Monday, October 31, 2011

Egermeier's Bible Story Book

Ergermeier's Bible Story Book has been around for generations! First published in 1922, it has continued to be updated and published ever since. We have an older edition from the 1970s, but our kids still enjoy it.

This story Bible is a nice followup to Kenneth Taylor's Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes. If you enjoyed Taylor's story Bible with your toddlers and preschoolers, reach for this when your children hit elementary school. The stories are between 2 paragraphs and 2 pages in length: a fact which I very much appreciate. Rather than editing stories to fit in a certain framework, Ergemeier breaks the stories up logically, letting longer events take up more space. And she covers the entire Bible, not skipping over gruesome stories or even the book of Revelation. This story Bible will take you a long time to get through, but it is worth it. There are discussion questions after each story which are wonderful. Sometimes, we have to rephrase them, and our 4 and a half year olds don't always follow them. Our 6 year old, on the other hand, is picking up every word and can nearly always answer each question.

Stories are covered chronologically with Scripture references given. To give you an example, the New Testament starts with the announcement of the birth of John. Between the announcement of John's birth and his actual birth/naming, the story of the angel's visits to Mary and Joseph and Mary's visit to Elizabeth are recounted. (For some reason, this story Bible leaves out Anna and Simeon in the temple with the baby Jesus--it includes so many other smaller stories that I'm puzzled about this oversight.)

I highly recommend this Bible story book; I must point out, though, that it does contain pictures of Jesus. Occasionally, there are liberties taken with the stories--additions made in order to make the stories more understandable to young children (comments about someone being happy or similar ideas). We haven't found any that are overly troubling to us, but it's worth pointing out. We also tend to add to the questions or reword on occasion; still they are wonderful starting points, and we so much appreciate that this story Bible doesn't cutesy up the Bible with trite sayings or pithy quotations. And, because Scripture references are included, it is easy to read the actual Bible along with it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

My Name is Elizabeth!

My Name is Elizabeth!
Annika Dunklee, author
Matthew Forsythe, illustrator
Kids Can Press, Ltd.

I've been waiting to review this until my daughter actually opened this book for her birthday. I was afraid she would see it and ask me questions about it! (The "problems" of having a child who can now read!)

My Name is Elizabeth! is a marvelous addition to the picture book realm. I hope more than those named Elizabeth read it; it's a book for anyone with a slightly longer name and/or one that habitually gets shortened. Since my name is actually NOT Elizabeth, I sympathize as well--people are constantly asking me about my "real" name. Well, folks, my "real" name is Betsy! My daughter's: Elizabeth. No shortcuts. So she and I both enjoy this book tremendously (and "Betsy" gets a mention as a nickname!). I especially love the final page when a little brother attempts to pronounce Elizabeth: we've heard those garbled attempts A LOT in this house.

But the art just makes it. Don't you love that cover? The art inside is the same color scheme and style--very retro in feel but quite up to date at the same time. This book just hit shelves in September so it may be hard to find in your local library. If your name is Elizabeth, you might as well just buy it straight up! :-)

Preschoolers will love this book--and so will their older siblings and parents

A Visitor for Bear

A Visitor for Bear
Bonny Becker, author
Kady MacDonald, illustrator

Bear is a curmudgeon who despises visitors. When his breakfast preparations are repeatedly disrupted by a "small and gray and bright-eyed" mouse who simply won't go away without a cup of tea, Bear finally gives in. A beautiful example of true friendship in children's literature that demonstrates how unlikely, yet genuine relationships can develop. Bear remains a curmudgeon throughout, but Mouse's cheerful persistence reminds the reader that in spite of appearances, everybody needs faithful friends. Features beautiful watercolor illustrations and teatime.

We have also enjoyed A Birthday for Bear and look forward to reading A Bedtime for Bear and The Sniffles for Bear.

The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig

The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig
Eugene Trivizas, author
Helen Oxenbury, illustrator

Among fractured retellings of The Three Pigs, this is by far my favorite. It reverses traditional roles of predator and prey (why would a pig be bullying three mild-mannered wolves?) and goes beyond straw, hay and brick in such a natural voice that in a concluding twist, meekness and tea break down more resistance than force. Although the conflict resolution seems oversimplified, I as a Christian, friend and mother am reminded how much peace can be accomplished in the home through kindness.

Humorous, accompanied by great illustrations; another teatime book.

Monday, October 24, 2011

100 Cupboards

100 Cupboards
N. D. Wilson


I was going to wait and review this whole series once I finished it. However, I just finished book 2 and cannot wait any longer to bring them to your attention!! THANKS to Brandy for introducing me to them. WOW.

In this first book of the trilogy, we meet Henry York, nephew to Frank Willis and his cheery wife, Dottie, and cousin to Henrietta, Penelope, and Anastasia. They happen to live, ironically enough, in Henry, Kansas (Henry is from back East). Henry is living with his cousins for the summer; it turns out to be a most interesting summer....

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes

I've reviewed Kenneth Taylor's terrific Bible memory books already; now, let's look at his The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes. Again, he has a real gift for communicating on a very young child's level. This story Bible has been around awhile. The volume pictured on the left is the one my husband and I each grew up reading (and the one we now have to read to our children). The one on the right has updated illustrations.

This story Bible has quite a few Bible stories in it; it doesn't skip over the gruesome stories or gloss over events such as the sacrifice of Isaac or the Passover. Instead, Taylor communicates the essence of the story in a way young children can understand. After each short story (about 2 paragraphs), there are some simple comprehension questions for children about the story.

It's worth pointing out that this Bible does have pictures of Jesus (obviously--the front of the newest version shows Christ). If that is not troublesome for you, then I highly recommend checking this one out!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What Should I (or my children) Read?

There are so many books out there, and children have such diverse abilities, interests, maturity levels that no one list will work for everyone. That being said, there are some widely praised books/authors that are working checking out and exploring further. There are also top notch reading lists in a number of places. Below are some links to reading lists on other sites/places. Remember, just because a book has won an award doesn't mean you have to like it; conversely, if you love a book that hasn't won an award, don't sweat it! These lists include many, many books we haven't read--use discretion.

Jim Trelease of Read Aloud Handbook fame (check here for great read aloud suggestions)

Top 100 Children's Novels (from A Fuse #8--Betsy Bird's blog)

ALA Notable Children's Book List 

Caldecott Medal Winners

Newberry Medal Winners

National Book Award Winner List 

Boston Globe-Hornbook Award List 

Coretta Scott King Award List (for African American authors/illustrators)

Pura Belpre Award List (for Hispanic authors/illustrators)

American Indians/Native Americans Booklist (a list of books by/about Native Americans)

Batchelder Award List (for best work in translation--a terrific way to explore literature written by non-English speakers)

New York Public Library 100 Best Picture Books

ECPA Christian Book Awards (formerly the "Gold Medallion" Award; there is a category for children)

Sonlight (they will note RA for read aloud as well as independent reading level; these are suggested age ranges of course; this is a Christian homeschool curriculum that is heavy on reading and tends to pick top notch works; book choices dovetail with their history program; they also have good multicultural recommendations)

Veritas (classical Christian curriculum; advanced reading selections--your child may or may not be ready to read their list for the appropriate grade; book choices follow history curriculum)

First Language Lessons (grammar program that pulls excerpts from great works of literature. Check the samples/tables of contents for various grades and note the titles used for the different exercises)

Writing With Ease (writing program tied to literature; Check samples/tables of contents for various grades and note titles used)

Heart of Dakota (another Christian curriculum--more Charlotte Mason in style and literature heavy; nice selections and range of abilities represented--check out the "bookpacks" for their suggestions)

Ambleside Online (Charlotte Mason style homeschool curriculum; rigorous book lists--again, your child may or may not be reading at the same level they suggest; they are heavy on the classics)

Best Books/Fiction for Young Adults (ALA sponsored list--this is more popular reading than some of the previous lists)

Booklists/Award Lists from YALSA (division of ALA that focuses on Young Adult literature; includes link to Printz Award among others)

A Secret Garden Dinner Party

Our women's book club usually reads the "classics." This has been great fun because we often find that we either enjoy these classics much more as grownups (The Scarlet Letter is a good example) or we never read them in the first place (Ethan Frome is next on this list; I haven't read that one). I don't make many of the meetings anymore, but I must share what they did recently with The Secret Garden.

The Flint Heart

The Flint Heart
Katherine and John Paterson, authors
John Rocco, illustrator

I have a bit of hero worship going for Katherine Paterson. Just recently I picked up her Come Sing, Jimmy Jo (which I'll review at some point) and immediately felt that I was in the hands of a master storyteller. The way she crafts her prose, the precision of her characterization, the delicate way she handles the hard issues in life--really, she is a master of the craft.

In addition, I'm also a huge, huge, huge fan of Victorian fairy tales. There are a number which are well known (Alice in Wonderland, anyone?). There are an equal number which are less well known, and that is a shame: George MacDonald's Princess and Curdie books, Oscar Wilde's The Selfish Giant, Ruskin's The King of the Golden River, Thackeray's hilarious The Rose and the Ring to name a few. 

Which is why this book left me a bit disappointed: could it have lived up to its billing? A fairy tale from the early 20th century (almost Victorian!) "freely abridged" by one of my all-time favorite authors? Sign me up. Even better: illustrated by the likes of John Rocco (who did that great recent picture book Blackout which I'll get around to reviewing one of these days).

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Sara Pennypacker, author
Marla Frazee, illustrator
Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book

Clementine will remind you of the Ramona books! This is the first in a series about a third grader named Clementine who has such brilliant ideas and pays attention so well and just wants to help people out... but somehow is constantly getting into trouble or messing things up.

Told in Clementine's droll voice, this short early chapter book covers one mere week in Clementine's eventful life. Both grownups and children will appreciate Clementine's struggles to do the right thing and find her commentary on life amusing. Here is a short snippet from the opening of chapter 3:

"'I'd better not go to school today,' I told my mom on Wednesday as soon as I woke her up. 'I have cracked toes.' I put my foot right up on the pillow next to her face so she could see without getting up. This is called Being Thoughtful."

Sprinkled with charming illustrations throughout, this is a terrific book to hand to the young elementary students in your life who need a genuinely funny book about being yourself. (Besides, don't you think "Pennypacker" is just the perfect name for a children's book author? Marvelous)

Recommended for early-mid elementary

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place #1: The Mysterious Howling

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place #1: The Mysterious Howling
Maryrose Wood, author
Jon Klassen, illustrator

This book is almost a favorite of mine; in just about every respect save one, it's a marvelous, funny, well written book. I'll get to my quibble in a moment, but first I must share how delightful the author's "voice" is in this book. If you're a fan of Victorian literature and/or the whole young-unmarried-woman-turned-governess theme that runs prominently through much older fiction, you'll enjoy this book. If you like those wry authorial intrusions a la Lemony Snickett style, you'll enjoy this book. Here's a sampling of the text--nothing to spoil the plot, here, just a hilarious little paragraph:

"Mrs. Clarke was also rather well turned out for the party, in her fashion. The dress she wore was a voluminous melange of floral patterns that did much to accentuate the impressive girth of the wearer. She resembled nothing so much as a spring meadow in full bloom, depicted at nearly life-size."

A ha ha ha ha.... (gulp, snort). Did you catch that? at nearly life-size? What a thoroughly funny way to subtly point out the "impressive girth" of Mrs. Clarke. I must admit that I cackled through much of this book just because the writing style was so funny. The heroine (appropriately ridiculously named Penelope Lumley) is always bravely summoning up pithy statements from her former headmistress (also appropriately named Agatha Swinburne) or consulting her book of poetry for fortifying literature. Oh, so funny. And she's been summoned to a formidable estate in order to civilize three siblings who've been found in the woods--having been raised to this point by wolves.

Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same

Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same
Grace Lin
Geisel Honor Award Winner

Looking for an easy reader that changes things up a bit? Look no further! Ling and Ting are Chinese American twins and while they look the same, are not exactly the same. In fact, if you'll look at that cover closely, you'll see that the one on the right has a slightly different haircut than the one on the left. And that, my friends, is the subject of the first "chapter!"

My kids really enjoyed this book on a number of levels (my identical twin boys bonded with Ling and Ting). We all loved the chopsticks v. forks issue--we eat Chinese food on a regular basis around here and everyone has experimented with chopsticks.

A well written and illustrated book that reminds us of each person's individuality and "specialness" without being preachy.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Juan Bobo Goes to Work

Juan Bobo Goes to Work: A Puerto Rican Folk Tale
Marisa Montes, author
Joe Cepeda, illustrator
Pura Belpre Honor for illustration

My children love this story of silly Juan Bobo and his antics. It won a Pura Belpre Honor for illustration which means that the illustrator has Hispanic heritage (and, in this case, I believe the author does, too). And the illustrations are indeed charming: bold colors, acrylics, comic elements. The text is also nice; there are Spanish words sprinkled in, but the context and/or a restatement by another character make the meaning quite clear. There is also a glossary, complete with pronunciation guide, in the back of the book.

Juan Bobo (which means "silly John") sets off for work each day in the hopes of bringing home money or some other reward for his labor. Each time, his mother gives him instructions for how to bring home his payment; each time, he either forgets or misapplies the instructions leading to hilarious results.

Kids will enjoy this silly tale, and it's a nice introduction to Hispanic culture.

Recommended read aloud for preschool and up.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Retro Reads: The Gammage Cup

The Gammage Cup: a Novel of the Minnipins
Carol Kendall
Newbery Honor Book

Another terrific children's fantasy novel from the 1950s! This one is alternately funny, suspenseful, and thought-provoking. The Minnipins are a rather silly group of small people who are blindly following their supposed upper class (a group known as the Periods--why? well, you have to read to find out!). When a few brave Minnipins stand up to the Periods and stand true to their own beliefs, they are outcast from the village. Those few brave souls end up saving their village and restoring goodwill thanks to some historic swords and battle armor. Along the way, they have a crazy adventure, meet strange creatures from the other side of the mountain, and a few fall in love.

Things to Note/Discuss
  • When is it right to conform to the group? to the ruling class? When is it right to stand up for your beliefs, even at the expense of community? Consider both Romans 12 and 13.
  • Do you think the Gammage Cup would have been bestowed to a different group of people if the Minnipins had succeeded in welcoming the judges as they'd originally planned?
  • Who is the real hero of this book?

Retro Reads: The Children of Green Knowe

The Children of Green Knowe
L. M. Boston
ALA Notable Children's Book

This is a Retro Reads post for sure; I haven't reread this book in ages, but I remember thoroughly enjoying it. Originally published in England, this is fantasy in that grand old English style and quite rewarding to read. Somehow the Brits have the corner on children's fantasy--especially that involving mysterious old houses, time travel, and a group of siblings from long ago....

The Children of Green Knowe is just the first in a series; children who enjoy other British fantasy will no doubt enjoy these books as well. They are similar to the Narnia Chronicles or Dianna Wynne Jones' works in reading level. (And, it's worth pointing out that this book exists with LOTS of different covers)

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Big Picture Story Bible

The Big Picture Story Bible
David Helm, author
Gail Schoonmaker, illustrator

I know this book has been out longer than its publication date is showing; we got ours for our boys' 1st birthday back in 2008. At any rate, this is a terrific Bible story book to use for toddlers and preschoolers when you want to do just what the title says: give them the big picture. It's not a substitute for a traditional Bible story book; it doesn't have many stories in it that you might normally expect to see in a children's story Bible. For example, in one picture, you see Joseph in a many colored coat, but that particular story is not in the text.

What the book does do is group periods of Biblical history together and weave them all in one long narrative: the big picture. From Creation onwards, we are waiting to find God's forever king that He promised in the garden. Once Jesus is born, we rejoice in the forever King!

Illustrations are terrific, by the way.

Check this book out if you are looking for a resource to help teach your young children about the big picture of the Biblical narrative.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Forsythia and Me

Forsythia and Me
Vincent X. Kirsch

My kids and I really enjoyed this serendipitous checkout. I had no pre-conceptions, no reviews telling me "Check this out!"--just picked it up off the new book shelf because the name piqued my interest.

Forsythia and Chester are best friends--Forsythia can do everything well. By that, I mean everything: circus performances, ice skating, baking, portrait painting, etc. She also has a unique style and, of course, a unique name.

But one day, Forsythia gets sick and must stay in bed. Chester rises to the occasion: he plays his accordion for her with only 13 mistakes, picks a bouquet of... you guessed it... forsythia for her, and cheers her up in general.

Monday, October 3, 2011

ABC Bible Verses: Hiding God's Word in Little Hearts

Susan Hunt's ABC Bible Verses: Hiding God's Word in Little Hearts is a terrific Bible memory tool for 4's and 5's (and even older). These stories are longer than the ones in Kenneth Taylor's Scripture memory books, and the questions at the end are a little more complex. The verses are organized alphabetically by first letter of the verse. If you're familiar with Steve Green's Hide 'em In Your Heart CD's, you will recognize some of these verses. But there are plenty of new ones, and the stories help flesh out the verses nicely. Some of the stories are a little warm and fuzzy, but overall, this has been a great tool to help us learn Scripture with our children. We've read and discussed (and memorized) one verse a week.

The verses are in the New King James version, so I rewrote these in our preferred version/translation (ESV); thankfully, most of the beginning letters were the same!