Posts tagged: children’s books

Magical Reads! By Elizabeth Orton Jones

By , July 1, 2009 3:28 pm

While surfing the “What Others Bought” links at Amazon one day last winter, I discovered the wonderful old book Twig, by author and illustrator Elzabeth Orton Jones (1910-2005).  My 8 year-old daughter really likes tales of fairies and magic and this book sounded perfect.  It WAS perfect.  My daughter adored it and read it in one sitting!

She even chose it for her school book report book, complete with a cute diorama (I wish we had saved that to illustrate this post, but alas, it was taken apart and scattered who knows where).

This 1942 story centers around Twig (which was also the author’s nickname), a lonely little girl who decides one day to make a fairy house out of a discarded old tomato can.  I will let you discover the wonderful adventure that ensues.

I am so grateful to Purple House Press, the publisher of our 2002 edition of Twig, for their wonderful work in reprinting this lost treasure!  The mission of Purple House Press is:

“to revive long lost, but well loved children’s books. Today’s children deserve to read wholesome stories from a simpler time and we know grownups want to revisit with old childhood friends too!”

You can still order Twig from the Purple House Press website, but all they have left are more expensive editions autographed by Elizabeth Orton Jones.  We loved the book so much, that I just ordered an autographed copy to have in our collection of very special, keep always, books.

You can also order new (from Amazon affiliate sellers only) or used copies of Twig from Amazon.  Our copy was a used one from an Amazon seller but it was in like-new condition and far less expensive than the Amazon affiliates’ new editions.

After enjoying Twig, my daughter wanted to read more books by Elizabeth Orton Jones. I searched about and found Big Susan, written in 1947 and also published by Purple House Press in 2002.

Big Susan is about a little girl and her dollhouse (the story is based on the actual doll house and dolls that the author played with as a child).  The dollhouse is in complete disarray on Christmas Eve, the one night of the year where the dolls can come to life.

We read this story together as a bedtime book and I laughed out loud at the descriptions of the poor dolls (Nurse was standing on her head in the bathroom wash basin) and the general state of the dollhouse.  It reminded me of our always-messy dollhouse. It also, sadly, somewhat resembles our own house at times (although I have yet to find myself upside down in a wash basin)!

This is a sweet story all about Christmas magic, love, friendship and giving.  My children and I all loved it and were sorry to see it end.  Although it is more of a girl book I suppose, my 7 year-old son adored it and was actually the most eager to keep reading on every night.

Big Susan is easier to find than Twig.  You can order it directly from Purple House, or from Amazon.

Trust me. These are books you’ll love and want to keep to pass down to your grandchildren!

Here are pictures of the text of Twig, to give you some idea of the reading level (it is 152 pages long) – recommended ages 6 to 12:

Here is Big Susan (a slightly easier reading level than Twig with only 83 pages and lots of sweet illustrations by the author) – recommended ages 6 to 10:


Early Readers: Pirate Adventures!

By , February 26, 2009 9:26 pm

In my never ending quest for good early readers, I recently stumbled upon this “treasure” for pirate-loving boys: Treasure Island – Easy Reader Classics Series.  I bought the first two of the set of four for my 6 year-old son who was in need of some interesting reading material.

My son is currently at that awkward, in-between phase of reading acquisition. Even the most advanced Bob Books and other phonics-style readers are too easy and boring, but full-on chapter books are a bit too hard and could lead to frustration.

This Treasure Island series seemed to be just the ticket. Each book is part of an ultra-simplified and abridged version of the classic adventure tale by Robert Louis Stevenson. They describe the adventures of a boy named Jim who, after finding an old treasure map, winds up on a ship in search of the lost treasure. Of course Jim must outwit the pirates who are also seeking the treasure. Is this not the dream of many young boys out there?

My son LOVED the first two books so much (he read them immediately one after the other), that I had to get online right away and order the last two. I am not exaggerating when I say that he was literally counting the days until his books arrived. When they did, he ripped open the box and devoured them both right away.  Any book that has that sort of effect on my new-reader son gets my 5 star recommendation!!

There are other Easy Reader Classics series too: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Jungle Book, The Story of Doctor Dolittle, and The Wind in the Willows. We’ll definitely be trying another set soon.

Reading Level Facts:

  • Each book is 32 pages long and is divided into four chapters so young readers can feel that they are reading a true “chapter book.”
  • The type is fairly large and there are just a few sentences on each page which is a perfect layout for short, young attention spans.
  • There are many large, colorful illustrations that I actually found to be somewhat mediocre in quality, but my son didn’t seem to mind.


Chapter Books Suitable for Extra-Young Readers (Book Review – Part 1)

By , September 11, 2008 3:06 pm

My oldest daughter (now just turned 8) is a really good reader and has been reading at chapter book level for quite some time.

Since she started reading so well at a young age (6) and is also a somewhat sensitive child, I found it difficult at first to find books that were challenging enough, but not scary or upsetting. She was ready for upper level reading, but not for mature or even remotely suspenseful themes.

Of course everyone knows that the The Little House series is wonderful (although beware, there are a few scary episodes). Since I adored those books as a child (and I am a terminal packrat) I kept all my old Little House books and gave them to my daughter.

I also kept some other wonderful classic books from my childhood, but at the time, they were a bit beyond my daughter’s comfortable reading skill level: Heidi, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, the Anne of Green Gables series, the Emily books (my old copies are the ones my mother read and loved as a child in the 1930’s!), The Borrowers series…etc.

So once the Little House books were all read, what then? We only have one bookstore in town and as it is very small, the choices there are limited. I began looking online, and scouring the local thrift stores.

I had some great thrift store luck! My first find is the subject of today’s post:

The Cobble Street Cousins series by Cynthia Rylant

These are very easy first chapter books about nine year-old cousins Lily, who wants to be a poet, Tess, who wants to be a Broadway star, and Rosie, “who wants a little cottage with flowers by the door.” The girls share some happy, innocent adventures while spending a year sharing an attic bedroom in their Aunt Lucy’s house.

Cynthia Rylant immediately piques every young girl’s interest in the first page of each book by explaining that the cousins’ parents are all ballet dancers and are off on a world tour for a year.  What young girl wouldn’t want ballet dancing parents?  Your girl will most likely be hooked from then on!

The six books in the series are each only a bit over 50 pages long (except for Wedding Flowers which is a bit longer) and are quite suitable for beginning chapter book readers. The type-face is fairly large and the chapters (between 3 and 6 depending on the book) are each short enough to accommodate young attention spans.

My thrift store find was Some Good News, which is actually Book 4, but the books can really be read in any order.  It was a perfect choice for my then 1st grade daughter. Since she loved it so much, I ordered the other four online and she devoured them all.

The Cobble Street books would also make pleasant read-alouds for children not quite ready to read them on their own.

Here are all six titles in order:

Book 1: In Aunt Lucy’s Kitchen
Book 2: A Little Shopping
Book 3: Special Gifts
Book 4: Some Good News
Book 5: Summer Party
Book 6: Wedding Flowers

Next week I’ll publish Part 2 of this post: another wonderful discovery of nice chapter books for girls.

UPDATE:  Here is the link to Part 2.

Literary Eye Candy (Beautiful Fairy Tales!)

By , June 18, 2008 7:00 am

Anyone who has paid any attention at all to my children’s book recommendations might have noticed that illustrations are very important to me. In fact, I have an illustration prejudice. Most of the books I review are classified in the “exceptional illustrations” category because that is what I like. I confess that if a children’s book is well written but I find the illustrations unattractive, I usually think less of the book.

Because of this, we have some really lovely books that literally take my breath away every time I open them up. Just like a gorgeous man with a substandard IQ – who cares about literary quality when the pictures are that incredible to look at! (Just kidding of course…)

If you share my prejudice, then read on!

  • Lovely illustration tip number one: Any fairy tale illustrated by K.Y. Craft or Paul O. Zelinsky will be spectacular in an ornate, Renaissance painting type of way (my personal weakness).
  • Lovely illustration tip number two: Find a book you like the look of on Amazon, and then follow the “customers who bought this also bought” and “what do customers ultimately buy after viewing this item” links, or even the Listmanias in the sidebar, to discover other gorgeous books. How does Amazon “know?”
  • Lovely illustration tip number three: Did I mention K.Y. Craft?

In my mind, fairy tales (classic and not so classic) MUST be sumptuously illustrated. If they are not, or worse – if they are “Disneyfied” (another prejudice on my part), then forget it.

Here are some that we have and enjoy. Be advised that I consider these books to be for older children (ages 5 and up?) because they are very “wordy.” However, you could share them with younger children if you paraphrase the text and just focus on the pictures.

Also, I don’t want to spend a lot of time analyzing the literary value, so not a lot of talk about the text this time. The point here is that the stories are fine, but the illustrations are superb:

Sleeping Beauty by K.Y. Craft is a rich feast for the eyes. The story is pretty much as I remember it from my childhood. The illustrations make it spectacular. To see more of the illustrations, please look at K.Y. Craft’s Sleeping Beauty page on his website.


Cinderella by K.Y. Craft. Of course there are many versions of Cinderella around the world, but this is the one I remember from my childhood here in the US. By the way, I WANT Cinderella’s dress. Wouldn’t it look lovely on me as I browse the produce section at Safeway? K.Y. Craft’s Cinderella page.


King Midas and the Golden Touch as told by by Charlotte Craft and illustrated by (you guessed it!), K.Y. Craft. Again, very traditional story which I like, and sumptuous illustrations. In this book I covet Aurelia’s (the daughter’s) hair. Glossy chestnut ringlets of course. Actually, I want all the hair from all of these K.Y. Craft fairy tales. How come no one has straight hair? I guess that’s why they call them “fairy tales” right? If they were real, they’d all have straight hair and bad skin. More King Midas illustrations.


The Twelve Dancing Princesses as told by Marianna Mayer and illustrated by K.Y. Craft. This is a classic fairy tale that was unknown to me before discovering this book. Apart from the dresses and the ringlets, I like the messages of strong women and overcoming class barriers. Be sure to look at the illustrations on K.Y. Craft’s Twelve Dancing Princesses page. I think this is perhaps the best illustrated of all that I have mentioned so far.


Rumpelstiltskin by Paul O. Zelinsky (adapted from The Brothers Grimm). Very true to what I remember, and illustrations “worth their weight in gold!” Visit Paul O. Zelinsky’s Rumpelstiltskin page to see more. A Caldecott Honor Book.


Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky. Lovely, Renaissance-like oil paintings. The classic Rapunzel tale. Boy, do I want HER hair! One potential word of warning for parents here though: there might be an awkward moment if you have to explain why Rapunzel’s dress grows “tight” around the waist after she marries the visiting prince in a secret ceremony in the tower. My kids didn’t notice a thing, but if you fear this is more detail than you want to get into, then be sure to borrow the book from the library first and read it yourself. Visit Paul O. Zelinsky’s Rapunzel page to see more art. A Caldecott Medal Winner.


The Magic Nesting Doll by Jacqueline K. Ogburn and illustrated by Laurel Long. If I had to choose one of these books as my favorite for the illustrations it would have to be this one. There is a level of fine detail and delicateness to these illustrations beyond even what I see in the other books (and those are quite amazing). In an interesting feminist turn around of the normal fairy tale universe, the beautiful girl actually saves the handsome prince! Another plus: The characters have straight hair. No bad skin though. Unfortunately there is no website that I can find for further illustrations, but trust me, they are gorgeous.

“Forgotten Neighborhood Games,” by Scott Strother (Review)

By , June 5, 2008 10:06 pm

How many of you know the game of Hopscotch, Red Light Green Light, or Monkey in the Middle? I would guess that most of you parents know these games. But what about your children?

Do you or your children know how to play Exchange, Sardines, or Hot Box? Perhaps not.

That is why every family interested in getting their children outside for some good old-fashioned play NEEDS this book in their library.

Author Scott Strother’s preface reminded me of how much fun I used to have playing spontaneous neighborhood games with my friends.

Two experiences inspired Mr. Strother to write this book: 1) Coaching 6 to 16 year-olds in tennis, and realizing that they had no idea what he was talking about when he referred to some of the very common games from his childhood; and 2) A paper that he wrote about childhood obesity and today’s children’s sedentary lifestyles.

Here are the highlights:

  • Games are classified and organized according to activity level. The first section is Activity Level V, “…games that require the most exercise. These games mainly entail constant running or movement and are highly active.” Each section decreases in intensity until the final, Activity Level I – “…games where mostly walking or limited physical exercise is required. These games are still active and outside, but are not as physically demanding as the others.”
  • There is only one game per page and the information is complete, and very clearly presented. Each game description specifies number of kids, ages, time allotted, space/area, equipment, description (startup, object, and play), and the author’s personal comments.
  • Many of the games require children to determine who is “it.” Do you remember doing that? Well, I suspect that choosing who is “it” might be another lost art. Fortunately Forgotten Neighborhood Games also has a section entitled “Picking the ‘It'” which includes a description of the process, and a few rhymes from which to choose.

When I first began this blog in February of 2007, I had planned on having a “Children’s Games” page where I would write up the rules for various outdoor, neighborhood games. Like the author of this book, I had noticed that most children today are too focused on video games and TV to spend much time outdoors playing active and social games like these. I did write a few game posts which I later eliminated. The task was just too daunting.

Although it is sad that a book like this might be necessary to teach today’s children how to play this way, I am so thankful that Mr. Strother took the time to write this very comprehensive, yet easy to use book. The blog equivalent of Forgotten Neighborhood Games is precisely what I had in mind in back in “the old days” when I first began Unplug Your Kids.

My advice would be to use this book as a reference to find a few games to teach your kids. Or better yet, if your children read well enough, have them explore it on their own. As the author says:

It might take a little effort at first, learning the games and getting other children to play, but once kids start learning these exciting games, they will not want to stop. Do not be afraid to go find kids and coerce them outside for some fun. More and more children from the neighborhood will start to get involved. Everyone will begin looking forward to playing and will meet more often. Instead of sitting around inside, kids can meet each other, make friends, get exercise, and have a ton of fun! This is what childhood is all about. Kids need to get back outside, exercise, and love it…and this book is the guide!

Forgotten Neighborhood Games: Get Kids Back Outside and Loving It! is another useful tool for parents to help get children away from “The Box” and back outside. Deserves to become a classic.

Panorama Theme by Themocracy