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.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Folktales from Around the World: South America

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 South America he chose Jabuti: A Trickster Tale of The Amazon by Gerald McDermott.

One of the problems I had searching for South American folktales is that my searches popped up results from north american-mexican heritage. A lot of tales from South America have versions that have evolved in Mexico and the USA.

Cendrillon: A Carribean Cinderella. The Carribean borders the North and South American continent. It's considered part of North America, but I like to include this one here as a bridge between the continents.

Jabuti: A Trickster Tale of The Amazon by Gerald McDermott
Papagayo: The Mischief Maker by Gerald McDermott
Love and Roast Chicken: A Trickster Tale from the Andes Mountains by Barbara Knutson

Moon Rope : a Peruvian folktale (Un lazo a la luna : una leyenda peruana) by Lois Ehlert ; translated into Spanish by Amy Prince. While the illustrations are not my favorite because they are a bit abstract, I love that the book has the Spanish translation on the same page as the English. A story about a fox who climbs a rope to the moon. This was my five-year-old's favorite story.

Uncle Nacho's hat: a folktale from Nicaragua = El sombrero de Tio Nacho : un cuento de Nicaragua by Harriet Rohmer (Adapter), Mira Reisberg (Illustrator). Uncle Nacho cannot seem to get rid of his old hat. It keeps coming back to him until he learns to think about his new hat instead. An author's note explains that the hat represents Uncle Nacho's old habits.

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

Friday, July 28, 2017

Folktales from Around the World: North America

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 North America he chose Jack Outwits the Giants.

It's no surprise that we found so many great books on North America and some on NC specifically--that's where we're from! Our library was stocked, and local authors were able to help us identify what to look for. Have you ever heard of the Jack Tales? Now you have!

Raven: A Trickster Tale from the Pacific Northwest by Gerald McDermott
Coyote: A Trickster Tale from the American Southwest by Gerald McDermott
Arrow to the Sun: A Pueblo Indian Tale by Gerald McDermott
Pig-Boy: A Trickster Tale from Hawai'i by Gerald McDermott

The Tale of Rabbit and Coyote: A Zapotec Tale by Tony Johnston. A coyote and rabbit face off; the coyote wants to eat the rabbit, but the rabbit makes it to the moon instead.

The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush told by Tomie de Paola. There are several in this series; The Legend of the Bluebonnet, and The Legend of the Poinsettia.

The story of Jumping Mouse: a native American legend by John Steptoe, tells the legend of a mouse who wishes to travel far to a new land. Along the way a magic frog gives him jumping legs, and the mouse in turn gives up bits of his magic to help others, until the frog returns and turns him into an eagle as a reward. This folktale is from the plains area. The book's lengthier text makes a great read for upper elementary.

Plays from Hispanic tales: one-act, royalty-free dramatizations for young people, from Hispanic stories and folktales by Barabara Winther. Each play has a forward explaining where the tale comes from and their variation. Great for actors who can memorize a few lines of script and understand the plot of longer folktales.

A Spoon for Every Bite by Joe Hayes ; illustrated by Rebecca Leer. A folktale of roughly Mexican origin in which a poor couple tells a rich man about a man so rich he uses a different spoon for every bite. After the rich man has spent his fortune on spoons, he learns that the 'spoon' in this case is a tortilla.

Little Gold Star: a Cinderella cuento = Estrellita de oro by Joe Hayes. This variation of Cinderella also shares aspects of the European fairytale "Diamonds and Toads" where the good sister gets rewarded (with a star on her forehead) and the bad sisters try to copy her but get punished (with ugly things on their foreheads).

Juan Bobo: Four Folktales from Puerto Rico, retold by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand. An I Can Read book featuring the mishaps of silly Juan Bobo.

Rabbit's snow dance : a traditional Iroquois story as told by James & Joseph Bruchac ; illustrated by Jeff Newman. A cute illustrated story where rabbit makes it snow and loses his long tail.

The Pleiades and the Pine Tree: A Cherokee Myth. A concise, online version of the Cherokee Myth original published in The Three Princes of Persia collection. We find this one fascinating because many cultures have myths surrounding the Pleiades constellation. The website has several other Cherokee myths you can find on the right sidebar.

Cut from the same cloth : American women of myth, legend, and tall tale collected and told by Robert D. San Souci ; illustrated by Brian Pinkney ; introduction by Jane Yolen.

Yonder Mountain : a Cherokee legend / as told by Robert H. Bushyhead ; written by Kay Thorpe Bannon ; foreword by Joseph Bruchac ; illustrated by Kristina Rodanas. Great illustrations and a gentle, important message. Three young men climb a mountain and bring back what they find. All do well, but its the one who gets to the top and sees another tribe's cry for help that is crowned as the next chief. Look for it in your library.

Itse selu : Cherokee harvest festival / by Daniel Pennington ; illustrated by Don Stewart. Pennington shows the Cherokee Harvest Festival as a slice-of-life story, including a page-length fable about a tricky rabbit and grumpy wildcat, similar to Brer Rabbit. Also shows several Cherokee words and how to pronounce them, as well as illustrations of traditional crafts, etc.

The first strawberries : a Cherokee story / retold by Joseph Bruchac ; pictures by Anna Vojtech. The legend of the first strawberries is a sweet one, told here with great illustrations.

The story of the Milky Way : a Cherokee tale / by Joseph Bruchac and Gayle Ross ; paintings by Virginia A. Stroud.

Native American Stories, told by Joseph Bruchac.

The Origin of the Milky Way and other living stories of the Cherokee by Barbara R. Duncan.

Grandmother Spider Brings the Sun: A Cherokee Story by Geri Keams

Myths, legends, and folktales of America by David Leeming and Jake Page. This one's not a picture book, but an anthology for adults that I ran across in my search. I'm including it because it has an impressively thorough overview of legends, from native American, to African-American, to Anglo-american (like Uncle Sam), and Mexican-American. Provides a good jumping-off point to research these legends.

The talking eggs : a folktale from the American South, retold by Robert D. San Souci ; pictures by Jerry Pinkney. This tale follows the classic pattern of "Diamonds and Toads," where a good person is rewarded and then a bad person attempts to get the reward but fails. Aarne-Thompson Folktale Type 480: The Kind and the Unkind Girls. These basic structures and themes appear throughout Indo-European tales, which were carried over to the Americas, and also in other cultures where they developed independently from Europe. More types listed here.

How animals saved the people : animal tales from the South, retold by J.J. Reneaux ; illustrated by James Ransome. A well-written and illustrated collection of tales with a good mix of indigenous, African-American (a Br'er Rabbit tale!), and other tales that may be lesser known and not found in other children's books. This book includes an Appalachian tale (see the Jack Tales below), though it is not my favorite because it repeatedly talks about the antagonist being a rich guy. Two other tales have illustrations of nude people, FYI, but the illustration are not too detailed, and I still found the stories appropriate for my young children. Includes two ghost stories and a story about having faith in God (in which a character dies).

Stockings of buttermilk : American folktales / edited by Neil Philip ; illustrated by Jacqueline Mair. An entertaining mix of tales.

Her Stories: African American Folktales.

Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood.
The Legend of Papa Noel: A Cajun Christmas Story.
Three Little Cajun Pigs.

Cajun Folktales. This includes ghost stories.

The tale of Tricky Fox : a New England trickster tale / retold by Jim Aylesworth ; illustrated by Barbara McClintock. This has a modern twist on it where a teacher outwits the fox at the end, which makes it great for a classroom. The fox character is a classic trickster character tracing back to European origins (see Reynard the fox, but maybe don't show the kids). The original version of this tale can be found in What They Say in New England and other American Folklore. Nickel Creek does a great version of The Fox folk song, which dates back to a poem from the 15th century and is appropriate for children.

Kumak's fish : a tall tale from the far north by Michael Bania. This adorable, funny tale isn't a traditional folktale, but I included it because of the great illustrations showing Inupiat (Eskimo) people and their life, from an author who's been there. There's another one: Kumak's House by Michael Bania.

The Runaway Tortilla by Eric A. Kimmel ; illustrated by Randy Cecil. A modern re-telling of the gingerbread man set in the desert of Southwestern USA. The book features quite a bit of Spanish, actual desert animals from that region, and the classic ending where the gingerbread man is eaten by a wolf--or in this case, a tortilla eaten by a coyote.

The 'Jack Tales' come from the Appalachian Mountains, evolved from the European Jack and the Bean Stalk. You'll see the similarities, but many also have a distinctly NC flavor to them:

Fearless Jack, adapted and illustrated by Paul Brett Johnson and Jack Outwits the Giants, adapted and illustrated by Paul Brett Johnson. These were our favorite Jack Tales picture books. They are longer than the Gerald McDermott books and Eric A. Kimmel's Anansi books, so they are great for upper elementary while still sporting big illustrations. Another thing I like about these versions is that some versions emphasize Jack being stupid or slow, but not this one. Paul Brett Johnson really captures the dialect and the hilariously over-the-top story-telling methods of these mountain tales. Read Fearless Jack first, then Jack Outwits the Giants for an extra giggle. In Fearless Jack, Jack keeps accidentally besting the strange beasts plaguing a local town. In Jack Outwits the Giants, the Giants want to eat Jack, so Jack tricks them into believing that he could beat them in a fight. Also check out Bearhide and Crow, another Appalachian tale by Paul Brett Johnson, where Sam and Amos outwit each other into unfair barter trades.

Jack the giant chaser : an Appalachian tale / by Kenn and Joanne Compton ; illustrated by Kenn Compton.

The Jack Tales : Folk Tales from the Southern Appalachians Collected and Retold by Richard Chase collects 18 tales in 180+ pages, with a glossary in the back in case you don't know what a piggin is. These are the authentic versions of the tales in the picture books listed above, along with others: proceed with caution, as there are plenty of chopped off heads, and even a witch hunt. Many tales have obvious parallels to European folktales, with Jack as the main character.

The tale of Willie Monroe / retold by Alan Schroeder ; illustrated by Andrew Glass. Like Jack plus Paul Bunyan. Willie Monroe thinks he's the strongest man around until he meets a ridiculously strong girl and her granny, who then agree to train him up to win a local contest.

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

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Fantastic Storytellers Series Launch!

We've got a new release in a new series of workbooks that encourage writing and literature skills, the Fantastic Storytellers series.

How to Tell Fantastic Stories: A Fantastic Storytellers Activity Book, the first in the Fantastic Storytellers series.

Nourish your child’s creativity with Narrator’s upbeat help. Narrator will show students the parts of a story and give students the framework needed to develop creative writing skills. Students fill in blanks, answer review questions, and fill out brainstorming sheets similar to those used by adult writers. Includes silly black-and-white illustrations to color. Ages 6-9.

Available in handbound paperback ($11, includes shipping) and in printable PDF.

For Fantastic Stories in handbound paperback, use Paypal's "Note" to let me know where to ship it and to whom to sign it. You can also pre-order "Visual Writing Prompts," for $1 off the release price, coming out soon.

Coming soon...

Reader's Club subscribers get prompt notification of new releases, preorders, and discounts!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Folktales from Around the World: Oceania/Australia:

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 Australia he chose to make a little booklet of "Crow Steals Fire."


This continent was the most difficult to find folktales from. Even the collections of folktales from around the world often exclude Australia and sometimes the islands in Oceania are grouped together with Asia or South America instead of Australia (did you know Easter Island is part of Oceania??). The folktales exist, of course, but picture books and collections seem to be harder to come upon, especially if you want a copy in good condition, or if you're being picky like I was and really, really wanted a trickster tale. Wikipedia assures me that Crow is a trickster god of Australia folklore, so why are there no picture books of him? Get on that, picture book writers!!!

When the world was young : creation and pourquois tales / retold by Margaret Mayo ; illustrated by Louise Brierley. A Polynesian tale featuring Maui (see more below), and an Australian tale help make this collection unique. This was an amazing find, considering all the trouble we had finding tales from Oceania!

The Turtle and the Island: A Folktale from Papua New Guinea

Rainbow Bird: An Aboriginal Folk Tale from Northern Australia

Whale's Canoe

Why Koala has a Stumpy Tale

One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree by Daniel Bernstrom is more like a modern folktale, but it's a great picture book and follows the structure of folktales as a boy tricks a snake into eating too much so that it will have to spit him out.

And then, of course, there's the Hawaiian/Polynesian hero, Maui, much like in the Disney movie Moana. Although Hawaii is politically part of the USA which is in the North American continent, Hawaii is culturally part of the Polynesian islands, which are often lumped in with Australia as "Oceania," and sometimes lumped in with Asia in folktale collections.

Pele and the Rivers of Fire is a picture book that tells the story of the volcano goddess in the movie and has great reviews.
How Maui Slowed the Sun
Maui and the Secret of Fire
Hina and the Sea of Stars

For older kids, Hawaiian Myths of Earth, Sea, and Sky looks good. Here is a brief summary of a few Hawaiian legends. You can also find Legends of Maui on the gutenberg project, which means its free, but it is also a bit dry and written for adults.

We had a little luck finding a few videos on youtubes, too:

The Blue Wren

Why Koala Has a Stumpy Tale

How Kangaroo Got Its Pouch

Tiddalick the Frog

Pele Searches for a Home

Why Maui Snared the Sun

Menehune and the Birds

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

Friday, June 30, 2017

Folktales from Around the World: Africa

For our Co-op last semester, we were learning about the seven continents and the students are giving presentations of their own choosing. My 7yo son chose to perform a puppet show based on Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock by Eric A. Kimmel. We had SO much fun prepping for this - making puppets (yay, sewing!), and reading a slew of folktales from Africa - SO much fun that we decided to focus on folktales from each continent and explore story telling.

I've made a post for each continent except Antarctica (few people there) and Europe, because we ALL know great stories from Europe and there are a million wonderful picture books, as well as collections and research that's easy to find. (Look up the Aarne-Thompson Folktale Types to start down the rabbit hole!). We're talking the three little pigs, stone soup, and nearly every Disney movie, for better or worse.

Anyway. Here's Africa!

My absolutely favorite - Anansi and the Magic Stick by Eric A. Kimmel. Kimmel's books are favorite Anansi books, hands down. Funny with gorgeous illustrations and great text flow. See Anansi Goes FishingAnansi's Party Time, and Anansi and the talking melon by Kimmel, Eric A.

If you look into the history of Anansi, you'll find quite a bit of material because the stories followed African slaves to other parts of the world. I first heard Anansi tales voiced by Denzel Washington and I'm thrilled that you can still get these today on a CD.

Zomo The Rabbit: A Trickster Tale from West Africa by Gerald McDermott is another great picture book--not surprising since Gerald McDermott has retold other folktales from around the world with his lively illustrations. I recommend them all. This particular story invokes three impossible trials which is a common theme for folktales across cultures.

Next we stepped up our research with Nelson Mandela's Favorite African Folktales. These tales come from all over Africa and have a higher reading level than Kimmel's picture books. Each tale is a few pages of text like the Grimm's fairytales I remember reading in upper elementary. The folktales are accompanied by great full-page illustrations and many include songs and poetry elements. You can also buy the audiobook for charity and find activities at

Beat the Story-Drum, Pum-Pum by Ashley Bryan retells five traditional Nigerian tales in a style great for read-aloud, showing the beauty of oral tradition.

Plays from African Tales: One-Act, Royalty-Free Dramatizations for Young People, from Stories and Folktales of Africa by Barbara Winther. Great for actors who can memorize a few lines of script and understand the plot of longer folktales.

Egyptian Cinderella by Shirley Climo. Did you know that the original Cinderella may have been a real woman who married Pharo Amasis II? Egypt spans the continents of Africa and Asia. I've placed this story here because supposedly Aesop was a friend of Rhodopis (Cinderella) and he was originally from Africa. So, it's a good opportunity to talk about cultures influences one another.

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

Friday, May 26, 2017

Review: Science Comics, Volcanoes: Fire and Life

My review of Science Comics: Volcanoes: Fire and Life by Jon Chad is live at Learning Tangent Homeschool Magazine. I've collected a list of (most) of the vocabulary covered in the book, shown at the end of the post.

Get your copy of Volcanoes here on IndieBound:

Or from Amazon:

Take a look at some of the vocabulary! You can download the file here.

Layers of the Earth:
  • Crust
  • Mantle
  • Inner core
  • Outer core

Plate Movement:
  • Oceanic and continental plates
  • Convergent boundary
  • Subduct
  • Divergent boundary
  • Geotherm

Lava & Eruptions:
  • Magma
  • Magma chamber
  • Lava
  • Mafic, felsic
  • Viscous
  • Lava haze
  • Pillow lava
  • Convection currents
  • Pyroclastic flow
  • Outgassing

Types of Volcanos:
  • Shield volcano
  • Composite volcano
  • Stratovolcano
  • Parasitic volcano
  • Hotspot

Friday, April 28, 2017

Fibonacci Sequence Books for Children

If you had asked me a month ago about the fibonacci sequence, I would have said, "I think I've heard of that." I certainly would not have said that I'd be reading fibonacci books to my kids.

Then my husband said he wanted to burn a fibonacci pattern into wood like this using high voltage electricity. The kids have loved learning about Benjamin Franklin and electricity, so I had to admit, that would be cool. We haven't done it yet but if we do I'll be sure to share a photo.

The next day, I saw this book, and I couldn't resist...

What's nice about Growing Patterns is that it's simple and short. You could read a book like this and then go count flower petals and paint pinecones.

Along the same lines, I'm eyeing Wild Fibonacci. The illustrations look beautiful:

And then there's Blockhead for those who like the history and personal side of things. Mine have been enjoying biographies so this was right up that alley:

Another book I'm eyeing is The Rabbit Problem:

This one calls out to me because it presents the basis for understanding animal population growth (decline is another matter entirely!). If your family is interested in ecosystems and how animals fit into them, this looks like a fun way to explore a related concept. It also explains why you won't get your child an unneutered male and female pair of anything. Next thing you know, you'll have a house full of rabbits!

Not enough fibonacci for you? Look! Art inspired by the Fibonacci sequence.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Parts of a Plant

Where we live, it's almost time to plant a garden, and the perfect time to talk about plants. Here are PreK-2 ideas to get you started!

  • Dissect a plant. Pull up a weed such as clover and talk about the different parts of a plant. Here's a cool diagram.
  • Roots: Water and the Nitrogen Cycle 
  • Stem: Capillary Action

  • Leaves
    • Oxygen and Carbon DiOxide: If you stick a leaf under water in the sun, after a few hours, bubbles of Oxygen will form.
    • Photosynthesis (Glucose, Chloroplasts/Chlorophyll)
    • Plant ID: Collect leaves and ID plants with these free ID Cards.
      • Get really crazy by studying simple v. compound, alternate v. opposite, pinnate, palmate, parallel, and entire, serrate, undulate, crenate, and lobed
  • Flowers: A simple google search will turn up a ton of flower parts diagrams.
    • Bees!
    • After flowers comes...
  • Fruits & Seeds:
    • Fruits & Vegetables: Here's another opportunity to dissect the real thing! Can you find the seeds in a strawberry and a tomato? What part of the plant does spinach come from? Carrots?

At, under Life Science Extras, you'll see worksheets for parts of the plant, photosynthesis, and the root system.

Here's a nice book to help you out:

"From Seed to Plant" by Gail Gibbons

Have fun!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Craft: Easter or Spring Equinox Painted Pinecones

Can you feel spring approaching? To me, spring means color, and actually crafting with my kids because we can do it outside where cleanup is easier.

March 20th (2017) is the spring equinox!

Easter Sunday will be April 16th (2017)!

This time of year I'm always picking up pine cones and raking (oh, joy...) and one year a friend asked me what I was going to do with them. Um, set them out for yard trash pickup? Obviously? We had tried to do some crafts with pine cones in the past and found that they were too, well, pokey! Peanut butter and bird seed works pretty well, but what else could you possibly...

Oh! Paint! My kids love to paint!

We picked up over a hundred pine cones and ended up painting them all between the "four" of us. I say "four" because one is a toddler and only painted parts of hers. As you do.

TIP: Wash and dry the pine cones to get rid of bugs and dirt. The pine cones will close up like this first:

Dry them in the oven or microwave to open them up again:

Cleanest Pine Cones in the Universe.

Our most successful method (pictured at the top of the post) uses tempera / whatever kid paint you have and sponges. Sponging was SO easy and we hardly noticed the sharp bits. Go ahead and glop that paint on if you're using tempera. For a quick project, you can skip washing and drying the pine cones and use washable paints. For a more crafty, durable project, wash, dry, and use acrylic paint and a finishing clear poly coat. (Did you know you are also supposed to wash and dry acorns before painting them?)

Sponging also worked best for "snow" pine cones!
They look even better in person!

If you want these to hang outside, you will want to use a spray sealer. When we did this, some of our paint dissolved -- disappeared right off the pine cone!

Now... you are probably wondering about spray painting the pine cones to begin with. That is actually what we did first because my oldest can operate spray cans and I thought that would be the best method. The spray paint then turned into "my" project to touch up what he had started, and another run to the store for more glitter paint. So, while the final product does look nice, it was a lot harder and cost 5 times as much because where we used only a little of the regular liquid paint, we used up four entire bottles of glitter spray paint. The pine cones kept moving around while I was trying to spray them and I felt more like I was attacking them than painting them.

They have a beautiful silver glitter finish ranging from a light dusting to "did you dip that?"

The red looks more impressive in person but not as nice as the silver.

If you do go with spray paint, I'd pick silver and maybe gold unless you are going to go really crazy and do a white coat underneath first. At that point you'll be spending several dollars a pine cone!

In hind sight, the sponges were more kid-friendly even though you hold the pine cones to do it. I'm happy with how all of them turned out but will probably never use spray paint on a pine cone ever again (except maybe to seal it).

To hang them as ornaments, hand-screw in eye screws and tie on ribbon. Or skip all that and lay them in a neat basket or bowl as a center piece.

Let's look at that finished product again...

Perfect for an Easter tree!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Make Your Own Booklet Project

Hand-sewn Booklet: Make Your Own

It's no secret that we're book lovers and storytellers over here. We've been studying the 7 continents in our homeschool co-op and, as one of the teachers, I've gleefully brought our family's passions to class, introducing the kids to folk tales from each region. Later, I'll post a mega list of all the picture books we've used.

Oceania/Australia presented a unique challenge. For Africa, we chose a particularly hilarious Anansi story and performed a puppet show for my son's presentation at co-op. But for Australia, we struggled to get a hold of picture book at all. 

So, we made our own!

I wanted to do a true booklet so my 3rd grader could hand sew it, which he enjoys, and because booklets like this are more durable and feel more like a "real" book than simpler projects. We already had a manual craft drill, a darning needle (they are blunt), and strong thread.

What we do NOT have is a wonderful but expensive program like InDesign to order the pages for easy printing. When you make a booklet, you lay the sheets on top of each other and sew through the middle, so each page becomes two half-sized pages--the numbering can get complicated. I've made pdfs and docs with blank, numbered pages ready to print using standard programs like Word and Open Office. Get them along with instructions and other booklet project ideas on my teacher pay teacher site to Make Your Own Booklet.

You could staple it if you don't want to sew it, but for us, the sewing is half the fun.

For Australian mythology, we used the story of Crow Steals Fire, broke it down into plot points, and rewrote it in my son's words using his illustrations. He enjoyed retelling the story and sewing the book, so we'll be doing more booklet projects in the future!

Have fun!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Get Messy With Quicksand!

Need a messy science experiment / sensory play for those cold days? We've got you covered...


Let's be real, here. It was MESSY.

It doesn't get more real than a photo of our house...

My kids asked me about quicksand and animals dying in quicksand. I'm pretty sure this is related to their obsession with dinosaurs, since at the time they were smashing tiny dinos into play dough.

First, we read How Quicksand Works together. I found it perfect for their age.

This Myth Busters video is also neat although it has a little language.

Next, we had fun with two cornstarch recipes. First, if you add just enough cornstarch (1/2c to 1c water), you make oobleck, a non-neutonian liquid. This link explains more what that means, but basically, it acts like a liquid and like a solid. If you punch it, it acts like a solid, but it will also ooze off of your hands like a liquid.

Add a little more water and you make a kind of quicksand. A total of 3/4c cornstarch to 1c water will do the trick. (So, if you started with 1/2c cornstarch, add 1/4c more). Now is the time to drown your tiny animals. Ours come from the science museum, birthday parties, and other random places. Actual rocks work even better because they are heavier.

Finally, to satisfy their dinosaur fixation, I read and told them about Utah's Dinosaur Deathtrap.

Bye, bye, tiny dinos!