What We’re Reading Wednesday: It’s Halloween (and more!)

This week, we have four brilliant books to share from the Simple Kids Book Review Team!

Baby and Toddler

from Meghan Armstrong (Out of the Woods)

trainsongI have always loved trains, and I feel very blessed to live a few blocks from railroad tracks. Train Song by Diane Siebert with illustrations by Mike Wimmer would be a delight for any train lover, but is surprisingly perfect for very little ones. Its rhythm mimics the sound of a train as it begins its slow start out of the station, speeds up on the plains and then slows again to pull into town.

It is a blast for the reader and soothing for the listener. You’ll become familiar with all sorts of American cities (it’s fun for us to point out where Great-Grandma lives), landscapes and merchandise. Wimmer’s illustrations are truly beautiful and reminiscent of that train classic Polar Express. I love his depictions of the blue sky reflecting off the tracks and a lone headlight piercing the dark.

Best of all, the motion of this book has been known to put a baby or two to sleep, if you want to know the truth!


from Wesley Jeanne (Mountain Mama)

It’s Halloween by Jack Prelutsky with illustrations by Marylin Hafner

“It’s Halloween! It’s Halloween!
The moon is full and bright
And we shall seen what can’t be seen
On any other night…”

It's Halloween, 1977The air is turning cooler, the darkness coming earlier, leaves are falling. The Halloween edition magazines have been in our house for a few weeks. They’ve been poured over, costume decisions made, preparations underway. But ah, the excitement of of the season has only just begun. It’s time now for Halloween reading at our house, in which we bring out the holiday-themed books (and of course, the Charlie Brown DVD). This year a stroll through the Friends of the Library Used Book Store led us to a great addition to our collection: a 1977 edition of Jack Prelutsky and Marylin Hafner’s It’s Halloween. [Note: The book was updated in 1997 with the same illustrator.]

With illustrations charmingly reminiscent of Maurice Sendak, each of Prelutsky’s 13 poems illuminate the frightful fun of three children and their Halloween night, from preparations (in “The Pumpkin”) to parties (in “Bobbing for Apples”) to tricks (“Tricksters” and “Countdown”) and treats (“Treat”) and finally to bed at the end of the night:

“We’re stuffed with cake and candy
And we’ve had a lot of fun
But now it’s time to go to bed
And dream of all we’ve done.”

It's Halloween, 1997There are goblins and ghosts and haunted houses. Black cats and skeletons, too. The rhymes are simple, natural and catchy enough to stick with you for days (especially once you’ve read the poems over and over again on request). The old-fashioned illustrations show frightful creatures in non-threatening but not sticky sweet ways. My (and my two-year-old’s) favorite is the Goblin outside the window with his glasses on and a very neutral expression, but he’s there, “..still sitting outside/And is waiting for me.”

This book allows children to experience the delightful spookiness and adventure of the Halloween ritual in a fun way, always coming home to “…dream of ghosts and goblins/And of witches that we’ve seen,/And we’ll dream of trick-or-treating/On this Happy Halloween.”

Early Elementary

from Jean-Marie Maier

Vincent’s Colors is a beautiful book to introduce Vincent van Gogh to young readers and budding artists alike. Van Gogh wrote more than 800 letters to friends and family in his lifetime. The majority of those letters were to his younger brother Theo. This book, produced by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, features more than a dozen of van Gogh’s colorful and dynamic paintings and what he wrote about each one, translated and in rhyme, to his brother Theo.

vangoghThe simple, one line of text for each painting is a starting point for discussion, but the topics are endless: What do you see in this painting? What colors do you see? What shapes do you see? Point out some of the lines you see in this painting. What do you think van Gogh was thinking or feeling when he painted this picture? How do you think he painted that sky or those leaves? How did he create movement in his sky? Is this painting a landscape, a portrait or a still life?

From insightful conversations to new creations for your refrigerator, Vincent’s Colors, words and pictures by Vincent van Gogh, has a lot of inspiration to offer.

Upper Elementary

from Elizabeth (Finding Him Bigger)

areyoutheregodOne of my favorite books of all time, and the one I think of first when I remember my early adolescence, is Judy Blume’s Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? As a young woman I read this book again and again, and each time I found Margaret more endearing than the time before. In many ways, she is one of my earliest heroes.

Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret is the story of Margaret Simon, the only child of parents with very different religious backgrounds who has recently moved to New Jersey.  Along with the usual adjustments that go along with moving to a new place, Margaret is at an age of much personal reflection and exploration. She spends a great deal of time exploring what is normal (and maybe not-so-normal) for a young girl her age. Through her private conversations with God, she begins to figure out and grow more comfortable with who she is. I think that is definitely something most of us can relate to no matter how old we are.

My 11-year old daughter read the book recently and we had some fabulous conversations about puberty, body-image, and her spiritual journey. There is some content that may be questionable to parents because the subject matter is such a sensitive one. But I found that the things I felt most uncomfortable talking about were the things that my daughter and I actually enjoyed discussing most.

What We’re Reading Wednesday: September 23rd

Filling our homes with books allows us the freedom to turnoff the screens in our homes – even if it is just for the week. The book review team is back this week with three fantastic recommendations:

Baby and Toddler

from Meghan (Out of the Woods)

house-in-the-night-coverHave you heard yet about The House In the Night by Susan Marie Swanson?  This book is the 2009 winner of the prestigious Caldecott award (aka It Must Be Awesome).  I am obsessed.  Both the text and the illustrations by Beth Krommes are utterly enchanting and perfect for getting you and your little one swept up in the glory of a starry, fall evening.

I recommend this book for the infant/toddler category for three reasons:

1. The book is entirely illustrated in black, white and yellow and provides an excellent opportunity for young ones to focus, instead of getting lost in pages packed with bright colors.  I knew it would be perfect for my nine-month-old daughter when I noticed her point to the fireplace on almost every page of Goodnight Moon.  The color yellow represents The House’s main character—light—and just as I thought, my girl goes right for the bright spots of color every time. Krommes is a printmaker, and her illustrations are done in the style of wood engraving.  You will love her landscapes of rolling hills, inviting cottages, fields awaiting harvest and yellow sun and stars.

2. The text is very simple (only one phrase per page) and is full of basic words that your toddler is likely working on, such as home, book, bird, sun, moon, song, etc.  The pages are full of opportunities for image and word recognition, as they are teeming with animals, toys and musical instruments.

3. Best of all, this is the perfect book for children who are developing a fear of the dark. It explains very simply how light from the sun reflects off the moon at night and comes into the little one’s room, along with the shining of the stars.  It explains that her home is full of light, even if the lamp is turned off, pointing out pets, plants and parents as comforts better than any lightbulb.

And I recommend this book for parents, because it will captivate you as well, with its intimate and tender details, its depiction of home and family, and its masterful illustrations. You’ll want to study every page.

Early Elementary

From Jean-Marie Maier

mercyrescueMercy Watson doesn’t want to sleep alone in her dark, scary room, so she sneaks into Mr. and Mrs. Watson’s bed and snuggles between them. Typical behavior of a preschooler you say? Only problem is Mercy isn’t a preschooler. She’s a fun-loving pig with an affinity for warm, buttery toast.

Just when Mercy is deep in a dream about a plate piled-high with delicious, hot-buttered toast, she and the other dreaming Watsons are awakened by a “Boom!” The bed is falling through a second floor hole. And although Mr. Watson tells everyone to stay where they are, Mercy dashes off to find…help?  No!  Some of that dreamy, hot-buttered toast!

What happens next? A scare. A wild chase. And firemen are called to the scene. Mercy’s insuppressible love of toast turns her into the unwitting hero, or as the Watsons like to call her a “porcine wonder.”

Mercy Watson To The Rescue by Kate DiCamillo is an action-filled, fast moving story that completely delighted me and my 5-year-old daughter. We shared lots of chatter, giggles and toast. We would also recommend the other books in the Mercy Watson series.  They are perfect for beginning readers ready to give chapter books a try. Each book has so much to offer: easy to read text, vibrant illustrations, quirky characters and lots of humor and silliness.

And if you’re gearing up for Halloween, check out Mercy Watson Princess in Disguise. It features a trick-or-treating Mercy, many of the same familiar faces and, of course, stacks of delicious, hot-buttered toast.

Upper Elementary

By Elizabeth (Finding Him Bigger)

crookedkindofperfectThere’s nothing like having a dream and not quite being able to reach it. Zoe, the 5th grade protagonist in Linda Urban’s A Crooked Kind of Perfect, knows this disappointment well. She dreams of playing the piano in Carnegie Hall, complete with a ball gown, gloves up to her elbows, and ruby slippers. Because for her a piano is everything she is not: glamorous, sophisticated, and worldly.

Unfortunately, instead of a grand piano, Zoe plays the organ: a loud, awkward instrument, nothing like a delicate piano.

In learning how to play the organ and preparing for a competition she’s not even sure she wants to compete in, Zoe learns a great deal about herself and her unconventional parents. She makes an unlikely friend and realizes that people aren’t always as they seem. Some of their quirks might actually be strengths. In fact, what seems crooked to one person and perfect to another might be just that: a crooked kind of perfect.

So when Zoe’s performance in the competition seems anything but perfect to her, she learns that sometimes you just have to keep going. She tells her dad, “You can’t jut get up and walk away every time you mess up. You’d never get anywhere.” That’s a lesson that’s good for all of us to learn.

My 10-year old daughter and I both enjoyed this book very much, and it has sparked some wonderful conversations in our home about perfectionism and expectations. Most upper-elementary aged girls understand Zoe’s feelings of wanting to fit in with their peers but not always being able to. A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban is a delightful book from which they’ll find encouragement and inspiration to be themselves. It inspires confidence and self-assuredness, even for moms like me, and reminds all of us that what seems perfect has mistakes in it too. But when we focus on the positives, those mistakes hardly matter at all.