Open Sesame: New Picture Books Explore Rich Themes

A Wave of New Picture Books

It’s summer! One of my family’s favorite seasons to jump into the pages of a good book. Lucky us, there’s a wave of new titles rolling off the presses. Here are eight picture book picks for young readers. You’ll find bulldogs and poodles, a panda and a pilot, a dragon, a ninja, barefoot critters, a home on wheels, and an imaginary friend. Hold on to your little ones and jump in – the story’s fine!

Have You Seen My Dragon? by Steve Light, invites readers on a city prowl and counting expedition as they help a boy find his dragon somewhere in lower Manhattan. Detailed cityscapes drawn in mostly black and white provide an urban playground for young adventurers. Numbered maps on the end papers show the story’s route through the city and add more interactive appeal. Fun seek-and-find picture book. (Candlewick Press, 2014   ISBN: 978-0763666484)

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Literary Guide for Mordicai Gerstein’s “The Mountains of Tibet”

The Mountains of Tibet
by Mordicai Gerstein

Literature Guide: The Mountains of Tibet

An accomplished writer, illustrator, and animator; local author Mordicai Gerstein‘s books for children are moving, beautifully illustrated, and feature deep themes that children of all ages (and the adults in their lives) can relate to. In The Mountains of Tibet, Gerstein weaves a lovely story about kite-flying and the passing of time with a lesson about reincarnation and Buddhist culture. Not only do readers learn to think about what happens after death, but the story inspires them to think about the many different belief systems that exist in cultures all around the world – helping to open their eyes to the vast diversity amongst humans.

The Mountains of Tibet focuses on a young boy who lives in a small village, high up in Tibet’s mountains. His favorite activity is kite-flying, and he spends his childhood imagining all of the places in the world that he might travel to when he is older and dreaming of all of the adventures that he may have in other parts of the globe. Despite his dreams of travel, the boy grows up to be a man who remains at home in his small village, serving as a woodcutter amongst the community in which he spent his childhood. Eventually, once he has accomplished much and becomes an old man, he dies and finds himself posed to make an important decision. Finding himself in a strange place that is somewhere between the earth and the rest of the universe, the man is given a choice: to remain as part of the endless universe, or to choose his own reincarnation without knowledge of his previous life. The man chooses reincarnation and, in a heart warming twist, he revisits his own hometown and experiences another life there as a kite-flying young girl.

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Literary Guide for Jeanne Birdsall’s “The Penderwicks”

The Penderwicks
by Jeanne Birdsall

Literature Guide: The Penderwicks

Our first chapter book featured in this series, The Penderwicks – which takes place in the Berkshires – is a fantastic family summer read. Featuring a quirky cast of characters, a bit of mystery, and a healthy does of adventure and mystery, Jeanne Birdsall’s The Penderwicks is a story that can appeal to readers of all ages. While the accompanying literary guide is designed for use with 5th grade students (ages 10 and 11), the story is appropriate for young elementary students (though they may need some support with comprehension), yet can be enjoyed by tweens, teens, and adults – especially when done as a family read-aloud. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for William Steig’s “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble”

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
by William Steig

A Caldecott Medal-winning book, William Steig’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble has been well-loved by multiple generations of children. Published in 1969, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble seems timeless – the fable-like quality of the story paired with Steig’s simple illustrations have allowed the book to appeal to young readers for decades without the story losing its popularity as American culture evolved.

An excellent read for children who are early on in their elementary school careers, the story is about a young donkey named Sylvester and his discovery of a surprising pebble that grants wishes. Unfortunately for Sylvester, however, soon after his discovery of the pebble and its magical powers he encounters a lion, and wishes to be a rock so that he doesn’t have to be afraid. Of course, the pebble turns him into a rock and, as his rock-body has no arms, Sylvester drops the pebble – making him incapable of wishing himself back to being a donkey. Months pass, and his family and neighbors miss him terribly and search high and low for him. One day, his miserable parents decide to have a picnic in order to cheer up. In a serendipitous chain of events (the likes of which can only be found in children’s books), Sylvester’s parents happen upon the magic pebble and accidentally-on-purpose wish him back into their lives. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Arthur Dorros’ “Abuela”

Abuela
by Arthur Dorros

Literature Guide: Abuela

Set in urban Manhattan, Arthur Dorros’ story Abuela combines magic, memories, and bilingual text to tell a beautiful and imaginative story about childhood, family, immigration, and Hispanic culture. Paired with beautiful images created by illustrator Elisa Kleven, Abuela is an excellent example of a bilingual and multicultural children’s book.

In the story, young Rosalba and her abuela (grandmother) are returning by bus from a trip to feed the birds. During the ride – perhaps inspired by recent interactions with feathered friends – Rosalba wonders what it would be like to fly, and to see the city from the sky. She and her grandmother go on a wonderful imaginary adventure, exploring some of Manhattan’s greatest sights from a new angle. They examine the shapes of clouds, pay a visit to the Statue of Liberty, and greet the rooftops from above. Alongside the events of Rosalba’s imaginary journey are stories that her grandmother tells of her life before she immigrated to New York. Inspired by Rosalba’s ideas, the stories teach Rosalba (and readers of the story) about her abuela’s cultural roots and what her life was like before she immigrated to New York City.

Abuela is a fantastic story to pair with studies of Hispanic culture, and presents families with an opportunity to learn some basic Spanish phrases together. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Esther Averill’s “The Fire Cat”

The Fire Cat
by Esther Averill

Sometimes, you just need a silly story.

And Esther Averill’s The Fire Cat is exactly that.

A Harper Collins I CAN READ book, and originally published in 1960, The Fire Cat tells the story of a spotted cat named Pickles, who has big paws and lots of trouble figuring out what to do in life. After bumbling around a bit, and receiving help from the wonderful Mrs. Goodkind, Pickles is eventually adopted by a fire department, and learns to be a fire cat! He uses his big paws to do all sorts of fire cat jobs, and grows into himself more and more the longer he stays at the fire house. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Patricia Polacco’s “My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother”

My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother
by Patricia Polacco

Beloved children’s author and illustrator Patricia Polacco has written countless classics, covering everything from dyslexia to raising chickens. In My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother, Polacco shares a story of sibling rivalry infused with aspects of the Ukrainian culture in which she was raised. Set in Michigan on Polacco’s grandparents’ farm, the story follows Patricia through a variety of older-brother-related frustrations, mostly based in his habit of challenging her to contests that he always won. In the story, Patricia endures intense frustration and anger – the special kind unique to childhood. Eventually, Patricia beats her brother at something, but it involves riding the carnival merry-go-round for so long that she faints and falls off! Her determination to win the contest is obvious when her brother discovers what has happened, and their relationship is forever changed.

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Literary Guide for Elly Mackay’s “If You Hold a Seed”

If You Hold a Seed
by Elly Mackay

Looking for ways to enhance you family reading time? Hilltown Families has a wealth of resources for supporting families with kids of all ages in expanding the stories that they read together into deeper learning experiences.

Our 2014 Summer Reading Resource series will be featured here on Hilltown Families every week throughout the summer, sharing downloadable guides to children’s literature written by graduate students in the Integrated Learning teacher preparation program at Antioch University New England. Each literary guide pairs a featured book with suggestions for ways to help children expand their thinking, create connections to the text, and allow their literacy skills to grow. These guides contain outlines with discussion topics, critical thinking questions, and suggestions for many other activities that are designed for use in classrooms but can very easily be adapted for supplemental education use at home. Weekly featured titles will cover a wide variety of themes, lengths, and levels of difficulty – meaning there’s something for every family, and for every reader! Some are classics and some are lesser-known gems, but all of the books present lots of potential for helping families use their reading as a foundation for further learning.

The books included in the series include both picture and chapter books, and cover all of the ages and developmental capacities typically found in grades K-5. Check back weekly for a new guide, or check out the resources offered in our 2013 series.

The first guide in this summer’s series is Canadian author/illustrator Elly Mackay’s book, If You Hold a Seed.

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Families & Flower Pots at Emily Dickinson Museum Garden Days

Garden Days at Emily Dickinson Museum welcomes families to explore and connect with the story and legacy of poet Emily Dickinson and her family

Next week, garden-loving families can get some historic dirt underneath their fingernails at the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, MA. The museum’s annual Garden Days will be held this year from June 8th through 11th, and brings with them ample opportunities to learn, grow, and honor Emily Dickinson’s love of gardening – all while helping to maintain the museum’s beautiful and historic grounds.

Emily Dickinson Museum, Amherst

To kick off Garden Days, the Emily Dickinson Museum will hold Family Day on Saturday, June 8th from 1-4pm. Gardeners and plant enthusiasts of all ages and abilities are welcome at the museum, and there will be a plethora of gardening activities that anyone can easily participate in. Additionally, Family Day will include a special kid-friendly garden tour at 1:30pm, as well as a historic garden tour (better for older students) at 2:30pm, which will be lead by Marta McDowell, author of Emily Dickinson’s Gardens: A Celebration of a Poet and Gardener.

After learning about the gardens and helping out with some projects around the museum’s grounds, families can take Emily Dickinson’s love of gardening home with them – supplies will be available for beginning your very own herbarium, which Emily herself did as a child. Read the rest of this entry »

Google Lit Trips Puts Literary Characters Back on the Map

Computer program supports and deepens family-friendly literary experiences; encourages sense of place

When springtime showers nix outdoor exploration and playtime, what are adventure-hungry families to do? Check out Google Lit Trips, a computer-based resource that pairs Google Maps with the travels taken by characters in hundreds of great books for readers of all ages and abilities. Ranging in theme and age group appeal from Mem Fox’s classic picture books to a nonfiction chronicle of life in Sudan, Google Lit trips offers virtual explorations to pair with curiosity about numerous themes and geographic locations.

Using Google Maps’ satellite and street view functions, each Google Lit Trip traces the path followed by characters in a story. Moving along the route traveled can help students to visualize the character’s journey, gain perspective on the distance traveled, and examine the landscape in which each portion of the story took place. The real-life images help to enhance readers’ understanding of the story’s setting, and may help them to better understand the descriptive language that an author used to explain where the characters traveled. Additionally, exploring a Lit Trip can help students develop and practice map skills and sense of direction. While a route guided by words may take shape in a reader’s mind, they may not apply what they know about spatial relationships and maps to what they imagine. However, by imagining a character’s journey while following a map, readers can work on solidifying concepts as basic as north and south, or even the more complex geography of far away places and spaces.

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Open Sesame: Craft & Storytelling Urge Us to Jump Into This Graphic Novel

This One Summer: A New Graphic Novel For Young Adults

Rose has returned to the summer cottage at Awago Beach, the special get-a-way her family takes every year. Her summer friend Windy is at the beach too. Rose’s memories of the cottage are happy, treasured times, but this summer feels different. Rose wants to watch horror movies instead of cartoons, she’s crushing on the teenage boy at the general store, and some of Windy’s childish habits are starting to get on her nerves. Plus her parents’ fighting is making their special retreat full of tension and sorrow.

This One Summer, the new graphic novel by cousins Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, serves up an emotionally drawn story about change, friendship, and family. From the onset, readers are invited to jump right in, like the cover illustration of the two girls jumping into the water. And what readers may notice first is the color. Shades of blue, ranging from light gray to dark purple, are reminiscent of vintage manga and evoke a feeling of nostalgia. The blue is soft, which makes it easy to sink into the story’s experience, but it’s also somber and serious, which deepens the story’s emotional tug.

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Poem-Mobiles: Bizarre Cars & Humorous Rhymes

Crazy Car Poems

In a nod to National Poetry Month and to my youngest, an April baby who loves things that go, here is a new book filled with humorous rhymes and fantastically bizarre cars. Poem-mobiles: Crazy Car Poems is the work of the 2011-2013 US Children’s Poet Laureate, J. Patrick Lewis, and award-winning children’s poet, Douglas Florian. Together, they have created a collection of futuristic automobiles, from the Giant Bookmobile of Tomorrow and the Caterpillar Cab to the Eel-ectric Car and The Sloppy-Floppy-Nonstop-Jalopy, which will have readers wheeling with delight. The poems, cast in short lines, simple language, and clean rhymes, are highly accessible, great for reading aloud, and full of clever puns. Like the “Bathtub Car,” “With hot-water heating/ And porcelain seating,/ The bathtub is speeding – /A white limousine./ That’s sudsy with bubbles./ Forget your car troubles./ Its purpose? It doubles/ By keeping you clean!.”  Read the rest of this entry »

A Flock of New Bird Books Take Flight

A Flock of New Bird Books Take Flight

Standing in the middle of Northampton, the day before spring equinox, I looked up at the sky just as a flock of geese were veering north. The forecast may have called for freezing rain and snow, but the geese knew otherwise. They knew winter was sinking, and spring was most certainly on the rise. I love birds for that. Their return to our feeders, their songs weaving through newly budded branches, their nests taking shape under the eaves of our porch – are all signs of spring. And this year, to our delight, a flock of new bird books has landed in our reading repertoire just as the first robins have returned to our yard. A perfect complement to bird watching, here are seven new bird books to share with your own little peeps.

Mama Built A Little Nest, written by Jennifer Ward and illustrated by Steve Jenkins, is just right for the youngest bird enthusiasts. Combining a playful four-line poem with a few lines of scientific facts, the picture book introduces a specific bird and the type of nest they make for their young. Includes the weaver bird, hummingbird, penguin, falcon, woodpecker, and more. A great creative nonfiction pick for wee learners.

  • Mama Built A Little Nest written by Jennifer Ward and illustrated by Steve Jenkins. Published by Beach Lane Books, 2014. ISBN: 978-1442421165

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Edible Books Connect Culinary Arts & Literature

The Edible Book: A Benefit for the Friends of the Forbes & Lilly Libraries

The Forbes and Lilly Libraries are holding their Edible Book event on Sunday, April 6th this year, an annual event that crosses culinary arts and language arts with creative free play!

If you could make a piece of art that describes your favorite book, what would it look like? If you created a food whose flavor matches your family’s favorite story, what would it taste like? And what do you think would happen if you combined your art piece with the book’s perfect flavor match? Create a real-life edible artistic masterpiece – just like you’ve imagined! – by participating in Forbes Library’s event, Edible Book Northampton!

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Black History Month: Six Featured New Titles Bring History Alive

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Five New Picks for Kids and One Just for Grown-Ups

In honor of Black History Month, I’ve selected five new kids’ books that bring history alive. Courageous individuals, unsung heroes, and influential, but little-known, events, reach through pages of text, photos, art, and poetry, and connect young readers to the struggles and achievements of the civil rights movement. And as a special addition this month, I have a book recommendation just for grown-ups, because I can’t help spreading the word about a wonderfully outrageous book related to abolitionist John Brown.

Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up To Become Malcolm X, written by his daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, and illustrated by AG Ford, tells the story of Malcolm’s boyhood, with a special focus on his parents, Earl and Louise Little, who raised their children with love and “unstoppable optimism and faith.” The enchanted world of his mother’s garden and the stirring speeches of his father help shape Malcolm in his early years. When his father dies and Malcolm and his siblings become wards of the state, his upbringing helps forge an indomitable self-reliance, which carries him through difficult times, and eventually helps him become a zealous leader of equal rights. Lots of emotionally wrought text and rich-hued oil paintings throughout the book’s 48 pages create an intimate portrait of Malcolm’s boyhood. A good read for middle graders and beyond.

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Three Picture Books for the Year of the Horse

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Galloping into 2014: Three Picture Books for the Year of the Horse

As the Year of the Water Snake slithers away, the Lucky Chinese Year of the Wood Horse comes galloping in with the promise of victories, adventure, travel, fiery energy, decisive action, good fortune, and free-spirited independence. In searching for books to coincide with the marking of the new year, I discovered these three beautiful picture books that portray ancient China through folktale and fantasy and feature magnificent, powerful horses.

The Race for the Chinese Zodiac

The Race for the Chinese Zodiac comes to us by way of Australia, where it was first published in 2011. Candlewick released it here in the states this past November, perfectly timed for the lead up to Chinese New Year. Author Gabrielle Wang retells the ancient story of the race to become one of the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac. When the Jade Emperor promises to name a year after the first twelve winners to cross the river, thirteen different animals accept the challenge. Each chooses their own method of crossing the river from swimming and flying to raft-building and log-floating. And each reveals their personality traits through competitive spirit, from being kind and supportive to selfish and deceitful.  The easy pacing and large print make for a good story time. And illustrations reminiscent of ancient China give the book visual appeal. Illustrator Sally Rippin used traditional Chinese ink on watercolor paper and also created linocut “chops,” or stamps, showing the Chinese character for each animal. Designer Regine Abos digitally dropped in the texture and color behind Rippin’s hand rendered illustrations to create a modernized vintage look.  Includes additional annotations on the zodiac years and symbols.

  • The Race for the Chinese Zodiac written by Gabrielle Wang, illustrated by Sally Rippin, with design by Regine Abos. Published by Candlewick, 2013. ISBN: 978-0763667788

Click here for more featured titles…

Four Picture Books to Capture the Magic of Snow

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Snowflakes Ahead!

“It’s snowflaking!” my youngest shouts every time the snow flies. There is such joy and wonder in his simple expression that I can’t help but turn my face to the sky to catch some of that magic. It’s the same magic that has called all my kids outside, bright and early, after that first snowfall, still in their jammies and wild bedhead, just to get their mittened hands on snow, to catch flakes on their tongue, to grab a sled and go barreling down the hill. Four new picture books capture a bit of that snowflake magic – the quiet, the impermanence, the beauty, the thrill. So when your rosy-cheeked children have returned from a world of winter white, have donned dry socks and are nestled in the warmth of family, share a story of snow. And remember, spring is just a season away.

Big Snow

Open SesameIn Big Snow, David awaits the coming of a winter storm, hoping for the first big snow of the season. He tries to help his mother with holiday housecleaning, but each task reminds him of snow, from the flour that goes into the cookie dough, to the suds in the bathtub, to the crisp, white sheets. His excited anticipation keeps drawing him outside to check the skies. When his mother tells him to take a nap, David dreams of a giant blizzard, with snow drifts piling up in the living room. He wakes to his Dad’s footfalls and the real storm in full swing. The straight-forward storyline and soft watercolor illustrations portray a tender and warm family life, while capturing the excitement and anticipation of the first big snow.

Big Snow written and illustrated by Jonathan Bean. Published by Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2013. ISBN: 978-0-374-30696-0

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Gratitudes and Graces: Book of Poetry, Prayers, & Songs of Thanks

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

New Book Serves Up Gratitudes and Graces

Master Eckhart, who died almost seven hundred years ago said, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you,’ it will be enough.” – From Giving Thanks: Poems, Prayers, and Praise Songs of Thanksgiving

Giving Thanks: Poems, Prayers, and Praise Songs of Thanksgiving is the newest collaboration between Katherine Paterson and Pamela Dalton. Paterson, a Newberry Medalist and author of some of the most beloved children’s books, including Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved, selected over 50 poems, prayers, and praise songs that reflect on the act of giving thanks.

The book is divided into four sections – “Gather Round The Table,” “A Celebration of Life,” “The Spirit Within,” and “Circle of Community” – and each section begins with Paterson’s personal reflections on being thankful. Universal principles of gratitude and joy are served up from across cultural and religious traditions, pulled from songs and spirituals, and echoed in the voices of people through the ages. A Vietnamese farmers’ prayer, an ancient haiku, a Shaker song, a Pueblo blessing, poems from Emily Dickinson and Wendell Berry, the words of Hildegard of Bingen and Martin Luther King Jr., are just some of the nuggets Paterson offers… Read the rest of this entry »

7 Literary Guides for Expanding Family Reading Time

Literary Guides for Expanding Family Reading Time

Our Reading Resource series was featured here on Hilltown Families this past summer, sharing downloadable guides of children’s literature from graduate students in the Integrated Learning teacher preparation program at Antioch University New England.

Looking for ways to enhance your family reading time? Hilltown Families has a wealth of resources for supporting families with kids of all ages in expanding the stories that they read together into deeper learning experiences.

Our series, Summer Reading Resource: Literary Guides for Expanding Family Reading Time, features teacher-written guides filled with lessons and activities to accompany some fantastic children’s books. Though the guides are designed to be used by educators, their contents can be easily adapted for use at home for parents looking to supplement their children’s learning. Within each guide, parents will find detailed outlines for activities and lessons to do after reading each story, as well as sets of discussion topics, suggestions for further reading with similar themes, and ideas for tying in math, science, social studies, art, and other topics into your work with the book.

The books included in the series include both picture and chapter books, and cover all of the ages and developmental capacities typically found in grades K-5, and can be divided into three categories…

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Railroads & Locomotives: Three Childrens Books About Trains

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

All Aboard!

Coming down the tracks and headed straight into the hands of young enthusiasts, are three new picture books about trains. If you have little engineers in your life, the ones who sleep with trains under their pillows, who hear the whistle from miles away, who build tracks from one end of the house to the other, then check out these exciting books. Featuring both modern and vintage trains, and artwork that transports the reader to railroads near and far, these books will have train lovers wanting to climb aboard.

Locomotive is a lush work by award winning book creator, Brian Floca. From the moment you connect with the striking portrait of a regal locomotive on the cover, you are transported back through time, to the summer of 1869. End papers set the stage with an overview of the trans-continental railroad including a map, history, and small vignettes. Then the title page reveals another more personal layer to the story – a family photo, a railroad guide, and a telegram from Papa saying all is ready in California, come soon. From the beginning, the book has multiple dimensions: it is a fictional story of a mother and her two children boarding a steam train in Omaha, Nebraska, and riding the rails all the way across the country to San Francisco; and it is a nonfictional story of the trans-continental railroad, its history and landscape, of the steam locomotive herself, her mechanical wonders and the people who kept her and the railroads running. The large size of the book enhances its full sensory effect and is worthy of housing the story of the powerful locomotive. Lyrical, rhythmic text, with lettering that often changes in size and color to help tell the story, brings the whole experience to life. Illustrations done in watercolor, ink, acrylic, and gouache are often startling in their perspective and emotional renderings. Long notes and resources at the back provide more historical information, including how the trans-continental railroad impacted Native Americans. This is an incredible piece of work and a keeper for all railroad enthusiasts, no matter what their age.

  • Locomotive by Brian Floca. A Richard Jackson Book, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2013. ISBN: 978-1-4169-9415-2

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One Clover & A Bee: Poems for Autumn

Fall Changes—Poems for Outside & In

Fall is a great time for poetry. The season is bursting with vivid sights, sounds and smells. It’s wonderful to be outside, taking in the warm autumn colors that surround us and that late-day, slanting light that makes everything look like it’s dipped in honey.

The next time you’re enjoying the out-of-doors, bring this poem by Lilian Moore along. It’s an easy one for little kids to remember, and is fun for saying aloud and making into a game, because the poem breaks down the experience of crunching through dry leaves so     that     we     can     feel     every step.

Try saying it with your child as you walk, using the line breaks as a guide to where you should slow down and speed up.

New Sounds

by Lilian Moore

New sounds to
walk on
today,

dry
leaves
talking
in hoarse
whispers
under bare trees.

Indoors, many of us are also making transitions, starting school or other new routines, taking stock of the year ahead. When it’s time to pull out the sweaters and long pants, there might be some surprises…

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Pair of Fall Favorite Picture Books

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

A Pair of Perennial Favorites

Here is a pair of picture books I particularly love reading in the fall. They are perennial favorites, books I come back to again and again. Just right for the younger set, though readers of any age will find powerful messages tucked into these small packages.

Here are stories that embody joy, wonder, and the deep truth of our inner nature, illustrated with lovely, emotive artwork, and spiced with two essential images of autumn – leaves and geese…

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Bedside Reading: A Collection of Five

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Bedside Reading

I always have a stack of books at my bedside – a wild assortment of fiction and nonfiction, with a handful of kids’ books thrown in the mix.  The current collection stars two picture books, a middle grade and a young adult novel, and a work of children’s nonfiction. They all captured my attention and praise, and I want to share them with you. Read one with your preschooler, or pass one off to your teen, or maybe even tuck one onto your bedside table (It’s okay, I won’t tell.)…

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Literary Guide for Astrid Lindgren’s “Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter”

Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter
by Astrid Lindgren

Our Summer Reading Resource series is coming to a close with our seventh and final installment, Astrid Lindgren’s Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter.

Originally written in Swedish, this a tale of adventure that shares themes with literary classics such as Romeo and Juliet and The Adventures of Robinhood. The story’s protagonist – Ronia – is, as the title states, the daughter of Matt, the fearsome leader of a band of robbers. Ronia is raised at her parents’ fort, the headquarters for Matt’s ring of bandits. Surrounding the fort is a vast, dense, and magical forest, which provides beautiful scenery and fodder for Ronia’s childhood adventures.

The major conflict within the story is centered around a friendship that Ronia develops with a boy named Birk, who is just about her age and is every bit as interested in exploring the forest as Ronia is herself…

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Literary Guide for Robert McCloskey’s “Make Way for Ducklings”

Make Way for Ducklings
by Robert McCloskey

Make Way for Ducklings, written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey, is our featured title this week in our Summer Reading Resource series.  Make Way for Ducklings tells the story of the Mallard family – made up of a mama duck, a papa duck, and eight little ducklings with silly rhyming names. After investigating New England’s rural landscape, the Mallards decide that the countryside is filled with too many threatening predators for their liking (and for the safety of their future ducklings). They settle, instead, in busy Boston, and hatch their eggs amongst skyscrapers and busy streets. Once the ducklings are born, readers travel throughout the city with them, experiencing all of the excitement that Boston has to offer from a duckling’s perspective, and discover – with the Mallards – that city life presents its own unique set of obstacles, just like country life. Their main problem? Cars won’t stop for the family to cross the street! Luckily, the Mallards find a friendly police officer to help them, which leads to citywide police escorts helping to ensure their safety…

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Literary Guide for Kevin Henkes’ “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse”

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse
by Kevin Henkes

This week as part of our Summer Reading Resource literary guide series, Kevin Henkes’ classic, Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse is featured. Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, a silly yet meaningful story, is the tale of a young mouse who is quite enamored with some of her most favorite possessions and has trouble containing her excitement! Lilly, an elementary school student, brings her favorite purple plastic purse to school, filled with fancy movie star glasses and three big, shiny quarters. She is eager to show of her goodies with her classmates, but isn’t able to find a way of doing this that fits with the class routine and expectations. Unfortunately, her teacher (whom she normally loves) takes away her purse and its contents until the end of day, leaving Lilly frustrated and disappointed. She even draws a mean picture and puts it in her teacher’s bag in order to get back at him.

By the end of the story, Lilly has learned a few important lessons. Able to share her prized items the next day at school, she learns the proper etiquette for bringing things from home into the classroom. She also learns to apologize, and learns that in working to curb her excitement, she can avoid such situations in the future…

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Literary Guide for Kate Banks’ “Max’s Words”

Max’s Words
by Kate Banks

Learning words can be incredibly exciting for young children, especially those who are just beginning to read and are developing the skills to decode words on their own. Kate Banks’ book Max’s Words captures this time in life beautifully, and uses a boy’s enthusiasm for vocabulary to weave together a tale of collecting, autonomy, and developing self-confidence, and is the featured title this week in our Summer Reading Resource literary guide series. Young and old readers alike can enjoy the book, but it speaks in particular to early elementary-aged students, as they likely share similar experiences with the protagonist…

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Literary Guide for Roald Dahls’ “Danny the Champion of the World”

Danny the Champion of the World
by Roald Dahl

Beloved and quirky children’s writer Roald Dahl is known for his strange yet fascinating tales that capture the curiosity and imagination of kids of all ages. Dahl’s characters are often just on the verge of being unbelievable – they are balanced perfectly in between the real world and the realm of Dahl’s imagination. Each story creates a world for the reader that features a special kind of fantasy – the events that take place could never happen within the reader’s world, yet somehow they are not out of place within a similar context in the story.

Our Summer Reading Resource literary guide series continues this week with Danny the Champion of the World, one of many Roald Dahl classics. The story focuses on Danny and his father, an oddball pair who live in a gypsy wagon behind a combination gas station/repair shop. The two are often bullied by their wealthy (and snobby) neighbor Mr. Hazell, and their mutual dislike for the man leads to the pair hatching a plan to exact revenge upon him. However, in the process, Danny ends up learning one of his father’s biggest secrets – a secret that leads to Danny grappling with a challenging moral dilemma. In the end, the two beautifully execute a hilariously sneaky (yet morally questionable) endeavor that does, in fact, satisfy their desire to teach Mr. Hazell a lesson…

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One Clover & A Bee: Belle of Amherst

The Bee of Amherst

Emily Dickinson is one of our best-known poets, and many of us can probably conjure up a few of her most quoted lines. But while we know she’s important, I’m willing to bet that most of us also find her poems somewhat difficult. They’re so compact, so very personal, full of references that are difficult to grasp from our modern perspective.

As a result, when we’re first introduced to her work, sometimes the poems that are selected—because they seem more accessible—are also kind of…greeting card sweet (Please, no hate mail!). This is a shame, because when we take the time to read more of Dickinson’s work, we find an incredibly inventive, smart and passionate poet. She can even be quite funny. Hey, I named this column after her—so you know I’m a fan.

Therefore, on behalf of the Belle of Amherst, I offer a poem of hers that I think is a winner for families on all counts: it’s very accessible, but not at the expense of smart. It’s fun to say out loud, and not as twisty in its rhythms as some of her work. It is sweet, but not syrupy—more like refreshing, ice-cold, home-made lemonade on a hot summer day…

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Five Picture Books That Bubble And Splash

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Into The Blue
Five Picture Books That Bubble And Splash

On these steamy, hot summer days, there is nothing my family would rather do than jump into the blue. We gravitate to water, like playful otters, seeking out cool relief, as we splash and dive and kick and paddle. So when I found a handful of new picture books featuring watery landscapes, my kids were delighted to jump in, even though they knew they wouldn’t be getting wet.

Here’s a review of 5 picture books published this year that bubble and splash:

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