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“Imagine a world with no clocks, thermometers, or telescopes.  A world where everyone believes the earth stands still as the enormous sun travels around it once each day.”  With this opening, I, Galileo sets the stage for the story of the person Albert Einstein called “the father of modern science.”  Told in the first person, a blind and aging Galileo recalls his childhood and the way that he helped his father with his musical experiments after leaving the university with no degree. He questioned traditional beliefs and proved that at least some of Aristotle’s laws of physics were incorrect. Looking through his telescope, Galileo discovered that the sun was the center of the universe. It was then that his troubles truly began. For seven years, he was bound to silence about his findings until a new pope was elected and he was allowed to publish his finding.  However, when Galileo finally published his discoveries about the sun, the moon and the stars, they so incensed people that he was tried by the Inquisition for heresy. And so the story returns to the old man imprisoned in the walled garden, “but the truth?  The truth has a way of escaping into the light.”

Though it took until 1992 for the Catholic Church to admit it had been wrong in condemning Galileo and that yes, the sun was the center of our solar system, Galileo’s contributions to modern science such as the telescope, microscope and thermometer continue to be used today.  There’s a chronology of events that occurred during Galileo’s life at the end of the book which was great for helping to put things into perspective as well as a list of some of Galileo’s experiments that would be easy to try at home.

“A person must be allowed to ask questions..and seek answers in search of truth.”  What a lovely thought to instill in a child.  I hope I’ve been able to encourage my children to ask questions, though sometimes we do get stuck on “but why?”  If you’re traveling to Pisa, I, Galileo, is a great introduction to one of its most famous citizens.  The Tower of Pisa has been restored and you can climb up to the top (children must be at least 8), though perhaps you shouldn’t try to recreate Galileo’s famous cannonball experiment!

If you’d like to add I, Galileo to your child’s library, click here:  I, Galileo

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“‘Rat-a-tat-Tat! Rat-a-tat-Tat!’ He strummed the side when it was time to move. ‘Hootie Hoo!  Hootie Hoo! Hootie Hooooo!’  His favorite call of all.  Showtime!” The music, the hum of the city, street bands, jazz festivals, parades, and one man bands, all are part of the sound, energy and spirit that make up New Orleans.  After Hurricane Katrina, those sounds were temporarily silenced as people fled for safety.

Marvelous Cornelius is a folk story based on a sanitation worked named Cornelius Washington who took pride in his job and was definitely a showman.  He was a “man who could twirl 70-pound garbage cans “like a ballerina,” bend his arms “like a human crane” to scoop up several boxes, and fire small bags into a truck with machine-gun-like rapidity(1).”  After Katrina, New Orleans was down but not out and Cornelius was one of the many people who helped to bring it back.

While many people think of New Orleans as an adult playground, the city has a lot to offer families.   You can visit faithfully recreated homes such as the 1850 house, tour the city on a ferry, find out more about Voodoo in the wax museum, listen to jazz on an old fashioned steamboat and of course learn more about Mardi Gras and the fabulous parades at The Presbytère.  See what the city has to offer at:  http://www.neworleansonline.com/neworleans/family/

Even after the devastation of Katrina, the spirit of the city continues and even after the flooding, “the old ladies whistled and whirled.  The old men hooted and hollered.  The barbers, bread twirlers, and beignet bakers bounded behind the one-man parade.”

Interested in adding Marvelous Cornelius to your child’s library?  Click here:  Marvelous Cornelius.

Learn more about the real Cornelius in action at (1) http://www.nola.com/katrina/index.ssf/2015/08/hurricane_katrina_recovery_mar.html

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“The love of anything is the fruit of our knowledge of it, and grows as our knowledge deepens.” Leonardo daVinci.  Leonardo: Beautiful Dreamer is full of information and a great resource for any child traveling to Italy or interested in Leonardo daVinci.  The endpieces are full of quotes from daVinci as the story opens with a child lying in a cradle watching the birds. Each section is  self-contained and titled with the aspect of Leonardo’s life that is being described, allowing you to fully explore each chapter of Leonardo’s life as he travels from the town of Vinci to Florence, Milan, Venice, Rome and France.

There are also glimpses of Leonardo’s personality and his love of the strange and unusual as he invented bizarre creatures, dressed his pet lizard like a monster, and kept a pet porcupine that was allowed to freely wander around his house.  He took notes backwards, writing from right to left.  If you hold parts of the book up to the mirror, you can read translations from some of his notebooks.

This book is definitely on the long side for a picture book with a lot of material, but there are multiple ways to read it from focusing  on the main story, to reading the additional detail in the sidebars.  You could also spend a lot time just pouring over the pictures filled with details of his discoveries, explorations and inspirations.  This is a great introduction to Leonardo da Vinci and if you are planning a trip to Tuscany, Leonardo: Beautiful Dreamer is a good source to pique your child’s interest in the region and the history there.

If you’d like to add this book to your child’s library, click here:  Leonardo: Beautiful Dreamer

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From the Borrowers to Stuart Little, children’s stories of tiny people coping in a regular sized world abound.  In this case, regular sized children magically shrink and go places only someone tiny could go.  What if you discovered that others had done so before you? What if you could change history?

The Thorne Rooms are a collection of 68 exquisitely crafted miniature rooms at the Chicago Art Institute which were made in the 1930s. Each of the 68 rooms is designed in the style of a different historic period and every detail is perfect, from the knobs on the doors to the candles in the candlesticks. In The Sixty-eight Rooms, Ruthie and Jack are able to shrink and wander through the Thorne rooms.  When they shrink, the painted murals outside of each room turn into actual landscapes with doors opening into the time period the room reflects.   Each room is filled with appropriate clothing for Ruthie and Jack to use, although walking in a suit of armor definitely takes some practice!  Even with the right clothes, it is challenging for Ruthie and Jack to blend into 18th century France and 17th century Salem where they narrowly escape a mob during the Salem witch trials!

While this book was a bit heavy handed from an adult perspective, my 9 and 5 year-olds couldn’t put it down.  We listened to it as an audio book and they didn’t want to leave the car…If you’re planning a trip to Chicago with children, a trip to the Art Institute and a peak at the Thorne rooms should definitely be on your list!

If you’d like to add The Sixty-eight Rooms to your child’s library, click here:  The Sixty-eight Rooms

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While the  book provides a poignant reminder on the absence of the twin towers, this is a great book about reaching for your dreams.   If you’re planning a visit the Memorial plaza in New York city, this is a good introduction to what the towers symbolized and gives a child perspective on how tall they actually were and the impression they made on the city without dwelling on how they fell.  They could also watch  “Man on a Wire”  as they get ready for their trip to New York.“Once there were two towers side by side.”  For those who lived through the destruction of the twin towers, this fairy tale beginning may make your heart catch a little.  But the story of the Man who Walked between Towers is about following your dreams, not dwelling on what happened later.  

This is the true story of Philippe Petit, a French aerialist and street performer who was inspired by the construction of the towers.  “He looked not at the towers but at the space between them and thought, what a wonderful place to stretch a rope; a wire on which to walk.”  This unusual perspective made me smile as it is definitely something children are great at, a view of the world that is full of wonder and things that a grown up might overlook.

Inspired by the distance between the towers, Phillipe starts to plan his feat and, dressed as a construction worker, ends up carrying a 440 pound reel of cable the final one hundred and eighty stairs to the roof.   The images of Phillipe and his friend standing on the roof and looking across to the other tower helped us understand the magnitude of the task, the images were daunting!

Through a series of near misses over a city in which the Statute of Liberty looks like a child’s toy, Phillipe and his friends manage to string the cable and in triumph, “[a]s the rising sun lit up the towers, out he stepped onto the wire.”  Given how much attention window washers on really tall buildings attract, I can only imagine what his feat would have looked like from the ground.  Mordachi Gerstein’s use of perspective, changing between Phillipe’s view and the pedestrian’s view of the towers really draws you in and helps you imagine the great height Phillipe crossed in his daring feat.  My children didn’t dwell on the absence of the towers, but on the craziness of walking on a high wire, especially given that they have problems with a balance beam on the floor!

If you’d like to add The Man who Walked Between the Towers to your child’s library, click here: The Man Who Walked Between the Towers

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“In a sea of breathtaking blue, where dolphins leaped and plunged in play, lay an island.” The opening line draws you into the author’s childhood adventures in Sardinia where her father was born, and the differences between the town and her home in New York City.  After hour after hour of travel (there are definitely times when travel seems interminable, but it is always worth the trip!), the car stops and is surrounded by her family.  The sun drenched images capture the pace of life on the island and the innocence of childhood.  With her crowd of cousins, the author is set loose to explore the town  picking fruit from the trees, getting ice cream from the cafe, and receiving holiday biscuits and chocolates from the old women everywhere.  Life in Orani is savored by the moment as the author leads us down shadowed little streets into the sun-drenched piazza of her childhood.

From the opening line of Orani: My Father’s Village, Sardinia became a place I would love to visit, not that an island in the Mediterranean Sea between Europe and Africa wasn’t on my list, this just moved it further up to a place that looks like a fabulous escape.  While the Sardinia of the book is a suspended snapshot of a bygone era, Sardinia’s mountains and beaches are still beautiful and family friendly and it is a wonderful place to visit and explore.

If you’d like to add Orani:  My Father’s Village to your child’s book collection, click here: Orani: My Father’s Village.

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Strega Nona
September 232015

“In a town in Calabria, a long time ago, there lived an old lady called Strega Nona, which meant “Grandma Witch.”  Strega Nona is one of those magical people who can do anything, “even the priest and the sisters of the convent went, because Strega Nona did  have a magic touch.” In Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola everything was going well and Strega Nona was content, but as she was getting older, like many of us she decided she needed help.  Who answered her add but “Big Anthony, who didn’t pay attention.”  This line always makes my children giggle.  Big Anthony is given a list of  his duties but the most important one is never touching the pasta pot!  Of course Big Anthony wants to impress the town…

The Strega Nona stories are a wonderful start to a trip to Italy.  Calabria occupies the toe of Italy and is a bit off the beaten path, but with 500 miles of coastline, shipwrecks and four national parks, there is lots to explore.   Some of the smaller towns like Locri which has been around since 680BC have amazing ruins, perfect for exploring and  allowing your children’s imagination to run as they enjoy all of the pasta Italy has to offer, even if it doesn’t come from a magic pot!

If you’d like to add Strega Nona to your child’s library, click here:  Strega Nona

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The Mousehole Cat
September 162015

I have always had the sneaking suspicion that my cat thinks she owns me and not the other way around.  In the Mousehole Cat, Antonia Barber tells the legend of Tom Bawcock from the perspective of his owner, the cat, Mowzer.

Mowzer had “an old cottage with a window overlooking the harbor, an old rocking chair with patchwork cushions, and an old fisherman named Tom.” Tom spent his days in the most useful way possible, catching fish for Mowzer’s who was very particular about his fish.  On Mondays they made morgy-broth, on Tuesdays they baked hake, on Wednesdays they cooked kedgeree, on Thursdays they grilled fairmaids, on Fridays they fried launces, on Saturdays they soused scad and on Sundays, they made star-gazy pie.”  My children were definitely inspired to try different types of fish as we explored old recipes and traditional Cornish fare.

Mowzer led an idyllic life, well tended by Tom with no reason to complain.  All was well until one winter there was a terrible storm that did not end as the Great Storm-Cat raged outside of the harbor walls.  With the storm raging, boats couldn’t get in or out and the town slowly ran out of food.  Just before Christmas, Tom talked to Mowzer and told him that “no man can stand by at Christmas and see the children starve.” He would be venturing out to face the storm and catch fish for the town.  Mowzer knows that men are no more than mice in the Great Storm-Cat’s paws and determines to go with him.   They will face the Great Storm-Cat together.

Nicola Bayley’s beautiful images of the storm cat playing with boat are beautiful as is the language used to describe the actions of the storm toying with the boat as Mowzer and Tom work to save the town.  Mousehole, Cornwall is a traditional fishing village on the south coast of Cornwall between Penzance and Land’s End.  The Guardian put together a list of things to do in Cornwall with children a few years ago. There’s lots to explore in Cornwall including a castle on the Island of St. Michael’s Mount and a nearby Bronze Age Lanyon Quoit and of course giant sand dunes and caves along the coast with time to stop to try one of Mowzer’s favorite meals.

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A Lion in Paris
September 92015

The lion was bored, so where else would he go but the City of Light?  The lonely, bored lion is nervous about being in the big city wondering what people will think of him.  He’s not too sure what he thinks of them!  Told from the perspective of the lion, A Lion in Paris relates the strange things the lion finds in the city as he struggle to find his place including everyone carrying swords (baguettes), the noise of the metro (no one heard him when he roared), the thousand stars of light glinting off of a huge factory (Centre Pompidou), the girl who finally notices him (the Mona Lisa), the white castle (Sacre Coeure), and the enormous iron tower (the Eiffel Tower).

For children who have visited or know the sights of Paris, the Lion’s perspective will elicit lots of giggles.    — I’ll have to keep an eye on the potential use of baguettes as swords now that they have the idea in their heads!  It’s always fun to see the places your favorite characters visited.  Nonetheless, I went back and forth on this book, trying to determine what I thought about it.  My boys found it enjoyably silly.  I enjoyed the tour of the city, but found the book as a whole a little odd.  We will still be on the look out for the statue in the Place Denfert-Rochereau in Paris the next time we visit and we may very well stop at the Cafe de Flore for coffee, just like the lion.

If you’d like to add this book to your child’s library, click here:  A Lion in Paris

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 “Long ago in France, at the turn of the last century, a little boy was born to be an adventurer.”  Isn’t that what travel is about?  Adventure? Meeting new people, seeing new places, discovering new things-whatever inspires you to travel, The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry will inspire you to explore more.

The story includes a biography of Saint-Exupery against a backdrop of the impact of the beginnings of aviation and the unfolding of the chaos of two world wars.  The author manages to weave the disparate themes together with wonderful illustrations and a passion for exploration and travel as Saint-Exupéry flies routes through France, Spain, Morocco, Western Sahara, Senegal, and South America.

This is a beautifully illustrated book that captures the spirit and beauty of early flight, as well as a boy’s passions.  The limited text running along the bottom can be a little disjointed, but the illustrations and additional details on the history of flight provide a treasure trove of additional information and are very evocative of the Little Prince.  While the ending is sad, it doesn’t dwell on Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s death, but is truly a celebration of his life and the joy of adventure.

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Did you know that Winnie-the-Pooh was based on a real bear?  At the White River train station in Ontario, Canada, Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian with the Canadian Army on his way to base bought a bear cub and named her Winnipeg. In Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh, we learn all about A.A. Milne’s inspiration for Winnie-ther-Pooh.

In Winnipeg, Winnie quickly became the camp mascot and was given free reign at the camp, sleeping under Harry’s cot every night and following him as he made his rounds tending the horses and other military animals.  As World War I advanced, Harry and his platoon were transferred to England and of course Winnie went with them, sailing across the Atlantic, and proving to be a much better sailor than Harry!

Winnie quickly settled in at camp in England, watching the soldiers practice marching and continuing to sleep under Harry’s cot.  When Harry discovered he was going to be sent to France, he knew he couldn’t take Winnie to a battlefield, but what to do with a bear?

This was a great story about the inspiration behind Winnie-the-Pooh and Christopher Robin’s fateful visit to the London Zoo.  I always enjoy learning about the sources of inspiration behind beloved stories and Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh is no exception. While you can no longer feed bears at the London Zoo, you can still see a statue of Winnie and Harry.  You can also visit the original Edward bear (who changed his name to Winnie the Pooh) along with  Eeyore, Piglet, Kanga, and Tigger at the New York Public Library.

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 Sometimes, you visit a place, and even if it isn’t what you expected or what you thought it would be, it is where you belong.  That’s the story of Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas.  While most elephant seals live in the ocean, Elizabeth swam in the waters of the Avon River through the middle of Christchurch, New Zealand.  Everything was going well and her presence was welcomed until one day she hauled herself up out of the river and stretched out across the two-lane road, right in the middle of traffic.

In fear for her safety, it was decided that it would be better for Elizabeth to live with other elephant seals in the ocean.  She was relocated to the ocean and a nearby elephant seal colony, but that wasn’t where she wanted to be, so she swam home, back up the Avon River to Christchurch.  The next time she was towed to a seal colony far away from the city,  but back she came.  The third time they towed her hundreds of miles away, but again she found her way back.  She knew where home was, silly people.  This time, they changed the road and left Elizabeth in the city, which is “exactly where she belonged.”

Elizabeth lived in the Avon river from the late 1970s until her death in 1985.  There’s lots to see and do in Christchurch, such as the open range OranaWildlife center or the International Antarctic Centre.  Who knows, you may even see an elephant seal along one of the beaches!

If you’d like to add Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas to your child’s library, click here: Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas

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In a Village by the Sea
August 122015

 “In a fishing village by the sea there is a small house…”  So starts In a Village by the Sea, an absolutely beautiful, lyrical book.  My children loved this book and we have read it again and again.

It’s actually a circular poem, where the story begins and ends with a related phrase. Each illustration and new section of the story captures a detail from the previous page and leads into the next, with a faithful dog leading the way.

There is a timeless and familiar quality to this story of a family waiting for a fisherman to return and a fisherman longing for his family.   The beautiful colors in the illustrations draw you into the story of a village, a home, a family, a storm, and a peaceful return to a small house in a village by the sea.

An Bang is one of the few remaining stretches of beach in Vietnam that remains mostly unspoilt by development, offering clean blue sea and unmatched island mountain views, just like those shown in the book.  If you’re looking for a family escape, An Bang is about fifteen minutes from Hoi An and offers a perfect place to relax.

In a Village by the Sea would be a great addition to any family’s library.  Click here to add it to yours.

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Sparks Fly High
August 52015

 What child doesn’t love to dance? Prancing, capering, cavorting with unabashed pleasure, turn on any music and a child will move to the beat.  The same was true of Colonel Lightfoot, who was “born with quicksilver feet.”  Unlike most, though, Colonel Lightfoot  wasn’t satisfied with just dancing.  He had no qualms about admiring his own dancing and telling everyone how good he was.  “‘My dancing is simply divine,'” he told each lady he twirled ’round the floor.”

Sparks Fly High: The Legend of Dancing Point is a retelling of an old tale about Colonel Lightfoot, and how his  ego  got him into trouble,  and the devil challenged him to a dance contest for possession of his land.    The devil and Colonel Lightfoot dance for hours at Dancing Point, but it is only when “Colonel Lightfoot heard the echo of his own braggy words” that he was able to identify the devil’s weakness and trick the devil into leaving his land and Virginia soil.

Dancing Point is located along the James River in Charles River County that was once owned by the Lightfoot family.  You can still see the family’s town home, Lightfoot House, in Colonial Williamsburg which is about 20 miles from Dancing Point.  Colonial Williamsburg is a great place to visit with children and learn more about American Revolutionary History. Step back in time with your kids as they talk to interpreters, dress up in period costume, and try their hands at traditional trades. Late at night you can still see shooting stars, which local legend claims are sparks struck by the devil and Colonel Lightfoot: “two shadows leaping. Spinning, Kicking their heels” as they dance for possession of Dancing Point.

If you’d like to add Sparks Fly High to your child’s library, click here:  Sparks Fly High: The Legend of Dancing Point

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Fairy Houses
July 292015

A week on an Island sounds like a wonderful way to spend a vacation, and on top of that, Kristen’s parents promise her a surprise when they arrive.  As soon as the ferry lands, Kristen starts guessing what the surprise might be. Is it the lighthouse?  The sandpipers? The seals?

As her family sets out for a walk, she stumbles across…. Fairy Houses!  Her parents give her permission to build one of her own, as long as she follows the rules of the forest.  Everyday she visits her Fairy house and thinks of more things to add that the fairies might like, only to discover other forest inhabitants enjoying her house, until the last day, as she dozes near her house….

Fairy Houses is a sweet book, and a great source of inspiration.  My children loved looking at all of the pictures of Fairy houses in the other books in the series and were full of ideas as to what they could build and what sorts of things a fairy might like to have in their house.

Fairy houses can  be found throughout Maine, but the easiest place to find them is on Monhegan Island.  Monhegan has lots of hikes and breathtaking views and of course Fairy Houses.   The Fairy Houses are restricted to the Cathedral Woods, but there are tons to see.  If you’re captivated by the concept of creating your own Fairy House, have a look at these photobooks for inspiration:

 If you’d like to add Fairy Houses to your child’s library, click here:  Fairy Houses
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Possum Magic
July 222015

“Once upon a time, but not very long ago, deep in the Australian bush lived two possums” and Grandma Poss made magic.  “[T]he best magic of all…was the magic that made Hush invisible.”  What child wouldn’t want to be invisible at times?  All of the adventures that could be had, all of the tricks that could be played!  But eventually, Hush wants to be made visible again, and as  Possum Magic unfolds, there is a slight wrinkle; Grandma Poss doesn’t know how to make Hush visible again!  After racking her brain, Grandma Poss remembers that it has something to do with people food so Grandma Poss and Hush set off on a tour around Australia, trying different people foods in each city they visit.

I can’t think of a better way to learn about a country than eating your way around it!  They sample Anzac biscuits, steak and salad, pumpkin scones, mornay, minties, Vegemite, pavlova and lamington as they make their way through Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Darwin, Perth, and Hobart (Tasmania), finally discovering the perfect combination of foods to make Hush visible again. Whew!

This is a wonderfully whimsical book with a map of their travels and explanations of the different foods at the end.  There is so much to see and do in Australia it is hard to know where to start, but this book is a great way to encourage interest in your trip, as well as a list of foods to try!

If you’d like to add Possum Magic to your child’s library, click here: Possum Magic

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Wabi Sabi
July 152015

 “Beauty and harmony in what is simple, imperfect, natural, modest and mysterious” what a wonderful concept to share.  Wabi Sabi is a great introduction to Japanese culture as Wabi Sabi the cat tries to find the meaning of his name.  As her master tries to explain, a haiku perfectly captures the cat’s behavior.

The cat’s tail twitching,
she watches her master, still
waiting in silence

Not satisfied with her master’s lack of response, Wabi Sabi sets off, determined to find the meaning of his name.  She asks Snowball the cat, Rascal the dog, and Kosho the Monkey, traveling to Mt. Hiei to find out what “wabi sabi” means.  After some struggle with the concept, she starts seeing beauty in the simplicity, the ordinary, and the imperfect.  The meaning of Wabi Sabi.

Wabi Sabi is a beautiful book with haiku accompanying the evolving story of Wabi Sabi as he tries to discover the meaning of his name.  In addition to the story, there are Japanese haiku written on each page, the translations which are available at the end of the story.   It is a great book for conveying the simplicity and beauty of Japanese culture, a concept “that’s hard to explain.”

If you’d like to add Wabi Sabi to your child’s collection, click here: Wabi Sabi

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Dodsworth in Rome
July 82015

“‘Where are you going?’ asked Dodsworth.  ‘You said roam,’ said the duck, ‘so I’m roaming.’ ‘I meant, Rome, Italy,’ said Dosworth…The duck paused for a moment.  ‘I knew that,’ he said.” The adventures in Dodsworth in Rome arise from the duck’s misunderstandings and confusion in visiting another country, well except for gelato.  The duck is definitely not confused about gelato!  My children loved duck’s puns and malapropisms as Dodsworth and duck enjoy many of the not-to-be missed sights of Rome including making their way through the crazy traffic, the Coliseum, the PantheonTrevi Fountain, the Spanish steps, wandering through Flea Markets, and of course visiting Vatican City to tour the Sistine Chapel and Saint Peter’s Square.

There isn’t much of a plot, but the duck’s self-centeredness is entertaining as he tries to paint a duck on the Sistine Chapel (everything should have a duck) and he loses their luggage when he forgets he’s standing on their suitcase during a pizza throwing contest (which he enters because he’s good at throwing food…) Along with the sights, they enjoy lots of kid friendly food, eating pasta, pizza and lots of gelato as they make their way through the city; though I think I’d get sick if I ate 7 scoops of gelato at once, it might be fun to try!

If you think your child would enjoy the silliness of Dodsworth and the duck, click here Dodsworth in Rome to add it to your child’s library.

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Monsoon
July 12015

This lyrical story tells the tale of waiting for the rain through the eyes of a young girl.  “All summer we have worn the scent of dust.”  Everyone is waiting for the rains to come.  For Monsoon season to start.  As always there is the worry, “what if they never come, those monsoon rains?”

“Waves of heat dance upon rocks and shimmer over rooftops.  But by the afternoon, long gray clouds begin to trail across the sky.”

The little girl plays with her brother, shops with her mother, listen’s to her grandmother’s stories, greets her father on his return from work, all the while waiting for the rains and wondering when they will come.

At the end of the story, Uma Krishnaswami includes an explanation of monsoons and the conditions that create them.  The monsoons are both loved and feared and Monsoon beautifully captures the tension and the hope of waiting for the rains.

If you’d like to add Monsoon to your child’s library, click here: Monsoon

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Aren’t Queen’s allowed to do what ever they want? Shouldn’t a queen have the right to swim wherever and whenever she likes? But in  “Queen Victoria’s Bathing Machine,” by Gloria Whelan, with illustrations by Nancy Carpenter, even Queens have rules they must follow.  “Queen Victoria looked out at the sea.  It was blue, it was cool, it was nice as could be. The day was so hot; the sun was so bright.  Her petticoats itched and her corset was tight.  She whispered a wish, it was only a whim.  ‘How grand it would be to go for a swim.'”  I’m sure most children can relate to the feeling of wanting to abandon restrictions and play in the water, at least mine do!  Any opportunity to get wet, whether in the ocean, a fountain, a sprinkler, and water balloon fights are actively pursued during the summer.  They’re certainly familiar with “drippy, and slushy and soggy and sodden” clothes!

Fortunately, Prince Albert steps in to help solve the problem and with the assistance of their children (who are up to no good on pretty much every page of the story) and builds a bathing machine that allows the Queen to preserve her dignity and go for a swim!


This charmingly rhyming book is based on a true story and the actual bathing machine Prince Albert constructed can still be seen on the Isle of Wight at Osborne House.  From Roman Villas to Victorian castles, as well of course as beautiful beaches, there’s lots for families do see and do on the Isle of Wight.

Interested in adding Queen Victoria’s Bathing Maching to your child’s collection?  Click here: Queen Victoria’s Bathing Machine

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Elena’s Serenade
June 102015

In Mexico, where the sun is called el sol and the moon is called la luna, a little girl called Elena wants to blow into a long pipe…and make bottles appear, like magic. But girls can’t be glassblowers. Or can they?

 Elena’s Serenade written by Campbell Gleeslin and Illustrated by Ana Juan tells the delightful story of a little girl named Elena who wants to be a glassblower just like her father.  When her father turns her down she is “mad as a wet hen.”  Following the suggestion of her brother,  she decides to dress as a boy and run away to Monterrey, home of Mexico’s “great glassblowers” (She’ll show everyone!). Along the way she discovers that her glass blowing pipe can do more than make glass, it can make music!  Her special songs help a burro find a friend, help a limping roadrunner find its stride, and transform a coyote’s cacophonous song into a sweet serenade.

When Elena finally reaches Monterrey the glassblowers find it entertaining that someone so short wants to be a glassblower, but they give her a chance.  Not knowing what will happen, Elena bravely mimics her father’s actions and plays her music, creating incredible stars, birds and butterflies with her glassblowing pipe. Her creations quickly sell faster than she can make them but Elena, dreaming of impressing her father, one night creates a swallow who takes her home to show her father what she can really do.

The magical realism of the story keeps it from being a heavy-handed girl power story turning it instead into a magical pursuit of your dreams. The sprinkling of Spanish phrases supports the rhythm of the story and provides an easily accessible peek into another culture.If your dreams include a trip to Monterrey, stop by the Museo del Vidrio, filled with exhibits on the history of glassblowing with examples through modern times and demonstrations of glass blowing.  There’s also the Alpha Arts Museum and Planetarium, the nearby Matacanes canyons, and puppet shows at Baul Teatro.

Interested in adding Elena’s Serenade to your child’s collection?  Click here: Elena’s Serenade

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Miss Rumphius
June 32015

“In the evening, Alice sat on her grandfather’s knee, and listened to his stories of faraway places. When he had finished, Alice would say, “When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I too will live beside the sea.”

“That is all very well, little Alice,” said her grandfather, “but there is a third thing you must do…You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”
“All right,” said Alice. But she did not know yet what that could be.

When she grows up, Miss Rumphiustravels the world seeing sights in far off places.  Eventually she decides to stop traveling and she finds her house buy the sea, just like she said she would.  But she still doesn’t know what to do to make the world more beautiful, until one evening, lying in bed, she is struck by inspiration from her garden.

Miss Rumphius is a combination of the author’s life and inspiration she found in her travels, the real lupine lady and the landscape around Damariscotta, Maine. The original illustrations for Miss Rumphius have a permanent home in the Bowdoin College Museum of Art .

Lupines can be found all along the coast of Maine during the summer.  They are the legacy of the real Miss Rumphius, Hilda Hamlin, a retired professor of English who lived in a shingled cottage perched high above the sea and scattered lupine seeds everywhere she went.   Let’s hope we can all “do something to make the world more beautiful.”

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Fly High, Fly Low
May 82015

 Fly High, Fly Low (50th Anniversary ed.) offers a wonderful tour of San Francisco from a bird’s perspective.  The book opens with pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge, China town, cable cars (there’s even a cable car museum), and Coit tower.  Birds see quite a lot as they fly over a town!

Every morning, the pigeons fly to Union Square park to find breakfast.  After breakfast, they stop by Fisherman’s wharf,  and back through the Golden Gate Bridge before settling down for the evening in the big letter “B” of the Bay Hotel.

Everything was going well until the sign was removed with their nest still in it!  Fortunately, Midge was able to alert the movers that her nest was in the letter B, but when Sid came back, there was no sign of his family.  Sid has quite an adventure trying to find his family, sailing over the waterfront, peering from the bridge, when suddenly, he gets stuck in a dense fog (which as everyone knows is not unusual in San Francisco)!  Will Sid ever find Midge?

This is a charming book about the search for the perfect home and provides a great tour of the highlights of San Francisco.  It would be a fun adventure to find all of the locations pictured in the book and settle in for a snack at Emporio Rulli Il Caffe at Union Square.

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Make Way for Ducklings
April 282015

Whether climbing to the top of a building or going on a balloon ride, the view is always better from up in the sky and you get to avoid the traffic!  Mr. and Mrs. Mallard were looking for a place to live, “but every time Mr. Mallard saw what looked like a nice place, Mrs. Mallard said it was no good.”  After a long and fruitless search, the ducks decide to spend the night on an island in the Boston Public Garden, unfortunately, there wasn’t much for breakfast.  They had better luck after they encounter the swan boats, who were very rude, but the people on the boats threw peanuts….

The park was looking promising, at least until they have a run in with a bicycle!  So the Mallards go back to touring Boston.  Over Beacon Hill, round the State House, with a stop at Louisburg Square, Mrs. Mallard can’t find anywhere she wants to raise her family until they come across an island in the Charles River.  While a bird’s eye view of the river may be more challenging, one way to see the river is through a boat tour or simply through a walk along the esplanade.

Of course, the Mallards want to introduce ducklings Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack and Quack to the joys of the Public Garden, but the ducklings can’t fly yet, so Mrs. Mallard decides to walk with her family through town.  Their first obstacle is crossing a busy highway.  As horns honk, Mrs. Mallard Quaaacks back, making so much noise, that the police come running.  With the help of the police, the ducks tour the city, crossing the highway, walking down Mount Vernon street, through Beacon Hill, and into the Public Gardens where they decided to live happily ever after, eating peanuts thrown from the swan boats.  Every year there’s a duckling day parade every year on Mother’s Day.  Even if you’re not in Boston on Mother’s Day, you can still visit Mrs. Mallard, Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack and Quack waddling their way through the gardens. Make Way for Ducklings  is an enjoyable classic, perfect for reading aloud as you’re planning your trip to Boston.

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Sleds on Boston Common
April 282015

Sleds on Boston Common: A Story from the American Revolution by Louise Borden was first published in 2000.  It tells the story of Henry, a young boy trying to live a normal life in Boston in December of 1774.  The last royal governor, General Thomas Gage has closed the harbor and there was little work for the men on Long Wharf which had been the busiest pier in North America.  (The harbor can be toured by boat  or by public transit ; it is also adjacent to the New England Aquarium )  “Every day, there were more and more of the king’s soldiers marching on Boston Common.” But all Henry wants to do is use the new sled he received for his ninth birthday.  When he gets to the sledding hill, he discovers that the soldiers have camped in the middle of the sled runs on Boston Common.  Gathering his courage, he approaches General Gage about the ruined sled runs.  After a long conversation, the General authorizes sledding over the commons and instructs the soldiers to keep the ice unbroken on one of the ponds.  Henry manages to get his sledding in, flying down the hill over and over again until it is time to hurry back to school for afternoon lessons.

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You Can’t Take a Balloon into the Museum of Fine Artsby Jacqueline Preiss Weitzmann and Robin Preiss Glasser was published in 2002.  It is a wordless story of the adventures of two children and their grandparents and is a great tour of the city.

As the story starts off, the little girl can’t take her green balloon into the museum, so her grandmother offers to hold it while the others go inside.  Unfortunately, before the children even get into the museum, the balloon escapes and grandma desperately chases it, hoping to get it back before her granddaughter finds out.  Grandma quickly flags down a passing motorcyclist and chases the balloon through the city streets with her antics mirroring the images in the paintings the children see in the museum.  The balloon floats into the Boston Public Library (this link includes a list of current activities for children) then on into the public gardens, onto the Boston common, through Boston’s Chinatown and to the wharf and a reenactment of the Boston Tea Party.  The balloon continues to elude Grandma as the crowd follows it to Quincy market,  past the old North Church, Comcast Amphitheater and on into Fenway Park where the balloon gets tangled into a baseball and hit back to the Museum of Fine Arts.  At each stop Grandma collects another passerby, all of whom resemble subjects in the pictures the children have been viewing.  This is an entertaining tour of the city and a reminder that art can resemble life.

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Blueberries for Sal
April 282015

Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey was first published in 1948 and won the Caldecott Medal of Honor in 1949.  The story opens with Sal and her mother going up Blueberry Hill to pick blueberries.  There’s a scenic overlook available on Blueberry Hill and blueberry picking is lots of fun for children, well at least eating blueberries is fun!  Maine produces 98% of the wild blueberries in the U.S., mostly in Washington county and there are lots of pick-your-own farms where your children can indulge themselves like Sal.   Little Sal wanders off while picking blueberries and accidently ends up following a bear while the baby bear ends up following Sal’s mother.  The mothers realize the error and carefully back away from the child following them to find their own and wander home, picking and eating blueberries all the way.

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Finn MacCoul and His Fearless Wife: A Giant of a Tale from Ireland by Robert Byrd was published in 1999 and is a retelling of a tale from Irish Folklore.  Finn MacCoul is said to have been the greatest leader of the Fianna, the military elite of ancient Ireland responsible for guarding the High King.  In this story, we learn how Finn gains his wisdom from the Salmon of Knowledge, how the Giant’s causeway was built and how his wife tricked Cucullin, another giant, by disguising Finn as a baby.  It’s proved a very popular tale in our household, and has been requested every night for a week so far.

While this is a retelling of a very old legend, locations in the story can still be explored.  The Giant’s causeway is located on the north coast of Ireland.  It is an area of 40,000+ interlocking basalt columns,  believed to be caused by a volcanic eruption, but it’s much more appealing to think that Finn MacCoul and his men built it by throwing giant rocks into the sea and riding on whales!  You can also visit Knockmany Hill in County Tyrone where Finn lived and Oonagh tricked Cucullin.

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Apples to Oregon
April 282015

Apples to Oregon by Deborah Hopkinson and Nancy Carpenter was published in 2004 and is a tall tale loosely based on the story of a pioneer named Henderson Luelling who left Iowa for Oregon in 1847 with his family and a wagon carrying seven hundred plants and young fruit trees (you can find out about the types of plants he brought here http://www.ars-grin.gov/cor/cool/luelling.html).  Told from the perspective of Delicious,  Apples to Oregon describes the difficulties encountered along the Oregon Trail.  Delicious and her family cross the Platte River with the wagon, encounter hail storms, the heat of the desert, walk past Courthouse Rock and Chimney Rock in Nebraska, “and lots of other rocks that didn’t have names,” fend off the frost and finally reach the Columbia River and “a pretty place near Portland.”  The plants that Henderson Luelling brought with him are believed to be the basis for many homestead orchards in the Oregon Territory.  The Hood River Fruit Loop is a 35 mile scenic byway with lots of orchards full of fruit that you can pick or just buy and eat, just like the ones on the wagon.

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Tim O’Toole and the Wee Folkby Gerald McDermot was published in 1992. Set in Donegal, it retells an old European tale of luck and redemption.  “Tim and Kate were so poor they had not a penny or a potato between them…Even the mice were thin from want of food and the cat wouldn’t bother with chasing the creatures.”  Tim set out, traveling the length of the country to see if he could earn some money.  When he could walk no further, he stopped and lay down to rest.  While you may not want to walk the length of Ireland with your children, Glenveagh National Park in Northwest Donegal offers guided nature, history and garden walks.  No sooner had Tim started resting, when he heard music and voices from a little hollow in the side of the hill.  Tim knew that whoever spied the wee folk could demand their treasure.  Tim is given a goose that lays golden eggs and instructed to go home and tell no one.  He of course stops for the night and tells his hosts, the McGoons, about his good fortune.  His hosts swap the goose for another and when Tim gets home he finds that he only has an ordinary goose so he goes back to the wee folk demanding more treausre. In the end, the McGoons gave back what they had stolen and Tim and Kate are beset with folk who have heard of their good fortune.  With the help of the third treasure from the wee folk, they eventually regain their peace and quiet and lived “in a little cottage, on a little hill, at the end of a little lane in Donegal…”

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Pop’s Bridge
April 282015

Pop’s Bridge by Eve Bunting was first published in 2006.  It tells the story of the building of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco from the perspective of Robert, the son of one of the ironworkers building the bridge. There’s so much to do and see in San Francisco, but it is well worth visiting the Golden Gate Bridge while you’re there.  You can walk, drive or bike across and the views are spectacular.

Robert watches the building of the bridge from Fort Point with his friend Charlie whose dad is a painter on the bridge.  Built at the height of the California Gold Rush in 1853, Fort Point was designed to protect San Francisco harbor from foreign attack and is now a National Historic Site.  It’s full of history and a really nice place to wander around.  It’s still one of the best places to get a close up view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Robert and Charlie watch the building of the bridge everyday.  In the beginning of the story, Robert thinks that the ironworkers are the most important bridge workers and downplays the role of the painter’s like Charlie’s father, but in the end, he realizes that they’re equally important and the jobs they’re doing are equally dangerous.  Pop’s bridge does a good job of capturing the emotions surrounding the building of the bridge, the riskiness of the venture, and how it captured the hearts of the city.

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Whales Passing
April 282015

Whales Passing by Eve Bunting was published in 2003.  It’s a cute story about a little boy standing with his father and watching the orcas go by.  The little boy wonders about the orcas and how they find their way and imagines what they are saying about him in return.  Whale watching can be a lot of fun with kids and can be done both from the shore as well as on a boat tour.

There are whale watching tours available in the San Juan IslandsPort Townsend, Washington and multiple locations in Oregon.  The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department trains volunteers who are staitioned at whale watching sites during the winter and spring migrations (roughly the end of March and December).

 

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The Seattle Puzzle
April 282015

The Seattle Puzzle is part of the Boxcar children series originally created by Gertrude Chandler in 1924.  The Seattle Puzzle was added in 2007 and finds the Alden children, Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny on a business trip to Seattle with their grandfather.  The mystery starts almost as soon as they arrive and the children discover riddles left by persons unknown that take them all over the city.  My six-year-old son has really enjoyed solving the riddles. He’s spent enough time in Seattle to be familiar with some of the major attractions, and thinks it’s lots of fun to solve the riddles before the characters do.  In the course of solving the riddles, the Aldens visit the Seattle Space Needle, the Fremont Troll, Pioneer Square, the Underground City, and Pike Place Market, and tour the harbor on a  boat, all of which are lots of fun to visit with children.

 

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Calico Dorsey
April 282015

Calico Dorseyby Susan Lendroth is based on the true story of a stray dog adopted and trained by Everett and Alwin Stacy to carry mail between the mining towns of Calico and Bismark, California during the silver rush in 1885.  Calico Dorsey actually carried the mail between the towns for nearly three years.  In a world of instant information transfer, my son has a hard time imagining what it must have been like to wait for mail that only came once a week and wanted to know if we could train our dog to deliver the mail too.  The Author’s note includes additional information about the historical origins of the story and a picture of the real Calico Dorsey.  The town of Calico is now a State Historical Landmark which was restored by Walter Knott (Knott’s Berry Farm) in the 1950s to look as it did in the 1800s.   At the height of the boom, the Calico region had close to 500 mines and produced nearly $86 million in silver.  While the boom may be over, kids can still see the conditions in which miners worked, ride an old mining cart, and pan for gold. Calico Dorsey is a great start for igniting their imaginations and reliving a piece of history.

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Redwoods
April 282015

Redwoods by Jason Chin opens with a little boy sitting and waiting for his train when he spies an abandoned book. When he opens the book, magical things begin to happen.  I’ve always enjoyed the magical places that books take us and Redwoods takes us into the little boy’s imagination.  As he reads about redwoods, dinosaurs appear in the windows of the train. The roots of the trees appear as he exits the subway station and learns that the root system of redwoods can “travel more than one hundred feet from the tree” and he exits the train into a forest surrounded by redwoods that can grow more than 200 feet tall.

Redwoods does a good job of exercising the imagination and teaching about Redwoods as the little boy explores a forest while never leaving the city. In the U.S., the coast redwoods (Sequois sempervirens) only grow in a strip of coast reaching from southern Oregon down through central California and are well worth seeing. Muir woods is an easy drive from San Francisco.  If you’re traveling further north, the Mystery Tour near the Oregon/California border in Klamath, CA provides a gondola ride through the trees of the Redwood National and State Parks. The Redwood National and State parks run for about 37 miles along the northern California coast and offer lots of hiking and exploring opportunities along with junior ranger programs for kids. The Redwoods are awe inspiring and definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area.

If you’d like to add Redwoods to your child’s library, click here.

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Armadillo Rodeo
April 282015

Armadillo Rodeo by Jan Brett is set in the heart of Texas Hill Country.  The nearsighted armadillo, Bo, wanders off from his family and mistakes a pair of  “pointy-toed, high-heeled, hand-tooled chili-pepper red boots with fancy cutwork, tall tops, and a Curly H brand,” for another armadillo and follows the boots (along with their wearer, Harmony Jean) as they go along on a Texas day, riding on the back of her horse, attending a rodeo, eating a jalapeno at a barbeque, and dancing the two-step.  At the end of the day, Harmony Jean takes off her boots and Bo discovers, much to his dismay, that his new friend isn’t an armadillo after all.  Just as he starts to get upset, his mother finds him again and all ends well.  Jan Brett’s story and illustrations do a great job of faithfully rendering the environs from the bluebonnets to the prickly pear cactus and Bo’s mistake makes for an entertaining story, bound to evoke giggles as he follows the boots through the day.

The Texas Hill Country is a beautiful part of central Texas, especially in the spring with the bluebonnets bloom and before it gets oppressively hot.  It offers something for everyone.  There are cowboys and dude ranches, hiking, spelunking, tubing, a great music scene in Austin, and plenty of history from the Alamo in San Antonio to Washington on the Brazos, the site of the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence.  If you’re planning a trip to Texas, Armadillo Rodeo certainly gets you in the mood.

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By the Great Horn Spoon!by Sid Fleishman is a rip roaring swashbuckling kind of a tall tale.  It’s a great book (though the cover on this edition is awful).  Twelve year old Jack stows away in a potato barrel on a boat from Boston to California with his Aunt’s butler, Praiseworthy, in an effort to make his fortune and help his Aunt Arabella save the family home.  The book is great for reading aloud and it’s one my six year old doesn’t want me to put down. The first half of the book focuses on the trip itself, with Jack and Praiseworth stowing away aboard the Lady Wilma in Boston, stopping in Rio de Janeiro, heading for Cape Horn and crossing through the Straits of Magellan in an effort to beat another boat.

We’ve had interesting discussions regarding the six months it took Jack and Praiseworthy to get from Boston to California and comparing that to how we can now fly there in less than a day.  I wasn’t sure how to tag this book, it doesn’t really take place in Boston, but it does a good job of contrasting the life that Jack was leaving with the adventures and dangers of the Gold Rush and how the lure of instant riches drew people from all places and walks of life.  By the end of the story fortunes are made and lost and made again, but they never quite make it back to Boston!

During the Gold Rush, San Francisco grew from 200 residents in 1846 to more than 36000 in 1852.  There’s a gold rush trail that traces the original shoreline of the city.  There’s also a gold rush tour which talks about the fleet of abandoned ships mentioned at the end of  By the Great Horn Spoon!   It must have been quite a sight, ships abandoned as everyone headed to make their fortune.

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Amelia And Eleanor Go For A Ride,written by Pam Munoz Ryan and illustrated by Brian Selznick is a fictionalized account of a trip taken by Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt, though almost all of the dialogue came from newspaper accounts, book transcripts, and diaries.  It’s a wonderful story with captivating black and white drawings of an evening with these two famous women, capturing a moment in history when flying was in its infancy.  It’s amazing how quickly we’ve come to take long distance flights for granted.

Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride starts with dinner at the White House (requests for tours of the White House can be submitted up to six months in advance).  During dinner, the conversation turns to flying and Eleanor and Amelia decide to take a flight to Baltimore and back to see the stars.  In real life, the plane was mostly flown by pilots from Eastern Airlines, though Amelia and Eleanor both took a turn piloting.  In the story, it’s just the two women together flying over the Potomac River, past the capitol dome, Chesapeake Bay, and the National Mall and on their return, sneaking off for a fast car ride though the city.  The story ends back at the White House and includes a recipe for Eleanor’s favorite dessert.

My son enjoyed the story and it provided fodder for several discussions.  He had trouble conceiving of a time when flying was novel and didn’t understand why it would be unusual for women to fly planes or drive cars!  The author’s note provides more historical context and we’ll certainly stop and see the plane that Amelia Earhart flew solo across the Atlantic when we’re in D.C.

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Buffalo Music
April 282015

Buffalo Music by Tracey E. Fern is a very lyrically written fictionalized account of the hunting of the buffalo in West Texas and the conservation efforts of a few of the ranchers.  It is loosely based on Mary Ann “Molly” Goodnight, a pioneer who settled in the Palo Duro Canyon in 1876.

As the book opens, Molly is recounting how everything she does is accompanied by the noises of the animals around her and the most dominant sound is the sound of the wild buffalo. When the hunters come, the music changes to the boom and the blast of rifles and they ride past mountains of buffalo skulls as the canyon descends into silence. However, all it not lost! The next spring a cowhand brings her two orphaned buffalo calves to raise.  She brings them into the house, wraps them in flannel blankets and hot water bottles and nurses them back to health.  Within a few weeks, they’re well enough to go in a pen with the milking cows.  Cowhands bring her all of the orphans they find and her herd quickly grows to over 100 bison.  The sounds of buffalo music have returned to the canyon.  One day, she learns that  Yellowstone National Park was looking to rebuld its buffalo herd so she sends four of her buffalo to help.  Her buffalo form one of the five foundation herds in the U.S.

In the 1700s, Buffalo populations in North America exceeded 60,000,000. By 1885, their numbers were down to under 1000 with most of those being protected by Texas ranchers. Due to the efforts of a handful of ranchers including Mary Ann Goodnight and her husband Charles, the buffalo were saved from extinction.  The author’s note includes more details on the preservation of the buffalo and their history in the U.S.

A replica of the dugout where the Goodnights lived (and in the story where the buffalo were kept warm) has been built in Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Mary Ann’s herd was eventually given to the state of Texas and the Buffalo have been resettled in Caprock Canyons State Park as the Texas State Herd.  Mary Ann’s buffalo live on in Texas and Yellowstone National Park two of the few places where children can still hear the Buffalo Music for themselves.

Though the hunting of the buffalo is sad, the book itself isn’t and the stubbornness of Molly and efforts to preserve the buffalo make for an entertaining read.

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Puffling
April 282015

Puffling written by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Julie Vivas, is a sweet story with great pastel drawings of the puffin family.  It tells the story of Puffling from the time he hatches until he leaves the nest to start his own adventures.  As with most children, Puffling wants to be big and keeps asking his parents when he’ll be old enough to leave the burrow.  His parents, Big Stripy Beak and Long Black Feather, tell him that when he is “strong enough and tall enough and brave enough, you’ll leave the burrow all by yourself.”  He can’t wait to leave the burrow and be on his own. Puffling adorably takes practice adventures, popping his head out of the burrow, sticking one leg out, and waggling his bottom at the scary gulls.  Periodically, he asks if he’s strong enough, tall enough or brave enough yet and his parents tell him “not yet,” until he’s big enough to be on his own.

Puffling is a very easy story for children to relate to. Puffling’s parents love him and reassure him that no matter what he’ll always be their child, even when he’s grown-up.  They tell him to stay safe, but encourage him to start spreading his own wings.  My two year old really enjoyed listening to this book and it was a great introduction to the puffins we saw on a boat trip in Maine.  Cap’n Fish’s Puffin tour is accompanied by an Audubon naturalist who describes the different birds you’ll see on Eastern Egg Rock and the ongoing conservation efforts that began in the 1970s to reintroduce the puffins to Maine.  There are lots of choices for Puffin tours with boats leaving from Cutler Harbor, Booth Bay Harbor, New Harbor, Port Clyde, Stonington, Bar Harbor, Milbridge and South Addison.  You never know what you’ll see, and a boat ride on the ocean is fun for everyone.

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Andre the Famous Harbor Seal, written by Fran Hodgkins and illustrated by Yetti Fenkel, tells the true story of the incredible bond between André the seal and Harry Goodridge, the harbormaster of Rockport, Maine and the twenty-five years they spent together.

The story opens by explaining that today you aren’t allowed to catch wild seals, but that in 1961 there were no regulations prohibiting the keeping of seals.  In the beginning,  Harry kept André at his house with his family and a menagerie of other pets, with twice daily trips to Rockport Harbor for a swim  (my son wanted to know if we could get a permit to keep a seal in our bathtub too.) Once André learned to eat fish, he began spending entire days in the ocean, but he always came back for dinner.  Harry started teaching André tricks based on the seal’s natural behavior and he quickly became famous, giving shows when he returned to the harbor at dinnertime.  My 6 year old was really excited to find out that his dad had actually seen André when he was a child. In order to keep him safe, André spent winters at the New England Aquarium in Boston or the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut.  In the spring, he would be released in either Marblehead Harbor, MA or Cape Cod, MA and would swim back home to Rockport.  Though he died in 1986, André is still remembered  in Rockport and there’s even a  statue of him in the Rockport Marine Park.  There are also lots of boat tours departing out of  Bar Harbor, Booth Bay, and Casco Bay, to see Harbor Seals in the wild.

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Finn McCool and the Great Fish by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Zachary Pullen tells the story of how the giant Finn McCool acquired his great wisdom.

While Finn McCool was the biggest giant in all Ireland, and the greatest warrior ever known, he wasn’t known for being terribly bright.  One day he overhears his neighbors in Drumnahoon discussing his lack of mental agility and he is determined to change the situation.  From an old man in a neighboring village,  he learns that in the River Boyne there is a salmon who contains all of the wisdom of the world and that if he eats the salmon, the wisdom will be his.  Finn captures the fish, but as he sits looking at it, he realizes he is unwilling to sacrifice it for wisdom.  He removes the hook from the fish and while preparing to let it go, catches his thumb on the hook mingling his blood with the salmon’s and transferring the wisdom of the fish.  From then on, whenever he’s faced with a difficult problem, Finn always sucks the thumb he pricked with the fish hook.

This retelling of an old folk tale contains heroes and magic and the lesson that physical prowess isn’t everything and kindness and wisdom are strengths as well.  My son loves to hear stories about Finn McCool, and he frequently asks if I’ve found more of them. The pictures of this edition are very evocative, with images of Finn helping his neighbors by carrying livestock in out of the rain, sitting and looking a bit like a turnip head, and his view of the glittering trail of fish scales that were all that remained of the old man that helped him.

The River Boyne, where the salmon of wisdom lived, flows 70 miles northeast from County Kildare to enter the Irish Sea just below Drogheda in County Louth.  Despite only being 70 miles long, the river has historical and mythical significance.  It was the site of the battle of Boyne in 1690 which was a power struggle between James II of England, William of Orange, and King Louis XIV of France.  The Battle of the Boyne visitor centre in Drogheda, Co. Meath provides walking tours of the battlefield, audio/visual tours, 17th century weapon displays, laser battlefield models, as well as hosting numerous events during the spring and summer.  It also passes near the ancient city of Trim and Trim Castle,  Ireland’s largest Anglo-Norman castle (which was used in the filming of the movie Braveheart).  The river also passes near the Hill of Tara, the ancient capital of the High King of Ireland; Mellifont Abbey, the first Cistercian monastery in Ireland; and the Hill of Slane which is associated with St. Patrick and reputed to be the place where he lit the Pascal fire in 433, symbolizing the triumph of Christianity over paganism.  The river is also one of Ireland’s premier game fisheries and you can certainly try your hand at catching your own salmon of wisdom.

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O’Sullivan Stew
April 282015

O’Sullivan Stew by Hudson Talbott is a tall tale in the Irish tradition and very enjoyable blarney.  Set in the town of Crookhaven, County Cork, it tells of the adventures of Kate O’Sullivan who manages to rescue the town from its misfortune and her family from the hangman’s noose by spinning tales and convincing the King that they’d been in worse spots before.

As the story opens, Kate is on the coast, harvesting periwinkles for the evening stew.  Coastline foraging is still fairly common, you can learn more about how to do it at Slow Food Ireland and there are a number of recipes on Georgina Campbell’s Ireland website.  Lost in her daydreams, she hears a shout as the tax collectors try to take the village witch’s horse.  Kate runs to the village to get help only to be told that the witch is “not one of us.”  Furious, the witch goes into a snit and things changed in the village. “The fishnets came up empty.  The cows stopped giving milk.  Gardens died.  Trees fell on houses with remarkable accuracy.  And the rain was heavier than usual….”  Not one to be stopped, Kate convinces her family that they should steal the horse back from the king in order to appease the witch, arguing it’s better to die trying than slowly of starvation.  Needless to say, the attempt fails (with a surprising twist, the expressions in the illustrations are priceless).   Cast in front of the king, the king states “[d]o you realize the trouble you’re in? Have you ever been in a worse spot in your life?”  Kate pops up with “I have” and promises to tell her tale if the king will release them.  One story for each member of the family, she spins tales and you can almost hear her voice as you read the stories.  She manages to free herself and her two brothers, but when she tells the tale of her father’s worst fix, the King expresses disbelief, that is until the queen mother appears on the scene…

O’Sullivan Stew is a great tale of strong willed women, kings, witches, fairies, selkies, sea dragons, talking animals, and giants.  It is set in County Cork  on Ireland’s southwest coast.  County Cork is full of things to do for everyone, from visiting tiny villages like Crookhaven, which was the last port of call for ships sailing to America, to the sights and sounds of Cork City, the third largest city in Ireland, and of course there’s always a stop at Blarney Castle!

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Adèle & Simon
April 282015

Adèle & Simon by Barbara McClintock  is an enjoyable traipse through Paris and a tale of the trials of having a younger brother. As the book opens, Adèle picks up her younger brother from school.  In these days of helicopter parenting, it’s hard to imagine letting an older sibling walk a younger sibling home but I certainly hear reflections of Adèle’s exasperation and affection when watching my two boys interact.  When she picks up Simon, he has all his things– “his hat and gloves and scarf and sweater, his coat and knapsack and books and crayons, and a drawing of a cat he’d made that morning.”  As they walk home in a tour of Paris that children are sure to enjoy, Simon  manages to lose, well,  pretty much everything.

The pen and ink drawings of 19th century Paris include the missing items for you to find and views of Paris that still exist and can be found when you visit.  The opening page starts with a view from the Pont-Neuf of the Samaritaine department store which is finally being restored.  Simon loses the drawing of the cat at a market.  While this particular market may no longer exist, street markets are prevalent in Paris and full of things for children to discover.  Simon goes on to lose his books at the Jardin des Plantes, his scarf among the dinosaurs at the Museum National D’ Histoire Naturelle, his glove as they exit the Metro, his other glove at the Jardin du Luxembourg , his hat while watching a parade with the Musique de la Garde Republicaine (recordings can also be found on youtube and in itunes), his crayons while drawing in the Louvre, his knapsack having pastries at the Maison Cador (which unfortunately has closed, though there are many other patisseries to choose from), his coat in front of Notre Dame Cathedral, and his sweater at the Cour de Rohan before arriving safely home with an Adèle who is tired.  “Tired of Simon losing things, tired of looking for the things Simon lost.  Tired of looking for Simon.”  As mama is asking where his things are, there is a knock on the door and all of Simon’s things are returned by a line of people from each of the locations they visited.

Adèle & Simon is a delightful tour of Paris.  The end papers very helpfully contain a map identifying the locations where Simon loses his belongings and we had a lot fun finding the lost objects (can you figure out how many crayons Simon lost?) and even saw Miss Clavel and Madeline in the park.  Just following Adèle and Simon would provide a view of some of the highlights of Paris, with architectural sights, art, dinosaurs, and plenty of gardens in which to roam.

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The Last Snake in Ireland written by Shelia MacGill-Callahan and illustrated by Will Hillenbrand is an entertaining tall tale combining the legends of St. Patrick and the Loch Ness Monster.  For older readers (6-9 year olds), it may be worthwhile to talk about historical figures and the stories that surround them, explaining the difference between historical accounts and legends about St. Patrick and new, made up stories such as this one.

In this story, Patrick decides to banish the snakes from Ireland and rings a snake call on his magic bell.  “Snakes slithered in from Kerry, they oozed up from Cork; from every corner of the Green Isle they answered his summons.”  The snakes all crawl into the sea and Patrick thinks he has succeeded until he hears a hissing behind him and discovers he’s missed the “biggest, oldest, sneakiest snake in all of Ireland.”  The sneaky snake sets out to bedevil Patrick, showing up everywhere in an entertaining series of illustrations, even, “under the quilt on his bed.”  Frustrated, Patrick plots to capture the snake but also feels he has to give the snake a fighting chance.  He chases the snake over the Blue Stack Mountains and in his anger, Patrick pushes the mountains open to form the Long Glen of Hunting (Glen-fada-na-Scalga).  The snake plunges into Lough Erne, through the Glens of Antrim and across the Giants’ Causeway to the sea where the snake is captured by an eagle and carried to Scotland.  Patrick follows and eventually captures the snake and drops him into Loch Ness.  The snake promises to be good if Patrick will let him out and Patrick says he’ll have to wait until tomorrow.  Years later, when Patrick returns, he discovers the snake has broken out of the box he was trapped in and boy has he grown…

The Blue Stack Mountains (without snakes) are located in Donegal, the northernmost county in Ireland.  Donegal is perfect for people wanting to get away, with nature preserves, rugged coast lines, a 4000 year old ring fort, and folk village museum.  The mountains are worth exploring and there is a hill walking club, a walking festival every October, and regular guided tours through Walking Ireland.   We didn’t make it to Donegal this last trip, but it is definitely on our list!

(My two-year-old brought this in to us at 4:30 this morning, wanting to read the snake book again.  Jet lag is rough!)

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Madame Pamplemousse and Her Incredible Edibles by Rupert Kingfisher tells the story of Madame Pamplemousse who sells “the strangest, the rarest, the most delicious, the most extraordinarily, the most incredible-tasting edibles in all the world,” Camembert the cat who cooks, and Madeline, who is sent by her parents each summer to stay with her uncle, Monsieur Lard, a greedy, fat bully (who looks an awful lot like a pig).  Her uncle owns a famous restaurant, the Squealing Pig.  His ambition in life is to be recognized as a great chef, but he is a terrible cook and is jealous of anyone who is better (which is pretty much everyone).  When Madeline is sent out to buy supplies for the restaurant, she stumbles upon the Incredible Edibles and buys a jar of paté of North Atlantic Sea Serpent.  The patrons of the Squealing Pig have never enjoyed their dinner so much and Monsieur Lard must have more.  He hatches a plan to have Madeline steal Madame Pamplemousse’s recipes, but by the end of the story tables are turned, Monsieur Lard flees Paris to drive a van selling chips on the sea coast and Madeline and Madame Pamplemousse triumph.

Madame Pamplemousse and Her Incredible Edibles is an enjoyable tale and a great introduction to the gastronomic delights of Paris and French cooking.  The pen and ink drawings by Sue Hellard add a lot of character to the story and include some great views of Paris. Locating or identifying some of the edibles described in the book might encourage a reluctant eater to try new things as well as explore the city.  The description of the shop and the foods found there make me hungry just thinking about them.

Madame Pamplemousse’s shop is located “in the city of Paris, on the banks of the river, tucked away from the main street down a narrow, winding alley.”  While there isn’t really a 62 Rue d’Escargot, I think it would be fun to hunt for the store, or paté of North Atlantic Sea Serpent, in any of the charcuteries you might come across.  I’m sure there are a few charcuteries down winding roads by the river.  Of course, you could just limit yourself to hunting for patisseries….

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The Barefoot Book of Pirates by Richard Walker and illustrated by Olwyn Whelan is a retelling of seven pirate stories from Scandinavia, England, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Scotland and Morocco.  The stories are well illustrated and entertaining while being refreshingly free from gore. The hardcover edition of the book is accompanied by a CD with Richard Hope narrating the seven stories, perfect for long trips!

England
Everyone associates Robin Hood with Sherwood Forest and Nottingham, but with references dating back to the 13th century and the earliest recorded ballads dating from the 13th and 14th century, it is difficult to separate fact from fiction and whether he was a real person or a conglomeration of many.  The origins of “Robin Hood and the Pirates” date back to 1858 at least and possibly earlier.  In the story, Robin decides to go on vacation and leave Sherwood Forest and Little John suggests a trip to Scarborough.  Today, Scarborough is the largest holiday resort on the Yorkshire Coast.  In keeping with the pirate theme, there is a treasure hunt in Scarborough which lets you explore the coast, castle and surrounding environs.   After a few days in Scarborough, Robin decides he’s bored and wants to go out on a fishing boat.  You too can go out on a fishing trip with Queensferry Cruises and Skylark Fishing Trips.  While you probably won’t run into pirates on the coast of England on your trip, in this story Robin manages to save the fisherman from the pirates and in true Robin Hood fashion, he shares the plunder with the fishing crew and the good woman who had rented him a room.

Ireland
Grace O’Malley (Granuaile) or “The Sea Queen of Connaught” is one of the few female pirates in history.  In “Pirate Grace,” she arrives at Howth Castle in Ireland and asks for dinner according to custom.  Lord Howth refuses as he is too busy eating his own dinner and doesn’t want to be disturbed.  In retaliation, Grace kidnaps his heir and holds him hostage on Clare Island.  Her demand for his son’s freedom?  An apology and that the Lord always lay a spare place at the dining table in case anyone should need it.

Howth, now a suburb of Dublin, was originally a fishing village and is a nice day trip and escape from the hustle and bustle of Dublin.  As the northernmost stop on the DART, it is easily accessible and offers great views, cliff walks, and enjoyable restaurants set in a working harbor.  While the truth of the legend of Grace O’Malley is in doubt, to this day an extra place is set at Howth Castle.  The castle is not open to the public, but it is visible as part of the walking tour of Howth. You can also take a ferry or boat tour out Ireland’s eye, formerly home to a monastery dating to 700 AD and now a bird sanctuary.

Morocco
“The Ship of Bones” is probably the grimmest story of the collection, though it may have been an inspiration for Pirates of the Caribbean.  A shipwrecked pair, drifting in the ocean catches sight of a strange ship that doesn’t answer their hail.  The two men clamber on board only to discover the ship is crewed by skeletons in old fashioned sailor’s clothing.   As they find out later, the boat has been cursed to not make landfall, so it is with a struggle that the men manage to change the ship’s course to head into Tangiers.  By the end of the story, the two men find out what happened to the sailors and are able to put the skeletons to rest; this story would be an interesting introduction for a trip to Tangiers and you too can arrive by boat.

Tangiers is relatively easy to get to, it’s only an hour’s ferry ride from Tarifa, Spain.  While there, you can visit Hercules’ Cave where Hercules is said to have rested and the Forbes Museum  which contains 115,000 lead soldiers placed in various scenes depicting major battles throughout history.

The Barefoot Book of Pirates is published by Barefoot Books, an independent publishing company dedicated to publishing children’s books that allow children to explore other cultures, the planet, and their imagination.  They’re a great source for children’s travel and exploration books.

As for how much my children enjoyed this book, well, we sat down on a grey, drizzly afternoon and read all seven stories (63 pages) in a single sitting!

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Miss Lady Bird’s Wildflowers: How a First Lady Changed America written by Kathi Appelt and Illustrated by Joy Fisher Hein is a biography of former first lady, Lady Bird Johnson.  Opening with the story of Lady Bird’s childhood and how important flowers were to getting her through life’s ups and downs, the book relates the source of Lady Bird’s inspirations and her mission to beautify and transform the country, particularly the national roadsides.

Flowers and nature were always a part of Lady Bird’s life.  After her mother died, the sight of bluebonnets reminded her of her mother and “filled her with a sense of being loved.”  When she was a student at the University of Texas, the fields of bluebonnets reminded her of her home in East Texas.  She believed that “it is important for a child to plant a seed…to water it, nourish it, tend to it, watch it grow, and when he does, and when she does, they themselves will grow into great citizens.”  In Washington, D.C., she made sure her garden was full of flowers, but thought that everyone, not just her family deserved to look at nature.   She saw her conservation and beautification work as part of her husband’s Great Society agenda and was active in re-beautifying Washington, D.C., founding the Society for a more beautiful Nation’s Capital, and actively lobbying for the Beautification Act of 1965 which controls outdoor advertising along the U.S. interstate highway system.  When Lyndon Johnson’s term of office ended, she planted fields of Texas wildflowers on their ranch and paid a farmer to stop mowing down his pink evening primroses and to harvest the wildflower seeds.  She also helped establish the National Wildflower Research Center where scientists study the uses and effects of wildflowers saying that it was her way of “paying rent for the space I have taken up in this highly interesting world.”

I must admit to having a soft spot for fields of bluebonnets as well.  One of the first trips I took to Texas with my husband was to the Texas Hill Country and it was spectacular.  The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin offers short hikes, meadows, and caves, with an easy introduction to native species and conservation.  There’s also a great music scene in Austin and plenty to do with kids, from watching nearly 1 million bats take flight, the miniature train ride at Zilker Metropolitan Park, swimming in Barton Springs, and the nearby Austin Nature and Science Center.

This enjoyable biography includes an index of wildflowers to find in the pictures and is a good introduction to the concept of conservation and preservation as well as to the beauty of the Texas wildflowers.

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The Story of Ferdinand
April 282015

The Story of Ferdinand written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson celebrated its 75th anniversary last year and has certainly earned the qualification of an oldie but a goodie!  It tells the story of a little bull named Ferdinand who has no interest in doing the things that little bulls are supposed to do. His mother worries about him until she realizes that he really is happy being by himself.

Over time, Ferdinand grows into a big, strapping bull, but he still maintains his mild demeanor and likes to sit under his favorite tree and smell the flowers.  All of the other bulls want to be picked to fight in the bull fights in Madrid and spend their time practicing running and jumping and butting their heads together, but Ferdinand has absolutely no interest.  When the men come to pick a bull to fight, Ferdinand wanders off, completely uninterested.  Everything would have ended there, except that Ferdinand sits on a bee!  Snorting and stomping, his reaction to getting stung is exactly what the men are looking for in a ferocious bull.  Thinking Ferdinand is the most ferocious bull in the herd, they pack him up and cart him off to Madrid, where true to form Ferdinand follows his own heart and enjoys the flowers.  The illustrations are excellent and do a very good job of capturing the mood and the attitudes of those involved in the story, from Ferdinand’s shock at being stung to the fear of the Banderilleros and Picadores at facing this ferocious bull in the ring.

Madrid offers a great walking tour aimed at children with treasure hunts and engaging discussions of the historic context of the city and explanations of the many statues and sights.  It’s also worth paying a visit to the Palacio Real de Madrid which has a great armory and is widely considered one of the most beautiful palaces in Europe.  The Madrid Railway Museum offers trains to climb on and a working mini steam engine and you can take a trip on the strawberry train which follows the old Madrid to Aranjuez rail route.  Madrid is filled with museums and cultural sights to be explored and would not be complete without a visit to the Prado.  You can design your own treasure hunt at the Prado, looking online to see what is currently on display and having your children try to find particular pictures.  In keeping with Ferdinand, start with Goya’s equestrian portrait of a “Picador on Horseback.”

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“My papa has wandering feet.  That’s what Mamma always says.  Those feet have taken us to a lot of places,” begins Rebecca, the oldest daughter in a family moving from Missouri to Oregon along the Oregon Trail in Papa and the Pioneer Quilt written by Jean Van Leeuwen and illustrated by Rebecca Bond.

Rebecca isn’t sure she wants to move again.  She and her three siblings were each born in a different state, and she was feeling settled in Missouri with their little farm, her pet calf, and Grandma nearby.  Now they’re moving again, setting off in a wagon train for Oregon, nearly 2000 miles away and Rebecca is not at all sure about walking that long distance.  Even before they cross into Kansas, her feet “looked like they’d be worn out before we got there.”  However, she soon changes her outlook and starts to enjoy the journey.  Along the way, Rebecca is inspired to collect pieces of fabric to make into a quilt to commemorate their adventure.  Each piece of fabric she collects has a story behind it and marks a turning point in their journey. “The first thing [she] put in it was the handkerchief Grandma gave me when we left.  Her tears were still on it.” When her dad falls in the river, his shirt is shredded; into the bag go the tattered remains.  In Nebraska, a family with seven girls joins the train and after they walk together through Wyoming, one of the daughters gives Rebecca her sunbonnet to remember her by.  The sunbonnet goes into the quilt bag.  Her brother falls out of the wagon and rips his pants.  A tablecloth is abandoned by another traveler.  Every scrap she can find goes into her quilt bag, including the dress she wore every day for six months.  When they finally get to Oregon, her mother helps her sew the quilt together in a pattern called Wandering Foot, but after 2000 miles and six months of travelling, Rebecca is ready to stay put and as her mamma says, in reaching Oregon, they’ve “about run out of country.”

My six year old finds the stories of the Oregon Trail fascinating.  While he has no problem visualizing hiking twelve miles a day (he can do eight comfortably), he has a hard time understanding how long it took.  After all, he’s traveled from Missouri to Oregon and it takes a day, not six months!  He also wanted to know if we could make a quilt from his travels, um, I should be able to figure out how to make one?

More than 300,000 people set out for Oregon starting in the 1840’s. There’s an Oregon Trail Interpretive Center near the Oregon/Idaho border.  You can also learn more about the trail on the Oregon Trail Website.  If you’re staying near Portland, consider a visit to the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center in The Dalles and drive along the Columbia river, where many pioneers floated their belongings on homemade rafts down to Fort Vancouver.  If you’re planning a trip to Oregon, reading stories about the Oregon Trail captures the imagination and is a good way to pique your child’s interest about your trip.

 

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The Flight of the Silver Turtle by John Fardell is filled with explosions, inventions, espionage, secret messages, hidden treasure, World War II relics, sunken wrecks, secret rooms, a secret international evil spy ring, and last but not least, an anti-gravity machine.  It opens with a “BANG!” and doesn’t stop.

During their summer holidays, Ben, Zara, and Sam are helping their great uncle with his invention, a new electric motor.  They decide to take the motor for a test drive and head for the beach in the East Lothian countryside near Edinburgh.  After making a wrong turn, they stumble across an aircraft hangar where Amy McAirdrie is building an amphibious flying boat she’s named the Silver Turtle.  She’s very interested in Uncle Ampersand’s electric motor and suggests mounting it on her plane as she doesn’t have the skills to build engines herself.  What none of them know is that during World War II, the hanger was the home of a top secret project also named the Silver Turtle and there are people anxious to get their hands on the technology developed by the former occupants of the hanger.  While they are helping work on the Amy’s plane, the children stumble across an old photo taken in front of the hanger of Maskil Stribnik, a Czech refuge who worked on secret aviation projects for the British government.  The photo has a secret message on the back and after trying their hand at deciphering the message, the children head off to the Royal Museum, now part of the Chamber Street Museums, where Stribnik had an office.  They manage to decipher the message using an old typewriter they find in Stribnik’s office and as they are leaving a man in a mask tries to steal the photo, wanting to know what they have discovered.  The children manage to escape, but the next day as they are sitting in the plane getting ready to take it for a test drive, an elderly woman appears gasping “[h]elp me inta the plane!” As the bewildered children help her, the bad guys suddenly appear and start shooting, the children start yelling, the strange woman launches the plane, and that’s when the adventures really start!

The Silver Turtle doesn’t contain modern navigation gear, so the children navigate the plane using such must see Edinburgh landmarks as Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park to find St. Margaret’s Loch.  Their adventures take them to the Chamber Street Museums, up the Royal Mile and past the Palace of Holyroodhouse and Scottish Parliament  making the book a fun way to interest your child in the historic sights of the city.

The themes of the story are a little older, definitely aimed at the 10-12 year old crowd.  However, while some of the nuances were (thankfully) over my 6 year old son’s head and I think he completely missed the Nazi references, he loved the fast paced action. The beginning is a little slow, but a few chapters in he wanted to sit down and listen to the entire thing in one sitting.  We’re working through it a chapter or two at a time and he can’t wait to listen to it every evening.  When we visit Edinburgh, he definitely wants to go hunting for the secret room in the Chamber Street Museums!

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Degas and the Little Dancer by Laurence Anholt is a fictionalized account of the story behind the statue of La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans, one of Degas’ most recognized works.   Laurence Anholt’s series on artists and their works is a nice way to introduce art to children, and makes what they see in a museum that much more accessible.

Degas and the Little Dancer is based on the story of Marie Genevieve van Goethem, a young student at the Paris Opera Ballet and Degas’ model for the statue.  The story opens in a museum where the guard starts telling the story about the statue of the little ballerina.  In the story, little Marie dreams of only one thing, wanting to be a dancer at the Paris Opera House.  When she is old enough, she takes the entrance exam and much to her delight, is accepted into the program.  The only thing that mars her big day is a run in with a bad-tempered old man (Degas).  Initially, everything goes well and Marie is well on her way to reaching her goal, “and even Degas didn’t seem quite so frightening.”  There’s even talk of giving her a staring role in the Christmas ballet, quite a coup for a young dancer.  Then, one day, Marie’s father becomes ill and they can no longer afford the lessons she needs.  Marie starts posing for Degas in order to earn extra money and hopefully keep dancing.  She ends up having to stop dancing in order to help support her family, but two years later she receives an invitation to an art exhibition.  Much to her surprise, at the exhibition she sees a sculpture of her, La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans.  While not quite in the way she had dreamed, she does become a famous dancer.

Degas and the Little Dance is a sweet way to introduce children to some of Degas’ work.  The story flip-flops between a present day retelling in front of the statue and Anholt’s story behind the making of the statue, inspiring children to let their own imaginations fill in the details behind other works of art they may see on a trip to a museum  After Degas’ death, the original wax statue of La Petite Danseuse was cast in a series of  28 bronzes which can be found on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, National Gallery of Art, Norton Simon Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Art Institute of Chicago, Tate, Joslyn Art Museum, and the Musée d’Orsay.  This is a great book to read if you’re planning a trip to one of those museums.  We’re planning on using the statute as a starting point for a scavenger hunt!

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Minette’s Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat written by Susanna Reich and illustrated by Amy Bates is a delightful biography of Julia Child told from the perspective of her cat, Minette Mimosa McWilliams Child.  In the story, Minette sits listening to the bells of Sainte-Clotilde  and contemplating her life in the way that only cats do.  As she tells it, Julia and her husband Paul were enjoying their life in Paris, exploring shops and little streets, and eating wonderful meals at restaurants like Les Deux Magots (which still exists).  But a house without a cat, well that just isn’t done, so Minette adopted Julia and Paul.  When she arrived, Minette was not impressed by Julia’s cooking skills, so Julia signed up for classes at Le Cordon Bleu.  Le Cordon Bleu offers a variety of short classes and workshops for children as well as adults in addition to their more formal diploma courses.  Minette appreciates the improvement in Julia’s cooking skills, but really it isn’t the same as a mouse.  Then one day, Julia prepares a new recipe which according to Minette was perhaps as good as a mouse…

This is a sweet story with wonderful illustrations that really captured Julia Child and made me want to start cooking immediately.  Watching Minette enjoy her meals and the raptures she goes into over the new dish is enough to tempt any child to try something new.  Both of my children enjoyed reading this book over and over again. They were surprised to learn you could make mayonnaise and they’ve even requested the cheese souflé!

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The lilting cadence of The Wishing of Biddy Malone makes it a great book to read aloud and the illustrations do a good job of capturing the feel of the Irish countryside and contrasting the faerie kingdom.

As the story opens, we learn that Biddy Malone loves to sing and dance, “[b]ut her singing was like a rusty gate in a wild west wind, and when she danced, her great dundering feet fell over each other.”  She also has a terrible temper.  One day, in a fit of pique, she throws a pan of milk at her teasing brothers and storms out the door, running through the village and down to the river.  When she finally stops, she sees a faerie village, “the kind that children were warned about.” Enchanted, she walks in to hear the music better, but as soon as she enters, everything stops.  It is there she sees the most beautiful boy she has ever seen, one who offers her three wishes.  She asks to “sing as sweetly as a thrush and dance as lightly as a deer…and for a loving heart.”  When she gets home, she discovers that two months have passed, and she still “sang like a squeaking gate and danced with feet like bricks.”  But she has been inspired by the visit to the faerie village and every day she dances for hours, slowly improving and despite her mother’s worries about what the little people did to Biddy, she is happier and her temper starts to improve as well.  By the time she is fully grown, she is the best singer and dancer in the country, but much to her sorrow she is unable to fall in love.  In a temper again, she hears the music from the faerie village and storms past her schoolteacher suitor to confront the faerie who gave her the wishes.  His response: “I didn’t offer to grant you your wishes.  I just asked you to name them.  Then I told you they would be yours.”  As she stops to consider what he’s said, he continues that the reason she has been unable to accept anyone’s proposal is that she loves him and he knew he could come back for her.  While the wishes weren’t granted, with hard work she has managed to achieve her heart’s desires.

Written by Joy Cowley and illustrated by Christopher Denise, The Wishing of Biddy Malone tells the story of the redemption of Biddy Malone through hard work and perseverance without hitting you over the head with the morals.  The singing and dancing that Biddy Malone struggled with are still very much a part of Irish life and worth seeking out on your trip.  There is a National Voluntary Cultural Organization that organizes and teaches dances throughout Ireland including as part of the regular school curriculum   There are also regular performances of traditional music and it’s worth looking up a festival if you’re interested. If the timing of a festival doesn’t work, there are regular performances of Irish music and dance at the Irish House Party and the Museum of Irish Dance in Dublin.  If you can’t make it to Ireland, check out the Dublin Irish Festival  sponsored by the city of Dublin, Ireland, in Dublin, Ohio the first weekend in August.  It is one of America’s largest Irish festivals. With 500+ performers, the festival is three days of singing, dancing and storytelling in the Irish tradition.

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Katie and the Sunflowershttp://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=pittpatttrav-20&l=as2&o=1&a=1841216348 written by James Mayhew is another book in his wonderful series of Katie books where Katie jumps in and out of famous paintings having adventures with the subjects and sometimes bringing them into her world with mixed and amusing results.

In Katie and the Sunflowers, Katie wants some of the sunflower seeds from Van Gogh’s Sunflowers for her garden.  She reaches for a flower, bumping the vase and knocking it and the flowers out of the picture and onto the museum floor.  As she tries to clean up the mess, she hears giggling.  Turning around, she discovers that the giggles are coming from the three girls in Paul Gauguin’s Breton Girls Dancing.  One of the Breton Girls offers to help Katie if she can bring her dog Zazou along. The two girls climb back into the museum and predictably, Zazou is more of a hindrance than a help.  He grabs the sunflowers and runs into Café Terrace at Night, sending everything flying before escaping back into the museum chased by the girls and an angry waiter.  With the help of the fruit from Paul Cézanne’s Still Life with Apples and Oranges, they escape from the angry waiter to find Zazou barking at the red dog in Gauguin’s Tahitian Pastorals.  After a quick swim in Tahiti, Zazou redeems himself by discovering buried treasure on the beach and Katie excitedly pockets a handful of coins.  Back in the museum, the girls realize they don’t know how to get back to Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.  Fortunately, Zazou has left a trail of sunflower seeds for them to follow.  As the girls follow the trail of sunflower seeds on the museum floor, they put back everything as they found it and give the treasure to the waiter to pay for Zazou’s destruction at the café. Katie’s Grandma is just starting to wake up by the time everything is set to rights, never noticing that anything unusual has occurred.

My son loves the Katie books.  As we started this one, he looked at me and said, “Mom, all of the Katie books are blog books.”  He thinks it’s cool that there are pictures of real paintings in the illustrations, though he does say he couldn’t paint that well and insisted that they must have had a computer to help them.  When I explained that computers didn’t exist at that time, he thought I must be mistaken but he really wants to see the paintings in person.
The pictures found in Katie and the Sunflowers can be found at the National Gallery in London, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Musée D’Orsay in Paris, the Kröllerer-Müller Museum in Otterlo in the Netherlands and the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia.  The National Gallery in London has a lot for families with storytelling and an art project every Sunday and audio tours and printed trails the rest of the time.  They even have a printed tour of the museum with activities narrated by Katie, something we will definitely check out if we’re in London.
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Jo-Jo The Melon Donkey
April 282015

“Jo-Jo was a donkey.  His father had been a donkey before him, and his mother as well. And so, of course, Jo-Jo had to be a donkey whether he liked it or not.” So starts the tale of the rather downtrodden Jo-Jo the Melon Donkey written by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Tony Kerins.   Jo-Jo’s luck starts to change when his owner decides to take him to sell melons in St. Mark’s Square, the principal piazza in Venice, with St. Mark’s Bascilica and the campanile on one end and the Doge’s palace and the Procuratie Vecchie and Procuratie Nuove along the other sides. The Doge’s palace as well as St. Mark’s Basilica are both open to the public.

When they reach the square, Jo-Jo’s master stops under the four golden horses adorning St. Mark’s Basilica and tells Jo-Jo to sing out and sell their wares.  Initially the aristocrats in St. Mark’s square have no time for Jo-Jo and laugh at the contrast between him and the golden horses above, that is until the Doge’s daughter runs out of the palace, lonely, bored, and eager to buy a melon.  Suddenly, Jo-Jo is sold out as everyone strives to imitate the princess.  Every day that summer, Jo-Jo comes to St. Mark’s square loaded with melons and every day the Doge’s daughter comes out of the palace for her melon and a chat with Jo-Jo.

One day, the Doge announces a competition.  He is going to purchase the finest horse in the city for his daughter’s birthday.  The horses are brought into the square and lined up for viewing, each one finer than the next, but which one does the Doge’s daughter choose?  Jo-Jo!  Her father is appalled, but she is insistent, stating that if she can’t have Jo-Jo she doesn’t want anything.  While we haven’t had this argument over a horse, it certainly sounded familiar! As she is sent to her room, she whispers to Jo-Jo to meet her that night so they can run away together.

That night, Jo-Jo bites through his restraining rope and heads for the palace.  As he runs past the four golden horses, he hears voices.  At first he can’t figure out who is talking, then he realizes it is the four golden horses.  The four golden horses urge him to warn the city that the sea is coming in.  Jo-Jo runs over to the water’s edge and looks out over the lagoon.  Then he starts braying and braying, sounding the warning.  The Doge’s daughter climbs out her window urging him to be quiet, but quickly understands the danger and they run through Venice waking the town and saving everyone from disaster as the streets flood and the campanile comes crashing down.  Needless to say, after saving everyone there was no longer any talk of Jo-Jo not being an appropriate companion for the Doge’s daughter.

Michael Morpurgo does a good job of describing the sights and sounds of Venice and the illustration of the view of Venice from the hilltop during the storm really manages to capture the feel of the city.  Donkeys may no longer be used to transport melons, but there still aren’t any cars, giving Venice a very timeless feel and making the descriptions in the book still relevant.  My son was fascinated by the four golden horses in the story and the idea that the city has a protector.  While replicas of the horses have had to be mounted on the facade of St. Mark’s Basilica due to pollution damage, the original horses are still on display just inside and your child too can listen for any secrets they may have to share.

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More than a million Irish emigrated during the Great Famine and Small Beauties: The Journey of Darcy Heart O’Hara written by Elvira Woodrum and illustrated by Adam Rex captures part of their story, the courage that allowed them to emigrate, and the memories and traditions that followed them abroad.

In this fictional account, Darcy Heart O’Hara is one of those children who sees the beauty in everything around her.  She is a “noticer” and much to her family’s frustration, she is always stopping to see things around her leaving her chores undone as she admires a spider web, the clouds, and the contrasting beauty between a magpie and the fields of buttercups.  Her older brother chides her to be more firmly rooted in the realities of planting a second crop of potatoes to replace the ones stricken by the blight.  But even amidst the hardships they face she continues to notice the small beauties, tucking mementos into the hem of her dress and watching the world around her.

After the second crop fails, the family is faced with eviction.  They’re told that they will receive free passage to America if they leave, otherwise their house will be torn down around them.  The family puts off leaving for as long as they can, but at the end of the month, the Crown’s agent returns and destroys their house.  Her grandparents decide they are too old to leave Ireland and so the family is faced with being separated and probably never seeing each other again. In the wreckage of their house, Darcy finds a small chip from the hearthstone, and tucks it too into the hem of her dress.

When they get to America, Darcy sees that everything is different and new.  “Instead of tiny cottages, Darcy saw tall buildings stretched to the sky.  Instead of fields of rotting potatoes, she noticed shops and carts overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables…And best of all was the hope that the family could one day buy land of their own.”  But she hasn’t forgotten the old, and as the tired family gathers in a cramped city cellar, she starts pulling what seems like an endless stream of objects out of her hem.  A little round pebble, a magpie’s feather, dried buttercups, dog violets, and a wooden bead from Granny’s rosary all appear as the family watches spellbound and remembers.  Last of all she pulls out a chip of slate from the hearthstone and suddenly it is as if they can hear their Granddad’s stories once again and they remember not just the sorrow of leaving, but the things they held most dear.

While fictional, the story of Darcy’s family is a familiar one.  In the Author’s note, she mentions that she was inspired by the story of Henry Ford’s family who emigrated in 1847.  The lilting language used throughout the book enhances the feel of the story and the graphite and oil illustrations capture the beauty of Ireland and the spirit of the O’Haras while softening some of the heartbreak.  This book is a great introduction to Irish history and may touch on the stories of many Irish immigrants.  It doesn’t dwell on the Great Famine, but focuses instead on the things that helped move people forward, providing children with a glimpse of life during the 1800s and reminding them of the importance of family.

Pobble O’Keefe where Small Beauties is set was a tract of land located in County Cork in the southern part of Ireland.  There are tons of things to see and do for families in County Cork including a visit to Blarney CastleWhale watching along the coast, and Blackrock Castle Observatory, Cork Butter Museum, Cork English Market, and Rugby in Musgrave Park in the city of Cork.  While you’re there, don’t forget to ring the bells at the Shandon tower. If you’re planning an extended trip, it’s definitely worth looking at the Ireland Visitor’s Pass before you arrive.

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How The Sphinx Got To The Museum written and illustrated by Jessie Hartland is the entertaining story of how the sphinx was built, broken, discovered, repaired and displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  In the style of “This is the House that Jack Built” and “I know an Old Lady who swallowed a Fly,” “How the Sphinx Got to the Museum” tells the story of the life of the sphinx from its commissioning by the Pharaoh Hatshepsut to its display in New York; describing the jobs of each individual who handles it along its journey and adding them to a repeating litany, all of the way back to the Pharaoh.

At the end of the story, the entire chain of events that led to the placement of the sphinx in the museum is reviewed with, “[h]ere is the Docent, who loves museum, has read all about ancient Egypt, and likes to talk to visitors about the Sphinx that was …documented by the Photographer, painted and restored by the Artist, officially numbered by the Registrar, carefully lifted by the Riggers, repaired by the Conservators, welcomed by the Curator, packed and unpacked by the Art Movers, approved by the Department of Antiquities, uncovered by the Archaeologist, broken by the stepson, prized by the Egyptian priests, carved by the sculptor and ordered by the Pharaoh…and, at last, is ready to be visited by you!”  Whew!

A mix of fact and fiction, How The Sphinx Got To The Museum is an entertaining tale of travel and discovery.  It provides an explanation of how museums acquire objects and the behind the scenes activities that take place before you see something in a gallery.  It was great at describing each person’s job and how they fit into the chain of events that led to the display of the sphinx.  The rhyming language and repetition in the story is particularly enjoyable for younger children and will definitely be of interest to any budding Egyptologists.

The sphinx can be seen in Gallery 131 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art has tons of things to do with children including family maps, special guides, suggested itineraries and family audio guides just to name a few.

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The Magical Garden of Claude Monethttp://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=pittpatttrav-20&l=as2&o=1&a=0764155741 by Laurence Anholt is based on the story of a meeting between Claude Monet and Julie, the daughter of Berthe Morisot, at Monet’s house in Giverny, about 50 miles outside of Paris.  In this fictionalized account, Julie is bored with being inside.  Trying to buy a little more time to finish her own painting, her mother promises to take her “to the most wonderful garden in the world” if she will only be a little patient. 

Using Claude Monet’s works as inspiration, the illustrations and the story have Julie run through many famous scenes during her visit.  As they leave Paris, Julie and her mother depart from a station that is reminiscent of Monet’s Gare St. Lazare.  Walking to the house from the train station at Vernon, they pass through a field of poppies similar to Poppies at Arguenteuil.  Impatient to see the gardens, Julie and her dog, Louey, run down the hill and Louey crawls under a gate into the mysterious garden.  Not quite sure what to do, Julie she crawls under the gate to follow Louey and appears on the other side looking a little lost in a representation of the Artist’s Garden at Véthueil.  Searching for her dog, she bumps into Monet digging in the garden and initially mistakes him for the gardener.  As he helps her look for her lost dog, they wander under the Flowering Arches to find Louey in Monet’s painting spot, making his own paw paintings next to reproductions of Monet’s water lilies, haystacks, poplars, and a little Japanese bridge. 
As they continue their walk in the garden, Monet, Julie and Louey cross the Japanese Bridge, and row across the Water Lily Pond.  When they reach the middle of the pond, Monet reaches over the side of the boat and picks the biggest lily to give to Julie.  “A little present from my water garden,” he said.   Walking back up to the house, Monet shows her the Nymphéas (Water Lilies) paintings he is working on before they join everyone in the yellow dining room for lunch.  After the visit, Julie and her mother take the train back to Paris and arrive home as part of the Sunset on the Seine at Lavacourt with the garden seeming “like a distant dream.” 
This is a sweet story set in Monet’s famous garden, a place well worth visiting.  Monet lived in the house at Giverny for more than 40 years and the house and its gardens are the subject of many of his paintings, including his famous water lilies and the Japanese bridge series.  His gardens and the house have been restored to look as they did when he was alive and are open to the public.  It would be a lot of fun to find the images in his paintings in the gardens and have your child draw their interpretation of what they see.  Giverny is located 50 miles outside of Paris and is accessible by train, bus, boat or car.  You can find more information on how to get to the gardens on the main page of the Giverney website.  
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Humphrey the Lost Whale written by Wendy Tokuda and Richard Hall with illustrations by Hanako Wakiyama is based on the true story of a whale who swam from San Francisco Bay up the Sacramento River and got stuck and how the community helped him find his way home

Every year, humpback whales migrate north from Mexico to Alaska along the West Coast of the United States.  In 1985, Humphrey made a detour.  Instead of swimming up the coast, he turned under the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco Bay.  At first, he was viewed as a special treat.  Humpback whales usually stay in deeper waters and seeing one so close to the city was exciting.  But instead of swimming back out to sea as he should, Humphrey turned the wrong way up the Sacramento River, and moved further away from the ocean.  He swam into fresh water, managed to squeeze under a tiny bridge and got stuck in the narrowing river.

People knew that something had to be done quickly.  Whales don’t do well in fresh water and Humphrey was starting to look sick.  The Coast Guard and scientists quickly came up with a plan to save him.  It’s hard to safely move something that’s 40 feet long and weighs approximately 79,000 pounds!  So the Coast Guard and the scientists decided to use sound to help get Humphrey to swim in the right direction.  Using a combination of irritating noises and the sounds of whales eating they got him to turn around and start swimming down the river.  Everything was working until he got back to the little bridge.  Humphrey was afraid to go under the bridge. The more they made the irritating noises by banging on the pipes, the angrier Humphrey became.  He wanted to get away from the noise and couldn’t figure out what to do.  Time for a new plan!  Read the book to find out how they got Humphrey to swim back out to sea and what happened to him afterwards.

You can trace Humphrey’s journey using the end papers in the book and the notes include photographs and more factual information about Humphrey’s rescue.  This inspiring story of a community coming together to rescue Humphrey was great to read aloud and prompted several discussions about how big Humphrey really was and the differences between freshwater and salt water animals.  We’ll have lots talk about the next time we’re in San Francisco and will definitely try and see some whales!

Whale watching cruises are available from San Francisco year round, with different types of whales visible during different seasons.  Gray whales migrate north from Mexico past San Francisco from January to April.  Humpback whales are most visible from November to March.  At other times of year, humpbacks, blue whales, sperm whales and orcas can be seen near the Farallon Islands 30 miles past the Golden Gate Bridge.  There are many whale watching boat cruises available including SF Bay Whale Watching, San Francisco Whale Tours, and through the Oceanic society.  You can also see the whales from land at several points along the coast such as the Point Reyes National Seashore about 35 miles north of San Francisco.

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Half of the fun of taking a trip is in the dreaming and the planning.  Grownups have computer folders and bulletin boards, and, of course, Pinterest to fuel their interests and collect their ideas.  Children have their imagination and the stories we tell them. Their adventures have no limits!

In That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown written by Cressida Cowell and illustrated by Neal Layton, Emily Brown and her rabbit, Stanley, are always having adventures.  They head into outer space to look for alien life forms, ride through the Sahara Desert on their motorbike, dive the Great Barrier Reef, and swing through the Amazon rain forest.  Stanley is the perfect companion for anywhere Emily’s imagination might take her.  He is so perfect, that Her Excellence, the Most Mighty Queen Gloriana the Third, wants him for her very own.  She sends the footman, the army, the navy, and the air force, to interrupt Emily and Stanley’s adventures and offer to trade other toys for Stanley (who much to Emily’s disgust, she calls Bunnywunny).  Of course Emily says no! Stanley is not for sale and Emily sends the footman, the army, the navy and the air force away and puts a big sign on her garden gate with a picture of Stanley to tell everyone (but especially the Queen) that he is not for sale.  Not to be deterred, Queen Gloriana sends in the Queen’s special commandos on a stealth mission in the middle of the night to get Bunnywunny and for the first time in her life, Emily wakes up without Stanley! There is no way Emily is going to put up with that.  She marches up the hill to the palace and knocks on the Queen’s front door, only to be welcomed with relief by the Queen?

That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown is a great story about the love of a child for a favorite stuffed animal and the perfect vehicle to encourage your own child to have their own adventures and tell you of their dreams.  We love talking about where we’re going next and getting the children involved in the planning.  We look at pictures in magazines, talk about what they would like to see or do when we are there, and of course hear about places they would like to visit as well.  Of course our boys do not have a final say in destination choices or activities, but they definitely have input!

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Written in the style of a school report, Henri Matisse: Drawing with Scissors (Smart About Art) written by Jane O’Connor and Illustrated by Jessie Hartland does a great job of depicting the evolution of Matisse as an artist from his first still life to his last paper cut outs.  It’s a great way to encourage children to use their imagination and also shows them how much people and styles can change during a lifetime.  I know my children can find it frustrating when their drawings on paper do not match the images in their heads.  In the book it says, “I read that Henri was hardly ever satisfied with what he did the first time around.  He was always making changes and painting over things.”  That’s a great thing for a child to keep in mind and it’s also fun to look at Matisse’s pictures and try and guess at the changes he made in arriving at the final picture.   In a recent trip to the local art museum, the docent had us look for things that were missing in pictures.  In one painting, it was quite clear that someone had been painted out and my children had a lot of fun looking at other paintings for changes or things that didn’t quite belong.  Kessia, the “author” of the report finds lots of things to look at in Matisse’s pictures that would be fun to try in a museum.  She looks at all the different patterns in a particular picture, how many different patterns there are, how many shades of one color he uses, and also has fun guessing at the subjects of his more abstract works.

This was great introduction to Matisse’s work.  My boys had a hard time believing that the representational style in his first paintings and the more abstract depictions in his cutouts were by the same artist. We looked back at their artwork as well and at how much their art had changed in just a few months and they had fun making their own cut outs.  We also talked about adapting to changing capabilities and they thought about things they could do now that they hadn’t been able to do earlier (a bit in reverse from Matisse, but an important thing for them to think about nonetheless).

There are many places to see Matisse’s work as you travel.  Currently there is a Matisse Exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art running through March 17, 2013 in New York.  One of the largest collections of Matisse’s work is at the Matisse Museum in Nice.  Icarus from Jazz is at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.  The National Portrait Gallery in Scotland which is nearby even has sleepovers for kids!  The Femme au Chapeau depicted in the book is at the San Francisco Museum of Modern art.  They have some great resources for exploring the museum with kids.    Henri Matisse: Drawing with Scissors is a good introduction to different styles of art and if you’re planning a trip to a city with a few Matisses on exhibit, it’s a good place to start.

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Anatole
April 282015

“In all France there was no happier, more contented mouse than Anatole.”  Anatole has his friends, his family, and his nightly foraging.  What more could a mouse ask for?  Then, one evening he overhears humans complaining about mice, “[t]hey are a disgrace to France…To be a mouse is to be a villain!”  He is absolutely distraught to learn that mice are unwanted; his pride is wounded and he is determined to redeem the reputation of mice, or at least salvage his honor!  He decides to find some way to give back for the food they take.

The next night, he excuses himself from the daily foraging and stops at the Duval cheese factory.  Sliding under the door of the cheese-tasting room he sets to work.  He carefully tries each cheese and on each one he leaves a little note with suggestions for improvement. After all, who would know better than a mouse how a cheese should taste?  He has pre-typed signs that say things like “good, ‘specially good, not so good, and no good” and to each sign he adds a note -“needs more salt, “add more goat’s milk,” or “add some more orange peel.” Each cheese gets a sign, and with a feeling of satisfaction, he heads home.

The next day, everyone at the factory is surprised by the signs, but, following the directions, they change the cheese recipes and soon business improves beyond their wildest imagination. But Anatole is a mystery to the factory.  Who is he? Mr. Duval desperately wants to find and reward the mysterious Anatole.  Will Mr. Duval find out that it’s a mouse leaving the note? What will he do?  You’ll have to read the rest of the story to find out and discover if Anatole’s identity remains a secret!

Anatole written by Eve Titus with illustrations by Paul Galdone is such a great story and it’s one we’ve read over and over again.  If you’re planning a trip to France, it’s a perfect introduction to the idea that there are lots of cheeses out there (besides cheddar), with more than 500 recognized cheeses in France alone.  Anatole’s tasting adventures at the Duval factory would be a great idea for introducing your little one to some of the other cheeses available.  Turn it into an Anatole style adventure and see if they have any suggestions for improving the flavors in the cheeses they try as well!  Any good fromagerie will offer a large selection of cheeses to try, some good ones are Androuet near the Musee D’Orsay or Barthélémy at 51, rue de Grenelle in the 7e.  Here’s a list to find one near where you’re planning on staying. Happy tasting!

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Molly’s grandmother is always taking her to “Interesting Places” (always capitalized in Molly’s mind) and they’ve never been to an Interesting Place that her grandmother had not seen before, but after a school field trip, Molly discovers that her grandmother has never been to the Museum of Natural History!  She is shocked, how is it possible that her grandmother has never been to the Museum of Natural History?  So she comes up with a plan.  It is her turn.  She will take her Grandmother to an Interesting Place, and so begins How to Take Your Grandmother to the Museum written by Lois Wyse and Molly Rose Goldman and illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay.

Molly wants to make sure that everything goes well on her adventure and she’s definitely a planner.  She instructs her grandmother to make sure to wear sensible shoes, go to the bathroom before she leaves home, and above all to stick close to Molly.  Molly starts with the dinosaurs thinking that her grandmother would appreciate something that was even older than she was.  Initially, her grandmother is not impressed, but Molly starts telling her everything she knows about the fossils, how old they are, how they were put together,  the names of the different dinosaurs, and random facts about each dinosaur as they stroll through the exhibit, walking past Anatotitan, Stegosauraus, Tupuxuara, Pteranodon, Apatosaurus, and of course Tyrannosaurus rex.  

Then it’s off to tour the world in the dioramas.  They pretend to put on thermal-lined hiking boots as they enter the mountain exhibits, go through the ocean exhibit, and stop at the rock collection.  (Both my kids thought the security guard shown outside the rock exhibit was hiding 🙂  Molly is determined to show her grandmother everything in the museum.  They look at the insects, frogs, human biology exhibit, off to the ice age to see the woolly mammoths and grandma decides to top off the day with a quick trip to the museum shop…(’cause grandmas are good at things like that).

This is a great book about the relationships between grandchildren and grandparents and the things they have to teach each other.  It’s also fun to read before exploring a Natural History museum on your own.  The Houston Museum of Natural Science has an amazing dinosaur exhibit as does the American Museum of Natural History in New York where How to Take Your Grandmother to the Museum is set.  My youngest is dinosaur mad at the moment and he had a lot of fun telling me everything he knew about the dinosaurs in the pictures and of course trying to count all of the teeth!

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How do you encourage your children to get excited about taking trips? You read to them and encourage them to dream about taking the trip!  In Henri’s Walk to Paris written by Leonore Klein and illustrated by Saul Bass, Henri is reading and dreaming about taking a trip to Paris.  Most of the story takes place in the wonderful minimalist illustrations and the graphics evoke Henri’s thoughts and feelings as much if not more than the words do.

Henri is full of ideas of what Paris is like and how different it would be from where he lives.  The story opens with Henri reading about Paris and the entire opening page is filled with descriptions of Paris (and I mean that literally, the first page is a graphic of a pair of little hands and little feet holding onto a book and overlain with a continuous stream of words with some of them running off the page).  “Paris is wonderful Paris is springtime Paris is lovely Paris is Beautiful Paris is Fun Paris is Many People Paris is color….”

“Henri does not live in Paris, but he wishes he did.”  I’m sure there is many a reader who shares that sentiment!  The story goes on to talk about Henri’s life, his house, his friends, his parents, the neighbors, and how everything in Paris is different.  Henri longs to see Paris. One day, he cannot wait any longer and he starts walking.  He will walk to Paris.  He has a plan, but like many small boys, after lunch he needs a nap.  However, he wants to make sure that he knows which way to go when he wakes up, so he puts a pencil down on the ground pointing in the direction he should walk.  A good plan, until a little bird comes along…Oddly enough, when Henri continues his walk, everything starts to look like Reboul where he lives, and everyone he knows is in Paris for the day just like him!  (This part made my boys giggle, they loved being in on the joke.)  He continues walking and comes to a little street just like his, and a little house, just like his, and as he tells his parents, he is “just as much at home in Paris as I am in Reboul.”

The graphic art in this children’s book is amazing.  It encourages every child’s sense of adventure and was a fun starting point for talking about the things that are the same and different between where we live and places we are visiting or planning on visiting.  My boys thought that Henri was a little silly, but they enjoyed the joke and are all set for their next independent adventure -around the block.

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Nicolas: A Maine Tale
April 282015

If you’re exploring the state of Maine, this is a great book to start things off.  Nicholas is a small brown mouse from Massachusetts who is trying to find his cousin Francis.  All he knows is that his cousin lives somewhere in Maine and as with many young mice who have not done much traveling, Nicholas has no idea how big Maine really is.  There are just enough pictures to keep young children’s interest in a chapter book, and while Nicholas has adventures, they aren’t the spine-tingling, fear gripping adventures that will keep them up at night.  Through a series of mishaps and new found friendships, Nicholas manages to criss-cross the state of Maine learning about the wildlife and history of the state as he goes.

The first step in Nicholas’ journey is to hitch a ride on a schooner from Martha’s Vineyard to Maine, but when he gets to the waterfront he discovers the boat has already left.  Fortunately, a wharf rat takes pity on him (though not before offering to help him ship out to the Far East) and ferries him out to the boat by grabbing on a trailing line from a passing motorboat.  The pets on the schooner help him hide from the cook until they land at Vinalhaven.  Scupper, the puppy from the schooner, invites Nicholas to stretch his legs on land before they continue on their journey, and once again Nicholas manages to miss the boat.  Stuck on Vinalhaven, he watches the lobstermen haul their traps, travels through the forests, and listens to the boats wondering how he is going to get off the island.  One day, a family comes ashore in a small sailboat.  Nicholas makes friends with the little boy who hides him in his parka pocket when the family continues their journey up the Maine coast.  At every stop, Nicholas asks about his cousin Francis.  On Eastern Egg Rock, he manages to convince a Puffin to carry him to the mainland where he makes friends with a bear.  Nicholas continues on his journey hitching rides or relying on bigger animals to transport him over most of the State of Maine through Bangor, Moosehead Lake, Baxter State Park, Dover-Foxroft, Bath, Portland, and Fryeburg before learning that his cousin may now be in New Hampshire.

There is so much to see and do in Maine, it’s hard to know where to start.  You can take  boat tours to Eastern Egg Rock where Nicholas convinced a Puffin to fly him back to the mainland.  Cap’n Fish’s Puffin tour is accompanied by an Audubon naturalist who describes the different birds you’ll see on Eastern Egg Rock and the ongoing conservation efforts that began in the 1970s to reintroduce the puffins to Maine.   Puffin tours leave from many places up and down the coast including Cutler Harbor, Booth Bay Harbor, New Harbor, Port Clyde, Stonington, Bar Harbor, Milbridge and South Addison.  If you are going to be in Maine for a few days, try to take boat trips on very still days if you can get them.  You can usually book them the day you want to go.  There are also various sailboat tours (perfect for pretending you’re like the little boy and his family) up and down the coast including from Buck’s Harbor.  Machias hosts an annual blueberry festival in August using blueberries from bushes just like the ones the Puffin dropped Nicholas into.  Bangor Baby has a great list of things to do in Bangor, though the waterworks where Nicholas stayed in the book have now been turned into apartments.  There are also boat tours of Moosehead Lake and Baxter State Park has some phenomenal hiking, allowing you to follow as much of Nicholas’ journey as you desire.

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The best cooks use a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and sometimes there’s a secret ingredient.  In The Mice of Bistrot des Sept Frères by Marie Le Tourneau, Chef Marcel owns the best restaurant for mice cuisine in the Latin Quarter. He is helped by children, but only he knows the secret ingredient for his award winning cheese soup!

Every morning, Chef Marcel has his sons recite the recipe for the soup “butter, cheese, stock, cream, onion, pepper, thyme, and the secret ingredient.”  One day, he receives a telegram that the judge for the national cheese soup competition will arrive in one hour to judge his soup.  They know the recipe, but Chef Marcel is out of the secret ingredient!  Quel horreur!  Quickly he rushes out and as his sons bumble around the kitchen, his daughter, Petite Michelle continues to go around her duties calmly (and while dancing).  The seven sons put together the recipe while waiting for their father to return, but five minutes before the judge is to arrive, he still has not come back from the market.  As the seven sons run around like mad men, Petite Michelle calmly adds “a dash of salt…a bit of rosemary, and six drops of hot pepper sauce- and with a grand jete, she pronounces the soup ready!

The judge enters the Bistrot, each of the seven sons performs his task-the three sous chefs add the final touches to the soup, the pâtissier puts bread on the table, the two serveurs put the napkins on the table, the sommelier pours the cider and just as the Judge swallows a mouthful, in rushes Chef Marcel trying to stop the Judge from trying the soup, but the Judge cuts him off.  Judge Le Whisk has to know what’s in the soup and Chef Marcel isn’t sure.  He asks his sons and they repeat the recipe and stop with “and…” And everyone  pauses.  What will they say?  Will the Judge like the soup?  What does he think of Petite Michelle’s changes to the recipes?

The Mice of Bistrot des Sept Frères is an endearing story with great illustrations and a smattering of French phrases.  Like many books set in France, it includes food!  The publisher, Tanglewood Books, even has a recipe for cheese soup (and it’s not made with cheddar!) that you can try along with several other French and mouse related activities.   If you’re planning a trip to France, it’s a perfect introduction to the idea that there are lots of cheeses out there (besides cheddar), with more than 500 recognized cheeses in France alone.  Try introducing some of them, like in this cheese soup, before you leave, or head for one of the many fromageries in Paris.  Here’s a list to find one near where you’re planning on staying. Enjoy!

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Buried treasure, secret caves, -the perfect set up for an adventure during school holidays.   In this fictionalized retelling of the discovery of the Caves of Lascaux, Jaques, JoJo, and Simon are playing war games against the backdrop of World War II when an older boy, Marcel, tells them of a very deep hole his dog had fallen into the day before.  Marcel thinks it’s the entrance to a secret tunnel with treasure buried by one of the nobles in the region.  Who could resist a search for buried treasure?  Abandoning their games, they follow Marcel to where he thinks the tunnel begins.

The entrance to the secret tunnel if big enough for a dog, but not for a person.  The boys take turns widening the hole until they can fit one by one.  Dropping down, they land in an entrance to a small tunnel and with the help of a few lanterns, start crawling along.  They’re sure this must be the entrance to the count’s tunnel, but when they get to the end they find not gold, but a large cave filled with wall paintings of animals that don’t live in the region any more.  After they climb out, they promise to keep the caves secret, but before too long all of the village children have found out about their discovery and they all want a chance to see it.  After some debate, the boys finally decide to tell their teacher about the discovery, but initially he doesn’t believe them and thinks they’re trying to play a trick on him.  When he sees the caves he cannot believe his eyes and tells the boys that France’s greatest expert on prehistoric art, the Abbot Henri Breuil, has fled occupied Paris and is staying nearby.   Abbot Breuil charges the boys with protection of the treasure and even in the midst of World War II, the discovery was reported in newspapers all over the world.

Based on anecdotal accounts, The Secret Cave: Discovering Lascaux by Emily Arnold McCully captures your imagination and sense of adventure and makes history come to life.  What child hasn’t imagine making some sort of fabulous discovery?  The Caves of Lascaux are located in the Dordogne region in Southwestern France in the town of  Montingac.  Unfortunately, the actual caves have been closed to visitors in order to preserve them, but they have been recreated nearby in Lascaux II which you can go and see.  If you would like to see actual prehistoric paintings, try the Grotte Roffignac which is only 40 minutes or so west of Lascaux. Grotte Rouffignac is open to the public between Apri 1st and November 1, though the number of visitors is limited to 550 per day.

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“One evening a tall sad-faced stranger arrived.  He told Madame Gâteau he was Bellini, a retired high-wire walker.”  Imagine if you were a child living in a boarding house and someone arrived introducing themselves as “a retired high-wire walker.” They would seem like the most interesting person in the world!

The next day, as Mirette is doing the laundry, she sees him walking across the laundry line.  Mirette is enchanted and asks Bellini to please teach her how to walk the high-wire.  He refuses, so she tries to learn herself.  After a lot of falling, she is ready to show Bellini what she has accomplished and after watching her efforts, he agrees to teach her.  One evening,  Bellini’s presence is noticed by a theater agent and the stories of Bellini’s great feats come out.  But Bellini has stopped walking the high wire.  He is afraid.

Not wanting to disappoint Mirette, he decides to try one more act across the Paris skyline and he arranges with the agent to have a performance.  Mirette hears the commotion on the street and goes out to see the cause of the hubbub.  “Bellini stepped out onto the wire and saluted the crowd.  He took a step and then froze…”  Mirette is determined to help him, but what will she do and will it be enough?

My son loved  Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully and was very excited to read it again on several subsequent nights.  We loved the changing perspectives in the illustrations. You see Mirette trying to balance from the side, looking up from the ground as if you were in the audience, looking down at Bellini as if you were on the high wire.  You couldn’t help but feel part of the story.  If you have a child working on conquering a fear, this is a great story of perseverance and the frustration on Mirette’s face as she tries to learn to walk the high wire is very easy to relate to for anyone who has struggled to learn a new skill.  If you’d like to catch a traditional circus act while you’re in Paris, try the Cirque d’Hiver Bouglione, a winter circus that has been performing since 1852.

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Manjiro
April 282015

“No Japanese ship or boat . . . nor any native of Japan, shall presume to go out of the country; whoso acts contrary to this shall die.”  -Tokugawa Shogunate pronouncement, 1638.   From 1641-1853, Japan cut itself off from the rest of the world with very limited trading.  The Japanese were not allowed to leave and if they did leave, they were not allowed to return.  In  Manjiro: The Boy Who Risked His Life for Two Countries by Emily Arnold McCully, fourteen year old Manjiro is working on a fishing boat just a few miles off shore.  All is well and there is no concern for the edict until a storm hits and the ship starts to founder.

As Manjiro and the other fisherman try to head back to shore, they lose an oar and are at the mercy of the winds.  After eight days at sea, they land on a tiny rocky island.  The men discover a cave on the island,  home to hundreds of nesting albatrosses.  Food and shelter, but would they ever get off the island?  Will they ever get home?

Six months after they land, a huge ship comes into view.  Finally rescue! But the men on the boat speak a strange language and no one understood anything the other people said.  Manjiro was fascinated by the strange men.  He followed them all over the ship, trying to learn their language.  The captain, William H. Whitfield, gave Manjiro a slate with letters on it and he practiced writing.  He also learned to read a map and use a sextant, things he’d never seen before.  When the boat stopped at the port of Honolulu for supplies, the other fisherman asked to be left there to find jobs. But Manjiro was invited to continue with the ship to Massachusetts.

When they arrived in New Bedford, Massachussetts, Captain Whitfield took them to a church to say thanks, only to be told that Manjiro couldn’t sit with him.  They left and found another church where they could sit together.  Manjiro was tutored in English and other subjects before being sent to school, but he still worried about his family.

He was determined to get back to Japan.  With Mrs. Whitfield’s permission, he accepted a job as a steward on a boat.  He worked hard, but it still wasn’t enough money to buy a vessel to get him to Japan.  In 1849, the California Gold Rush had started and determined to earn enough money, Manjiro headed for the gold fields.  In just 70 days, he managed to collect $600 worth of gold dust.  He returned to San Francisco and boarded a ship bound for the Sandwich Islands.  When he arrived in Honolulu two of his former shipmates were eager to join him in attempting to return to Japan.  What would happen in Japan?  Would they be allowed to return to their families?  Be put to death under the Shogunate pronouncement?  What would the Japanese officials think of everything they’d seen and done in America?  Would they even believe them?  You’ll have to read the rest of the story to find out.

Manjiro is a well written story of an unusual period in history.  The illustrations are great at conveying everyone’s emotions and the contrasts between Japan and the U.S. at the time.  Manjiro’s travel report can be found in the Tokyo National Museum and there is a statute of him in Ashizuri-Uwakai National Park, near where Manjiro was born and shipwrecked.

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How many lion sculptures can you find in Venice? Zoe finds fifty-three, but she’s sure there are more!  In Zoe Sophia’s Scrapbook: An Adventure in Venice by Claudia Mauner and Elisa Smalley, Zoe Sophia is a nine year old New Yorker who, along with her dog, Mickey, travels to Venice to visit her great aunt.  Her adventures are chronicled in Zoe Sophia’s Scrapbook from the time the plane leaves New York until her last night in Venice.

Interspersed with Italian words and phrases, it’s a great introduction to a child’s eye view of Venice.  Zoe compares and contrasts the differences (both good and bad) between her home in New York and Venice.  She’s very enthusiastic about everything;  the vaporetta (boat bus) which makes her feel like a pirate princess, her Aunt’s apartment which contains a Chagall, just like the Met in New York; her first breakfast, cornetti, which are kind of like croissants; and a visit to the Gallerie dell’Accademia where the artist Tiepolo liked purple as much as she does.  Over the next few days, her Aunt takes her to the Laboratorio Artigaiano Machere to buy a mask, on a walk over the Rialto bridge, and on a ride in a gondola.  After a very full and absolutely amazing few days, she discovers that her dog, Mickey has gotten lost in the shuffle and is missing!  Fortunately the gondolier finds him and he is returned safe and sound, along with a new friend, Aïda.  Much relieved, Zoe (and Mickey and Aïda) head off to the opera which was fantastico.  The next day the tour of Venice is back on and they head to Murano to see the glassblowing (which my son is dying to try).  Of course a trip to Venice isn’t complete without a visit to the Piazza San Marco with a quick stop at Caffe Florian’s (open since 1720) for a cup of hot chocolate and a last dinner at Quadri’s before getting ready to leave for New York.

We enjoyed the way everything was relayed rather irreverently by Zoe as she enjoys her European adventure though my son said he would definitely rather explore Venice with us than with a great aunt! The question is, can he find more than 53 lion sculptures?

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Squirrel and John Muir
April 282015

“Floy filled the hours by talking to the family’s pet parrot, balancing on a plank by the woodpile, making mud pies, and capturing frogs.” – Not the typical activities for a young girl in the mid 1800s. Nicknamed “Squirrel” by her family for her antics in Yosemite Valley, Floy was definitely a tomboy and quickly latched on to her father’s new handyman, the naturalist John Muir.  Squirrel and John Muir by Emily Arnold McCully is a fictionalized account of their meeting in 1868 when John Muir was hired.

In the story, Floy finds him fascinating.  She endlessly follows him, trying to gross him out with a lizard, trailing after him on his hikes, chasing after him in the snow, and watching him talk to the flowers or listen to the trees.  John Muir was someone else who didn’t quite fit in with society’s expectations and in him Floy finds a kindred spirit.  He helps Floy use a magnifying glass, teaches her the names of animals, birds and plants and takes her into the mountains where he was trying to find support for his theory that Yosemite Valley had been formed by glaciers.  While working for Hutchings, John Muir submits an article to a New York newspaper with his theory and more tourists begin to arrive leading to a confrontation between Muir and Hutchings and final goodbyes in the mountains overlooking Yosemite Valley with Floy.

John Muir lived in Yosemite Valley from 1868 to 1874 and he only worked for Hutchings for two years, but he left an indelible mark on the area, being instrumental in the creation of a National Park in 1890.  Yosemite Valley is now part of Yosemite National Park.   Squirrel and John Muir is a good introduction to the naturalist and the importance of following your dreams.

Floy’s father, John Hutchings, organized the first tourist party to Yosemite Valley in 1855 and it’s been a popular destination ever since.  There are a variety of lodging options from hotels to campgrounds and everything in between, but with 3,853,404 visitors in 2012, be sure to make your reservations early!

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What would you think a giraffe was if you’d never seen one before?  A camel?  A horse? A leopard with those spots? Based on a true story, A Giraffe Goes to Paris by Mary Tavener Holmes and John Harris, the Pasha of Egypt sends a gift to King Charles X of France in 1826.  No one in France had ever seen a giraffe before and no one knew what she was.

The story is narrated by Atir, Belle’s attendant and he tells the story of Belle’s trip on the Nile with her entourage of three cows (for milk) and two antelopes (for company).  Fitting a giraffe on a wooden boat is a bit tricky.  It was too dangerous to keep her above on the deck and she was too tall to go below, so they cut a hole in the deck for her head to stick out and and provided her with an umbrella to keep the sun and rain off of her.

When they arrived in Marseilles, people didn’t know what to think.  They had never seen such a creature before.   Lavish parties were thrown in Belle’s honor, new fashions were started, but they still had to get Belle to Paris so she could be given to the king and Paris was 500 miles further away.  Today you can fly or take the high speed train between Marseilles or even drive, but how would you get a giraffe there?  There were no carts big enough to get her there so they decided to walk the entire five hundred miles.  She of course needed the right clothes to protect her from the different climate.  The temperatures and climates in France are not the same as in Egypt!

They set off for the walk to Paris with quite the entourage and crowds lining the roads to get a glimpse of the fabulous giraffe.  Inns hung out special signs welcoming Belle and they wound their way through Aix-en-Provence, Avignon, Orange, Valence, and Lyons on their way to Paris.  After eight weeks, they finally arrived in Paris and were introduced to the King where Belle charmingly munched rose petals from his hand.  Belle was installed in  Le jardain des plantes  where she lived for the next eighteen years.  In the first six months, more than six hundred thousand Parisians came to see her.  It certainly made us think about the way we take zoos for granted!

A Giraffe Goes to Paris is based on a true story and is a great combination of history and geography with Belle sailing up the Nile and then walking the 500 miles from Marseilles to Paris. My youngest has asked to read it every night this week and really enjoyed the pictures of Belle and tracing the map of her journey.  Le jardain des plantes where Belle lived is the main botanical garden in France.  It also includes the Museum of Palentology, and the Grand Gallery of Evolution along with an entomology and mineralogy museum.

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Vendela in Venice
April 282015

Venice is one of those magical, almost surreal cities that everyone should visit at least once if they can.  The other worldly, magical feel of the city will stay with you for the rest of your life.  Made up of 118 islands separated by canals and linked by 409 bridges, there’s lots to explore -just avoid the high season in July and August when prices go up and there are tons of other tourists!

Originally written in Swedish,  Vendela in Venice starts with a description of all of the things in Stockholm that are linked to Venice including copies of the four horses in Venice, and the Piraeus Lion at the Historical museum which is a copy of the lion at the Venetian Arsenal.  The lion is covered in Scandinavian runic graffiti from 1000 years ago, though the inscriptions were not recognized as runes until the late 1800s.

Vendela’s dad decides it is time for them to take a trip to Venice and they start planning.  They read books about Venice, learn a little bit about the history of the city and finally it is time to go.  They fly into Marco Polo airport on the mainland and decide to take the boat to Venice, which I agree is the best way to enter the city, especially at  night when it is all lit up as it is in the story.

The next day, they’re off to see the sights and Vendela’s dad offers her a choice of walking or taking the vaporetto (water bus).  Vendella, of course, opts for the vaporetto which is a great way to see the city and is an adventure in and of itself.  Her dad explains how the Lion of St. Mark became the symbol of Venice and during the rest of the story, Vendella goes looking for as many lions as she can find (they are everywhere and finding them is a good game for children).  They of course stop and look at the four horses, both the replicas mounted over the front of St. Mark’s Cathedral and the real ones just inside the church. Then it’s time for a quick break at Florian‘s, a cafe which has been around since 1720.

During her trip, Vendela and her father visit hit many of the highlights of Venice, traveling to Murano to watch the glass blowing, viewing the paintings in the Gallerie Academia, visiting the fish market and a gondola workshop as well as a tour of Scuolo di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni  to see the paintings of St. George and the dragon by Carpaccio.

Though told as a story Vendela in Venice, written by Christina Björk and illustrated by Inga-Karin Eriksson, is really a children’s guidebook in the guise of a story.  It is full of information on things to see and do and the history of Venice from the time it was founded to the present day, including a discussion of the periodic flooding that Venice experiences.  Though a little dry, it’s a great introduction to the art and culture of Venice.  We read it a chapter at a time and my boys really enjoyed looking at the pictures and planning what they wanted to see when we one day go to Venice (including hunting for lions!).

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Sometimes, you visit a place, and even if it isn’t what you expected or what you thought it would be, it is where you belong.  That’s the story of Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas.  While most elephant seals live in the ocean, Elizabeth swam in the waters of the Avon River through the middle of Christchurch, New Zealand.  Everything was going well and her presence was welcomed until one day she hauled herself up out of the river and stretched out across the two-lane road, right in the middle of traffic.

In fear for her safety, it was decided that it would be better for Elizabeth to live with other elephant seals in the ocean.  She was relocated to the ocean and a nearby elephant seal colony, but that wasn’t where she wanted to be, so she swam home, back up the Avon River to Christchurch.  The next time she was towed to a seal colony far away from the city,  but back she came.  The third time they towed her hundreds of miles away, but again she found her way back.  She knew where home was, silly people.  This time, they changed the road and left Elizabeth in the city, which is “exactly where she belonged.”

Elizabeth lived in the Avon river from the late 1970s until her death in 1985.  There’s lots to see and do in Christchurch, such as the open range OranaWildlife center or the International Antarctic Centre.  Who knows, you may even see an elephant seal along one of the beaches!

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Madeline
April 242015

“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.”  Who doesn’t remember the opening lines of this childhood favorite?  Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans was first published in 1939 and four of the six original stories are set in Paris.  They are perfect for creating a tour and an introduction to some of the most popular sites in the city.

In the original, Madeline, the twelve little girls in two straight lines leave the house at half past nine in rain or shine. Even a case of appendicitis doesn’t interrupt their routine much.   On their walks, you see the Eiffel Tower, the Opera, the Place Vendome, The Hotel des Invalides, Notre Dame, the Garden at Luxembourg, the Church of the Sacre Coeur, the Tuilleries Gardens and the Louvre.  The rhyming language is great for younger children and Madeline is very easy to relate to.

 In Madeline’s Rescue, Madeline manages to fall into the Seine, much to the horror of Miss Clavel, the nun in charge of the girls.  Fortunately she is rescued by a quick thinking dog, but there is only one dog and 12 little girls.  Needless to say, there is more than enough love for the dog to go around!  Unfortunately, the board of trustees does not approve of pets and the dog must be sent away.  The girls aren’t willing to settle for that, and as soon as the trustees leave they all go looking all over the city for Genevieve without any luck.  Distraught, they return to the school; but late that night Genevieve shows up with her own surprise.

Instead of going for an unexpected swim in the Seine like Madeline, we’d recommend a boat tour.  There are lots of options ranging from short tours to longer dinner cruises and a range of prices for different budgets.  Madeline falls into the Seine from Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris with a view of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in the background.  Madeline is carried past the Institute de France which houses the Académie Française, Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, Académie des Sciences, and Académie des Beaux-Arts.  When looking for Genevieve, they walk up to Montmartre.  They pass Les Deux Magots (which still exists), and search Pere Lachaise Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in Paris which includes the graves of Chopin, Bizet, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison among many others.  Their final stop is probably the Tuilleries Gardens with the statue of Diane Chasseresse being viewed by Miss Clavel.

In Madeline and the Bad Hat, the Spanish ambassador moves in next door with a little boy, Pepito, who appears to be the same age as Madeline.  However, much to her disgust, he is “a bad hat”, playing tricks on everyone around him interspersed with short lived periods of good behavior.  When they buy him a tool kit as an outlet for his energy, he builds a guillotine for the chickens.  They think he is taking food to feed some dogs, but it turns out he thought it would be fun to have the dogs chase a cat.  In the end, he receives his comeuppance and has to be rescued by Madeline and Miss Clavel. Never doing things by halves, Pepito turns over a new leaf, but goes to the other extreme, wanting to release all of the animals in the zoo.  But Madeline steps in again; stopping him from releasing the lions just in time and convincing him that he is no longer the “bad hat.”   Their adventures include views of the Eiffel TowerMontmartre, and the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the river Seine, and what is probably the Menagerie du Jardin des Plantes, a zoo that has been around since 1794.

In Madeline and the Gypsies, the girls’ new best friend, Pepito, invites them to the Gypsy Carnival which is set up near the Cathedral of Notre Dame.  All is going well until a storm hits.  Rushing off to get out of the rain, Miss Clavel and the rest of the girls accidentally leave Madeline and Pepito behind at the top of the Ferris Wheel!  With Pepito’s help, Madeline is rescued and the children are tucked safe and sound into the Gypsy’s wagon.  The next morning, the children wake up at the Chateau de Fontainebleau.  They think it is a wonderful life, not having to go to school, brush their teeth, or go to bed at night.  Madeline and Peptio gleefully travel through France, performing in Chartres, Mont St. Michel near Normandy, and the walled city of Carcassone.  In the town of Honfleur, Pepito and Madeline decide to send Miss Clavel a note letting her know they are doing well.  Looking at the postmark, Miss Clavel and the other girls quickly set off after them.  The Gypsy mama sees them coming in her crystal ball and hides the children in a lion skin.  Madeline and Pepito have great fun pretending to be a lion, but they eventually want to get out of the costume.  However, everyone they approach thinks they are a lion and is too scared to help them.  They sadly return to the gypsy circus at Deauville only to discover Miss Clavel sitting in the front row.  Happily reunited, they return to Paris where much to Miss Clavel’s consternation, Pepito and Madeline teach all of the girls the tumbling tricks they learned in the Circus!

The Madeline stories with repetitive, rhyming language are great for young children.  Whether you read one or all of the Madeline stories, they are a must read before you take your children on a trip to Paris!

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Dust Devil
April 242015

My children love the silliness of a tall tale and Dust Devil written by Anne Issacs and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky doesn’t disappoint though it is definitely a story you need to be in the right frame of mind to read.

Like many people who relocate, Angelica Longrider was homesick and kept comparing Montana to Tennessee.  She really missed the shade provided by all the trees in Tennessee “where trees grow so thick that deer have to take off their antlers to get through the forest,” so she plucks the tallest mountain from the Rocky Mountains and puts it east of her ranch so the sun will stop waking her up to early.  The seedlings she plants on the farm grow quickly enough to take things with them, like cows, which weren’t seen again until the fall.  When a bad dust storm hits, she climbs onto the back of a whirlwind, accidentally creating the Grand Canyon with her heels as she tries to bring the storm under control.  When the rain starts and the dust washes away, she discovers a horse in the middle of the whirlwind, sending of sparks of lightening every time he strikes his hooves together, just the right size for her to ride and just in time for Backward Bart and his Flying Desperadoes to arrive and start terrorizing the state.  “Bart and the Desperadoes were too ornery for any self-respecting horse to carry.  So they rode mosquitoes” which measured ten feet from mouth to tail, with stingers as long as swords.  As someone who has been kept awake from the buzzing of mosquitoes, they certainly sound as if they’re ten feet long!

The language of the story including Backwards Bart’s inverted sentences made my boys giggle as we read about Angelica’s adventures and her efforts to tame a state that is known for its untameable rugged beauty.  Montana is home to both Glacier National Park and Yellowstone, both of which are great places to visit with children and should be part of every family’s bucket list!  -Including the geysers that were drilled by  Bart’s mosquitoes…..

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Clink! Clankety-bang!  Thump-whirrr! That’s the sound of Papa at work” starts the fictionalized account of the building of one of the first submarines in Papa’s Mechanical Fish written by Candace Fleming and illustrated by Boris Kulikov.  Virena, the oldest daughter in the family proudly relates the story of her father who spends his day inventing things.  It doesn’t matter to her that he has never managed to invent something that actually works and it certainly doesn’t stop him from trying!

One day, in a fit of frustration he takes the family fishing on the pier where Virena fatefully asks him what it is like to be a fish.  Suddenly inspired, Papa races back to his workshop and quickly gets to work. The rest of the story goes through his attempts and failures at building a submarine, each version improved by a suggestion from Virena.  Each submarine is bigger than the last, and his fourth version is big enough to hold the entire family including the dog.  Much to everyone’s delight, the entire family successfully goes beneath the surface of Lake Michigan for hours.  After their adventure, papa is peacefully basking in his success until Virena asks “have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a bird….”

This is a great book with an engaging story line and expressive images as every member of the family goes along with Papa’s madcap adventures.  The Author’s note includes a little more information about the actual building of the Whitefish submarine and inventor Lodner Phillips’ attempts to sell it to the U.S. Navy.

While you may not be able to take a submarine tour while visiting Chicago, you can get a look at what’s going on underwater with a visit to the Shedd Aquarium which includes a Great Lakes’ Exhibit, perfect for imagining you’re in one of the Mechanical Fish!

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We stumbled upon this great series while we were on vacation and my boys have been devouring this audiobook as fast as we can listen, wanting to play them even for short errands across town.  We have found that audiobooks, particularly mysteries, are great at creating focus in kids who otherwise seem to have very short attention spans.  Challenging everyone in the car to figure out the mystery as a team compels them to actually listen closely to the whole story, ask questions and pose hypotheses.  It can be a great family collaboration, sibling strife preventer, and productive training device.  We can literally get two continuous hours of focus (aka “relative peace”) on family road trips listening to mystery audiobooks.

 The Case That Time Forgot (Sherlock Files) by Tracy Barrett is the third in the series about Xena and Xander Holmes, the great-great-great grandchildren of Sherlock Holmes who have inherited his book of unsolved cases and are determined to crack the mysteries that defeated Sherlock Holmes.  Despite the fact that the crime involved happened more than 100 years earlier, Xena and Xander are determined to put together the clues with a little help from modern technology and the SPFD (Society for the Preservation of Famous Detectives).  Much to their frustration, they aren’t allowed to solve mysteries full time, but have to juggle school, social conflicts, homework, and parents!

The Case That Time Forgot is an enjoyable read, with enough allusions to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes to bring back fond memories for a grownup.  It’s also a great source of inspiration for places to visit in London.  You’d of course want to visit The Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221b Baker Street, and the story takes you to a combination of indoor and outside sites such as the Clockmakers’ Museum at GuildhallCleopatra’s NeedleThe Rosetta Stone at the British Museum, and Big Ben at the Palace of Westminster.  It would be a lot of fun to try and solve some of the clues and visit the sites as the story develops, introducing children to history as well as a scavenger hunt.

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Ollie’s Ski Trip
April 242015

Everyone on our family skies and my youngest is finally old enough to start.  Last year when he was two, we tried him on skis a few times, but his knees were not quite developed enough so “skiing” consisted of my husband or I hauling him up the bunny slope and catching him at the bottom.  After a few days he didn’t want to ski anymore and I must admit I was a bit disappointed.  Were we going to have a non-skier in the family? All he wanted to do was hang out at the bottom of the ski lift and watch the other skiers.  Après-ski for the 2 year old set? Sigh.

After a few days of watching, he still wasn’t interested in skiing and we finally talked to him about it.  It turned out that it wasn’t that he wasn’t interested in skiing, but that he had decided he was done with the bunny slope and wanted to go up with the big kids.  We gently explained that he needed to learn how to stop before he could go on the ski lift….

To help get him excited and interested again this year, we have been reading lots of books on skiing and skiing adventures.  One of our favorites is   Ollie’s Ski Trip by Elsa Beskow.   The book was originally written in 1907 and the illustrations reflect the story’s age, but the story itself is timeless and the old fashioned illustrations only add to the story’s charm.  As the book starts off, Ollie has just received his first pair of skis for his sixth birthday.  Of course that year winter was late and Ollie waited and waited for there to be enough snow for him to try out his new skis.  Finally, just before Christmas there was enough snow for Ollie to go skiing and he couldn’t wait.  His mother tried to slow him down, making him eat his breakfast and finish getting dressed before heading out (my kids have been known to run out into the snow in bare feet too).

Shortly after he heads out, Ollie runs into Jack Frost who invites him to visit King Winter’s palace.  As they set off, they bump into Mrs. Thaw who starts melting the snow much to Ollie’s dismay.  Jack Frost chases her off and tells Ollie that he should use his skis everyday just in case she comes back.

King Winter’s palace is guarded by two very friendly polar bears.  Once inside, King Winter quizzes Ollie about all of the winter sports he plays.  Ollie is very earnest in his declaration that he knows how to toboggan “Head first and feet first and sideways, too!” As he wanders through the palace he finds little people making ski boots, knitting thick socks, knitting ski-mitts and building skis, toboggans, sledges and skates just in time for Christmas.  When a gong sounds, all of the children rush outside to play in the snow skiing, skating, sledding, snowball fights, etc.  They manage to do everything before it is time for Ollie to head back with Jack Frost. Everyday for the rest of winter, Ollie and his brother go outside and tell Mrs. Thaw to keep away and they’re a little disappointed when spring finally arrives.  Next winter!

Not only do we read books about locations we visit, but also activities we intend to perform while there.  A lot of activities are self explanatory, but if you’re starting something new, a story can help your child understand what to expect as well as prime their imaginations for the next adventure you are taking together.  Ollie’s Ski Trip will help your child prepare for their own adventures as you explore a snow covered landscape together.

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Balloons over Broadway
April 242015

Puppets and parades, what’s not to like? Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade  by Melissa Sweet, tells the story of Tony Sarg, the man who created the first balloons for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.

In our house, we can certainly relate to kids who are always designing and making things and trying to get out of chores is certainly universal, but I don’t think my son’s inventions have been as practical as Tony’s design for feeding the chickens.  Inspired by the desire to stay in bed longer, Tony rigged pulleys and rope so that he could feed the chickens without getting up.  Our attempts to design things with pulleys and ropes have been entertaining, but not particularly useful!

As a grownup, Tony designed amazing marionettes and had a show, “Tony Sarg’s Marionettes,” which traveled throughout the U.S.  Learning of his puppets, Macy’s asked Tony to design puppets for Macy’s holiday windows.  Based on storybook characters, he attached the puppets to gears and pulley’s that made them dance across the windows.  He was then asked to help with the first Macy’s parade which was intended for the employees who missed their own holiday traditions.  Tony created costumes and horse-drawn floats and Macy’s even arranged to bring in animals from the zoo.  The parade was such a success that Macy’s agreed to have one every year.  Each year the parade grew bigger and bigger and eventually some of the live animals were deemed too scary so Macy’s looked around for something to replace the animals, something that would be spectacular.

Tony wanted to create puppets for the parade, but his marionettes were little, less than three feet tall, far too small to be used in a parade.  Inspired by Indonesian rod puppets, he deigned air-filled rubber bags that were propped up by wooden sticks.  Big hot air puppets are so standard in large parades now; it’s hard to remember that they’re a relatively recent  invention.  The wooden stick puppets Tony initially designed were a success, but they still weren’t big enough or high enough for the huge crowds to see.  The next year, he designed balloons out of rubberized silk filled with helium, upside down marionettes!  With more than a little trepidation, he released the balloons and they sailed past Central Park, down Broadway, ending in front of Macy’s and big gas filled balloons have been part of the Thanksgiving parade tradition ever since.

The Macy’s day parade first started in 1924 and now more than 3 million people line the parade route and 44 million people watch the televised event every year.  You can watch the balloon inflation the night before near the Museum of Natural History starting at 79th street and Columbus Ave.  The Parade route runs 2 and 1/2 miles starting at 77th and Central Park West and ending at Macy’s Herald Square.  If you’re in New York around Thanksgiving, it certainly is an event not to be missed!  Even if you’re not there over Thanksgiving, you can walk the route and see the sights mentioned in the book.

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The Tree Lady
April 242015

The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever written by H. Joseph Hopkins and illustrated by Jill McElmurry tells the story of a rebellious little girl who managed to change the way people thought and viewed the world.

Katherine Olivia Sessions loved plants and forests.  In the 1860s, she explored, got dirty and generally did things that proper young ladies weren’t supposed to do at the time.  Her hard work and perseverance made her the first woman to graduate from the University of California with a degree in science.  She took her love of science and the outdoors when she moved to San Diego where she worked as a teacher and vice principal at the local school.

At the time she arrived, San Diego was a desert town.  Kate missed the trees of her native Northern California, but knew they would not survive in the desert.  So leaving her job as a teacher, she became a “tree hunter” travelling and writing to gardeners all over the world, looking for trees that liked hot, dry weather and would thrive in the arid climate of San Diego.

According to the Author’s note, in 1892 Kate made a deal with city leaders to use part of the land in City Park (now Balboa Park) for a nursery.  In exchange she planted one hundred trees in the park every year and gave the city 300 more trees for planting in other places. By the early 1900s, one in four trees growing in San Diego came from Kate’s nursery which at its height contained more than 20,000 plants.

In 1909, the city announced that the Panama-California Exposition would be held in 1915 in San Diego’s Balboa Park.  Kate thought the park still needed thousands of trees.  With a team of volunteers, she planted, and planted, and planted.  When the fair opened, millions of trees and plants filled Balboa Park and people were amazed that such a dry climate could support such wonderful gardens.

This is a great book about an important figure in San Diego’s history.   I loved the recurring theme of overcoming obstacles with each page ending with “but Kate did.” It’s a great book on perseverance and doing what you love.

Balboa Park is a living memorial to all of Kate’s hard work and is definitely on the must see list for any trip to San Diego.  Along with its gardens and enormous variety of trees, shrubs and flowers, Balboa Park is home to 15 major museums, several performing arts venues, a carousel, miniature railroad, and of course the famous San Diego Zoo.

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The Race of the Birkebeiners, written by Lise Lunge-Larsen and illustrated by Mary Azarian is based on a saga from 1264 of the rescue of young prince Håkon, the most powerful king that Norway had during the Middle Ages.  The woodcut illustrations capture the time period beautifully along with the emotions of the various participants.

 The Birkebeiners were peasants and fierce warriors in the Middle Ages loyal to the King.  They were known as Birkebeiners for the birch leggings they wrapped around their legs for protection when they went into battle in contrast to the wealthy nobles who had metal armor.  Prince Håkon was born three weeks after death of his father, King Haakon Sverresson,  in 1204, and the Birkebeiners’ rivals, the wealthy Baglers, attempted to claim the throne for themselves.  The Queen, Inge, hid Prince Håkon for over a year, but as the Baglers became stronger, she fled North trying to reach the stronghold of the Birkebeiners in Nidaros where the Birkebeiners could help her protect her son.  Eight Birkebeiners joined her in Lillehammer as they prepared to cross the mountains at the darkest, coldest and most dangerous time of the year when hosts of evil spirits roamed the land.   Even though they make it through storms and harrowing nights to Nidaros, the story doesn’t end there…
This is one of the first stories we have disagreed about as a family.  I found it a little dry and was not sure it deserved a place on the blog, but my boys asked for it to be read to them over and over again. From their perspective what’s not to like?  Warring factions, escaping over the mountains, hiding in the snow, and everything works out in the end!
The Race of the Birkebeiners has turned into an annual event in both Norway and the U.S. with individuals in both races skiing 54 km (33mi). In Norway, the Birkebeinerrennet takes place from Rena to Lillehammer and in the U.S. it takes place in Hayward, Wisconsin through the American Birkebeiner Ski Association.
Nedros, or Trondheim, where Inga and young prince Håkon fled for safety, was founded in 997 and was the first capital of Norway.  It is currently the third most populous urban area in Norway and there is a lot to see and do there for families with children including the Sverresborg Open Air Museum of Cultural History, and the Archbishop’s Palace Museum  on one end of the spectrum and Pirbadet water park and  Rockheim, which showcases Norwegian Rock and Roll music from the 1950s to the present, on the other.
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Elena’s Serenade
April 242015

In Mexico, where the sun is called el sol and the moon is called la luna, a little girl called Elena wants to blow into a long pipe…and make bottles appear, like magic. But girls can’t be glassblowers. Or can they?

Elena’s Serenade written by Campbell Gleeslin and Illustrated by Ana Juan tells the delightful story of a little girl named Elena who wants to be a glassblower just like her father. When her father turns her down she is “mad as a wet hen.” Following the suggestion of her brother, she decides to dress as a boy and run away to Monterrey, home of Mexico’s “great glassblowers” (She’ll show everyone!). Along the way she discovers that her glass blowing pipe can do more than make glass, it can make music! Her special songs help a burro find a friend, help a limping roadrunner find its stride, and transform a coyote’s cacophonous song into a sweet serenade.

When Elena finally reaches Monterrey the glassblowers find it entertaining that someone so short wants to be a glassblower, but they give her a chance. Not knowing what will happen, Elena bravely mimics her father’s actions and plays her music-creating stars, birds and butterflies with her glassblowing pipe. Her creations quickly sell faster than she can make them but Elena, dreaming of impressing her father, one night creates a swallow who takes her home to show her father what she can really do.

The magical realism of the story keeps it from being a heavy-handed girl power story turning it instead into a magical pursuit of your dreams. The sprinkling of Spanish phrases supports the rhythm of the story and provides an easily accessible peek into another culture.

If your dreams include a trip to Monterrey, stop by the Museo del Vidrio, filled with exhibits on the history of glassblowing with examples through modern times and demonstrations of glass blowing. There’s also the Alpha Arts Museum and Planetarium, the nearby Matacanes canyons, and puppet shows at Baul Teatro.

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We love Jan Brett’s books. They are such great stories for reading aloud and the illustrations always provide so much for discussion. My children particularly like the sidebars which foreshadow what is going on with the other characters in the story. Who’s That Knocking on Christmas Eve? retells an old Scandinavian folktale in which a pack of trolls eats a family out of house and home every Christmas. In this version, a boy from Finnmark, the northernmost and easternmost county in Norway is skiing to Oslo with his polar bear. Skiing or hiking through the mountains from hut to hut is a popular pasttime and if you’re interested, have a look at the huts managed by Den Norske Turistforening (The Norwegian Trekking Association). They offer guided tours and suggestions for independent trekking, though most people do not usually ski or hike the length of the country!

The boy from Finnmark sees smoke curling up from a hut far in the distance and he skis toward it hoping for a bite to eat and a warm place to sleep for the night. Little does he know that he’s not the only one who notices the smoke! Kyri is busy preparing Christmas dinner and hoping that the trolls leave them alone this year when she hears a knock on the door. She welcomes the boy from Finnmark, but warns him that there may be trolls. In fact, her father is up in the mountains hoping to stop the trolls and chase them off.

Glad to be warm, the polar bear crawls under the stove and falls asleep. Just as Kyri and the boy from Finnmark are settling down to eat, the trolls arrive and Kyri and the boy from Finnmark quickly escape to the animal shed, leaving the polar bear asleep under the stove. The trolls are initially content to just eat until they are stuffed, but eventually go looking for trouble. One of them spies the “kitty” asleep under the stove and pokes the bear with a hot piece of sausage. With a roar, the polar bear leaps up and chases the trolls out of the hut. Hearing the noise, Kyri’s father quickly skis home. He thanks the boy from Finnmark and invites him back next year on his return from Oslo. All is calm until the following year when the littlest troll stops Kyri to ask about the kitty that sleeps under the stove….

While Norwegians don’t live in log cabins like Kyri’s anymore, you can can see similar types at the Norwegian Folk museum in Oslo. You can also experience traveling through the mountains (though perhaps not as far as the boy from Finnmark) and staying in huts and mountain hotels on trails maintained by the Norwegian Trekking Association. Even if you’re not up to going from hut to hut, they are great places for families to stay for day trips and more local explorations.

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One Morning in Maine
April 112015

Do you remember those mornings as a child when you leapt out bed, so excited to start the day? Sal is so excited that she’s going to Buck’s Harbor  with her dad that instead of snuggling back under the covers (which is what I would do), she hurries to get ready.   She’s brushing her teeth when a crisis erupts, one of her teeth is loose!  Sal is absolutely distraught thinking a loose tooth means she’ll have to miss the trip.  After a quick chat with her mother she is reassured and runs outside to share her excitement with all of the animals she can find including a fish hawk, a loon, a seal, and gulls wondering all of the while which animals also have teeth.  

One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey was first published in 1952.  While the pictures are a little dated, it’s a wonderful story about  childhood excitement and all of the wonderful things you can do in Maine.  There are many wildlife watching cruises in Maine including seal watching trips.  If you want to go clamming like Sal and her dad, you can find out more here  and get the details about a license for clamming for Bar Harbor, or Freeport.  My children wanted to know  where we could go that we would have to take a boat to get groceries.  My youngest doesn’t have any loose teeth yet, but he keeps checking, and just like Sal, he has a wish in mind.  

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The Silk road was a series of 4000 miles (6,437 km) of trade routes connecting China to the Mediterranean Sea and gets its name from the Chinese silk trade carried out along its length beginning in the Han Dynasty around 206 BC.  

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