Owl Reads

Owls are captivating.  They are not only fascinating to study, but are also an excellent subject of fiction, both for little kids and big kids.  As promised, here is a very brief list of great owl reads.  These are just a  few my guys and I have recently enjoyed.


Owl Moon The very prolific Jane Yolen is the author of this almost lyrical book about a little girl and her father crunching through the snowy woods at night in search of an owl.  “Sometimes there is an owl, and sometimes there isn’t,” as her brothers tell her, but of course, Ms. Yolen does not disappoint her readers.  There is, indeed, an owl, a great horned owl to be exact.  Animals are naturally hidden in nearly every page, and the author’s beautiful imagery creates a familiar sense throughout the book.  The realistic illustrations combined with the obviously reverent awe she feels for nature makes this book a true friend in nurturing a sense of wonder in our little ones.

Little Hoot by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Jean Corace – In muted matte illustrations an adorable little owl in a hoodie complains throughout the book that he has to go to bed late.  Owls go to bed “late, late, late.”  “Rules of the roost,” Father owl reminds him.  G giggles every time at this flip-flopped story line about going to bed.  His favorite line?  A grumbling Little Hoot  vows, “When I grow up, I will let my kids go to bed as early as they want!”  If you like this book, the author-illustrator team has also given us Little Pea and Little Oink.

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson-  Gorgeous illustrations of fluffy owlets snuggling in the nest are accompanied by a text reassuring any little one that when Mama is gone, she also comes back.


There’s an Owl in the Shower by Jean Craighead George – Here is a story for animal lovers.  The logging industry versus the spotted owls.  Truth be told, A read this one on his own and I have not yet managed to read it.  I have included it here, because I have read the author’s captivating My Side of the Mountain, and because, well, A still references it, even though he first read it almost a year ago.

Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat  Classic Canadian children’s author Farley Mowat wrote a book once upon a time when boys (and girls) lived outdoors and enjoyed hours of unscheduled free time.  This humorous and fact-filled book tells the story of three friends who find two great horned owls in need of rescuing.

Wabi: A Hero’s Tale by Joseph Bruchac  Drawing heavily on Native American legends, Wabi is a coming-of-age story about a great horned owl who chooses to become human to be with the girl he loves.  Before he can be near her, however, he must first win her trust and affection, as well as defeat the mythically-based creatures of the Valley of the Monsters.  Bruchac does a fabulous job of weaving in Native American folklore, and depicting scenes distinctly from an owl’s perspective.

May your family enjoy the bounty of the season.   Don’t forget to love every red, yellow, or orange leaf before they are gone for the year.  If you don’t live with the autumn colors, what are your enjoyable signs of fall?   Curling up together and sharing a book is a wonderful fall activity.  Whether through books, in nature centers, or out in their natural habitat, again, happy owling!

Farm Tales

Soups and stews. Pumpkin pie and muffins. Cardigans and scarves. It’s autumn in the Midwest. How does this translate into preschool literature? Farm stories! For the last couple of weeks G and I have been reading a collection of Golden Books all with farm themes – “A Day on the Farm,” “The Little Red Hen” and “Two Little Gardeners,” by Margaret Wise Brown but mostly we have delved into Richard Scarry’s “The Animals of Farmer Jones.”

This sweet story introduces preschoolers to typical animals on the farm and the various grains they might eat. The animals patiently wait for Farmer Jones to leave his tractor at the end of the day to provide them with their dinner.  G enjoyed all the supplemental activities that we created for this story, but I don’t think there was enough substance to the tale for the multiple readings we did as with “Lentil” and others. Nevertheless, our weather vane still adorns the kitchen table.


Science – Every barn has a weather vane. We stuck to creating one with the traditional rooster. G already knows his compass points, so he helped me label them, and we stuck them on the lid to an empty plastic fruit container. We placed rocks in the bottom to weight it down and poked a hole in the lid large enough to set a straw through, which was stabilized by the rocks. We placed another straw in the first and secured them with tape.


While G was coloring a print out template of a rooster, I cut out an arrow from cardstock and fastened it with a paperclip in the middle of the straw. G taped the rooster to the top of the straw, and we were ready to observe the wind. G learned that meteorologists observe and study the weather.

Crafts – Our craft project was having fun with scarecrows. Every farm story incorporated the scarecrow at some point, even if he was silently taking his place in the background. For this craft we used a paper plate, felt bits, construction paper, origami and tissue papers, glue and crayons. Basically, it was whatever materials I had on hand. I got this great idea from notimeforflashcards.  Allison McDonald always seems to be full of preschool craft ideas – an area where I seriously struggle.

iphone1 002

Telling Time – G has had a little green clock in his room ever since he was born, so I often show him what time it is, namely at bedtime. We noticed Farmer Jones fed the animals at six o’clock, so we played with the hands on our clock as we talked about what we did at seven o’clock, twelve o’clock or eight o’clock.


G knows the minute hand and the hour hand, so we learned how to change the time for the hour and the half hour.

G showing what six o'clock looks like.
G showing what six o’clock looks like.

Farm Sensory Bin – These homemade bins seem to be our go to activity regardless what we are learning.  I usually have two or three different themes going at one time, and am finally starting to store extras in large ziploc bags. This saves on having to purchase many different plastic containers.


This one was created with a combination of rice, beans and popcorn I had leftover from another bin. We added a few plastic scoops, craft leaves leftover from a church luncheon and, of course, the Fisher Price farm figures. Sensory bins are really the most fun when the play is child-led. We don’t have a particular agenda when playing with these. I mostly liked burying my hands in all of it and sifting the popcorn through my fingers. G has spent most of his time so far throwing the leaves in the air and quoting, “The leaves are turning red and brown.  The leaves are falling to the ground.”

Word Cards– From such a young age G has been focused on text in his books. He follows along with his finger as we read, so at three he already has quite a few sight words in his repertoire. I wanted to boost his confidence with his familiarity with some of these words. G helped me look through the illustrations and text as he chose which words to create into word cards. He spelled them aloud for me as I wrote. Pig, cow, horse, farmer, thank you were a few. I think we made 10-12 altogether.


First I scrambled them up while he read them to me. Perfect. The next day I gave him dot paints and called out a word while he put a dot on the correct card. This was fun for him for a few minutes, and he was proud of himself for being able to “read.” A couple of days later we got out the play dough and wooden letters. G used his word cards to spell the words by pressing the wooden letter into the play dough. Not only did this reinforce his knowledge of the sight words, but it was good fine motor practice for his little fingers.

Field trips – I always like to give G a field trip opportunity with the stories we read. The most obvious choices were a trip to our very local organic dairy farm, which of course, meant milkshakes afterward, and a visit to the pumpkin festival.


Picking a pumpkin, pony rides, the corn maze, and eating apple donuts are all a highlight of our fall season.


Seven From Scandinavia


During this last 2012-2013 school year, my boys and I read a significant number of books.  Most of them were excellent.  I am thankful that some of them were responsible for turning S on to reading for the sheer pleasure of it.  Unwittingly, we read several books with Scandinavian settings.  Were we subconsiously drawn to the frigid northern climes once we slid down the steep mountains with Norwegian youth, or was this collection pure coincidence?  I am not sure, but here are a few fantastic reads if you wish to visit Norway or Denmark, if only through children’s literature.

Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan – It is not often we happen upon a book that is equally celebrated by A and S both.  A wants to stick strictly to realistic or historical fiction; S needs adventure.  This book fits both criteria.  Snow Treasure details the true story of how Norwegian children in a small mountain village smuggle millions of dollars worth of gold on their sleds past Nazi officers.  In the end, they save their village and their way of life.  McSwigan provides the reader with a positive story of children’s courage in a difficult time.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry – This well-known Newberry-Award winner pleasantly surprised me last year when I read it for the first time as an adult.  It is based on a conglomeration of true stories during World War II Denmark, and like, Snow Treasure, it is a happy tale of grim times.  The Johansen and Rosen families have always been friends.  Jewish evacuation by the Nazis does not change that.  Concentrating on the friendship of Annemarie and Ellen, we see a glimpse into the goodness, bravery and determination of the Danes as they save the vast number of their nation’s  Jews by smuggling  them onto the southern shores of neutral Sweden.  This is an excellent story for eight to twelve-year-olds who may love an historical novel, but are not able to handle other gruesome events of war times.  Truth be told, I was comforted and inspired by the noble nature of the story.  Do not forget to discuss the scientific reasons why cocaine was used in the smuggling.  While Annemarie was not an actual girl, she and her family are true in spirit.  Many such Jewish families found freedom due to the compassion and goodness of their neighbors.

Shadow on the Mountain by Margi Preus – Here is another World War II novel with a unique perspective, and with perhaps a bit more violence described than the two previous books.  Again, we are in the Norwegian mountains, this time with 14-year-old Espen.  Over the next five years we see him come of age as he becomes a courier, then a spy for the Norwegian resistance movement.  He protects his family, his friends and his country, but eventually finds himself skiing for his life over the mountains into liberating Sweden.  Preus’ storytelling keeps the reader on the edge of his seat, while the actual photographs remind us that real youths began (and ended) their lives in such extraordinary ways.  Preus interviewed Erling Storrusten, the real-life  Espen, in researching her novel.

          Samuel Blink and the Forbidden Forest, and its sequel, The Runaway Troll by Matt Haig – These are some of S’s favorite books.  The book opens with the Blink family in an automobile accident after an argument ensues on a road trip, killing the parents. This macabre beginning may be offputting for some, but S did not seem to be disturbed by it.  The story tells of Samuel and his younger sister Martha as they move to Norway to live with their peculiar Aunt Eda after their parents’ deaths.  Everything about their new home is odd.  There are many different cheeses and many different rules, namely that they are never, ever to venture into the forest.  Fantastic creatures based on Norwegian folklore, exploding body parts and solving the mystery at what really happened to Uncle Henrik are part of the fun.  Both books are well-written.  Do not forget to point out to your child Haig’s nod to Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.

D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths by Ingri d’Aulaire and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire – Monsters, gods, elves, sprites and other mischievous creatures come to life through the sumptuous artwork of this children’s classic.  Each story is faithfully, but succinctly told to give boys and girls a great appreciation for the weird and raucous tales of Norse mythology.  Thor, Loki, Odin, Freya and frost giants storm through its pages.

Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman – This is a perfect read for seven to ten-year-olds who want a fictionalized version of some of the great Norse myths.  This slim book stays true to the original myths and characters.  Odd is a very unlucky twelve-year-old in Norway, but with a bravery he does not know he possessess, and a growing collection of peculiar friends.  He just might be the one to save Asgard, the city of the gods, from the invading frost giants.

Boy by Roald Dahl- Welsh-born, from Norwegian parents, Roald Dahl is best known as a great British children’s author.  What did he do with his time, however before he flew in the Royal Air Force, or before he invented the Oompa Loompas, or an enormous, juicy specimen of fruit in his own backyard?  In his brief autobiography from birth to early manhood, Dahl charmingly describes his family’s yearly trips back to Norway, as well as the severity of the English boarding schools, and his inspiration for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.   Adults will be shocked, and children will be rolling on the floor from laughter,  when they discover what the precocious Dahl children actually put in the pipe of their sister’s boyfriend. 

Hopefully, some of these books spark your interest, whether it is in fiction, geography, culture or mythology.  Grab a map or a globe with your child, curl up with a book, and “travel” to Scandinavia.

Learning with Lentil

There is something so appealing about the artwork and stories of American children’s writer/illustrator Robert McCloskey.  Although his work is largely from the mid-twentieth century, it is not difficult to see why a modern child would instantly be drawn into his books.  Each of his stories has a strong sense of place, making them perfect for geography and history lessons.  Children also easily identify with the characters, whether animal or human.

While G loves Blueberries for Sal and Make Way for Ducklings, his very favorite by McCloskey is Lentil.  Lentil is a barefoot boy with tousled hair from the fictional town of Alto, Ohio.  He cannot sing no matter how hard he tries, so he learns to play the harmonica.  In doing so, he saves the day when the town grouch tries to debunk the community’s efforts at welcoming home the town’s most important citizen, Col. Carter.  There is a great lesson here about the value of learning anything new, regardless of how  trivial it may seem.  The story has built-in fun with American folk songs, train travel and brass bands.  There are several details on each page to stop and talk about.    This is a fun read with a tremendous collection of possible activities.  In fact , all my boys have loved Lentil.

G loves to make grouchy faces like "Old Sneep."
G loves to make grouchy faces like “Old Sneep.”

History and Math – We naturally combined these two activities together as Lentil introduced us to the folk song “She’ll Be Driving Six White Horses.”  Of course, we had to learn all the verses and sing along.  Although, with my pitiful singing voice, I admit G did ask me to stop after awhile.  Then, we counted out six of his white(ish) horse figures.  We also figured out how many we would need to take away if we had counted seven, or eight, or nine…you get the idea.

iphone1 274iphone1 286Geography – This was easily covered with our laminated placemat and a variety of United States puzzles.  We are neighbors to Lentil, so it was easy to pick out all the surrounding states.  We also decided to create our own map with Citiblocs.  I really thought he would be much more interested in building each street and landmark, but really he wanted to hurry and get something down so he could reenact Lentil walking down the street playing his harmonica.  iphone1 282

iphone1 275Music – The entire story is music, so we had to experiment with it all.  Not only did we listen to brass bands, marching bands and jazz, but we also blew a little horn ourselves.  Then, we just had to test out how the harmonica sounded in the bathtub.  Here we talked about acoustics a bit, but G was mostly interested in making noise.

Sensory Play- Sensory bins are taking over my kitchen, so it was no surprise that we found a bowl to use for yet another one.  This time with lentils.  I don’t think G remembered what lentils were from our last fall/winter diet, so this was a new experience for him.  We got out measuring cups and scoops, and just enjoyed covering our hands in the tiny, flat legumes.  And, of course, we made LENTIL STEW!  Our recipe will be coming up.

"Schliiiish!"  Pretending to be Old Sneep, sucking on a lemon.
“Schliiiish!” Pretending to be Old Sneep, sucking on a lemon.
The tone was "improved one-hundred per cent."
The tone was “improved one-hundred per cent.”

Other projects- G was thoroughly enjoying Lentil, but I felt we had to leave Alto, Ohio at some point, so there were other ideas in my head that we didn’t get to THIS TIME.  The Alto residents decorate the streets with American flags, so a decorating day or parade could be lots of fun.  Col. Carter promises to build Alto a new hospital, so why not build a sensory bin full of dirt, rocks, construction trucks, etc, or maybe just build a hospital with blocks?

Let us know if you have enjoyed Lentil as much as we have.

Starting out with a good book

While growing up, my father and grandfather were both printers.  As a girl who loved the printed word, I found this to be a fitting heritage.  It is true; I am one of those peculiar people who  take pleasure in smelling books.  I savour them, really.  I can still distinctly recall the scent of my third grade social studies book.

Yours truly sniffing a Christmas present back in 1988.
Yours truly sniffing a Christmas present back in 1988.

I do read books on my Kindle app today, but if I particularly want to spend my time as with a friend, I hold a book in my hand, and flip its pages, taking in either the musty or crisp  aroma.  Charlie Bucket, Anne of Green Gables, Laura Ingalls, Emily Byrd Starr, then later Alyosha, Antonia, Jo March and Levin.  They are all dear friends.  I cannot imagine growing up without them.    And so it seems appropriate that I should begin a blog  dealing largely  with literature.

Literature-based learning is simply engaging in authentic activities based on the book’s themes or details.  Instead of asking children comprehension questions or providing a young child with a color page, we pay attention to where our child’s eye is naturally drawn in a picture book, or what older children repeatedly mention in a book discussion.

My three-year-old, G, has always loved books.  From an extremely early age he would follow the text along with his finger from left to right.  He is completely engaged in his stories and loves to create his own.  It is not difficult to take his lead in creating enrichment activities and pre-reading exercises.  However, I believe this approach to children’s literature will also engage the reluctant reader and fidgety child.

G sometimes picks out books for us to “study,” but not always.  We like thoughtful story lines with beautiful, detailed illustrations.  G often surprises me with all the tiny, background details he notices, and how he is eager for his vocabulary to expand.  We read our chosen book every day, sometimes more than once, for a week or so.  During this time G and I delve into preschool science projects, literacy activities, geography lessons and field trips, all based on this particular book.

Most of all, we have fun.  Literature is by far my favorite thing to share with all three of my boys.  I still read to A and S, although they have been literate for years.  I have even caught them smelling a book or two.  Yes, curling up with a good book is my favorite thing to do with my guys.  Well, maybe besides getting a hug.