Some books in heavy rotation at our house right now are from Marie-Louise Gay‘s Stella series (IndieBound/Amazon). Focused on a very imaginative little girl – and sometimes her younger brother, Sam – these books take place in fairly standard settings, yet contain wonderful adventures.

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The watercolors are incredible in these books, and the illustrations contain little visual treats for the reader. You really feel transported when you read these, even though the situations are familiar. Sam asks a million questions, and Stella answers them as only a big sister can, with a lot of exaggeration and creativity.

Read Me a Story, Stella is probably our favorite so far, with its tromp through nature and hilarious explanations by Stella. The emphasis on outdoor exploration, with zero input from adults, makes this an attractive choice for those of us trying to encourage reasonable independence when playing outside. One of Gay’s strengths as an author (a bilingual author, no less) is that she manages to tell a child’s story from a child’s point of view without being cloying or ridiculous. You really get the sense that she remembers what it was like to be five or six, and in the process of coming to understand how the world works.

If you read about Stella and Sam, feel free to stop back by and tell us which book from the series is your favorite. 🙂

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Vintage Books for Christmas

We’ve been busy, but I haven’t been blogging. Surprised? I doubt it. We’ve discovered some vintage gems this Advent, so I’ll share a few of those quickly.

vintage christmas book, kate seredy bookOne day, I’ll write you a virtual dissertation on Kate Seredy, and why her books deserve a lot more modern attention than they get. In the meantime, rejoice that A Tree for Peter (IndieBound/Amazon) was just republished, and that The Chestry Oak will be returning soon. A Tree for Peter made me cry (not surprising), but it also made me think. It’s the story of a young boy growing up in a shantytown, and a mysterious stranger who changes not only Peter’s life, but also the lives of everyone Peter knows, with a few simple gifts. The shantytown is transformed, as are the hearts of its residents, largely through the not-so-magical-magic of feeling empowered and purposeful in their daily lives. There is also a wraparound story to the overall book that highlights the ability of young children to influence others through their actions. I will grant you that the plot is a little far-fetched, but I think the sheer inspiration of it overcomes that.

A few notes for the modern reader: Peter has a limp, and is called “lame” throughout the book. You’ll want to think about that ahead of time, and either discuss it in advance with your children or use a different word to describe how he has difficulty walking. There is also one reference to “wild Indians,” and once again you’ll want to decide how to handle that before you get to it. For a book of this vintage (1941), neither of those things is surprising, but they do require some forethought before reading this book in a classroom, especially.

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A Day on Skates, which is actually set after Christmas, is a new favorite at our house for Bethany (5). (IndieBound/Amazon) She asked me to read it again as soon as we’d finished it. It’s written and illustrated in a format that is very rare in modern publishing: it’s horizontal, with sporadic black and white illustrations on most spreads, with a few full page color plates. It’s a great intermediate step for kids who are pretty good at listening to picture books, and aren’t always great at following a story in a novel. They have to do some work to visualize the story, but there are some helpful illustrations just when they need them. This is especially handy for children like mine, who have zero frame of reference for things like ice, snow, and skating. I imagine children in North Dakota would need less help with this.

The premise of A Day on Skates is that a class of Dutch children are going on a full-day picnic that includes miles and miles of skating. It’s a huge undertaking, and plenty of adventures occur. (Spoiler alert: one of the main characters falls through the ice, the whole class visits a stranger’s farm for help (and pancakes), a group of boys gets locked in a church tower, and it begins to look like the group will not have the stamina to make it home, until they are rescued by a passing sleigh.) While I’m sure it’s written with a rose-colored pen, this book is also an interesting look at how people used to handle adversity, back before helicopter parenting was a thing.

Modern reader notes, again: There are numerous references to things/activities being “for girls” and “for boys,” in ways that irked me, personally. As we encountered these, the girls and I just talked through them, and I don’t think that impeded the flow of the story. There’s also a bit towards the end where a group of boys decide to be explorers, like Columbus, and I did a wretched hatchet job of changing some wording to more accurately reflect Columbus – landing, rather than discovering, for instance. I entirely skipped one paragraph referring to “red Indians,” because I had not pre-read to know that I’d need to do some explaining before we started. With older readers, I’d use this as a teaching opportunity to discuss prejudice and how it can show up in unlikely places.

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My friends at Bound to Be Read had this little winner sitting in the window on Black Friday. Initially, I thought to save it for Christmas Eve, but then I just loved it too much to wait. This is the 75th anniversary reprinting of the original Rudolph story from Montgomery Ward. It’s delightful. The illustrations are vintage, and the language in the poem is pretty great. While ultimately this is a story about bullying (reindeer are cruel, it turns out), it’s pretty exciting to see how Rudolph really does help Santa, even in old-school four color illustrations. I think we’ve all been missing out, relying solely on the infamous Rudolph TV special for our reindeer knowledge, even if Rudolph was just a marketing gimmick. (IndieBound/Amazon)

In case I don’t get back here beforehand, I hope y’all have a Merry Christmas (if you celebrate it), and a great start to 2015. Thanks for reading!

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

Angelo: An Unsung David Macaulay Classic

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Today, I want to share a little about this fantastic book that appeared on our library’s shelves a few weeks ago. Initially, I picked it up because of the author/illustrator. Like many people, I’ve long loved David Macalay’s magnificent architecture/engineering non-fiction works, including Castle (IndieBound/Amazon) and Mosque (IndieBound/Amazon). These large-format masterpieces have stayed in print for decades, and encouraged more than a few reluctant readers to read those pesky words sitting beside the intricate illustrations.

Angelo, by David Macaulay

Like Macaulay’s other work, Angelo (IndieBound/Amazon) is illustrated in almost a technical style, as you can see in the inset above. Unlike those other books, though, there is a definite human touch in the illustrations and story that makes this book really memorable. The story is straightforward: Angelo is a plasterer, working to restore a church in Florence. He befriends an injured pigeon, who becomes his constant companion. As Angelo ages and his health fades, the pigeon (now named Sylvia) provides as much help and comfort as she can. Angelo’s final masterwork is a permanent home for Sylvia, and Angelo passes away knowing that Sylvia will always have a safe place to rest.


I was genuinely surprised to reach the end of the story and feel so strongly about the way that Angelo and Sylvia had helped each other. The discussion of death is done so deftly that young children might not even realize exactly what has happened to Angelo. My three year old loves this story, and explains matter-of-factly that Angelo has died at the end, but focuses more on the final nest he created for Sylvia. My very sensitive four year old also enjoys rereading this book, and will take the time to carefully study the illustrations, looking for little secrets in the pictures.

While this may not be The Book to use if your child or student is facing a particularly difficult loss, I think it is amazing as a simple introduction to the concept that all living things will eventually die. There are no meaningless platitudes, and no particular religious references, other than the funeral scene taking place at the church that Angelo re-plastered. There is a calmness to the story, which comes from the reader knowing that Angelo led a beautiful life and that he and Sylvia would live on in each others’ hearts.

Basically, it’s just plain lovely.


You knew this was coming: The Obligatory Apple Post.

Those of you who disdain everything about traditional education should probably stop reading now. 😉 Those of you who have PTSD from thirty years of teaching Kindergarten might want to quit, too.

Girls and apples

But for everyone else, it’s apple time! When I taught second grade, I loved apple week. We did it, and we did it big: books, crafts, apple sauce in the Crock-Pot. It felt like 1978 or something. I’ve written about a couple of my favorite apple books before, but there is one more I’d like to highlight. Also, this gives me an excuse to post pictures of the girls from our apple picking excursion last month.

Apple Picking 2014

I think they’re pretty adorable, personally. (Side note: our apples were not as good this year. I assume this summer’s heat to be the culprit.)

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I went on a little library quest for apple books, and almost came up empty. However, Ann Turner and Sandi Wickersham Resnick’s Apple Valley Year (IndieBound/Amazon) turned out to be a new favorite at our house. Written to reflect the growing cycle of an apple orchard, Apple Valley Year reminded me of Donald Hall and Barbara Cooney’s masterpiece Ox-Cart Man. Not only does the text reflect a simpler, agrarian past, the style of the illustrations is also folksy and detailed, much like Cooney’s.

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For those of us who are enjoying the resurgence of traditional skills, there’s a lot of eye candy in this book. Check out that quilt! There’s also a prominently featured wood stove and an embroidery sampler. One of my favorite things about this book is that it shows the way that various farm chores support the orchard in different ways. The family does more than work with the trees – they also move beehives to encourage pollination and encourage the fox family that preys on mice, whose gnawing threatens the trees’ health.

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There’s even a little bit of economics here. The book’s youngest characters talk about how they won’t have new shoes until after the apple harvest is sold, and the parents discuss the dependence of the family upon a high price for apples each year. Obviously, the book portrays a successful year in the life of the farm, but conversations between the characters help readers see that one reason for this success is the hard work of the entire family.

This is an excellent choice not only for that beloved apple unit, but also for reading comprehension skills like identifying cause and effect relationships and synthesizing. Readers could use knowledge gained about apple farming from this book to make predictions about modern apple farming, especially as it exists on a smaller scale. Equally, this is a great book to curl up with on the couch, while the applesauce cooks in the Crock-Pot. We’ll be doing that this week.

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

Two New-to-Us Halloween Books

Halloween always seems to slip up on me, book-wise, and I end up reading all of our favorites in marathon fashion on October 30th and 31st. This year, I’m making a real effort to work these in a little bit sooner, so we can stretch out the fun over a few weeks. I’ve shared several of our family’s classic Halloween selections before, so today I wanted to share two new choices.

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This brand-new book reminds me, illustration-wise, of Ghosts in the House (IndieBound/Amazon), which I reviewed last year. It’s Only a Witch Can Fly (IndieBound/Amazon), by Alison McGhee with spellbinding illustrations by Taeeun Yoo. The book’s plot is fairly basic: a little girl sees a bright moon shining in the sky, and longs to be a witch so that she can fly to see it. Her early attempts result in failure, but eventually she manages to “be” a witch and fly to the moon.

When I first read this story to the girls, the rhyme scheme had me stumped. It was irregular, and I couldn’t figure out why some words rhymed and others just repeated. Then, I read the dedication page and learned that the text was written in the form of a sestina, a style of poetry that has its roots in the music of French troubadours. Obviously, this is highly unusual in a children’s book, but it definitely works for this story, because it evokes something ancient that helps the reader understand the little girl’s very basic and primal desire to fly.

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Another aspect of this book that I particularly enjoyed was the involvement of the little girl’s family. When the little girl’s attempt to fly results in her being flung from her broom, it is her younger brother that picks up the broom and encourages her to try again. After she soars across the moon in the night, her entire family runs to greet her and celebrate what she has done. While obviously not the sort of thing that happens in daily life, the love and support shown to the girl is downright heartwarming – not at all what you’d expect to see in a book where the main character wants to be a witch!

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Some of you are shocked to see this here, because you know I’m not normally a fan of books that turn into interminable series, and Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin’s Click, Clack, Moo! (IndieBound/Amazon) seems to have done just that. However, the latest entry into the saga of a farmyard full of recalcitrant animals (and one pesky duck) is actually pretty fun reading. Click, Clack, Boo! (IndieBound/Amazon) takes us back to the farm on Halloween night, where we learn that Farmer Brown is not a fan of the holiday. In fact, he hides under his covers, hoping to skip the entire thing.

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Not surprisingly, the animals in the barn plan a huge party to celebrate, and their costumes are hysterical, which is to be expected. Also as to be expected, Farmer Brown finds a note from Duck, who is dressed as a vampire. Unexpectedly, though, the note actually invites Farmer Brown to join the animals in the barn, where he receives a surprise that is not at all spooky.

For those of you who have kiddos who get scared easily, this is a good book to read to discuss how things that seems spooky often aren’t frightening at all. Even though Duck’s behavior initially frightens Farmer Brown, we, as readers, know that it is just Duck, who is much more silly than scary. Bethany, who is afraid of anything in costume, found it reassuring to know that the animals in costumes were the characters she was used to seeing in Click, Clack, Moo.

Have you added any great new Halloween books to your libraries? We’re also looking for suggestions, so feel free to share if you have.

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


Hildegard von Bingen: Two Children’s Books

As we slowly ease ourselves into a Charlotte Mason-inspired education, I’ve been making a real effort to incorporate weekly composer and artist study into our homeschool time. For the sake of sanity, I decided we would begin by following the Ambleside Online artist and composer rotations, and then deviate from that plan as needed. Thus, our first composer this year has been Hildegard von Bingen, a cloistered nun from medieval Germany.

If you’re not familiar with her work – and I certainly wasn’t prior to this year – go ahead and click on the video below to listen while you read.

Otherworldly, right? Hildegard had religious visions from a young age, and eventually was inspired to record these visions and write music that shared the spirit of God with others. While remaining within the musical forms of her time, Hildegard also created a distinctive style. Listen to her compositions alongside other plainsong and medieval chants, and you’ll notice that you can identify her work fairly easily.

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While Charlotte Mason emphasized the music over the minutiae of its composer’s life, I became so fascinated with Hildegard that I did want to share a bit of her story with the girls. I found an excellent copy of Jonah & Jeanette Winter’s The Secret World of Hildegard (IndieBound/Amazon), and it does a magnificent job of explaining her life, the world in which she lived, and the reasons for her work.

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The illustrations are done in a manner reminiscent of illuminations, and the more mystic and spiritual aspects of her life and work are explained in ways that young children can begin to grasp. Here is just one example, of the Holy Spirit descending upon Hildegard as she dictates to her scribes. The book beautifully describes her achievements, placing them in the context of a time when women were not expected to read, write, or assert much authority. For a fascinating in-depth study of her life and work, visit this website, which is clearly a labor of love.

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Megan Hoyt and David Hill have also written and illustrated a newer book about Hildegard’s life. Hildegard’s Gift (IndieBound/Amazon) places its main focus on her musical accomplishments, and the role of her faith in making that work possible. The illustrations are in a more modern style, and this book might be preferable to some families. Also, it includes several quotes from Hildegard’s body of work in a way that allows them to strengthen the telling of the story.

My almost-three year old has been particularly taken with Hildegard, and asks to read the book frequently. We’ve also started a Hildegard Pandora channel, which makes for good background music throughout our day. I’m thrilled to have discovered this composer, and we are beginning to feel like she is an old friend.

Sophie’s Squash: I’m not the only fan of the butternut.

Last week, I told you about my little error in the book storage arena. As a result, we’ve been discovering some excellent new fall books, because we’ve had to actually pay attention to those at the library. Up today: Sophie’s Squash, by Pat Zietlow Miller, with illustrations by Anne Wilsdorf. (IndieBound/Amazon)

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This one is only tangentially related to fall, but I snatched it up because I’d just bought my first butternut squash of the year from our friendly farmer, Mr. Chad. In the story, Sophie also selects a butternut squash from her local farmer’s market. Unlike me, though, Sophie considers the squash a friend, rather than an ingredient.

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As the story progresses, Sophie becomes increasingly attached to Bernice the Squash, while Bernice begins to deteriorate. Eventually, Sophie’s parents convince her to visit the farmer again, who tells her what squash need to thrive: “fresh air, good clean dirt, and a little love.” Sophie knows she has all of those things, so she buries Bernice in a little dirt bed in her yard.

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Winter arrives immediately thereafter, and Sophie frets about what will become of her beloved friend. It turns out that there is no need to fear, because Spring comes with a surprise better than she could have ever anticipated. The picture above gives you a little clue about that, but I’m not going to give away the entire ending.

My older daughter is a bit anxious by nature, and this was a good book for us to read and use to discuss ways that things that seem initially difficult can have surprisingly great endings. It’s also a book worth considering if you have a child or student who needs to give up a treasured object for one reason or another. Sophie’s caring nature is definitely one to emulate, and I think the overall message is one that would be useful for most children.

Butternut Squash

I feel like I should tell you that we did not create a doll out of our squash, since I have definite plans to eat it in the near future. Maybe I’ll figure out how to make one out of felt? There’s a chance I get that done before Sophie’s next book is published…

{The book link in this post is an affiliate link, and if you make a purchase after using it, Read It, Make It! will earn a small commission. Thank you!}


Hello there, Fall.

We made a terrible decision this summer. We are doing the miserable work of getting our house ready to sell, and in a fit of decisiveness, I put all of our holiday and seasonal books in storage. I don’t know why I did it, but I do know I regret it, because now those books are at the very back and very bottom of a storage unit, and it’s fall.


But, since we have to live with the consequences of our actions, I trotted the girls down to our local library to see if they had anything new and exciting that would make me less sad. There were not terribly many choices, so we might have to try another branch.

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However, one book they did have was pretty amazing, and I’m thrilled to have found it. It’s called Awesome Autumn, but don’t let the title fool you – it’s not cheesy or ridiculous. (IndieBound/Amazon) It’s actually a neat little compendium of non-fiction spreads about topics ranging from why leaves change color to different textures found on traditional fall objects. There’s a little history of Thanksgiving that is about as non-offensive as you can get in three paragraphs, and also a detailed guide of sorts to leaves and nuts from various trees.

My girls (almost three and almost five) love it. It’s varied enough that they can read the whole thing in one sitting, and it’s surprisingly multi-level. While Bethany is beyond the “find the round things” page, Clara loves it, and they both have enjoyed the photographs of things that they actually see in their everyday lives.

fall books for nature studyTrue story: We were at the park earlier this week, and Clara picked up a nut and told me that she had seen it in the “Autumn Book,” as she calls it. We brought it home, opened up the book, and sure enough, it was a sycamore nut (labeled as a plane tree nut, actually)! Then, we were able to go back to the park and find the sycamore tree that produced the nut.

Our found sycamore nut and the page that helped us identify it.

Our sycamore nut and the page that helped us identify it.

I am definitely moving this book to the top of my ‘best books for fall’ list, especially since it’s great for home or classroom. It has special appeal for non-fiction readers, and it’s so relate-able that you could use it as a springboard for nature study for almost any preschool or elementary age child, class, or group. This is the book that your child or student will carry to you over and over to read, and you won’t mind. It’s that good!

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