There's a Book for That, Day 8: The Hundred Dresses, part two

31 days large There's a Book for That, Day 7: The Hundred Dresses, part two

Yesterday, I talked a little bit about the inspiration and resources I have found to begin a book club at our homeschool co-op. Today, I am going to delve into what the discussion looked like with our little group.

We started our time together by reading a picture book, Anitole, together. This was a great way to start because we could read the book and still have a good amount of time to talk about the book within the confines of our allotted class period. As I explained yesterday, I began with a discussion of genres, having the girls name as many genres as they could think of. Then I challenged them to choose just one of the genres that could be one umbrella genre. This proved to be a little more difficult for them, though they had some great ideas. Finally, we settled, with some guidance from me, on mystery. This transitioned into a quick overview of the parts of the story. I purposely kept this short and succinct, using the chart from Teaching the Classics, because the concept feels somewhat abstract until you really dive in and look closely at a story.


So with the idea that every story is a mystery and the consistent parts of a story in our minds, I read Anitole to the group. Just by looking at the girls faces, I could see that they were listening carefully for clues. The discussion that followed was great considering our lack of experience with the process.

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The next week (We are meeting for a total of 6 weeks.), we read the first 2 chapters of The Hundred Dresses together, and immediately we started asking questions. I pointed out to the girls that asking questions is what keen detectives, and readers, do. The remainder of the class time was spent having an in-depth discussion setting and touching briefly on the characters. The photo shows our notes in all their raw detail. One interesting thing to note is that The Hundred Dresses contains illustrations, and the illustrations sometimes affected the girls’ interpretation of the setting. This was an important teachable moment. Whenever someone would offer evidence of the setting based upon an illustration, I would challenge them to find evidence in the text to back it up. This lead to further discussion about an illustrator’s role in telling the story.

Please excuse the blurriness of this photo. Please excuse the blurriness of this photo.

For the next week, the girls and I read chapters 3 & 4, and our discussion focused heavily on the characters. You can see from the photos that we reviewed our discussion from the week before and then looked very closely at the characters. To give each girl a chance to participate, I had them write down a characteristic of one the characters and then find some evidence to back it up, noting the page numbers. This was a great exercise and really helped us as we moved forward with our discussions in later weeks.

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Our third discussion for The Hundred Dresses focused on beginning to fill in the story chart, as you can see in the picture. And we also began to make predictions, based on the evidence we already have, as to the theme or message the author wants to convey. At this point we had read through chapter 6 and had a lot to go on. We each took a notecard and wrote our suspected theme on one side and our evidence to prove it on the other side, then discussed. To deepen our discussion of theme, I shared “Outside Looking In,” a song by Jordan Pruitt. We looked closely at the lyrics while we listened to a recording of it. The concise nature of song makes the theme easier to spot, and this song in particular is a clear parallel to the book.

Our fourth and final discussion will take place in just a few days and the week after that we will have a “book party.” I’ll be sure to post the details of that. Since I don’t have actual notes about what we have done, I will share with you my plans.

We will complete the story chart together, now that we have read through the entire book, and we will revisit our assumptions about the characters and setting to confirm that they are correct based on the details of the story. Then we will focus on theme. I will give the girls a new notecard and repeat the process from the week before, writing their idea of the theme on one side and their evidence on the other. I am predicting that this will lead to a lively discussion since a few different themes could be seen as valid, depending on which character’s perspective we look from. I also plan to share the quote below and this poem by Mother Teresa with the girls and have them make connections with them.

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There's a Book for That, Day 6: Wild Child

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There's a Book for That, Day 6:
Wild Child

Over the years of reading aloud to my children, I have read more books about Autumn than I can count, but this one...Wild one of my new favorites.  It's beautiful illustrations and gentle depiction of the changing of seasons are breathtaking.  And children will find a little bit of themselves in the wild child of Autumn. 

nature suncatcher

This book inspired us to get outside and take a look at the natural world around us.  We decided to collect some things that we saw on our nature walk.  Once we were home, we laid them out and I rummaged through our seed box to see what we had left to add.  We then cut out the center of a paper plate and a large circular piece of clear contact paper.  Then we arranged some of our favorite nature items onto the sticky side of the contact paper and covered it over with another piece.  The results were beautiful.  I also read this book and did this craft with our homeschool co-op.  I wish I had pictures!! All of the sun-catchers were so different!

There's a Book for That, Day 4: Paddle-to-the-Sea

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There's a Book for That, Day 4:

When it comes to geography, enlivening the topic can be a challenge. But Holling C. Holling has met this challenge amazingly well! Through the story of Paddle, the little wooden man and his canoe, geography is not only interesting, but exciting!  When reading this book, you can’t help but pull out a map and follow Paddle’s course from Canada to the Atlantic Ocean. And along the way, you learn about the characteristics of the landscapes, industries, cultures, as well as the geography of the Great Lakes area.  All from one story!

Holling C. Holling has written several books like Paddle to the Sea, and they all inspire us to learn more about geography and history. Happy Learning!

There's a Book for That, Day 3: Owl Moon


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There's a Book for That, Day 3:
Owl Moon

The beauty of books is the depth and breadth of learning they offer. Just one book can lead us in so many directions, hopping off on rabbit trails that lead us on to discover new ideas on a variety of topics. Owl Moon is one of my favorite books for just that reason. Jane Yolen’s writing effortlessly lifts us up out of our homes and right into the cold night going owling with Pa. We hear the crunch of the snow. Feel our hot breath behind the woolen scarf. See the magnificent beauty of the owl.


At the end, we sit in quiet awe of having experienced something so seemingly real without having to bundle up and head outside. From reading this book, you may decide to learn more about owls and seek out a non-fiction book like Owls by Gail Gibbons, or learn more about how the seasons affect animals or about life in the country. Or, because of the beauty of Yolen’s words, you may want to learn more about writing. Owl Moon is a book that I share with every young writer I work with, either one on one or in a writing workshop setting.

If you are curious about how to use Owl Moon to inspire writing, check out 5 Simple Steps to Using Picture Books to Teach Writing .  It will encourage you to look closely at the books you read and not stop your discussion at the plot but delve deeper into looking at the words the author chose and the beauty of the language.  Really, Owl Moon, and books like it can inspire writers of all ages!  They're concise, vivid, and after all, who doesn't love a great picture book?!

So, no matter what rabbit trail you find yourself on, you’ll be glad you followed it.  Happy Learning!

How To Create a Well-Rounded Book List for Any Topic

How to Create a Well-Rounded Booklist for Any Topic

If you’re reading this, you probably love books! Deciding which ones are worth your time and which ones should stay on the shelf can be daunting. The choices seem endless but our time is definitely not. I’m going to offer you some strategies for creating a book list that’s quality, balanced and feasible. Whether you are a homeschooler or a parent invested in bringing the beauty of books to your children, there are some great ideas here to inspire you and make the job of choosing books a little easier.

  1.  Choose from a variety of genres and perspectives.  No matter what the topic, there are ways to bring various types of books to your children.  Fictional stories can be supported with non-fiction texts and vice-versa.  Finding a poem to complement your reading list is typically pretty easy.  Biography, historical fiction, and folk tales, myths, etc.  With a little creativity, the possibilities are endless.  Choosing a variety of genres broadens our view of the topic and encourages us to discuss how ideas are connected.

For example, my family has been learning about the solar system lately.  It all began with a telescope for Christmas and A Child’s Introduction to the Night Sky.  From there, I searched our library catalog and amazon to see what other books I could find.  Of course, there were many, many non-fiction books and I selected several.  But I was looking for more than that.  I wanted stories too. Nothing makes the facts come alive more than a story. So, I chose Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11, A Child’s Introduction to Greek Mythology, Look to the Stars, and Katie and the Starry Night.  With these four books, we got a glimpse of history, Greek mythology and how the night sky inspired a famous piece of art.  Each of these books deepened our understanding of the solar system by engaging our hearts and imaginations beyond the facts.  (By the way, the whole list, with links, is toward the end of this post.)

2. Be clear about your goals.  When you have an idea of what information you want to share with your children, it becomes much easier to decide which books to include on your list.  For example, my main goal for learning about the solar system was for my children to get a basic introduction to the planets, our moon, and the night sky, and to spark an interest in the history of space exploration.

So when I was choosing books, I kept these things in mind.  Because I wanted an introduction to the moon, I chose only two books about it, The Moon Book and If You Decide to Go to The Moon. The first offers just what we needed; facts, diagrams, and folklore.  The second still offers facts but did so in more of a story format.  Both were engaging enough to read several times.  Definitely the sign of a good book!

3. Keep it simple.  I have found that if I choose too many books on any give topic, we become overwhelmed.  I try to keep my list to about 10 books so that we can read and re-read without feeling rushed.

Our whole solar system book list is listed below.  As you can see, there are only 10 and a poem books on my list. But these selections are rich, engaging texts. Some are perfect for bedtime reading, some offer more in-depth information that we tackled in our morning read aloud time. Some spurred the kids on to create a map of the solar system or paint the phases of the moon. Others inspired them to look closely at the night sky and keep a moon journal. For this study, I didn’t plan out any specific activities for my children to complete. Giving them space to meet the ideas and connect with them on a personal level is more important to me than making sure they learn certain facts. As a result, the projects they created for themselves were meaningful and engaging. This isn’t to say that I didn’t give them a few ideas or offer up some activities, like painting the phases of the moon, but I did give them plenty of room to choose (or not choose) to participate.

Our Solar System Book List

(With links)

The Everything Kids Astronomy Book

A Child’s Introduction to the Night Sky

G is for Galaxy

Every Planet Has a Place

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11

The Planets of Our Solar System

If You Decide to Go to The Moon

A Child’s Introduction to Greek Mythology

The Moon Book

Katie and the Starry Night

The Moon was but a chin of gold, Poem by Emily Dickinson

Give yourself lots of time to enjoy the books on your list. It would be easy to try to speed through all 10 books in 10 days, but taking our time shows our children that books are not just to be consumed but savored.

What topic is your family learning about? Do you have a great book list to share?  Let's chat in the comments.

5 Simple Steps for Using Picture Books to Teach Writing

using picture books Teaching writing can be one of the most intimidating tasks a homeschool parent has to face. There are so many layers to it that it’s often hard to even know where to begin. We often feel like we need to be a professional writer to really teach our children writing. But I promise you, you already have the tools to guide your child as he learns to write.

You don’t need to be a writer. You need to be a reader.

And by the very nature of being a homeschooling parent, you probably are! You need to be an observant reader. One who can look closely at the words of an author and begin to see the words on the page as more than just information to be learned or a story to be shared. A reader who can adjust her eyes to the ways in which the author weaves the details of the text.

My favorite place to start teaching writing is with reading…picture books! So many of us already read aloud to our children on a regular basis so why not use what we are already reading to teach writing?! Picture books are typically pretty short, so the author has to be very intentional with the words he has chosen. The text of a picture book is full of wonderful examples of the qualities we would like to encourage in our children’s writing.

Inspired by some of my favorite writing resources (listed below) and spending time writing with my children and in the classroom, I have seen a simple rhythm emerge that connects reading and writing and allows the authenticity of both endeavors to shine through.

5 steps

  1. Read the book.  Take your time with the words.  Take it slow.  Allow their rhythm and cadence to pull you in.  For this example, I’ll refer to Owl Moon by Jane Yolen.
  2. Rest.  Put the book aside.  You’ve already started teaching writing by reading beautiful words to your children.  Let it rest.  Let the seeds of the language sprout.
  3. Discuss.  After reading the book and letting it rest, re-visit it the next day.  Re-read it and then pick just one sentence or section to focus on.  This one part of the book should represent one concept you want to focus on; strong beginnings, alliteration, varying sentence structure, describing the setting.  The list is really endless and what you choose will depend on the writer in front of you and the book you have read.  (This step may even come before step one.  You may have a particular skill you want to focus on and choose a book accordingly.)Back to our example….Owl Moon offers so many characteristics of quality writing.  The whole text is so poetic and the words so precise that you can’t help but feel like you are out owling on that winter night.For simplicity of discussion, we will focus how to use the book to encourage our children to use strong descriptions in their writing.  I could choose a sentence like:

“Our feet crunched over the crisp snow and little gray footprints followed us.”

Discuss this one sentence. The author could have said, ‘We walked through the snow and made footprints.’ But instead, she chooses words that paint a vivid picture of exactly what is happening. Keep it simple and direct. Your message may get lost if you over-do it. Let the words of the author have space to speak and guide by example.

4. Practice.  Give your child time to try this out.  Applying what has just been learned is the best way to bring these new ideas into his own writing.  If he is keeping a writer’s notebook, he could pick out a sentence or two that he could re-write, adding more description.

Or you could make it into a collaborative task. You come up with the most boring, non-descriptive sentence you can think of. Something like, ‘We made cookies.’ Together, think of other ways you could say this so that you are painting a vivid picture for your reader.

We baked crispy cookies and gobbled them all up.


We licked crumbs off our lips so that there was nothing left of the cookies we made.


We rolled the dough flat and pressed little shapes into it with cookie cutters.

As you can see, each of these sentences tells more than simply saying ‘We made cookies.’ And the ways in which we can say the same thing are infinite. It is important that our children see that there are many ways to say the same thing and that they are no right or wrong answers.

However you choose to approach this step, allow lots and lots of time. Don’t rush it. If your child seems to be having trouble applying what he has learned, go back to steps 2 or 3. Sometimes, finding a second or third example is necessary to really allow the child to make it his own. Sometimes, though, taking a break is best, revisiting the idea in a day or two.

5.  Share.  Talk about how this worked for your child (and for you).  This step is crucial!  Allowing for an honest dialogue about how smoothly or not-so-smoothly we bring the skill or idea into our own writing, encourages our children to reflect as well.  It also sets the tone that writing is an authentic task and that we are learning together.  Reflecting together, allows each person’s voice to be heard and reaffirms that the child’s ideas and perspective are valid and valuable.

Even though I approach this process in a very informal, laid-back way, I have found it to be very effective! And fun! The best part is that writing becomes a joint activity, something we enjoy together. And when our children witness us reading and writing alongside them, they will see these as worthwhile, life-long learning.

If you need more ideas about how to use picture books to inspire your children’s writing, check out these resources.

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Our First 3 Days of the Big Book Pile-Up

The first three days of  The Big Book Pile-Up   have been so enjoyable.  It's amazing what a little pre-planning can do for our read aloud time!  Just setting the intention to read aloud more often and with more variety has helped me make it a priority on our day and it feels so good to snuggle in on the couch with my kiddos several times a day!  Even if the rest of our day is super busy, the connection we make in the morning and evening carries us through. Here are a few of the books we've been reading so far....

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Day 1.   I Took the Moon for a Walk  (read a picture book)

We started The Big Book Pile-Up with a favorite of my youngest kids, I Took the Moon for a Walk.  They love the illustrations and the poetic text.  It makes a perfect night-time book and ties in perfectly with our study of the solar system.  I love it when that happens:)

moon book

Day 2.  The Moon Book (read non-fiction)

Day two found us reading The Moon Book.  I have always been a fan of Gail Gibbons.  She has a true gift for bringing non-fiction to life for young learners.  We find ourselves returning again and again to her books.  There is so much information in this picture book that we have decided to re-read a section at a time.

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Day 3.   Mr. Popper's Penguins (read a Newberry Award winner)

From the first chapter, we fell in love with this book.  It's a really fun read-aloud!  It's funny and moves along at just the right pace.  And the chapters are short, which makes it a perfect book if you can only squeeze in a little bit of reading time.

What is your family reading right now?

The Big Book Pile-Up Printables

There's nothing like fresh, fun paper with lots of blank space to inspire us to fill it up!  I've made a few printables that I hope you will find useful no matter how you decide to participate in The Big Book Pile-Up.  Whether you decide to read a book a day for 30 days or to take a more leisurely pace. Whether you want to tackle the list in its printed order or pick and choose which type of book to read on a particular day, there is a printable for you!  You should be able to click on the page and print it.  If it doesn't work, send me a note and I'll get send you an email with the pages attached.  Happy Reading! Watch your books pile up as you keep track of the books you read together.  This one is two pages so that there's plenty of room in case you read more than one book on a given day!

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3 Tips for Choosing Remarkable Read Alouds

With so many books to choose from, selecting books for read alouds can be overwhelming. Sometimes we can’t seem to find a book that feels right and sometimes we get stuck choosing the same books over and over again because we don’t know where else to look for inspiration. Here are 3 tips to help you choose books that will be a breath of fresh air for your read aloud time. Using these ideas, you will be able to weed out the uninspiring books and allow the remarkable ones to shine through. 1.  Choose books that appeal to you.

It sounds so simple, but there is so much truth to this statement. If you do not particularly like the book you are reading aloud to your children, they will feel it. You will dread the read aloud time and it will likely happen less often. There is no reason why we have to finish reading every book we start. Choosing to stop reading a book is a great discussion starter with our children. What about this book doesn’t appeal to me? Is it the way it is written? Is the plot too slow? Too fast-paced? Are there too many technical terms, which I am not familiar with, but are specific to this book’s setting or plot?

This does not mean that you never step out of your comfort zone. There are times when it is valuable to choose a book that will benefit your children but isn’t one you would necessarily choose for your own enjoyment. This may be the perfect time for a shared listening experience, such as an audio book. Encountering a book together, all as listeners, enriches the read aloud time in a new way, and it also allows our children to see us as the life-long learners we hope for them to be.

2.  Use great book lists to inspire your choices.

I hesitate to include this as a tip for choosing read alouds because it seems that book lists are everywhere, and some are certainly better than others.  Knowing which book lists to use is just as important as choosing the books themselves. And which book list you choose depends on your purpose. If you are looking for the best in picture books, check out the Caldecott list. The best in novels for young people? Take a look at the list of Newberry Winners. If you want to bring more multi-cultural books into your read aloud time, the Batchelder Award list will help. The American Library Association is a great resource for book lists!

Caution: book lists can be addicting! We sometimes find ourselves thinking of it as a check list of books we must read, rather than a list of the very best book suggestions. Don’t be a slave to the list! It is a tool that serves you and your family as you select books for your read aloud time. Use your favorite book lists to guide your selections so that the joy of reading aloud is kindled not extinguished.

3.  Keep the balance between old and new favorites.

When it comes to reading aloud, we may feel like we need to share a new book every time, but this just isn’t the case. If a book is worth reading once, it is worth reading again.  It is no secret that children love to hear their favorite books read over and over again. This repetition allows for the listener to make new discoveries in the book each time. This is especially true with longer chapter books and more complex picture books. Re-reading a book for the third or fourth or fifteenth time is also a great springboard for discussion. There’s a reason why your child loves this book so much and talking about it will bring you closer. Your child will know that you care about what he or she has to say and about what’s important to them.

Reading old favorites is comforting and valuable, but finding some new favorites is important too. Bringing a variety of books to the read aloud time doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does take some thought. Are you selecting mostly stories? Add in some non-fiction too. Is your child inhaling books about the solar system? How about adding in a few Greek Myths and starting a discussion about how the planets were named? Or read about the famous moon landing of Apollo 11 in a book like Moonshot. The poetic nature of the text makes this an outstanding non-fiction read aloud, especially for those of us who are typically intimidated by non-fiction.

Don’t be afraid to try something new or challenge yourself to read from a variety of genres and authors. Again, it’s a great place for discussions to start.

Above all, the read aloud time is about more than just books. It’s about relationships. The relationships within our family and our family’s relationship with reading. Always choose what works for your family and leave the rest. Happy Reading!

The Big Book Pile-Up Reading List

Big Book Pile Up large photoThe Big Book Pile-Up came from my desire to get our read-aloud time out of the rut it is in. Our book choices sometimes feel uninspired. Our enthusiasm waning, not because we don’t love reading aloud together, but because reading aloud with a toddler (and this toddler in particular) has its challenges. I am determined not to let this become an excuse. Reading aloud is too important for the intellectual and emotional development of our children to allow ourselves to become apathetic in our attempts. With World Read Aloud Day coming up on March 4th, I decided to give our read-aloud time a kick-start, to bring it from mediocre to the joyful family time I know it can be. Together with my children, we created a list of book categories to introduce or reacquaint us (and you if you choose to join us and I really, really hope you do!) with books of all kinds. Not only will we meet great books and characters and ideas but we’ll get to know each other better through our discussions and just enjoy spending time together. The list of suggestions offers a variety of genres and topics and is meant to be a spring of inspiration. I am not sure how we will approach the list just yet. Will we start at the top? Bottom? Somewhere in the middle? Use it as more of a checklist and read a selection each day? I do know that we will try to read from a variety of sources; picture books, novels, stories from children’s literary magazines, and whatever else we can get our hands-on. We may add other genres or topics that spark our interest or skip the ones that just don’t seem to be working for us right now. The most important thing is that we’ll read together everyday!

We’ve got a trip to the library planned in the next few days and an amazon cart brimming with some books that I want to make sure we read even if we can’t find them at our local library.

Each day I’ll be sharing what we’re reading and how our adventure is going. I hope that you’ll do the same!

Here's the reading list!

  1. Read a picture book
  2. Read non-fiction
  3. Read a Newberry award winner
  4. Read a book about a famous person
  5. Read some poetry
  6. Listen to an audio book
  7. Read a newly published book
  8. Read a book you’ve read before
  9. Read an alphabet book
  10. Read a book about food and cook together
  11. Read a classic book
  12. Read a Greek Myth
  13. Read some Shakespeare
  14. Read a fairy tale
  15. Read a version of the same fairy tale from another country
  16. Read about history
  17. Read about math
  18. Read about nature
  19. Read about friendship
  20. Read from a book by your favorite author
  21. Begin a chapter book
  22. Read a book about art
  23. Read a book about music
  24. Read a rhyming book
  25. Read a book by an author you’ve never read before
  26. Read a book about a science topic
  27. Read a fable, folktale, or tall tale
  28. Read a fantasy
  29. Read a wordless book
  30. Read a book that has won the Caldecott Medal

Happy Reading!