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?