Sunday, July 5, 2015

Old School Sunday: King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry (1948) (Reading Through History Review 27 of 52)

This week's historical fiction novel, King of the Wind, takes me away from North America again, and brings me to Morocco, and later, Europe. It is the fictional biography of Sham, the horse which will come to be known as the Godolphin Arabian, and his master, Agba, a mute orphan, whose loyalty to his horse never wavers despite serious hardships.

I had a really hard time getting into this book on my own, and I wound up relying heavily on the audiobook, read by David McCallum, to get me through most of the story. I am not interested in horses - or animals, really - so reading a book about a horse where the human main character doesn't even speak felt somewhat tedious to me. Hearing the language in the voice of an actor really helped me appreciate the value in the book, despite my own lack of interest in the subject matter.

Marguerite Henry truly has a gift for writing detailed descriptions that convey strong emotions. She is also a very economical writer, giving the reader only those scenes which truly add something to the plot. She handles time well, jumping forward in large chunks as needed to keep the story flowing, and her characters, even those who appear only briefly, have memorable traits that make them easy to get to know. This is especially true of Agba, whose "voice" is very strong despite his physical inability to speak.

There is some general historical value in this book. The reader is able to see what life was like in 1724 Morocco, as well as France during the reign of Louis XV. Like Adam of the Road, it focuses on a journey, so readers are able to meet people from many different walks of life and get a taste for how they lived. First and foremost, though, this is a story about a boy and a horse, and its primary audience is always going to be kids who love horses.  I would certainly not disapprove if my kids want to enjoy it for pleasure reading - it is a Newbery winner, after all -  but it doesn't seem like it will be a strong part of my homeschooling curriculum beyond that.

I downloaded the audiobook edition of King of the Wind from my local public library.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Early Literacy in Everyday Places: Baseball Game


If you and your family plan to attend a major or minor league baseball game this summer, this post is for you! Below are four suggestions for literacy activities you can do with your kids in a baseball stadium.
  • Talk about the letters of the players’ names when they appear on the Jumbotron. Encourage your child's print awareness and letter recognition skills by talking about the letters in their favorite players' names. If a player happens to share a name with your child, challenge him to look for it each time that player goes up to bat. The jumbotron is also a good place to look for other print material throughout the game, as it is often where birthday messages, advertising, and other information is presented. 
  • Explain baseball vocabulary such as strike, ball, hit, run, and out. Toddlers might not understand the rules of baseball just yet, but you can still go over the basic vocabulary. For added fun, have them try to count strikes for each out, and outs for each inning. 
  • Encourage your kids to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the 7th inning stretch. How often do we really have the chance to join in a group sing-along? Don't miss out! To get your kids geared up for this tradition, practice singing the song before the game, or read a picture book version of the song, such as the ones by Ben Nussbaum or Maryann Kovalski.
  • Act out the "Five Little Hot Dogs" fingerplay. Whether you actually eat hot dogs at the ballpark or not, this rhyme will get your kids in the spirit of the game! Words for the rhyme can be found here

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Chapter Book Review: Sprout Street Neighbors: Five Stories by Anna Alter

Sprout Street Neighbors:
Five Stories

by Anna Alter
2015. Random House
ISBN: 9780385755580
In five illustrated episodes, this new beginning chapter book introduces the residents of the apartment building at 24 Sprout Street. Readers meet introverted mouse Henry, sweet squirrel Emma, self-conscious rabbit Fernando, artistic chicken Violet, and nature-loving cat Wilbur. Each story places one of these characters at the center of a problem which the other neighbors help to resolve using their unique skills and their empathy for one another's difficulties.

This is an ideal book about friendship for both preschool and early elementary audiences. For younger kids, it is an engaging read-aloud, filled with lots of interesting personalities that come to life through lively dialogue. For newly independent readers, it presents some challenging vocabulary (bougainvillea, marzipan, papier-mache, stupendous, enormous, etc.), but overall, it is a great bridge book between easy readers and novels, especially for kids who have enjoyed and outgrown series like High Rise Private Eyes, Poppleton, Frog and Toad, and Oliver and Amanda Pig. For both age groups, it provides insight into how to be a true friend in times of trouble, and it demonstrates the way in which each member of a community is able to contribute something to the greater good.

Few beginning chapter books are set in apartment buildings, so it is great to see something new and different, and the setting and format of the book work well together to help readers feel the neighborly camaraderie that exists among the characters. The inclusion of common household problems, such as leaks and noisy neighbors, also engages kids' interest in the happenings of the grown-up world and might even spark a connection between the story and something that has happened in their own homes. For urban kids, especially, it will be neat to see their own living arrangements mirrored in the lives of these animals.

The Sprout Street Neighbors will appeal to parents seeking wholesome reading material for their young readers, as well as to kids, who will fall in love with the characters and eagerly enjoy their funny, surprising, and touching adventures. This book is only the first of what will hopefully become a sizable and beloved series.

I borrowed Sprout Street Neighbors: Five Stories from my local public library. Preview art from the book on the author's blog.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

10 Favorite Picture Books (A Picture Book of the Day Retrospective)

This year, from September to June, I was part of Picture Book of the Day, a group project in which kidlit bloggers share great picture books on Facebook every weekday. We have just wrapped up for this year, which has inspired me to look back at the 10 books I recommended on the days it was my turn to share. They appear below in chronological order, along with links to the original posts on Facebook and related links on this blog.

Ol' Mama Squirrel 
by David Ezra Stein
Share date: September 23, 2014

The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything
by Linda Williams, illustrated by Megan Lloyd
Share date: October 21, 2014

Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type 
by Doreen Cronin & Betsy Lewin
Share date: November 18, 2014 

Chicken Soup with Rice
by Maurice Sendak
Share date: January 6, 2015 

Caps for Sale
by Esphyr Slobodkina
Share date: February 3, 2015 

The Doorbell Rang
by Pat Hutchins 
Share date: March 3, 2015 

May I Bring a Friend?
by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers & Beni Montresor

Share date: March 31, 2015

The Babies on the Bus
by Karen Katz
Share date: April 28, 2015

Harry the Dirty Dog
by Gene Zion & Margaret Bloy Graham
Share date: May 26, 2015 

Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain
by Verna Aardema & Beatriz Vidal
Share date: June 23, 2015
Related link: 15 Literacy Activities for Rainy Days


Picture Book of the Day will resume in September. In the meantime, see all of our selections from this year on Pinterest.
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