Tag Archives: Family

This, I Want for My Daughter

Schoolroom in the Parlor

Huddled under voluminous blankets, watching the white pile up outside my windows, I reach for the old purple paperback that first gave me the word snowbound.

The book’s been sitting on a shelf next to the glider where I feed my four-month-old daughter six times a day. It’s there with the other children’s books whose covers can carry me back to parts of my life that I would otherwise never remember. This cover is a painting of a young girl standing in front of a glowing hearth, reading a book aloud to four other children. Their eyes are fixed on her.

I remember this image so well, I can almost feel the warm light on my skin, almost sense the snow outside their windows. Inside the cover, I find my name inscribed in careful, crooked second-grade cursive. I haven’t read Schoolroom in the Parlor by Rebecca Caudill for nearly twenty years. I don’t know what to expect when I open it again.

“‘I put all my books away the day Miss Cora’s school ended,’ said Chris. ‘That was the Friday before Christmas. I’m going to leave them there until school starts again. That won’t be till the first Monday in August’…”

I’m eight years old again, snug as a bug in a book.

The family is setting up the fire in the parlor they’ve turned into a schoolroom for the winter.

blazed up

These words crackled with warmth long before I knew what they meant. I still don’t know what andirons are.

Brown Paper Package

Father rides off on horseback to choose a prize for the children’s ‘Great Thoughts’ contest. The oldest daughter and teacher-for-the-winter Althy has taught a proverb or poem every day in January—who will remember the most, come the end of the month? The mysterious brown paper package from Father goes to the winner.

When the snow really sets in, the children all join in shoveling paths to the stable, the well, and the woodpile. The two youngest girls are handed long black breadpans to use as shovels. When I first read this book, I had no memory of snow, and no experience with breadpans. But I wanted to be there, knee-deep in the drifts, watching Father shovel faster than any of the rest of us, chipping in to weather winter as a family.

“Come outdoors with me a minute…”

When words like firmament and ethereal come up in the schoolroom, Mother takes her youngest daughter outside to show her the stars, the “spangled heavens.”

Author Rebecca Caudill never tells you how great this family is. But you feel it in everything they say and do.

The adventures the Fairchild children enjoy are real, exciting adventures. They’re given freedom and challenged with responsibilities (playing on their own in the orchard all day, rafting across the river to the store…), but there are limits. There are expectations and consequences. Their lives are warmly lit and safely enclosed, like the cozy schoolroom in the parlor. As a child, I barely noticed Mother and Father. Now I see that it’s Father and Mother who make it all safe, make it home, make it possible.

This, I want

Caudill doesn’t paint this family as overachievers. The children aren’t angelic geniuses. Mother isn’t super-organized, equipped with charts, books, or blogs about homeschooling and cookery. Father doesn’t wax eloquent about efficiency, education, and hard work. These are regular people, regular parents who simply care about what their children learn.

It’s a simple story. And it’s stoking my fires of hope: this, I want for my daughter. I want her to have a sweet and sturdy structure for her adventures. I want her to have a mother and father who don’t need to be the main characters of their own life stories.

And I want her to learn how to be amazed.

“Bonnie! Bonnie, wake up!” somebody was saying…

Father set the lamp on the table. He lifted Bonnie from underneath the covers, set her on the edge of the bed, and began to jerk on her shoes and stockings….

”Let’s go now,” he said, and he hurried down the stairs, lighting the way with the lamp….

Mother was already outside. Chris and Emmy and Althy were there.

“Look!” said Father to Debby and Bonnie. “Look at the sky.”

“Debby and Bonnie turned their faces up and looked into the sky. There, across the immense dark-blue dome of the sky, enormous yellow-green curtains of light, tipped with fieriest red, rolled and folded, one after another–rolled and folded, rolled and folded…And below, on the still, snowbound earth stood the Fairchilds, wrapped in blankets, watching, watching.”

It’s a true classic that can capture the imagination of the same girl at nine and at twenty-nine. When I finish it, I set Schoolroom in the Parlor back in its rightful place on the shelf of treasures—just until my daughter’s hands are ready to turn the pages.

The Blue Hill Meadows by Cynthia Rylant Blackout (picture book) by John Rocco Sarah Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan

While Schoolroom in the Parlor is no longer readily available new, here are a few recommended titles that also express the wonder of learning and a supportive family influence.

Kate Roberts is a writer, editor, and new mom who has watched stories speak into children’s lives over nine years of working with children as a nanny, teacher, and special-needs caregiver. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter. They love to read Winnie the Pooh together.

Spot Light • October 2014

Spot Light Books of the Month

Courage by Bernard WaberCourage

by Bernard Waber (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002)

Publisher Summary  What is courage? Certainly it takes courage for a firefighter to rescue someone trapped in a burning building, but there are many other kinds of courage too. Everyday kinds that normal, ordinary people exhibit all the time, like “being the first to make up after an argument,” or “going to bed without a nightlight.” Bernard Waber explores the many varied kinds of courage and celebrates the moments, big and small, that bring out the hero in each of us.

Make Way for Books  This thoughtful collection of courage-facets sparkles like new, even though it was published more than 10 years ago. In a most delightful, instructive way, the illustrations are of equal importance to the descriptive text that underlines them. Picture a roller coaster at its final descent (with a few green faces) and its caption: Courage is going on it again; and, a car full of riders followed by: Courage is a scenic car trip and being stuck in the middle during the best part. These enduring wisdom bytes show an expansive courage that includes self-control, responsibility, humility, confidence, trustworthiness, and more.

Wing DingWing Ding

by Kevin Markey (Harpercollins, 2012)

Publisher Summary  When the windiest weather in Rambletown history blows in a horde of hungry grasshoppers, the only thing the chomping insects devour faster than the grass is the Rounders’ chance to host the midseason all-star game. Unfortunately, their shortstop’s arm has gone haywire. Balls used to disappear into Stump’s glove as if he were a one-man Bermuda Triangle, but since the infestation, he’s jumpier than the grasshoppers. Will the Rounders find a way to rid Stump of the yips—and their home field of insects—before the hated Haymakers hijack the all-star game?

Make Way for Books  There is nothing ho-hum about this young-reader sports tale! Nicknames — Flicker Pringle, Walloper, Stump Plumwhiff, Pepper McGraw — personify each player, preparing readers for the delightfully descriptive story that follows:

“For one thing, rings the size of donuts encrusted her fingers..”; “…the deafening roar that greeted us…sounded more like some terrible orchestra made of up of chain saws, dirt bikes, and snowmobiles”; “The base runners were coiled like Olympic Sprinters waiting for the starting gun.”

Markey masterfully blends tall tale-style storytelling and a storyline replete with competitive camaraderie to show the true meaning of All-Star. Additionally, he weaves a somewhat complex science concept into the text and shows its meaning as a critical component of the story’s climax. And (perhaps a teacher’s dream) incorporates student news articles to show what well-crafted summaries look like. End material includes a graphic organizer of the story’s teams, along with wacky facts from baseball history. An undeniable home run!

SlumpbustersMore Super Sluggers: Slumpbuster
(Harpercollins, 2010)



Wind DancerWind Dancer

by Chris Platt (Peachtree, 2014)

Publisher Summary  Having lost her beloved pony in a traumatic accident, thirteen-year-old Ali is reluctant to help her parents care for a neglected, malnourished Appaloosa, but working with Wind Dancer is a good distraction from problems surrounding her brother, who recently returned from Afghanistan with a missing leg and PTSD.

Make Way for Books  Courage abounds in this tale of putting others first, learning to accept change, and overcome adversity. Honesty, strength of family relationships, and a deep commitment to doing the right thing drive the characters to grow even when it is hard. The complex plot calls for difficult decision making and invites readers to think about what is right and why. A beautiful tale of love, courage, and valuable life lessons. Recommended for ages 9-11, grades 4-6, a little higher than publisher recommendation.

A Tangle of KnotsA Tangle of Knots

by Lisa Graff (paperback – Penguin, 2014)

Publisher Summary  Told in multiple viewpoints, A Tangle of Knots is a magnificent puzzle. In a slightly magical world where everyone has a Talent, eleven-year-old Cady is an orphan with a phenomenal Talent for cake baking. But little does she know that fate has set her on a journey from the moment she was born. And her destiny leads her to a mysterious address that houses a lost luggage emporium, an old recipe, a family of children searching for their own Talents, and a Talent Thief who will alter her life forever. However, these encounters hold the key to Cady’s past and how she became an orphan. If she’s lucky, fate may reunite her with her long-lost parent.

Make Way for Books  A National Book Award Nominee for 2013, A Tangle of Knots is a beautiful story about Cady, an orphan who has a special talent for seeing people and knowing the perfect cake for them. Told from many different perspectives and with many different characters, it takes a little while for the “knot” to be tied, but with a touch of magic, a little mystery, a lot of warmth and humor, and even some great recipes, the author succeeds in weaving together a delightful story about relationships and how they are woven together.

“If you don’t know the trick, it’s a muddled predicament. But in fact each loop of every knot is carefully placed, one end twisting tight into the other in a way you might not have expected.”

This story will appeal to fans of fantasy, mystery, and stories about family. It may be a little too complex for struggling readers, but would make a perfect read-aloud.

Searching for Sarah RectorSearching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America

by Tonya Bolden (Abrams, 2014)

Publisher Summary  Sarah Rector was once famously hailed as “the richest black girl in America. Set against the backdrop of American history, her tale encompasses the creation of Indian Territory, the making of Oklahoma, and the establishment of black towns and oil-rich boomtowns.

Rector acquired her fortune at the age of eleven. This is both her story and that of children just like her: one filled with ups and downs amid bizarre goings-on and crimes perpetrated by greedy and corrupt adults. From a trove of primary documents, including court and census records and interviews with family members, author Tonya Bolden painstakingly pieces together the events of Sarah’s life and the lives of those around her. The book includes a glossary, a bibliography, and an index.

Make Way for Books  Reading this book is like sitting under a studied historian who shares facts culled from myriad sources with care. The museum-like quality of the book’s page design and archived photographs lend authenticity to the telling of how a girl, born as a black member of the Muscogee tribe, whose history included forced relocation and the Trail of Tears, became wealthy. Bolden weaves an economics lesson into a colorful tapestry of Oklahoma expansion, land allotments, investments, lending, guardianships, greed, money, and race. The way events are explained and influential people are introduced gives readers time to digest important information. It is evident this was a painstaking work, as confirmed by a comment in the author’s note: “Better to rest on research and reason than on scuttlebutt.” This is as much about the lessons within the story as it is about how the author chose to craft it. A quality work.

Spot Light • September 2014

spotlight header

Lost in BermoodaLost in Bermooda

by Mike Litwin (Albert Whitman & Co., 2014)

Publisher Summary  Bermooda has no “outsiders,” and most prefer to keep it that way. That is, until Chuck ventures into the boneyard alone and discovers a young human boy who has been washed up unconscious on the sandbar! The young boy’s name is Dakota and doesn’t seem as scary as Chuck thought humans should be. Chuck decides to “cowmouflage” Dakota to pass as a bovine in town. Dakota and Chuck become fast friends, but trouble is brewing and Dakota’s true identity is at risk of being discovered.

Make Way for Books  This delightful first written work by illustrator Mike Litwin introduces readers to Bermooda, the island home to talking cows and a host of other colorful characters – a ‘flying’ pig, a plump gray cow whose yellow shirt is as bright as his personality, and an orange manic monkey, to name a few. When adventure-loving Chuck discovers Dakota (a hu’man) washed ashore, he offers help, protection, and a way back to hu’man civilization, almost. Word play and outlandish humor enfolds this budding-friendship tale that helps readers see the destruction of lies and the strength and hope of trust. And, through age-appropriate high-flying drama, Litwin shows how fearing the unknown leads to cowardice, not courage. Perfect for reluctant readers and for reading aloud.
Crown CowibbeanDon’t miss the recently-released sequel, Crown of the Cowibbean (Albert Whitman & Co., 2014), another delightful adventure that unfolds like a Pixar movie, complete with stormy seas, tight spots, and close calls, all on the waves of humorous narrative!


Extra CreditExtra Credit

by Andrew Clements (Simon & Schuster, 2011)

Publisher Summary  It isn’t that Abby Carson can’t do her schoolwork. She just doesn’t like doing it. And consequently, Abby will have to repeat sixth grade—unless she meets some specific conditions, including taking on an extra credit project: find a pen pal in a distant country. But when Abby’s first letter arrives at a small school in Afghanistan, complications arise. The elders agree that any letters going back to America must be written well, but the only qualified English-speaking student is a boy. And in this village, it’s not proper for a boy to correspond with a girl. So, Sadeed’s sister will dictate and sign the letters for him. But what about the villagers who believe that girls should not be anywhere near a school? And what about those who believe that any contact with Americans is…unhealthy?

As letters flow back and forth—between the prairies of Illinois and the mountains of central Asia, across cultural and religious divides, through the minefields of different lifestyles and traditions—a small group of children begin to speak and listen to each other. And in just a few short weeks, they make important discoveries about their communities, about their world, and most of all, about themselves.

Make Way for Books  Anyone who has struggled to conquer something seemingly impossible can relate to Abby’s challenge—in order to avoid being held back in school, she must move from lazy indifference to responsibility. This timeless tale of conquering obstacles and personal growth is just a small part of this story’s appeal. This is the story of two children who must learn who they are and what to believe. Their newly-forged friendship allows them to ask hard questions and to find the courage to influence their own communities. It is a story of the delicate balance between tradition and respect and making room for new people and ideas.

We enjoy many Andrew Clements’ titles. Be sure to check out the Benjamin Pratt and the Keepers of the School series and the Jake Drake series.

We the Children Jake Drake Know-it-all

We the Children (Simon & Schuster, 2010)
Jake Drake Know-it-all (Simon & Schuster, 2007)



Going PlacesGoing Places

by Peter and Paul Reynolds

Publisher Summary  A go-cart contest inspires imagination to take flight in this picture book for creators of all ages, with art from New York Times bestselling illustrator Peter H. Reynolds.

It’s time for this year’s Going Places contest! Finally. Time to build a go-cart, race it—and win. Each kid grabs an identical kit, and scrambles to build. Everyone but Maya. She sure doesn’t seem to be in a hurry…and that sure doesn’t look like anybody else’s go-cart! But who said it had to be a go-cart? And who said there’s only one way to cross the finish line?

This sublime celebration of creative spirit and thinking outside the box—both figuratively and literally—is ideal for early learners, recent grads, and everyone in between.

Make Way for Books  Bright, colorful illustrations match the buoyant spirit of this story’s optimistic theme where the limitations of rules and instructions suddenly become a framework for creative opportunity. This endearing story is a unique challenge to inside-the-box thinking and helps readers discover freedom in understanding the intent of an instruction versus mindless adherence for the sake of adherence.

Share this for all ages. This is one of those unique children’s books that inspires adult readers to become childlike for a moment and consider this mindful freedom. Indeed, going places requires it.

BeamLightOn a Beam of Light

by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky

Publisher Summary  A boy rides a bicycle down a dusty road. But in his mind, he envisions himself traveling at a speed beyond imagining, on a beam of light. This brilliant mind will one day offer up some of the most revolutionary ideas ever conceived. From a boy endlessly fascinated by the wonders around him, Albert Einstein ultimately grows into a man of genius recognized the world over for profoundly illuminating our understanding of the universe. Jennifer Berne and Vladimir Radunsky invite the reader to travel along with Einstein on a journey full of curiosity, laughter, and scientific discovery. Parents and children alike will appreciate this moving story of the powerful difference imagination can make in any life.

Make Way for Books  “He wanted to discover the hidden mysteries in the world.” How is that done? Author, Jennifer Berne beautifully, almost methodically, unfolds Albert Einstein’s insatiable appetite for learning. He imagined the uncharted, he asked questions-questions-questions, he read, studied, and wondered. He thought and figured. A cohesive text-illustration marriage introduces readers to this unbounded, creative thinker through scrawl-like pictures and fun-loving trivia. Somehow, this brilliant individual becomes as down-to-earth as the rest of us, making us wonder if we too, could imagine the uncharted. A powerful and accessible biography for all ages.