The Children's Book Garden

Reading and weeding through the best and worst of children's literature

Quirky Counting Story Worth Searching For November 5, 2010

Filed under: Animal books,Beautiful Books,Favorites,Read aloud,Uncategorized — snowbrice @ 5:13 pm

I usually find counting and sequential stories cumbersome to read.  My tongue gets dry and twisted constantly repeating the same sentences over and over.  But, An Invitation to the Butterfly Ball: A Counting Rhyme, by Jane Yolen is actually fun to read.  This quirky book is about a little elf who goes to the homes of woodland animals with an invitation to a butterfly ball.  Each animal in turn is frantic about not finding the perfect outfit or accessory to wear.  The mouse needs a “floor length dress”, the rabbits are frantically searching for “baubles and laces”, and the skunks are looking for “one clean suit.”  I also appreciate the use of descriptive vocabulary.  There are plenty of opportunities to discuss the meaning of words such as “mournful”, “crimson”, and “silken.”

The watercolor illustrations pay homage to Beatrix Potter without being direct copies.  Each painting incorporates intricate details that deserve more than a dismissive glance.  They each tell a story within the story with characters and plot.  Parents and older children will delight at the irony of skunks fighting over a pinstripe suit and turtles that wish to wear party slippers.

Unfortunately, this story is out of print and it will cost you upwards of $50 to buy a copy.  Thankfully, we have public libraries.  Or if enough of us harass her, maybe we can get Jane Yolen to publish it again.


Good Books by Demi February 22, 2010

Yes, this is a rebuttal to Amy’s post about Rumi by Demi.  While I agree that particular book is not so great for kids, one should not write Demi off completely.  We own two books by her, The Empty Pot and Liang and the Magic Paintbrush.  Both of these are wonderful stories that teach children about morals and integrity without being too preachy.  Both stories are adaptations of Chinese folk-tales.  Demi’s illustrations look like ancient paintings on silk.  They have the look and feel of authentic Chinese art.

We also have a book of poetry illustrated by Demi.  The poems are all about insects and feature a variety of poets from Rumi to Shakespeare.  The illustrations are vibrant and iridescent.  The insects are more beautiful on the pages than they are in reality.

So, please , read Demi’s books to your children.


Big Bear the Patient Parent January 26, 2010

Tonight, I read Let’s Go Home, Little Bear by Martin Waddel to my daughters.  Big Bear and Little Bear are on a walk in the snow in the forest, when Big Bear decides it is time to go home.  Little Bear starts off very confident, frolicking through the snow, but then he begins to hear strange sounds that cause him a bit of anxiety.  Big Bear reassures Little Bear by explaining to him that what he is hearing is just the sounds of the forest: snow from a tree plopping to the ground, water dripping from icicles, etc.  All the while patiently guiding Little Bear home.

I like this book because it reminds me to be patient with my children.  It reminds me that the world is new, and sometimes scary to them, and I need to reassure them that they are safe.  I must guide my children slowly and patiently.

My daughters seem to get the message that their parents will protect them.  We will be watching over them as they frolic along in front of us, and we will explain the world around them when they are scared, anxious, and confused.


Want the book? Buy from us! January 25, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — snowbrice @ 8:11 pm

We have partnered with Barnes and Noble and now you can buy the books we review from The Children’s Book Garden.  Just click on the Barnes and Noble link on the sidebar.  We receive a commission, and you will be supporting our site.


Love in The Secret Garden January 11, 2010

Regrettably, I never read The Secret Garden as a child and I missed out on one of the best books ever written for children.   Maybe if I had, I would have had a more positive outlook on life.  The author, Frances Hodgson Burnett, was a follower of New Thought, and believed that positive thinking could heal everything.  And while I do not subscribe wholly to the same beliefs, I do feel that a positive outlook makes for a much more enjoyable and fulfilling life.

The main character, Mary Lennox, is often described in book reviews as a spoiled child who learns to to be good and giving .  While I will agree that Mary is spoiled, I don’t believe that she “learns” to be a good girl.  I believe that she is as good as any child, but she has been neglected and needs to love and be loved to to bring out her own goodness.  In the first few pages of the book, I was gripped by my motherly desire, to reach down into the words and pages and pull Mary to me.

Mary has spent the first ten years of her life in India being tended to by her “ayah”.  She never sees her parents, who, although they live in the same household, are more concerned with their social engagements than their daughter.  Her mother is vain and never wanted a child.  She never interacts with Mary, who only gets to spy on her mother from afar.

When her parents and ayah die in a cholera outbreak, Mary is sent to live with her previously unknown uncle in England.  He lives in the austere Misslethwaite Manor in Yorkshire.  Mary is struck at once with the gray and dismal appearance of the Manor and the surrounding moor.

However, it is here that Mary experiences her first acts of love and kindness.  First from her chambermaid, Martha, who refuses to dress Mary but chatter away with stories about her family in her most “broad Yorkshire”.  It is Martha who is so concerned with the sad, skinny, sallow Mary that she gives her a skipping rope.  Martha tells Mary she must go outside and breathe the fresh air and get lots of excercise.

Then, it is Dickon, Martha’s brother who shows Mary kindness.  He helps her in the secret garden.  He shows her how to plant seeds and tend to growing things.  Dickon has an uncanny ability to befriend every bird and mammal he meets on the moor.  Mary believes him to be magical, and is enchanted by his magic.

When Mary learns of her cousin, Colin, the biggest secret of Misselthwaite Manor, she learns to love.  Colin, much like Mary, has been pampered and spoiled his whole life.  Because his mother died while giving birth to him, everyone believes that he is ill and will surely die before reaching adulthood.  Colin, who has heard this his whole life, believes it as well.  Mary does not, and does everything she can to convince him.  She shows her love for him by bringing him to the garden where he also gains health and strength from fresh air and exercise.

Through their love, Mary, Colin, and Dickon bring life and love to everyone at Misselthwaite Manor.  Love and happiness spread as quickly as the cholera that took Mary’s parents.  But this virus heals the deepest and oldest wounds.

I recommend this book as a read-aloud for seven years and up and as a read-alone for children eleven years and up.  The author uses Yorkshire dialect, which could be hard for some children to read and/or understand.

One warning about this book: Indian people are referred to as “blacks”.  I was thrown by this initially and contemplated not continuing to read it to my daughter.  However, I used this as a teaching moment instead.  My daughter and I discussed how the term is used and how people in the nineteenth century used it.  We also talked about prejudice and how to deal with people who think that one group of people is better than another.

Overall, I love The Secret Garden because it reminds us that this life that we have is a magical and wonderful gift that we should be thankful for every moment.


Mice and Magic December 18, 2009

Filed under: Animal books,Favorites,Friendship,Uncategorized — snowbrice @ 3:46 am

Alexander and the Wind-up Mouse by Leo Lionni is one of my all time favorite books.  Alexander is a mouse who is lonely until he meets Willie, a toy wind-up mouse.  Alexander wants to be just like Willie because Willie is loved by everyone.  Alexander hears about a lizard in the garden who can grant wishes, so he goes to meet him so that he can become a beloved wind-up mouse just like Willie.  The lizard tells him to bring him a purple pebble “when the moon is round.”  Alexander goes on a mad search for a purple pebble, but to no avail.  He returns to the house to find Willie in a box of toys ready to be thrown out.  The little girl who owned Willie has just celebrated a birthday and has no use for her old toys.  As Alexander listens to Willie’s tale of woe, he spots a purple pebble.  He runs to the lizard in the garden.  When the lizard asks him what he wishes to change into, Alexander surprisingly asks the lizard to change Willie into a real mouse.  The lizard grants the wish and the two mice dance off happily ever after.

This book has always captured my imagination.  As a child I was entranced by the magic, and I am still today.  I love how Alexander goes in search of a magic lizard to solve his problems.  It is a kind of mouse “Aladdin” story.

I also love that Alexander puts his friend before himself.  In the beginning he is jealous of Willie and all the attention he gets.  He wants to be loved just like Willie.  In the end, he realizes that he is loved…by Willie.

I am also fascinated by the lizard.  Why a magic lizard?  Is it just because it rhymes with wizard?  Are lizards thought to have magical powers?  I have always felt that there was something deep and mystical about the lizard.  When I read his parts I try to sound mysterious and commanding.  Sort of like the Wizard of Oz.

Leo Lionni was a master at creating deep and intricate stories for children.  Somehow, his books are at one time quick to read, but loaded with values and morality.  They are all magic in their own way.


For the Love of Pancakes November 30, 2009

Filed under: Favorites,Single mothers,Uncategorized — snowbrice @ 3:09 am

I love pancakes, and so do my daughters.  I will pat my own back for a moment and admit that I make the most delicious whole wheat pancakes from scratch.  The brown sugar and extra vanilla make for an absolutely divine pancake experience.

However good my pancakes may be, I have nothing on Jack and his mother in Eric Carle’s Pancakes, Pancakes.  In this story, Jack really wants a big pancake for breakfast, but his mother is busy with chores, and he has to help gather the ingredients.  That should be easy, one would think, but not in this household.  Jack has to thresh the wheat, gather the eggs, milk the cow, churn the butter, and so on, just to make one pancake.  But I am sure that it is worth it.

Eric Carle is an extremely prolific children’s book author.  He is most famous for The Very Hungry Caterpiller.  His books are wonderful for toddlers because they are repetitive and brightly colored.  They teach young children patterns and sequencing.  They are also lots of fun for little ones to chant back to parents.

Pancakes, Pancakes takes the skill of sequencing to a more abstract level for slightly older children.  Children are aware of the finished product of pancakes, but in this story they get to learn where each of the ingredients come from.  It also raises their awareness of the complexities of the food on their tables.  Sort of an Omnivore’s Dilemma for the early elementary crowd.  My girls always ask lots of questions about wheat production while we read the book.  I have even taken them on an impromptu field trip to the water wheel at  Michie’s Tavern (near Monticello in Charlottesville, VA ).

And, to top off this great book, Eric Carle includes a very simple recipe for pancakes at the end.  Perfect!