mention the book I plan to give my eleven year old niece at Christmas. It is not a Christmas book and it's not illustrated by P.J. Lynch, but I'm going to tell you about it anyway as it does relate to my Christmas shopping. It is Patricia Reilly Giff's Nory Ryan's Song about the Great Hunger of 1845-1852 in Ireland. This fictional account of a twelve year old girl and her family's love and suffering is well written and moving. Written for a middle school and young adult audience, the book condenses time a bit and clearly explains the situation of the potato blight and English rule without ever getting pedantic.
Now that I've given you some holiday books to think about, and there will be more in the weeks to come, get back to carving your jack o'lanterns!

Monday, October 20, 2008

This Hockey Mom's List of Hockey Books

The NHL season is on, college hockey starts soon, my nine year old son's squirt level hockey team has its first league game of the season this Saturday, and hockey moms are all over the news lately, hence this list. These are five hockey books we enjoy:

1. Z is for Zamboni: A Hockey Alphabet This is a wonderfully illustrated alphabet book with rhymes for each letter, such as "Puck begins with the letter P black rubber to the core. It's what the players try to shoot past the red goal line to score." For older readers there is much sidebar information on the history, rules, and culture of the game.

2. Hockey in Action by Niki Walker and Sarah Dann is part of the Sports in Action series which is an easy to follow primer on the sport of ice hockey, suitable for elementary school age readers.

3. Hockey for Dummies by John Davidson with John Steinbreder. You've seen the For Dummies series with their distinctive yellow and black covers. I have found this to be a very useful reference book on a sport that I had little experience with before my child began playing it. My children do wonder why someone would carry around a book that advertises its holder is a dummy.

4. and 5. Ice Magic and Wingman on Ice by Matt Christopher. These sports chapter books are great for second through fifth graders interested in sports in general or hockey in particular.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Where Are The Deer?

I woke up this morning to seven deer munching on my back lawn. I stood at my kitchen window for a few minutes before one lifted her head and seemed to look right at me. She had a great big yellow leaf stuck to the side of her mouth. She put her head down, munched a little more, and looked up again. The leaf was still on her face. If it were a group of seven dogs, I totally could have imagined one of her companions to be like, "Betty, you got a little something" and indicate her face. None of the deer did, even in my imagination. Which is why when I mentioned anthropomorphism and children's books, I didn't have any examples of deer as protagonists. Lots of dogs, cats, bears, monkeys, turtles, and other animals came to mind, but no deer other than Rudolph.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Bear Share

After writing about Paddington for a few days, I asked my children what other books about bears they like. Why should I have to do all the work here? I was surprised how enthusiastic they were on the topic. Hands down, Don Freeman's Corduroy is their favorite. That pleases me no end because I love an old school literary character. Thank heavens they didn't choose some robot bear or something, leaving me in despair over their taste! Here are some of their other selections.
Board Books
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See by Bill Martin, Jr. and illustrated by Eric Carle. You can't go wrong with these two collaborators. In fact, this book my now be required reading for any child entering kindergarten in the US.
We're Going on A Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury. I could go for the cliche here and wish for a nickel for every time I've read this to my kids. I'd be loaded. I could also go for the nostalgic and reminisce about doing this chant on a hayride with my mom when I was about four years old, "We're going on a bear hunt. We're going to catch a big one. What a beautiful day! We're not scared."
Moonbear's Canoe by Frank Asch. This is great for toddlers. They love all the different animals who squeeze into Moonbear's canoe and the funny ending gets a laugh every time.
Jamberry by Bruce Degen isn't necessarily about a bear, but features one prominently in this joyful rhyming board book.
Picture Books
You're All My Favorites by Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram is a must-have for any household with more than one child. The creators of Guess How Much I Love You use a a bear family with three children to beautifully and wisely answer the question "Which one do you love best?"
Bear Wants More written by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Jane Chapman. All three of my kids cited the illustrations as the best part of this book.
Nonfiction Picture Book
Knut: How One Little Bear Captivated the World by Craig Hatkoff, Juliana Hatkoff, Isabella Hatkoff and Dr. Gerald R. Ulrich. I defy you not to say "Awl" out loud at least three times while looking at the photographs in this fantastic book about a polar bear cub born at the Berlin Zoo!
Do you have a favorite bear book or character? Share your bear in the comments!