Monday, November 17, 2014

10 More Audiobooks Your Whole Family Will Enjoy

It's that time of year again. Time for holiday travel, which means lots of audiobooks are needed. It's become a Thanksgiving tradition for  us to revisit some of our favorites like Grandma Dowdel and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog. Here are some more of our all-time favorites if you need some inspiration for that next long road trip.

Mercy Watson Collection by Kate Dicamillo
Take my favorite author Kate DiCamillo, add in a pig who loves toast with a great deal of butter, plus our favorite audiobook reader of all time: Ron McLarty. You get audiobook magic.There are two different Mercy Watson collections on cd, and all wonderful. Your youngest listeners will especially enjoy these.
The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright
We love Elizabeth Enright's books so much, and we especially enjoyed the family adventures of the Melendy Family. Each Saturday, one of the four children go on a solo adventure in the city. Be sure to follow-up with the sequels: The Four-Story Mistake, Then There were Five, and A Spiderweb for Two.
Come on Seabiscuit by Ralph Moody!
Even though the grown-ups knew the story from the movie Seabiscuit, we were all still riveted by Ralph Moody's book. Read by Jim Weiss who is one of the masters. Did you know this was one of Lauren Hillenbrandt's  favorite books as a kid and inspired her to write Seabiscuit:An American Legend.
Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen
This is a classic Newbery Medal-winning book that you may not have encountered. Such a beautiful story of a family healing from the affects of war and the love of neighbors. This is a full cast recording, which always takes some adjustment, but worth a listen.
Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey
Cheaper by the Dozen is one of those audiobooks that the kids will enjoy, but the adults will enjoy on a whole different level. First off, it's very funny, and if you have even a semi-large family, you will definitely appreciate the Gilbreth's family's antics. Wonderful.
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Farm by Betty MacDonald
The Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books were some of my absolute favorites as a kid. I have found them just as charming and funny listening to them as an adult, though now I have a greater appreciation for the 1950s descriptions of jello salads.Your younger kids will especially love these, and maybe learn some lessons too. Look for all the sequels too!
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
During our Anne of Green Gables kick, we listened to both the Blackstone audio reading of Anne and the Focus on the Family radio theater version. We enjoyed both, but the kids chose the Blackstone reading by Susan O'Malley as their favorite. I know we'll be listening to these again.
Trixie Belden: The Secret of the Mansion by Julie Campbell
Our whole family got hooked on the Trixie Belden mysteries. Unfortunately, only the first 4-5 are on audio. We loved the characters and the fact that Trixie and her friends were a little younger, so the mysteries weren't as frightening as some of the Nancy Drew mysteries. Make sure you listen to them in order. Also led to a slight obsession with 1950s era trailers on the kids' part.You can check out other mystery audiobooks we've loved here.
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler  by E.L. Konigsburg
I'm a sucker for mysteries set in museums and libraries and From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler  by E.L. Konigsburg is the classic that started it all. Claudia and her brother James run away and hide in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. While they are there they find themselves in the middle of a mystery.
Charlotte's Web by E.B White
This audiobook is a rare gift. Charlotte's Web read by E.B. White himself. It's so good.


Find the White Horse by Dick King-Smith
We love Dick King-Smith's books, and though I won't call this a classic, we were entertained by the big white dog Lubber and friends as they try to make it home to the two old ladies he lives with. The ladies were especially funny!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Discount Guide to a Great Dress-up Bin

Our kids love dress-up clothes. Like many young girls, it all started with Disney princesses. Even though we had not seen any of the movies, one day we walked down an aisle in Target, and my four-year-old suddenly became completely obsessed with owning a mermaid tail. They have all gone through a major sparkle phase, but now they prefer old-fashioned dresses, sunbonnets, and aprons to itchy polyesther.

In one of my favorite books, Educating the Whole-hearted Child by Clay and Sally Clarkson, the Clarksons first introduced me to the idea of making your entire home into a place that inspires love of learning. They do this through discovery corners, such as an audio corner for listening to books, a craft table with supplies, a selection of musical instruments, or a writing desk with fancy paper in another. One of the things they suggested was adding a historic dress-up bin to your home. I have found that dress-up clothes can be a wonderful way to bring books to life in your home. Our kids have been Laura Ingalls Wilder, Sarah Nobel, Madeline, and even Mrs. Rachel Lynde. I know that a book has really captured their heart when it enters into their free play.  So, over the past few years, I've been adding new dress-up clothes to our bin to inspire the kids to interact with different eras of history, cultures, and classic books.

In the process, I have discovered some great ways to put together a Literary/ Historic dress-up bin for not a lot of money.   Since I have spent an inordinate amount of hours thinking about dress-up clothes, I'll share my best tips with you so you can save yourself the effort. (I'm sorry, but most of these are geared toward girls, but if you have boys and do a dress-up bin, please chime in in the comments.)

1) After Halloween Sales: One Christmas when my girls were really into the more commercial character costumes, I happened across a 75%off rack of costumes at Target after Halloween. I was able to get Tinkerbell costumes, Renaissance Princesses, and Angel costumes for $3-$7. The costumes were similar in quality to the dresses available in the toy department at a fraction of the cost. We wrapped them all up for Christmas presents and the girls loved them. I've noticed that Target is moving their holiday sale items through faster each year, but keep your eyes open in the next week or two and you might hit it big. Besides the character costumes, they often have more generic costumes like knights, doctors, explorers that you can find for a great price.

2)Thrift stores: If you use your imagination, thrift stores are full of great costumes. When we were doing our Around the World tea parties, I was able to put together outfits inspired by different countries by shopping at the Goodwill. If you find a small-size woman's dress, it can be a perfect long dress on your daughter. By adjusting the straps and adding a seam or two, they work great. I have been able to find Chinese dresses, boldly-printed sundresses for African dresses, and turn women's wrap-style shirts into Kimonos. I also found a great Laura Ashley red calico dress from the 1980s that made a perfect Laura Ingalls dress. Though I don't have as much experience with boy costumes, in the Civil War Unit Study int he free resources at Schoolhouse in the Woods, they have instructions for making Civil War coats out of thrift store jackets.  They are really brilliant.

3) Etsy: is the best place to find beautiful, handmade historic costumes from Little House on the Prairie to Anne of Green Gables. We purchased several sunbonnets from etsy stores for the same price as the factory-made ones at Old Sturbridge Village. You can also buy matching doll costumes for American Girl dolls. However, there is another way to shop on Etsy that can also save you money. Search for vintage prairie clothes from the 1970s and 1980s. I found an adorable dress for Trixie by searching for "pinafore." The seller guessed that it was made in 1976 for the bicentennial celebration. It was the perfect Carrie Ingalls dress for $12.

4)Ebay: We have also bought costumes from Ebay. We found handmade colonial style dresses with aprons and mobcaps for about half the price of Etsy. The fabrics were definitely cheaper, but suitable for our purposes. You can also look for vintage or handmade clothes on ebay. Try searching for "girls prairie dress," "girls dress pinafore," or "modest girls dress," or strangely enough "Amish dress." Yes, they sell Amish dresses on Ebay. Who knew?

5) Hand-me-downs: A great place to look for dress-up clothes is in your parents' closets. My mom has passed down lots of my old clothes that she still had and the girls have loved having them for dress-up: everything from old prom dresses, simple dresses my Mom sewed me to knit shawls. I also mentioned at church that I was sorely lacking in dress-up clothes for boys and two friends with older boys passed down their costumes to me. So now we have cowboy, knight, and animal costumes for the little guy.
6) Unexpected Places: Last year, I really wanted to find the kids fleece cloaks. We had just read The Courage of Sarah Nobel and the girls loved her red cloak. As a mom in New England, I saw the benefit of having warm dress-up clothes. My kids have no trouble running around the house on a frigid day in tutu, but it makes me cold to look at them. I found a toddler cloak on sale at The Capery on Etsy, but I couldn't afford the bigger girl sizes.Then I found the perfect fleece cloaks at an unexpected place: Cracker Barrel. They sell women's fleece capes for $20. We found a red one and purple one, which worked perfectly. For our son, we were able to sew a simple cloak just by cutting a rectangle of fleece, folding over the top a few inches for a collar and adding velcro and a decorative button.

Bonus: If you are going to buy any dress-up full price, these flutter wings are worth every penny. After fighting with wings with wires in them and destroying several pairs, we put these on the Christmas list. They have two straps which go over the shoulders and finger loops, which help them to flutter when you run or flap.The kids love them.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

First Chapter Book Read-Alouds

A common question I hear from parents is: when do I start reading chapter books out loud to my kids and what books should I read?

First, I have to encourage you not to give up on picture books too early. Even older kids can get so much out of the art in picture books. They often contain more sophisticated stories and themes than when you move up to early chapter books, which  are written more simply for new readers.

However, if you  are eager to start reading chapter books, then the best books to start with have short chapters and illustrations on almost every page. It also helps if the books are part of  a series, since my daughter's first question is always, "Are there more of these?"

Here are some treasures that we have found that will appeal to all ages.
Several of our friends were raving about these books and they were so right. Anna Hibiscus is a little girl living in Africa in a compound with her large African family. The stories are funny and full of gentle lessons about compassion, traditions, and family love.We are looking forward to reading the rest of the series.
Cynthia Rylant is one of my favorite authors. She has several Easy Reader series that are wonderful: Mr. Putter and Tabby, Poppleton, Henry and Mudge. The Cobble Street Cousins features three cousins who are staying with their aunt while their parents perform in ballets. They have lots of little-kid adventures: baking, making a newspaper, going shopping for gifts. Sweet and just right for young readers.
Kate DiCamillo brings us  a pig who loves toast with a great deal of butter. What is there not to love? These stories are funny and full of a great cast of characters. The vivid color illustrations by Chris Van Dusen are amazing! This is a series not to be missed. The audio books are some of our favorites too.
I discovered Dick King-Smith's books through a wonderful list of 50 Chapter Books for Preschoolers compiled by What Do We Do All Day? Dick King-Smith was a British failed-farmer-turned-author, and he loves pigs.You may recognize his most famous work: Babe: The Gallant Pig or at least the famous line, "That'll do, pig."  I have a daughter who loves pigs so we have read many of his books and loved them. The Lady Lollipop books are our particular favorites though because it features a princess and a pig.
I discovered The Racketty- Packetty House by Frances Hodgson Burnett last year and it was a big hit with my girls. When a new, fancy dollhouse arrives, the well-loved and shabby Racketty-Packetty House is shoved in a corner, but nothing can dampen the spirits of the dolls that live there. We really loved this version with illustrations by Wendy Anderson Halperin.
Kenny and the Dragon is a retelling of The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame. Tony DiTerlizzi's gorgeous illustrations add so much life to the story of a poetry-loving, dessert-eating dragon who befriends a young rabbit who then must save the dragon from the frightened townsfolk. The kids had me start over at the beginning as soon as we were through.
Another wonderful series by Cynthia Rylant with lovely illustrations. A cat named Pandora lives a lonely life as a lighthouse keeper when some improbable companions wash up on her shore and change her life.