Recommendations for Young Musicians

October 4, 2015

~posted by Ruth

ViolinThis year, Jacob and Molly are joining their school’s orchestra, which means it’s time for music lessons!   Excitement has mounted as they chose their instruments:  Molly loves the clarinet and Jacob is excited to play the violin.  Of course, it made me think of how to pair books and music and luckily, I found several that fit the bill.

Can-youCan You Hear It? by William Lach

The perfect book to introduce young readers (and young musicians) to great music through great works of art.  With the aid of this picture book and accompanying CD, listeners (and lookers), get to explore 13 examples of pictorial music and visual masterpieces.  My favorite? A spread featuring Utagawa Hiroshige’s Chrysanthemums, which pictures a bee hovering over a flower, is matched with Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee.


ListenListen to the Birds:  An Introduction to Classical Music by Ana Gerhard, illustrated by Cecilia Varela

Another award-winner, just right for elementary school orchestra members. What a treat to have a themed collection, with excerpts from classical musicians such as Vivaldi, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and many more.  Listeners (and readers) are treated to the discovery of the melodious similarities between notes produced by instruments such as the flute, the organ, and the harpsichord and the birds’ songs. And as a bonus for bird-lovers, there is added info and illustrations of different birds that are highlighted in the music.  20 different recordings on the CD!  A Parents’ Choice award-winner.


OrchestraStory of the Orchestra:  Listen While You Learn about the Instruments, the Music, and the Composers Who Wrote the Music! by Robert Levine, illustrated by Meredith Hamilton

This one is really perfect for the twins–and maybe for young budding musicians you know.  It’s an exciting and educational tour through the instruments and music of the orchestra, just right for ages 8-12(ish) and their parents.  The well-written text is divided into three sections:  an introduction to each instrument of the orchestra from the cello to the timpani, the stories of famous composers from Bach to Stravinsky and an explanation of different musical styles from Baroque to Modern.  (I can’t wait to hear from new violinist Jacob what he thinks of listening to the Mozart minuet and reading about the exploits of young Amadeus as a child.)


MONSTER by Walter Dean Myers: Book Review and Recommendation

September 27, 2015

~posted by guest blogger, Cady Anderson

MonsterMonster by Walter Dean Myers

With awards plastered on the cover, rave reviews, and the knowledge that this is an “important book,” I knew it was one of those books I should have read by now. But in the wake of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore and the resulting riots across the nation, this book found me at the right time. Monster by Walter Dean Myers deserves to be brought to the forefront of discussions again. Despite having been published sixteen years ago in 1999, this book remains relevant today.

Monster is about a young man, Steve Harmon, on trial for murder. The trial is defined by two crucial facts – Steve is black and sixteen years old. As Steve delivers his perspective of the events surrounding his time spent in jail and his trial, he creates a movie script. As the script unfolds, the reader discovers more about the events that led up to the trial: a robbery at a convenience store that left the owner dead. Steve and several other young black males were involved and the book requires the reader to decipher what happened – to determine who is innocent and who is guilty.

One downside of the novel is the manner in which the book is written. The stylistic choice of the movie script demands the reader’s full attention in order to make sense of the timeline, characters, and social commentary. Some readers may find the script distracting, but the choice in style does add to the discussion about the effectiveness of the book’s message and the definition of “truth” in crimes and trials such as these.

In the opening statements of the trial, Steve Harmon’s attorney spoke in his defense in a way that naturally allowed me to make connections to the riots and news media coverage of Ferguson and Baltimore – “As Mr. Harmon’s attorney all I ask of you, the jury, is that you look at Steve Harmon now and remember that at this moment the American system of justice demands that you consider him innocent. He is innocent until proven guilty.” This quote demonstrates how relevant this text has remained. This is the only reason you need to read this book – because this book matters. The title “Monster” is used to demonstrate how humans are treated based on prejudices and how people of color, specifically black men, are made to be guilty before they may be considered innocent. This book is full of powerful ideas and forces the reader to think through their own contradicting emotions in order to re-examine the society in which we live in.

Pirate Update

September 18, 2015

PirateSince Molly and Jacob were tiny, they have been fascinated by pirates.  When they were toddlers, we posted a list of Picture Books for Little Mateys, and since then, our bookshelves have added many pirate titles.  And right now, the kids are enthralled by the wonderful David Barry series, Peter and the Starcatcher:

Peter and The Starcatchers by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson

Inspired by: Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie

Boys in particular will enjoy this “real” story behind the familiar tale of Peter Pan.  There is a Neverland.  There is a Wendy.  There is a Captain with a Hook.  The fantastical, magical aspects are given a grounding in reality that ties the origin of Peter Pan to our world, (albeit in a fantastical and magical way).  In the beginning of the story Peter is a perfectly normal orphan, who is sent with other orphan boys who will never be missed to be a servant of the terrifying King Zarboff.  On the ship, he meets Molly Aster, a starcatcher.  What’s a starcatcher?  What’s starstuff?  How does this lead them to Neverland, and give Peter the ability to fly?  You’ll find out…

We also found several links for parents to add to the fun:

Fun Pirate Websites
Stuff for Junior Pirates is the kid-version of the website from the creators of “Talk Like a Pirate Day.” International Talk Like a Pirate Day (ITLAPD) is a holiday parody invented in 1995 by John Baur (Ol’ Chumbucket) and Mark Summers (Cap’n Slappy), of Portland, Oregon, who proclaimed September 19th each year as the day when everyone in the world should talk like a pirate. For example, an observer of this holiday would greet friends not with “Hello,” but with “Ahoy, me hearty!” The holiday, and its observance, springs from a romanticized-and humorous–view of the Golden Age of Piracy.

In The Guide to Pirate Parenting, there is a wealth of resources, from nursery rhymes about pirates, to suggestions for how to raise pirate children. For the modern (suburban) pirate family!

How about a brand new pirate book to usher in Halloween?

TrickTrick ARRR Treat:  A Pirate Halloween by Leslie Kimmelman, illustrated by  Jorge Moniongo

“We be pirates. TRICK ARRR TREAT!” roar these swashbuckling trick or treaters Charlotte Blue-Tongue, Peg-Leg Pete, Glass-Eyed Gabby, and their friends.  As they gather their sweet loot, they move from the neighborhood to the pirate lagoon, and as they do,the shadows grow longer.  What’s lurking in the growing dark?  Are these young pirates brave enough to protect their booty?  Light-hearted rhymes and lots of pirate lingo make this a fun read to prepare for the holiday.


New Books Celebrating the Moon for Young Children

September 12, 2015

Big-MoonComing up September 27th:  a Supermoon!  Very exciting–to learn just why, and be prepared for this event, you might want to read this blog at EarthSky.    Such a compelling cosmic event sparked in us a renewed interest in the moon, the night sky, and rereading some great books.  (Check out Revisiting the Night Sky  for 2 lists that are devoted to picture books on the constellations and the delights of the moon.)

Here are three new books we can joyfully recommend to share with your little ones, all by award-winning authors and illustrators! We recommend reading by the light of the moon.

Full-MoonThe Full Moon at the Napping House by Audrey and Don Wood

We were first introduced to this cozy sweet home in a book named for it:  The Napping House.  A well-loved classic first published in 1984, this book has been re-issued often over the years.  And now we are given the great gift of a delightful sequel.  Like the original, The Full Moon version, draws children in with its whimsical and humorous cumulative tale.  I always loved the way the colors in the illustrations changed in hue as night turned to day.  Look for similar touches in the sequel. As the moon pours in, no one at the Napping House can get any sleep!  Not Granny, her grandchild, the pets. . .not even the tiniest mouse.  That is, until the final guest arrives. (No spoilers here.)  You’ll want to delight in the satisfying conclusion with a child or two on your lap.


Papa-moonPapa, Please Get the Moon for Me:  Book and CD by Eric Carle, read by Stanley Tucci

The waxing and waning of the moon is beautifully portrayed for young children–in the illustrations as well as the clever construction of the book.  With several fold-out pages, the book opens out horizontally to show a very long ladder Papa fetches, and opens vertically to show him climbing the ladder above a very high mountain.   Monica’s Papa works hard to capture the moon for his darling daughter, but it is too large to carry, so he has to wait until it is smaller to wrap his arms around it to bring home to her.  Stanley Tucci’s narration on the CD is an added bonus that updates this re-issued text.


MaxMax and the Tag-along Moon by Floyd Cooper

Every page of this gorgeous book features a full moon.  Young Max is comforted by his Grandfather’s words: “Granpa said it would always shine for me.”  As Max heads home, Max is delighted to see that the moon follows him as he travels up a hill, down a hill, around a curve, bouncing past resting cows, and through a quiet small town. But when that tag-along moon disappears behind thick, smoky storm clouds, Max says, “I guess that ol’ moon couldn’t shine for me all the way home.” Upstairs in bed, Max misses Granpa, but then a magic ball of light fills Max’s window, and he raises his arms in glorious victory. A wonderful readaloud for young children, with images that delight all ages.


New Classics for Young Readers

September 5, 2015

There are sometimes new books that are immediately recognized as instant classics.  This summer, we have been fortunate to greet the publications of not one but two new classic picture books for kids.  They are by familiar authors and feature well-loved characters.  Great fall back-to-school book gifts and read alouds for the children you know and love.

NapI Will Take a Nap! (an Elephant and Piggie book) by Mo Willems

Gerald the elephant is tired and cranky–and he knows it.  He tells his dear friend Piggie that a nap will surely improve his mood, so he settles down for one. You won’t be surprised to learn that Piggie disturbs everything, leading to increased agitation from Elephant.  Hilarious illustrations show Elephant with red-rimmed eyes, and both characters have very telling facial expressions.  A wonderful dream sequence creates a story within a story.  Another winner for this terrific duo!


CrayonsThe Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

Duncan’s crayons are a communicative bunch; they always let this kid know how they are doing and what they need, and this time, it’s in a form of colorful “postcards from the edge.”   These lost or injured crayons let Duncan know where they are and how to rescue them–or that they are on their way home even as he is reading their card.  There’s Maroon crayon, writing desperately from beneath the sofa cushions, broken in two when Duncan’s Dad sat on him. Pity poor Turquoise: his head is now stuck to one of Duncan’s stinky socks after they both ended up in the dryer together.  My personal favorite is Pea Green, who ran away because no one uses him or likes his name.  (He changes it to Esteban the Magnificent.) A great tale, well-illustrated, with humor and savvy for both kids and adults.  I might even like it better than the original!



August 29, 2015

~posted by Ruth

EnchantedEnchanted:  The Woodcutter Sisters by Alethea Kontis

Based on a recommendation from Meghan, the other half of this blog-writing team, I dug into the first book in this teen series re-imagining fairy tales, and I was–well–Enchanted. Sunday is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter.  Not only that, her father is the seventh son of a seventh son. There’s a set-up for lots of magic indeed.  This first in the series focuses mostly on Sunday’ s story and we soon learn the power of her fairy godmother (for good and evil), and how the world of fairy tales can be woven and rewoven.  There’s the little matter of the talking frog Sunday meets by the well, who turns out to be a prince in disguise.  And then, her brother sells the family cow for–you guessed it!–magic beans.  Spinning straw (and wool) into gold?  Check!  Geese that lay Golden Eggs?  Yup.  I know it may sound like a crazy fairytale mash-up, but it actually is an engrossing tale spun with clever plot twists and spunky heroines, and heroes, too.  I am looking forward to reading more in this series and have just begun Book 2:  Hero, which is the story of Sunday’s sister Saturday.  Another terrific protagonist-not to mention pirate ships and wicked witches.  Dearest came out earlier this year and it looks like there are more to come.  Stay tuned!


August 21st is Poet’s Day

August 20, 2015

Poetry-SpeaksYes, a special day to celebrate literacy and creators of fine reading experiences:  August 21st is a day dedicated to Poets. For the history and rationale of Poet’s Day, check out this website on Poet’s Day.  And here’s the perfect book to relish the special delights of poetry with your family.

Poetry Speaks to Children (Book and CD) edited by Elise Paschen and Dominique Raccah, illustrated by Judy Love and Paula Wendland

A wonderful collection of over 90 poems for children age six and older (and the adults in their lives).  The book features poets beloved by adult audiences such as Robert Frost, Ogden Nash, Seamus Heaney, Billy Collins, and Gwendolyn Brooks, and also highlights children’s literature favored authors such as Roald Dahl, Nikki Giovanni, and X. J. Kennedy.  The accompanying CD is a special treat, as most poems are read by their authors, so children are introduced to both the words and poetic phrasing of the poets truly in their own voices. I love the varied moods, from thoughtful to hilarious, and from free-verse to lilting rhymes.

Time to turn your reading diet to poetry to celebrate the waning days of summer this Poet’s Day.  Happy Reading!


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