Thursday, May 31, 2018

Review: Free to Learn by Peter Gray

This book is changing my life, and the lives of my children, and my friends and their children.

I know I usually share fiction books for kids to read. That's because nonfiction books for adults are boring. I tried to read another unschooling book, one by John Holt that comes highly recommended, and maybe I'm ADHD or something but I never bothered to finish it (I did feel it would have appealed to me better when I first had kids). Peter Gray's writing speaks to me on a deeper level. I originally found out about him through his articles at Psychology Today. The articles are short, to-the-point, and employ research material as back-up. His views may seem out there--but that's the point! Compared to his articles, his book Free to Learn gives a great framework for play is so important.

Have you ever heard of the Sudbury Valley School? You will if you read this book. It's an amazing school where the kids are supervised but not directed by adults. There is no curriculum, yet the kids do more than learn there--they flourish. If part of you is asking, "But what about math?" or anything like that, then you need to read this book. As a society we do not give our kids enough credit, and I believe we often operate out of a parental drive misdirected by fear and the chains of recent traditions. Forget everything you know about "school" and "learning" and put more trust in childrens' natural drive to learn and to adapt to society.

I thought I was an "unschooler" before (a homeschooling/learning/life philosophy). This book helped me pin down what I have been observing and "feeling" was correct in my own life by offering concrete research and an overall framework for understanding natural learning. Plenty of unschoolers who have "been there," with children that have now graduated and gone on to college, have motivated me to research unschooling, and here Peter Gray knits it all together in a convenient, engaging package in Free to Learn.

I loved this book so much that I looked for other books by him, and ended up purchasing books from the Sudbury Valley School like Free at Last. It can be difficult to find these books for a good price on Amazon, so you'll want to compare with the school's online shopping cart here, where there is also a greater selection of books.

Peter Gray also gives speeches. I'm missing one tomorrow night because my kids have been sick. You can find him on Facebook here. He is a research professor at Boston College. You can also find articles by him at KindredMedia.

Free to Learn by Peter Gray is a book I'm happy to have on my shelf, for my own reference, and to share with others!

I actually read a non-fiction book all the way through. That says something, ya'll.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Egg Hunt: Math and Life Science

Every year we do an Easter egg scavenger hunt. Last year we had a blast doing two for our local homeschool group: Life Science and Math. The students answered questions and then went down the trail to find eggs with labels that matched the answers.

Tip - I find that washi tape works best. We had so many participants that I ran out of washi tape!

It's ten eggs per student, so we ended up preparing a lot of eggs. It was so worth it!

Since it was so successful, I've uploaded the activity to my TPT store for you to print out at home or for your classroom. Math covers up to early multiplication and Life Science includes riddles like "What mammal has wings and uses echolocation to find their food?"

Easter is April 1st this year. Find the STEM Egg Scavenger Hunt on TeachersPayTeachers now to get a head start:

And if you're local, contact me to learn about the hunt we run.

Happy hunting!

Friday, November 24, 2017

Review: The Dotty Series by @EmmaWarnerReed

The Dotty Series by Emma Warner Reed is a multiple-award winning grade school fantasy series following a girl who discovers ancient magic in her uncle's house. Teleport through chimneys, discover ambivalent faeries, and run from malicious birds along with Dotty in this suspenseful-yet-innocent adventure fantasy. Dotty is like the Secret Garden meets Hogwarts meets Narnia -- Perfect for voracious young readers as well as adults! The Dotty Series would make a great Christmas gift for an 8-year-old.

Book One:
Dotty and the Calendar House Key by Emma Warner Reed

Book Two: 
Dotty and the Chimney Thief by Emma Warner Read


Book Three:
Dotty and the Dream Catchers by Emma Warner-Reed

Book Four:
Dotty and the Very Lucky Day by Emma Warner-Reed

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Charlie Cat Takes a Break on Thanksgiving

Boy, has Charlie Cat been busy this year! Charlie and his friend Susie Dog have several appearances this year celebrating their new book, Charlie Cat Takes a Break on Thanksgiving. Books, puppets, songs, games, and crafts--we're having a blast! 

Charlie Cat will be at these public events:

11am Oct 27th at PlayDays & More in Apex

11am Thur Nov 16 at PlayDays & More in Apex

PlayDays & More is an indoor play place and the story time is free with admission.

If you would like Charlie Cat to appear at your school, preschool, or group, email michelleristuccia (at) pendragonvariety (dot) com

Join our Readers Club for Charlie Cat extras and more for young readers, their parents, and educators.

If you can't make it to one of our fun events, you can still get the new book in time for Thanksgiving! Contact us for signed copies, or order from Amazon:


Charlie cat loves Thanksgiving, but when noisy guests arrive, Charlie needs a quiet room. Find out how Momma Cat helps Charlie enjoy Thanksgiving.

Charlie Cat is a series of rhyming picture books for ages 0-8.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Halloween Books for Sensitive Children

Over the years we have searched far and wide for sweet Halloween and fall books. Although we found many great books (listed below), we still felt there was something missing, and so Charlie Cat was born:

Charlie Cat does not like scary monsters and ghosts. Charlie's friend Susie Dog loves to dress up for Halloween. When Susie Dog scares Charlie Cat, Charlie uses his strong voice to tell her STOP. Find out how these two friends get along on Halloween.

Charlie Cat is a rhyming picture book for ages 0-6
Pages: 27

Buy the paperback on [Amazon] or the ebook.

If you are local to me, contact me about getting a signed copy!

Charlie Cat also has his own facebook page. Like the page now because we have a giveaway and more planned soon!

And now, for more great Halloween and fall books! Add other books and educational materials by posting a comment.

This book was perfect for our needs because mouse and mole take turns frightening each other and then overcome their fears together.

Halloween Is... by Gail Gibbons.
This book talks about the origins of Halloween.

This one talks about how pumpkins are grown and about their historical and cultural use. It also mentions Halloween briefly. It goes best with the Halloween Is... book above by the same author.

(Get this one in Spanish!)
This one also talks about how pumpkins grow, but for younger children.

Duck and Goose Find a Pumpkin

Eek! It's Halloween

Who doesn't love a good (or really bad...) joke? Humor helped our kids with Halloween.

I love this parody of Goodnight, Moon.

No Halloween children's book list would be complete without...

AlphaOops Halloween by Alethea Kontis, one of our favorite authors!

Here's hoping your children enjoy a safe Halloween!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Folktales from Around the World: Compilations

For our Co-op last semester, we were learning about the seven continents and the students are giving presentations of their own choosing. My son decided to focus on folktales from each continent and explore story telling. Here are some of the compilations we found that covered several continents and/or story telling in general.


Tuck-me-in tales: bedtime stories from around the world by MacDonald, Margaret Read. A cute collection of tales great for little children.

When the world was young : creation and pourquois tales / retold by Margaret Mayo ; illustrated by Louise Brierley. A Polynesian tale featuring Maui, and an Australian tale help make this collection unique.

Check out this series of books delving into the origin of folktales: Origin of Folktales from Around the World. For example, Cinderella - and Other Girls Who Lost Their Slippers.

Not One Damsel in Distress: World Folktales for Strong Girls by Jane Yolen brings balance to the world of folktales by highlighting female protagonists. Each tale is a few pages long. Does Jane Yolen ever stop? I guess not! She's the author of several of our favorite picture books--too many to list--but you may be most familiar with How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight.

Twenty Tellable Tales: Audience Participation Tales for the Beginning Story Teller by Margaret Read MacDonald is designed for telling to elementary-aged students. Most of the stories are from North America and each is accompanied by tips for telling and great notes on where these stories come from.

How & Why Stories: World Tales Kids Can Read & Tell by Martha Hamilton & Mitch Weiss collects stories from all over the world. Each story is told in a couple of pages, illustrated, and clearly tells what culture it is from, non-fiction facts related to the story, and tips for telling the story. A map near the beginning of the book shows the origin of all the stories. Perfect for elementary students.

Stories in my Pocket: Tales Kids Can Tell by Martha Hamilton & Mitch Weiss. I just realized this is the same author team as the one above. Ha! No wonder it's a good book. This one is more advanced, with many more detailed notes about how to give the stories life, including hand gestures, use of voice, and emphasis on certain words. I love how it is laid out in two columns, with a line from the story on the left side of the page and tips for how to tell it on the right. The stories are arranged from easiest to most challenging and then followed up by back matter that goes even further into the art of storytelling and how to foster it.

Free Scripts Based on Children's Books

Tell it Together: Foulproof Scripts for Story Theatre by Barnara McBride-Smith provides funny scripts of folktales and myths at an upper-elementary to middle school level. Greek myths, Irish, Norwegian, and even Twelfth Night.

Frantic Frogs and other Fractured Folktales for Readers Theatre by Anthony D. Fredericks is exactly as funny as it sounds. I'd say this is more for middle school students, due to the type of humor and the lengthy paragraphs of text each actor reads.

This is the final Folktale post (sad!). Join my Reader's Club to keep up with posts like these.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Folktales from Around the World: Asia

For our Co-op last semester, we were learning about the seven continents and the students are giving presentations of their own choosing. My son decided to focus on folktales from each continent and explore story telling. For Asia he chose Monkey: A Trickster Tale from India. For our class we enjoyed a tale featuring tiny samurai from Tuck-me-in tales: bedtime stories from around the world.

Monkey: A Trickster Tale from India by Gerald McDermott
The monkey and the crocodile : a Jataka tale from India by Paul Galdone. Tells the same tale as Gerald McDermott; both are good renditions with the McDermott book being slightly shorter.

Japanese Fairy-Tales by Yei Theodora Ozaki is available online for free from Project Gutenberg.

Omusumi Kororin: Follow this link for a script of a traditional Japanese tale about a man who finds his way into the world of mice, where he is rewarded for being kind. This tale parallels the structure of the European fairytale "Diamonds and Toads" where a good person is rewarded and then a bad person attempts to get the reward but fails. Watch it on youtube here.

No Dinner! : The Story of the Old Woman and the Pumpkin by Jessica Souhami. An Indian/Asian folktale of an old woman who tricks wolf, bear, and tiger out of eating her.

The dragon's tale: and other animal fables of the Chinese zodiac by Demi. Each tale is a paragraph or two on its own page, told in a straight-forward manner.

Tikki Tikki Tembo / retold by Arlene Mosel. Illustrated by Blair Lent. A funny Chinese legend tells why children have short names; when two boys fall down the well, the boy with the longer name must wait longer to be rescued. The children laughed each time I had to read the silly long name in the book.

Tanuki's gift : a Japanese tale  by Tim Myers ; pictures by R.G. Roth. An adorable tale where a priest befriends a badger, then asks the badger for money to pay his way into heaven -- instead, the priest learns that it is the badger's friendship that actually matters to him the most.

The hunter : a Chinese folktale retold by Mary Casanova ; illustrations by Ed Young. A hunter earns the ability to understand animals, under threat that he can never give away the secret. In order to save his village from a flood, he chooses to give away the secret and allow himself to be turned to stone. The villagers are saved but regret making him explain himself.

The great race: an Indonesian trickster tale by Author: Scott, Nathan Kumar, is a little bit like the tortoise and the hare, with a trickster twist at the end.

 The gift of the Crocodile: a Cinderella story by Judy Sierra  (Author), Reynold Ruffins (Illustrator). A Cinderella tale from the spice islands (Columbus' original destination). This tale also shares aspects of the "Diamonds and Toads" motif where the good sister is rewarded (with a nice clothes) and the bad sister is punished when she tries to copy her (with leech-filled clothing). This was a favorite of all my kids and led us to learn about mangrove forests.

I hope you like Cinderella, because there are a few dozen more:
The Golden Sandal: a Middle East Cinderella
The Korean Cinderella
Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story From China

Filipino Popular Tales 1921, available from project gutenberg. Short and simply told tales with character.

Indian Fairytales by Joseph Jacob, 1892, available online from project gutenberg. The language is a bit stilted or "classic" and assumes a bit of knowledge of Buddism, but the stories are otherwise short and straightforward.

Note that The Jungle Book is set is the Indian jungle.

The original Arabian Nights Entertainment by Andrew Lang can be found online on the gutenberg project.

Stay tuned for World Compilations! Join my Reader's Club to keep up with posts like these and other content.