Frankie Works the Night Shift by Lisa Westberg Peters

It’s late, and the hardware store is closed for the night. Except for one… Frankie, the cat. At first, Frankie “does chores”, usually making more of a mess than he helps. Then Frankie spots an intruder – a mouse – and his real work begins!

So the story line isn’t scintillating. It’s funny enough for a kid. Better yet, the artwork is a mix of artwork and real-life photography, which my kids found very appealing. There’s a bit of counting 1-to-10, but it’s not integral to the text. All in all, a fun little story, one the kids asked for several times over the course of the week, but not exceptional.

Oh, and the intruder mouse? Safely chased out the back door. Nobody gets eaten in this story, for the sake of the tenderhearted.

Available on Amazon

Frankie Works the Night Shift by Lisa Westberg Peters, illustrated by Jennifer Taylor. Greenwillow Books, 2010.


If A Chicken Stayed For Supper by Carrie Weston

Mommy Fox kisses her five little foxes goodbye, promising to bring home chicken for supper. After a while, the kits get tired of waiting in the den and go outside to play in the dark. They run into a problem when one kit disappears, and after much wailing and crying are finally helped out by a kindly neighbor – Mother Hen. The kits talk her into taking them safely back to their den, where they find Mommy Fox waiting, and no chicken supper to eat. How will they repay Mother Hen’s kindness — by serving her up for supper?

If A Chicken Stayed For Supper surprises you with that little dilemma at the end. Up until that point, it’s simply a fun story of children who get into trouble and scare themselves when they disobey Mommy’s rules. The whole “missing kit” problem is an exercise in counting, and it’s fun to help a child figure out what they’re doing wrong. My kids certainly love it when they can “be smarter” than a story’s character. Eventually Mother Hen gets them all safely home, and suddenly there’s this new tension of a predator-prey encounter. In fact, I definitely recommend you make sure your child understands that when Mommy Fox promised to “bring home chicken for supper” that she’s going off to hunt — if a child doesn’t understand that part, the final resolution won’t be as understandable.

Can we draw from¬† the eventual dinner party — vegetable soup served to chickens and foxes alike — a message that vegetarianism is good? Perhaps, though I’d say that’s a stretch. A more accurate moral would be the innocence of children bringing fighting adults together, but even that exaggerates what the story actually says. There’s no indication that the meal is anything more than a temporary truce, a momentary accord. I actually appreciated that — it doesn’t go for the “easy answer”.

So, what did the kids think of it? Simple fun. It’s colorful, well paced, has a silly little puzzle to figure out, and a nice warm ending. They don’t need more than that to enjoy a story.

Available on Amazon

If A Chicken Stayed For Supper by Carrie Weston, illustrated by Sophie Fatus. Holiday House, 2007.

Teaching Comprehension With Nonfiction Read Alouds

Just discovered this forthcoming book from Dawn Little. The full title is Teaching Comprehension with Nonfiction Read Alouds: 12 Lessons for Using Newspapers, Magazines, and Other Nonfiction Texts to Build Key Comprehension Skills. Dawn writes the Literary Toolbox blog, which always has worthwhile things to say. I’m looking forward to trying out her book.

Available (for preorder) on Amazon

Reading Wisdom

Found this gem in an article on

The playing field between early readers and other children usually evens out by the second or the third grade. That doesn’t mean that reading shouldn’t be taught with some rigor in the first grade. But drilling 3- and 4-year-olds on phonics and expecting 5-year-olds to be fully literate isn’t the best approach. “It may squelch their natural enthusiasm for books,” says Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a professor of psychology at Claremont Graduate University, in California. “When kids are young, it’s more important that they imagine themselves as the pirates, runaways, and explorers in stories than they read every word. You want them to develop a love for reading before they try to master the mechanics.”


A child who’s really reading does more than just sound out a word like “cat.” He must also be able to know whether a “cat” is a person, place, or thing; to comprehend the grammar in each sentence (Does the cat wear the hat or does the hat wear the cat?); to dramatize and contextualize the story in his head (cats don’t normally talk and wear hats, do they?); and to empathize with the story’s characters and understand the ramifications of their actions (that mom is sure going to be mad when she finds the mess made by that silly cat).

My favorite quote:

As Mark Twain said, “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.”

The whole article is worth a few moments of your time.

Read the Rest

Tiggy Tiger Brave Explorer by Claire Freedman

Young Tiggy is out on the prowl, exploring the jungle. He can leap and pounce and prowl, and he’s practicing hard on his growl. He visits lots of his animal friends, who show him the brave things they do as well. Tiggy thinks their antics are a little too scary, and each friend assures him there’s nothing to be afraid of, because Mom is always there for a quick rescue. Eventually Tiggy stumbles across Mr. Grumpy Thumpy Rhinoceros, but he won’t run away. Why? Because Mom will keep him safe!

OK, this is a fun book to read. I simply loved playing up the not-quite-grownup tiger growls. There’s lots of other fun animals, and the way Tiggy is drawn is just adorable. My kids enjoyed it, too. Good action, enough predictability, and of course they had to growl, too. This is a book they’ve asked for more than once.

I’m seriously torn about the advisability of the story line. It’s great to encourage a child to try something new, step out and be a little brave, knowing that a parent won’t let him get hurt. But I really, really don’t like the scene with Tiggy and Mr. Grumpy Thumpy Rhinoceros. All his friends are urging him to run away from the danger, and Tiggy just ignores them, knowing that his mom will deal with the threat. I can think of way too many instances where I *want* the kids to run away from danger.

I’m tagging this book “Preschoolers” because I think there’s a element of conversation needed after the story; discuss when it’s okay to try something scary and when it’s important to simply stay safe.

Available on Amazon

Tiggy Tiger Brave Explorer by Claire Freeman, illustrated by Cecilia Johnson. Barron’s, 2002.

Have You Got My Purr? by Judy West

Kitten wakes up one morning and discovers her purr is missing. Mama tells to just wait, her purr will show up soon. However, Kitten can’t just wait, and she goes out to see which of the animals on the farm might have taken her purr.

Then follows a rather predictable sequence of visiting all the farm animals, good for practicing animal sounds with your child. A pleasant surprise is when Kitten visits Mouse, because she has to be extra careful to show Mouse that she’s hunting for her purr, not her dinner.

By the end of the day, Kitten is worn out, foot sore, and still purr-less. Owl suggests she go home to her mama, and Kitten can’t believe that Mama might have had her purr all along! Alas, it’s not so, but a bit of motherly advice and some warm, tender mama love helps Kitten discover that her purr has been with her all along.

In my opinion, the sweet, tender ending elevates Have You Got My Purr? above the usual farmyard animal stories. It leaves a warm, snuggly feeling, making this book especially suited for bedtime.  A nice book to return to frequently.

Available on Amazon

Have You Got My Purr? by Judy West, illustrated by Tim Warnes. Little Tiger Press, 2000.

My Brother, the Knight by Laura Driscoll

Jared’s getting kind of annoyed with his little brother’s obsession with all things knightly, so he offers a small wager. Chores for a week are the prize, if Colin can manage to live like a knight did for one full week. Jared thinks it’s a sure thing, but he underestimates just how far his brother is willing to go.

My Brother, the Knight is a multi-layered story, and that makes it good for a variety of ages. The fun-and-games of pretending to be a knight is something my 3-year-old understood. The everyday things Colin does “different” – like refusing to use a fork because real knights didn’t use one – is something my kindergartener found funny. There are a number of “factoid” inserts throughout the book offering actual information on medieval life, which I can see could interest a grade schooler – in fact, the book says it’s intended for Grades 1-3. As an adult, I found Colin simply adorable.

The illustrations are colorful and realistic. While not great art, they convey the storyline well. The text is story-like, featuring dialogue instead of rhyme and repetition. My biggest concern with the story is that it’s written from older brother Jared’s point of view, and I think that added an unnecessary element of complexity. It might have been more effective if written from Colin’s vantage, and possibly made it more relatable for the target audience. While it’s never quite clear just hold old the boys are, Colin is young enough to enjoy playing pretend and old enough for school, while Jared is old enough to be annoyed by the imaginary game. I doubt an average 1st-3rd grader would be there just yet.

This is one of a series called Social Studies Connects, and I’m intrigued by the idea. There are other titles addressing Economics (Bartering), Economics (Scarcity and Value), and Civics (Elections). I’ll have to look them up.

Can I just add that I’m very glad to see a book about the Middle Ages that isn’t centered on princesses?

Available on Amazon

My Brother, the Knight by Laura Driscoll, illustrated by Jerry Smith. Kane Press, 2004.