A rollicking rhyming scheme, a rough and ready narrator (a New York City trash truck), and plenty of gross-out humor make this lots of fun for the younger set. There’s even an ABC interlude (from Apple cores to Zipped-up ziti with zucchini). This was very popular for a long time at our house.
In this story, which was inspired by the author’s grandmother own journey, a Polish family flees war and hunger around the turn of the last century. They are immigrating to the United States to join the husband/father who went first. Nearly all of their possessions (which are already vanishing few by current standards) must be left behind. Their journey via foot and steerage-class is difficult. They don’t speak English. But they have each other and reach Ellis Island on Christmas Day, where they are met with kindness and decency and ultimately welcomed to their new country. We’ve been reading this book for years; this year it was especially meaningful.
Author: Maxinne Rhea Leighton Illustrator: Dennis Nolan
When the boys were in early elementary school, by far the most fun way to volunteer at school was to be a mystery reader. The teacher and parent made super-secret plans, far in advance, for the parent to show up midday, books in hand, to read to the class. The kids loved it (especially the mystery reader’s kids). And I’m a total ham, so I loved it too. Of course, when reading to 25 plus kids at once, you need to pick the right books. By which I mean, they have to read very well aloud, they have to have pictures that work even from a good ways away, they can’t be too long, and they HAVE to be funny. A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee was one of my mystery reader books (I’ve made a tag linking to most of the others below, there was one more that will be my next entry) because it easily checked all the boxes. Mr. Magee, and his little dog Dee, go camping in their (adorable!) teardrop camper trailer and havoc quickly ensues. This is one of Chris Van Dusen’s best books, which is extremely high praise (you’ll notice his If I Built a Car was also a mystery reader selection). The other Magee books (Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee and Learning to Ski with Mr. Magee) are also great fun.
Author: Chris Van Dusen Illustrator: Chris Van Dusen
Where and what can a home be? Some of Ms. Ellis’ answers are conventional (for example, a nest), others are pure fantasy (see the picture above). Her drawings are deceptively-simple and peaceful–perfect for before bed. But what gives the boys the most pleasure is that every double-page spread in this book contains a dove. Sometimes the dove is easy to spot. Sometimes it is very well hidden. The boys always love finding it.
This book purports to be written by a pigeon. And it is about architecture. (Let us accept from the beginning that it is deeply odd.) It is also jam packed with real information; while my oldest has read most (all?) of it, I have not read very much of it aloud. Instead, I’ve focused on the names of the buildings (human and pigeon) and the eye-catching pictures, which had the unexpected result of my youngest (already a huge pigeon fan) becoming sure he spoke fluent pigeon. About six months ago, he frequently approached pigeons asking them excitedly if the were going to see the Great Worm (also known as the Great Wall of China) and was very disappointed when they flew away without responding.
Author: Speck Lee Tailfeather (aided by Stella “Pigeon Whisperer” Gurney)
Illustrator: Natsko Seki
Posted onJuly 13, 2015|Comments Off on Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie: A Story About Edna Lewis
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).
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.
Posted onJune 16, 2015|Comments Off on Those Darn Squirrels Fly South
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.
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.
Five miles off the coast of Maine
and slightly overdue,
a circus ship was steaming south
in fog as thick as stew.
There is something about Chris Van Dusen–I’m not sure if it is his bouncy rhymes or his bright, beautiful pictures–but the boys go wild for his books. We haven’t had this book terribly long, but it is very frequently requested and seems on track to be as popular as perpetual favorite If I Built a Car. In it, fifteen circus animals find new, much improved, homes on an island in Maine when the ship they are traveling on sinks (finding the animals on the pages is a large part of the fun).
Caveat: The inspiration for this happy story was incredibly grim; Mr. Van Dusen has completely reimagined a true story of an awful shipwreck. Therefore, I suggest saving the author’s note in the back of the book for adults.
Author: Chris Van Dusen
Illustrator: Chris Van Dusen