Saturday, March 24, 2012

Frog and Toad

Frog and Toad
By Arnold Lobel

Frog and Toad are best friends. They go on adventures, see if they are very brave, have dreams, cheer each other up, and learn about will power. They learn it’s ok to be scared – and get “The Shivers,” and how to keep a good friend.

These books are funny, easy to read, and are broken up into short stories. The stories can be read individually or all together depending on time constraints. They are good read alouds even for book loving toddlers, but would probably hold the attention of an independently reading third or fourth grader.

We have “The Adventures of Frog and Toad,” a collection with the books “Frog and Toad Are Friends,” “Frog and Toad Together,” and “Days With Frog and Toad” in it.  Each chapter is a stand-alone story.

Older children could really get into comparing Frog and Toad – maybe compare personality traits, strengths and weaknesses, etc.

Every story seems to have a theme or project that jumps out at me. Here are some of the first ones that popped into my mind while reading this treasury to Cadence – over, and over, and over again. They are just little thought snippets, not even complete sentences, but maybe they will give you some ideas!

Spring – Calendars, time, spring, melting snow

The Story – Make up a story, cheering up a sick friend

A Lost Button – Finding Toad’s Button, gifts, treasure hunt, shapes, colors, thickness, counting, process of elimination

The Letter – write a letter to a friend, mail, post offices, mail carriers

A List – make a list of things you do everyday, organization, being flexible

The Garden – gardens, plants, how things grow, helping someone who is afraid

Cookies – will power, baking cookies, feeding birds

Dragons and Giants – bravery, fairy tales, birds of prey (who eat frogs and toads!)

The Dream – vanity, boasting, bad dreams, friends

Tomorrow – procrastination, tidiness

The Kite – determination, trying again, kites

Shivers – fear, scary stories, make believe, make up a scary character and illustrate them – tell all about what makes then scary and how you might ‘defeat’ them

The Hat – big ideas, try on lots of different size hats, etc

Here is one project we did together –

Finding Toad’s Button

First read “A Lost Button”
Scatter buttons on the floor, or hide them, depending on child’s skill level
Look for the right button (make sure there is one in the batch that fits the description!) – use process of elimination and talk about shapes, colors, etc.
Draw a picture of Toad’s jacket
Glue on the right button, then several ‘wrong’ buttons
Older children could cut out a felt jacket and sew or glue the buttons on
After the glue dries, you can shake the jacket and see if you ‘sewed’ them on tight enough
Be sure to leave plenty of time for scattering, sorting, and otherwise playing with the buttons!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Not Your Average Simpering Princess

I adore fairy tales, but can’t stand most of the popular movies and books little girls seem to love these days – with the whole “Princess” mentality. I was wondering to myself what the difference was. I finally decided it was the heroines. The princesses in the popular go-to books get by on their looks alone, and constantly make demands, just because they are princesses. The ladies in these books are strong of character, intelligent, and ready to take on the world. And yes, they are also kind, loving, and attractive. Here are a few of my all time favorite princess stories – minus the simpering.

Beauty by Robin McKinley

{Also: The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword}

Beauty is a young girl who is sweet and courageous. When her father is captured by a beast, she volunteers to take his place and save his life. Naturally the beast is rather frightening, but Beauty treats him with respect, and eventually overcomes her fright and falls in love – releasing him from a spell cast on him long ago. This book is obviously a retelling of the classic fairy tale, but the characters in this telling come to life vividly, and in spite of the familiarity, the plot keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout the book. This book is a bit higher reading level than I’ve generally posted about before, it would probably interest middle school and high school students, or adults, more than the younger crowd.

The other books I love by this author are The Hero and the Crown, and The Blue Sword. They are a bit slow getting started, but they turned out to be my favorite books ever. Well. If I could ever settle on a favorite book ever. They are just as likely to be loved by a male audience as female, with horse racing, desert and mountain survival, epic battles, long lost heroes, and plenty of magic.

Ella Enchanted (But not the movie – just the book!) by Gail Carson Levine

Ella has been ‘blessed’ with obedience. Only… it turns out not to be such a great blessing. In fact, it causes her horrible problems, especially after her parents die, leaving her to deal with cruel stepsisters. It get even worse when she falls in love with the prince – and an evil man plotting to steal the throne discovers she must obey his every command. She must break her curse – or kill her love. This book is a little more lighthearted, easier for a younger audience to read (it’s been a while since I read it, but from what I remember, probably fifth grade up), but written well enough to appeal to high school ages as well.

The Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

A young girl in a very small village is having a hard time of it. She is fatherless, and desperately wants to help her family and community, but is not allowed to work in the quarry. Then it is foretold the prince of the land will marry a girl from her province, and all the girls are gathered and taken to school to learn to be suitable bride material. They know at the end of their schooling the prince will choose one of them to be his bride. This could be the chance of a lifetime for her – but as she learns about life outside her little corner of the world, she realizes just how much her community could benefit from this education. She is astonished by how much there is to know – the worth of money, demographics of commerce – the list is unending. And in the end, she realizes it doesn’t matter who the prince chooses. Her life will finally seem worthwhile, because either way she can give her family the help they need to thrive. This book is an excellent read for elementary – perhaps about fourth grade reading level - and up. Despite the girly title, it has plenty of action scenes and roughness to appeal to the male reader also. I was a little wary of reading this book - the description made it sound really boring. I was pleasantly surprised to be immediately engrossed in the plot.

Dealing With Dragons by Patricia Wrede

Cimmaron is bored. She is bored with sewing, she is bored with learning to curtsy, she is bored with being a princess. So she sets off on a journey to find dragons – and discovers all she ever wanted and more. After all, while she is learning to deal with sneezes that catch things on fire, massive bucket size portions of deserts, and piles of treasure and loot to catalogue, the dragons are having to deal with wizards. And dragons are allergic to wizards. It’s a problem. Cimmaron is adventuresome, brave, and full of ideas though, and she and the dragons come to love and respect each other. This is the first book in the Dragon Chronicles. This entire series is fun, energetic, and easy to read. It is a great introduction to fantasy, and could probably be read even by advanced second or third graders. It would also be a great classroom read, since it is fast paced and appealing even to audiences too young to read it themselves.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sequoyah Set Two

Kenny and the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi

Fun book based on The Reluctant Dragon. Kenny loves to read, and is always off in his own little world, without really having any good friends. Then one day a friendly dragon shows up practically in his back yard. And wouldn't you know? The dragon loves to read too, and knows all sorts of stories and fun things. They get to be best friends, and everything is going great. But then the rest of the town finds out about the dragon, and they are scared. They want to kill the dragon - and it's up to Kenny to save him. What Kenny and his family come up with is funny and just right for this sort of book. Most kids will like this book. It is lighthearted and not gory or violent, and very easy to get into and enjoy.

My opinion: This book was so fun to read! Kenny and the dragon both pull your sympathies right in, and you find yourself rooting for a happy ending for all. Loved that it was based on The Reluctant Dragon.

The Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman

Gil Goodson must win the Gollywhopper games! His father was fired from the Gollywhopper company after being falsely accused of stealing. Gil thinks winning the games is the only way to redeem family pride. Along the way you will find puzzles, challenges, fantastic toy rooms and fantastic rooms designed like jungles, dollhouses, pirate islands, etc. There is also cheating, racing, new friendships, and old frienships renewed. How could you go wrong with all those ingredients?

My opinion: The underlying issue this book dealt with - a family moving on with life after a false accusation almost ruined their lives - stayed with me. While I was reading the book, I was caught up in the excitement of the games, trying to figure out the answers as he did, and did not even notice this family struggle so much. I would recommend this book to kids of most ages, for fun, and to get the deeper point of family bonds even in hard times. Overall, really enjoyed reading this one, it was one of my favorites, but probably not THE favorite.

Eleven by Patricia Giff

Sam is a boy who lives with his grandfather Mack. They love to do woodworking together, and have great neighbors who are like family. But there seems to be a mystery in Sam's life. Sam is frightened by the number eleven. He also keeps having strange dreams about a boat and a cat. Then he finds a newspaper article in the attic that causes him to doubt everything he knows, even whether Mack is actually his grandfather. He and a friend set out on a search to find the truth, and eventually must confront Mack for the rest of the answers.

My opinion: Eleven was well written. The mystery just got deeper and deeper throughout, keeping you guessing, then slowly revealed itself at just the right pace. For some reason I was thinking this was the Hahn book, and kept expecting a ghost/supernatural story, but it's totally not! That's what I get for getting my authors mixed up. Despite that, I really liked it.

All the Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn

Travis and Corey are pranksters. They are spending the story with their grandmother, and decide to scare the guests at her bed and breakfast with a little ghost fun. But the ghost fun backfires, stirring up real ghosts. Some of the ghosts are just pesky - the bad little boys - but one is cruel. And determined to have her way, even from the grave. Now Travis and Corey have to clean up the mess they created - without being scared away themselves.

My opinion: I'm not a huge fan of ghost stories, but this was a good book for someone who does like them. I'm waffling on this one. Part of me really enjoyed it, part of me is saying it's 'just another Hahn ghost story.' Yawn. If your kid is thirsty for ghosts, he/she will love this one too!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sequoyah Children's Books

Most of my children and young adult reading recently has been from the Oklahoma Sequoyah Book Award Masterlists. This month I will briefly review a few from the children's masterlist. I will try to do this each month until they have all been covered. To view the complete list, visit the Sequoyah website. Shockingly, I have actually enjoyed every book I have read on the children's list so far. Usually I only like one or two of them, so this year I havebeen pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately, that will make it harder to pick a favorite.

The 100 Year Old Secret by Tracy Barrett

This is the first book in a series "The Sherlock Files". It was a fast paced realistic fiction book. A brother and sister have recently moved to London, where they discover they are the direct decentants of the famous Sherlock Holmes. They are inducted into a secret club of mystery solvers, and given a notebook of all Holmes' unsolved mysteries. They decide to try to solve one, the case of a missing painting. Children will identify well with this book, since all the "stunts" and adventures are quite believable. This book would be fun for boys or girls about eight to twelve years old. The mystery is well intwined to the plot, and the reader is given enough clues they might be able to figure out the "who-done-it" about the same time as the children in the book.

My opinion: Liked this book a lot, will probably get online and order the sequel from the library. Not too cutesy, but not too dramatic either.

The Trouble with Rules by Leslie Bulion

Fourth grade is tough on a boy / girl friendship between Nadine and Nick. The unofficial rule is girls and boys can't be friends, but this pair are best friends. They try to ignore each other at school and only play in the evenings, but it is becoming a strain to not get hurt. Then a new girl moves into their class, and breaks all the rules. In the process, Nadine, who always follows the rules, gets in trouble for a series of events not actually her fault, and she and Nick fall out of sorts. Can it really work out for the rules to be broken? Can Nick and Nadine maintain their friendship, and even inclue another friend? This book handles an awkward stage in life quite well. It addresses some typical problems of growing up without seeming like a preachy, this is how to handle growing up, sort of book. The focus actually stays with the plot and captures the emotions as well. This book seems to be written more for girls, but most boys would probably enjoy it also.

My opinion: One of the few "adolecent pains" books I actually enjoyed reading. The plot was so interesting, I didn't even get annoyed at it being about growing pains. That said, I don't think it was my favorite.

Women Daredevils: Thrills, Chills and Frills by Julie Cummins

Women Daredevils is a nonfiction book about women in the early part of the twentieth century who performed daring stunts. It includes some one time stunters, but mostly women who did daring things for a living. Included are parachuters, horseback riders, stunt drivers, a woman who went over Niagra falls in a barrell, and a few others. It has nice illustrations for each woman, with about a page to two pages of information. The writing style is easy and the vocabulary appropriate for the target audience of about eight to twelve years old.

My opinion: This book seemed just a little too long for a children's non-fiction book, but I am spoiled, so it may actually have been just right. The choice of women daredevils was occasionally repetitive, for instance, their were several who did similar airplane stunts. I think I would have preferred more variety. Over all though, the book was very well written, easy to read, and was very interesting.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Girl Who Could Fly & The Mysterious Case of the Allbright Academy

Both of these books were engaging, lively reads. They were, however, eerily similar, so I am going to review them both at the same time.

This book did a great job getting you involved in the mystery from the start. The author has a great writing style drawing you into the first person plot. The story is told from the perspective of Franny, who is an ordinary girl with an extraordinary young sister named Zoe. Zoe is recruited to attend Allbright Academy, a boarding school for rising stars. Being loyal to a fault, she refuses to go unless her older sister and twin brother are also invited to attend.

Once there, Franny and some newfound friends uncover a sinister plot. The students are changing into "Perfect robot-people"

Why? How? For What Reason? The truth is startling, scary, and exciting, and the kids have their hands full collecting evidence to bring the instigators to justice.

The Mysterious Case of Allbright Academy is technically a realistic fiction. The children recruited to the Academy are very talented, but in realistic ways. One is a scientist, another a poet, and Zoe has an extremely magnetic personality. The method of behavior modification used to change them into "perfect robot people" is probably not actually avialible yet, but it is not unreasonable to think it will be in the not-to-distant future. The actions taken by the students to rectify the situation are brave and require wit and talent - but entirely believable. Even the perspective of the narrator is completely realistic. This realism draws you in from the start and keeps you interest throughout.

There are many similarities between these two books. Both have talented children who are taken to a special boarding school. There they are tangled up in secret plots involving food laced with behavior modifying compounds. They must plan daring rebellions against the adults in charge (in one case escape, the other exposure and arrest). Then at the end the school is rebuilt to actually serve the noble, impressive purposes they said they were serving.

This was a great book. I really loved reading it, and am (not so) secretly hoping the author will write a sequel.

Piper can fly. When the world finds out about it, her parents are immediately contacted by a special "boarding school" offering to help her and claiming to be a perfect fit for her unique situation. When Piper arrives, she finds a place full of interesting, unique things and people - all with special talents. But the talents are disappearing. Again the students must ask - Why? How? To what end?

The truth is horrifying, but the children are trapped with no escape in the middle of nowhere. How will they gain their freedom? They must band together, with two very unlikely leaders, and use all their considerable talents. Even flying.

The ending is fun a climatic, with plenty of openings for a sequel - keep your fingers crossed!

I would recommend both of these books to any confident reader. There are some challenging concepts in each book - child manipulation, behavior modification, adults abusing their power, etc. They are not written to emphasize these points, most children won't notice this through the plot unless it is pointed out to them. They are exciting with plenty of action and intrigue.


Read both books and compare. Discuss how books with similar plots can turn out to be totally different books, even different genres, when the details are changed. Explore the differences between realistic fiction and fantasy / science fiction. Discuss how a realistic fiction book can have science and even futuristic things in it, and a science fiction book can seem quite realistic.

The Mysterious Case of the Allbright Academy is on the 2011 Sequoyah Masterlist. If you live in Oklahoma you can count this toward one of the three books you must read from the list and then vote on your favorite. Anyone could use this as an opening into book awards. How are book awards decided? What types of awards are there? Does your state have an award chosen by children? Have the students read any books with awards? Did they like the book?

These books could spark interesting discussions on behavior modification, abuse of power, and manipulation, advances in science, as well as the thought that advancement can be good and bad at the same time.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Whatever Happened to Penny Candy?

Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? A Fast, Clear, and Fun Explanation of the Economics You Need For Success in Your Career, Business, and Investments

Wow! This book is amazing. My own humble opinion is: Everyone in America should read this book!

Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? Is all about money. Where does money come from? How do we know how much it is worth? Why is there inflation? Is inflation bad, good, neutral, a necessary evil? What is the best economic system for a healthy country? If you think you can’t understand economics, think again. This book explains basic economic concepts in a simple, clear, easy to understand way. It is entertaining to read, catches and holds you attention.

I would recommend this book for all ages. Children under about seven might not grasp the concepts presented, and those with a reading level below 3rd or 4th grade might need help reading it (or have it read to them). All voters should read this book! It is a great educational or pleasure read.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Buzz Buzz Baby

This is Cadence's favorite book. We read it over, and over, and over again - straight through, which is amazing since most books only last about two pages before they get chunked.

Buzz Buzz Baby is full of all the things babies love: real pictures of babies, bright illustrations of all their favorite things, flaps, and lots of fun sounds to make! Each page starts with a sound to make and a photo of a baby, then you open the flap and it has a picture of what makes that sound. So much fun!

Unfortunately this book seems rather hard to find. I would recommend it if you can find it, otherwise look for books of the same style - that have sounds to imitate, pictures of babies, bright, simple illustrations, flaps and textures, etc. Books of this type are great for babies and toddlers of all ages, but they seem to enjoy them to the very fullest when they are about 12-24 months old.

Pla-Dough Shapes - Since the illustrations almost look as if they are made from clay, it would be easy for an older baby or toddler to make some of the basic shapes. Try the bee, or the car for the easiest ones. A younger baby will enjoy squishing the dough while watching you make the pictures. When you are done, compare them to the book. Point to the picture and say "bee" then say, "We made a bee too! See?" and point to your creation.

Signing Fun - This is Cadence's favorite part. We do a lot of signing in our house, and we almost always sign the objects hiding under the flap as we read. Now as soon as we turn the page Cadence will start trying to sign the word or make the sound for that page - it's been great entertainment for us! If you don't know the signs, this is a great website to see videos of each sign. Signing Savvy
We usually do "Bee" "Train" "Duck" "Car" and "Dog" (instead of puppy). Sometimes we also do "Baby".

Sock Puppets - These don't have to be fancy. If your baby is older, they could add eyes or use a marker to color the sock. If they are younger, they will really enjoy playing with a puppet you have made, or watching you use the puppet during the story. The duck is especially easy - just add eyes and foam pieces for a beak - baby will get the point.

Matching Shapes - Trace and cut out some of the shapes in the book. If you want to focus on just one shape, there is a circle on every page. Otherwise, look for things like the triangles in the dogs ears, the square train window, the heart bee wings... Look at each page. Give baby the shape that goes on that page, and see if they can match it up and put it on top of the picture. You may have to modify this by age. Cadence can put it on the shape if you point to where it goes, but she can't find it on her own. An older child might enjoy choosing which shape goes on the page instead of being handed one shape per page.

While You're Reading -
Point to different parts of the picture and tell what they are. "There's a train. That's the window. See the baby?"
Count objects on the page. "One, two wheels on the car!"
Point out different colors.
Talk about the babies in the picture. "Look, that baby is wearing the same color as you. Oh! This baby looks really happy! See, the baby in the picture is looking at the train too!"

and of course... Make the sounds for each object and encourage your baby to have fun and try it too!