Thursday, May 31, 2012

My Favorite Reads Giveaway Hop

Books4Learning is participating in My Favorite Reads Giveaway Hop hosted by I am a Reader, Not a Writer.  There are over 100 blogs participating.  Click on the Hop title for a complete list.   The Books4Learning follower who enters and wins, may chose from 3 different selections.  Click on each title for individual reviews. 

This giveaway runs from June 1 to June 6.  Enter for a chance to win with Rafflecopter.  
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Love In Bloom Giveaway Hop Winner

Congratulations to Danielle Chapman!

Winner of the Love in Bloom Giveaway Hop.

She won a copy of Sara Dessen's 

What Happened to Goodbye.

Thanks to everyone who participated.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Picture Books (Science): Pond Life

I love to visit a local pond which is tucked away in the middle of town.  I look forward to spring when there are animal babies. During a recent trip, I saw so many exciting creatures, such as ducklings, goslings, a water snake, turtles, tadpoles, and a blue jay.   Today, I highlight my five favorite juvenile books about pond life.  I hope you get a chance to visit a pond this spring.  Either way, these selections are sure to inspire young explorers.  

Jo MacDonald Saw a Pond (by Mary Quattlebaum):
Like its title suggests, this fun story cleverly uses the beloved “Old MacDonald” song as inspiration.  The narrative follows a young girl’s exploration of a pond on her family farm.  She carries with her a notebook where she draws the plants and creatures she finds. The soft, watercolor illustrations are contrasted with a white background, keeping it simple and focused on the pond itself.  There is a great use of onomatopoeia.  For instance, the reeds go “swish, swish,” the deer “flick, flick” (as it drinks), and the dragonflies “whir, whir.”  As the exploration ends, Jo runs to playfully share her drawings with “Old MacDonald.” The closing pages reveal her drawings as wells as facts about ponds, additional resources on them, and ways to be a young naturalist.  Jo MacDonald Saw a Pond is ideal for ages 3-8. 

Pond Walk (by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace):
On summer morning, Buddy and Mamma decide to go on a pond walk.  Buddy wants to see a turtle more than anything!  As he investigates, his mamma helps him identify insects and animals.  They discuss what they know about them and tell silly jokes.  Buddy draws a picture of each creature and plant he sees like whirling beetles, a frog, cattail plants, dragonflies, a lily pad, and a salamander. The duo share a picnic lunch at the pond before heading home.  They finally spot a turtle but in an unexpected way!  The illustrations are typical of Wallace’s style—simple shapes using paper collage, photographs, and colored pencils.  Instructions at the end demonstrate how you can make a rock turtle with your little ones.  Pond Walk is a fun book for ages 3-8. 
This narrative is hosted by none other than the Cat in the Hat who teaches his child companions all about pond life. Though it is written in free verse poetic form with simple vocabulary and sight words, it delves into things big and small at the pond.  He begins by introducing microscopic organism like spirulina and amoeba.  Readers get a look at what can be seen in a microscope.  Next, he shows the snails, worms, and leeches on the pond’s floor.  Thing 1 and Thing 2 stop by to help out with the difference between a complete and an incomplete metamorphosis. Much more is revealed about the fish, insects, and other animals that make up this habitat. The narrative ends with one of the Cat’s unusual antics.  I recommend Would You Rather Be a Pollywog for ages 5-9.  Early Reader,

Looking Closely Around the Pond (by Frank Serafini):
This selection begins with a spy-hole view of a small part of something in the pond surroundings. The text asks, “Look very closely. What do you see?”  Several suggestions are made as possibilities.  Children can pick one of them or make their own guesses.  Turning the page reveals the animal or plant in full.  Two short paragraphs are written about each one.  For animals, their habits, such as eating, nesting, and protecting themselves, is disclosed.   For plants, their role in the pond habitat is explained.   This same pattern is repeated for each one like the box turtle, shubunkin, mallard duck, dragonfly, water lily, cattail, and tiger salamander.  The final page reveals a sweeping view of the pond at dusk.  The photograph illustrations are vivid and striking.  Looking Closely Around the Pond is recommended for ages 5 and up.

Life in a Pond (by Adam Hibbert):
This brilliant book is oozing with stunning photographs of plant and animal life.   There are so many amazing close-up shots from everything from algae and microscopic volvox to killer grubs and water boatman.  The fascinating text delves into the lives of the northern water snake, the great blue heron, the fearsome mink, and the red-spotted newt.   Creepy crawlers also abound like snails, mosquitoes, grubs, and leeches.  A snapshot of some of the most interesting information is given on each one.  Life in a Pond is a visual delight that ages 7 and up will love! 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Poetry Friday: Six Sheep Sip Thick Shakes (Brian P. Cleary)

For Poetry Friday, I have a rollicking fun selection:  Six Sheep Sip Thick Shakes and Other Tricky Tongue Twisters (by Brian P. Cleary).  It is not poetry in the traditional sense, but there are many poetic elements—rhyme, alliteration, assonance, and consonance.   These sound devices are great tools for building early literacy skills and language proficiency.  For example:  
The people with
the purple paper
pranced in their
pants by the
simple steeple.  

There are several examples of alliteration (the same beginning sound)—people/purple/paper/pranced/pants and simple/steeple.   Children can recognize the sounds they frequently hear and pick out the specific words with those sounds.  Older children can identify consonance (repetition of same sounds anywhere in the word).  The emphasis on the “p” sound is underlined.    Encourage listeners to identify how many “p’s” they hear (10 total).  Another example emphasizes other sound devices:  

Sasha shifted as she sifted
through the thistle
for her sister’s whistle.

There is end rhyme (thistle/whistle) and internal rhyme (shifted/sifted).  Alliteration and consonance are present, but there is also assonance (repetition of the same vowel sound) which is trickier to identify.  The underlined letters indicate where the short "i" sound is located.

The tongue twisters are written similar to poetic lines.  Some could possibly work as simple poems based on their end words and structure while others seem random in their breaks.   With older children, parents and teachers can begin a basic discussion on what makes a poem a poem.  In other words, how do we know the difference between poetry and prose? 

The illustrations (by Steve Mack) are bright and colorful, making them enticing for young readers. The tongue twisting lines make for humorous and creative pictures, many focusing on animal antics. 

I recommend Six Sheep Sip Thick Shakes and Other Tricky Tongue Twisters for ages 3-9.  Young listeners and readers will find the tongue twisters pleasurable to their ears and the dynamic pictures a feast for the eyes.  This tongue twisting ride is sure to prompt children to create their own twisters.  They will be having so much fun doing it that they won't realize they are practicing important language and reading skills.  Round in out with the opportunity for them to illustrate each one they write.  

For other great poetry related posts, visit Write. Sketch. Repeat.

Fairy Tale Friday: The Twelve Dancing Princesses

It is Fairy Tale Friday. All bloggers are welcome to link up their fairy tale themed posts.  

The Twelve Dancing Princesses has been a beloved fairy tale for centuries.    There are a few things in common in most versions.  First, there is a male protagonist who is a commoner.  He may be a soldier coming back from war, a shepherd, or other laborer.  Generally, this man has shown himself to be worthy by being come combination of these character qualities—hard working, generous, brave, cunning, and patient.   Surely, it gives hope to the masses that they can ascend their current humble stations with the right qualities and some luck.  Luck usually comes in the form of a wise woman who has some magical powers.  She offers clever advice and a magical item (flower or cloak, for instance).  The mystery of the daughters' nightly activities is likely rooted in the universal parental experience of letting go and lacking control over what your children are doing.   It also reflects a fascination with the underworld or otherworld.  This underworld is often cursed but ironically is a source of beauty and riches.   Making a quest into the underworld goes back to ancient times when heroes like Gilgamesh and Odysseus journeyed there.   Fairy tales capture our imagination because of their ability to appeal to the collective hopes, dreams, and fears of humanity. 

The Twelve Dancing Princesses (by Marianna Mayer):
This picture book version is my favorite!  The first thing that drew me to it is the stunning paintings by K.Y. Craft that grace each page.  The text is framed with a nearly full page illustration on one side and a small window picture on the other.  A border beautifully connects everything together.   This version is the more detailed, developing the male protagonist (a former shepherd and eventual castle gardener) well and providing time for the love to grow between him and one of the princesses.  He does not reveal the secret to the king.  Instead, he willing attempts to consume the drink that will attach him to the underworld kingdom forever because he thinks it will please his favored princess. Her act of stopping him (which is an act of true love) breaks the spell.  The only part I don’t like is the addition of the fortunate teller.   Ruth Sanderson’s version is a condensed version of Mayer’s.  It is also beautifully illustrated.   

The pictures in this version are also amazing, but the style is very different from Craft’s depiction.   The colors are vivid, and the details are delicate.  This version is based on the Grimm’s fairy tale.  A soldier comes upon the castle hoping to solve the mystery.  Using a cloak provided by a wise woman, the soldier solves the mystery and tells the king.  The free spirited daughters’ admit it is true.  They had been outwitted. The girls are defying their father to have fun after hours.  The narrative ends with the eldest daughter (now queen) decreeing that she and her sisters should go dancing as often and late as they wish.  There is the sense that the girls felt too confined by their father’s rules, so they were rebelling (rather than being cursed).  John Cech version is very similar.  The pictures are nicely done in more muted colors.  Background information on this fairy tale is provided on the final page.    

The Twelve Dancing Princesses (by Rachel Isadora):
This version relates the story in its simplest form, making it ideal for the youngest readers.  The text is straightforward and concise.  The African setting causes it to stand out from the others which have more of a traditional western European appeal.   The characters dress in traditional African garb.  The energetic illustrations are done with paint and collage paper, offering a distinctive look and feel.  

Fairy Tale Friday is a weekly link-up co-hosted by Literary Transgressions and Books4Learning.  Join in by clicking on the linky below.  

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Love in Bloom Giveaway Hop

Books4Learning is participating in the Love in Bloom Giveaway Hop at I am a Reader, Not a Writer.  Click HERE for a list of all participating blogs with giveaways.   Books4Learning is offering the winner a gently read copy of Sara Dessen's What Happened to Goodbye.  This hop runs from May 18 to May 23, 2011.  Enter to win using Rafflecopter.  All you have to do is "like" this post by clicking on the red and white Google button below.  Comments are always appreciated.  

Click HERE for all current giveaways at  

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Picture Book (Science): Pandas' Earthquake Escape (Phyllis J. Perry)

In honor of Endangered Species Day, I am highlighting Pandas' Earthquake Escape. This book is compliments of Sylvan Dell Publishing.  They have  numerous wonderful books on animals, many of which are endangered.   

Summary of Pandas' Earthquake Escape (by Phyllis J. Perry):
On May 12, 2008, a 7.9 earthquake rocked northern China.  Following this natural disaster, a giant panda escaped from the safe reserve he lived on.  Author Phyllis Perry uses that incident as inspiration for this fictional story about a mother panda (Liling) and her cub (Tengfei).  The two giant pandas are sleeping in a tree when it begins to shake violently, causing Tengfei to fall out of it.  Her frightened mother quickly checks on her.  Finding she is well, the two-some begin running.  They come to the wall that keeps them safely in the reserve.  In the chaos and panic, they continue to run with Liling leading the way.  When Tengfei gets separated from his mother, he begins to cry out.   Fortunately, they are reunited.  Deeper and deeper they flee into the forest where they eventually find a cave to take cover in.  The two pandas huddle close until they feel safe enough to leave to forage for food and water.  The workers from the reserve eventually find them and return them safely to their home. 

Pandas' Earthquake Escape depicts how wild life is impacted by natural disasters.   Even in the midst of the confusion, though, the mother is quick to protect her young.   Animals have amazing survival instincts and resilient spirits.  This book reminds us how the panda’s habitat and food supply are endangered. As a result, there are reserves (like the one shown in this book) that help protect them, so they may continue to thrive and multiply. The story, though fictional,  is believable and appealing.  Artist Susan Detwiller has created striking illustrations with texture and depth.  The pandas’ features and emotions are captured brilliantly.  Their habitat is vivid and realistic.   I recommend this book for ages 4 and up. 

Sylvan Dell is an educational partner with parents and teachers.  They provide books on science and math concepts to accompany and promote learning at home and in school.   In addition, there are always valuable resources on the book pages, including a free teaching resource guide with lots of extension activities. 

This post is linked up with Read Aloud Thursday at Hope is the Word.  

Disclaimer: As per FTC guidelines, I received a copy of this book from the publisher or author in exchange for my honest review. I received no monetary compensation. All opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Picture Book: Dreams Around the World (by Takashi Owaki)

Photographer Takashi Owaki traveled around the world, visiting multiple countries on 6 different continents.  To the children he met, he asked the question:  “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Owaki highlights 13 of the children he interviewed and photographed in Dreams Around the World. 

For each child, his/her name, age, and native country are provided.  Then, Owaki shares a little of what he learned about each one's life and dreams.   Many of the children have very different lives from the typical American child.  For instance, Udayakumar (age 6) works in his family’s restaurant while Armando (age 8) takes care of the llamas and donkeys in a traveling circus his family works in.   Others have similar experiences to many American children, like Angelica (age 6) who plays hide and seek with her friends and Sara (age 7) who goes on bike rides with her family.  American youngsters will definitely related to their occupational dreams, such as dancer, teacher, pilot, kung-fu master, police officer, ballerina, and princess.  The photographs are striking.  Each child has a full-page picture facing the information on him/her.  Underneath the text, additional pictures of the child are shown that reflect cultural and personal attributes. 

Dreams Around the World reveals that no matter where we live, children have similar interests and hobbies.  Family and friends are important.  Most importantly, children all have dreams for the future.  I recommend this book for ages 3-8.  

Teaching Opportunities:
  • Geography: identify the countries represented on a map; learn a few basic cultural and geographical elements about each one (or a couple favorites)
  • Writing:  instruct the child to write one or more sentences about what he wants to be when he grows up like “I want to be a ___________ when I grow up.”  OR “When I grow up I want to be a _____________ because I want to ______________.”
  • Art:  allow the child to draw a picture of himself working in his dream job
  • Unit Study:  use as a part of a unit on community helpers; visit (or bring in as a guest speaker) community helpers like firemen, police officers, and business owners
  • Math:  create a graph of some of the most popular dream jobs from the book; allow students to vote on their favorite and create a graph together to depict the data
  • Literature:  pick 1 or more countries of interest; then, find a couple fiction books (such as myths, legends, or popular stories) in the library that reflect the culture; read and discuss them together
  • Comparison:  talk about similarities and differences between the children in the book and those in the class or neighborhood of the readers/listeners

Disclaimer: As per FTC guidelines, I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. I received no monetary compensation. All opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Children's Book Week Blog Hop Winner

Congratulations to Barbara Watson!

Winner of the Children’s Book Week Giveaway

She will receive a copy of Chester by Melanie Watt.

Check out Barbara's Blog.  

Monday, May 14, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Voices of World War I (Ann Heinrichs)

Summary of Voices of World War I: Stories from the Trenches (by Ann Heinrichs):
This non-fiction selection is broken into seven chapters.  The first chapter gives a basic overview of the war—how it began, who fought in it, and what were some of the effects.  People representing both sides of the war are highlighted in the middle chapters, each with a unique perspective.  Richenbacker was an American ace pilot who was shot down during battle.   Fortunately, he survived the ordeal.  He continued serving as a fighter pilot and went on to shot down 26 German planes.   Botchkareva was a Russian peasant woman who fought alongside men in the army.  Later, she went on to organize and to train an all-female battalion who fought bravely in the trenches.  Kamara was an African warrior who fought on behalf of the French.  Many of his countrymen, also, battled in the trenches with him.  The European warfare was very different than he was used to.  Empey was an American soldier who fought in the British army.   He shares his experience with the deadly gases—tear, mustard, phosgene, and chlorine—that were used to kill many of his comrades and enemies.  Spiegel was a German u-boat commander.  In the cramped and uncomfortable quarters of these vessels, he served as a commander.  He painfully recalls torpedoing a boat full of horses.  The final chapter describes the end of the war.   Heinrichs emphasizes the similarities between the two sides in the bravery they displayed and the hardships they endured.   The book concludes with additional resources for biographical information on each of the people whose stories are highlighted as well as sources for additional information on World War I. 

Author Ann Heinrichs emphasizes the personal and human side of the war.  By examining it from multiple perspectives, she suspends any judgment about fault or moral superiority of those who fought.  There are photographs of each person and additional information about the general experiences of those who fought in similar circumstances.  The sweeping context of the war is revealed in the many places the battle occurred—air, sea, and land .  People from different countries and backgrounds reflect the diversity of individuals. The book is relatively concise which makes it easy to read in one sitting or it can be broken up into smaller ones focusing on 1-2 chapters.  The biographical information is fascinating.  I finished wanting to know more about each of the people.  Also, I would have liked to see a bit more background information about the war, but that can be found easily elsewhere.  There are three additional books in this series covering the American Revolution, American Civil War, and World War II.  Voices of World War I: Stories from the Trenches is a nice accompaniment to a study of the Great War.   I recommend it for ages 9 and up for either independent reading or educational instruction. 

Teaching Opportunities:
  • Unit Study:  a great resource for a study of history, WWI, or war
  • Research:  learn more about the specific people showcased in this selection or about warfare during WWI
  • Writing:  after further research, write a journal entry through the perspective of one of the real people who fought it or as a fictional solider
  • Geography:  locate each of the countries on the map; identify their capitals and a few significant details about the culture or terrain
  • Journaling:  write about which story you enjoyed most and why
  • Literature:  read a historical fiction title such as All Quiet on the Western Front or selections suggested HERE and HERE
 This week, head over to Ms. Yingling Reads for Non-Fiction Monday.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Middle Grade Reader: Walk Two Moons (Sharon Creech)

For Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, I am sharing one of my favorite books of all time:  Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech.   It is the 1995 Newbery winner.  This novel prompted me to read several of Creech’s other novels; all have 13 year old protagonists.   Each one I have read—Chasing Redbird, The Wanderer, Absolutely Normal Chaos, Bloomability, and Ruby Holler—delves into universal internal quests facing teens related to family relationships, loss, acceptance, forgiveness, and friendship.   

Creech is a master story teller.  There are three main storylines in Walk Two Moons that are intertwined.  Sal is the main protagonist and narrator.   As she is traveling across the country with her grandparents (storyline #1), she reveals her life before this journey (storyline #2) and tells her grandparents the story of her friend Phoebe (storyline #3).  

The physical journey Sal takes with her grandparents follows the path her mother took from Bybanks, KY to Lewiston, ID.  Through the trip, Sal shares memories of her mother and her life with her parents living on a farm in Kentucky.  Sal is determined to bring her mother back, but as she gets closer and closer, she is afraid to face what is to come.  During the road trip, the quirky and fun-loving characters of Gram and Gramps just steal your heart.  Their love and devotion to one another is endearing.  To help pass the time during the trip, Sal tells about her move to Euclid, Ohio after her mother leaves for Idaho and the story of her friend Phoebe who lives in a rigid and sterile home.  Phoebe’s mother is clearly unappreciated by her family.  One day, she leaves a note and disappears (similar to what Sal’s mother did).   To add more intrigue, there is a mysterious young man who they see periodically (called the “lunatic), envelopes with handwritten messages from an unknown source show up on Phoebe’s porch, and a flamed-haired neighbor named Mrs. Cadaver who is seen as a "threat" by both girls.  Another significant relationship in Euclid is with Ben, a boy in her class.  With him, Sal experiences young love and her first kiss.  This relationship is innocent and sweet. 

What makes this novel so amazing is that each of the storylines compliments the others, adding depth and complexity.  In the end, all of them come together in such a beautiful, compelling manner.  Sal reflects:  “Lately, I’ve been wondering if there might be something hidden behind the fireplace, because just as the fireplace was behind the plaster wall and my mother’s story was behind Phoebe’s, I think there was a third story behind Phoebe’s and my mother’s, and that was about Gram and Gramps.” 

Walk Two Moons is absolutely Marvelous Middle Grade fiction!   Each of the four times I have read it (over the past 15 years), I got choked up to the point of an all out catharsis.  Few stories have had such an impact on me.  It is a MUST READ!   Check out this novel and Sharon Creech’s other great works.  I recommend this book for anyone ages 9 and up.  

Picture Book (Science): Hornets, Incredible Insect Architects (Markle)

Two weeks ago, I highlighted Sandra Markle’s captivating book Luna Moths: Masters of Change.   Hornets: Incredible Insect Architects is another book in her amazing 8-part Insect World series.   


Before delving into the specifics on hornets, the book begins with a concise overview of what makes insects unique from other living things.  Next, the difference between hornets and wasps is explained, making it clear that even though these terms are often used interchangeably, they are two very different species.  Interestingly, there is only one type of hornet in America.  Originating in Europe, they were first found in New York in 1840. They have since spread out through much of the country. 

The parts of the body—inside and out—are covered extensively with diagrams and text boxes identifying each part and explaining its use.  Then, the life cycle is described as it moves from egg, to larva, to pupa, and, eventually, to adult.  One particularly interesting fact is that the larva “clamour” for food—often in unison!   The focal point is the building and tending of the nest.  The queen chooses the building site and starts the design. The most amazing part is how she combines wood fibers with her saliva and juices to make paper!  In addition, she forms each small cell into a perfect hexagon, making it ready for a single egg. Hornets prey on honeybees for food.  They bite off the head and abdomen to eat the protein-filled thorax.  Further information is laid out about the functions and continued building within the nest, ending with the winter coming.  The queen dutifully sets everything up for a next crop of queens for the following spring season.  The book concludes with information about other insect architects, glossary of key scientific terms, book and website resources, and hornet activities.  


This series goes beyond most juvenile science books, but the information is not so dense that is becomes cumbersome.  Markle's writing style is highly engaging.  I found myself learning a lot and not wanting to put the book down!  Stunning photographs accompany each section of information to provide an up-close look at the lives of these remarkable insects.  I will continue to seek out additional books in the series as well as Markles other books.  I recommend Hornets: Incredible Insect Architects for ages 7 and up.  Independent reading level is about third-grade.

This post is linked up with Science Sunday at Adventures of Mommydom.  

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Early Reader: Pip's Trip (by Janet Morgan Stoeke)

Summary of Pip’s Trip (by Janet Morgan Stoeke):
On Loopy Coop Farm, there live three curious hens—Midge, Dot, and Pip.  The farm pick-up truck is a source of fascination and wonder to them.  They want to know where it goes.  Noticing the back of the truck is big enough for them all to fit inside, they each urge the other to get in first.  Midge is afraid of the loud noise.  Pip assures her that it is quiet now.  Midge is not so sure she wants to see the wide world after all, so Pip boldly gets in the truck bed.  Midge delays.  She insists on asking Rooster Sam first, so she struts off with Dot.   Pip hides under a blanket when the truck gets loud.  Pip's "outing" is surprising fun!  

Stoeke has created a delightful early reader that effectively utilizes a small group of high frequency words.  The story is broken into short sections, allowing beginning readers to tackle the book in small spurts if needed.  The vivid illustrations allow for young readers to discuss their relationship to the text, how they add to the characterization and fill in parts  of the narrative the text leaves out. The characters are amusing and endearing.  Pip's “journey” teaches her (and the others) about courage, contentment, and friendship.  This book is the sequel to The Loopy Coop Hens, which, unfortunately, I was unable to acquire.  Both are deemed by critics as just the thing for new readers.   Based on my experience with Pip’s Trip, I whole-heartedly agree.  

Friday, May 11, 2012

Fairy Tale Friday: The Girl and the Golden Bower

This week Literary Transgressions is hosting Fairy Tale Friday.   Jump over there to join in.  My review today is on The Girl and the Golden Bower (by Jane Yolen).  The story begins with a woodsman who lives on the edge of a tangled forest.   The woodsman is from a long line of men who served the castle. After the Queen’s death, the king disappears.  No one lives in the castle except small animals that scurry though the overgrown weeds that now hold it captive, and one great beast with the head of lion, body of deer, a tail like a serpent, and eyes like hawks.     

One day, the woodsman finds a frail young woman in the forest who has no memory of anything--even her name.  Her only possessions are the dress she is wearing and a plain comb the color of her long hair.  While the woodsman takes care of her, they fall in love and get married; Aurea is born to them some time later.  When Aurea is a five, another woman visits the cottage.  She asks for room in board.  In exchange, she will cook for them.  Aurea only receives watered down porridge.  The couple, on the other hand, enjoy delicious meals which are meant to distract them from their new cook’s real purpose.  She is sorceress, looking for a charm she believes is nearby.  Soon after, the mother becomes deathly ill, so she calls Aurea to her.  She bequeaths her the russet comb she came to the cottage with.   Aurea is told the comb belonged to her grandmother and will watch over her. 

After the wife’s death, the sorceresses casts a spell on the woodsman to attempt to learn the charm.  When he reveals nothing, she discards him.  Now, only two remain—the enchantress and the child.  Believing the child must own the charm, the sorceress tries to woo her with her good food and feigned kindness.  Aurea does not trust her though.  She instead retreats to the forest where she is surrounded by creature that comfort her as she combs their hair with her beloved comb.  Realizing the comb is the charm, the sorceress works to get it from her.   Aurea refuses. 

The sorceress drags her deep in the forest and puts a sleeping charm on her, hoping she will die of starvation.  The animals all gather round to comfort her, and with the use of the comb, they build a protective gate around her.  When the sorceress returns, she finds that everything nearby has turned to gold.  Instead of a child lying there, it is now a young woman.   Forgetting about her original goal, she begins to cut the gold strands for herself.  A loud roar resonates from the other side of the gate and the cut strands bind the sorceress. 

After being awoken, the young woman walks over and opens the gate.  Her animal friends transform into huntsman. Thinking she will be rescued, the sorceress commands them to kill the beast.  Instead, they do not move.  The young woman walks up to the beast and begins to comb his hair with her comb, causing both of them to be transformed—the beast into a man (the king) and the young woman back to the girl Aurea.  The comb allows them to realize that Aurea is his granddaughter.  The king is overjoyed to have found her.  The sorceress receives her just “reward.” 

This original, modern fairy tale is an interesting combination of Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and another tale I once read about a huntsman in the woods.  The soft watercolor illustrations (by Jane Dyer) in are lovely.  They capture the setting beautifully and compliment the text exquisitely. What continues to stand out to me in fairy tales is that a vulnerable child is trapped and destitute.   So many fairy tales depict these children overpowering the oppressive forces and people to be reconciled with those they love and to live in the safety (usually in a castle).  If you think about it, isn’t that what most movies and stories are at their barest form.  Fairy tales are a window into the psyches of humanity—in particularly children but generally all humans.  Children today still need that reassurances—Mom and dad will always be there for you.  You can overcome adversity.   You can fight to get free if someone tries to take you (at least I always told my children this).   I highly recommend The Girl and the Golden Bower for ages 5 and up.  

For teaching and extensive ideas with fairy tales, visit my Fairy Tale Teaching Ideas board on Pinterest.  

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Chapter Book (Biography): Lincoln, A Photobiography (Russell Freedman)

I am thrilled that I have finally found a subject to write my first book on.   The subject is a biography of a person I have admired for many years.  I seriously considered naming my child after this person.  Unfortunately, there were way too many others giving their child this first name (not necessarily because of this historical person though).   I will reveal my subject once I get a draft done.  :)

I have read some really fantastic biographies lately.  Russell Freedman has always been, to me, the epitome of great biographical writing for children.   As I am preparing to begin work on my first biography, I turned to his works.  This week I reread Lincoln: A Photobiography.   

Freedman has amazing storytelling skills.   As I read, I felt as if Lincoln’s life was unfolding before me.   Often, he is painted heroically, larger than life, savior of the union, champion of freedom.   These things are no doubt true of him.   Lincoln is much more.   Most know he came from humble beginnings, but even into adulthood he struggled with many of our contemporary issues—depression, rejections, debt, money problems, malicious gossip, loss, failure, and feelings of inadequacy.   More than anything, he should be admired for overcoming these often overwhelming adversities.  No doubt they each had an impact on him that prodded him to succeed to the highest office and to become a man of great compassion and diplomacy. 

Freedman uses photographs in his story telling.  Each one gives a glimpse of Lincoln, his loved ones, his rivals, and his world.  Several depict soldiers—planning, fighting, and dying on the battlefield.   Surely, the war and its losses weighed heavily on a man who experienced it all too often at a personal level. Also, there are some popular political cartoons berating him.  In one he is depicted as a villainous coward sneaking into Washington for his inauguration.  Another one portrays him childishly playing tug-a-war with a map—a poke at him fighting over the union.  The illustrations add depth and reveal the criticism he faced and the complex political climate he navigated through.

Freedman uses quotes effectively.  Seamlessly, quotes by Lincoln and others of his time are interwoven to make this narrative personal and poignant.  For instance, when discussing Lincoln’s inner-conflict on when and how to free the slaves, quotes are interspersed that reveal both sides of the issue.    Eventually, Lincoln decides:  “Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history.  We of this administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves…In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free—honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve.”  Shortly after, he declared his view and policy in the Emancipation Proclamation.  

It is difficult to read this book and not develop an even deeper respect for our 16th president.   This respect does not merely occur because of his outstanding words and acts that made him famous.  Instead, it comes from his quiet struggles, his personal growth, his courage of conviction, and his great love for his family.   I highly recommend Lincoln: A Photobiography for ages 8 and up. 

This post is linked up with Read Aloud Thursday.  Visit Hope is the Word for other great read aloud books for children.  

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Middle Grade Reader: Pipper's Secret Ingredient

Summary of Pipper’s Secret Ingredient (by Jane Murphy & Allison Fingerhuth):
The only thing Pipper loves more than food, is her friends.  She loves gathering them together to cook and to socialize.   Pipper also has a large blog following, craving for her latest recipes and intrigued by her many adventures.   One sleepless night, she feels she has run out of things to share on her blog.  She has a little “cooking-inspiration block.”  After meeting with her friends, they come up with a plan for her to seek out the secret ingredient to what makes a snack so special.   Her journey leads her to the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the cafes of Paris, the Orient-Express across Europe, a famous deli in New York, and the Machu Picchu in South America.  Pipper updates her blog followers on her progress as well as shares with them the recipes and foods she discovers along the way.  A sub-plot involves a greedy and unethical character who hires someone to trail Pipper in hopes of stealing and using her discovery for his own financial benefit.  Fortunately, her friends find out and warn her.  Everything comes together for a satisfying ending.   

The layout of Pipper’s Secret Ingredient is geared toward reluctant and transitional readers.  While it is a chapter book, the pages have the smooth glossy feel of a picture book.  There are colorful illustrations throughout, ranging from small ones on a page of text to full one- and two-page spreads.  This feature helps break up the text, which many readers need. Also, the text is spaced well.  The lines have a slight space between them with bigger gaps between paragraphs.  One of my children gets overwhelmed with too many words (especially close together) on a page, so I really appreciate this format.  My favorite visual feature is the blog entry pages that begin each chapter. The pages look like blogs snapshot with an entry through Pipper’s perspective as well as features that reveal her past posts, recipe titles, and follower comments (called Bark Backs).  All of these aspects make it visually appealing.  I wish there were more of these transitional type readers.  

The characters are all dogs, but their character qualities and actions are human. The dog motif is used to create some fun puns and word play.  The narrative is part adventure story and part quest.  Pipper visits many fascinating areas, which is ideal for extension activities related to geography (locating areas on a map, learning about the cultures, trying ethnic foods).  There is mystery and excitement along the way.  She meets inspirational people who each teach her something about life and cooking.  One of the best parts is the focus on good character.  Pipper and her friends are encouraging, loyal, and helpful. 

While this book has some definite features geared for children and will likely appeal to many, I find the child perspective is lacking.  All the characters are grown-ups.  They have adult jobs.  They go on adult quests.  They think and act like adults.      

I recommend Pipper's Secret Ingredient for ages 8 and up.   The layout is perfect of reluctant readers (especially of chapter books).  The exciting adventures and loyal friendships are sure to appeal to many.  

For more information on this book, check out the website.  The publisher has included an activity guide with lots of extension ideas for learning and fun!  

Disclaimer: As per FTC guidelines, I received a copy of this book from the publisher or author in exchange for my honest review. I received no monetary compensation. All opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone. 

Freedom Over Me (Ashley Bryan)

Title:   Freedom Over Me:  Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life Author :   Ashley Bryan Illustrator :   Ashley...