Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Cultivating Contentment

"As to that leisure evening of life, I must say that I do not want it. I can conceive of no contentment of which toil is not to be the immediate parent." 

A couple of weeks ago I was listening to an economics podcast that I enjoy when one of the commentators mentioned that people who do not watch TV tend to buy less stuff! That caught my attention and since then, I have not been able to get that little tidbit out of my head. The commentator went on to say that people who have gotten rid of their televisions are generally happier! Naturally I had to do some research! On the blog we've talked a lot about the importance of reading aloud, cultivating a desire in your children to read, and even the fact that boredom is good for youngsters. Watching television has come up in our discussion of boy's social development, and the natural conclusion that the more time is spent watching TV, the less time children have to read and play.

The soundbite from my podcast presented a new angle to me in that watching television can carve away at our contentment. While there have been many studies on the effect of watching television on the intellectual development of children, I only came across a few that related to measuring the effect on the child consumer's purchasing habits. One dealt almost exclusively with a child's exposure to advertisements. It's findings were that children are susceptible to the barrage of adverts seen while watching TV and their behavior could be affected and shaped by such exposure. Another study found that the more time children spent watching TV the more they asked for products they saw on TV. Boys seemed to be more persistent than girls in making repeated requests. Now, if having a child always pestering you to buy something doesn't reduce your contentment, I don't know what will!

All of this is very interesting and the research is developing as academics latch on to a phenomenon that, until about ten years ago, was researched almost entirely by marketers. What I find more interesting and thought provoking is the idea that watching television creates discontent. I think that Anthony Trollope puts a fine point on the foundation of contentment in the quote above. It is the product of work.

Television takes this idea and tries to confound it. Children are told that they will be happy if they just buy the latest toy, gizmo, snack. Having this message reinforced on a daily basis sets boys and girls up for a lifetime of discontent. The studies show that the more television a child watches the more persistent he or she is in their requests. It may be good for the economy to create people whose happiness depends on their latest purchase, but it does nothing for the soul of our culture.

The second way that television steals our contentment is in the way it laps up our time. No one feels a sense of accomplishment when they finish watching an hour or two of television. I know I often feel more restless than when I started that TV show.

Remember as a child the sense of wellbeing that followed a day of hard play, or the construction of a fort, or the capture of a lizard? How do you feel when you turn that last page on a great book? These are essential experiences for children and are so important in cultivating that sense of self-possession that will lead to contentment. I believe reading is also an essential part of that, in that if we feed our children a steady diet of great literature, their souls will be nourished and will be able to resist the consumeristic values of our time and culture.

I know that in many ways I am preaching to the choir in this post, but I have been struck recently with the importance of cultivating a sense of contentment, especially in the face of a world that is continually trying to tear it down. I'm not talking about taking on a lackadaisical "it's all cool" mentality but equipping your children to grow up with the understanding that a good and happy life is not the product of the things we buy, but the result of a good character and a generous life.

So, here's to long summer days full of running around, working together, playing and exploring, and, of course, reading! I am curious as to how you limit your child's exposure to advertising, television, etc. I do believe that there is a time and place for watching TV and seeing movies, but I am going to be increasingly on-guard in my own life, looking out for that insidious root of discontent that can so easily take hold.

Need some suggestions for summer reading? Check out our blog entries on reading aloud: Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV

Monday, May 28, 2012

Honoring Memorial Day

The American Cemetery in Normandy, France
Today in the U.S. people are recognizing those who have sacrificed their lives in the armed services. The history of this day, originally known as Decoration Day, stretches back to 1868 when General John Logan proclaimed a day set aside to place flowers on the graves of Civil War soldiers in Arlington Cemetery. Following the Civil War, American soldiers have lost their lives in the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, The Iraq War, and the Afghanistan War.

Last November I had the opportunity to visit Normandy and walk on the Utah and Omaha beaches. We visited Point du Hoc and other key sites of the D-Day invasions. Our tour guide told us harrowing stories that gave full voice to the horrors of war, as well as heroic acts of courage.

The final stop on the tour was the American Cemetery. We watched the flag being lowered against a cloudy sky. We walked through thousands of white crosses in straight lines, dotted here and there by Stars of David. It was moving and heartbreaking. War comes at such a high cost.

At 3PM local time across the US, it is customary to observe a moment of silence in recognition of those who have fallen. I think it is important to do this. Unfortunately, it seems that Memorial Day weekend is more about shopping the sales, having a cookout, or crossing items off of the endless to-do list. There is nothing wrong with these activities but it is essential to stop and take a moment to recognize the very high cost paid for our freedoms.

In France, where I live, it is also a holiday, albeit a religious one. The Monday after Pentecost Sunday is a national holiday. This year the American holiday and the French holiday coincide and I find that striking. It's a fitting reminder that our hope is not in the powers of this earth, but in the Prince of Peace.

Friday, May 25, 2012


I am excited to announce the winner of our latest giveaway of For the Children's Sake and Honey for the Child's Heart

The random number generator said comment #33 was our winner. And its:

ooh... these books have been on my wish list for some time :)

Lucy, congratulations! Please contact me at rebecca (at) bfbooks (.) com to claim your prize! Just eliminate the parenthesis and spaces in the email address.

Thank you everyone for participating! 

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Great Homeschool Convention

I just wanted to let any of our readers in California know that this weekend we will be at the Great Homeschool Convention in Long Beach, CA. If you are planning on attending, we would love to see you so stop by our booth to say hi. You'll also have the chance to hear Rea speak!

She will be giving two workshops and if you need inspiration in your homeschooling journey, her talks never fail to encourage. She is speaking on two topics close to her heart, so come come to the workshops and be sure to say hi afterwards.

The Great Homeschool Convention is in Long Beach this weekend, beginning at noon on Thursday. If you want to go and haven't registered, check out their website for details. The GHC provides a wonderful place for home schoolers to gather together, be encouraged and inspired, and meet fellow partners in this journey of educating the next generation.

If you're interested in hearing Rea, here are the necessary details:

"Home Schooling with Passion and Creativity"
Thursday, May 24, 4-6PM, Room 201A:
If the pressure of academic success is robbing your home school experience of joy and passion,

perhaps a time of refreshing and reevaluation is in order. In this session, we will look at how
many of the most popular paradigms in contemporary home education often leave the student
bored and uninspired while driving the parent/teacher to distraction and disillusion. How can we
embrace the notion that "Education is a life" and apply that through principles of passion and
creativity? A look at the lives of such notable "misfits" as Thomas Alva Edison, Winston
Churchill, Florence Nightingale and others will inspire you to help your child find their passion and tap
into their God-given gifts of creativity.

"Classic Literature for Little Folks"
Friday, May 25, 2:30-3:30PM, Room 201A

Introducing classic literature to preschool and primary grade children is one of life's most rewarding,
engaging, and enjoyable endeavors! There is quite possibly nothing more essential to the emotional and
spiritual well being of our children than the affirmation of holding a little one on our lap for story time. The power of the spoken word in these moments builds bonds of security, creates the capacity for
empathy, and forms the imaginative powers of the mind. In this seminar we will explore the power of
story, and look at the authors who have polished the touchstone of truly great literature for children.

Be sure to confirm this information once you arrive at the convention, as last minute changes can alway mean a change of room or time. 

We love meeting our customers and fellow home schoolers and look forward to seeing many of you there! 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Mitigating summer learning loss...while still enjoying your summer!

Summer is approaching! And many of us are looking forward to long, unstructured days, trips to the beach and pool, free time to get together with friends, host cookouts, catch-up on that interminable to-do list! In our era when everything is a subject of case studies and research, it is not surprising that the subject of learning loss during summer vacation has been documented thoroughly. Numerous articles have been written regarding this phenomenon and advice has been given, and programs formulated to try to staunch the loss. Doubtless, for students in a classroom setting, the sudden cessation of "formal" learning will have a more profound affect than for those students who study at home. These students have the advantage of living in a setting that encourages learning and exploration. While many homeschooling families take a break from their more structured studies, it is not surprising that they also see the summer as a time to take part in more elective activities that maintain an element of teaching and learning. But how does a parent balance the desire to ensure that your child is still learning and retaining information with the child's desire to have a well-deserved break from school?

Have fun with it! Summer is a wonderful time to relax and enjoy the world around us. Without having to worry about weekly assignments, test-prep, vocabulary lists, and all the other things that fill up an average home schooler's day, you will have more time to read, to do fun backyard science experiments, learn about all the wonderful and mysterious bugs and creepy crawlies one encounters in the backyard or local park. It may be tempting to formalize this, but I think summers are the perfect time for the more structured of us to embrace an "unschooling" approach. Perhaps this is the time to take a field trip to your local state park and let your kids lead the way. Ensure that your children have time to explore and read placards...without the pressure of a report hanging over their heads. Do that science unit study that you didn't have time for during the academic year, but focus on the experiments and literature, letting lab reports take a back seat.

The point is to maintain engagement in learning without the pressure. And, of course, allow lots of time to read. Again, limit the time your children spend online, playing video games, or watching TV. Make regular trips to the library and let your children choose silly books that they would normally not have time to read. And forgo the book reports. Many children discover that they really love reading...when they can do it just for their own pleasure. I loved reading as a child but I remember one particular language arts curriculum that made me absolutely despise the books I was assigned to read. The books themselves were great! It was the minutia of each comprehension question, the endless grammar assignments. I felt as though each chapter was ripped to shreds for the purpose of "learning." While there is a time and place for this grammar exercises and comprehension questions, it is not during summer.

If you are wanting some structure for your summer, sign up for your local library's reading program. I loved taking part as a child. The lists of recommended books helped me discover new authors, and I loved the prizes! We also have lots of recommended books in our "Family Read Aloud" series.

If you're looking for further direction, try our Teaching Character Through Literature study guide. The History of the Horse is a summer time favorite among our customers, as is The History of Classical Music. Our Geography Through Literature is built on the amazing Holling C. Holling stories that are sure to capture your children's attention. And the History of Science combines fun biographies with easy hands-on experiments so your children can explore scientific principles using household items.

I would love to hear how you plan on spending your summer! Do you worry about learning loss? Is schooling more relaxed?

And if you want more inspiration, don't forget to enter our giveaway! One reader will win a copy of Honey for the Child's Heart and For the Children's Sake, both books that will inspire you in creating a learning environment in your home that doesn't end when class does.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


We had so much fun with our first giveaway we've decided it's time for another! Over the past few weeks we've talked a lot about the importance of reading aloud. If you missed those entries, you can read them here: Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV. We've also talked about education as legacy and encouraging a love of reading in your children. At BFB it is our passion to help parents cultivate a life-long love of learning in their children.

In relating the history of Beautiful Feet Books, I mentioned two books that were foundational to both our family and the founding of this company. In order to inspire you, our dear readers, we are going to be giving one reader a copy of Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt as well as a copy of For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. We hope these books encourage and inspire you in your educational journey with your children. If you already own one or both of these books, enter anyway! It's always a good idea to have a copy on hand to loan to friends.

To enter, simply leave a comment below. Winner will be chosen randomly next Wednesday, May 23! If you leave a comment as "Anonymous" be sure to add your email address to your comment so that we can contact you if you win.

Also, check out our Facebook Page for special updates and offers and be sure to "Follow" the blog so you don't miss any future giveaways. And check out our History Through Literature study guides which we've designed to help you open the world of learning to your child!

Terms and Conditions: 
2. Eligibility requirements: entrants must be from persons over the age of 18. 
3. Giveaway begins on 5/16//2012 and ends at 12:01AM on 05/24/2012.
4. To be entered, leave a comment below. 
5. Prize includes one (1) copy of Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt and one (1) copy of For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. Prize is valued at $25.00.
6. Odds of winning: the number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning.
7. Beautiful Feet Books bears no liability for technical failures or typographical errors.
8. Winner will be selected randomly on 05/24/2012 and will be notified on the blog within 24 hours. Winners have six months to claim their prize. 
9. This giveaway is sponsored by Beautiful Feet Books, Inc., Contact at: or 800.889.1978

Monday, May 14, 2012

A dangerous trend for boys

Last year, Huffington Post writer Lisa Bloom wrote an excellent article titled How To Talk To Little Girls. In the article she advocated raising the level at which adults communicate to girls. She had noticed that many people, including herself, have a habit of complimenting girls on they way they look or on their dolls. The implicit implication is that we expect girls to be cute and have nice things. She shifted her focus to the intellectual capabilities of girls and encouraged her readers to do the same. The easiest way to do this? Ask girls about the books they're reading. It's a great article and I would highly recommend reading it.

My sister, Hilary, sent me Bloom's latest article (How To Talk To Little Boys) and this time she's focused on boys. Citing the alarming trend that boys are reading less and less, and even think of reading as "girly" Bloom writes about the importance of encouraging our boys to put down the video games and pick up books. Learning to read for one's own pleasure is a skill that we have discussed quite a bit on this blog but  the latest research shows that boys are reading less and less. And it's difficult to get boys to choose books over the instant gratification of video games. Books require an investment of time and interest, while video games are instantly stimulating and ones' effort is rewarded quickly. There can also be a social aspect to video games as boys can compete with their friends and play the games together. That can be harmless but if the games become their only point of communication, their ability to converse on topics of real-life importance may be hampered.

In terms of the research pointing to the growth of video game use among boys, I find two things especially concerning.

First, the social development of boys is threatened when they spend hours each day interacting with a television screen. In an era when social critics are decrying the increasing social isolation of individuals, this is not something to be taken lightly. Video games are playing a role in shaping our boys perceptions of reality and as they get older this becomes more and more damaging. Couple this with often violent, sexual, and anti-social behaviors modeled on the most popular video games and parents have every reason to unplug those gaming devices. Of course, there are plenty of video games of an educational and/or harmless nature, but even the time spent playing those should be limited.

Secondly, video games are huge time wasters. They are a simple solution to boredom, but boredom is an essential aspect of childhood and ought to be embraced. Boys need to run, play, rough house, explore, build, get hurt and even get in trouble. In exploring and playing and imagining, boys are able to exert their inherent boyish-ness. And they are able to discover who they are, what they are interested in, and develop a self-esteem and confidence in their abilities. This doesn't happen when a boy is playing a video game, no matter how many levels he may beat.

Transitioning from the topic of video games, there are more reasons for parents to be concerned when it comes to the reading lives of their boys. Bloom provides some alarming statistics regarding the academic performance of boys. Girls are now outpacing them in nearly every subject. While I believe there are many factors at play in this trend (classroom settings are often unsuitable for active, antsy, curious boys, the curricula fails to engage boys on a meaningful level, teachers expect less of boys, etc.), it reinforces the need to get boys reading. Bloom makes a good point in that most of the role models who emphasize the importance of reading are usually female. As she states, "Time to turn that ship around." Boys need to see their dads, grandfathers, uncles, and other male role models reading. And these men need to encourage the boys in their lives to read.

As parents who have affirmed the importance of reading in your homes, you are already ahead of the curve on this one, and you deserve recognition for your efforts! You are fighting an essential battle for your children. I find it interesting that within homeschooling families one does not see the gap in performance between girls and boys. Hooray for that! As we have written a lot about encouraging "Reluctant Readers" and allowing children the freedom to become bored, I am interested in your ideas on how to especially encourage boys to read. What sorts of books do you find the boys in your life enjoy? Do your boys benefit from male role-models who encourage reading?

I also want to share some excellent books that may help boys put down those video games!

The Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

The Adventures of Robin Hood by Roger Lancelyn Green

The Kite Rider by Geraldine McCaughrean

Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes

The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman

That's just a tiny start. There are so many amazing books that star curious, adventurous, active boys. I think it could be really fun to have a book club for boys. Participants could all read the same book and meet once a month for related activities, discussion, snacks, and games. It would provide a fun-based atmosphere in which boys could talk about the stories and creatively act-out things they found interesting. They could build kites after reading The Kite Rider. They could get together and stage a mock-tournament after reading Adam of the Road. A rotating family could play host so it doesn't become too tiring for parents and snacks could be themed around the book. What do you think? 

Don't forget to check out our Facebook and Pinterest pages. 
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Friday, May 11, 2012

Happy Mother's Day

The Reading Mother
by Strickland Gillilan

I had a mother who read to me
Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea,
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth,
"Blackbirds" stowed in the hold beneath.

I had a Mother who read me lays
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.

I had a Mother who read me tales
Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness blent with his final breath

I had a Mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to a boy heart brings
Stories the stir with an upward touch,
Oh, that each mother of boys were such!

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be–
I had a Mother who read to me

This poem is such a wonderful tribute to all you mothers out there who take the time and energy to read aloud to your children! Your devotion and commitment deserve recognition. Your children will look back and treasure these hours. I have never met a person who grew up with a reading mother who ended up begrudging all those wonderful shared hours.

So, in honor of reading mothers everywhere, we at BFB would like to wish you a wonderful weekend and commend you on your work in opening new worlds to your children and creating priceless memories. You deserve credit for your stand against constant busy-ness in taking time to sit and read. And your hours of researching the best books for your children are a gift that will be rewarded. Be encouraged and know that what you are doing is of immense value. And try to take some time to read for your own pleasure! It's an important investment in your soul.

Happy Mother's Day! 

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Product Feature: Drawing on History

One of the wonderful things about teaching history using literature is the other avenues into the arts and sciences that are opened to you and your students. Instead of history being studied in isolation, it becomes a starting point for learning about the ideas and movements of the time period. Literature is one of these avenues and another is art. We were very excited when Deborah Swanson proposed writing an art accompaniment to our Modern U.S. and World History study guide. Through Drawing on Art, An Interactive Approach to Art & World History for High School Students, you will be able to explore the literature and history of the 19th and 20th centuries as well as the art!

This time period saw more change in artistic expression than any other! You will learn about the development of Impressionism and Realism and how these were just two of many movements in the transition between Classicism and Modernism. You will be introduced to Picasso, Monet, Warhol, Cezanne, and many others as you delve through Swanson's beautifully produced work. She explains the historical and cultural movements behind the art placing it with a larger context. By doing so art becomes more than just a personal experience of taste, it becomes an expression of shared experiences, a cry for change, a rallying point, a revolution, and a story!
As an accompaniment to the Modern U.S. and World History study guide, this will follow section-by-section, making it easy to add art history to your literature and social studies. Drawing On History can also fully stand on its own! The layout of the book is user-friendly and interactive, ensuring your student is engaged and inspired. We are thrilled with Deborah's work and know that you and your students will enjoy adding this fascinating dimension to your history studies. There are also art lessons, drawing, painting and sketching assignments, color tutorials, and much more!

Additionally, this will count as a one year high school credit in fine arts! Perfect for those of you preparing transcripts for college applications! 

Monday, May 07, 2012

Family Read-Alouds: Part IV

by Rebecca Berg Manor

I hope you've enjoyed this little read-aloud series. Today we are going to look at some great choices for families with older children - basically those aged 12 and up. At this point, your family read-aloud times will probably begin to become more difficult to coordinate as your children's extra-curricular obligations and activities become more time consuming, but I do encourage you to press on. The topics you can delve into at this age are so important and being able to discuss racism, prejudice, war, as well as issues of personal character within a supportive family setting is a wonderful way to encourage openness and communication. Take the time to listen to your children's developing opinions and do not feel like you always need to provide an answer to difficult moral questions. Children can spot stock answers from a mile away and will benefit greatly from being able to work through the questions with your gentle guidance.  Well-written stories will have a powerful influence on the moral development of your child and by choosing books that tackle these problems in all of their complexities, you are giving your child a secure place from to contemplate and address these questions.

 Elizabeth George Speare came to writing relatively late in life but quickly carved a place as one of the best-loved writers of young adult historical fiction. The Witch of Blackbird Pond and The Bronze Bow both one Newbery Metal awards and Sign of the Beaver was a finalist. I must have read The Witch of Blackbird Pond and Calico Captive a dozen times. They are fantastic stories set in the early days of the American experiment. The Witch of Blackbird Pond is set in the colonial days and deals with the rampant fear and prejudice that fuelled the early colonial witch hunts. Calico Captive is set during the French and Indian war and tells the story of a colonial girl who is taken captive and sold in Canada. The Sign of the Beaver is set in 1780s Maine and tells of the friendship between a young colonist and a Native American. The Bronze Bow is set in the time of Christ and provides a wonderful historical setting for this volatile and world-changing time. As a child I remember wishing that Speare and been much more prolific as I quickly made my way through her fascinating, informative, and though-provoking stories.

This is a fantastic time to begin reading Jane Austen's classics. As your children are getting older, they will be able to relate to the many characters who essentially "grow up" in Austen's brilliantly crafted plots. Nearly every hero or heroine undergoes a change in which they put off "childish things" and begin to see the world in a much more compassionate and less self-centered light. Plus, this is just great writing with unparallelled character development, witty dialogue, and wonderful plot twists. And, do not be afraid to read these to boys. Austen's influence on the greatest writers cannot be overstated and she provides wonderful examples of both admirable and despicable character. Her best-loved novel is Pride and Prejudice, followed by Sense and Sensibility, but Persuasion has a special depth to it. They're all great, so read away! 

Along with Austen, this can be a good time to introduce the writings of Emily, Charlotte, and Anne Brontë. Considerably darker than Austen, the Brontës are great to read aloud on long winter evenings.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic detective novels starring the eccentric Sherlock Holmes and his down-to-earth partner Dr. Watson will provide your family hours of entertaining reading. They also provide a view into the British colonial mindset and therefor are provide fodder for interesting conversations. 
Alexander Dumas' classic The Three Musketeers is full of wonderful adventures and makes a great family read. Also check out The Count of Monte Cristo.

For truly fantastic adventures every family must consult Jules Verne. His science-fiction was so forward thinking that it can almost seem prosaic but when you consider the time period in which he wrote, he is nothing short of revolutionary. Around the World in Eighty Days was a family favorite. 

The Scarlet Pimpernel is a ruckus tale of French revolutionaries and terrified aristocrats trying to escape Paris. After reading, you can have a fabulously fun movie night with the adaptation starring Anthony Andrews. 

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is a dark tale of the conflict between creature and creator. Sure to provide fascinating discussions on the topics of free-will, creator responsibility, and much more! 

No family read-aloud is complete without the indomitable Tom Sawyer and his buddy Huckleberry Finn. Everyone in my family loved reading through these books - getting caught up in the family feuds, the runaway adventures, and understanding an America that existed long ago and still shapes our present experience. 

The unparalleled classic To Kill A Mockingbird is an absolute must. Your family will be drawn into the simple world of Scout and the complex issue of race relations in the deep South. Atticus Fitch is the archetypal American hero and every child should read this heroic and heartbreaking tale. 

And there you have a start to some amazing evenings of storytelling and conversation. I will write more blog entries on recommended read-alouds in the future, but for now, I hope you find these suggestions helpful. As always, I would love to hear your favorites! 

Friday, May 04, 2012

Family Read-Alouds: Part III

by Rebecca Berg Manor

This started out to be what I thought would be a brief series listing some of my favorite books for family read-alouds! Ha! There are just too many, so I am going to expand it a bit. I've loved so many of the suggestions you readers have shared in the comments and on our Facebook page - they've jiggled my memory and so this will be the second entry of recommendations for families with middle school aged children. It is worth noting, that when reading aloud, it is very easy to include a broader range of ages. Older and younger students will often enjoy these books when read in a family setting! So, here we go!

For wonderfully fantastical adventures you cannot beat C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L'Engle, and Frances Hodgson Burnett. 

C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia series, especially The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and Prince Caspian will whisk you and your children to another land where animals talk, tiny mice have outsized courage, winter never ends, and fauns are just about the best possible guides one can find. For some reason I think these books are best read on a cold winter's night. Maybe its the perpetual winter and the ice-hearted Queen, but I remember feeling shivers when my dad read these aloud! And be prepared to start searching for recipes for Turkish Delight as your children will be very curious as to what this mysterious treat is that Edmond is so willing to trade for his integrity. 

A Little Princess and The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett are also lovely stories with a bit of the fantastic. Burnett also wrote Little Lord Fauntleroy and that is a great story as well but my favorites will always be A Little Princess and The Secret Garden. Not only are the stories well told, they also portray characters who are kind and generous. Self-indulgent and shallow characters are transformed into caring fully-fledged boys and girls who see beyond their own needs and act selflessly for others.

The E. B. White stories make wonderfully sympathetic read-alouds. While I always thought the premise of the story of Stuart Little was very strange (how to two people have a son who is a mouse), it is such a lovely story and one that children can relate to. Charlotte's Web is the classic that no child should miss. Provides an excellent opportunity to discuss love, friendship, sacrifice, death, loss, and living a life for others. And The Trumpet of the Swan is a such a unique story and one that will stick with you long after you've finished reading it. 

When my dad read Wind in the Willows we spent most nights laughing hysterically at the crazy antics of Mr. Toad, nodding in agreement with the wisdom of Mr. Badger, and shaking our heads at Mr. Rat. Find a beautifully illustrated edition of this book or stick with one that is not illustrated. Poorly illustrated versions of this tale impede a child's ability to imagine these characters in all their wonderful color. 

The Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warren is appropriate for younger middle school children and these stories are wonderful. Again, a note on illustration: try to stick with the copies that have the lovely black and white cut-out illustrations. Children find them fascinating and will spend lots of time looking at them. I loved the stories of Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny and their faithful dog, Watch.  

E. Nesbit's British classic The Railway Children provides many young readers with their first introduction to the genre of mystery. Although there are only a handful of characters in the book, the plot is intriguing and leaves children on the end of their seats as Roberta, Peter, and Phyllis try to save their father from a fate he does not deserve. E. Nesbit's other classic Five Children and It is another well-loved classic.  

I love The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Written by a French World War II pilot, this extravagantly imaginative tale has some very dear down-to-earth lessons in its pages. It may take a bit to get into because the subject is so original, but it's worth pressing through the first pages. Be sure to get a version with the original illustrations by the author - they are incomparable. There are other editions out there and they are not worth your money or even your effort in checking them out from the library! 

Another World War II veteran, Miendert Dejong's writing style is unique and enticing. Three very different stories, The Wheel on the School, Along Came a Dog, and The House of Sixty Fathers are modern-day classics with staying power! Whether Dejong is writing about children in Holland or American soldiers in China, his books are well-worth reading. Each book is delightfully illustrated by Maurice Sendak who is able to capture these diverse and fascinating worlds. 

Although Oscar Wilde was and remains a controversial character, is was a talented and keenly observant writer. His children's stories can be a painfully accurate mirror to the darker aspects of our nature as well as an inspiration to strive for something more noble, more generous, and more loving. There is a definite dark side to these stories so I would suggest waiting until you are sure your child has the maturity to properly process the content. That said, they should not be missed. 

I could go on and on! But I do not want to impose on your time any longer. I hope you are inspired to pursue some of the books in our  little "Read-Aloud Series" and spend time reading as a family. We will be back next week with more suggestions for advanced middle school and high school level read-alouds! And I am sure I will do other entries with more titles for this age-range. Be sure to Follow the blog (see sidebar) to make sure you don't miss anything!

As always, I would love to hear from you! What books has your family enjoyed? Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Family Read Alouds: Part II

by Rebecca Berg Manor

Thank you to all who added their favorites to our suggested family read-alouds for young children. I am so glad that Joy mentioned Babar because those are lovely stories! They definitely deserve a place on the list! Sherry had a whole bunch of wonderful titles that I had forgotten about! She recommends:

  • Ferdinand by Munro Leaf (excellent recommendation!)
  • The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper and Loren Long
  • The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack and Kurt Wiese (such a sweet story!)
  • Caps for Sale by Sephyr Slobodkina 
  • Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton (all Burton's childrens books are excellent)


  • Henny Penny
  • Frog and Toad
  • Lyle the Crocodile
  • Harry the Dirty Dog
Another great collection for young ones is the Billy and Blaze series by C. W. Anderson. Excellent for boys who have a hard time sitting still as each book is fully illustrated with a brief but engaging text. 

And there are many more great books to read to your young children. And of course, there are some wonderful wordless, or nearly wordless, books that allow you to create a story with your children. Good Night, Gorilla is an excellent example of how a talented illustrator can create a story simply using engaging pictures.

So, there are some additional recommendations for books to share with young children. Now we will move on to recommendations for families with children in middle school. 

Marguerite Henry's books make fantastic read-alouds. For horse-lovers they are the end all of literature yet the stories are well rounded and will appeal to children who are uninterested in species of the equine persuasion. Most famous for her Chincoteague Pony books, Henry also wrote about the western Mustang ponies, the development of the Justin Morgan breed, guides to identifying horses, and even a biography on Benjamin West, the great American painter! And you cannot miss King of the Wind, Henry's wonderful book on the Arabian stallions. 

It seems that most middle school aged children love animals and James Herriot's amazing stories are just the ticket for meaningful family read-aloud time! Known for his All Things Bright and Beautiful series that included All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Wise and Wonderful, and The Lord God Made Them All, Herriot was an English veterinarian who found inspiration for is writing in his work with the animals (and people) of his beloved Yorkshire. The All Things Bright and Beautiful stories may be read aloud but they do deal with some complicated issues, so I would recommend sticking with the James Herriot's Treasury for Children. Herriot also wrote the following books for children.
  • Blossom Comes Home
  • Moses the Kitten
  • Only One Woof
  • The Christmas Day Kitten
  • Bonny's Big Day
  • The Market Square Dog
  • Oscar, Cat-About-Town
  • Smudge, the Little Lost Lamb
I remember the first time I stumbled upon this book at the library. It looks like a lot of fun so I checked it out and it quickly became a favorite. I loved following Homer as he walked through Centerburg and got into all sorts of hilarious and ridiculous situations. Do not miss Home Price and Centerburg Tales by Robert McCloskey. You'll also love the illustrations!

There seems to be an entire genre of children's literature devoted to heartbreaking stories about people and their relationships with animals. Rascal by Sterling North is one of the best. Wilson Rawl's Summer of the Monkeys and Where the Red Fern Grows will break your heart, as will Anna Sewell's Black Beauty, but these are stories that will also make you laugh while teaching compassion, empathy, and generosity. I probably wouldn't recommend reading these four titles consecutively! Break them up with something lighter like the Homer Price stories.

I read every book in the Little House on the Prairie series at least five times when I was growing up. And that was after my parents had read them aloud! There was something about Laura and Mary's adventures and their family's struggles in settling the west that appealed to our my imagination. I will always remember my dad reading the chapter where Jack, the family dog, gets lost. We were all chocked up and simply could not believe that Jack was gone. The characters in this book are so well written, the settings come alive, and the dialogue is superb. These have recently come under some criticism for portraying life as a western settler in too idealized a way, but I disagree. These books portray joy and hardship, sacrifice, family dynamics and much more in a realistic way. They may not be reliable historical references, but they are much much more than that.

Once you've read through The Little House on the Prairie, you will be ready for Little Britches by Ralph Moody. The Little Britches series is more advanced than The Little House books and quite a bit more complex but just as endearing. Also autobiographical accounts of a family moving west in search of a better future. You will find yourself shaking your head in amazement, laughing until tears roll down your cheeks, gritting your teeth in frustration, and yes, crying, as you make your way through the adventures of the Moody family.

Lois Lenski's Strawberry Girl is one that should not be missed! It's an endearing and convicting story of poverty and kindness.

While The Hundred Dresses may be one of Eleanor Estes better known titles, it is simply one among many wonderful titles by this talented author. Her Moffats series and Ginger Pye stories are whimsical and entertaining. Check your library for the following titles:
  • The Moffats
  • The Middle Moffat
  • The Sun and the Wind and Mr. Todd
  • Rufus M.
  • The Echoing Green
  • Sleeping Giant and Other Stories
  • Ginger Pye
  • A Little Oven
  • Pinky Pye
  • Miranda the Great
  • The Tunnel of Hugsy Goode
  • The Lost Umbrella of Kim Chu
  • The Coat-Hanger Christmas Tree
  • The Moffat Museum
  • The Curious Adventures of Jimmy McGee

    Marguerite de Angeli combined exquisitely written stories with beautiful illustrations and made an indelible mark on the world of children's literature. From her stories of Quakers, to her tale of a traveling medieval mistral, her books are all wonderful. My favorites include:
  • Henner's Lydia
  • Yonie Wondernose
  • Thee, Hannah!
  • Bright April
  • Copper-Toed Boots
  • Skippack School
  • Turkey for Christmas
  • The Door in the Wall
  • The Lion in the Box

Mildred D. Taylor's American classics Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and Let the Circle Be Unbroken are difficult titles as they deal with complex issues of hate, racism, prejudice, and injustice, but they also depict great courage, generosity, forgiveness and grace. Many do not know that Roll of Thunder was part of a five-book series. My favorites are Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Let the Circle be Unbroken, and The Road to Memphis

And that's just a tiny portion of all the wonderful books available for middle school aged children. I will be listing many more in the future, but I hope that gives you a start. And as always, I would love to hear your recommendations! I know there are so many more out there, I simply cannot get to each and every one in a single blog entry, so we will keep working our way through these!