Archives for August 2009

Storytelling Day: The True Story of Jack and Jill

upahillphoto by meggie

Welcome to the first Storytelling Day at Simple Kids.  Earlier this week, I introduced you to Robin, and today she’ll be sharing her first story with us.  May today’s storytelling inspire fresh, new, and imaginative stories to tell in your own home!

Jack and Jill
Went up a hill
To fetch a pail of water
Jack fell down
And broke his crown
And Jill came tumbling after

Up Jack got
And home did trot
As fast as he could caper
To Old Dame Dob
Who patched his knob
With vinegar and brown paper

There once was a lovely little boy Jack, and his best friend was a kind-hearted girl named Jill. Jack lived with his family in a small house in the village, and Jill lived with her family in a small house filled with big windows at the top of a hill. And every day that their mommies said they could play together, Jack would run out of his house and to the end of his street and up the winding path up the hill to see his friend Jill. And Jill would wait at the windows, and call his name.

Sometimes she threw flowers down on his head as he climbed, so he’d arrive in a rainbowed rain of petals. Sometimes she sang songs on the breeze, so the wings of music lifted him to her. And sometimes, because they were good friends who loved each other very much, she’d make surprises for him and he would love every surprise. Sometimes she’d hide behind a door and jump out at him. Because he loved her so much, he’d pretend to be frightened. Sometimes she’d bake him cookies so smells of warmth and yumminess helped him climb. And even if he’d just had breakfast, he’d pretend to be hungry.

One day, on a bright sunny morning, Jill was waiting for her friend Jack to arrive. Jill was gathering the last of the season’s snow from the pale grass. She was building a pile of snowballs for them to play with later. But two important things happened that day. First, the sun was just a little warmer than it had been the day before. And second, Jack was just a little later than when he usually began his climb. (His mommy had asked him to clean up his toys before he left.) So as Jill waited for her friend and the sun climbed higher in the sky, a small trickle of snowmelt began running down the hill.

Jack was almost up to Jill’s house when the snowmelt met the grass under his feet. And he slipped! Jack went tumbling back down the hill. Jill heard his cries and threw herself after him, somersaulting down until they found themselves at the bottom, out of breath and muddy. [Note: this is not unlike the scene in The Princess Bride when Buttercup pushes the Dread Pirate Roberts down the embankment, hears his cry: “aaaaaaaaas youuuuuuuu wiiiiiiiiiish,” and realizes that he is in fact her beloved Westley. In an act of true love she throws himself after him in a heap.]

At the bottom, Jill realized that Jack had a bad boo-boo on his forehead. So she helped him to the front porch of the nearest house, which just happened to belong to Old Dame Dob, the very best boo-boo kisser and bandage-maker in town. She had a secret recipe. She made all of her bandages with vinegar and brown paper and then she decorated them so all the kids could always choose their favorite designs. Jill and Old Dame Dob helped Jack pick a nice Spiderman bandage for his forehead, and just for that day only, they decided it would be best to play at Jack’s house instead of Jill’s.

But it wasn’t long before the best friends longed to play together at the top of the hill. For spring was coming, and the most perfect place for spotting the first signs of spring is always at the top of a hill, looking down into the empty valleys below. The trees and plants reveal their first colors. And so together Jack and Jill returned to the top of the hill, seeking first fruits and gathering flowers and welcoming the birds who returned after winter.

One day after the birds had all built nests and the valleys had filled with green, Jill called to her friend Jack. “Jack! Do you know the best part about living in a house at the top of a hill at the beginning of summer? The valleys all around you fill with fireflies.” And that was just was Jill wanted to watch. So she invited her dear friend Jack up to her house at the top of the hill so they could watch the twinkling evening.

And every night that their mommies said they could play together Jack and Jill would meet at the top of the hill to watch the valleys fill with the magical light of fireflies. They loved the summer of fireflies but one day they realized that evenings were coming faster and the fireflies were almost gone. Jack was heartbroken. But Jill hugged her friend Jack and asked him: “Do you know the best part about living in a house at the top of a hill when fall starts? You can watch all the leaves change to beautiful colors.” Together, the best friends explored on nature walks and collected the most vivid autumn leaves.

But the day came, as you knew it would, when the last leaves were fallen and a icy wind scraped at the air. Ever cheerful, Jill turned to Jack and asked, “do you know what’s the best part about living in a house at the top of the hill when winter comes? The sledding!” As soon as the first snows fell, Jill invited her friend Jack to come play on the top of the hill. And together they would slide down-down-down, and climb up-up-up. And slide down-down-down, and climb up-up-up.

And when they climbed, they always, always held hands. And in that way the two best friends took great care of each other, and nobody ever tumbled down again.

simplekidsrobin1Robin blogs about satisfying the curiosities of her inquisitive family at Not-Ever-Still Life with Girls.

What We’re Reading Wednesday: August 19th

Welcome back to What We’re Reading Wednesday!  We have another round of exciting book reviews for you, courtesy of the Simple Kids Book Review Team:

Birth to Toddler

By Meghan Armstrong (Out of the Woods)

jamberry1I’m excited to recommend Jamberry by Bruce Degen, a children’s literary classic.  You may be most familiar with Degen’s illustrations from the popular Jesse Bear and The Magic Schoolbus books.  Jamberry has been a favorite of mine since I began reading to my daughter, almost immediately after her birth.  I think we can all agree that when reading to an infant, one of the most important qualities of a good book is whether or not it holds the parent’s interest, right?  I’ve found the Jamberry story to be charming and clever, with lots of wordplay—I haven’t tired of it after eight months!

Jamberry tells the story of a little boy and a fruit-loving bear who go hunting for berries in the countryside.  Along the way, they meet animals of all sorts, venture into “Berryland” and, of course, eat loads of berries.  My favorite page, for its words and illustrations, shows boy and bear riding in a hot-air raspberry, while berry rockets burst in the distance:

“Moonberry starberry cloudberry sky/ Boomberry zoomberry rockets shoot by.”

I recommend it as a great book for infants, because it has a distinct cadence and lots of repetition. It’s real poetry and is a delight to listen to, with or without word comprehension.  The illustrations are vibrant with plenty of contrast, and I believe they will continue to hold my daughter’s interest as she grows.  The pages are packed with fun little treasures to discover, like trees made out of bread, cracker lily pads and jars of jam for street lamps.  This is the perfect book for berry season—read it to your little one before heading out on your own berry-picking adventure!


from Wesley Jeanne (Mountain Mama)

snailandwhaleSome dear friends recently sent us a trio of books by Julia Donaldson with illustrations by Axel Scheffler. What a find! All three are wonderful, but we especially love The Snail and the Whale, about a tiny snail who dreams big and a new friend who helps him to live big. The pair have many adventures together–through far-off lands, frolicking waves, even storms–and eventually the snail gets a chance to use his unique gifts in order to help his large friend.

This is a book that kids and adults both can enjoy for the easy flow of the rhyme scheme, the positive-yet-not-simplistic story. And oh, the illustrations. The illustrations are, quite simply, lush. Lots of color, plenty going on in each picture without being overwhelming and distracting. Each re-read we find something new–a creature here in the trees, a bird with a fish in its mouth, a crab peeking out from a cove within a coral reef.

My two-year-old loves the whale, of course, and my five-year-old loves to point out the details, the creatures, the birds. And, of course, the rescue. I love the smooth writing and the multi-layered messages of being bigger than you think you are and helping others do the same. I can get behind that.

Early Elementary

from Jean-Marie

The Katie Kazoo, Switcheroo series is a great selection for the naturally curious elementary set. Katie is a normal 4th grader in every regard with one exception — the magic wind. This wind is a wild tornado that blows only on Katie and switcheroos her into someone else.

It first happened after a bad day of unfortunate events in the third grade. Katie wished she was anyone but herself. The next day Katie turned into Speedy, the class hamster.

And like any tornado, Katie’s switcheroos usually create trouble and confusion for everyone involved. Katie, however, is a terrific problem-solver with a big heart, and she always figures out a way to clean up her messes.

whirlwindvacationWith this summer coming to an end and staycations all the rage, my 5-year-old daughter and I decided to take a lovely European vacation with Katie Carew and her family in Katie Kazoo, Switcheroo: A Whirlwind Vacation by Nancy Krulik.

This special issue features more switcheroos than most other books in the series. A switcheroo happens at each vacation destination point. Before the trip is over Katie steps into the shoes of a Buckingham Palace guard in London, England, a sidewalk artist in Paris, France, a flamenco dancer in Madrid, Spain, and an aspiring gondolier in Venice, Italy.

Katie always shows a lot of charm trying to make the best out of each awkward situation. When requested to sing a song during her stint as a gondolier she summons up the only Italian song she knows: On Top Of Spaghetti. It is this type of quick thinking that helps Katie to happily resolve each and every predicament she creates during her switcheroos.

This is great read because in addition to offerings an exciting adventure that kids will really enjoy, it also provides some basics about European culture. And it can serve as a springboard to inspire so many other fun activities and pursuits.

Take a pretend gondola ride. Sing your own made-up Italian song.  Pull out that sketch pad during your next outing.  Point out all the shapes and colors you see around you.  Make some homemade castanets and get flamenco dancing. Host a taste of Europe dinner week. Let everyone help with the menu and preparations. And my favorite, play the laughing game. Take turns trying every crazy stunt and silly face imaginable to get a laugh out of the other person.

So get the passports ready. Time to go traveling with Katie Kazoo, Switcheroo: A Whirlwind Vacation.

Upper Elementary

from Elizabeth (Finding Him Bigger)

so-b-it-2I’m excited to share a wonderful book for my first review here at Simple Kids, one that I know any young woman (and her mother) will love. Since I have an almost 11-year old daughter who is as much a bookworm as I am, she often asks me to read the books she’s enjoying, most of which are written for upper elementary students. While I enjoy almost all of them, I loved So B. It by Sarah Weeks.

So B. It is a sweet story about a twelve-year old girl named Heidi who lives with her mentally-disabled mother and their neighbor, Bernie, a free spirit who never leaves her apartment because of agoraphobia.  Heidi is highly intelligent and fiercely independent, with a lucky streak that comes in handy for things like winning extra grocery money in the slot machine at the corner laundromat. Since Heidi does not go to school and rarely ventures out on her own, she knows very little about the world around her, and even less about how she came to be part of it.

Heidi loves to read and learn, especially by looking things up in Man’s Best Friend (M.B.F. – the big Webster’s dictionary kept on the coffee table).  Still, some things she cannot learn from a book, and Heidi would do anything to better understand her and her mother’s history.  So when a peculiar word in her mother’s vocabulary has no obvious meaning, Heidi sets out to discover exactly what it means and why. She refuses to accept what every adult in her life tells her: there are some things in life a person just can’t know.

Guided by her good luck and a photograph of her young mother standing with people Heidi does not know, she embarks on a remarkable journey. The mystery of Heidi’s identity and the answers she finds are both heartbreaking and lovely, and it’s nearly impossible not to be captivated by it all.  The story serves as a reminder of the beauty of mankind and the kindness shown to us, some of which we may live completely unaware. Once the truth is learned, Heidi can never turn back, and she is forced to acknowledge that there are, in fact, some things she will never be able to know.

So B. It is a treasure of a book, and I hope you enjoy it as much as my daughter and I did.

Meet Robin – the Simple Kids Storyteller

storyphoto by Bindaas Madhavi

There is a facet of creative living that goes back to the beginning of the spoken word – the art of storytelling.

Those of us who take up the adventure of life with children each day know the importance of the story in day-to-day living.  Story comes to us in many incarnations – family lore, local legend, cultural classics, and timeless nursery rhymes and fairy tales.  For some, the gift of spinning a spectacular story comes easily; for others, a little practice is needed to oil the storytelling joints that have long since rusted over.

I’ve invited Robin to share with us each month an example of what creative storytelling looks like in her home.  I think you’ll find, as I have, that her charming play with well-known stories are delightful inspiration to loose our own imaginations in pursuit of the story.

I have two daughters. The younger is one-and-a-half and is just learning to talk. The elder is three-and-a-half and sometimes needs to be encouraged to stop talking. And so we talk. We talk and we talk and the younger pipes in with exclamations and squeals and the elder pipes in with questions.

Anyone who has ever spent five minutes near an awake three-year-old knows that that age group asks a lot of questions. Why?, certainly, but also how? and but what about…? and my favorite, but WHY? The question isn’t ever the whole question. The question is the introduction to an epic Treatise on Questioning.  And woe unto you if you dare speak the phrase, “I just don’t know, love.” For she will utter: think of something.

Dozens of times a day I am so instructed. And it is in this manner that I find myself testing the pliability of my imagination in directions I haven’t stretched since my own childhood. But it’s fitting, because I find myself revisiting the creative side of the first subject I ever passionately studied academically.

Before I had this beautiful family and before I worked in the field that now defines my daytime career I was one of those ubiquitous English majors.  My focus was the American short story. The short story form always held my fascination because the text must be distilled to a narrative free of impurities or distractions. Every word counts. Every sentence must tease the reader’s desires for the next one. It’s something I thought about every day for years, and then none at all for several more years. And now look: I’ve become the story teller.

My elder daughter recites a nursery rhyme she learned in daycare for my applause and then she asks a question like, but Mama, why did Jack fall down the hill? And why did Jill fall down, too? “It’s just an old story,” I tell her. But think of something.

Thusly I’ve been tasked. First I concocted The True Story of Jack and Jill. Then I was begged to clarify the meaning of Hey, Diddle Diddle. We’ll be driving down the street and the big girl will ask for a chapter. Tell me about Jack and Jill in winter. And so it has become that as part of our personal family narrative we carry along a the magical oeuvre of Nursery Rhymes Expounded.

These stories lived as part of our oral history until one day Megan invited me to share them here with you. I’m humbled and excited to share what I originally crafted for an audience of two with all of Simple Kids. I’ll be here monthly. Thanks so much for having me.

Robin blogs about satisfying the curiosities of her inquisitive family at Not-Ever-Still Life with Girls.

Be sure to be here this Thursday when Robin will share the first story for this feature – The True Story of Jack and Jill.