Books We Are Using This Year
  • The Story of the World: Ancient Times (Vol. 1)
    The Story of the World: Ancient Times (Vol. 1)
    by Jeff West,S. Wise Bauer,Jeff (ILT) West, Susan Wise Bauer
  • Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2
    Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2
    by Bernard J Nebel PhD
  • Math-U-See Epsilon Student Kit (Complete Kit)
    Math-U-See Epsilon Student Kit (Complete Kit)
    by Steven P. Demme
  • First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 4 Instructor Guide (First Language Lessons) By Jessie Wise, Sara Buffington
    First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 4 Instructor Guide (First Language Lessons) By Jessie Wise, Sara Buffington
    by -Author-
  • Drawing With Children: A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too
    Drawing With Children: A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too
    by Mona Brookes
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Entries in children's fiction (32)


Weekly book shelf, 9/10

There is no real theme to this week's book list. We are still finishing up our exploration of Antarctica, but have already started into prehistory by watching BBC's Walking With Monsters. So this week I'm just reviewing some of our old favorites—go-to books for Calvin that I saw him pick up at least once over the week.

What Calvin read to himself....

I wouldn't call The Little Train a story so much as a cute and simple explanation of train travel. We travel with Engineer Small as he pilots his train from the small town to the big city, carrying people, mail, and more. We see countryside, we deliver mail, we wait for larger trains to go by, which allows the reader to enjoy the use of the railroad signal system. There is no conflict, and while the story and illustrations are cute, they are neither specifically down-talk, nor are they childish in nature. Lois Lenski is a master of that art, one of the reasons why I really enjoy her work, even if it's a little dated.

Duck is sad that he can't lay an egg like all the other birds in the book (shown sitting on theirs) so he is very excited one day to find an egg which he takes on as his own. The other birds laugh at him—his egg is ugly!—and when their babies hatch they laugh some more because Duck's is still incubating. Then Duck's baby crocodile (because that's what the egg turns out to be) finally hatches and snaps at them all, forcing them to beat a hasty retreat. The illustrations in the book are darling, and it has some short cut pages to show the hatching of the chicks that a youngster will enjoy. The birds are a variety of species and their babies are well drawn to match. The Odd Egg is definitely cute, but because I am overly picky about seemingly moral tales in books I'm not fond of the "make fun of others and you'll get your head snapped off by a crocodile" ending to the story.

Franklin and his friends excitedly plan their costumes for the upcoming Halloween party. When the big day comes they are almost tricked into believing there is a real ghost in the haunted house! And Bear has to stay home sick with a cold, but all of his friends share their candy with him after the party. Franklin's Halloween is an enjoyable story without serious conflict, a good example of how a book can teach strong character traits (making his own costume, working together to figure out the ghost, sharing candy with Bear) without first showing the wrong way to do things. This isn't true about all of the Franklin books, but seems to describe all the early ones in the series. My guess is that popluarity is what changed things.

Calvin is just one chapter away from finishing The Secret Island and I am still pleased with The Boxcar Children as a series for him to read alone. The vocabulary and sentence structure is simple enough for him to read comfortably, but also pushes him to ask for explanations from time to time. Plus the story is simple, but it's also well written and contains a light mystery that is solved in the end. Some parents might be displeased with the class situation since the grandfather is wealthy, has personal staff, and some emphasis is put on his willingness to buy anything for the children that they need or want. But the children also rarely ask for anything and are giving and considerate with each other and with others. I think Calvin enjoys the books because the characters are well written and easy to enjoy.

What we read out loud...

We are two chapters from the end of The Secret Zoo.



And on my bookshelf...I finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves. I'm still plugging away at Proust, and I'm waiting for an advanced copy novel that I'm supposed to read and review by next Thursday, but it failed to arrive as yet. Good luck with that.


Weekly book shelf, 9/3

What Calvin read to himself this week...

Escape from the Chanticleer, is the story of a merry-go-round horse who longs to leave his post outside the Chanticleer restaurant to visit the nearby ocean shore, and in this fantasy such dreams come true. The book is probably a local hit in Nantucket, and it paints a beautiful picture of the northeast beach both with poetic language and illustrations. The story simple and lacks the stressors of suspense, questionable behavior, or what have you, but it's the simplicity that allows it's beauty to shine. The illustrations are detailed without being overwhelming, and they contain hidden treasures for those who look closely enough. This one is a big hit in our house.

What would happen if all the water in the Great Lakes was drained away? Where would we vacation? How would we ship cargo? The Day the Great lakes Drained Away is exactly the ecology book it sounds like and it relays a valuable warning, but it does so in poorly developed rhyme that is hard to read and enjoy. The illustrations are interesting, but mostly because they include recognizable landmarks from actual points of interest along the lakes. I have yet to find a book that Calvin openly dislikes, but he really didn't seem overly interested in this one, and really I can't blame him. There are better books out there on water preservation.

The Happy Hedgehog is not so happy when his grandfather accuses him of wasting his life being lazy, so he goes in search of some goal in life. Our actually un-happy hedgehog interviews a number of other forest animals who are busy with their own fields of study or practice, but he rejects all of these and ends up recognizing the value of his own interests and of doing exactly what he was doing originally. I think Calvin liked this one, the characters are shallow and petty as they train to be best in their fields, and hedgehog is so negative about all the work they have to do that he really does seem kind of lazy. Calvin brought this one home from our library sale room, but it's one that I will be donating right back.

The Boxcar Children #2, The Surprise Island is the second installment in the Boxcar Children Series but it didn't come along until 1949, over 25 years after the original. Calvin is really enjoying it.

What We read out loud...

We are still working our way through The Secret Zoo, and Jon has been looking through the graphic novel adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Coraline with him, too, although they are not strictly reading it together—especially in this form the story is a bit dark for Calvin.


On my own shelf...I've finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and plan to focus on Proust and a handful of homeschooling and parenting books for a short while, although I'd better step it up or I'll never finish 52 by the end of the year.


Weekly book shelf, 8/24

What Calvin read to himself this week...

Goodnight, Owl! made our favorites list when Calvin was a toddler. All the owl wants to do is sleep, but his tree is filled with diurnal birds who are keeping him awake with their litany of calls. No worries, he gets revenge at night! The large, clean font is easy to see and follow, the illustrations are textured and warm, and the story has an enjoyable rhythm, and it's fun for both reader and listener to make all those bird sounds.

Sam the Sea Cow is a great mixture of story and factual writing. You meet Sam shortly after his birth, then follow him as he learns to live life as a manatee. When he gets caught in a pipe he has to be rescued by the nearby aquarium, rehabilitated, then released. Sam is endearing, the illustrations are very sweet, and the writing is structured for younger children, but there is a lot of great information shared here, too, and the manatees are made loveable without the intrusion of personification. Calvin absolutely loves Sam and his story.

Creatures of the Desert World is a National Geographic Society pop-up action book. Each page of this book presents different flora and fauna from Sonoran Desert in Arizona. Like most pop-up books the focus is not on the text, which is mainly used to describe and label the animals and plants that are depicted in the beautiful, realistic illustrations. The pop-up actions are well made and Calvin really enjoys them.

Eve of the Emperor Penguin is part of the Magic Tree House series, but it's one of the Merln Missions so it mixes in a bit of fantasy (more so than the time travel, that is). Jack and Annie are whisked away to Antarctica, presumably in the current era, to find a secret needed to save Merlin's life. They travel part way up Mt. Erebus, fall through the glacial ice, and meet a group of Emperor Penguins before traveling home. Calvin loved this one so much he read it twice, once to himself and once to me. I continue to be pleased with the series because it doesn't hide the factual information inside the story but presents it as information as Jack and Annie look it up during their travels. You can read Calvin's review here.

What we read out loud...

We finished reading The Tale of Despereaux this week and you can find our review here. I was disappointed, but Calvin enjoyed it well enough. Our next book is going to be The Secret Zoo, by Brian Chick.

And on my shelf this week...nothing has changed. I've spent so much of my time this past week on looking into curriculum and preparing projects for Calvin that I'm only half way through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, only about 50 pages further in Proust, and haven't made any progress in Raising our Children, Raising Ourselves.


Weekly book shelf 8/13

Except that it isn't the 13th, because I'm behind again. As busy as we were over the past couple of weeks, though, we did do a lot of reading. I think my favorite thing now is when Calvin reads to me while I am driving.

Some of what Calvin read to himself this week...Bear Mouse is a new book I just picked up from our library sale room. It is exactly my kind of book—a true nature situation written as a story without personification or embellishment. The little mouse, who looks like a bear in her winter coat, must find nourishment so she can make milk for her babies, but she must avoid predators to do so. The pictures are perfect, the ending is happy, and Calvin loved the story. Berlioz the Bear is traditional Jan Brett, and although I'm not always fond of her work I do love the way she tells the extra story with the illustrations. This is about bear musicians whose wagon gets stuck in mud on their way to a party, and all the animals who try to help them.

The Hole in the Dike is a different take on the Dutch folk tale of the boy who saves the town by sticking his finger in a hole in the dike. For those who are familiar with the little hooligan hero from the traditional tale, the little boy in this story is just a happy little Dutch boy who does a good deed, and I like it oh so much better for that.

And last week he finished reading Mr. Popper's Penguins by himself. Even a month ago I would never have believed he'd be reading like this now, but he asked to try it, and after sitting with him and listening through the first chapter to make sure it went well, I left him to it. Although I believe some of the subtle humor was lost him he had no trouble reading the book and understanding it, and he thoroughly enjoyed it. Now I think he's even more in love with The Boxcar Children, which he started immediately after.

What we read together this week...The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is one of the best ghost story of all time. We have read it together before out of my anthology of poetry, but I found this version at another library sale. The language of the poem is not changed at all, but it is written in a slightly larger and roomier format and is illustrated by Ed Young in charcoal sketches and watercolors that add to the tale. Calvin loved reading it by the fire pit after dark last weekend. 

And we've also started The Tale of Despereaux, which may be a bit over the top with the whole love bit, but it's also been a fun story with animal characters and pretty imagery.

And on my shelf these past two weeks...I took a break from Proust to read The Time Machine, and then the His Dark Materials trilogy. I enjoyed Pullman more than Wells, I reviewed all of the above, and now I'm back to Proust, although I also plan to start The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.


Weekly book shelf, 7/30

And I'm posting it on time! So only a few days after last week's. Oh well. It's actually the last week of the library summer reading program (since most people around here get out of town for the last month before school). I'm sorry to see it go only in the sense that for the past six weeks I've had at least some of his weekly reading at my fingertips to post right here. Without that list he can be hard to keep up with.

What Calvin read to himself this week...Sunset of the Sabertooth is yet another Magic Tree House book. He said to me after he finished it that he wanted to read Dinosaurs before Dawn again next because he LOVES that book. I love to hear him say that. The Boats on the River is a beautiful book about boats on a river by a town by the sea. It has flowing, lyrical language just like that, and uses repetitive language, rhyme and rhythm to build sentences. It's good old 1940s, right down to the illustrations. Makes me think of Virginia Burton. It's a big winner with us.

Changes, Changes is a wordless picture book that follows two wooden dolls who continuously refashion the blocks around them in new and imaginative ways to escape tough situations. They begin, for instance, in a block house, but when the house catches on fire they take part of the house blocks and build a fire engine to put out the fire, which creates a lake, so then they turn the blocks into a boat, and so on. This has been a favorite in our house for a while and was rediscovered this past week (we didn't actually include this book on his reading list for the library, since there were no words, but I thought it was better than listing yet another Tree House book here!).

And Hidden Dinosaurs is a rhyming book about paleontology, a fact book about dinosaurs, and a hidden picture book, all rolled into every page. This is by the man we met at the library on Friday and he signed the books for the kids after the program. Calvin, who is now on a dinosaur kick thanks to "PaleoJoe," is delighted with this book, and I think it is well done.

Calvin also started reading Mr. Popper's Penguins this week. We're doing a sort of FIAR unit style reading of this book. He's reading it to himself, but then we're talking about the chapters and learning more about things as we go, like penguins.

What we read together this week...I like Song of the Swallows because it is just a beautiful story. Many books try to teach lessons, but this one is just a sweet story about a little boy who loves the swallows that nest in the gardens near his home. When they fly to their winter nesting grounds he misses them, but prepares the gardens for their returns, adding a beautiful place for them at his own house so some will come nest there, which they do. Printed music to go with a song that he sings is also in the story/book. Another 1940s treasure! We are also rereading some of the Magical Monarch of Mo this week.

On my shelf this week...nothing new. I am just starting The Time Machine, by H. G. Wells, and am still making headway on my second trip through Swann's Way, by Marcel Proust. I've started a new reading blog called Finding Time for Proust on Blogger (starting post here) where I'm keeping all my book notes, mostly from Proust right now, but I also post notes and reivews from the other books I read as well.