Books for Women’s History Month: Finding Them

Today, I’m beginning a little series on finding, reading, and using excellent books for women’s history month. Today, we’ll focus on the finding. Later this week, I’ll share some of my favorites, and give you some ideas for how to use them at home, at school, and maybe even in more random situations.

women's history children's books

Here’s a little secret: I don’t like the non-fiction history books that you’re ‘supposed’ to like. That David Adler A Picture Book of… series? I think it’s dry, completely unengaging, and historically questionable. Of course, that series is a far sight better than the If You Were There When… series, which seems like a cartoon gone wrong. (These are just my personal opinions, of course. I’m sure there are kids out there who love these two series, and probably some kid somewhere won’t read anything else.)

My preference, particularly when it comes to books about Very Famous Historical People, is to identify one or two really great books about that person. I think it is well worth an investment of your time to find and pre-read a whole stack of books, and then select the very best to actually use. Sure, situations arise where you have to grab the book closest to your hand, but 95% of the time, you probably can use just a bit of prior planning and find some hidden gems.

What does this look like in reality? It means you can’t just google the name of a Very Important Historical Person, and then buy the first children’s listing that pops up on Amazon. It means you can’t just head over to the local big box bookstore and snatch the first thing you see. Listen to me carefully: you might luck out and grab something fantastic. You also might waste $8.95, unintentionally impart historically inaccurate information to the next generation, and make history a lot more boring or irrelevant than it needs to be.

Jefferson Meme

Image source

The truth is that most of the time, you don’t need your children (or students) to memorize every detail of a Very Important Historical Person’s biography. There are probably some ‘big ideas’ about that person, his/her contributions to society, and his/her background that you want to stick with your children. Thus, you don’t want a book that reads more like an encyclopedia entry than quality children’s literature. As kids get older, this changes a little bit, but on the whole, I’ve found that quality children’s books can be the best introduction to a person or event.

It’s also essential to remember that perceptions of people and events change over time – as they should! Our world never stands still, and I, for one, am grateful not to be living in 1776. (If you’re wondering why, that would have me disenfranchised, probably impoverished, and close to blind – mama loves her corrected vision.) This means that the historical books you loved as a child – I’m looking at you, d’Aulaire biographies and Little House on the Prairie – might not be appropriate for modern children without a healthy dose of explanation.

Here’s my point: take the time to find the very best books for whatever or whomever you’re trying to study. Emphasize depth and great ideas over breadth and trivial knowledge. Then, if you discover you have a mini-historian in your house or classroom, you’ll know that you’ve provided a firm foundation on which s/he can build additional knowledge. There is precious little that will stand between a mini-historian and his/her acquisition of better and greater knowledge about an interesting subject, so don’t fret.

Proust Book quote

Image source


My favorite books for St. Patrick’s Day.

Somehow, tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day. While it’s not a huge holiday at our house, St. Patrick was a cool guy, so we give him a little attention. (The girls are about 0% Irish on my side, but their Dad’s family has some Irish heritage. We’re not entirely poseurs.)

books for st patrick's day

Go ahead and pick your jaws up off the floor. It’s hard for anyone to imagine that I, of all people, would recommend a Tomie dePaola book, right? Haha.

If you want St. Patrick’s Day to be about more than leprechauns and green food coloring, then start with Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland. (IndieBound/Amazon) Like most of dePaola’s religious work, it’s a narrative tale of the life of the Saint, combined with symbolism in the illustrations and a bit of explanation about how we remember the Saint today.

In Patrick’s case, there’s a lot of mythology whose origins are lost to time, so there’s no “real” story that doesn’t contain at least a bit of supposition. I mean, there probably weren’t ever snakes in Ireland in the first place. When reading this, or any book about St. Patrick with your children, it might be important to stress that when people become heroes, sometimes other people ascribe stories to them that aren’t necessarily truthful.

st patricks day children's books

St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning was my favorite book for the holiday when I was a classroom teacher. (IndieBound/Amazon) Because it doesn’t contain the actual story of St. Patrick, and it doesn’t have much discussion of the religious commemorations for the day, it’s appropriate for use in a secular setting.

Equally, it focuses on the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, rather than on the commercialized American approximation. The story centers around Jaime, who is excited to join his town’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. Unfortunately, everyone in the family thinks he’s too small to do it, because the parade ends by climbing a tall hill. Jaime, undaunted, proves them all wrong on “St. Patrick’s Day in the morning,” long before the rest of the house is awake.

The illustrations (by Jan Brett, no less) are rendered only in yellow, green, orange, and shades of grey, so the book has a vintage feel. It’s also a sweet story for children growing into their own independence, but not quite ready for the angst that appears in so many modern books written along those lines.

The title of the book comes from the name of an old Irish jig. Here’s one version I found:

(There are other versions on the banjo and reed flute, as well, if you’re into this sort of thing.)

We’ll read these two books, make some shamrocks to talk about the Trinity, and call it good. 🙂

{Book links in this post are affiliate links, and Read It, Make It! earns a small commission on purchases made using them.}

Poetry Books for African-American History Month

Well, we lost February somewhere in the fog of crazy weather and illness, so I’m woefully behind in sharing resources with you for African-American history month. We work hard as a family to tell the fullest version of America’s story possible, so that means we purposely go beyond the Great White Men version of events when we talk about things from the past.

Nonetheless, I still see the value in Carter G. Woodson’s effort to recognize the contributions of African-Americans (and Africans in America), so February continues to matter around these parts. There’s an amazing collection of online exhibits here, at the official African-American History month site, hosted by a consortium of libraries, museums, and institutions you’ve heard of.

Today, I’m sharing some poetry resources. These are works by African-American authors and poets, and most are illustrated by African-American artists.

african american history month books, black history month books

Ashley Bryan’s magnificent ABC of African-American Poetry (IndieBound/Amazon) shares snippets of poems from a variety of authors. Some names are familiar, and some are not. The subject matter varies widely, as well, with some poems being more appropriate for older elementary students, and others perfectly fine for preschoolers. At home, I don’t read this book straight through. Instead, we talk about the illustrations, and then select four or five poem excerpts to read together.

black history month book, books for african american history month

Some of the poems also showcase great African-Americans, or the African-American experience, so they make for a double-whammy of excellence. I think these lines from Eloise Greenfield perfectly summarize Harriet Tubman, and could make a wonderful introduction to a study of her life and work.

black history month book, books for african american history month

And how can you not love Ashley Bryan’s illustrations? I saw him read and speak once, and his work matches his personality. He exudes light and happiness, and he works that spirit into his books, even when the subject matter is darker and more serious. Children are drawn to his work, with good reason.

african american poetry, black history month books

Langston Hughes’ The Dreamkeeper and Other Poems (IndieBound/Amazon) contains a selection of Hughes’ poems appropriate for elementary-aged children. Inside, you’ll find some favorites, like Dream Variation, The Negro Speaks of Rivers, and Stars. You’ll also see some poems you probably haven’t read before, and find yourself having a hard time deciding which selections to share.

This edition contains beautiful black and white illustrations by Brian Pinkney, which manage to complement Hughes’ work without overshadowing it. They echo the stillness found in many of the poems, I think. That stillness sort of inspires you to select a few poems, read them, and revel in them for a minute, rather than racing through the entire anthology in one sitting.

african american history month books, black history month books

If, like me, you have a soft spot for The Negro Speaks of Rivers, then you’ll want to locate this book-length rendering, with illustrations by E. B. Lewis. (IndieBound/Amazon) This poem, which Hughes wrote at age 17 (!), tells the story of African-Americans by linking it to the rivers of Africa and the Americas. Lewis’ illustrations sweep the reader through history along with the poem, including some of our country’s lowest and highest points.

{A little note: if you’re using this with younger children or in a classroom setting, make sure you take the time to explain that ‘Negro’ was once the respectful term for people of African ancestry, so that’s why Langston Hughes used it in his poem. Today, it is not a word that we consider respectful, but we still use it in historical context as appropriate.}

black history month books, african american history month books

Finally, one of my favorites from my classroom days: Eloise Greenfield’s Honey, I Love. (IndieBound/Amazon) My students adored this book. Most of them had it memorized because we read it so often. The little girl in whose voice the poem is written – perfectly illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist – does an amazing job of telling us all about the things she loves. These are everyday sorts of things, and the sorts of things like foods and voices that allow all children to make some meaningful connections.

african american history month books, black history month books

The poem is excerpted from this longer collection, Honey I Love and Other Love Poems, which is also worth adding to your library. The illustrations are by Leo and Dianne Dillon, if you need any further convincing. (IndieBound/Amazon)

{The book links in this post are affiliate links, and Read It, Make It! earns a small commission on any purchase you make using them. Thanks!}

You know what’s worse than an ice storm?

An ice storm coupled with a stomach bug that takes forever to go away. The sort of stomach bug that attacks the whole family.

Fortunately for us, the ice melted eventually AND we never lost power. That meant that I could keep doing load after load after load of laundry. This is the sort of romantic thing no one bothers to talk about before you have children, so one day you wake up undeniably grateful for modern technology, because how in the world did Caroline Ingalls deal with stuff like this? Part of me imagines she just banned the children from the cabin until they quit puking.

Things should be back to normal around here shortly. I’ve found some great new books and we’ve been doing some fun crafty stuff, too. Can’t wait to share it with you.



French for Preschoolers: Resources and Links

Count me as one of those people who thinks that exposing kids to foreign languages as soon as possible is a good idea. To me – in my unresearched and unscientific opinion – it’s better to provide some sort of introduction, even if they decide to go down a completely different path later.

teaching french to kids

In reality, this means that I am teaching the girls French because it is the foreign language that I know. I didn’t have to spend time debating the merits of Mandarin over Spanish in the 21st century world economy, because I don’t know either of those languages. I didn’t have to waffle over using one type of Latin pronunciation over another, because all I can do is recognize Latin roots in French words.

We don’t sit around and converse in French at home, because my husband’s French vocabulary consists of the following: bonjour, merci, and baguette. I don’t force them to memorize words out of context or drill them with flashcards. However, I do use articles when practicing words, because I think it’s awfully hard to go back and associate genders with nouns if you don’t learn them simultaneously.

We are at the very beginning of our French language journey, so this resource list is by no means all-inclusive. You’ll also notice that there is zero direct teaching of grammar (besides using articles to indicate the gender of nouns), zero writing (because they can’t write yet), and zero structure. I haven’t forced us to do a certain amount of French a week, and I don’t plan to do that until the girls are ready for more formal instruction.

Most foreign language programs rely heavily on written work, which is not my primary goal right now. Despite my less-than-ideal accent, and our situational inability to experience much French in use, I want them to get an ear for the language, and understand that not everyone in the world speaks American English. This means that I’m left to my own devices to put together something resembling a coherent language program.

As you’ve probably gathered, I haven’t done this very well. In fact, I probably haven’t done this at all. Instead, I just try to do most of the following during any given week, and consider it our ‘French for Preschoolers’ introduction:

  • *watch a some short online videos, probably from Monde des petits or Comptines et chansons on YouTube.
  • *do a lesson or two with Tonton – sometimes it’s a song, sometimes vocabulary in context.
  • *repeat some words using the Usborne First Thousand Words in French
  • *count in French.
  • *look for things wherever we are – at the park, at the grocery store, in the library – and identify them in French.
  • *listen to French music, whether intended for children or not.

While I am no saint when it comes to avoiding screen time with the girls, I do prefer to avoid screen time in the name of “Education,” simply because I think that there’s a lot to be learned without flashing lights and loud noises. In the case of language learning, however, I know they need the experience of hearing native or nearly native speakers as much as possible, so I bend the rules.

Thanks to my persistent Google-ing and Pinterest-ing, I have learned that if you live in the UK or Canada, you can probably find some awesome preschool-level interactive French classes for your kiddo. I have not yet had much success at finding those same sorts of things here, but I haven’t quit looking, either.

Bonjour Tonton

My favorite, and the girls’ very favorite, is The Language Tortoise. Heidi (who is human) and Tonton (who is a stuffed turtle puppet) are very engaging. Heidi has a downloadable French course, as well as weekly-ish videos featuring Tonton and his antics. For Advent, she did daily videos where Tonton introduced holiday vocabulary in each episode.

Heidi also manages Tonton’s Facebook page, where she posts additional language tips. If you’re lucky enough to live in Exeter, England, you can even take in-person classes. Unfortunately, the commute is just too far for us. 😉

I’ve recently found the excellent French for Toddlers blog, out of the UK, of course, which is a great source for activities that allow you to link a little hands-on fun with French vocabulary. The author is another person who teaches classes for little ones, and is kind enough to post her weekly activities to the blog. My favorite is these awesome egg carton faces for teaching parts of the body.

Book-wise, I haven’t had a lot of success. Many books that I see recommended are actually French translations of books originally written in English. While there is certainly nothing wrong with this, it’s not my personal preference. We don’t have a great foreign language bookstore in Atlanta, so I don’t have the opportunity to peruse much of anything in person, either.

Usborne First Thousand Words in French

We do use the Usborne First Thousand Words in Frenchbook frequently. Each two-page, large format spread shows a scene from a specific place, and introduces relevant vocabulary. There are also pages for colors, shapes, numbers, and action words. Bethany’s favorite is definitely the hospital page, so she’s all set if she needs a fauteuil roulant or some comprimés.

Usborne First Thousand Words in French

One of my goals for this year is to track down a good source for French children’s books. I’m hoping I can find some at a reasonable price that will last for a few years. If I ever find anything used, I snatch it up, even if I know it’s not going to be useful quite yet.

Confession: I also buy antique French grammar books because they’re usually gorgeous. I do not enjoy grammar, but maybe I would have liked it better if my books had looked like this?

Vintage French textbook: Pour Lire et Parler

{The book link in this post is an affiliate link, and Read It, Make It! will receive a small commission on purchases made using it. Other links are for the convenience of readers, and Read It, Make It! receives no compensation for readers using them.}




Newbery 2014: They made a great choice.

If you follow Read It, Make It! on Facebook, you probably saw my announcement last week that author Kate DiCamillo won the 2014 Newbery Medal. Again. Some people have all the luck talent.

I had not yet read Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, but the recent snowpocalypse gave me the chance to accomplish that goal. I first read about this novel when I was writing my previous DiCamillo post on Mercy Watson, because Mercy’s website included a little promo.

Flora and Ulysses

From that promo, I had expected Flora and Ulysses to be aimed at a slightly younger audience than it actually is. While the language is not exceptionally difficult, and the style (short chapters, choppy dialogue, brilliantly expressed characters) could be ideal for younger readers, the overall theme will definitely resonate more effectively with the middle-grades crowd.

The plot is best described as quirky. Flora, comic-book obsessed daughter of divorced parents, witnesses the transition of squirrel Ulysses into a superhero. The fact that this is the product of a super-powered vacuum seems almost believable. Once transformed, Flora and Ulysses develop an instant bond, and Flora becomes determined to help Ulysses realize his new-found potential.

Flora and Ulysses

The cast of characters, including the neighbor’s precociously difficult great-nephew, is what made this book the most compelling to me. By the story’s end, each character is exposed as being multifaceted, and there is something within each character that I think almost any child could find relatable. While the plot’s trajectory might seem standard – problems find solutions, here – the character development is sensationally different than much of what you see in modern young adult fiction.

While DiCamillo gets the award, the book would not be what it is without the graphic and illustrative contributions of K. G. Campbell. Portions of the story are told in comic-book style, and those illustrations are key parts of the book. Those little bursts of graphic novel make the storytelling in Flora and Ulysses unique, and usually add a bit of humor.

Flora and Ulysses

The book screams to be added to the top of the list of books that might engage reluctant readers. It would also make a great mentor text for character development and description.

I dusted off my graphic organizer skills, and came up with these, both of which would work at home or at school to help readers decipher the ways that an author can put together a characterization.

Flora and Ulysses Graphic Organizer

Download the Flora and Ulysses – Characterization Graphic Organizer.

The idea here is that readers will recognize that there are no clear-cut villains or heroes in this book. Instead, there are characters with both positive and negative characteristics, whose actions are not always what they might seem. By listing each type of trait and the describing how those traits combine to form a more complex character, readers can begin to synthesize their knowledge of real human behavior with that of characters in books.

Graphic Organizer for Flora and Ulysses

Download the Flora and Ulysses Character Study Graphic Organizer.

On a more basic level, this outline lets readers describe a chosen character, or select more than one character to compare. Obviously, you could just draw the outline of a person, but for readers who might find that more challenging than the actual character analysis, it can help to have a picture to start.

Readers can list character traits and typical activities on related parts of the outline. For example, Flora’s mother – an author – might be described as such on her hands, which she uses for typing. Once the traits are listed, readers could write a short character sketch or participate in a discussion about the ways that the different characters’ strengths and skills came together to let them solve the problems in the novel.

 To be honest, this is the sort of book that I’d love to share with just the right student or young friend. The graphic portions of it would make it a difficult read-aloud for a whole class, but it will definitely strike a chord with many, many readers. Please let me know what happens if you find it to be a perfect match for somebody in your part of the world!

{The book links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchasing using them, Read It, Make It! receives a small commission. Thank you!}

A book for Chinese New Year.

We aren’t Chinese, nor do we have close Chinese friends, so we don’t really celebrate Chinese New Year. However, I found an amazing little book the other day, and I thought you might like to know about it.

A New Year's Reunion

A New Year’s Reunion, by Yu Li-Qiong with pictures by Zhu Cheng-Liang, tells the story of one family’s new year celebration. The family’s father works far away, and only travels home once a year for the holiday. During the course of the story, young Maomao must both readjust to having her father home and come to terms with the fact that he will leave again shortly.

While the traditional New Year’s customs are a part of the story, they are not its focus. Instead, the book focuses on the family’s relationship and everyday life in the town where the family lives. There are fireworks, rice cakes, and a dragon parade, but the family also repairs their home and makes a snowman.

The pictures tell as much of the story as the text. There is a gentle quality to the paintings that enhances the book’s overall tone. They also do a marvelous job of combining the traditions of the New Year celebration with the trappings of modern life. The image of the mother packing the father’s suitcase to leave again is particularly moving.

A New Year's Reunion

There are no pat answers here, no magical income sources that keep the family together. A New Year’s Reunion tells the very true story of families where a parent works far away. For that reason it has the potential to connect with many children who face separation due to work in this country, including those in military families and migrant farming families.

A New Year's Reunion

Our girls loved this book. Even though we don’t face the challenges of having a parent working far away, there is still plenty of familiarity in the story. They particularly liked this illustration of the family snuggled together. If you like warm stories of family life,  A New Year’s Reunion is definitely worth checking out, and my guess is that it will become a favorite for you, as it has for me.

{The book link in this post is an affiliate link. Purchases made using it earn a small commission for Read It, Make It!}


Vintage Book Wednesday: More Soviet Pop-Up Magic

Last week, I shared an amazing vintage Soviet children’s book that I found in a used book store.

Who's That? (Soviet Pop-Up Book)

Today, I’m sharing the companion to that book that I bought at the same time. It was published later – in 1984 – by the same company in Moscow. It’s a great deal simpler than Early, Early in the Morning, with the illustrations being the focal point.

Who's That? (Soviet Pop-Up Book)

Each page show a mother animal and her offspring, and the text simply gives their names. “Sow and piglets” or “cow and calves,” for example. The animals pop from the page, and are depicted in an idyllic farm setting. My favorite detail is probably the very European haystacks on the cow page.

Who's That? (Soviet Pop-Up Book)

Compared with the previous book, these illustrations are sedate. There are no wild psychadelic colors, and no stereotypically Russian characters. Instead, there are soft tones and sweet details of plants, farm buildings, and extra critters. The paper engineering is confined to the animals, and nothing moves.

Who's That? (Soviet Pop-Up Book)

I’m still on the prowl to learn why these books exist, but I did read online that there were Soviet books published in English for audiences in India. I wonder if these were part of that? Don’t worry – the research continues.

A little love for Pete Seeger.

Pete Seeger - Freedom Summer

The world lost a legend yesterday. This is my favorite picture of Pete Seeger. He’s in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, during 1964’s Freedom Summer. Read more here, at the amazing Civil Rights Movement’s Veterans’ site.

Pete Seeger grew up in a musical family, and his parents began collecting and recording traditional folk songs long before any sort of “revival” made them profitable. He used his musical platform to advance the causes close to his heart, and no doubt managed to change the world with his banjo. His New York Times obituary gives a great overview of his leonine contributions to our world, musical and otherwise.

Here he is, singing with some friends about the kind of world he thought we all deserved to live in:

Thanks for everything, Mr. Seeger. I imagine it was quite the party up there today.

Books about Building.

We’re getting a new roof today. It’s exciting, in that we won’t have to worry about leaks. It’s unexciting, in that it’s a very expensive way to make a lot of noise. Nonetheless, we’re grateful for it!

Since I’ve had shingles on the brain, I thought I’d share a few of our favorite books about tools and building things. There are many on the market, but my favorites don’t involve licensed characters.

books about building

We’ll start with the classic: The House that Jack Built. This is my favorite version of the old rhyme, which is not surprising given its darling vintage illustrations. My girls have fun identifying all the tools, and completing the rhyme on each page. It’s also an entertaining way to show children the construction of a building, literally from the ground up.

books about building

Taro Miura’s gorgeous Tools used to be my go-to first birthday gift, until it got harder to find. Each spread shows the tools used by one particular professional. The images are large and graphic, with the item’s name shown beside it in a bold typeface. The variety of tools depicted in the book is exceptional, and pretty much guaranteed to make your preschooler look like a genius the next time you need a locksmith.
books about building

For the younger crowd, Daddy and Me is one of my favorites. Typical of Karen Katz’s style, this lift-the-flap board book tells the story of a child and father building a doghouse. Each tool is shown in use in sequence during the doghouse’s construction. The book is short, sweet, and straightforward, making it ideal for the short attention spans of the very youngest readers.

books about building

Finally, a book from the non-fiction giant Gail Gibbons. How a House Is Built describes the building of a modern house from start to finish. It explains not only the structural construction, but also the installation of systems that make a contemporary home safe and comfortable. If your child is a Lego fiend, this is a great book to take that sort of thinking just a bit farther.

{The book links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase through them, Read It, Make It! receives a small commission. Thank you!}