The Children of China

The Children of China is a beautifully unique book; I don't suppose it could be considered a traditional picture book since there isn't a central story per se. Rather it's an account of an artist's journey through remote regions of China, painting gloriously along the way. So each page features a beautiful piece of art and the opposite page is sort of a narrative about both what's going on in the picture as well as memories of his personal experience growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution. This would make an excellent, excellent supplement to any kind of unit study on China as it features many of the lesser known ethnic groups in China. This is also the type of book that makes for perfect "strewing"... and that's what I did in my own family.  Like so many other books left alone to be 'discovered' this one found the rapt attention of a nine year old...

Some pieces of the book to delight you; Zhang's art is stunning.  Click to enlarge the images:


Have You Ever Done That?

Bring on summertime!  I've been wanting to write about some titles to accompany my Top Ten Summer Books list but it sure doesn't feel like summer around here yet! I'm writing this from a chilly house, wearing a long gray sweater and leggings under my skirt.  It's drizzling gray outside. Such is the Puget Sound life. Yeah,  I'm ready for some sun already.  Have You Ever Done That? by Julie Larios is a lovely book to get you in the mood.  Evocative language.  Read it sweet and slow and soak it up.  It's not so much a story as a poem of questions... and the illustrations by Anne Hunter are so simple and childlike.  Perfect for this text.

Have you ever slept outside on a hot summer night? Everything looks different in the moon's strange light.  The trees seem to whisper so you bravely whisper back.  Outside at night.  Have you ever done that?

More Catholic Stories

My original listmania list "Beautiful Stories for the Catholic Child: Only the Best" was limited to only 40 books.  Since then, I've compiled a couple dozen other titles for parents seeking to find picture books that support the faith.

First Chapter Books

Many moms wonder when is that perfect age when you quit picture books and begin chapter books.  My first thought is that one should never quit picture books.  Even when your child is reading independently, picture books offer a sense of familiarity and ease which will boost the confidence any kid has in his/her reading skills.  Secondly, it's like chicken soup for the soul.  I can't count how many times I've begun reading an easy, familiar book to my toddler set only to have my older sons sidle their way over to sit on the edge of the couch.  The rhythm of mom's voice, the rustle of turning pages, the vibrance of good art... it all beckons.  I see no need to end that at a certain age.  Finally, the reason that one should never "quit" picture books is that there are often excellent points or reflections to delight adults as well as children.  I think immediately of a book like the innovative The Arrival, or the nostalgic Roxaboxen for example.

Anyway, there does exist a wonderful transition when one does introduce chapter books into a child's life to complement the regular picture book diet.  I have very recently discovered the "Special Read Aloud Edition" of  Stuart Little. What made it so special was its size.  It is printed as a very large, hardback picture book with blown up illustrations and large text. These books are so inviting for a cozy read aloud snuggled on the couch with Mama or Papa.  I found a couple other "Special Read Aloud Editions" out there, notably The Mouse and the MotorcycleLittle House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie.  But it seems these are all out of print and I'd be very careful buying from an amazon seller to make sure you are getting the right edition you pay for.  The Narnia series and Charlotte's Web Special Read Aloud Editions seem to be in print still.

So what age should one begin chapter books?  I'd say it depends on the child but the most likely window will be between 5-6-ish.  Some four years olds will love read alouds and even younger toddlers might listen in on the stories told to their older siblings with apparent interest.  Even if a child isn't totally grasping every metaphor or vocabulary word, just the exposure of richer vocabulary and sentence structure will be good for them in addition to the increase of listening and attention skills.  I was worried about reading the Narnia books to my then-five year old son because I wanted him to be old enough to understand the great Christian analogies, but he ate The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe right up!  And the reason those books are classics is because they will weather well under another reading at a later age.

What books should you read first?  The short answer is "Whatever you feel like!"  Read what interests your child (using your own parental discretion of course).  There is no mandatory introduction to chapter book list that'll adequately cover ALL the greats.  But I can share with you my list that worked!  I like to start with books that have short chapters and illustrations to acclimate the child to longer readings.  So, as it's an enormous task to list all great chapter books out there in general, here's a list of earliest, first chapter books that were hits with my boys (or that I know will be a hit with my daughter).

  • James and the Giant Peach
  • My Father's Dragon
  • Homer Price
  • Winnie the Pooh
  • The Cricket in Times Square
  • Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook
  • Just So Stories
  • Mr. Popper's Penguins
  • The Princess and the Goblin
  • Just So Stories
  • Captains Courageous
  • The Indian in the Cupboard
  • Betsy Tacy
  • Little House on the Prairie series
  • ^ Farmer Boy (especially to hook boys)
  • Birdbrain Amos
  • Paddington Bear
  • The Narnia series
  • Happy Little Family
  • The Children of Noisy Village

This Is My Favorite Bird Book...

... for toddlers that is.  See there are a million and one fantastic picture books on birds, be they educational or purely for pleasure. (Ooh, sounds like a Top Ten list is in order soon!) But I really, really love this very simple one by Kevin Henkes titled Birds.

This must be the third time we've picked it up from the library now; I really should just get over myself and buy it already.  I read it today to my near three year old daughter and five year old son and we loved it again.  Our favorite part is when the tree yells "SURPRISE!!!"  Get the book, you'll know what I'm talking about.  :o)

"Be grateful for luck. Pay the thunder no mind. Listen to the birds. 
And don't hate nobody."
-Eubie Blake

Mythology and More

Here is a bright post from a bright young lady who I am happy to know personally. Seems I can't get enough of the fairy tale topic lately. In her post, she references Psyche and Pandora; incidentally, I'm currently on a manhunt for excellent illustrated myths. I have read several and I currently have several more ordered at the local library to preview before giving glowing recommendations. But in the meantime, I did create an Amazon listmania list on this very topic. Most of the books on that list, I've read and loved... a few still need to be seen in person yet. But nothing at the outset leads me to believe there would be anything objectionable in them. So I created the list as a running reminder for myself to check them out and to guide others in finding excellent mythological picture books.

I expect to get more into the topic of mythology on here at a later time.

"For Mythology is the handmaid of literature; and literature is one of the best allies of virtue and promoters of happiness." 
                                                     -Thomas Bullfinch

Isabella's Garden: Library Pick of the Week

There are a million and one books that have copied the old "This is the house that Jack built" rhyming structure. While this does mean it can get tiresome... It does not mean that all new versions of it are unoriginal. Isabella's Gardenby Glenda Millard is a lovely, lovely book. Originally published in Australia in 2009, it's finally made its way to our shores and would make a gorgeous addition to anyone's springtime basket. Well, it goes through all the seasons really, but the underlying theme is in the seeds lying "dark and deep"...

What really make this a treasure is the artwork done by artist Rebecca Cool; it is her first children's book and we can only pray for more! It looks like a folk collage that you'd see hanging on a metropolitan art museum wall. The colors are perfect and bold and exciting, the people move with strange fluidity and vibrancy. I absolutely love it all!

These are the flowers that waltz in the wind that ruffles the buds all velvety skinned...

Bargain Book Roundup!

If you don't have an Amazon Prime account, I don't blame you... it's close to $80.  But if you DO have one, you'll know as I do, that it is a wonderful, wonderful gem!  My husband bought one for my birthday this year, and I can't tell you how much I love just buying a single item and having it at my door two days later.  No more waiting until I have $25 worth of purchases to get free, slow shipping. It's great... plus the free streaming of certain videos has been nice too.  We've watched a few documentaries on there now and have many seasons of How Its Made to get through!

But I digress. I bring it up because it's excellent when you find a bargain priced book on Amazon and you can just purchase it easily!  Occasionally, I take the time to peruse their bargain barrels; it's a lot to wade through and so I usually narrow it down to just biographies, non-fiction, folk and fairy tales... above 4 star ratings.  It's still a lot to wade through.  But I'll save you some time and give you a current list of books I happened to uncover this week.  *Disclaimer: I've not read every single title here!*  But they "looked" good to me based on titles and illustrations and reviews. So you may already be familiar with them or want to splurge a few dollars to see if they may be jewels or not.  Bargain books are an excellent way to purchase books as gifts since they are brand new. They are a great place to find off-season holiday book and they also help fill in gaps for unit studies. The books listed below are all hardcover and under $8. The price is right... and quantities are (sometimes extremely) limited! I've bought a few of these titles myself this week (who needs to buy shoes, when you can have books instead?!)


Thrifting Tips

Building your home library take time, patience, thoughtfulness and money. I can't help you with time or patience but I do hope to help you with thoughtfulness (See this post for more on that.) and I have a couple tips to help you not break the bank. "Yeah, yeah, yeah..." you say. "Go to thrift stores; we already know that.". Oh good! I'm glad you know that. But allow me to spare you some frustration with thrift store shopping with these tips:

  1. Find the right kind of store. Every store is bound to have the occasional good find.  But the best stores are the ones you can go to and have reliably good luck. I regularly bypass at least four more local stores to get to my gold mine in the next town over. For some reason, it collects fantastic books on a regular basis. What this means is that the people who donate to this Goodwill are fairly well off, fairly typical in having only a couple kids, and fairly ignorant to the glories of good literature... So it gets dumped. See, I benefit greatly from families who aren't open to having many children; I get their good clothes and books in excellent condition for my brood! The other thing is that I've noticed that many people like to give lovely books to children as gifts. But either the spoilt dears don't care for books or they their parents don't because I have found many remarkable books in near mint condition with inscriptions on the inside dated only a year or three ago! A pity. But their tremendous blindness to greatness is to my benefit so I won't complain too much.
  2. The other component of a right kind of store is one that has a flat pricing structure. Many stores charge a flat price for children's books and this is where you can save a lot of money! You don't have to be AS selective because if you aren't totally familiar with a book, it really only costs you 79 cents to preview! Unfortunately, you can't rely on the franchise name of a store to guarantee same costs.  The Goodwill in my hometown prices children's books the same as regular books and even puts more expensive prices on ones that look popular or to be in especially great condition.  Gag.  You are looking for a store with a staff that doesn't know any better when it comes to children's literature.
  3. When you get to the kiddy book section, depending on the size of your selection, you may or may not have time to do a title-by-title scan of each book.  You sometimes need to employ razor-quick econo-shopping mode.  It looks like this:  First look at all the hardback books closely.  This is where the better titles usually live.  This is where you'll find your treasures.  I often don't even scan the paperbacks anymore because their lifespan can be quite short in a large family.  I DO scan the paperbacks more closely if the pickins are slim in the hardbacks and I'm feeling desperate to score SOMETHING.  And if your home library isn't well established yet, you may want to give the paperbacks a closer look.  After all, having a flimsy copy of Blueberries for Sal is better than having no copy.
  4. You can't always judge a book by its cover or its title... but they sure do tell a lot sometimes.  You can continue your quick-shopping mode by training your eye to gloss over things in the generic vein like "Franklin Goes to School" and training it to catch things that sound like they might be a fairy tale or folklore or of course, one of the millions of titles you've memorized that you want to own.  The title The Man Who Kept House is one that caught me on my latest trip, a book that I knew nothing about until then. With time, you'll be wise as a serpent in your selections and quite efficient at sorting titles out.
  5. Lastly, get reading some books about books!  The more you become familiar with the rich titles out there, the more equipped you are to sift through the piles of junky books to find treasures.  There are lots of books about books out there.  I can trust the booklists of a few out there.  A good starting point would be Honey for a Child's Heart. Excellent other ones include A Landscape with Dragons: The Battle for Your Child's Mind (though unfortunately, many of his recommendations are out of print), and A Picture Perfect Childhood which is FULL of recommendations. And there's also For the Love of Literature which is a great tool if you are a fan of learning through LIVING books. There are other good books about books... but this should get you started...

Don't forget about other great ways to build up your library:
  1. Consider giving books as gifts to your children.  This will help you to feel better about shucking out $15 for a brand new book if you were going to spend that money on something anyway. Children see that its worthwhile, and you have a gift taken care of.  Incidentally, I have an amazon list on books that I think make excellent gifts.  I've not updated it in a while... I ought to do that presently.  Also make it known to family members that you'd like to build up your children's library and would welcome Christmas and birthday gifts to them to reflect that. (This comes with the caveat that they may not have good taste in literature... I would say direct them to your amazon wish list, but I personally find it kind of tacky when people personally "direct" others to the gifts they want.
  2. Check out your library sales!  I've gotten so many gems this way and they are usually the cheapest possible option.  Our local library "Friends of the Library" charges something like 50 cents for children's books!  Sometimes, you find something and you can swear you hear an Alleluia chorus ringing in the heavens as your hand trembles in finding a jewel.  I have found an entire collection of fantastic kids books on Ancient Egypt which I used this entire year for school.  My real piece of glory however was when I paid pennies for three... count them THREE David Mac Caulay books.  HARDBACK!  I got Mosque, Underground and Mill to accompany the Pyramid I already owned. What a find! If you don't know Macaulay... get to know him posthaste. He is a brilliant author and illustrator on so many excellent historical, architectural books.  Turns out there are a few excellent PBS documentaries featuring him on youtube: Castle, Roman City, Pyramid, Mill Times and Cathedral.  All would be a superb supplement to studies of those eras.
  3. Elementary schools often just TOSS books into the trash.  They make room for new library books buy getting rid of old ones... lucky for us, so many old ones are the better ones anyway! If your child goes to a public or private school, talk to whosever in charge of the library and ask what their policy is on discarded books; you just might be able to work out an arrangement!
  4. Garage sales and rummage sales are historically where you can find the CHEAPEST children's books.  Most people selling books will tell you that kid's books are a dime or quarter... maybe fifty cents for a hardback.  These are people who are looking to get rid of stuff, whose children have outgrown certain books or who just don't know what they've got.  My best garage sale score to this day was finding the entire Little House on the Prairie series for $2.  I've also bought the entire Anne of Green Gables series, the Narnia collection, the E.B. White collection and (my favorite) the Great Brain collection at garage sales.  I just realized that other than the Lord of the Rings books, all my 'collections' have been acquired at garage sales!
  5. Don't forget about online swapping sites like Paperbackswap or Bookmooch.  I wrote a bit more about how this works here. You have to have a bit of luck and a lot of patience... but it can pay off!
  6. Sniff out family members or friends whose children have grown up.  They are often ready and willing to part with their kiddy books if they know they are going to a good home!
Remember above all of this, that it is much more beneficial to have a small collection of quality books than a large collection of riff-raff. Don't expect it to happen overnight!  But books are an investment indeed.  We don't think much of spending $15-$20 on a single visit to a fast food restaurant.  But that same amount of money could buy a brand new treasure that will last much, much longer than those french fries.  Be smart, be patient, and happy thrifting!


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