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Monday, July 26, 2010

Children's Books: Recent Reads List (Ages 4-8)

We've been reading randomly for the last few months, primarily because the kids have been bringing books home that they fancied on the library shelves during our visits. I did place a few on hold that I wanted to read to them, especially for Og.

The five year old likes to read to herself at nights till lights out, after I've read her a chapter or two from the current chapter book we are reading.

She has been reading simple I-Can-Read/Beginner-Reader Books - something between Picture Books and Chapter Books. Poppleton and Friends, Morris the Moose, The Knee Book, The Ear Book, The Eye Book, Stuck In The Mud (Thomas & Friends), The Tooth Book and such... she didn't care for Poppleton (she claims he is boring), but liked Morris (he is goofy and silly), the others mostly received favorable remarks.

The few I have read to her (or read together with her) range from simple Picture Books for Ages 4-8 to Chapter Books.

We started reading more of the collected tales from around the world to keep up with the Travel The World summer theme. One of the reasons I like to read these stories in the folklore tradition that are short and direct, is to introduce her to a different style of writing than she has been exposed to so far.

Another reason is that the stories, much like Panchatantra and Hitopadesha Tales I grew up with, have the lines blurred between animals and humans as they interact and coexist, sometimes helping each other, sometimes causing problems... teaching and learning from each other.

Questions like "Is that really how the goats came to live with us humans?","Did Haisuni, Talsuni, and Peolsuni really become the Sun, Moon and Star?", "Why did the tiger eat her radishes, but not the old lady?" lead invariably to, "Did this really happen?", at which point, I invoke the Eth-Noh-Tec's answer of, "Well... it was soooo looong ago that no one really knows for sure... maybe it happened and someone told their children who told their children and so on, so I can tell you now."

This again, is by no means a sorted list of favorite reads, just a collection of what we've read recently and enjoyed. I've been restricting myself to maybe one post per week, and it looks like this is leading to much longer posts than I usually write... No matter.
  1. The quiltmaker's gift / story by Jeff Brumbeau ; pictures by Gail De Marcken

    The watercolor art work as well as the quilt block patterns attracted me to this book that relates a classic tale about the virtues of sharing, caring, and giving. A greedy king who has it all is not happy, not satisfied with all that he has. He covets the beautiful quilts an old quilt-maker painstakingly makes and gives away to those who need it most.

    Starting with why did the quilt maker refuse to give king her quilt, to why did she say he must give away all his stuff, to finally wondering why did the king feel happy in the end, Ana had a lot of questions, the answers to which may not have been obvious or easy to understand at five.

    She does periodically prune her clothes and toys to give away, so, at some level she must be understanding that there is some joy in giving. Happiness is not in having everything you want, but in not wanting anything - this is not easy for a five year old to comprehend... but, the book was a visual treat, even if a bit busy.

  2. Albidaro and the mischievous dream / Julius Lester ; Jerry Pinkney

    The mythical elements mingling with children and parents and the world as she knows it made this fascinating for Ana. She was willing to believe that there is Albidaro (the "Guardian of Children" who lives in the sky) and his sister Olara ("Guardian of Animals") who watch over the kids and animals and make things happen in this world.

    The mischievous dream that Albidaro plants in children is that they can do anything they want without consequences, even not listen to their parents... this leads down a path I wasn't sure I wanted to go, but the mild chaos arising from this breakdown in structure and discipline came across well for the five year old when the animals started misbehaving(rather, behaving like humans) and the kids realize they need the parents to make things right... order is re-established and things end well.

    As a jaded adult, I was not as taken with this book as the five year old. However, being a fan of Jerry Pinkney, the illustrations were magical, with a dreamlike quality that makes this book visually satisfying.

  3. Stand tall, Molly Lou Melon / written by Patty Lovell ; illustrated by David Catrow

    Itty-bitty Molly Lou Melon has a wise and strong grandma who taught her how to stand up for herself.

    See, Molly seems to possess some qualities that are generally considered undesirable - she is buck-toothed, with a voice like a bull-frog, and is rather clumsy. But, her grandma teaches her how to turn each of these supposed disadvantage to her benefit by finding her strengths and face the world confidently.

    The pencil and watercolor illustrations in rich colors has a rather exaggerated styling which lends a certain comical charm that Ana and I liked a lot. Molly's head is as big as the rest of her body, and most of her face is taken up by her large eyes. How can that not be cute?!

    After the first couple of reads, she wanted to read this book to herself every night for over a week, so I think the book made quite an impression.

  4. Amazing Grace / by Mary Hoffman ; pictures by Caroline Binch

    You can't play Peter Pan in class play because... You are a girl... You are black doesn't stop Grace from being all the more determined about giving her best performance as Peter Pan.

    With some help from her grandmother, Grace, who loves stories and performance of all kinds, realizes that the outer façade need not hide the inner strength that comes from doing your best and believing in yourself.

    She auditions for and wins the lead and plays the best Peter Pan she can. The book seems to have made quite an impression on Ana.

    The illustrations are beautiful, and Grace is every bit lovable - so guileless and enthusiastic, full of verve and joy.

  5. Fanny / Holly Hobbie

    Fanny does not look like a Disney Princess, but that's just fine. When her friends have a certain store-made coveted Connie doll that all girls want to have, Fanny joins the bandwagon. She yearns for it and puts it on her Christmas wish-list. When Santa refused to get her that doll, she puts it on her birthday wish-list.

    When Mom puts her foot down, Fanny, rather than sulking and throwing a fit till she gets what she wants (or not), decides to make a doll of her own - viz., Annabelle.

    Annabelle is... different. She is nothing like Connie. Which at first makes Fanny a bit embarrassed to play with her friends who prefer Connie. But, of course, Annabelle earns her spotlight thanks to Fanny.

    The simple story is charming and affirming. It seems to have inspired Ana a lot. She loves her cabbage patch doll Enid and understands how much Fanny loves her Annabelle. And at some level, possibly realizes it is OK to be different.

  6. Shanyi goes to China / Sungwan So

    This is a re-read, much like Prita Goes To India, that we enjoyed a long time ago. Something about photographic books and the simple presentation of the trip is beginning to make an impression now that Ana is at the age when she can read and write, even if mostly phonetically. She wrote a few lines about her Spring Break trip after seeing the digital pictures I had taken during the trip, which I'd like to think was probably inspired by Shanyi and Prita...

  7. Tracks of a Panda / Nick Dowson ; illustrated by Yu Rong

    The illustrations with characteristically elegant brushwork of Chinese painting is beautiful. The text is short and easy to follow, with a few facts on each page to make it educational.

    I liked the fact that the story starts off with a tiny baby Panda arriving in this world, with only its mother for support. This immediately appealed to the empathetic nature of the five year old. She felt instinctively protective about it and worried how the Mommy Panda is going to keep it safe and feed it.

    While she has been introduced to Pandas as cute and cuddly in baby books, this book provides the much-needed reality, a glimpse into the tough life of these huge yet gentle creatures who are endangered (no) thanks to losing their habitat to progress and development.

  8. A Bear called Paddington / by Michael Bond; illustrated by Peggy Fortnum

    How can one not like this little bear from the Darkest Peru, with such a preposterous name? Beloved by children around the world, this almost-classic tale relates the adventures of this genial and courteous bear found at the Paddington station with a sign that said, "Please look after this bear".

    We've been reading the 50th Anniversary edition (hardcover), which has a simple full color illustration on each page. Much like Beatrix Potter's The Adventures of Peter Rabbit, I like reading this book to Ana as the style of writing, the language, is a bit different from what she has been exposed to so far in children's books. Not the usual lilt and rhyme, not the usual easy-reader words, but, simple enough to keep it interesting and follow along.

  9. When the stones were soft : East African fireside tales / by Eleanor B. Heady; illustrated by Tom Feelings

    No elaborate colorful pictures, but, lots of small stories, each one told by Mama Semamingi when children gather at dusk. Mama Semamingi is so old that she was probably there when the stones were soft on the Earth, she probably saw most of the stories unfold.

    There is a story for explaining everything from why the Baobab tree grows so strangely to how the animals have the colors and patterns they now have.

    I liked that a few Swahili words are repeated in each story (a pronunciation key is provided), so that by the end, we are using "Jambo" (Hello), "Karibu" (Welcome), "Mzuri"(good) and "Totos" (children") in our daily conversations without thinking about it.

  10. Korean children's favorite stories / retold by Kim So-un ; illustrated by Jeong Kyoung-Sim

    The illustrations are lovely and as the back flap states, "she uses traditional colors and painting methods to express a sense of Korean aesthetics".

    The stories are sometimes clever, sometimes straightforward, but usually with an underlying 'moral' of sorts, much like in Panchatantra tales. Animals and humans interact and coexist.

    Some made sense to Ana, others were a bit beyond her current level of understanding of human nature - the one about the adopted son lying about his father seemed to bother and puzzle her, but, through some questions and answers she managed to get past her discomfort.

    Many were quite interesting to read and quite a few were requested repeatedly.

  11. Ivy + Bean / by Annie Barrows ; illustrated by Sophie Blackall

    There's something about unlikely alliance leading to lasting friendship that appeals to the young and old alike. Bean has an older sister she doesn't like. Not because the said older sister is necessarily evil, but, Bean seems to think so. And, Ivy, the lonesome girl across the street, who fancies herself a practicing witch, is certainly not Bean's "type", even though her mom is pushing for this friendship.

    In Book 1, we learn about how they meet and become friends. There are over half a dozen books in this series. We've only read the first three.

    As the author says in her Ivy and Bean website, "And people with great ideas need people who can put those ideas into action. For Ivy and Bean, their differences mean that they have more fun together than they could ever have separately. It also means that, together, they do more wacky things than any one kid could ever dream up. The Ivy and Bean books are about the adventures—and disasters—created by this unlikely team."

  12. Fantastic Mr. Fox / Roald Dahl ; illustrated by Quentin Blake

    Possibly considered a children's classic, Fantastic Mr.Fox is well loved around the world. "Why does Mr.Fox steal the farmers' chickens and ducks?" was an inevitable question, which sort of gets answered in the book when Mr.Fox asks something like, "is there any father in the world who would not kill a chicken to feed his hungry family?" His response saved me some trouble.

    Boggis, Bunce and Bean,
    One short, one fat, one lean;

    seems to have stuck in her head. It also helped that we've been listening to the audio version of this book read by Roald Dahl himself.

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At 2:19 PM, Anonymous utbtkids said...

I have read Amazing Grace for one of my school papers. I loved it.

Poppleton had the same effect on us at home. For some reason, they liked Amanda pig better (?!)

Well, now I have more books (from your list) to check out.

Sheela, you must try the Young Cam Jansen. I have a hunch your daughter might like it.

We are reading A really short history of nearly everything and I like it.

For Oggie you must try 1000 times NO as told by Mr.Warburton. We are sill going ga-ga over this book. Absolutely adorable.

At 2:54 PM, Blogger Sheela said...

Thanks, utbtkids, for the 1000 Times No reco - will check it out.

You know, we read maybe one Young Cam Jensen and Ana didn't ask for more... I guess I'll have to wait till she gets over the fairy phase (if ever!) to move on - we've tried branching out of the genre - Bailey School Kids, something by Stanley... maybe I just need to wait till she is six or so to try again.


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