Farm Anatomy: The Curious Parts & Pieces of Country Life

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Unlike most of the books I feature here, this is not a book for reading aloud from cover to cover. Instead, this is a book for dipping in and out of, admiring the extensive illustrations and learning myriad new things. Chapters on land, barns, tools, planting, animals, food, and crafts provide an entry point for just about any range of interests and this book would make a wonderful present for just about anyone of any age.

Randomly opening the book to a section on poultry, in four pages we learned: the anatomy of an egg, how to identify (by their footprints) predators that could attack the flock, the average number of eggs one hen lays each year, two ways to tell how old an egg is, and the type of duck my mother had as a girl (a Call duck).

My oldest loves to read through this book on his own and is lobbying for us to try some of the recipes (especially the maple fudge).

Author: Julia Rothman
Illustrator: Julia Rothman

The Wizard of Wallaby Wallow

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Once upon a time, there was a wizard who didn’t like organizing his spell bottles and a mouse who didn’t like being a mouse. When the mouse asks the wizard for a spell to make him “something else,” the wizard gives him an unlabeled bottle that (effectively, if not magically) ends up solving both of their problems.

Jack Kent’s distinctive drawings and strong sense of humor make this book very popular with the boys (and I like the message of self acceptance).

Author: Jack Kent
Illustrator: Jack Kent

Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie: A Story About Edna Lewis

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In a 1989 interview with The New York Times, celebrated chef and author Edna Lewis said: “As a child in Virginia, I thought all food tasted delicious. After growing up, I didn’t think food tasted the same, so it has been my lifelong effort to try and recapture those good flavors of the past.” This book focuses on that childhood, those good flavors, and how the rhythms of growing and gathering food affected the day-to-day life of Ms. Lewis’ family.

The boys love this book; the pictures and lovingly-described foods keep them spellbound. I do have a few small caveats: the recipes included at the end of the book are inspired by Ms. Lewis, but are not her own; the speech of the characters is highly stylized (old poetry and rhymes about food make up much of the dialogue, which may take some getting used to); and we all agree the author of this book likely has never actually heard a whippoorwill (we have learned from camping that its call is anything but melodious–instead it is a dead ringer for an hours-long car alarm).

Author: Robbin Gourley
Illustrator: Robbin Gourley

 

Ice Cream Summer

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In this book, a boy composes a rather plain-vanilla letter to his grandpa sharing what he’s been doing and learning over the summer (the toothsome illustrations reveal that it is all related to ice cream). Locating ice cream lurking in unexpected places is a large part of the fun–nearly all the pages are highly detailed and lend themselves to close examination.

Author: Peter Sis
Illustrator: Peter Sis

 

The Reluctant Dragon

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“Don’t worry, Father. It’s only a dragon.”
“Only a dragon?” cried his father. “What do you mean,
only
a dragon? And how do
you know so much about it?”
“I just do,” replied the boy. “You know about sheep, and
weather, and things.
I know about dragons. I always said that
that was a dragon cave. I always said it ought to have a dragon.
In fact, I would have been surprised if you told me it
hadn’t
got a dragon. Now, please, just leave all this to me. I’ll stroll
up tomorrow evening and have a talk with him.”

Stories of dragons rarely fail us; although this story is quite long (albeit slightly edited in this version), it is very charming and my youngest frequently requests it.

Author: Kenneth Grahame
Illustrator: Inga Moore

 

Those Darn Squirrels Fly South

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Genius squirrels follow wintering birds to a tropical paradise. Will their grumpy friend Old Man Fookwire be far behind?

Like the first book in this series, Those Darn Squirrels!, it is difficult to read this book once; as soon as it is done, the boys ask me to read it again. Since they are laughing their heads off for much of the book (no matter how many times we read it), I’m happy to comply.

Author: Adam Rubin
Illustrator: Daniel Salmieri

 

Tap-Tap

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It was early on market day when Sasifi and her mama
started down the path to the main road. The sky was still
gray. Mama carried a big basket of oranges on her head.
Sasifi carried a smaller one.
“Will we ride in the tap-tap today?” Sasifi asked.
“No,” said Mama. “We will walk to market, the same as
always.”

Sasifi has just turned eight and is very proud that she is now big enough to help Mama on market day. But she would love to try traveling in a tap-tap (a brightly painted share taxi) instead of walking. This engaging book deftly portrays a way of life very different than our own (the boys wondered why Sasifi’s family did not just buy a car, which lead to an interesting discussion) and is gently humorous. My youngest especially enjoys it.

Author: Karen Lynn Williams
Illustrator: Catherine Stock

Duck for President

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Like When Dinosaurs Came with Everything and Monkey and Me, this book arrived in a Cheerios box in 2008 (as I’ve mentioned before, the best year ever for the spoonfuls of stories promotion in our house). Although they don’t get the legion of historical/political references yet, the boys love Duck (who was first introduced in Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type) and this book (in which Duck makes his way from the farm to the Governor’s Mansion to the White House and back home again) is very popular.

Author: Doreen Cronin
Illustrator: Betsy Lewin

Dragon Stew

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. . . a shabby young
man came trudging up the road toward the
castle. He had patched knees and elbows, and
the feather in his worn hat was bedraggled,
but he had a merry grin, and he was whistling
a gay tune. When he saw the long line of people,
he asked a soldier, “What’s going on?”

“The king’s looking for a new royal cook,”
the soldier replied. “The cook with the most
unusual recipe will get the job and will live in
the palace off the best of the land!”

“Wouldn’t that be wonderful!”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the soldier.
“Cooks don’t get along with the king. He tells
’em what to do, puts things in their pots–he
all but does the cooking himself.”

“You don’t say?” said the young man, and
he got into line.

Much like The King of Pizza, this book begins with a monarch that loves food but is never satisfied with it. And once again, after some twists and turns, everyone ends up happy (including the kids it is read to). The illustrations, by Ms. Hyman, are very good and particularly interesting when you compare them to her later (much more detailed) illustrations for Saint George and the Dragon.

Author: Tom McGowen
Illustrator: Trina Schart Hyman

The Lady & the Lion

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Once upon a time, a merchant asked his three daughters
what he should bring them from the city. The first asked
for pearls, the second for gold, but the youngest longed for
a singing lark. The merchant found a gold necklace and a
bracelet of gold, but there were no songbirds to be had for love
or money that winter.
He turned towards home, sorry to disappoint his youngest
daughter. The road took him past a fine castle, with a grand
garden full of spring flowers in spite of the winter snows. At the
top of a laurel tree, a lark sang.

While the boys show polite interest in The Magic Nesting Doll, by the same author and illustrator, they adore this book (which combines and reworks elements of The Singing, Springing Lark; Beauty and the Beast; and East of the Sun, West of the Moon). They each want a copy of their own and I can absolutely see why. (It is gorgeous. Plus, lions and dragons and griffins. Oh, my!) My oldest enjoys pointing out the plot follows the Frozen principle of getting to know someone before marrying them and my youngest repeatedly (forcefully) requests it as a bedtime story.

Author: Laurel Long and Jacqueline K. Ogburn/The Grimm Brothers
Illustrator: Laurel Long