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January 2007 | Vol. VI - No. 1
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Homeschoolers: Tots Diet With Monsters

Imaginative Picture Books Keep Kids and Moms Entertained


Good books can entice even reluctant readers to their pages. This month, TDmonthly Magazine's youngest homeschoolers couldn’t put down their roundtable required reading. Books from Harcourt (ToyDirectory), Abrams Books, and Kane/Miller Book Publishers (ToyDirectory) showed them why a monster’s diet is pure poetry, and how catching a snake can make you a hero.

Roundtable participants were art teacher Lynn Costine, B.A., MAT, with Sarah (13 years), Anna (11), Emily (9) and Will (7); Susan Ledford, editor of the "Homeschool Resources Directory for SC," with Victoria (11), Joe (7) and Griffin (1); Julie Petoia, RN, with Cabot Lee (12), Talia (10), Malynne (9) and Jeremiah, Jacob and Gabriel (5); Alison Shanahan with Elizabeth (14), Emily (12) and Katie (6); and Teresa Wilson, editor of “HOMES Newsletter” with Timothy (14), Andrew (11), Elise (8) and Steven (6).


Book Title: Baby Bear’s Books
Author: Jane Yolen
Illustrator: Melissa Sweet
Publisher: Harcourt
Targeted Age: 2 to 5

What it’s about: Baby Bear reads all kinds of books all day long, and shares his love of reading with kids.

What the moms thought: Wilson loved that the story encouraged reading throughout the day and “that most pictures are a double-page spread.” Costine liked the “good, sweet illustrations,” also appreciated by Shanahan and Ledford.

What the children thought: Mom Wilson said, “Steven (6) said this was a good story for babies because it makes kids want to read and that the story depicted how to be a good family.” Joe Ledford (7) enjoyed the rhymes. “You can sing along with them,” he said.

Roundtable summary: Bright, cheerful illustrations, an educational reading theme and gentle rhyming make this book a preschool hit. It received a high read-aloud score.

Book Title: A Particular Cow
Author: Mem Fox
Illustrator: Terry Denton
Publisher: Harcourt
Targeted Age: 3 to 7

What it’s about:  A particular cow engages in hilarious antics as she goes for a walk one day. 

What the moms thought: “It was particularly charming,” said Wilson. “I enjoyed the style of building the text around one word.” Shanahan noted that small children found the story amusing, though the Costine children said it was boring. Shanahan and Ledford called the illustrations “fun,” and Petoia found the reading “easy.”

What the children thought: Katie Shanahan (6) and Joe Ledford (7) thought it was funny. Elise Wilson (8) and brother Steven (6) liked the “rollicking predicaments of the cow,” according to mom Wilson. Gabriel, Jacob and Jeremiah Petoia (5) “liked the side notes…especially when the bugs talked,” said mom Petoia.

Roundtable summary: This book appeals to readers and audiences who appreciate humorous illustrations and word play. “A Particular Cow” received high marks as a read-aloud book.

Book Title: Can You Find It Outside?
Author: Jessica Schulte in association with the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Publisher: Abrams Books
Targeted Age: 4 to 10

What it’s about: This book from Abrams’ best-selling “Can You Find It?” series introduces children to art appreciation through photographs of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s outdoor scenes collection. Featured artists include Winslow Homer, Vincent Van Gogh, Thomas Eakins, and more.

What the moms thought: “I love seeing real art work presented to kids,” said Costine.  “What a wonderful way to introduce art!” raved Wilson. She liked “the information on the paintings and artists included in the back of the book.” 

What the children thought: “Joe (7) enjoyed the treasure-hunt format,” said mom Ledford. The Shanahan family enjoyed the illustration details.

Roundtable summary: Roundtable moms gave this book the highest marks for educational value, illustrations and enjoyment by the children. An educational and fun non-fiction book is a treasure.

Book Title: Kali and the Rat Snake
Author: Zai Whitaker
Illustrator: Srividya Natarajan
Publisher: Kane/Miller Book Publishers
Targeted Age: 3 to 7

What it’s about: A young boy in a village in India struggles for acceptance at school as he deals with his father’s unusual job as a snake catcher.

What the moms thought: Shanahan and Petoia liked the theme of appreciating people’s unique skills. Costine appreciated that it showed a different culture, but would have preferred more information to allow adults to better put the story into context for children. Wilson enjoyed the “Words to Discover” list, and noted that including a map of India would be nice.

What the children thought: “Snakes are cool!” raved the Costine children. “I did not know that some people in India caught snakes for a living,” said Katie Shanahan (6). The Shanahan children “were able to relate to the boy as another human being with similar feelings, even though his living situation is very different from ours,” commented mom Shanahan. “It was cool to read about life in another culture,” said Joe Ledford (7).

Roundtable summary: A universal theme with appealing illustrations and cultural information makes this book, first published in India, a wonderful read-aloud with young children.

Book Title: Half of an Elephant
Author and Illustrator: Gusti
Publisher: Kane/Miller Book Publishers
Targeted Age: 4 to 8

What it’s about: An elephant awakens one day to find half of his body missing and journeys to “find himself.”

What the moms thought: Petoia noted the “interesting concept,” and Wilson’s favorite aspect was “the clever way Gusti used often discarded, ordinary objects to create pictures, because it is not only interesting but promotes recycling, develops perspective and stimulates creativity.”

What the children thought: “My son really pored over the illustrations,” said Costine. Will (7) elaborated: “I really like all the cool stuff in the pictures.” Mom Wilson said, “Elise (8) enjoyed matching one half of an animal with the other half. The boys (14, 11 and 6) tried to identify which objects were used to create each scene.” Petoia said, “Gabriel (5) liked the bolts and other recognizable pieces of hardware.”

Roundtable summary:
Both moms and children and gave “Half of an Elephant (first printed in Mexico) the highest score possible for illustration.

Book Title: Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich
Author and Illustrator: Adam Rex
Publisher: Harcourt
Targeted Age: 5 to 10

What it’s about: This is a hilarious collection of poetry about monsters and the problems they face. 

What the moms thought: Shanahan called this quirky story unique and imaginative: “The illustrations are first-rate, with small entertaining details worked into them.”  Wilson and Costine loved the running Phantom of the Opera gag. “We savored every page,” Wilson raved.

What the children thought: The Petoia family adapted the poetry to lyrics of familiar songs. “Malynne (9) loved this book and has absconded with it to keep it as her own private singing manual,” said Petoia. “I LOVE it — the WHOLE thing!” enthused Timothy Wilson (14). Mom Wilson said, “Days afterward they were telling their friends about the book and even reading excerpts over the phone.”

Roundtable Summary:
The unusual combination of subjects (monsters and food) in a less visited genre (poetry) is a success. ”Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich” received the highest scores possible for its illustrations and for children (even outside the target ages) wanting to reread it again and again.



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Susan LedfordWriter's Bio: Susan Ledford is the writer, editor and publisher of the "Homeschool Resources Directory for S.C."  She has been evaluating toys and games for TDmonthly's Roundtable reviews since 2005. She also is a homeschool veteran of seven years. Read more articles by this author

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