Monday, May 30, 2011

Review #98: The Book of Three

Dad:  What did we read?
Gracie (age 10):  The Horned King.
Dad:  Nope - wasn't called "The Horned King."
Lily (age 8):  "The Book of Three"!
Dad:  And what is it about?
Gracie:  The Horned King.
Dad:  Okay, I'll give you that.  But who was the MAIN character.
Gracie:  The Horned King!
Dad:  Nope.
Isaac (age 12):  It's about a kid named Taran.  He lives on a farm in the country, and all he does is grow vegetables and learn to make horseshoes.  He hates it.
Lily:  They don't even have horses!
Isaac:  He'd rather go on a quest and be a knight.  Taran wants to be a hero.
Gracie:  This is a medieval adventure story.
Lily:  An awesome one!
Dad:  When I read this book as a kid, it was my favorite book ever.  Each of you guys has a set of books that finally "clicked" with you.  Books that finally sucked you into the world of reading.
Isaac:  Percy Jackson.
Gracie:  Junie B.  That was it for me.
Dad:  For me, it was the five books in the Prydain Chronicles.  I loved them.  I lived them.  I thought about them constantly.  They changed my imagination.  They changed the kind of stories I made up.  Even today... my writing style is still very heavily influenced by Lloyd Alexander who wrote these books.
Lily:  You rock, Lloyd Alexander.
Isaac:  I love these books.  They are amazing.
Dad:  So what is the main point of "The Book of Three"?  What is Taran trying to do in this book?  He has two big goals...
Gracie:  He has to warn the Sons of Don about the Horned King.  And he has to find his pig.
Lily:  Taran's pig knows all the secrets of the whole entire world.  It's a magical pig.
Dad:  Why is Taran the one off looking for the pig?
Gracie:  He wants his pig back.  Wouldn't you?
Isaac:  Taran is the Assistant Pig Keeper.
Dad:  Right, so the pig that ran off was his...?  What.
Lily:  Pig!
Dad:  But it was his re--ssssss...
Lily:  Servant!
Dad:  His respon--ssssss...
Isaac:  Responsibility.
Gracie:  Took us long enough to figure that out.
Dad:  Haha...  So those are the two obvious goals: Warn everyone about the Horned King and find the pig.  But deep down, what is Taran REALLY trying to do?
Lily:  He wants to have an adventure.
Isaac:  He wants to do something that people will notice him for.
Lily:  He wants to be a hero.  He wants to be awesome.
Dad:  But is being a hero what Taran thought it would be like?
Gracie:  No.  He didn't even know you would have to sleep on the ground.
Lily:  He thought quests would be awesomeness.  But they are dangerous.  Like, everyone got caught in a whirlpool and ended up underground with an evil dwarf.
Dad:  Was there a character arc?  Did Taran grow and change over the course of the book?
Isaac:  In the beginning of the book, Taran couldn't wait to get away from the farm.  But by the end, he missed it so much.  He really, really wanted to get back.
Dad:  One of the best things about the book is all the great characters.  Did you have a favorite character?
Gracie:  The Horned King!
Dad:  Who are some of the people Taran meets during his quest?
Gracie:  The Horned King.
Dad:  Who else?
Isaac:  All these crazy companions.
Lily:  Gurgi!  He's a furry-man-thing with sticks and twigs all over him.  And he likes "crunchings and munchings" all the time.
Gracie:  Food.  It's always about food.
Lily:  And he is worried about "smackings and whackings" on his poor tender head.
Isaac:  And Taran meets this girl named Eilonwy.
Lily:  She has a glowing bauble.
Isaac:  And she talks too much.
Gracie:  I like her.  She talks too much, and she's too hyper.  She's just like me!
Isaac:  And there is somebody called Fflewddur Fflam.
Lily:  He is a bard.  A traveler dude.
Isaac:  A person that travels around and lives in the wilderness and plays music.
Gracie:  He gets excited and he stretches the truth.  Which is the same as lying.  And every time he does that, one of his magical harp strings breaks.
Dad:  Tell me something about Doli the dwarf.
Lily:  Well... he's short.
Isaac:  Doli is always complaining.  And he's always trying to turn invisible.
Gracie:  He's grumpy.
Lily:  He's not really grumpy - it's just for show.
Isaac:  Doli comes from the Fair Folk.  They live underground and they have a king.  The king doesn't do much at all.  He's just fat and he sits in a chair and complains.  It's funny the way he looks in my mind.
Dad:  And finally, tell me about the Horned King.
Gracie:  The Horned King!
Lily:  He's an evil dude.
Isaac:  He's this really evil guy.  A war lord.  He wears a skeleton head as a mask.  But he has horns attached to it.
Lily:  He's trying to kill people and capture people.
Dad:  Isaac has already read the whole series.  How about you girls?  Now that we've finished the first book, would you girls like to read the other Prydain books on your own?  At your own pace?
Lily:  Noooo!
Isaac:  I'd like to read them again together.
Lily:  Yeah!!!  Together!  Dad, you've got to!
Gracie:  The Summer of Narnia was good.
Dad:  So maybe this could be the Spring of Prydain?
Isaac:  Yeah!
Dad:  Finish the sentence: Inside these books you will find...
Lily:  Adventure!  Awesomeness!
Gracie:  The Horned King!

Gurgi finds the piggy, by Lily

Eilonwy, by Gracie

the companions meet the dwarf king, by Isaac

the Horned King, by Lily

the Horned King, by Isaac

the Horned King, by Gracie

Taran meets the Horned King, by Isaac:

Author: Lloyd Alexander
Published, 1964: Henry Holt
Like them?  Here they are

Monday, May 23, 2011

Review #97: Rain Brings Frogs

Lily (age 8):  "Rain Brings Frogs"!
Isaac (age 12):  By Maryann Cocca-Leffler.
Lily:  Cocca-Cola...  Hot Cocca!
Gracie (age 10):  Lily!
Isaac:  The book is about this kid named Nate.
Lily:  He's a "happy side" person.
Gracie:  He's always looking at the bright side.
Isaac:  For example, his sister got a present -- this purple and neon green scarf and hat.  And she thought it was the ugliest ever.  Then Nate saw it and said it was warm.  He found something good to say about it.
Gracie:  He's showing her the bright side.
Lily:  And there is a boy named Ben who has more ice cream than a banana split, and he says to everyone, "Nooo!! I'm not going to share with you!"  But Nate is sharing his.
Gracie:  Even though Nate's ice cream is a billion times smaller than the other guy's.
Lily:  Nate only has one scoop of ice cream, but he's sharing.
Dad:  Does this book help you learn anything?
Isaac:  Be content with what you have.
Lily:  Don't complain.  Be thankful for what you've got.
Dad:  Does our attitude depend on the things around us?
Lily:  Our attitude comes from what's inside.  It's pretty much love and self-control.
Dad:  Would you like to have Nate for a friend?
Gracie:  He would give me ice cream!
Lily:  Nate would be my BFF.
Gracie:  I already have a friend who is happy all the time.  I have Julia.
Dad:  How about you guys?  Could we say that you are like Nate?
Gracie:  No-ho-ho.  No one is THAT perfect.
Isaac:  Nobody could be like Nate.  Not ALL the time.
Gracie:  Except Julia.
Dad:  Could we work to be more like Nate?
Isaac:  Well, we do try to be like Jesus... which is an impossible goal.
Lily:  But we try our best.
Dad:  Are there legitimate things to be sad about?
Gracie:  Like if a person fell down and skinned their knee.
Lily:  But Gracie, there's a bright side -- at least the person didn't break their leg!
Dad:  Has that happened to you before in real life?  Did something disappointing happen, but you looked on the bright side?
Lily:  At Christmas.  Mom was in the hospital having a baby.  So I only got to open one present.  I was kind of sad about that.  We had to wait for three days to open the rest.
Dad:  Ha ha...  But what was the good thing in that situation?
Lily:  At least I got to open one present.
Dad:  What else?
Isaac:  And we got a BABY SISTER!
Lily:  Oh yeah.
Gracie:  Would you rather have gotten a few more Polly Pockets, or had a BABY come into the world?!
Lily:  Ba-by!
Gracie:  Hey... Mom wanted to review this book with us!
Dad:  That's right... what did you want to say about this book, Hon?
Mom:  Just that I loved it.  It gets your kids thinking about thankfulness.  It gets them looking on the bright side.  We all know people out there who are positive...
Gracie & Lily:  Julia!!!
Mom:  And Julia's mom is like that too.  They are a bright-side-of-things family.
Dad:  Is there specific "complaining" that we deal with in our family?  Maybe we can think through a good response instead?
Mom:  All the time when we are homeschooling they say, "I have to do Math again?  Every day?  I'm sick of Math..."
Dad:  So what would be a better response?
Gracie:  "We...  have the ability...  to learn."
Mom:  "I can do Math on my couch."
Gracie:  Yeah, you don't send us away to learn Math!
Dad:  "I can do Math in my jammies."
Gracie:  Yeah!!!
Dad:  How about positive examples.  Can you think of a time when one of our kids looked on the bright side in a hard situation?
Mom:  It seems like something just happened the other day...  What was it?  It seems like...  it might have been Isaac....
Gracie:  That figures.  He's the perfect kid.
Mom:  It's hard having one perfect sibling.  But on the bright side: at least you have four other imperfect siblings -- Ha ha ha ha!

Lee says, "It's so green"
Nate says, "It's so yummy"
- by Lily

When Mom says, "What a mess"
Nate says, "Yuuummm!"
- by Gracie

Jake says, "It's too long!"
Nate says, "But it's worth it!"
- by Isaac

Author/Illustrator: Maryann Cocca-Leffler
Published, 2011: Harper
Like it?  Here it is

Monday, May 16, 2011

National Doodle Day

The kids have some art for sale!

National Doodle Day is an annual project in which celebrity doodles are auctioned off to raise money for a charity.  Past doodlers include people like Jay Leno, Tony Bennett, and Barack Obama.  Proceeds from this year's sales will go to help people suffering from Neurofibromatosis, a disease in which tumors grow along the nervous system.

Someone from the National Doodle Day committee saw an article about the Z-Kids in the newspaper, felt they qualified as celebrities, and invited them to participate.

Here are the Z-Kids' doodles:

Many of the other folks who donated Doodles this year are also involved in children's literature.  Here are a few examples:

Calef Brown

Eric Carle

Neil Gaiman

Daniel Pinkwater

Peter Reynolds

Andy Runton

Michael Slack

Mo Willems

Aaron Zenz

You can click HERE to see 150 participants in this year's auction.
And you can click HERE for the auction (auction now over)
Or you can click HERE to to go straight to the Z-Kid doodles, pick up some original art, AND help out a great charitable cause!

Update:  Thanks to anyone who bid on the Z-kids' Doodles!  We helped to raise $159 toward the total auction tally!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Review #96: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

We have a special review for you today!  The kids and I started working on this post 3 months ago.  Yes, three months!  After lots of fun planning and hard work, we are proud to present our first video review!  Below you'll find our retelling of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon...  with shadow puppets...  in 92 seconds!

Author/Illustrator: Grace Lin
Published, 2009: Little Brown
Like it?  Here it is
90-Second Newbery: brainchild of James Kennedy
Original Music: composed by Victor Lams
Want to know what went into making this video??? Visit: Fuzzy Pizza

Monday, May 2, 2011

Review #95: All the Way to America

Isaac (age 12):  We read "All the Way to America."
Lily (age 8):  It's about a little shovel that gets passed down from generation to generation.
Dad:  And who has the shovel now?
Lily:  Dan...
Dad:  Yaccarino?
Lily:  Yeah, Yaccarino.
Isaac:  It starts out with this Italian guy... Michele...
Dad:  The author's great-grandfather.
Gracie (age 10):  Michele sounds like a girl name.
Isaac:  He was a farmer in Italy, but then he moved to America.  And when he left home, his mom and dad gave him this shovel.
Lily:  He had kids, and the kids had kids, and then those kids had kids.
Isaac:  The family passes on this little shovel from generation to generation.
Dad:  And each generation uses the shovel for something different.  If you're a baker, how do you use a little scooper?
Gracie:  Measure out flour.
Dad:  And if you are a barber, how do you use a shovel?
Gracie:  Shovel rock salt onto the sidewalk in front of your store.
Lily:  I have a question.  What does HE do with the shovel?  The author?  He's an artist.  What does he do with the shovel?
Dad:  What do you think?  If you are a storyteller, how do you use a shovel?
Gracie:  You make a book about it!
Lily:  Oh.  Yeah!
Isaac:  I think the pictures are awesome looking.  They have very bold, solid colors -- not all blended together.  And they are very sharp pictures, not sketchy.
Gracie:  Everything that isn't important in the illustrations is just done in outlines.
Isaac:  Yeah, it's all outlines in the backgrounds.
Dad:  Which is a cool technique -- it helps you to focus on the main subjects.
Isaac:  And each person has one specific thing that they always wear.  One guy always has this green checkered hat.  One guy always wears a stripey orange and yellow shirt.
Lily:  One guy always wears green pants.
Gracie:  Because the people in the book grow up.  They get older.
Isaac:  The way they look is always changing.  But by having one thing about their clothes stay the same, you know who is who, and it will be easier to keep track of them.
Lily:  I think the family really likes food.
Gracie:  There is food on almost every single page!
Isaac:  This is a historical book, but it's not something like... President Abraham Lincoln.
Dad:  It's not about national history.
Isaac:  No, but it IS about his family history.  His family tree.
Gracie:  I think their family tree is a tomato tree!  Oh wait, there are no tomato trees, are there.
Dad:  Actually quite a few things get passed down from generation to generation...
Lily:  The little shovel.  And a tomato sauce recipe.
Gracie:  And advice: Work hard, try to enjoy life, and always love your family.
Dad:  And always use this shovel.
Lily:  Hahahah...
Gracie:  And always like food!
Dad:  And never change your clothes.
Gracie:  Ha ha ha!
Dad:  So at this point in a review, I would normally say something like, "We just read a book about Dan Yaccarino's family history... now let's bring it home.  Let me tell you a few things about our family history."
Gracie:  Our family has history.
Dad:  Yes, however... I don't really know that much about our family history.  Which is kind of sad.  I know some names.  I could tell you that Jacob had Elmer.  Elmer had Grandpa.  And Grandpa had me.
Gracie:  Grandpa didn't have you!  Grammy had you.  Grandpa... helped.
Dad:  But we are lucky today!  Who is right here with us today that can tell us about some family history?
Kids:  Granny!
Gracie:  She's our great-grandma!
Dad:  We happen to be recording this over Easter weekend.  And because of our big family get together, we have Grammy's mom Granny here!
Gracie:  Granny, can we interview you about our family history?
Granny (Bess Hankinson, age 85):  You can go right ahead and interview me.
Gracie:  My first question is...  Were we always in Michigan?  Or did we come from China or something.
Granny:  Well, I'll tell you.  My mother and dad were both from England.
Lily:  Cool!
Granny:  They both came over from England when they were children.  My mother grew up in Canada before she moved to the United States.  Her name was Mabel Kitley.  My dad's name was John Towlerton.  And as a child, he was raised in Mexico.
Dad:  Really!  Canada and Mexico?  And they met up in the middle.  I didn't know that.
Gracie:  So our family is partly from England, partly from Canada, and partly from Mexico?
Granny:  Yes.  John's parents were Mary and James Towlerton.  My great-granddad wrote them and said, "There is work down in Mexico - come on down."  So my grandparents took my dad and his brother, and they came right from England and went to Mexico.  They started working in the gold mines in Mexico.
Gracie:  Gasp!  That's so sweet!  That's awesome!  The gold mines?!
Lily:  Our family worked in a goldmine!  Did he get a lot of gold from the goldmine?
Granny:  Oh, my grandfather James became very wealthy.
Dad:  So, they were actually finding gold?
Granny:  Yes, he was a very rich man.  He ended up in charge of the mines.  He was the boss.  But my dad didn't want to work there any more, so he ran away.
Isaac:  Why did he run away?
Granny:  He didn't want to work down under the ground.
Lily:  It would be dangerous.
Granny:  He was growing up, and he didn't want to be underground the rest of his life.  His mother was very sad about that because she only had the two boys.
Dad:  And how old was your dad at that point?
Granny:  He was almost 25.  So he ran away and came all the way up to Michigan by hopping trains.
Dad:  Wow - train hopping...
Granny:  In those days people did that.  And he would stop along the way... find some work... get a little money... get some food... keep going.  He did that all the way up to Michigan to meet his little American Rose.  My mother.
Gracie:  That's sweet.
Granny:  Mom and Dad met at a party.  They went around together for a little while.  Then they got married.  At that time, it was the Great Depression.  So they lived with my mother's mom and dad for almost 8 years.  Because there wasn't any work.  So people would all live together -- one of them would try to get work, and then they could share the food and rent.
Isaac:  That is interesting....
Granny:  It was hard during those days.  We didn't have a car until I was quite old.  Never had a telephone.  Well, a year after I was born, they had my sister Mabel.
Dad:  Do you remember Auntie Mabel?
Gracie:  Oh yeah!  Sometimes when we are at Granny's cottage she comes by.
Granny:  Yes, Auntie Mabel.  Then 13 months later they had a little boy, my brother Art.  Then a while later they had another little boy named Jimmy.
Gracie:  Aw, Jimmy.
Granny:  Then my wealthy granddad sent money for all of us to go down to Mexico.  Guadalajara, Mexico is where my granddad lived.  We went on the train.  It took a long time to get there - it's not like the trains today.
Dad:  And how old were you on this trip?
Granny:  I was about 5 years old.  We went and we stayed in Mexico.  And my little brother Jimmy got sick.  They boiled the water... they did everything they were supposed to do.  But he died in Mexico.
Gracie:  Ohhhh...
Granny:  So he is buried in Mexico.  We felt so bad.  And so we came back on the bus to Michigan.
Gracie:  How long did that take?
Granny:  A long time.  And I got sick on the bus.  And they had to stop the bus, and wash the whole bus out.
Dad:  Oh no -- it was THAT kind of sick.
Granny:  Ha ha ha, yeah.  Mess.  A mess.
Gracie:  Oh yuck!  Ha ha...
Granny:  Then a little while later, my parents had another baby, and her name was Alice.
Gracie:  Baby Alice.
Granny:  And she was MY baby.  Because my mother was so weak after she had the baby.  She could hardly hold her.  So she gave her to me, and I rocked her in the chair.  I was 8 years old then.  And Alice has always been my baby.
Isaac:  You told us about your side of the family, but what about Papa?
Gracie:  Yeah, what about Papa's side of the family?
Granny:  Well, they came from England too.
Dad:  So both sides came from England.
Granny:  Yes, they did.  Papa's parents were Sarah and Joseph Hankinson.  His dad's name was Joseph, just like Papa's name.  They were very good people.  They always went to church.  And that's where I met Joe.  Papa.  We went to "Young Peoples" together.
Dad:  Like a church youth group.
Gracie:  That's nice.
Granny:  One day we were all riding on the bus, and my mother said, "Look -- isn't that a nice young man?"  Then Papa and I "went together" for 5 or 6 years.  We were just kids when we first started.  But for three of those years, he was in the the Navy air force.
Gracie:  I thought we had a relative in the Navy.
Granny:  Then he came home from the service.  One time we stopped at a light.  And he reached in his pocket to get his hanky, and he brought out a ring and asked if I would marry him.
Dad:  And what do you think Granny said?
Lily:  Yes!
Granny:  Yes, I did.  Then we got married in June of 1947.  Papa was a great man for building things.  You know the cottage up north at Higgins Lake... Papa built that.
Gracie:  He built it?  He built that big cottage?!
Dad:  You didn't know that, Gracie?
Gracie:  That Great. Big. House?  It's a beautiful house - he built that?  That's amazing.
Granny:  He built about 5 houses.  For friends.  He never had any lessons in building.  He had a book he would read every once in a while.
Gracie:  Wow.
Granny:  He loved to do it.  He loved to help people.  They knew who to come to if they wanted something done.  They came to Papa, and he'd go and help them.  That's Papa for you.  He was always helping everybody.
Dad:  So you guys have some good heritage behind you.
Granny:  If somebody needs something, they can come to you and say, "Now Gracie, can you help me..."
Gracie:  Sure!
Granny:  See, and then you can help them.
Gracie:  Actually, Isaac is the best builder out of us kids.  I mainly like to cook.
Dad:  You can feed people while Isaac is building them houses.
Lily:  I like to..... um.... I like to swim.
Gracie:  Thank-you, Granny!  This was awesome!  This was great.
Granny:  I never knew I had such an exciting life, ha ha...
Gracie:  It was great!!!
Lily:  And Gracie thought this was going to be boring!
Gracie:  It was all really interesting!  I can't believe we have such an awesome history!
Lily:  And we'll pass the story on to our grandchildren.
Gracie:  Do you have anything of sentimental value that has been passed down from generation to generation?
Granny:  Well, I have a lot of things at the cottage.  Tea cups from England.  Every time my mother and dad went away, they'd bring a cup and saucer back.
Lily:  Do you have anything, liiiiiiike..... a RUBY?
Granny:  Ha ha ha, No... I don't have anything like that.
Gracie:  Do you have any gold from your granddad's gold mine?  That would be cool!
Lily:  I think that's really cool that our great-great-great-grandfather worked at a gold mine.
Gracie:  Well, I think that I'm upset because I didn't get any gold.
Dad:  That would have been better than having a shovel get passed down from generation to generation, eh?  Gold nuggets for everybody!
Lily:  Yeah!
Gracie:  Gold nuggets all around!
Granny:  Well, I love to have all you kids around.  I have 4 children.  And 10 grandchildren.  And 20 great-grandchildren.  We had the family together for Easter today.  And someone said to me, "Look what you started!"  Ha ha ha...
Dad:  Yeah, these guys wouldn't be here -- so many people wouldn't be here -- if not for Granny...
Gracie:  You had kids, and they had kids, and they had kids...  Our family will grow and grow and grow -- and take over the world!
Dad:  And we'll put Granny's picture on all of our coins.

the Yaccarino family tree, by Isaac

great-great-great-grandpa James digging for gold (with Dan Yaccarino's shovel!) by Lily

Mexico John meets Canada Mabel, by Gracie

Thanks to Granny for the interview!  And thanks to Dan Yaccarino for making this wonderful book -- it kicked off a fun family conversation, and without it, some great family history would have been lost to us!

Author/Illustrator: Dan Yaccarino
Published, 2011: Knopf
Like it?  Here it is