Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Learning About Charles Darwin: A Book List for Ages 4 and up

The Humblebee Hunter 
by Deborah Hopkinson; illustrated by Jen Corace
As told from the viewpoint of Darwin's young daughter, Etty, this beautifully illustrated book gives an intriguing look at Darwin as a family man, and how his children entered into the quest for knowledge, too. My own daughters' desire to learn about Darwin was sparked by this book.

One Beetle Too Many: the Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin
by Kathryn Lasky; illustrated by Matthew Trueman
Great introduction to Charles Darwin, wonderfully written and outstanding, whimsical illustrations. A real treat for both eyes and mind! My girls loved this book.
The artist had this to say about the illustrative process of this book: "The illustrations in this book started out as drawings created with acrylic inks, watercolor, and graphite pencil. I moved up the food chain to add gouache and colored pencil. After sealing the pictures with acrylic medium, I did my thicker acrylic painting, then fooled around a little more with graphite and colored pencil. Finally, I added the collage elements, including paper, string, and weeds and wildflowers from my yard and nearby ditches and fields."

Animals Charles Darwin Saw: An Around-the-World Adventure
by Sandra Merkle; illustrated by Zina Saunders
Well-written with great illustrations, this book does a great job of showing how the animals he saw led Darwin to contemplate the common accepted "truths" of his day, without overwhelming the reader (or hearer, in our case) with science.

The Tree of Life
by Peter Sis
Here is a wonderful taste of this book. (Don't forget to click on the "more" button in the bottom right corner of the linked page. It will take you to other pages of the book.) We love Peter Sis books. So full of detail.

What Darwin Saw: The Journey That Changed the World
by Rosalyn Schanzer
A wonderfully illustrated graphic novel-type book, better suited for self-exploration by established readers (ages 8 and up) than reading aloud.

Who Was Charles Darwin?
by Deborah Hopkinson; illustrated by Nancy Harrison
More greatness from Deborah Hopkinson. (She also wrote The Humblebee Hunter featured first in this post.) This book about Darwin's life and adventures is geared for slightly older readers, but also great for reading aloud to ages 7 and up.

The Riverbank
by Charles Darwin; illustrated by Fabian Negrin
Fabian Negrin's lush illustrative interpretation of Darwin's first paragraph from The Origin of Species. Beautiful pictures, but the words are difficult for youngsters to understand.

Charles Darwin and the Theory of Evolution
by Heather Adamson; illustrated by Gordon Purcell and Al Milgrom
If your kids like comics/graphic novels, this provides a good introduction to Darwin.

Charles Darwin and the Beagle Adventure
by A.J. Wood and Clint Twist
A clever, scrapbook-type book with lots of pockets, pictures, pull-out maps, quotes, etc.; in other words, much fodder for explorative learning. This book kept us entertained a long time, and my girls continually pull it out and pore over it.

Are there any other great books about Darwin for this age group that we've missed?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Reading Status, Mini Reviews and What's On My Nightstand

Join us at 5 Minutes for Books.com to see what books others have on their nightstands. 
Books just finished:
Entwined by Heather Dixon. (Young Adult)
An adaptation of the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairy tale.
What I liked: well-written; the relationship between the sisters; the idea of how the enchantment came to be; the many dances referenced; the idea that they danced to honor and remember their mother, who had taught them to dance; the broken relationship with their father that needs to be healed.
What I didn't like: I think it needed some tightening; I think it got bogged down a few times in "same-ness" (meaning that some of the scenes seemed to repeat themselves too much with only a small change here and there).
All in all, I enjoyed this version and would willingly read more books by this author.
Wow. Just wow. Peggy Orenstein, you read my mind. And you are my hero. People, read this book! As a mother, I have to confess I have a major beef with the whole Disney Princess marketing mumbo-jumbo, and I've worried for a long time about what kind of mixed messages the "princess" movies and fairy tales (speaking of fairy tales!) are sending our girls. Not only that, but this relentless over-sexualization of young girls is scary to me. In this book, Ms. Orenstein articulates so well all the issues that I have a problem with as I try to bring up daughters in this day and time. I deeply appreciate Ms. Orenstein's courage in tackling this subject and being a voice of warning and reason.
Currently reading:
Coronets and Steel by Sherwood Smith. (Fiction; perfectly suitable for teenagers, as well)
Initial impressions: A smart, swash-buckling adventure story, a la Prisoner of Zenda, with just a touch of supernatural thrown in. The protagonist, Kim Murray, goes to Europe to try to trace her family's mysterious history and gets mistaken for someone else. I can't say much beyond that without ruining the story. I'm really enjoying it, and eagerly anticipating where it's going. I think it's the start of a series, 'though I don't know how many books are planned.
(I have to get this off my chest: I DO NOT like this cover. And the sunglasses make it even worse. Except for the Wren books, I don't think the publishers have done a good job with any of her book covers. Okay. There. I feel better.)
On My Nightstand:
Here are the books I have lined up to read next. I'm still working on reading the unread books from my own bookshelves. I did just get one hold in from the library which I must read first: Junonia by Kevin Henkes (not pictured.)
Any suggestions as to which ones I should read next?
Igraine, the Brave by Cornelia Funke (Middle Grade)
The Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton (Adult Fiction)
Young Joan by Barbara Dana (Middle Grade)
The Marriage Bureau for Rich People by Farahad Zama (Adult Fiction)
The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine (Adult Fiction)
The Bread Winner by Arvella Whitmore (Middle Grade)
Confessions of a Closet Catholic by Sarah Darer Littman (Middle Grade)
North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley (Young Adult)
I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You by Ally Carter (Young Adult)
Picturebooks On the Kids' Nightstand (from the library):
A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston; illustrated by Sylvia Long
The Chimpanzee Family Book by Jane Goodall; photographs by Michael Neugebauer
The Scarecrow's Dance by Jane Yolen; illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
About Birds: A Guide for Children by Cathryn Sill; illustrated by John Sill
If the Shoe Fits: Voices from Cinderella by Laura Whipple; illustrated by Laura Beingessner
Cloud Tea Monkeys by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham; illustrated by Juan Wijngaard
Abe Lincoln: The Boy Who Loved Books by Kay Winters; illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
Spectacular Science: A Book of Poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins; illustrated by Virginia Halstead

Friday, August 19, 2011

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Vacation Reads

Is it too late to share what I read in July? I will anyway, 'though it was a pretty light reading month; too many other vacation distractions. But I did manage to read a few good books.

by Joseph D'Agnese

Funky cover, awesome content. This is a series of fascinating journalistic essays on ordinary citizen scientists who are making their own unique contributions in the world. I just like Joseph D'Agnese's approachable style of writing. And he has a knack for making science interesting.

by Meg Cabot

This is a fluffy, fun adult (yes, most definitely adult) romance with a touch of mystery and a whole lot of being chased by bad guys. This is only the second Meg Cabot book, the first being Insatiable a year or so ago. I read She Went All the Way at my sister's house, where, coincidentally, my 15-year-old niece was in the middle of Cabot's famed Princess Diaries series, w
hich she says she's really enjoying. ("And completely different from the movies," she says.)She kept eyeing the book and finally asked if it was by the same author. I said "Yes, but if you touch this book your mother will string me up by my little toes, so hands off, toots."
Oddly enough, I've never read any of Meg Cabot's tween/teen books.

by Maria V. Snyder

Trella is a pipe scrubber, a resident of the Inside: a mysterious, overcrowded world where classes of people (the intellectuals vs. the "workers") are kept separate, and not given much knowledge of each other, or what, exactly is the world they inhabit. When Trella reluctantly goes with her foster brother to meet a prophet claiming the existence of the mysterious Gateway -a portal long talked about, but held by most to be mere myth- she inadvertently starts a growing rebellion against the establishment.
I started reading this dystopian book and didn't want to put it down until I finished. (And for those who care about possible objectionable content: if it were a movie, it would be rated PG for violence, and G -possibly PG- for sexual content, and I don't remember any language.) The sequel is Outside In.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Susanna's Current Favorite Book: Press Here by Herve Tullet

This charming, oh-so clever, and interactive book is magic to my little three-almost-four-year-old. She giggles, and pushes, and shakes, and tips, and blows, and claps according to the directions each time we read it, as if it's the first time. (You'll know what I mean once you've read/done the book.) It's very seriously fun business to her. It's the requested bedtime read right now. (Check out the trailer below to get a taste of what I mean.)

Friday, August 5, 2011

Vacation highlights, coming home, and more audio book listening

We are finally home from our month-long vacation out west. We had fun visiting family, catching up on all the happenings in their lives. My girls thought they died and went to Heaven when we stayed with my sister and they got to play with their girl cousins all day long. I loved the time I got to spend with my best friend (my sister) despite the many interruptions from various quarters of life. And I'm grateful to my bro-in-law for putting up with the added estrogen factor. We stayed at my sister's house for the first half of our visit, and then went to my parent's house for the last half.
I took my computer along with every intention of blogging during that time, but it was never really convenient.
My parents recently emptied their storage unit that they had had during their decades in Africa, moving the contents to their new-ish home. It was fun unearthing some of the treasures that haven't seen the light of day in 30 plus years, and hearing the stories behind some of the items I didn't recognize. And the books! So many old friends that I wanted to browse through, but couldn't due to a too-full house. (Next time I'm staying in the guestroom with the bookshelves, Mom!) I spent hours going through old school papers they'd kept for me, tossing out most of them. It was a fun walk down memory lane.
My older brother and his family came from Louisiana for the reunion, and we got to spend quality time with them as well.
And I got to meet my new little nephew, and nominally help my younger brother and his family move to their new house.
So, all in all, fun times were had, but in the end I was very ready to come home. It's hard to be away from home and Todd for so long (his work load wouldn't permit a vacation at this time), and my girls, despite all the bontemps, were chomping at the bit to come home to Daddy.
The drive back was sooo not fun; my girls were fractious and antsy and not behaving well, despite the following audio books:

1. What Katy Did At School, written by Susan Coolidge, read by Laurel Lefkow, produced by Naxos AudioBooks. My girls were anxious to hear the next installment of the Katy series. This story follows the adventures of Katy and her next sister Clover as they navigate the world of boarding school.

2. Best Loved Stories in Song and Dance, told by Jim Weiss, produced by Greathall Productions. The stories on this disc are The Twelve Dancing Princesses, The Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White and Rose Red.

3. The Mysterious Benedict Society, written by Trenton Lee Stewart, read by Del Roy, produced by Listening Library. I haven't read these books or heard much about them, other than one friend's recent recommendation, and so didn't know what to expect. I was hooked from the start. I loved this clever story and listened avidly. My girls, not so much. I'm not sure why, but they didn't follow the story very well, or listen very well. I think it was the anticipation of going home rather than the story itself. Now I'm dying to read the rest of the books, and see what other adventures the Mysterious Benedict Society has. Poor Grandma (my mom) was left hanging near the end, since we hadn't finished by the time we dropped her off in Nashville, and still had two hours left of the story. But we promised to buy her the books so she can find out what happens.
(I forgot to mention that the highlight of our drive, going and coming, was that my mom came with us. She flew to Nashville, where we picked her up, and she drove west with us. Then we did the same thing in reverse on the return trip. It was so wonderful having that time with her, since she had to work for most of our visit and wasn't able to spend a lot of time with us. It was fun listening to books with her.)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Long Road Trips + Great Audiobooks = Heaven

We have made the trip west to attend two family reunions this month, and made the decision to drive rather than fly, since we would need a car once we arrived at our destination anyway.
In anticipation of our trip (and out of abhorrence of plugging my girls into portable DVDs since I find it makes them horrible travellers), I purchased and rented a quantity of audio books for the trip.

Here is the line-up of our audio selections we've listened to so far. (We head east again tomorrow, so stay tuned for the going-east audio line-up.):

1. What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge, read by Laurel Lefkow, produced by Naxos AudioBooks. My girls loved this abridged story, about a girl named Katy Carr, the oldest girl in a widowed doctor's family of six, in the 1860s. Katy is tall and gangly and careless, and leads her siblings in all sorts of adventures, until tragedy strikes and she has to have her own adventure. Laurel Lefkow does such an amazingly superb job of reading. Her pacing and voicing are perfect.
(P.S. I love, love, love Naxos Audiobooks. Their audiobooks are consistently, wonderfully done. Their readers do such a superb job.)

2. Charlotte's Web by E.B White, read by the author. One of our very favorite stories about the loyal friendship between a pig and a spider. The audio left a lot to be desired, 'though. The author has quite a monotonous voice that doesn't do his wonderful story any favors.

3. Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater, read by Nick Sullivan, produced by Hachette Audio. A silly, fun and lively story of a house painter whose fascination with penguins causes a noted Antarctic explorer to send him a live penguin, which results in a few problems. The story is brought to life so well by Mr. Sullivan.

4. Sylvester, or The Wicked Uncle by Georgette Heyer, read by Richard Armitage, produced by Naxos AudioBooks. "When Sylvester, the Duke of Salford, first meets Phoebe Marlow, he finds her dull and insipid. She finds him insufferably arrogant. But when a series of unforeseen events leads them to be stranded together in a lonely country inn, they are both forced to reassess their hastily formed opinions, and begin a new-found liking and respect for each other. Sylvester calls to mind the satirical genius of a Jane Austen novel and is adored for its wit and a fast-paced plot that ranges across a myriad of settings." (From Naxos AudioBooks)
Richard Armitage reads this abridged book with panache and suavity, and real depth of feeling. He does such a superb job of voicing the various characters. (His voicing of Sir Nugent Fotherby especially had me in stitches.)