Originally published in 1942, Gertrude Chandler Warner writes a wonderfully suspenseful story of four orphaned children. Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny Alden are supposed to live with their grandfather, Mr. Alden, after their parents die, but they have never met Mr. Alden and are afraid of him. So, they decide to run away and live by themselves. On a rainy night in the woods, Jessie finds an abandoned boxcar, and the children soon decide to keep house in it.

As a child, I was inspired and a little frightened at the Alden’s exploits. The thought of living in the woods and taking care of my siblings without my mother or father to help me was just about the scariest thing I could think of. Yet, the Alden children never seemed worried about finding food or making money. Every day, Henry would do odd jobs for Dr. Moore and bring home food whenever he could. Every day, Jessie and Violet would work to keep the boxcar clean and prepare meals. The children’s resourcefulness is amazing, and even when Violet becomes very ill, you know that everything will be alright.

Modern children who read this book will likely be astonished at all of the things the Aldens are capable of doing. Henry gladly works to organize a hopelessly disorganized garage. Jessie can cook a whole meal over a fire. Violet can sew by hand. Benny never complains about any of the chores his older siblings give him. Considering that the story is set in the early 1940s during World War II this is not really as unlikely as it seems. Readers will learn that children during this time were expected to similar tasks every day or whenever necessary. The Boxcar Children is a perfect book to integrate into a unit concerning American history or World War II.

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The Black Bull of Norroway is a story very similar to “The Beauty and the Beast.” The heroine of each story is a young girl with two greedy older sisters, and the heroine must learn to love a monster. Yet, the plot of this story stands on its own.

In “The Beauty and the Beast,” Beauty (Belle) is portrayed as a self-sacrificing daughter who only agrees to marry the beast so that she can save her father. However, in The Black Bull of Norroway, the bull treats Peggy Ann kindly from the very beginning and takes care of her. Peggy Ann’s trial comes later in the story. After she has helped the black bull regain his human form as the Duke of Norroway (Norway), she becomes lost, and he cannot find her. Peggy Ann works for seven years before she is able to search for the Duke, only to find that he is engaged to another woman. Peggy Ann, though, is not going to give up, and finds a way to win him back.

This book is a wonderful story to use with any lesson or unit on fairy tales, especially when comparing similar fairy tales. Charlotte Huck’s writing is very artistic and descriptive, and Anita Lobel’s watercolor illustrations are beautiful – they could practically tell the story on their own! I encourage you to find this book and then put it on your classroom bookshelf.

The Boxcar Children

21 June 2012

As a child, The Boxcar Children series was a staple in my reading list. I spent a whole summer reading through as many of these books as I could find. I was thrilled that I could read chapter books, and these books instilled in me a permanent love of mystery.

The book we’ll be reading is the first in the series, The Boxcar Children. In this story, we are introduced to Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny Alden who have just lost their parents. They are supposed to go live with their grandfather, Mr. James Alden, but they have been told that he is a cruel man. Afraid, they run away and build their own home in a boxcar. Warner tells the story of their lives with no parents and their joy in being together. Her words are simple, but her story is engaging. This is the perfect series for beginning readers.

Read The Boxcar Children, then tell me what you thought of the Alden children living on their own. If you read these books when you were young, tell me about the influence they had on your desire to read.

The review for The Boxcar Children will be posted on Monday, 25 June 2012.

This weekend we will take the opportunity to read some nonfiction. Yellowstone National Park is one of my favorite places, and it provides so many interesting things to learn. This weekend’s book is The Great Yellowstone Fire by Carole G. Vogel and Kathryn A. Goldner published by the Sierra Club and Little, Brown.

This informational picture book provides an accurate view of life in Yellowstone. Readers will learn about the history of the park and the history of fighting natural wildfires. Photographs document the progressions of the fire that changed the landscape of much of Yellowstone in the summer of 1988. The Great Yellowstone Fire will have you eager to learn more about this wonderful place and might even convince you to hop on the first plane headed to Wyoming.

James Marshall has written five short stories about George and Martha in George and Martha: One Fine Day.

  1. The Tightrope: Martha loves walking on her tightrope, but Martha loses her confidence when George becomes frightened.
  2. The Diary: Martha cannot seem to find a private moment to write in her diary. Will George learn to be polite and respectful of Martha’s wishes?
  3. The Icky Story: George decides that lunchtime is the perfect time to tell icky stories, so Martha comes up with a plan to prove to George how undesirable such stories are when one is eating.
  4. The Big Scare: When George scares the daylights out of Martha, she threatens to scare him, too, but when?
  5. The Amusement Park: After a day of fun, Martha gets her revenge and scares the daylights out of George.

Each of these amusing stories is accompanied by charming drawings. The pictures are simple but engaging. Marshall is able to put the weight of every emotion into the faces of each hippopotamus. You will always find George or Martha looking amused, innocent, annoyed, sly, or angry. George even turns completely green when Martha tells her icky story!

Through George and Martha, Marshall has written several unassuming moral lessons. Children learn the importance of minding their manners at the table and toward individual people, and they learn the value in encouraging their friends. George and Martha provide teachers and parents with the perfect opportunity to fulfill a teachable moment.

For another look at George Marshall’s work, read this article which places George and Martha as #48 on a list of Top 100 Picture Books!

It’s Saturday again, and time for another Picture Book Weekend! Today we’ll be reading George and Martha: One Fine Day by James Marshall. George and Martha are two best (hippopotamus) friends who are always having exciting little adventures, and they have been two of my favorite storybook characters for as long as I can remember. While reading this book, consider what it means to be a friend and the different ways we should (or should not) treat our friends. Then, if you find some other George and Martha stories, let me know what you think of those, too!

To kick start this reading adventure, we will begin reading Frindle by Andrew Clements. If I am not mistaken, this is one of his most popular books, and it certainly one of my favorites. This book truly shows what kind of positive impression teachers can have on their students.

So, go to your local library or bookstore and find Frindle. On Friday, 1 June 2012 we will begin reviewing and discussing this book. While you are reading, consider how this book portrays the ideas of creativity, a child’s inquisitive spirit, and the importance of rules in schools and society. Also, as a teacher, how could you use this book in your own classroom?

Have fun reading, and I’ll see you again next week!