Possum Come a Knockin’

Possum knocking on a doorVan Laan, Nancy. Illustrated by George Booth.  Possum Come a Knockin’. New York: Trumpet Club, 1990.

Conversation around the lunch table this week, made me remember this book.  I have a friend, who lives near the edge of a small town.  Like many of us, who live on the fringe of town, she had a possum visit her yard.  She was worried that it might carry off one of her small dogs or they might try to eat it.  Her story made me think about this book and how I inadvertently tormented my niece and nephews with it.  It is a standard joke at our house.  As a matter of fact, my husband just wandered by and said, “Oh, Possum Come a Knockin!  Going to scare more, small children, are you?”

I first heard this book, when I was teaching in a private preschool.  We had an itinerant music teacher, Mr. David.  He read my students this book.  I understood why he chose it.  It had a wonderful cadence and rhythm. It was almost musical.  I recorded myself reading this book (https://goo.gl/ZvigbY) to give you a feel for it.  Here, also, is a link to a video of a teacher using this book in class: https://goo.gl/zcSZ6Y.

I thought it was such a wonderful, musical type of book that for the next gifting occasion I figured it was perfect for my brother-in-law and his family.  He and his wife were both musicians so I thought they and their children would enjoy this book as much as I did.  Alas, I forgot that they too lived at the edge of town. While they didn’t have a possum come a knockin’, they did have a possum get under their house. It made a lot of  creepy scratching noises.   That possum terrified my niece and nephews and unfortunately so did this book! They didn’t think it was musical or rhythmic, they thought it was scary!

Hopefully, you won’t encounter any possums and you can enjoy the cadence written into this story.

Nancy Van Laan

While I was looking at information on this author, I found someone who described her books as good for reading aloud.  This book is terrific for reading aloud, I am not certain I could keep it to myself.   Here are a few fun facts about this author.

  • She read to pass the time on long trips.
  • She wrote and illustrated her own stories when she was young.
  • Her first love was ballet, but an injury ended her careers
  • She has been an English teacher in a private school, a creative writing teacher at Rutgers, and a network censor at ABC.
  • She has an MFA from Rutgers and has painted murals for schools and private clients
  • In 1989, she began to write full-time.

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/26331.Nancy_Van_Laan

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Never Spit on Your Shoes: A Book for the First Day of School

NeverSpitCazet, Denys. Never Spit on Your Shoes. New York: Orchard Books, 1990.

Good evening!  This was the first day of school for many children in central Texas.  Parents worked hard to get their children ready to go back to school. Teachers did their part, working hard preparing their classrooms for their new students. It was a significant day for parents and students.  For young children and their parents going to school for the first time can be a little scary.  They don’t know what to expect.  For older students and their parents, the first day of school marks the beginning of a new year of activity.  For me it signaled the passing of a year in a more significant way than New Years.

While I was considering which book to share, I stopped to have a conversation with my daughter.  She grew up to become a music educator and now works in an elementary school here in central Texas.  She had been busy setting up her classroom. She told me her plans for the first day of school.  This year, she will be asking her student to help craft the classroom rules.

That amusing conversation made me remember this book.  I am certain I purchased the book for its title, Never Spit on Your Shoes, when I was teaching preschool. How could I resist? It is a good piece of advice.  Take a look at the cover of this book. Like my daughter, this teacher is developing the class rules for the first day of school.

Denys Cazet has shared the first day adventures of a little puppy named, Arnie.  Arnie is making the transition from kindergarten to first grade.  As the book opens we see Arnie drag himself into the house, throw himself into a chair, and gasp out for milk.  The first day of school has been exhausting.  His mom brings milk and cookies and they proceed to have a conversation about his first day of school.

I like the way this book is designed!  On the double-spread pages of the book, you see an inset of Arnie and his Mom.  The rest of the page shows the details of what happened at school. Here’s an example.  At the top of the inset picture, Arnie tells his mom, “We had to sit together in a circle and help the teacher make the rules.”  The rest of the double page shows the classroom, with the students in the circle working on ideas for rules.  Mrs. Hippowitz got some of these helpful suggestions: “Waste not, want not. Always keep your tools dry! Just say no to catnip. Never spit on your shoes. Keep your feet dry.  Is it time to go home?” The inset picture shows Arnie whispering to his mom.  Under the inset picture Arnie tells his mom, “Never spit on your shoes.”  Mom replies, “I promise.” Good advice, but I doubt it made the list. It clearly impressed Arnie. I am looking forward to visiting with my daughter to hear what interesting suggestions Ms. Reimund received for her classroom rules.

This book is very funny! It is evident that Mr. Cazet has spent some time in a classroom.  There are many amusing things to discover and discuss.  I don’t know, if I would read this book to my child before or after the first day of school.  It might be fun to read after and discuss how the child’s day was the same or different from Arnie’s. When you read this book, you need to pay close attention to the words and pictures or you will miss the jokes.  Pick up a copy of this book and share it on the first day of school with a youngster you know.

Denys Cazet

Here are five fun facts about this author.

  1. He’s been a gardener, mail carrier, teacher, librarian and media specialist.¹
  2. His characters are based on some of his friends and family.
  3. The title Never Spit on Your Shoes was an actual contribution to a teacher’s class discussion on rules.
  4. He was inspired to write the Minnie and Moo stories, when he drove past a herd of cows. All the cows were facing the same direction except two.2
  5. He lives and works near Napa in California3.

¹http://biography.jrank.org/pages/1785/Cazet-Denys-1938.html
²https://www.harpercollins.com/cr-100163/denys-cazet
³http://www.patriciamnewman.com/kidlit-creators/denys-cazet/

My Trip to the Science Museum

Mayer, Mercer.  My Trip to the Science Museum.  New York: Harper Festival, 2017.

Happy Sumer!  Here in Texas we are in our triple digit weather.  At this time of year, we spend lots of time indoors in the air conditioning, because it is just too “gol dern” hot to do anything outside.  When we do venture out of the house or office, we look for other cool venues like movies or museums. When we send out children to summer camp, we check the schedule to make certain that they will be spending the hottest part of the day inside. It is just too darn hot!

This summer my daughter is working a science camp.  After looking at her camp’s schedule, I see they employ this strategy.  They work inside in the cool and spend small amounts of time outside conducting experiments (like water rockets) that can’t be done safely inside.

All this discussion brings me to my book for today. Written and illustrated by one of my favorites, it is a Little Critter story.  They always make me smile. If you have ever been to summer camp or have sent your children to one, you might remember that once or twice you went some place special.  Around here you might get to go to Natural Bridge Caverns, or the Bob Bullock Museum, or the Doctor Pepper Museum, or the Thinkery.  These are all terrific places that make a good day outing in our area.  While I think this book is about a school field trip, I think it would also make a great summer camp outing so I am working it in here.

I admit that I bought this book for myself.  I haven’t read it with a young friend or with my own daughters or with a class.  I have shared it with my husband and he chuckled along with me.  What drew me to the book? It was the curiously familiar illustration of Dr. DaBison.  Yes, it was Neil deGrasse Tyson in illustrated, animal form. That wonderful, science and knowledge advocate was in a Little Critter book!  The dedication sealed the deal for me: “Dedicated to Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson.  Thanks for making the universe so much fun!” As I admire both men (Mayer & Tyson), it was mandatory to add this book to my collection.

Little Critter’s class and his teacher, Miss Kitty, take a field trip to the science museum.  They get to check out all the cool experiments. It was cool to see Miss Kitty’s hair stand up all over when she touched the plasma globe.  Little Critter enjoyed exploring the tornado machine.  With Dr. DaBison’s help they explore even more cool science experiments.  They end their day in the planetarium where Dr. DaBison shows them the wonders of the universe.  As Miss Kitty is rounding up her class to board the bus, Dr. DaBison poses this question to the class, “What do you want to be when you grow up”.  Little Critter’s response is the perfect end to the book. “When I grow up I want to be you, Dr. DaBison.  You have the best toys in the universe!”

My sentiments exactly!  Pick up this book, read it, and take yourself and some children, if you are so inclined, to the nearest science museum.  Stay cool, think hard, wonder, and have a great time!

Museums for Science in Central Texas

Arrow to the Sun – Happy July 4th

arrowsunMcDermott, Gerald.  Arrow to the Sun. New York: Puffin Books, 1974.

I know this is late, but Happy July 4th! Yesterday was the birthday of our nation.  We are fortunate to live in a country with a diverse population.  Our varied backgrounds, ancestry,  and stories combine to create a rich narrative for all of us.

The book I offer today, Arrow to the Sun is based on a Pueblo Indian tale.  According to the synopsis, “it is a retelling of how the Spirit of the Lord was brought the world of men”.

This is an exciting tale.  If I were a better storyteller, I would learn to tell this story. It would be a great one to share around a campfire. This book is a visual treat as well.  It has bright colors and stylized drawings based on the Pueblo Indian’s mythology.  I have enjoyed following the story with my eyes as well as my ears.

The Lord of the Sun sends his spark to the earth to a young Pueblo Indian maiden.  The Boy is born. He is rejected by his peers as his father is unknown.  He leaves home to seek his father.  A wise Arrow Maker recognizes the Boy and sees his connection to the Lord of the Son.  He offers his help and makes the boy into an arrow and shoots him to the sun.  The Boy meets the Lord of the Sun but must prove himself.  Find a copy of this book to read to a young friend or even for yourself.

Gerald McDermott

McDermott’s illustrations are dominated by bright, stylized forms, which often draw from indigenous art and highlight his fascination with the origins of stories!¹

I agree with this assessment of his work!  Here are some other interesting facts about this author.

  1. This author was a reader and artist from a young age.
  2. He had an avid interest in world mythologies.
  3. He was a film maker before he became an author. He made some of his films into books.
  4. He won the Caldecott Award for Arrow to the Sun in 1975. He also holds Caldecott Honors for Anansi the Spider (1973) and Raven: A Trickster Tale from the Pacific Northwest (1994).

Here are some websites where you can discover more about this author.

  1. http://www.slj.com/2013/01/industry-news/gerald-mcdermott-a-legacy-of-magical-storytelling/#_
  2. https://www.booklistonline.com/Books-and-Authors-Talking-with-Gerald-McDermott-Nancy-J-Johnson/pid=3993803
  3. https://www.booklistonline.com/Books-and-Authors-Talking-with-Gerald-McDermott-Nancy-J-Johnson/pid=3993803
  4. http://www.academia.edu/12211133/Master_Artist_Master_Storyteller_An_Interview_with_Gerald_McDermott_Independent_Filmmaker_Author-Illustrator_of_Childrens_Books_

¹https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-authors/article/55452-obituary-gerald-mcdermott.html

Read an Old Favorite: Clifford the Big Red Dog

Book coverBridwell, Norman.  Clifford the Big Red Dog. New York: Scholastic, 1963.

Do you know this book?  While it is an older book, I think Clifford is still a terrific character.  Yes, Clifford is big and red.  He is a good friend to a small girl named Emily Elizabeth.  Emily Elizabeth says that he is the biggest, reddest dog on her street.  I don’t know about the reddest, but he is the biggest dog on any street and perhaps in the world.  How big is he?  He is as big as Emily Elizabeth’s house!  Where does he get a bath, in the swimming pool!! Clifford loves to play games with Emily Elizabeth!  In Hide and Seek she is an excellent hider, while Clifford is always found.  I wonder why? When Clifford begs, Emily Elizabeth must climb to the attic and use a window there to give him his reward.  Chasing cars for Clifford is problematical, as sometimes he catches them.  It makes the driver, very angry!  I wonder why?  He also runs after cats.  Emily Elizabeth can’t take him to the zoo, can you imagine why?  Clifford is a very special dog and Emily Elizabeth wouldn’t trade him!

My girls loved reading about Clifford. It was wonderful to give them this reading experience.  Children with disabilities need reading experiences as well.  Here is a link to an article on bringing literacy to life with story boxes: http://www.pathstoliteracy.org/blog/bringing-literacy-life-through-storyboxes. Story boxes are a great way to bring stories alive for children with visual impairments.  This article provides an example of how to make another Clifford story, Clifford’s Bedtime, accessible for children with disabilities.

Norman Bridwell

Norman decided to keep it all in the family.  Clifford was names after his wife’s childhood imaginary friend and Clifford’s friend and companion was named after Bridwell’s daughter, Emily Elizabeth.

Norman was born in Kokomo, Indiana!  I lived there for a year and never realized it was his birthplace.  At that time, I didn’t have any children and wasn’t familiar with this wonderful big, red dog.

He had a vivid imagination as a child and enjoyed making up imaginary kingdoms as a backdrop for his tin soldiers and other toys.  As with many other author/illustrators, he majored in art and spent some time working to get a job as a book illustrator.  A chance remark by a rejecting publisher set him on his path.  It was suggested that he make up stories about the big red dog and little girl who appeared in his portfolio.  Clifford the Big Red Dog’s career was launched. Scholastic can be congratulated for recognizing Bridwell’s brilliance!

Dick Robinson, chairman, president and CEO of Scholastic had this to say about Norman Bridwell and the Clifford books.

Norman Bridwell’s books about Clifford, childhood’s most loveable dog, could only have been written by a gentle man with a great sense of humor. Norman personified the values that we as parents and educators hope to communicate to our children – kindness, compassion, helpfulness, gratitude – through the Clifford stories which have been loved for more than fifty years. The magic of the character and stories Norman created with Clifford is that children can see themselves in this big dog who tries very hard to be good, but is somewhat clumsy and always bumping into things and making mistakes. What comforts the reader is that Clifford is always forgiven by Emily Elizabeth, who loves him unconditionally.¹

Watch some video interviews with this author.

Read about more about Norman Bridwell on these websites.

¹http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-authors/article/65076-obituary-norman-bridwell.html

Happy St. Patrick’s Day: Paddy’s Pay Day

PaddyDay, Alexandra.  Paddy’s Pay Day. New York: Puffin Books, 1989.

Okay, this book isn’t about St. Patrick’s Day, but I think of it often on this day.  Paddy, an Irish Terrier is the subject of the book.  He is a charming character.  As you would suppose, Paddy has no words.  You can read the book and imagine what he would say, if he could.

Paddy works with Trilby O’Farrell. They do tricks and acrobatics for carnivals, parties, and benefits.  Every month, Paddy gets his pay and he goes to the nearest village to spend it.  Although Paddy has no words, the everyone in the nearby village him recognizes him and interacts with him just like he could talk.

What do you do when you get paid? Do you buy yourself a treat?  Do you take care of personal chores, like getting a haircut?  Do you spend some of your pay on donations to good causes? Do you look for some entertainment, like a going to a movie?  Do you treat yourself at a meal at your favorite restaurant?  Do you buy little gifts for your friends?  In this book, you can follow Paddy and see how he spends his day off! It really is a lovely book to share with a child.

In the story, Paddy has his usual monthly meal at Murphy’s. It must be an Irish Pub! He treats himself to a baked potato with all the fixings and Guinness beer.  While it is not Paddy’s usual meal here is a special one, he might enjoy at Murphy’s on St. Patrick’s Day.  If you want to try it with your family or friends, I have listed the recipes for the stew and the bread.  Guinness, of course, holds the recipe for the beer and I purchased the truffles at my local HEB grocery store.

StPatrickDinnerA St. Patrick’s Day Menu for Paddy

Robin’s Irish Stew
Irish Soda Bread
Guinness Extra Stout
Irish Cream and Irish Coffee Truffles

Robin’s Irish Stew

Here’s my take on Irish Stew.  I didn’t have a recipe for one so I made this one up.

  • 2 c chopped onion (about 1 large. I like sweet onions, like 10/15)
  • 1 c chopped celery (about 3 large stalks)
  • 2 c sliced carrots
  • 3 c dices potatoes (about 4 medium potatoes)
  • 2 large cloves finely minced
  • 1 lb. beef roast, cubed
  • ½ c flour, seasoned with salt & pepper
  • 1 bay leat
  • 1 T rosemary, crushed
  • 2 T Olive oil
  • 4 c beef broth, low sodium
  • 12 oz Guinness extra stout (1 bottle)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Dredge the meat cubes in the flour, salt, and pepper mixture.  Work in batches and remove coated cubes to a plate.

Use a large dutch oven or other large pot. Heat the olive oil in the pan on medium-high heat.  When oil is hot, add onions and sauté them for about 2 minutes until they begin to soften.  Add the meat cubes a handful at a time, stirring occasionally.  Continue to add meat until all of it is in the pot.  Cook until meat begins to brown about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom of the pan.  Add ¼ c of the beef broth and scrape the bottom of the pan, scraping up all the flour mixture stuck to the bottom.  You may need to use a metal spatula to get all the good flour mixture up from the bottom.  Add the carrots, celery, potato and garlic.  Cook for 3-4 minutes stirring often and scraping bottom of pot.  Add the remaining beef broth, scraping the bottom one more time.  Bring stew to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.  Add the bay leaf, rosemary, Guinness and then salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer stew for another 30-45 minutes.

Remove bay leaf before serving.  Serve with Irish Soda Bread or some other hearty bread.

Irish Soda Bread from Joy of Cooking. Volume 2, Page 273

Preheat oven to 375º. Have all the ingredients at room temperature about 75°. Abbreviations: c=cup, T=tablespoon, and t=teaspoon.

  • 2 c sifted all-purpose flour
  • ¾ t baking soda
  • ½ t salt
  • 1 T sugar
  • 6 T chilled shortening
  • ½ to 1 c raisins
  • 1 T caraway seed
  • ½ to 2/3 c buttermilk

Mix the first four ingredients together in a large bowl.  Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut the chilled shortening into the flour mixture until it has the consistency of corn meal.  Stir in the raisins and caraway seeds.  Add the buttermilk gradually to the bowl.  The mixture should not be dry.  Knead the dough briefly and shape into a round loaf.  Coat a cake pan with the oil and place the dough in the pan.  Cut a cross on the top of the bread letting it go over the sides so the bread will not crack in backing.  Brush the top of the bread with some of the buttermilk or regular milk.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes until the bread looks golden brown.  Tap the bottom of the loaf and if a hollow sound emerges, the bread is done.

Lost Teeth: Two Books to Share

  • Bate, Lucy. Little Rabbit’s Loose Tooth. Diane deGroat, Illustrator. New York: Scholastic, 1975.
  • Brown, Marc.  Arthur’s Tooth. Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1985.

In case you haven’t noticed, the months of January and February have been brought to you by the letters A and B.  When I was browsing my shelves, I found these two books on the same subject by authors whose names begin with the letter B.  The young people in these books are concerned about their loose teeth!

In Little Rabbit’s Loose Tooth, she doesn’t want to eat hard food, like carrots and beans.  They are after all too hard for a little rabbit with a loose tooth.  Dessert strawberries would be much better!  Mother Rabbit, as mothers do, has a better idea.  Little Rabbit can have the soft strawberries for dessert and can eat carrots and beans with her teeth that aren’t loose.  All week, Little Rabbit eats hard foods with her other teeth and soft foods with her loose tooth.  Finally, she loses it in Friday’s chocolate ice cream.  Read this book to find out all those unanswered questions you have about what to do with a loose tooth, what the tooth fairy might do with the teeth she collects, and most importantly what was the going rate for teeth in 1975.

I don’t know when I bought Arthur’s Tooth.  I know that Marc Brown was the featured author in my preschool classroom.  In this book, Arthur is the only one in his class that hasn’t lost a tooth.  It is embarrassing and is branding him a “baby” with his other classmates, especially the annoying Francine.  His tooth was loose and no amount of wiggling it was making it come out!  All his friends offer to help.  Buster brings him hard carrots to eat.  Brain invents a special (scary looking) tooth removing machine.  Finally, Binky Barnes offer to knock it out!  Finally, his Mom takes him to the dentist.  Dr. Sozio assures Arthur that nothing is wrong and the tooth will come out.  He admits to Arthur, that he didn’t lose his first tooth until after he was eight.  Read this book to find out when Arthur loses his tooth and who helps him.

The girls and I loved this book.  They worried about not losing their teeth as well.  Each of them lost their first tooth well after all their friends had lost theirs.  It was comforting to them to see someone else who was late losing teeth.  One of them had a particularly stubborn loose tooth.  Please don’t try this at home, but we tied a piece of dental floss to her tiny tooth and the other end to a door.  We slammed the door shut and that tooth came flying out! The girl was happy the tooth was out! The tooth fairy collected her tooth and left a quarter. I think our dentist was horrified when we told her what we did.  She said, “Don’t do that again!!!” Fortunately, all other loose teeth in our house came out in a timely way!

Lucy Bate

I couldn’t find much on this author online.  Here is the little bit I found. Lucy was born on the 19th day of March in 1939.  She is best known for her children’s books.  She was also a playwright.  Here is her website: www.lucybate.com.

Diane de Groat

Growing up in a time before DVDs, video games, or magic markers, Diane started her drawing with crayons and chalk.  Her driveway was her canvas.  She loved to watch the “Wonderful World of Disney”.  I remember that show!  Her favorite place in the classroom was the painting corner.  She also liked to draw Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.  She says, “Every time I illustrate a book, I am learning something new.”

Little Rabbit’s Loose Tooth was the first picture book she illustrated.  She has illustrated many, many books for many different authors.  She wanted to illustrate her own books so she joined writer’s groups and took writing classes to learn more about this craft.  Roses Are Pink, Your Feet Really Stink was the first picture book she wrote and illustrated.

Read more about Diane on her website: www.dianedegroat.com

Marc Brown

He must have a wild and wonderous time in third grade.  Most of his characters are based on the people he knew at that time.  He says that his Arthur stories came from the bedtime stories that he told his son.  He says that children can relate to Arthur, because “he is dealing with the same issues that they’re dealing with in their lives.”¹

He graduated from the Cleveland Art Institute with a degree in painting.  Did he become a celebrated author right away?  No!  He had a series of other jobs before a story, told to his five-year old son about and aardvark who hated his nose, launched the Arthur series.¹

He credits his friend, Fred Rogers for making Arthur a TV program.  He claims that Mr. Rogers set a high standard for how to use television in useful ways for children and families.²

As I was reading about Marc Brown, I found that the first book he ever illustrated was for one of my other favorite authors, Isaac Asimov. I am going to have to find that book, What Makes the Sun Shine! I think this is so cool!  This is definitely a book I need to acquire for my collection.

You can visit these websites to find out more about this author.

¹www.readingrockets.org/books/interviews/brown

²http://marcbrownstudios.com/marc