Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Book Review: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

Written by Joan Aiken
Illustrations by Pat Marriott
Middle Grade Fiction (RL 5.6)
Ages 8 (younger if read aloud) and up

This story starts in wintertime, when the wolves of the English country wolds are starving and roaming in packs to bring down anything they can. Into this world comes shy, young Sylvia, sent away from her aunt in London to be the companion and playmate to her cousin Bonnie Green of  Willoughby Chase. After a harrowing train journey, Sylvia arrives and is warmly welcomed by the effusive, hoydenish Bonnie. The next day sees the departure of Sir Willoughby Green and Lady Green, bound overseas for poor Lady Green's health. The girls are left in the charge of the new governess, Miss Slighcarp, whose true evil nature is revealed upon the parents' departure. In short order, she dismisses all the servants except a handful of the worst ones (and one who only pretended to be bad so he could stay on and watch over the girls), sells the furniture and pockets the money, takes away all of the toys, and locks Bonnie in a cupboard. With the help of James, the loyal servant who stayed on to watch over them as best he can, they discover that Miss Slighcarp has truly nefarious plans for Willoughby Chase. But when the girls try to solicit outside help, they are discovered and sent away to an orphan school run by Mrs. Brisket. At the school, their life is one of drudgery, harshness and hopelessness until one day, a young boy from the wolds by Willoughby Chase comes to find them and help them escape. But where will they go?

We've finally finished the book! And what a grand adventure it was! Set in Victorian England, this story had all the plot elements guaranteed to keep my girls glued to the story as I read it aloud to them. They Ate. It. Up. It's a story that probably works best as a read-aloud the first go-round. The language structure is perfect for the story, old-fashioned, reflecting perfectly the age in which the story takes place, although the story itself was written in 1962. But it might be harder for children who have never been exposed to that antiquated structure to follow, which is why I suggest reading it aloud first.

I had so much fun reading this aloud. It was such fun giving life to all the wonderful characters. The names of characters make me laugh, they're so deliciously perfect for a book set in this period: Pattern (the maid), Miss Slighcarp, Mr. Grimshaw (the accomplice), Mr. Gripe (the lawyer), Dr. Morne, Mrs. Brisket, Mr. Wilderness, etc. And the internal pictures by Pat Marriott have a vagueness that adds splendidly to the menacing feel. (The cover illustration is by Edward Gorey. Isn't it wonderfully sinister?)

If you are looking for old-fashioned Victorian adventure story, with Gothic elements, plucky heroines, nasty bad 'uns, then this is the story for you.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Two Excellent Books About Hitler's Youth by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Written by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Non-Fiction, Newbery Honor
Ages 9 and up

An excellent, clearly written,  powerfully impactful book on real youth in Hitler's Germany. Chockful of photographs, this compelling book gives an in-depth look at the Hitler Youth organization itself, and real teens who both supported or opposed it, even to the sacrificing of their own lives.

A must-read if you want a clearer understanding of the youth of Hitler's Germany, the appeal of Hitler's message, and the courage of those who opposed it.

Written by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Middle grade/YA Biographical Novel
Ages 9 and up

Helmuth Hubener is an ordinary young man caught up at first in the National emotional fervor for the Fuhrer. But when his eyes are opened to the horrors he sees going on around him, will he have the courage to take a stand?
Compelling and powerful, this is "a novel based on the true story of a Hitler Youth." In reading it, don't be surprised to find yourself pulled into Helmuth's life. I couldn't put it down, even though I knew (having read another account of Hubener) what ultimately happens.

And don't forget to read the author's notes in the book.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Two Picture Books Illustrated By The Dillons: The Girl Who Spun Gold and Two Little Trains

The Girl Who Spun Gold

Written by Virginia Hamilton
Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon
Ages 4 and up
"There be this tale told about a tiny fellow who could hide in a foot of shade amid old trees. All that most could see of him was the way he sparkled."
This is a West Indies inspired version of the tale of Rumpelstiltskin, called Lit'mahn in this story. The mother of a young village girl brags to the passing Big King about her daughter's ability to spin gold thread. Big King happily marries the girl, but "being young, he went too far." He tells her he will give her everything her heart desires, but in a year and a day she must start her spinning. You know how the story ends. Or do you?

I found this a refreshing take on the usual Grimm version. And it's fun to read aloud, once you get into the rhythm of the language. (Before you read the story aloud, be sure to first read it yourself to become familiar with the cadence of the words, because the sentence structure echoes the West Indian [Caribbean] dialect.) My girls liked it, too. They laughed in delight and oohed and aahed over the pictures.

And the pictures are stunning, with gold over-painted in strategic spots, beautifully reinforcing the story.

Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon
Ages 3 and up

 "Two little trains went down the track,
Two little trains went west.
Puff, Puff, Puff and Chug, Chug, Chug,
Two little trains to the West." 

So begins this poem of two little trains, a "streamlined train" and a "little old train", "going west."
The marvelous pictures drive (pardon the pun) the story of two trains, one a sleek passenger train, the other a toy train. The movement of the real train is echoed in the imaginary scenarios featuring the toy train being played with at home. For example, when the "two little trains [come] to a hill, a mountainous hill to the West", the "streamlined train" passes through a tunnel in a hill and the toy train is shown passing through a tunnel formed by a book "mountain." 
Olivia (7) and Karina (6) liked the illustrations and liked pointing out the contrasting elements between the two trains. They have looked at the pictures more than once since we brought it home from the library, but were underwhelmed by the text. "Boring", was their response. Susanna (3) didn't "get" this book at all, and wandered away in the middle. None of them have asked me to re-read it.

That's not to say, of course, that it won't be loved by other children, which is one reason I'm featuring it here. And it was worth checking out for the pictures alone.

Both these books were borrowed from the library.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Book Review: Inside Out by Terry Trueman

by Terry Trueman
YA Fiction
Ages 14 and up

This fairly short but riveting and suspenseful story is about Zach, a teen who inadvertently gets caught at a coffee shop during a robbery by two other teens. The novel takes place almost entirely during the stand-off with police, with snippets of insight into Zach's life.
Told in third person from Zach's viewpoint, we realize upon first meeting Zach that all is not quite right, and it's not long before the author allows us the truth: that Zach has schizophrenia, an incurable brain disorder.

Having worked with adults with disabilities as a Job Coordinator, some of whom had Schizophrenia, I can attest to the fact that Trueman has absolutely captured his character and the realities of this condition. Schizophrenia (whose victims almost always have higher than average intelligence) somehow affects the "wiring" in the brain, making it impossible for its victims to look at the world and situations as "average" people do, causing them to hear "voices", and making it almost impossible for them to distinguish reality from "fantasy". This is a good book to introduce your teens to this mental disorder and its real life ramifications.

Be aware that this book does contain language, including a few "F" bombs, but to me the language doesn't seem gratuitous, (although I guess one could argue that the use of bad language is always gratuitous). In this context, it seems realistic for a) the situation, and b) today's youth. Not ideal, but understandable. (If it were a movie, it would be rated R for language.)

Book published in 2003 by HarperTempest
This copy borrowed from the library.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Book Review: Wind Child by Shirley Rousseau Murphy; illustrated by Leo, Diane, and Lee Dillon

Wind Child
Written by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon and Lee Dillon
Ages 4 and up

"She wanted to know the winds' secrets and what they shouted when they sped across the sky. She yearned to fly as the winds flew, to feel the grasses brush her toes, to leap high above wind-tossed waters."
Resshie grows up ignorant of her true parents, but with a strange longing and affinity for wind. She supports herself by weaving cloth, and soon her cloth is the most coveted in the land for its special unearthly qualities. But Resshie, in weaving cloth for others, realizes she is lonely and wants a husband like other girls. Not liking anyone in her village, Resshie sets out to make her perfect companion, with imperfect results.

This story reads like a Greek myth and fairy tale rolled up into one. The text flows beautifully. My girls sat silent and rapt as the story unfolded. Each picture has a dreamy, windswept feel to it, and each contains the omnipresence of wind: hair blowing, dresses blowing. And the conclusion is perfect.

This book seems to be out of print, but you should be able to find it at your library. I highly encourage it, especially if you or your children like myths and fairy tales.

Book published in 1999 by HarperChildrens for Harper Collins
This copy borrowed from the library.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. Patrick's Day, Tomie dePaola-Style

Based on old Irish folktales told to him by his Irish grandfather, here are two stories about shameless, lazy Jamie O'Rourke -"the laziest man in all Ireland"- that are strictly for fun and giggles, written by the marvelous Tomie dePaola.

In Jamie O'Rourke and the Big Potato, Jamie's industrious wife Eileen has prepared and planted the praties (potatoes) that they will need to see them through the winter, without the help of her lazy husband. When Eileen hurts her back harvesting the potatoes, and ends up in bed, lazy Jamie imagines himself starving through the winter. On his way to church to confess his sins in case he should die of starvation, he chances on a leprechaun. After catching him and being granted one wish, Jamie's wish gets away from him.

In Jamie O'Rourke and the Pooka, Jamie is left behind to tend to the chores while his wife Eileen is away visiting family. Of course, being Jamie, he does nothing but please himself and make messes, with some help from his friends. Much to his shock, he finds upon waking that the house is clean. Jamie determines to find out who is doing the cleaning. That's how he meets the Pooka, and learns a lesson. Or does he?

Read these stories with an Irish brogue and your children will find it hilarious. Chances are they will find it hilarious even without the brogue, but it makes it ever so much more fun.

What a lot of giggling my girls (well, the older two) did during these stories.* When we were done, my seven-year-old (who has avidly read and re-read Mr. dePaola's Fairmount Avenue autobiographical series) sighed and said, "Boy, Tomie sure writes good books!" Yes, he does.

There are no lessons learned by Jamie at the end of the books; he doesn't change his stripes and become caring or conscientious. I certainly don't think every story needs to have a lesson. (More on that in another post.) But kids, being kids, will always look for meaning, and I've found that kids learn the lessons for Jamie. Even while they giggle at his antics and foolishness, they shake their heads and say, "He shouldn't be like that. His poor wife, having to do all the work."
Later in the day I overheard a discussion between my two oldest about Jamie having a lot to learn and his wife being too nice to put up with him. My six-year-old said -in reference to his wife's goodness in the face of his selfishness- "Well...sometimes you should do nice things for people, even if they don't deserve it." Hmmm...now if I could only get her to apply that with her sisters...

*(A word of caution: my three-year-old thought the pooka looked scary -'though really he wasn't. And she frequently asked why he was mad, because his expression looks quite evil sometimes. But he isn't; he only does good things. We had to keep reassuring her.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Book Review: The True Story of Stellina by Matteo Pericoli

The True Story of Stellina
Written and illustrated by Matteo Pericoli
Ages 3 and up
Picture Book

This is the story of a baby bird who falls out of its nest by a busy New York City street. When a passer-by, Holly, notices the baby bird, she waits a long time to see if the mother will come for it. When its mother doesn't come, Holly takes the little bird and gives it a home in her apartment, where it stayed the rest of it's life.

Storied Cities reviewed this book a week or so ago, and due to my girls' on-going bird fascination, I ordered it from the library. They really enjoyed this book. I liked the simple text that worked very well for reading aloud. And in the manner of good books, it led to discussions of why (or why not) Holly didn't let the bird go free once it could fly, and what  they would do if faced with a similar situation. (They didn't come to any firm determination, since they were apparently able to see the logic of both letting nature take its course and keeping the baby bird safe, 'though I'm sure in their heart of hearts they would have done the same as Holly.) Their only other observation was, "Mom why does he (the author) keep saying 'my wife, my wife' all the time. We know it's his wife!" I found that a distraction myself, but having kept that to myself, was interested that they had the same reaction. Bottom line: we liked it; we've read it more than once since we checked it out from the library.

My thanks to Storied Cities for turning us on to this book.

Read other reviews at:
Through the Looking Glass
Mother Reader

Book published by Alfred A. Knopf
Copyright 2006
29 pages
This copy borrowed from the library.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Book Review: The Water Seeker by Kimberly Willis Holt

by Kimberly Willis Holt
Ages 14 and up
Genre: Historical fiction

When Amos Kincaid was born, his mother died, and his trapper father, away most of the year, came home to the surprise of his existence. He took baby Amos to his brother and sister-in-law to raise. Years later, after much has befallen young Amos, his father returns with a new wife, to reclaim Amos.

This is a book that is hard to describe or summarize. It is a book about love and loss, the harshness of frontier life, learning to accept people for who they are, about family and what that means. At its heart, this book is a coming-of-age story set during the days of frontier life, in which Amos grows from baby to man, and the important events that contribute to the "making" of him.

I borrowed this from the library, attracted by the beautiful cover and intriguing title, but not really knowing what to expect. The inside cover of the book is quite cryptic:
"What would you do if you knew you had a special gift -a sixth sense- that was passed down from one generation to the next? A gift that could help people in times of need, but one your father often saw as a trap. Would you use that gift? This is the story of Amos Kincaid, the dowser's son."
The subject of dowsing is mentioned right away in the book. We learn that Jake Kincaid -Amos' father- has the inherited the "gift" of dowsing (finding water deep in the ground through the use of a "divining rod"), but that he never-the-less prefers the life of a trapper. Despite the title and provocative book cover blurb, dowsing doesn't seem to play a major role in the book. After having read the book, the questions posed on the inside book cover don't seem really relevant. The cover makes it sound like that is what the story is about, but I felt like the dowsing was just part of who they were, not a central driving element of the story. Amos himself never really seems to dwell on those questions.

I spent the first third of the book wondering where the story was going, but I couldn't bring myself to put it down! I had to find out what was going to happen with Amos. The book has a melancholy feel, and yet is also full of the resilience of hope. I ended up really liking it. I'm so glad I read it. And, since this author is new to me, I will be checking out her other books.

(My library has categorized this as Young Adult. I would agree with that. There are a lot of mature themes in this book.)

Book published by Henry Holt and Company
Copyright 2010
309 pages
This copy borrowed from the library

Also check out these other reviews:
Becky's Book Reviews
Willow Lane Reviews

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Book Review: Love, Ruby Lavender by Deborah Wiles

Ages 8 and up

to Halleluia, Mississippi
400 Good Friendly Folks
And a Few Old Soreheads
Nine year old Ruby Lavender and her muumuu wearing, champion-of-lost-causes grandmother, Miss Eula, are best friends. The two of them "liberate" three hens from Peterson's Egg Farm -saving them from certain death-, go on picnics, share secrets, and have their own secret mailbox tree, where they constantly exchange letters.
Then Ruby's anticipation of another summer of fun with Miss Eula is dashed when her grandmother tells her she won't be there this summer; she's going to Hawaii to visit her son and her new little granddaughter.
Crushed and a little jealous, Ruby writes to her grandmother while she is away, telling her all about the summer's happenings -her confrontations with her arch nemesis Melba Jane; caring for the Ivy, Bemmie and Bess, the 3 "liberated" hens (she reads them the dictionary for their bedtime "story"); testing her mother's garden-fresh recipes (which she loves); sweeping the floors of her Aunt Mattie's store (which she hates); meeting her new teacher; making a new friend.

This was a fun read. The characters are strong, interesting, and there's enough action to drive the story forward. And I love reading stories about strong family connections and families who love each other.
And I love reading books where the characters learn important lessons about forgiveness, especially when they are not pedantic.
This book would make a wonderful read-aloud, even for kids as young as six.

Themes: family bonds; small town living; friendship; death and loss; dealing with people you don't like.

Book published in 2001 by Gulliver Books, a trademark of Harcourt,Inc.
188 pages
Borrowed from the library

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Jim Weiss, Storyteller and Recording Artist Extraordinaire - An Introduction

  If you've never heard of Jim Weiss, you're missing out on a marvelous experience. He is a storyteller - a master, award-winning storyteller, captivating audiences of all ages. If you think you're too old to listen to stories, hearing Jim Weiss tell a story will change your mind.

  This weekend, I had the privilege of sitting in four of the five presentations he gave at the 2011 MidSouth Homeschool Convention in Memphis. What a treat! I loved every minute of it. I learned tricks and tips about storytelling and reading aloud, like "Tell the stories you love. And don't think you have to be perfect at it. Through the telling of a story, your children will feel the love you have." I learned about the life and writings of G.K. Chesterton. I sat enthralled with my girls and husband, listening to stories about King Arthur; and we attended a storytelling workshop where the highlight was hearing Jim tell Aesop's fable, The Tortoise and the Hare. In every session he talked about the story behind the story, giving incredibly detailed highlights in such an interesting way. My older daughters talked of nothing but the experience the whole hour-long drive home.
  Jim Weiss grew up listening to his father and grandfather tell stories. His grandfather was the keeper of the family stories, and his father, a history and classical literature enthusiast, told Jim and his brother the stories from the books he'd read. And then he would point to the book, and say, "If you liked that story, you'll love the book."
  "It gave me the incentive to read books," Jim told me.
  As the years went by, Jim started telling his own stories, first to his young cousins, and then to his own daughter.
  In 1989, after years of telling stories for the fun of it, Jim and his wife Randy realized that all the classic stories were being hijacked by Hollywood, and a whole generation of children were growing up without truly knowing these great stories or their important messages to humanity.
  Because of their passion, they decided -in a bold, breathless move- to invest all their savings into starting Greathall Productions, to record the great stories of history, legend, and literature. They call it "Intelligent entertainment for the thinking family."TM
We had never heard of "a professional storyteller," did not know if there was an audience for what we were doing. We know only that the classics, from Aesop to Shakespeare, from Greek mythology to King Arthur through Dickens and Dumas, were often ignored or presented in a way that radically changed the original stories. We knew from experience, however, that a story well told would ignite a love of learning in a listener. Our goal then, as now, was to instill in children the lifelong love of great literature by telling the stories on a child's level without altering the authors' intent.

  And it paid off in a big way. Today, 23 years later, Jim Weiss' recordings have won more than 85 national awards, and gained a fan base from all around the world.
  They have MANY titles to choose from, ranging from folk tales (American Tall Tales, Animal Tales, Tell Me A Story!, Tales of Cultures Near And Far, etc.) to fairy tales (Fairy Tale Favorites In Story & Song, Giants! A Colossal Collection of Tales & Tunes, etc.) to Mythology (King Arthur And His Knights, Arabian Nights, Greek Myths, She and He: Adventures in Mythology, etc.) to adventure stories (The Three Musketeers/Robin Hood, etc.) to true stories of the great masters of art and science (Galileo and the Stargazers, Masters of the Renaissance: Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and More, etc.) to historical figures (Thomas Jefferson's America, Abraham Lincoln & the Heart of America, The Queen's Pirate: Elizabeth I and Sir Francis Drake, Julius Caesar and the Story of Rome, Gone West: Bold Adventures of American Explorers and Pioneers, etc.) to the works of famous authors and playwrights (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare for Children, Sherlock Holmes for Children, etc.)

 And, at the end of most of his recordings -in an echo of his father before him- he encourages his listeners to get the book and read the stories for themselves. 

Those of you who read this blog know by now how passionate I am about reading aloud, and how important I think it is for language development and for modeling the use of oral language, as well as creating motivation for children to read the stories for themselves. Storytelling, obviously, does that too. Plus, Jim Weiss explains, there is something magical that happens when a story is told - an energy, a bond is created between storyteller and listener. A storyteller gives the gift of him/herself in the telling.

I had so much fun meeting Jim and Randy Weiss this weekend. They are warm, gracious, personable, and funny. They gave everyone who stopped by their Greathall booth their personal attention. I watched them help people pick out the perfect CD for their family or special someone. In fact, they personally picked out and so generously donated 2 CDs for this special give-away.

For more information about them, and to see all their available stories and services, please visit the Greathall Productions website, and ask for a brochure. Jim and Randy also write a free monthly newsletter that you can sign up for that includes monthly sale specials, articles/stories by both Randy and Jim, and much more.

And now The GIVE-AWAY!
* This Give-Away is now CLOSED!

In the spirit of fostering that love of reading and learning, Jim and Randy Weiss have very generously provided me with 2 CDs to give to you, my readers, that they hand picked themselves, and that Jim autographed. Thank you so much, Jim and Randy, for being so generous to a humble beginning blogger.

The titles are:
  • Tell Me A Story! A Treasury of Classics. Includes: Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Bremen Town Musicians, Things Could Always Be Worse, The Hare and the Hedgehog, The Little Red Hen, Rumpelstiltskin, and Tell Me a Story. For ages 3 and up.
  • Sherlock Holmes for Children. Includes: The Mazarin Stone, The adventure of the Speckled Band, The Musgrave Ritual, and The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle. For ages 7 and up.

Here's how it will work:
  1. You MUST leave a comment telling me of your favorite storytelling or reading aloud memory/experience. PLEASE comment, even if you do not normally do so, because I want you to have a chance to hear Jim Weiss' marvelous stories. (But please note that comments without a favorite memory will not be entered in the drawing.)
  2. There will be two drawings - one for each CD. Tell me in the comment which CD you prefer. If you don't have a preference, your name will be entered in both drawings for a chance to win either one. They are both wonderful!
  3. You can only win one CD.
  4. The comments for this giveaway will be open for one week. Comments will close at midnight (Central Standard Time) on March 13th, 2011. The winning comment will be announced on Monday morning. 
  5. I'm sorry to have to restrict this, but the drawing is open to U.S. addresses only.
  6. The winner must then contact me via e-mail, so I can get your name and address to send the CD on its way. You have up to three days to contact me after I announce the winners. If I don't hear from you, we will re-draw names.
  7. Bonne chance!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mini Reviews of Books Read to the Kids in February

(*Excluding the ones I've already posted about this month. Please excuse some of the type inconsistencies; I've been having trouble with either Blogger or my computer. In the end it amounts to the same thing, right?)

My First Body Book
Written by Christopher Rice for DK Publishing

An excellent introduction to the functioning of various body organs and systems. It also has lots of great experiments/activities to try at home to demonstrate the various ways the body works. Such a fun, interesting book that my older girls, especially my seven-year-old, keep re-reading, and sharing with the rest of us. They have had a blast trying the various activities.

Written by Margie Palatini
Illustrated by Henry Cole

A rabbit, duck, and two hens think their neighbors Thomas and Joseph, two contented pigs, need to improve their pigsty, their diet, and their cleanliness -or lack thereof. In their zeal to change the two contented pigs, the discontented neighbors end up doing all the work themselves, only to realize how foolish they have been.

Bravo, Livingston Mouse!
Written by Pamela Duncan Edwards
Illustrated by Henry Cole

Livingston Mouse provides much needed rhythm for his fellow creatures performing in the talent show.

Nobody's Diggier Than a Dog
Written by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Illustrated by Beppe Giacobbe

A fun, adjective-laden book describing dog qualities. If you've ever had dogs or been around dogs you can definitely appreciate this book.

The Philharmonic Gets Dressed
Written by Karla Kuskin
Illustrated by Marc Simont

A charmingly funny book about the 105 members of the Philharmonic Orchestra and the things they do as they prepare to go to work one Friday night. My girls love this book and giggle over the pictures. 

Dance At Grandpa's
Written by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Illustrated by Renee Graef

One of the simplified My First Little House Books, which I discovered when my first daughter was a toddler, this book tells the story of Laura, Mary, Baby Carrie, Ma and Pa going to a dance at Grandpa's house.
All of these books have been favorite reads with my littles. Right now this is my three-year-old's favorite of the series. (This series is adapted largely from Little House in the Big Woods, with a couple of stories from Little House on the Prairie.)

The Poky Little Puppy
Written by Janette Sebring Lowrey
Illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren

Originally published in 1942, this book tells the story of five little puppies who like to go for walks "in the wide, wide world." But they get into trouble for digging holes under the fence in order to do so.
Personally, I find the illustrations adorable, but the story...not so much.

I Can Fly
Written by Ruth Krauss
Illustrated by Mary Blair

Originally published in 1951, this is a quick, rhyming book about a little girl who compares herself to certain creatures.
A favorite read-aloud of Susanna, my three-year-old. My mom tells me I was obsessed with this book myself as a toddler.

The Stray Dog
Written and Illustrated by Marc Simont, based on a story told by Reiko Sassa

When a family goes to the country for a picnic, and finds a friendly stray dog and plays with him all day, the children want to bring him home, but the parents think he might belong to someone. After returning home and thinking about the dog all week, the family returns to the same spot for another picnic, hoping to find the dog again. He comes all right, being chased by an animal control officer. The children immediately lay claim to the dog, and when the officer tells them they need a leash and collar, the boy and girl offer up their belt and hair ribbon.
Fun, fun illustrations. Especially cute are the pictures of the little boy holding up his pants with one hand as he offers up his belt as a collar, and then as he cavorts around with the dog in happiness. Also fun are the pictures of the family as they think about the dog during the week.

The Lady and the Lion
Retold by Laurel Long and Jacquiline K. Ogburn, from a story by the Brothers Grimm
Illustrated by  Laurel Long

A combination of "Beauty and the Beast" and "East of the Sun, West of the Moon", this is the story of a young woman who goes to live with the Lion because of a promise made by her father. After finding out that the lion is under an enchantment that makes him a beast by day, but a handsome young man by night, the lady and the lion fall in love and marry, but she still pines for home. When news comes of her sister's wedding, she and her lion husband visit her family's home. But the visit ends disastrously when a splinter of light from the procession touches the prince and he turns instantly into a dove that must fly around the world for seven years. So the lady follows him for seven years, and just as the enchantment is almost complete, a mistake on her part allows the enchantress to snatch the prince and fly away with him. Now the lady must go to the enchantresses lair, and with some magical gifts, trick the enchantress into giving up her husband.
  This is a favorite re-read with Karina (6) and Olivia (7). We love the amazing, sumptuous illustrations that have the "flavor" of India.

Falling Down the Page: A Book of List Poems
Edited by Georgia Heard

A fun book of list poems by contemporary poets. There are quite a few poems about various school issues that we skipped over because my girls couldn't relate very well to them since they're homeschooled. Being the ages they are, I enjoyed this book more than they did.

A Sick Day for Amos McGhee
Written by Phillip C. Stead
Illustrated by Erin E. Stead

A caring elderly zookeeper named Amos McGhee takes the time every day to visit his animal friends at the zoo, giving them the kind of company they need most. One day, he is too sick to come to work. After waiting and waiting for him, the animals realize something is wrong and set out to find him. When they arrive at his home, they give the company he needs the most.
 All three of my girls loved this sweet story about friendship and the incredible illustrations. (Although I think my Susanna was horrified by the fact that the penguin lost his balloon out the window in the end, an incident not pertinent to the story, but it certainly loomed large in her small world. Losing a balloon equals tragedy to her!)

The Tub People
Written by Pam Conrad
Illustrated by Richard Egielski

This story is about a little wooden family of dolls who live on the edge of a tub, and play in the bath. One day the little Tub Child is lost down the drain, which causes the water to not be able to drain properly, and a plumber is called in to fix the problem. Then the tub people are reunited and given a new home in the bedroom.
The story is told entirely from the point of the Tub People. Although a human child is obviously present to facilitate the Tub People's adventures, the child is unseen in the illustrations and unmentioned. The only human that seems to be noticed is the plumber.
A perennial favorite at our house, I think it resonates with my girls first because it deals with the lose and return of family members, always a big issue in little minds, and second, because my girls like to play with little figures in the tub, and have probably had similar "adventures" with their little people.

A Tree is Nice
Written by Janice May Udry
Illustrated by Marc Simont

Winner of the 1957 Caldecott Medal, the book describes many reasons why "a tree is nice."  I don't know what else to add, except my children were not enthused about the book, maybe because they already knew why trees are nice. They do like the pictures, and they continue to pull it out to look at the pictures, but they never ask for it to be re-read.

Retold and Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

My girls love, love this book. Winner of the 1998 Caldecott Medal, the lush, Italian Renaissance inspired illustrations rescue this old German folk tale from banality. Not my favorite fairy tale, I nevertheless prefer Mr. Zelinsky's version of the story.  More frank and realistic (the witch discovers the prince's visits when she realizes Rapunzel is pregnant), it is also gracefully told. And I love the illustrations. (Don't forget to read his notes at the back of the story, explaining the research he did that led him to write it and illustrate it the way he did.)

The Rainbabies

Written by Laura Krauss Melmed
Illustrated by Jim LaMarche

An older childless couple still longs for a baby, and one moonlit night after the rain, they discover a dozen tiny babies. After risking their own lives to keep the babies safe during one disaster after another, the babies' mother Moonshower comes to take them back, and the older couple is rewarded with a baby of their own.
My girls loved this book; it's a sweet story. And the illustrations are so amazing!

Written and Illustrated by Jim LaMarche

A little boy, told he is too young to join his father and older brother on their fishing trawler, feels left out, but soon discovers he has the magical ability to lift things. After working on this skill, gradually lifting bigger and heavier things, he uses his ability to help save a beached whale.
An uplifting story (pun withstanding) about perseverance, this spectacularly illustrated story is a favorite re-read with my girls.

Angelina's Baby Sister
Written by Katherine Holabird
Illustrated by Helen Craig

Angelina eagerly awaits the arrival of her new baby sister, and then gets jealous of the all the attention paid to her.
Beautiful illustrations, but not my favorite adapting-to-a-new-baby story.

The Olden Days
Written by Joe Mathieu
Illustrated by ?  (I can't find the book! My kids have taken it somewhere, but don't remember where.)

This book looks at life in a New England village of the 1800's. The pictures show great detail of the inside of houses, stores, and service shops (i.e. the blacksmith, the wheel-wright, etc.)
My girls loved poring over the detail in the pictures. It helped them understand some of the references in the Laura Ingalls Wilder books better.

When I Was Young in the Mountains
Written by Cynthia Rylant
Illustrated by Diane Goode

This Caldecott Honor Book (1983) is a story told through simple vignettes of the life of a young girl living with her grandparents in the Appalachian mountains. The love of family shines through the child's voice.
A beautiful pairing of text and illustrations.

Red Ranger Came Calling
Written and Illustrated by Berkeley Breathed

A clever, original Christmas story with bold and zany pictures about a little boy who wants a certain bike very badly for Christmas, and seeks help from a crotchety, forgetful old man.
This one was too long for my three-year-old, but my older two chortled through it.

Night Tree
Written by Eve Bunting
Illustrated by Ted Rand

On Christmas Eve, a family gathers their supplies, and drives into the woods to select and decorate a tree with edible munchies for the woodland creatures.
I love stories about strong family ties and traditions. A great read.

And Then What Happened, Paul Revere?
Written by Jean Fritz
Illustrated by Margot Tomes

A gently humourous, practical look at Paul Revere's life and the incidents surrounding his famous ride.
I like how Jean Fritz paints Paul Revere in all his human-ness: an ordinary, decent, flawed man who did extraordinary things when called upon.
My girls love this book, and so do I.

The Tomten
Adapted by Astrid Lindgren from a poem by Viktor Ryberg
Illustrated by Harald Wiberg

In this book based on Swedish folklore, a magical, benevolent, gnome-like little man comes out on a winter night to make his rounds of a forest farm, speaking gently to the animals in Tomten language, which they understand. 
The illustrations evoke a dream-like quality to the book which, unfortunately, has not been a favorite of my children. Their question after reading it was "WHY? Why does he visit the animals and people? If he's so lonely, why doesn't he let people see him?"