Yesterday, I had the great pleasure of visiting the new main library in Vancouver, WA. Sublime. Superb. Glorious. I felt like I was in New York City with the advanced architecture, features, technology and details. I went with my younger sister and three of my biblio-wee-ones and headed straight to the children's floor. Oh my goodness, this was a far cry from the library I grew up with in this same city long ago. I think it may be a good thing that we don't live in Vancouver anymore because I'm not sure I'd ever leave that place! I'd pack up my older boys' homeschooling books and we'd trek to the library each day and let my toddlers run amok while we did our work surrounded by infinite resources to support our learning.

The second we got to the children's floor (yes, floor... it's on it's own level), my sister tried to take me to the back area to look at all the infinte details with their excellent interactive play area... but I stopped like a kid in a candy store just looking at their massive amounts of children's books. She thought I was right behind her but I'd dropped to my knees and started pulling books off the shelf to preview. See, we are blessed to live within walking distance to our community library and I'm ever grateful for that. But it really is rather dinky. And comparing it to this library would be like comparing a little league T-Ball team to the New York Yankees. I tried not to feel envy. I saw so many authors that my own library system doesn't carry and such a delightful method of organizing books too. I was in hog heaven.

On top of this, there was indeed a wonderful variety of children's games, features (the community was asked to donate some items to contribute and my dear late grandmother's pressed flowers are imbedded in this giant tent for the kids to play in... and my nephew has a rusty, railroad spike he found and contributed--it's now encased in a clear box with other trinkets and the like) and super innovative educational activities that really were rocket science compared to the 4 or 5 wooden puzzles that my own library branch offers. I know, I know... envy is the big green monster. I have to keep my eyes on my own stack of books, truly. But if you ever are travelling north or south on the I-5 corridor through the Vancouver/Portland area, you really MUST stop and see this library downtown. It would be an excellent place to stop and let the kids get a bit of energy out without resorting to a McDonald's play area... this is no ordinary library.

The Best Christmas Gift Under the Tree

... well in my opinion anyway. So I've been holding out for the oh so unattainable but superb, entire, original Peter Rabbit Collectionby Beatrix Potter for a long time. I've resisted picking up these wee books piecemeal at thrift stores because I was bound and determined to have the whole collection in prime condition in order to pass on to future generations. Somehow a spare $100 was never to be found to splurge on the collection. Then I went to Costco and found the next best thing: the same collection, books 1-23, complete and boxed for $25. (This is what it looks like on Amazon.) I rubbed my eyes in disbelief. There are only a couple differences (and they are only significant for true bibliozealots): the size of the books and the formatting of the illustrations are changed. (The original has text on one page and picture on the other-- these stack them up like contemporary story books.) Miss Potter published the original books in a small size for a few reasons:
  1. Less ink means cheaper to print, making the books affordable to the public.

  2. It was the ideal size for small hands; Potter wanted children to feel that intimacy and ownership.

  3. She followed in the style trend of the very popular (and now controversial) "Little Black Sambo" book (part of the Dumpy Book Collection published at the turn of the 19th century)
The small format books are indeed still superior; it's always good to read a book in the way the author intended it to be read, but since the hundred dollar collection just wasn't happening anytime before my kids went to college, I was willing to sacrifice the size and stilted formatting for a $75 discount on a collection that was still worthy to be called "heirloom." We gifted this collection to my young daughter in hopes that she will grow up knowing and loving the world of Peter Rabbit.

Considering Peter Rabbit is among the bestselling books of all time, I'm pretty sure most of you are familiar with the stories. Some brief elaboration for the rest of you:

Beatrix Potter was a writer, artist and naturalist who initially wrote The Tale of Peter Rabbit for the son of her former governess. The story is probably the first children's book written with a sort of imperfect protagonist as the star: Peter Rabbit is a rather naughty rabbit who gets into mischief in the garden and subsequently into trouble with his mother. The artwork is charming, intimate and drawn from a perspective that brings children into the fear of Mr. McGregor etc.

The books in Potter's collection are indeed curl-up-and-read style... they aren't the quick "git-r-done" books you would go to for a brief story that just needs to get-read-in-order-to-placate-a-child-but-you-don't-have-a-lot-of-time-or-patience. (Though, truth be told, there IS a place in children's literature for such stories and maybe I'll humor us with a Top Ten list of quickie books at some point.) No, Peter Rabbit and Squirrel Nutkin and Jemima Puddle-Duck must be slowly savored and never rushed. All children should know these characters. I admit that mine aren't very familiar with the Potter world, due to my insistence on acquiring the full collection before indulging in any of them. But their appetites have been duly whetted ever since a good friend came over and showed them this video telling the frightening Roly Poly Pudding story. Now, they are eager for more on this world. And now, $25 later, I can share it in abundance. Check your Costco out; it may still have this bargain available! Otherwise, save up for the original set. Or get this condensed versionif you must (but ONLY if you must because as a rule, consolidated books are inherently inferior). Either which way, get some Beatrix Potter in your collection!

"Don't go into Mr. McGregor's garden: your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor."

-Mother Rabbit in The Tale of Peter Rabbit

The Odd Marriage of P.J. Lynch

When a children's book has an excellent story and poor illustrations or a poor story and excellent illustrations... I call this an odd marriage. It really can ruin the overall effect for readers; I'd rather have not read those delightful words only to have an ugly picture of them put in my brain. Or I'd rather not see those exquisite drawings paired up to such lame text... what a waste!

In this vein, I present to you a book published this year called No One But Youby Douglas Wood. I grabbed the book at the library because I was attracted to the artwork and thought I might recognize it, and indeed P.J. Lynch does not disappoint! Lynch is the artist behind many other books, some of which I love very much, including the excellent Christmas stories:The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomeyand The Gift of the Magi... not to mention the classic (though obviously intended for slightly older readers) A Christmas Carol.

In No One But You, Lynch's work is superb. You can see the canvas and the realism in each page and the perspective with which he paints is a treat also. Use the "Look Inside Book" feature on amazon to get a taste of what I mean. The disappointing part is that he's paired up with a text that is pure cotton candy. It offers no substance. Now, many people are great fans of books which aren't really "stories" insomuch as they are esteem boosters for children... think of Sam McBratney books for a good example of what I mean. Of course, there is nothing wrong with books that tell children how loved they are and how special they are, but let's be clear: these aren't story books. And quite often, these are books parents love more than kids and these types are especially given as gifts... as if they are an extended greeting card trying to express what a parent wishes he or she could say. I rant on this topic in slightly more depth here.

So, may it be it known, I am not a fan of such books. I usually find them dull and patronizing. No One But You is such a book. Like McBratney's books, it'll probably get very high reviews as more people read it. And I'm not going to be a total curmudgeon and say it's worthless; it just leaves so much to be desired for me by way of wishing those beautiful, beautiful illustrations were paired with as striking of a story as Jonathan Toomeyfor example. (Incidentally, we just borrowed the film version of this book from the library and were pleasantly surprised at how well done it was for a family movie.) Instead the text that matches the page in the above image is this: "Only one person can notice the hum of a bumblebee on a lazy afternoon as he buzzes past your ear on his way to a clover patch, and that someone is no one but you." Meh. The words are lovely, sure. But the whole book is variations of this: "No one but you can feel the rain kiss your skin or the wind ruffle your hair. And no one but you can walk through a rain puddle in your bare feet."

It makes me wonder Well, why not anyone else but me? Other people can feel the rain and walk through puddles too... but I suspect I'm over thinking what Douglas Wood is trying to get across. Lastly, I've noticed that Candlewick Press publishes a lot of feel-good books like this. A lot. In fact, if I see that a children's book is produced by this publisher, I already have an idea of what to expect. I'm not totally prejudiced here, I'm just saying it's a trend I've noticed. But a publisher is, after all, in the business of making money... not necessarily producing excellent literature. And it's clear that there is a market for books of the "You Are Special!" breed.

So, if you like these feel-good, non-substantial books, No One But You would be an excellent choice. It'll make a great gift after all! But if you want the whole enchilada of goodness, seek out P.J Lynch's other works.

something good

You know you're doing something right on the bibliozealous front when you wake up in the morning and your three oldest sons are all bundled under a blanket together reading random pages in this:

“Happy is he who has laid up in his youth, and held fast in all fortune, a genuine and passionate love of reading.”
-Rufus Choate

How To Build Your Home Library

What should be on our bookshelves?

The answer to that title question is in other questions:

With what do you want to fill your child's brain? What kinds of things do you want your children to be thinking about, dreaming of, reflecting on, or trying to figure out? For me, it's always the same: I want my kids to be offered as much of the world's goodness, nobility, truth and beauty as possible. So I hope my bookshelves reflect that.

I found a quote that I plan on writing a whole essay on soon for Soul Gardening... but in the meantime, I'll share the gist of it here:

"Let nothing be in your homes that is not useful or that you do not find to be beautiful."

Let that sink in my friends. This is slowly changing my world and it affects every. single. aspect of that beautiful, evocative word: home. Not just stuff like knick-knacks or furniture... but wardrobes, kitchenware, jewelry, toys, and books!

As I've been reflecting on this quote, I thought it would be a good, seasonal time to go through my bookshelves again to begin culling out the items that do not fit this definition. In so doing, I realize that there are a few categories of books that might help me to make some choices:

  • Useful-Beautiful books. This would include non-fiction titles like Paul Revere's Ride which exposes a child to history, excellent poetry, and lovely illustrations all at once. It also includes fiction books that teach a subtle character lesson or virtue that you want to cultivate in your child, e.g. The Empty Pot which offers a lesson in honesty, the Chinese culture, and superb art. I would also classify certain Reader books in this category like: The Frog and Toad series which feature the talented author/illustrator, Arnold Lobel. Reader books are especially difficult to find in this category since so many of them are dull or uninspired. Useful and Beautiful books should always be collected and treasured more than any other type.
  • Useful-Unremarkable books. These include many titles for homeschoolers. I have noticed that the popular publisher Usborne Books has a ton of titles in this category. They offer good information for children, are interesting to read... but usually feature uninspiring illustrations. Don't get me wrong; I love our Usborne Time Traveler but there is nothing aesthetically superior here.
  • Useful-Ugly books. The beginning reader books fill out this category more than any other. For some reason, writers and publishers think simple text needs to necessarily equate to banal story lines... if there's a story at all. Parents may do well to wonder if their child's resistance to reading has to do with the quality of what they 're offered. Indeed, what child would ever WANT to learn to read when the stuff they're reading is dull as dirt?! I'd also include heavily commercialized literature in this category like this (*shudder*) or this (*blech*).
  • Beautiful books. These are books that delight you or your child (preferably both) and are simultaneously original, inspiring, or clever. There are hundreds of books in this category but one that comes immediately to my mind (which captures the whole trifecta of "original, inspiring and clever") is from my all-time favorite author illustrator, Doris Burn: Andrew Henry's Meadow. Now "beautiful books" need not always be serious or beautifully illustrated per se. Character development defines beauty (as in the case of the dignified animals in most of William Steig's books, e.g., Doctor De Soto). Clever rhymes define beauty (like the fun A House is a House for Me) and of course inspiring art--even without text-- defines beauty a la Tuesday style... These types of stories will be the things your children remember well into adulthood. They will influence play, dreams, and creative thinking. They will teach children to foster an appreciation for good, beautiful and wholesome literature. Yes, Beautiful books should live in abundance on your shelves.
  • Unremarkable books. Most of the parents I know-- and whose bookshelves I've chanced to peruse-- have books of only this type and the type I'll be mentioning next. Occasionally, parents fill their shelves with these books and have a few Beautiful books scattered in there. They're on the right track! Unremarkable books have lived in my shelves off and on for my whole parenting career. These are books which are essentially harmless, have mediocre art and/or story lines and which children generally like. But there is nothing that really resonates "beauty" or "delight" in them. We get a lot of unremarkable books from the library that seem to interest the children, like Library Mouse, or The Magic Hat. You may find yourself protesting at what I'd consider an "unremarkable book." That's okay. This is my blog. And your mileage may vary on when Beautiful ends and Unremarkable begins... I'll not deny that some books of this sort are "good books." But once you get a taste of "excellent books"... good books simply won't suffice anymore. If it's all you've got, stick with 'em... "good" or "unremarkable" books are better than no books! But do try to improve your collection over time.
  • Ugly books. There is no excuse for ugly books on anyone's shelves. Most American parents have ugly books on their shelves. These books are the lowest in both art and text. They are often banal, commercialized or even offensive. You may feel conflicted because your children LIKE these books! Well, my kids like Oreos and Cotton Candy. I'm certainly not going to feed them these things often if I can help it. They'll soon learn that the "beautiful books" are even sweeter than these ones. And one day, you'll be at your little downtown library and your nine year old will come up to you with an exquisite book and say excitedly: "Mom, look at these illustrations! Aren't they awesome?" And you'll let out a gentle, contented sigh as you delight in knowing that you've raised a discerning child who can recognize goodness when he sees it. Believe me the psychology of this goes far beyond books and art... So anyway, get rid of all your ugly books! Go to the Goodwill and buy a few unremarkable books at least! And if you don't have any money, get rid of your ugly books anyway and get a free library card; begin enjoying some quality literature.
So these are the general categories of children's literature. Have an abundance of Beautiful-Useful books. Have an abundance of Useful-Unremarkable books. Have an abundance of Beautiful books. And then the real estate space on your shelf needs to be closely monitored. I grudgingly have to allow for a small space to Unremarkable books that were gifts to the kids which I feel guilty getting rid of just yet. I don't however, ever feel guilty about getting rid of any gifted ugly books. I'm the mom and I refuse to be guilted into making bad choices for my kids.

I am currently culling out Unremarkable books. I never have Ugly books and I never have Useful-Ugly books. They just aren't worth my space. I've finally gotten to a point in my home library where I can be more and more discerning about what we are keeping. Since I now have a healthy number of children's books, I can now start getting rid of whatever has been falling to the bottom of the totem pole. A few years ago, I couldn't get rid of them because I didn't have much of a selection. Now, I only want to keep the best of the best. I do presently allow books which I personally consider to be Unremarkable because my children like them so much (e.g. many books in the Lyle, Lyle Crocodile series) but I suspect that with time and the addition of more truly exquisite books, these will eventually leave the home too. It is better to have a small collection of quality books than a large mixed-bag collection. The bonus to this is that when you are exclusive with owning only a modest number of the best books possible, your appreciation for what you have deepens (I've found this to be true of the types of toys we allow in the house too). And thankfully, with time and and patience and a bit of money here and there... you can have a superb home library which will be loved by every family member. It'll be so worth it to look at your bookshelves and think that every title on there is either useful and/or beautiful.

on a side note...

I agree and appreciate these sentiments on the Rough Side of Reading... it can be applied to children's books too. Go ahead. I give you permission to stop in the middle of a story and say "Sorry kids, this story is lame... go pick another book." They'll protest, but it's for their own good and if you are matter of fact and can communicate your point in just the right way (blending charity, cheerfulness, patience and firmness coupled with an excited willingness to read something else) they'll be fine. Besides, it teaches them to be their own good stewards of time.

Because the truth is a fact and the fact is that there are so many good books... and so little time.

A Home for Ol' St. Nick

One week from today we'll celebrate the feast day of St. Nicholas. On this day, my own family wakes up to stockings filled with nuts, chocolates and small toys, trinkets or in the case of this year: battery operated toothbrushes! The joy! We do this on the 6th of December in keeping with the tradition of who St. Nick was and the legends that surround his name. Unlike many Christian parents I know, I'm 100% at ease with the place of St. Nick in our holiday celebrations. Forget the Easter Bunny, he makes no sense whatsoever... and the kids have ALWAYS known it's us and not some random "tooth fairy" who places money under the pillow upon losing a tooth. You think we'd bypass the pillow tradition for efficiency's sake but there's something deflating about Junior presenting you with a bicuspid and demanding: "Pay up!" No thank you.
But we do foster a healthy and appreciable devotion to good St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children. And I don't think Santa Clause detracts a bit from the Christ Child on Christmas Day if he's given his proper place. There is a book to help you if you're wondering what that place is: A Special Place for Santa: A Legend for Our Time. This book sort of tells the story behind that darling ornament of Christ kneeling before the Infant. It reconciles who Santa is and who St. Nick is and what his place is for Christmas. The illustrations aren't my favorite... I'm allergic to anything that looks like a Saturday morning cartoon... but the text makes this book a good one for parents who don't know how to explain St. Nick to their kids.

Top 10 Best Advent Books

I know it seems odd to offer a booklist on Advent but let's get real here. Do you know how many excellent Christmas books are out there?! It may well be the single most prolific genre of picture books. For that reason, not even I could possibly narrow it down to ten titles. {BUT I CAN NARROW IT DOWN TO 100!!!} So we'll break it up a bit, I'll offer you the books that seem to be more fitting for the season of Advent... then we'll get into the best post-Christmas day books. And apart from even these, I'll then write up a post about my top ten Winter books! Too bad we skipped Thanksgiving... next year life might slow down and the computer might speed up making this blog more active. For now, it is what it is!

Nothing troubles me more about Christmas than the utter lack of focus on Christ obviously... but a close second is the missing and messing up of the season of Advent: that quiet, somber season of hope. The celebrations and frenzied shopping and indulging in treats are really rather inappropriate during this time of waiting, in my humble opinion. That said, there aren't very many Advent specific books out there... so the list I present to you includes feast day books, and the Christmas books that at least have a significant time spent on the time prior to the 25th... if you can't wait until Christmas SEASON (which BEGINS on the 25th) to read in this genre of books (I certainly can't) than at least try to prioritize your reading list to include the more preparatory books before we begin celebrating Christmas itself.

*** Two years later, I'm updating this list.  Look for my new notes in red.***

 The Lady of Guadalupe by Tomie de Paola. You'll find that de Paola has a quite a few seasonal gems here but this one shine specifically. The feast of our Lady of Guadalupe is on December 12th and St. Juan Diego is on the 9th. This book tells the true story of this apparition in a lovely way. (I've been to the cathedral where the tilma still exists today!) Let's not forget this story during this time of hope and preparation for the Christ-Child! I still have and like this version of the Guadalupe story… but one that I've since found I love even MORE is this version by Carmen Bernier-Grand.

 One Wintry Night by Ruth Bell Graham. I shuffled off The Miracle of St. Nicholas (onto my Christmas list) in order to include this title.  This book goes through the entire story of Christmas. The ENTIRE story, from the Creation of the World through the Resurrection of Christ.  It includes many snippets of tales from the Old Testament which would line up beautifully with Jesse Tree readings.  The art is superb and the story inviting when taken nibbles at a time. 

 Why Christmas Trees Aren't Perfect by Richard Schneider. Alright, this book gets immediate bonus point for saying the word "Advent." Now the Christmas genre is ripe for overly-sentimental, sappy books. I have some of them. And they are fine in moderation. But my four boys get tired of sugary sweetness sometimes and need something a bit more rollicking. Well, this isn't that book. But it is one of the better sentimental ones that has some interesting action included and not just character dramas. It's a fantastic book with a lovely message. Get it.

 Nine Days to Christmas by Marie Hall Ets. I reluctantly bumped off The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey to make room for this book in the Advent Top Ten.  (Don't worry, I have other plans for Toomey on a different list.)  But this out-of-print gem by Ets is so beautiful and evocative and a perfect tale of Las Posadas and a little girl's hopes coming to life.  This book seriously needs to come back in print but until then, a used copy is worth picking up.

 Lucia Child of Light by Florence Ekstrand. Well, I really want to include a couple other books on St. Lucy in this list but to be honest, I've not personally read them yet. They are on my wish list and should be on yours too! Lucia Morning in Sweden and Lucia, Saint of Light. Other than that, I found this little book at a thrift store this year and I love it. It's not a typical picture book; it's a medley really. First is a full story of the legend, sans pictures. Then there are tips and such for how to celebrate the day... keeping in mind that the feast of St. Lucy on December 13th is not a "mini Christmas" nor a specific part of Advent. But this little saint of light ought not be forgotten in the shuffle so I encourage you to read up on her!

The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie de Paola. It's always nice to learn about some of the traditions we take for granted this time of year. Here is a sweet story about a young girl's searching for just the perfect gift for the Christmas procession.

 The Real Santa Claus by Marianna Mayer. I replaced one of my old titles for this one.  This book is absolutely beautiful and helps put the Santa/St. Nick dilemma in its proper perspective—an excellent thing to do on his feast day of Dec. 6th. Being very wordy in between the lovely art though, it's better for older readers, maybe 8+ or so?  For younger readers on the same topic, I'd recommend Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend or A Special Place for Santa: A Legend for Our Time

 The Donkey's Dream by Barbara Helen Berger. Again, this one would make my Top Three list overall. It is an incredibly simple story, relaying the walk the donkey takes as it carries the Virgin Mother to where Jesus is born. But the imagery is sublime. And I'm including it in the pre-Christmas list because the analogies in this book could line up perfectly with certain Old Testament readings if you are inclined to do a Jesse Tree during this season. Still probably my very favorite Christmas-time book… would be fitting to read on the feast of the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8th) as it honors Mary so much.

 The Clown of God by Tomie de Paola. We really can't get away from this author can we? And trust me, there are more where this came from. But The Clown of God was the very first Tomie de Paola book I ever purchased once I started really thinking about investing in quality literature. Not only is the story a good story and fitting for the Christmas season, I love how it deals with death. De Paola is one of the few authors who'll touch this subject in a real, no holds barred way... but in a way that is still reverent and readable. (A wonderful, wonderful book dealing with the 'circle of life' so to speak is his Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs.) The Clown of God is worth owning.

 The  Christmas Deer by April Wilson.  I fell in love with this author/illustrator when I found her gorgeous book: Magpie Magic. So I had high hopes for this book that I found this year. The art is beautiful, reminiscent of Jan Brett's style with these wintry images.  But the major reason this book belongs in Advent and not Christmas is precisely because it's an Advent journey... including a tear out, card-stock calendar in back!

Advent is the perfect time to clear and prepare the Way. Advent is a winter training camp for those who desire peace. By reflection and prayer, by reading and meditation, we can make our hearts a place where a blessing of peace would desire to abide and where the birth of the Prince of Peace might take place. -Edward Hays

More than just sheep, hobbits and Russell Crowe

New Zealand has contributed to the world in a fine way. It gives us such delights as excellent wool, scenery from the Lord of the Rings movies, and of course Russell Crowe. (Swoon to some of my favorite movies of his: Cinderella Man, Gladiator, and more recently: The Next Three Days) Something must be going right in that "other" (smaller, more expensive) place down under.

But this country has born to us a superb author as well who often escapes the notice of millions of well meaning booklists that I've read: Lynley Dodd. Lynley Dodd is best known for her mischievous, bumbling dog: Hairy Maclary. Her books are each a rhyming masterpiece and her adjectives--be they real words or not-- are sizzling, stunningly, superb. Indeed, if one was ambitious, these books could be used as vocabulary units all on their own. Joining Hairy Maclary are other snaffling creatures like Slinky Malinky, Zachary Quack and my favorite: Schnitzel Von Krumm. Isn't that a glorious name?! Let's indulge ourselves again: Schnitzel Von Krumm.

As if being a talented writer and poet isn't enough, Dodd illustrates her own books too. While her artwork isn't necessarily the masterpieces of some, it is an exactly perfect accompaniment to the text. Indeed I can not envision someone like Barbara Cooney or Robert McCloskey being able to capture the antics of her animals as well as she does.

In New Zealand, children there were once able to watch animated versions of Lynley Dodd's books on television. I'll post an example simply so you can get an idea of the text, not because I'm a fan of animated story books. In fact, keep in mind that these books weren't MEANT to be cartoons and as such, the speed and cadence with which the voice-over is narrating is all wrong. It comes out much smoother and more flowing from a kind hearted mother holding the hard copy book, especially if she's able to mimic some kind of European accent. I've done it in English, German and Irish accents so far... I may find it more amusing than my kids but just you try it: there's just something delicious about Dodd's cadence and word choice that begs for an irregular voice. So get thee to the library and place some books on hold and laugh for me when you meet the likes of Bitzer Maloney, "all skinny and bony"...

Top 10 Best Autumn Books

Welll you'll have to forgive the quiet month of September as I've been settling in with my sweet, new bibliozealot: Henry Benedict. Now October is waning by and I've not said a peep about all the excellent fall literature out there. This season offers quite a feast of delights; it'll be difficult to narrow it to just ten. I'm also not going to dwell on specific holiday reads either just to keep the list focused. So come on in from these cold, dark days and grab a steaming mug of apple cider as you snuggle under a blanket with one of these lovely books:

 Ox Cart Man by Donald Hall. Well this was a rather obvious first choice for me as I'm absolutely smitten with Barbara Cooney's illustrations in ANY book. But this story is really great for harvest time, following the natural season of work and self-sufficiency in a rural family. Despite it's extremely simple story line, there's a lot of material here for all kinds of studies should you feel so inspired with your children.

 Autumn Story by Jill Barklem. You may think I'm boring and redundant by always listing a book from Jill Barklem's little series but you're wrong. I've often thought that if I could only have a few seasonal books on my shelf, this whole series would be there. The stories, illustrations, rich botany lessons and sweet characters really are honey for a child's heart.

 Woody, Hazel and Little Pip by Elsa Beskow. It really is no wonder that pagans love Elsa Beskow and put her consistently in their reccommended author lists; she celebrates the magic of nature in a beautiful, spritely way... but I promise that you don't have to belong to any sort of alternative religion to appreciate her work, The art is divine and the story is as sweet as always. It's just pure whimsy and who doesn't love that?!

 Now it's Fall by Lois Lenski. It just occurred to me that my Top Ten Summer list forgot to include Lenski's On a Summer Day.Boo. Because, like Jill Barklem's Brambly Hedge books, these titles would easily win a contest for shelf space if they needed to. Lois Lenski books are small and unassuming and perfect for introducing and celebrating the season with small children. (Probably best for the 8 and under crowd)

 Pumpkin Moonshine by Tasha Tudor. Well, booklovers everywhere will recognize the name of this excellent author-illustrator. This isn't my very favorite title of hers but it is absolutely worthy of mention. The reason why it's inclusion is important in this list is because Pumpkin Moonshine is the only "Halloween" book I know of that isn't "Halloweeny." (You like that made-up word... smooth isn't it?) If you do or don't celebrate All Hallow's Eve, this book still is still relevant to celebrating the season. It's the sweetest, gentle story about a girl hunting for the perfect pumpkin and then carving it. No ghosts, goblins or gore need apply. And no mention of candy either... nice.

 Every Autumn Comes the Bear by Jim Arnosky. One of these days, I'm going to write an entire post on Jim Arnosky and the importance of his books. But let's just start you off with this one, yes?! Good. Don't expect a traditional story with Arnosky, he takes on more of the fly on the wall role in simply narrating a particular scene with a particular animal in a particular time of year. Good stuff this is.

 Apple Picking Time by Michele Slawson. I love this "living book."  It tells the simple story of a little girl picking apples with her family.  The sentiments evoked here are really nice, and it's so great to see exactly where apples come from and how they're picked.  I'm a Washingtonian… so I am predisposed to loving this book.  :-)

 Snowsong Whistling by Karen Lotz. Confession: I don't know anything about Karen Lotz and I wouldn't make a point to seek out her other work because although the rhyming here is fine and fun, it's pretty unremarkable. This books wins a coveted spot on Ellie's Top Ten list because it's Elisa Kleven illustrating. And it's Elisa Kleven illustrating with a fall motif. Imagine the eye candy. (Save this book for a late November day or early December, just before the winter transition...)

 The Little Yellow Leaf by Carin Berger. Here is another one to save for later in the season as we see a little leaf who can't bear to let go of the tree and accept the changing season. There is something very poignant about this and it's touched in a unique style by Berger throughout the stories pages. A gem.

 Waiting for Winter by Sebastian Meschenmoser. This book is another one to save for those late November days, unless winter comes earlier in your part of the world. I'm in love with these illustrations; they are scribbly pencil drawings and really give a nice life to the season as squirrel and a few friends try to beat out mother nature and see this thing called "snow". It's quite funny what they consider to be snow and the kids will giggle. The best part is that when that magical white stuff finally does fall, the text in the book stops... it spends the last few pages just letting you watch the story unfold and end. I love it.

Browsing Richard Scarry

"Browsy" can be a very bad thing. No one likes browsy people in line at McDonald's for instance; they've had the same menu for decades and people need to simply choose to have a McNasty with cheese or without and then get out of line. Ooh! And it's frustrating being behind a browsy person at a potluck when you've already had to wait in a 20 minute line for food--at that point, you'll take ANY food-- but Browsy Betty over here is carefully choosing which celery cut looks freshest and slowly choosing the unbroken chips one by blessed one out of the bowl. My husband gets very browsy when he's in the wood section of a home improvement store. He carefully examines the different grains and inspects the knots and smells each piece to make sure they didn't misclassify their treated vs. untreated cedars. Oy.

And then browsy can be a good thing. I am browsy at bookstores... no, not browsy-- delightfully and deliberately lazy and timeless sinking into the books. I also tend toward a browsy attitude when I'm at a garage or rummage sale or at the grocery store unless children are in tow: when my brood is with me, I get what I need and get out of there as fast as I can.

In children's books, browsy is almost always a good thing. Well, when I'm reading a chapter book aloud and there's a quick, indiscriminate sketch on a page, I tend to get mildly annoyed if a kid wants to look at it for what I deem to be too long of a time. Or if my two-year-old keeps wanting to turn BACK the page to talk about the bird or bathtub or whathaveyou... and I'm trying to push through the book just for the sake of a naptime routine, browsy isn't a welcome word. Generally though, I encourage my children to drink in all the wonders and delights of a beautiful illustration and enjoy noticing all the details of a fun book.

Richard Scarry is the king of browsy picture books. I can't say he's the "best" illustrator in a purely artistic sense, but he wins the award for best, most fun details for all the pages in every book he's produced. My children love noticing the mishaps of Huckle and counting all the bunny children or looking for Goldbug. You've got to get some Richard Scarry. If you like, save browsy books and bring them out only for those 'needed' situations:

  • In the waiting room of any kind of appointment.

  • For the potty when you just need Gilbert to relax and be distracted long enough to let it all go.

  • For any kind of outing in public where you are in a confined space and babies are frowned upon.

  • So you can escape for ten minutes and take a shower.

  • When you need to impress your inlaws with how quietly Gilbert can sit and focus on a story.

  • So you can escape for ten minutes and create a brother for Gilbert.

You get the idea. Every home shouldn't be without special books that are kept novel in order to maximize the quiet time you get from them. I recommend Richard Scarry...

not in keeping with the goal of this blog...

(Newest baby will be here any day so don't expect a lot of 'action' on the blog in the next several weeks or so; it's easiest if you sign up to be my "follower" and get notified of a new post.)

So I want to share with you my biggest influences in the homeschooling book world. I realize not all of you homeschool and I realize this has not a lot to do with children's literature directly. But I was thinking about it and really, the ideas and thoughts contained within the following books help to shape my views on what children's literature should do and be. Within the entire genre of non-fiction, I've probably read more books about homeschooling than any other specific topic over the past 9 years (yes, I was reading and passionate about homeschooling even while still pregnant with my first child!). There are literally dozens I could write about. And I've gained something from each one. That is why they are important books. Besides, it's my blog and I can write about whatever I want to. :o) In no particular order:

So I'm not a true hue, dipped in blue Charlotte Masonite, but if I had to identify myself with any one method out there, I would most closely fall into this realm: living books, avoiding twaddle, basic excercises in copywork, narration and dictation, lots of nature study. With A Charlotte Mason Companion, Karen Andreola has made Miss Mason's 6 volume series on education quite accessible and readable to the American reader. There are a couple other books about Charlotte Mason philosophy out there and really, they are all pretty good (espcially For the Children's Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School). But this one is my favorite simply because of the depth and breadth into which it goes. I felt like I got a lot of bang for my buck.
Now, you really can't go wrong with any John Holt title. He will turn you upside down on your entire thinking about what the typical perceptions of children are. He has been a great influence on me. I think it was in Teach Your Own book that Holt explained the simple error people make in quickly labelling children as dyslexic. (By the way, I've been part of entire week-long workshops dedicated to learning about this 'disability' so I've a pretty good grasp on what we're talking about here.) For example, a banana is a banana whether you point it right or left or turn it upside down. To a child, the letter "b" is a b whether to circular part is facing the wrong way or not. Very few teachers take the time to explain that letters aren't tangible, interchangeable items... and instead we look at the writing in dismay and remark that Sally has dyslexia. Anyway, it's a great book.
Most homeschooling parents go through some kind of overload crisis: they look at what's working for this family or the great methods that family employs, or they get overwhelmed with all the curriculum choices out there and they start over-thinking every little decision they make. Ruth Beechik to the rescue. The Three R's is simply a reminder to reclaim simplicity as the best mode of learning. It is very encouraging and I try to re-read it every few years to remind myself that I'm not going to academically ruin my Kindergartener if he's not reading by age 5. Good, simple techniques in this book.
This book was the catalyst to my actual excitement to homeschool. Real Learning by Elizabeth Foss is all about inspiring you that you can do an excellent job educating your children at home; it is full of great resources, ideas and suggestions that'll make your life easier and help you realize that your education goals are attainable. I love this book and loaned it to someone and it's been missing ever since (can't remember who!)... a testament I suppose that the book was a good one.
This is pretty much a classic by now. I first got this book when I was doing some teaching with Mother of Divine Grace and I think the introduction alone makes this worth the read. While not necessarily espousing a traditionally "classic" education, some have called Mrs. Berquist's methods in Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum more "neo-classical"... and I happen to think they are great and many families utilize her curriculum ideas with great success.
A Little Way of Homeschooling is a very refreshing read indeed. This is my latest home education book I've read and I loved every word of it. In fact, I wrote an entire review of it in the upcoming Autumn issue of Soul Gardening... so read about it there! This book gives confidence and hope to overwhelmed mothers. It offers a fresh perspective on the education of children and I highly recommend it.
Finally I offer Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto if you are in need of convincing that government schools aren't all they're cracked up to be. This book is what really helped to get my husband 100% on board with homeschooling. Gatto was the New York State and New York City Teacher of the Year and upon receiving his award, he took the opportunity to rail on the entire public school system. You can read the text of that speech here. Gatto has written a couple other books giving a black eye to public schools as well. They are worth the read. Do note that I am a supporter of free public education! I think it is a hallmark of a great nation to offer this to its citizens. I do however think it's pretty much rotten to the core in regards to how it's set up and the beauracracy that's running the show. It makes me sick how we shortchange children. (Don't mistake me for blaming this on individual teachers and staff who are doing their best within the system to make a difference. They are to be commended for their efforts... the blame goes deeper.) But I digress.

Okay, thanks for indulging me on this little detour from children's literature. Enjoy these starter books and then I'll give you some more! Someday, I'll be thrilled to write a post about my favorite "Books about Books" someday... oh how juicy of a topic for a bibliozealot! But for now, back to your regularly scheduled program...


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...