Listen up!

We’ve been on an audiobook kick again.  I really find these can be challenging to just find while browsing at the library.  At any given time so many our checked out that it’s hard to find one on the shelves that is just right for all of us that we haven’t listened to before. That said, we picked up all of these from browsing a couple weeks ago.

moodyJudy Moody: Around the World in 8 1/2 Days by Megan McDonald.  In this Judy Moody installment Judy is initially put out when a new girl in school also has a rhyming name-Amy Namy.  But soon the two are so tight that Judy is overlooking her other friends.  Meanwhile, inspired by Nelly Bly, the class is doing presentations on different countries as they “go around the world.”  Funny and light, nothing ground breaking, but a good listen for younger readers.



clementineThe Talented Clementine by Sara Pennypacker Sometimes when we were listening to this I thought we were still listening to Judy Moody as Clementine is about the same age (3rd grade), and a similar type of girl.  We were all fascinated because the plot of this book was basically the same plot as that of a picture book we had recently read! Clementine’s class is putting on a talent show but Clementine believes she has no talent to offer.  Clementine’s indecisiveness cracked us up because it reminded us of a certain family member of our own and was hilariously portrayed by the narrator. We all liked this and have checked out the third Clementine book.



sarahSarah, Plain and Tall/Skylark/Caleb’s Story by Patricia MacLachlan.  Sarah Plain and Tall was the winner of the Newbery Award and is a beautifully written historical story.  It’s fairly short and I thought that it might be fine for the 3rd grader.  The premise of the story is that two children and their father live on a prairie. He advertises for a wife and Sarah, in Maine, responds. They write letters back and forth and then she comes for a visit and they get to know each other. It’s a gentle story, but not without deep emotions, including sadness and homesickness. Glenn Close is the much lauded narrator of the books and she is good, though I found the volume of the voices to vary so much between them (Caleb is a shouter) that we were always adjusting the volume.  This is packaged along with the two follow up books (1 disc each) so we kept going with Skylark and Caleb’s Story.  In the first there is a terrible drought and the children and Sarah return to Maine, and in the second a mysterious man brings anger and strife to their farm with his reveal of family secrets.  Although we really liked the first book listening to all three at once was a bit much for us.  Very sad and depressing and my son requested could our next audio book be something “like what Dad and I like, something fun.”  And with that, we are currently listening to Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, narrated by Eric Idle.

Operation Bunny

bunnyOperation Bunny by Sally Gardner is the first in a new series called Wings & Co. I heard about it in the fall and was bummed to find out it was only in the UK. But, hurrah! It’s now out in the U.S. and we were able to read it. This reminded me so much of a Roald Dahl book, I loved it (and yes, the kids did too.)  Emily Vole is an abandoned baby adopted by the most awful greedy people ever. As soon as they are able to have their own babies (triplets Petal, Peach, and Plum) they make Emily be their unpaid servant. It’s a miserable life straight out of Matilda.  Emily’s good fortune comes from the next door neighbor, Mrs. String.  It turns out she’s somewhat magical, which Emily realizes when she falls through the hedge and meets both Mrs. String and her 6 foot tall talking cat. It’s all quite marvelous as of course Emily is destined to play a role in a battle between an evil person (who, fantastically, has chicken legs) and the fairies (who all gave up their wings ages ago.) This first book is satisfying, but it’s very much the set up for the series, so now we can’t wait for book number 2 (out in September, I hear) in which Wings & Co. will be fairy detectives on a case.

Fraidy Zoo

fraidyFraidy Zoo by Thyra Heder.  This might be my new favorite picture book.  And it’s not just me-we read it last night and my daughter requested it twice this morning.  It’s a great day to go to the zoo and the older sister couldn’t be more excited and ready.  Younger sister, Little T, is apprehensive, though.  She’s afraid of something, but not sure what. Her family assures her that they won’t go until they’ve figured out what she’s afraid of. And then (improbably) spend literally the entire day trying to figure it out. It’s how they try to figure it out though that is so spectacularly entertaining. Mom, Dad, and older sister create imaginative costumes and props to make an animal for every letter of the alphabet.  We loved how creative they were, using household objects to make these instantly recognizable things.  And while it’s unlikely anyone could make 26 of these in a day, and make them so awesomely, they are realistic, which is so nice. For example, one of my favorites that I immediately wanted to make for Halloween was for J.  An umbrella held high is covered in bubble wrap and streamers, and held by the girl dressed in goggles and a swimsuit. Jellyfish! The author bio says that Heder likes to make elaborate Halloween costumes and boy would I love to see them if they are anything like these pictures.

The ending is surprising and wonderful, making us shriek with laughter. So clever and fun-do check it out!

Feeling Blue?

blueWho doesn’t find a chameleon’s ability to change color enchanting? It’s such an amazing fact made more magical in books and movies all the time.  Blue Chameleon by Emily Gravett is a simple story with lovely illustrations that has a lot of fun with the idea.  Chameleon is blue-as in, kind of down because he’s lonely.  He tries to befriend all sorts of things by matching them-a banana, a cockatoo, a boot, a ball. Not only does he change his pattern/color, but also makes his shape match. As you might expect, he finally finds the perfect friend to match by finding another chameleon.  With just three words per page (his greeting, his color/pattern, the object he’s matching) and the perfectly executed concept, this would be a terrific book for a toddler storytime (though we enjoyed it here!)


sickWith a couple of colds in our house this week, it was the perfect time for A Sick Day for Amos McGee.  Written by Philip Stead and illustrated by Erin stead, this won the Caldecott medal a couple of years ago, and is absolutely charming.  Amos McGee cares for the animals at the zoo. And he doesn’t just feed them, he plays chess with the elephant, races the tortoise, and reads to the owl.  He’s the perfect friend to them. When he doesn’t show up one day because of a cold, the animals take their turn at caring for him.  What I love about this is how Amos is depicted-his routine, the lack of other people in his life, and he knows just what his special animal friends need.  A wonderful story whether you are sick or well!

Caddie Woodlawn

caddie2Published in 1935 and winner of the Newbery Award, Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink is a classic. It’s a book I know I read more than once as child and I chose it for our latest audiobook.  There was so much I hadn’t remembered about this story and it was a treat for me to listen to, too.

Set in 1864 in Wisconsin, this is a story about Americans on the frontier.  Caddie’s mother is from Boston and fondly remembers her fine life there, but Caddie and her brothers and sisters are growing up on the edge of wilderness, where they run free and wild in the woods.  Caddie has been allowed to live as her brothers do, and she is a brave, adventurous girl (who is, consequently, scornful of dainty girls and “women’s work.”)  Although everyone is aware of the Civil War, it does not really reach them, other than that Father paid someone to take his place in it.  There are wonderful details of their life, such as the circuit rider coming by, raising turkeys, and their school days.  Each chapter is almost a self contained story.  Caddie and her family are friends to the Indians, but many of their neighbors are nervous.  The chapter where there are rumors of an Indian massacre is really tense one, and yes the idea that the Indians should just leave their home so they don’t make the white folks antsy is appalling. One of the really fascinating aspects of the book is just placing it in time. It’s 1864 in Wisconsin–they mention Abraham Lincoln and the Civil warm, they live a fairly rustic farm life, yet they are prosperous, Boston is clearly quite civilized, and they also tell of life in England at that time.

This reminded me of when we listened to Miracles on Maple Hill-another very old-fashioned classic that is beautifully written. That’s another thing I liked about this book.  We read and listen to a lot of silly, funny stories, and it’s nice to every now and then listen to something with beautiful language that is wonderfully written.  I suspect I read this when I was older than 3rd grade, but I think both kids did a fine job listening to, understanding, and enjoying the story.  Caddie is an American classic, embodying the spirit of the young country.


Between the new show Cosmos and the science fair last week, we’ve had science on our minds lately.

bonesBone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sara Levine, illustrated by the improbably and wonderfully named T. S. Spookytooth. I grabbed this book without even opening it, just based on title and cover. I thought it would be a good non-fiction book for my son to enjoy on his own, but it proved to be a fantastic book for all of us to enjoy.  The  premise is that human and animal skeletons share basic structure, it’s just that the basic elements (vertebrae, leg bones, finger bones, etc.) are shaped differently and used differently.  It’s a basic but fascinating concept that I had literally never considered before.  And now my new favorite fact is that a bat’s wing bones are its finger bones. Each page asks what would happen if you had, for example, extra bones on your spine that curved out? And an illustration showing that on a person. Turn the page and see the corresponding limb/structure on an animal (in that example, you would have a tail, like an alligator.) This is a terrific example of fun, readable, non-fiction. A fantastic find!

petprojectThe scientific method is employed in the picture book The Pet Project: Cute and Cuddly Vicious Verses by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Zachariah Ohora. We’ve read many, many books about children eager for a pet and out to find the right one. This might be a new favorite take on that theme. Because her parents are scientists they tell their pet-wanting daughter that she must do research first.  She goes into the field to make observations on specific animals.  First the farm, then the zoo, then on to indoor animals. In each section there’s a query, observations, and conclusion.  What is so exceptional is that the entire thing is in verse, so it’s a collection of poems. Clever, funny, poetic, and with an overall story.  This was super enjoyable.


Since my son was working on his science fair project last week, I also grabbed Zeke Meeks vs. the Stinkin’ Science Fair by D. L. Green.  This is one he read on his own, so I can’t speak personally, but he reports that it was good and he recommends it. It’s about a kid out to win the science fair and find the perfect project for it.

Listen and Look

Books packaged with sound recordings are nothing new, but there seems to be a new packaging in town.  I was delighted to discover a shelf  in my library (located next to those pesky hanging bags of books and tapes/cds) that had picture books with cds directly in the book.  I’ve been checking out handfuls, as my kindergartener especially loves these.  Unlike audiobooks, we’ve found that most of these really do need to be listened to along with looking at the book because the pictures are so much of the story.  The recordings are wonderful at bringing the stories to life with music, sound effects, and narration. All of them are Weston Woods productions, and they are wonderful.  If I haven’t already written about these here, I should have as they are all books we’d already read and enjoyed many times over.  See if your library has them!

We’ve read and listened to:


and then it’s spring by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin E. Stead (could not be more perfect for this cold March)
Cloudette by Tom Lichtenheld (absolutely charming story of a wee cloud who wishes she could rain like the big ones do)
Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown (oh Peter Brown, you are always so clever! and children i make terrible pets)
Arnie the Talking Doughnut by Laurie Keller (Laurie Keller always has wonderfully funny detail packed illustrations. When a doughnut is finally bought he’s super excited until he finds out what people do with doughnuts)
Library Mouse: Home Sweet Home by Daniel Kirk (We love Library Mouse and in this story he explores and learns about different styles of homes. )


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