Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm

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By Alice and Martin Provensen

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A funny (autobiographical?), peculiar, book that will convince you that each sheep, dog, chicken, horse, cat, etc. has its own character. The brief animal sketches of every animal friend on the farm will have animal loving kids giggling.

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Ages 5-10

Available from public libraries

Reviewer: Doreen

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One Was Johnny: A Counting Book

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By Maurice Sendak

For those kids struggling to read but bored with the careful Reading Level books…

This simple, grade 1-ish level, counting book adds some adventure to the predictable Clifford and Biscuit books, by way of humorous pictures and events. Definite boy-appeal, although my daughter laughed at it too.

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Available from public libraries

Ages 4-7

Reviewer: Doreen

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Houndsley and Catina

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by James Howe

The stories about this cat and dog centre around the homes of two friends who work at friendship, for a friendship with two different characters will always have a few kinks. How do you deal with a friend who wants to be a writer but writes horribly? Or who won’t stop talking when you’re trying to enjoy nature on a canoe ride? What about a snowy day lacking in excitement? These books offer gentle solutions that celebrate enjoying the simple things in life. Each book has a few chapters with a satisfying ending to the book.

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The illustrations in this series use a casual-looking watercolour style, but are beautifully done. You can see the thought and planning that went into each picture, and I love how the artist adds to each friend’s character simply by how she depicts their homes and clothing—did you notice Catina’s love for enormous, ornately patterned skirts and dresses? And Houndsley’s distinctive British air?

Other titles in the series:

Houndsley and Catina and the Quiet Time

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Houndsley and Catina: Plink and Plunk

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Houndsley and Catina and the Birthday Surprise

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Not officially Easy Readers, but could be used as such, (probably a Level 3), since they are published in that format with short chapters.

Ages 4-8

Available from public libraries

Recommended

Reviewer: Doreen

 

 

The Wind in the Willows

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By Kenneth Grahame

These books are well-loved for their characters and setting. Grahame does a marvelous job of drawing you into Mole’s cozy home complete with simple comforts and carolers at Christmas; Ratty’s water world of “messing around in boats” and poetry-writing by firelight; wise old Badger who lives deep in the dark, forbidding woods; and, of course, Toad. Mr. Toad, with all his pomp and pride and falls. Mr. Toad who never learns and will always go on being the foolish toad that he is–as his friends pick up the pieces.

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What more could you want? The difficulties, if they are such to you, is that the sentences are not simple and the language is difficult—definitely a vocabulary-stretcher!—making it a bit of a challenge to read aloud….that is where an audio version would be great. Another thing is the white buck that appears, seeming to protect the young lost otter, and worthy of the others’ reverence. This seems to jive with a Catholic understanding of saints and worship, but I could be mistaken.

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For its keen insight into characters and the fleshing out of relationships; for its dry-your-eyes humour, triumph of good over evil, and folly reaping its own rewards: The Wind in the Willows is Recommended!

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Chapter book, fiction

Ages 7 and up

Available from: public libraries

Reviewer: Doreen

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The Seven Silly Eaters

by Mary Ann Hoberman

Fun to read for kids and adults. Cute pictures. Mrs. Peters’ first child only wants warm milk, and so she dotingly obliges. The second child only wants homemade pink lemonade. And so the picky eating trend continues through all seven children that eventually arrive on the scene. An exhausted Mrs. Peters faithfully caters to the needs of her children.  Finally, in an attempt to surprise their mother for her birthday, the children come up with an unforeseen solution.  Wonderfully written and super fun to read aloud!

Recommended

Age 2+ (I’m not great at capping the ages, but I would guess kids under 10 would enjoy it)

Available from HPL

Reviewer: Esther

First We Have Coffee and Then We Talk

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By Margaret Jensen

Looking for a warm, encouraging book to read over coffee? This is a book I have gladly shared with friends over the years. Although there is hardship woven through many of the true tales of this immigrant preacher’s family (from Scandinavia to America in the early 1900’s), there is much joy and wisdom to be learned from “Mama” who doesn’t live with the easiest of husbands, yet lives out the truth that the secret to a happy life is a thankful heart, no matter the circumstances, and who wields a rod and a pepper shaker, yet in whose tongue is the law of kindness. An easy-to-read biography with an uplifting reminder of God’s faithfulness.

Please Note: This book can also be found in the four part volume, The Sun is Shining on the Other Side, where you will find more about the family: there is a section on Papa, one daughter, and her children. Papa’s stories shed light on just how difficult and unreasonable Papa really was, but of all the stories, none shine with the warmth of Mama’s section, so I especially recommend the single volume First We Have Coffee and Then We Talk.

Biography

Ages: Adult

Paperback

Recommended

Reviewer: Doreen

Homer Price

by Robert McCloskey

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Homer Price is supposed to be one of our more modern “classics.” We began with great interest, but I must admit I was a little disappointed in this book—possibly because I love some of the author/illustrator’s children’s books, such as Make Way for Ducklings, and possibly because I have fond memories of books from this era—probably faulty memory which may be a little rose-coloured. This is the not the first mid-century book we have read aloud: Mr. Popper’s Penguins and The Moppets also depict family life in small-town America.

To me, what many of these books lack is any meat. If the author’s attention is solely to amuse kids, the book is probably a success on that level as “Homer Price” includes six unlikely adventures of Homer. My kids thought some parts were quite funny and enjoyed the book over-all ( but as an adult I found other authors better able to draw in older listeners as well. For example, Gordon Kormon’s middle-school books can still produce real amusement in some adults–although this is not a blanket recommendation for all his books). I have to keep in mind, though, that I am an adult reading primarily to girls. And perhaps this book just isn’t meant as a read-aloud.

In its defense, Homer could be a big hit among boys! After all, he does use a skunk to lead a band of robbers captive…But if you are looking for mid-century quick chapter books for girls, maybe the All-of-a-Kind Family, and Betsy-Tacy series or some of the Jean Little books would be a better pick. The Great Brain series also comes to mind as a mid-century series for boys, but I would have to do a reread of them in order to make a recommendation.

A caution regarding all of the books mentioned above, is the occasional use of language such as “my goodness/for goodness’ sake,” “gosh,” etc, that may or may not be welcome in your home. One solution is to buy your own copy to edit or cross out as you read aloud.

Ages 5-10

Chapter book

Fiction

Recommended as a light read, geared to boys

Reviewer: Doreen

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child: The Paltry Thing that Childhood Has Become

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by Anthony Esolen

“This brave and bitingly funny book is an indispensable guide to overcoming today’s treacherous trends in parenting and education—and the overwhelming banality of contemporary culture,” reads the back cover.

“A lament for what we have lost and are losing: honor, humility, non-eroticized love, truth, and faith.”

This book was a very insightful commentary on contemporary North American culture, and a must-read for educators and parents who want their children to grow up as thinkers! You may find yourself nodding as you read, “Yes! That’s it! He is putting into words the things that I just couldn’t put my finger on…” For me, this is a book worth owning, one of the dozen books that I reread every few years. As a reviewer on the back of the book put it: “This book made me want to jump up (very high) and cheer, or run around (very far) and shout warnings…All educators [should] take this uncommonly common-sensical book to heart. A worthy successor to C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man.

Esolen’s observations and conclusions are heavily supported by examples from literature and history. Although I did not find the book overtly Christian, the worldview throughout is definitely Christian, in my opinion.

“This book is unfailingly witty,” says the American Spectator, so enjoy.

256 pages, softcover

Nonfiction

Adult

Available from: bookstores, on-line

Recommended

Reviewer: Doreen

 

Fit to Burst: Abundance, Mayhem, and the Joys of Motherhood

fit to burst by Rachel Jankovic, author of Loving the Little Years, daughter of Douglas and Nancy Wilson   This is a great read! As someone who is currently in the trenches herself, Rachel offers perspective and encouragement in parenting in a fresh, real way. These short bite-size chapters on a dozen or more topics continue where her first book left off, as her own children have grown older too. It’s a book for dads too, as Tony Reinke (from Desiring God, author of Lit!) admits: “It was one of my favourite reads of the year (if a guy can say that about a book written by a woman for women).” And some chapters are really for everyone. If you are dealing with stress, Rachel’s fresh look at this age-old problem is very encouraging in the chapter called “Wound Up.” And for those floundering in discouragement (don’t we all?), her chapter on “The Long-Term View” as well as “Wound Up” is a blessing. Enjoy! Laugh, reflect, and be refreshed.   120 pages, soft-cover Parenting Nonfiction Available from Christian bookstores and Amazon Recommended Reviewer: Doreen