What We’re Reading: A Wish To Be a Christmas Tree (plus online literature resources)

Did you know that the idea for featuring weekly book reviews came from SK reader Emily (The Pilot’s Wife)?  I had the pleasure of meeting Emily at a blogging event last spring (that’s us pictured below!), and I have so enjoyed getting to know her.  She has a true passion for great children’s literature, and today she is featuring a Christmas book as well as some helpful online children’s literature resources for the SK community:

This week I want to share with you a new-to-me Christmas story, and I also want to pass along some of my favorite online resources for children’s literature.

I found A Wish to Be a Christmas Tree by Colleen Monroe this week and found it to be a completely charming book.   It is the story of a old, tall tree on a Christmas tree farm that has never been chosen to be someone’s special tree.

He has watched his children and grandchildren be chosen, and he knows that he is too large now to be a suitable Christmas tree.  As the old tree weeps, he woodland friends make a plan to boost their friend’s feelings and make his Christmas special.

This is a beautifully illustrated book that combines a message of Christmas and friendship in a rhyming text.  I think you’ll really enjoy this one!

Something I discovered while researching this book is that YouTube has children’s stories! Am I the last person to figure this out?

You can watch (and listen) to A Wish to Be a Christmas Tree here:

A Wish to Be a Christmas Tree on YouTube

I also found ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas read by Perry Como:

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas on YouTube

And a few more (non-Christmasy, yet still great): The Very Hungry Caterpiller and Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me

I already knew YouTube was great; now I have a reason to love it even more!  I found these stories by searching “children’s books read aloud”.  There are many more available.

While I’m sharing my finds, I want to pass along a few of my other go to spots for children’s literature.

1) Speakaboos – This is a website that allows children to read along with celebrity readers and even record themselves reading.  This site requires you to register, but it’s free.

2) Another celebrity reading site is Storyline Online. This site is supported by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, and unlike Speakaboos, you actually watch a video of the actor reading the book, but you can still read along with the words.  There are only about 20 books on this site, but they’re all high quality books.

3) The last thing I want to share is not a site that has stories, but a site that provides wonderful support for children’s literature.  Making Learning Fun is a site that is geared towards Pre-K to 2nd grade, and it has so many wonderful, printable activities that go beautifully with such classics as Brown Bear, Brown Bear, The Very Hungry Caterpiller, Chicka-Chicka Boom Boom, and many more.

Alright Simple Kids readers, what are your favorite websites to encourage reading and literacy?

What We’re Reading: Mailing May (and more!)

We are welcoming November with a fresh crop of book reviews for you from the Simple Kids Book Review Team:


from Trisha at okieOLIO

Leo the LopThe short, meaningful stories in the Serendipity Series by Stephen Cosgrove have long been some of my most cherished books. For three decades the whimsical characters have shown children how to find positive solutions for difficult problems with gentle moral lessons. Cosgrove’s simple but clever writing is easy to understand and engaging.

My personal favorite is Leo the Lop, the tale of a floppy-eared rabbit who is teased because his ears don’t stand up straight like the other rabbits. Leo is sad because he looks different and makes several attempts to change his appearance to blend in and be “normal.” Through the help of a possum with a different perspective, he and the other rabbits eventually learn that “normal is whatever you are.”

The story is truly enhanced by the endearing drawings by illustrator Robin James. The soft and natural color palate and large expressive eyes on each character convey the story perfectly. In the style of the series, we are treated to a new picture on each spread, with the left page displaying the text and the right side filled with an illustration.

If you haven’t already serendipitously (wink, wink) discovered these lovely and valuable books, I promise you won’t regret inviting them into your library.

Early Elementary

from Emily at The Pilot’s Wife

mailingmayEven as a child, I loved reading about history.  There was just something about the resurrecting of other times and places that riveted me.  The rational part of me knows that the lack of running water and infrequent bathing would really put a damper on the fun of living in the past, but it still holds a strong appeal for me.

I spent many a happy hour delving into the worlds of Laura Ingalls, Anne of Green Gables, and the American Girls.  So when I stumbled upon Mailing May by Michael O. Tunnell, I immediately fell in love.

This lovely picture book is the tale of May, a little girl who wants to visit her grandmother who lives far away, but her family can’t afford the train fare.

With a little creative thought and coercion, May’s Pa finds a solution and “mails” May to her grandmother.  The book chronicles her adventure riding the rails and the illustrations are a beautiful accompaniment that give children a glimpse into life in the early 1900s.

This short story is a great way to get children interested in learning about the past.  There is just enough information to initiate conversations about differences in how people lived, without feeling like a text book. There would also be many opportunities to talk about the vocabulary words specific to that time period.

If you’re wanting to pique your child’s interest in things of the past or perhaps fuel a budding historian, Mailing May is perfect way to do it.

Upper Elementary

from Katie at This Natural Life

viewfromsaturdayWhile browsing at my local bookstore recently, I ran across the book The View From Saturday, and was instantly intrigued.  I recognized the author’s name, E.L. Konigsburg, from her 1968 Newbery Medal-winning book From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, but I couldn’t recall ever hearing about The View From Saturday.  It turns out that there is a good reason for that: it was published in 1996, long after I left grade school.  I snatched up a copy and eagerly devoured it this past weekend.

The View From Saturday tells the story of four sixth-grade students and their teacher, Mrs. Olinski, as they compete in their state Academic Bowl.  The students are Noah, Nadia, Ethan, and Julian, and they call themselves “The Souls.”  None of them are what you would call “popular”; they are smart kids, and each has their own set of challenges.   As the reader, we watch the friendship between these students as it unfolds from its inception, when they first regard each other with the initial wariness and hesitation that is typical of many sixth-graders.  As circumstances continue to draw the students together, they eventually form a very unique and tightly bonded friendship.  Their relationship with Mrs. Olinski, and the challenging circumstances of her own life as a paraplegic, also plays a significant role in the lives of each student.

One of the most interesting things about this book is the shifting point of view.  The author begins the book from Mrs. Olinski’s perspective, but then shifts to Noah’s first-person experience.  The second chapter returns to Mrs. Olinski’s point of view, but then it changes again, this time to Nadia’s story.  This pattern continues throughout the book.  The chronology of the story is not linear, either.  The book begins in the present, which is the spring semester of their sixth-grade year, but it often flashes back and forth between the present, the summer before sixth grade began, and the fall semester, as we learn how The Souls first met and how they are intertwined.

While I personally feel that these elements add a lot of interest to the story, some students could potentially find it confusing, especially if they don’t read very often and/or haven’t had much exposure to these kinds of literary elements.  In fact, many of the negative reviews on Amazon are from young students who had a hard time with the point of view and chronology.  These students would greatly benefit from a parent’s willingness to read the book alongside of them and help them navigate through these turns and twists.

In addition, one young reviewer pointed out that as the reader, we know what’s going to happen from the beginning of the book, and therefore he/she didn’t feel much motivation to read to the end.  But of course, the story has really very little to do with who wins the Academic Bowl, and everything to do with the journey along the way – the questions, the relationships, the moments of grace and personal triumph.  The View From Saturday is a rich, complex story of value, worth reading and re-reading.  I hope it finds its way into your child’s personal library, as it has into mine – it is worthy of a permanent place for many years to come.

Winterize Within, Part Four: Books

seussbooksPhoto by evelynshere

Wow! We have been working hard this week.  I think today would be a great day for a lightweight project.  Today, we’ll focus on Winterizing Within with our children’s books.

As we have each day this week, we will use the 3 Ps to structure our winterizing efforts:

1) Pause to find just a little time today to sort through the children’s literature in your home.  Thirty minutes or less seems right for today.

2) As you work through the books in your home, you may want to focus less on purging and more on pondering about where your child is on his path to literacy.  Do you have a new toddler who is ready for slightly more complicated stories?  Or is your preschooler ready for chapter books?  Would the upcoming holiday gift season be a good time to add new life to your home library?

Invite your older children to think about which books to keep, and which can be donated, sold, or tucked into storage.

3) We’ve been pushing ourselves quite a bit this week.  As you sit surrounded by the books that mean so much to your family today, take a moment to luxuriate in the joys, beauty, and timeless truths offered by literature.  You deserve a little downtime to read, reflect, and respond to whatever inspiration you find in the pages of your family’s books today!

What is the state of your home library? Is it up-to-date and organized? Are there books that need mending? Is your child ready to move up to more challenging books?

What We’re Reading: Sam McBratney’s You’re All My Favorites (and more!)

Three timeless, lovely, and adventurous books have been chosen by the Simple Kids Book Review team for this week’s What We’re Reading Wednesday:


from Amy (Girlfriends Get Real)

allmyfavoritesAt Christmastime we are always looking for new books for our girls. Last Christmas we came across the book You’re All My Favorites by Sam McBratney. With three girls in the house trying to get attention from Mom and Dad, this book was perfect.

In the book three baby bears want to know, “Which one of us do you like most? Who is your favorite? We can’t all be the best.” Mommy and Daddy Bear try to explain that they are all the most wonderful baby bears in the whole world. However, the baby bears start to doubt that they can all be a favorite. In the end Mommy and Daddy bear explained that each of the bears is different and they love them equally.

This book illustrates how each child in your family can be unique and different, but our hearts are big enough to love each one the same.

Early Elementary

from MJ Wieland (turnitupmom)

The End of the BeginningThe End of the Beginning: Being the Adventures of a Small Snail (and an Even Smaller Ant) is an amusing chapter book that chronicles the adventures of Avon, a small snail, and Edward, an even smaller ant. Newberry Award winner Avi writes with such wit and wisdom that even the most reluctant reader will want to journey with these entertaining characters.

Avon, the snail, has never been on an adventure of his own; he has only read about them. And adventures, he concludes, are the key to a happy life. So, he sets out on a journey with his neighbor, a small but self-assured ant. Along the way, the spirited pair gets lost, writes poetry, encounters a “dragon,” and meets other wise and weird creatures, including a worm who cannot determine his front end from his back end.

Avi writes with a dry sense of humor that appeals to all ages. When Avon reluctantly fights a famous “battle” (against another ridiculously slow snail), and Edward asks if he’s won, Avon replies, “I don’t know. It all happened so quickly.” Avi’s play on words and clever use of language leaves both kids and adults giggling their way through these silly adventures.

While this story is humorous and at times nonsensical, it is also philosophical and profound. Avi gives deeper meaning to the ordinary and even dull events that transpire, and the more mature reader will experience this tale on a different emotional and intellectual level.  Embedded in this adventure are thought-provoking statements such as this: “Getting yourself lost is easy. Happens all the time. It’s finding yourself that’s hard.”

Ultimately, the end of the beginning is the start of a beautiful friendship between two unlikely adventurers. Tricia Tusa’s pen and ink illustrations are the perfect complement to this charming little tale. If you’ve enjoyed Frog and Toad, I think you’ll find this pair to be quirky and oh, so lovable!

Upper Elementary

from Diana (Holes in my Shiny Veneer)

zorgamazooMy pick for this month is a seasonal one – Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston.  I say seasonal because it has just the right amount of macabre and fantasy for the upcoming Halloween festivities.  Fans of The Series of Unfortunate Events will delight in this tale which finds Katrina Katrell, our luckless heroine, being pursued by her guardian for a lobotomy.  The impetus for this impromptu brain surgery is Katrina’s sighting of Morty the Zorgle in a subway tunnel—such “imagination” is intolerable to the narrow-minded Mrs. Krabone.

Yet Katrina was not imagining.  She really did see a Zorgle, whom she eventually encounters again.  As she joins Morty’s reluctant quest to discover what happened to the missing Zorgles of Zorgamazoo, the two of them are eventually kidnapped and taken hostage on the moon with all sorts of other fantastical creatures that have gone missing from our world:  griffins, yetis, dragons, and more.

Katrina’s tale of cunning and escape is quite a remarkable novel.  Remarkable not only because it is Weston’s first, but because the entire novel is written in verse!  Imagine Dr. Seuss writing nearly 300 pages and you’ll get an idea of how incredible this is.  Naturally, Zorgamazoo is the perfect candidate for a read-aloud. In fact, it was given a 2009 E.B. White Older Reader Honors award. You can hear the first few chapters read aloud on Weston’s site if this little tidbit isn’t enough:

So if you’re a person who’s tired or pooped
if the edge of your mind has been drearily drooped,
then of course you’d ignore any zorgally face,
that perhaps you would see in some shadowy place.

So if you’ve no time for the whimsical things,
for pirates and gadgets and creatures and kings,
if you spurn the fantastic to never return,
then PUT THIS BOOK DOWN…for it’s not your concern.

* * * * *

Congratulations to commenter Cary who is the winner of the Crafting Fun and Cooking Fun giveaway.  She shared about her favorite childhood memories of creating:

“My favorite cooking memory with my mom as a child was making rice crispie bars.  Our recipe used the microwave rather than the stove so she would let us do most of it ourselves encouraging us all the way.  My favorite cooking memory with my dad is helping him make scalloped potatoes and ham from scratch which was a huge treat.  We would help measure out all the ingredients, and he would have us 1 1/3 the recipe or 1 1/2 the reicpe just to test our math skills.  My favorite new memory with my little ones is our tradition of making breadsticks every Sunday night.  Great fun and they help with everything!”

Thanks to everyone for such wonderful comments.  I hope you’ve been inspired to add Rae Grant’s lovely books to your home library!

What We’re Reading: Mem Fox’s Time for Bed (and more!)

Three new book reviews and recommendations for this What We’re Reading Wednesday!

Baby and Toddler

from Catherine (Adventures with Kids)

timeforbedMem Fox is my favourite children’s author and Time for Bed is one of my favourite children’s books.  This is a delightful book, perfect for sharing with your baby at quiet times (or even at bedtime!).

Darkness is falling and all the little animals are getting ready to sleep. Their mum’s and dad’s are tucking them in and saying goodnight …

It’s time to sleep, little bird, little bird,
So close your eyes, not another word.

It’s time to sleep, little bee, little bee,
Yes, I love you and you love me.

Each page is accompanied by an illustration showing the little animals snuggling with their mummy or daddy.  And you’ll smile at some of the lines, as baby animals seem to do the same little things to avoid sleep as human babies.

The rhythm and repetition through this story make it easy to read aloud and soothing for your child.  And if you use a read-aloud tip from Mem Fox and drag out the last line to create a feeling of reader satisfaction, by the end of the story your little one will be ready to kiss goodnight and go to sleep.


from Emily (Homespun Light)

The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big, Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood.

bighungrybearThe mouse might be small, but he is brave and clever. The reader warns him that a big, hungry bear will find the mouse’s strawberry…”no matter where it is hidden, or who is guarding it, or how it is disguised.” Together, however, the reader and mouse are able to come up with a perfect solution: sharing!

The illustrations are visually appealing and funny. The simple text keeps the story moving along. The best part, though, is the characters: you (the reader) and the mouse. You can’t help but pull for the cute, nervous mouse.

Early Elementary

from Amy Anderson (Let’s Explore)

newkidI love sharing poetry with my girls – poems are a great example of just how fun words can be!  If we’re in the mood for something silly, we often pull out one of Jack Prelutsky’s poetry collections, The New Kid on the Block.

Prelutsky’s poems are filled with colorful descriptive language, great rhythm (and often rhyme), and some silly nonsense words for good measure.  Here’s a snippet from one of our favorite poems from New Kid on the Block, “Bleezer’s Ice Cream”:

Tutti-fruitti stewed tomato
Tuna taco baked potato
Lobster litchi lima bean
Mozzarella mangosteen

Yes, crazy ice cream flavors!  Because poems and imagination go hand-in-hand, my girls are often inspired to create their own wacky menus or silly monsters after listening to a few of these poems.  From “Do Oysters Sneeze?” to “Eggs!” to “The Flimsy Fleek,” there’s plenty of giggling to be had!

You can read more samples of Jack Prelutsky’s poems on his really fun website.  If you have a few minutes during snack time or while brushing teeth, why not read a poem?  Happy reading!