Thursday, May 29, 2014

Around the World Tea Parties: Scotland

 Our school year is officially done, and we are ready for summer adventures. So, I bring you our very last Around the World Tea Party. In her book, Honey for a Child's Heart, Gladys Hunt says that the books we read aloud together become Shared Family Adventures. These tea parties were definitely shared family adventures for us, and a highlight of our school year this year.

Our final tea party took us to Scotland. We read Wee Gillis by Robert Lawson. I purchased this book used, and I do regret that I didn't spend the extra few dollars to get a newer edition because of this cover.
I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but this one is almost impossible to look at without getting a headache. Such a shame, when it's filled with gorgeous pen and ink illustrations by Robert Lawson (illustrator of Ferdinand and the Bull).So my advice, spring for the updated cover because this book is definitely worth reading. It tells the story of a boy who can't decide whether to live with his mother's family in the lowlands who tend long-horned cattle, or his father's family in the highlands who hunt stags. It's a great introduction to Scottish culture.
We pulled out all our tartan for this, of course.
I had some great leftover plaid wrapping paper that we improvised as a tablecloth and we made Scottish oat shortbread.
We also invited some special guests. Did you know that the unicorn is one of Scotland's official animals?
We also really enjoyed reading The Water Horse by Dick King-Smith as a read-aloud. It's a short novel about a family that finds the Loch Ness Monster as a baby and keeps it as a pet. At the end of the week, we watched the movie Brave,  which made my older child cry and my younger child say, "Mom, I wish you would turn into a bear." We're better with drama in books than in Disney movies, apparently.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Read-alouds: Kenny and the Dragon

I know I have a tendency to post about older books here at School of Good Books, so I thought I would recommend a newer book. Okay, so it's really a modern take on an older book, so I don't know if it totally counts, but the kids loved this read-aloud so much that when I finished the last page, they yelled, "Read it again!" and then they asked, "Do we own this or is it from the library?"

Kenny & the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi is a retelling of short story, The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame. It tells the story of a young rabbit who loves books. "Fairy tales and natural history were his two favorite topics, and as far as Kenny was concerned, both held the same merit in the real world." When a dragon moves on to Kenny's farm, he soon discovers that the dragon named Grahame is quite different from the description he has read in books. He is a peaceable dragon who loves reciting poetry, reading books, and eating rich desserts. When the town decides they must exterminate the dragon and they call on Kenny's friend George (who turns out to be a sainted dragon slayer) to do it, Kenny has to find a way to save Grahame.

The book is a fun read with lots of nods to Kenneth Grahame and the original story, but what really sets it apart are the magnificent illustrations. The pencil drawings throughout add so much life to the story. This book is a short, heavily illustrated chapter book, so it's great for kids moving from the easy reader section to chapter books or a wonderful read-aloud for young readers who aren't ready for scarier dragon books.

I have been reading DiTerlizzi's science fiction series The Search for WondLa, which also has gorgeous illustrations. The kids are always stealing my books to look at the vintage Star-Wars-esque illustrations, so I was excited to find a book illustrated by DiTerlizzi that was on their level.

If you'd like to hear the original story The Reluctant Dragon, you can listen to it for free at Books Should Be Free.

Also a fun fact, I had been admiring the new owl logo at Jones Library in Amherst, MA, and it turns out it was drawn by DiTerlizzi. Here's the fun story about how the logo came to be. Maybe I do need one of their t-shirts. Hmmm.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Audiobooks for Young Detectives

There are two sure signs of a good audiobook.
  1.         You find yourself sitting in the driveway listening to the cd even though you’re already home.
  2.   You pick up Dad from work and he says in an injured tone, “You listened to Nancy Drew without me!”
My first foray into the world of chapter books as a young child was when my mom let me read her set of Bobbsey Twins books. I loved these gentle mysteries starring two pairs of twins. When I had read all of her copies, I got special permission to go over into the big kid section of the school library and check out more. I can still remember the thrill of it all, going over by myself into these mysterious shelves of big books. 

Though I loved Bert and Nan and Freddie and Flossie, I did not ever cross over into the world of Nancy Drew. Since my oldest daughter loves listening to mysteries and had already worked her way through Nate the Great and Encyclopedia Brown, and asked if there are any girl detectives out there. I decided to check out Nancy Drew: The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene, read by Laura Linney. We were all hooked. Laura Linney really captures the feel of the 1950s era and Nancy’s breezy confidence. In fact after listening to The Secret of the Old Clock as well as The Hidden Staircase and The Bungalow Mystery, I’m not sure I could read Nancy Drew now without hearing Laura Linney’s voice in my head. I love the way that Nancy never charges off heedlessly into a mystery. She always takes the time to change out of her party dress, put on sensible walking shoes and grab a cardigan if she's going out sleuthing. Smart lady and a great role model!

For the most part the mysteries are not too scary, mostly about inheritances and band land deals. Though the Bungalow Mystery did have a scene where Nancy and another man were chained in a basement, which was a little tense, and made us decide to hold off on the rest of the series until the girls are older.

Some other favorite mysteries:

Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat: The Nate the Great series are easy-readers, so it’s a great starter series for younger kids. The characters are quirky and the mysteries usually involve friends and pets. Ella listened to these each about three times

Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobol: Encyclopedia Brown is a classic. The mysteries are short and usually center around Encyclopedia picking up some piece of trivia or fact everyone missed. Definitely enough interesting information to keep you intrigued.

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner: The  original Boxcar Children book was one of my favorites as a kid, but I had no idea there were so many mysteries afterward. The kids are independent and clever and the mysteries aren’t scary. I will warn you that these audiobooks do have a theme song. Yes, a theme song that your entire family will be humming the rest of the day..”Boxcar children are on the case!”

A-Z Mysteries by Ron Roy: This newer series has kids solving mysteries for each letter of the alphabet. Most sets of discs we checked out included 3-4 mysteries. I found myself often listening along and trying to figure out the solution.

Monday, May 19, 2014

6 Classic Books with Boy Heroes

I asked my friends on Facebook if they had any special requests for book lists they would like to see on School of Good Books, and my friend Libby met my challenge. She explained that when she chose classic books to read to her sons, she often reached for the books she loved most as a girl. As a result, their reading had become heavily weighted toward books starring girls. She had read the Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit, but was looking for more classic books starring boys, especially ones where the boys showed good character.

Since my older three children are all girls, and we have been happily reading all my favorites starring girls, this proved to be quite a challenge for me, especially since I didn't want to recommend something I hadn't read. That may explain why some of these are short books, but definitely worth the read. I can't wait to read these to my girls too.
Mountain Born by Elizabeth Yates
Growing up on  a mountain farm. Peter adopts a special black lamb as a pet, and as he learns to care for it and the other sheep from his wise older shepherd friend, Benj, he also learns about responsibility, self-sacrifice, and caring for others. A simple story, but very rich.
Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers by Ralph Moody
I had seen this series of books referred to as "the boy's Little House on the Prairie," so I thought it might be great for this list. My husband Brent really enjoys farming memoirs so I asked him to read it on a business trip. When he got home, he had to stay up late reading it, and then requested several more books from the series from the library. Like Little House, these books are autobiographical and tell the story of Ralph Moody and his family as they try to build a ranch in 1906 Colorado. Brent was especially impressed by the strong father/son relationship in this book. Warning: this first book does have a sad ending.
The Door in the Wall by Marguerite De Angeli
Marguerite De Angeli won a Newbery Medal for The Door in the Wall. Set in the Middle Ages, it's the story of a young boy, Robin, who must find a way to overcome a disability and show great courage to save the day. For older readers interested in the Middle Ages, Crispin and the Cross of Lead by Avi is a must read.
The Apple and the Arrow by Mary and Conrad Buff is the legend of William Tell as told by his twelve-year-old son. It's a story of courage and resistance in the fight for Switzerland's freedom. This book illuminated a part of history, I knew very little about, and was a great adventure story as well.
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
Brent is a  big fan of the whole genre of boy-survivalist children's fiction and My Side of the Mountain and its sequels are a great example. Unhappy in the city, Sam decides to try life on his own in the Catskill mountains. The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare and Hatchet by Gary Paulsen are other classic survivalist books.
Just David by Eleanor H. Porter
I found Just David in a list of must-read books in Read for the Heart: Whole books for Whole-hearted Families by Sarah Clarkson.  David's father has raised him in seclusion surrounded by beauty in nature and music, but when David is orphaned, he must learn to find his way in a world where life is not so simple or kind. David's love of beauty, kindness, and extraordinary musical talent shine affect everyone in this new world. The first quarter of this book is quite sad so keep that in mind if your children are sensitive, but the healing and redemption are worth the read. This book is hard to find in print but available as a free Kindle book on Amazon.

Looking for more great read-alouds for boys?:

Top 10 Read-Alouds for Boys by Walking by the Way
Living Books Library: Top Picks for Boys
Books for Boys at Story Warren

Any books you would add?