Monday, May 30, 2011

Blue Star Museums

I recently heard about this initiative and wanted to pass on the information. The Blue Star Museums program started in the summer of 2010. The program is continuing this summer. Blue Star Museums are museums that offer free entrance to active duty personnel and their families from Memorial Day, May 30, 2011 to Labor Day September 5, 2011. The FAQ page states five immediate family members may attend with appropriate documentation. If you click on the FAQ link, you can get information about the documentation required and answers to other questions you may have.

The NEA provides a map of the covered museums by state. This can help you find out which museums in your area or places you plan to visit this summer are participating. If you have military family visiting this summer, you also may want to check out which museums are participating, as this can be an inexpensive way to have a family outing. As I wrote about previously the more discounts you use, the more outings you can afford to have on your vacation.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ben and Me

Robert Lawon's Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin by His Good Mouse Amosis a fictionalized biography of Ben Franklin. Lawson uses a unique narrator to write the story of Franklin's life. Instead of the traditional non-fiction biography, Lawson has a mouse write the story.

The introduction to this book has always amused me. Lawson begins the introduction by telling readers that the tale they are about to read was found in a mouse home and established as authentic by experts. The author, Amos Mouse contends that he, not Ben Franklin, was responsible for Franklin's success. The story begins with Amos teaching Ben Franklin how to make the Franklin stove to keep him from freezing to death.

As the story moves to Ben's role in the Revolution, Amos tells how he helped Ben achieve his success. Readers will be interested to discover that Thomas Jefferson also had a mouse accompany him to the Continental Congress to help him write the Declaration of Independence. Amos even takes credit for Ben choosing to go to France to get help for the colonists.

Amos gives a preview of the upcoming French Revolution as he organizes various factions in an uprising against the Versailles Palace mice to rescue a mouse friend's seven children.

The humor in the story has continued to draw children to this story. It is a great chance for parents and teachers to help students to make connections to the factual Ben Franklin.

Ben and Me Free Teaching Resources:

Ben and Me Video Part 1 Part 2

10 Question Online Quiz

California Online Resources for Educators

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Make Way for Ducklings

Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey is the 1942 Caldecott Medal winning picture book.

I originally heard this picture book when Captain Kangaroo introduced the story on his children's morning show. I thought it was a familiar classic, but I am finding that there are so many books that some books are lost in the shuffle.

This was a favorite of my Mom's because while she raised her children in the suburbs, Mom was born and lived in Boston prior to moving to the country. She would often get lost in the story as she remembered her own childhood experiences in the places the ducks visited. I find this book has been a great gift to send homesick friends and family who miss Boston.

The story follows a duck couple as they look for a place to make a nest in Boston. They tour Boston as they check out potential sites. When the ducklings are born, the story follows the ducklings’ adventures as they travel to the Public Gardens. The illustrations are beautiful and unusually done in brown instead of traditional black and white or colored options.

This is a classic story that has been shared by generations of children. If this book is not on your bookshelf or one you have checked out of your local library, it is well worth exploring.

Free Teaching Resources:

Geography Lesson Plan

Lesson Plan Includes Maps

Live Oak Media

Robert McCloskey Horn Book Radio Interview

Teacher Vision Activities

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Minute Boys of Lexington

The Minute Boys of Lexingtonis a historical fiction account of the Battles of Lexington and Concord written from a boy's perspective by Edward Stratemeyer. Unlike the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and Bobbsey Twin Series I previously blogged about that Stratemeyer's syndicate wrote, there are some indications this may have been his own work.

The story focuses on Roger Morse and his young friends as they participate in the events leading up to and the day of the Battles of Lexington and Concord. The focus on the boys is designed to give children a feeling for what it would be like to have been a child during the Revolution and to give them a chance to travel along with Roger and his friends as they experience the challenges.

The author clearly tells the story from an American boy's perspective. There is no attempt to balance the story with an English perspective of the events. As I mentioned previously these stories can be helpful in providing color and contrast to traditional historical accounts of the events.

My library research can only find two books in the series although the original writing indicates that the intention was to write a series about the Revolution. I am trying to get a copy of The Minute Boys of Bunker Hill (w/glossary)through our regional loan system. While the series was republished in the 1990's it does not seem to have been widely publicized. It is harder to locate than I expected.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Let it Begin Here! April 19, 1775 The Day the American Revolution Began

I first went looking for one picture book with this title only to find there were two with very similar titles. I requested both from the library to review. Sometimes books are republished, but in this case the books not only have different authors, but approach the topic differently.

In Don Brown's version of Let It Begin Here!: April 19, 1775: The Day the American Revolution Began (Actual Times)the focus is on the British role in the Battle. The story starts with King George and follows the conflict to the Battles of Lexington and Concord. This makes this book a great companion to the hour by hour coverage given in Dennis Brinnel Fradin's Let It Begin Here!: Lexington & Concord: First Battles of the American Revolution. That book provides readers with more of a colonist's perspective on the events. You can read my review of that book here.

The illustrations in this book are more cartoonish and remind me a bit of Jean Fritz's books. They do not distract from the story and may engage children in reading about the events.

It is interesting to compare and contrast the viewpoints in the two novels. Brown is horrified by some of the actions of the colonists, but never discusses the pillaging done by the British troops. Reading both books provides a chance to talk to children about bias and the importance of reading multiple sources to get an accurate picture of events.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Cricket in Times Square

The Cricket in Times Square is a wonderful story of friendship between a cricket, a mouse, a cat, and the boy who takes care of the cricket. Chester Cricket finds his way to New York in a picnic basket and Harry Cat and Tucker Mouse help him settle in to life in New York's Time Square. Mario, the son of newsstand owners struggles to find a way to keep Chester healthy and to get Mama and Papa to allow him to keep Chester in the newsstand.

Harry and Tucker involve Chester in a variety of adventures that cause friction with Mario's family. Eventually Mama and Papa almost loose the newsstand when a party causes a fire. Chester feeling horribly guilty begins to chirp out music he learned during the party and draws a crowd who begin to buy papers from Mama and Papa's failing newsstand. While Chester enjoys helping save the business, eventually like all wild creatures, he longs to return home. The end has Chester making a choice about returning home and Mario dealing with the choice his friend makes for freedom.

This is the first in a series of books Selden wrote about these characters. While not all of them are currently in print, most are available at your local library if you wish to read more of their adventures.

Free Curriculum Links:

Columbus State University Unit Plan

Cricket Cubes

Cricket in Times Square Interactives

Literature Guide

Macmillan Teacher's Guide

Questions, English Lessons, Activities

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Edward Stratemeyer the Man Behind Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys

I was a huge fan of the Bobbsey Twins, later Nancy Drew and even read some of my brother's Hardy Boy books as a child. As a teenager, I was amazed to find that Laura Lee Hope, Carolyn Keene, and Franklin W. Dixon were not real authors. The books were published under Edward Stratemeyer's syndication. In fact, there have been times when Nancy Drew had a male author.

As I talk with family and friends, I find there are many people who are still not aware of this, so I thought I would publish a blog with some resources for those who are interested in learning more.

Franklin W. Dixon

The History of Nancy Drew

Who was Carolyn Keene? An interview with Mildred Wirt Benson, the Original Ghostwriter for the Nancy Drew Mystery Novels.

Who Wrote the Bobbsey Twins?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Frog and Toad are Friends

Frog and Toad Are Friends is part of a Frog and Toad early reader series that focus on the two friends, Frog and Toad. The books are designed in chapters with each chapter telling a story about the two main characters. The focus of all the stories in the series is friendship.

These books have remained popular despite their simple plots and basic illustrations. Our family is on our third generation of children to read these books. They still seem to enchant.

If you enjoy Frog and Toad, Lobel has some less known books that you may want to explore with your children.

I listed some free resources for those looking to explore the book further.

Arnold Lobel

Book Report Template

California Teacher Resource Guide

Frog and Toad Resource List


Monday, May 16, 2011

Usborne Time Traveler

Usborne Time Traveler was originally published as a series of four books. This volume contains Knights & Castles, Viking Raiders, Rome & Romans, and Pharaohs & Pyramids.

The series uses time travels as a vehicle to interest children in learning about these time periods. The illustrations are cartoonish, but educationally relevant. Each book starts with a child putting on the time helmet, "setting the place indicator and the date dial" and then proceeds with the informational portion of the books. The first section of the book deals with the people the children will meet. In each series, the children meet a family. In the Middle Ages children follow Baron Godfrey's family. Children follow Knut and his family to learn about Vikings. Petronius and his family introduce children to life in Rome. Egypt is introduced through reading about Nakht and his family. Each book ends with a quiz for children to review the information they learned.

This is a fun series to engage children in learning about history. There is a great deal of information embedded in a fun format. This will keep kids reading and wanting to learn more about the topics.

From an educational point of view, having these as individual volumes makes sense. It can be distracting to try to teach kids about one topic and have children flipping through the other topics, instead. However, many kids love general interest books that cover a variety of topics. Therefore, this could be a great book for a classroom library or for a child's personal library.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Bread and Jam for Frances

Bread and Jam for Frances is part of a series of books written about Frances the badger and her family. Many of the books tell stories both parents and children can relate regarding going to bed, eating, adding a sibling, and a variety of other issues.

I borrowed this book from the library to review because when I mentioned Frances to a few people they were not familiar with the name and I wondered if others had missed her in the midst of so many newer children's series. Harper Collins has released many of the Frances stories as part of their I Can Read Series. The copy I borrowed of Bread and Jam for Frances is the I Can Read version not the original format.

I had an amazing second grade teacher who filled her classroom with wonderful children's books that the school did not provide. This is how I originally encountered Bread and Jam for Frances. Frances is a young badger who enjoys bread and jam and cannot understand the need for a varied diet. She sings songs; trades her lunches, and constantly complains about eating anything but bread and jam. Her mother tries an experiment. She allows Frances to have nothing but bread and jam for all her meals and snacks. Frances of course misses the other fine meals her mother makes. She eventually asks her mother for something other than bread and jam having learned her lesson.
This is a good early reader series for children. Harper Collins lists it as a level 2 in their I Can Read Series. Most of the books are available for purchase and in your local libraries.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Let it Begin Here! Lexington and Concord First Battles of the American Revolution

Let It Begin Here!: Lexington & Concord: First Battles of the American Revolution is a picture book account of the Battle of Lexington and Concord written by Dennis Brindell Fradin and illustrated by Larry Day.

I came across this book title while trying to find a copy of Day of Glory: The Guns at Lexington and Concord from the library. I put a reserve request in only to discover there are actually two books with similar titles. I have Let It Begin Here!: April 19, 1775: The Day the American Revolution Began by Don Brown on reserve now and will review that when I get my copy from the library.

One of the greatest strengths of this books was Larry Day's illustrations. The book opens with a battle map that outlines the trip from Boston to Concord. The watercolor pictures bring the story alive and this makes the book a resource for both younger children and older students. The pictures are not cartoonish or juvenile. It is a good chance to bring art into a discussion of history.

Dennis Brindell Fradin chose an interesting format for his picture book. He starts with a Who's Who dividing characters on the American side and the British side. The next page is an Introduction that outlines the history leading up to the events of Lexington and Concord. The book continues in a less detailed hour-by-hour format than found in Day of Glory. This is expected because of the picture book versus chapter book format. However, I do think some of the details of the events could have been more detailed and some of the less important information left out.

For instance, there is speculation about whom the colonists got their information from regarding Gage's movements. Gage's wife has always been suspect because of her American heritage, but there is no proof that she leaked the information. While this author acknowledges there is no proof, twice in the book he strongly hints that she is responsible for betraying her husband without ever providing compelling evidence.

The book ends with a quick summary of the war and a page I found interesting called What Happened to the People. This page gives a few details of the lives of some of the figures on the American and British side of the Battle. My only issue was Mrs. Gage being listed as side unknown. That seemed unnecessary and inappropriate. The book would have been stronger without the attacks on Mrs. Gage and more of Spenser's focus on the people and the towns that came together to fight the Regulars.

I would recommend this book as a resource for parents and teachers looking for children's books on the topic. The detailed hourly accounts provide a good format for examining the battle. Children can make their own outline and add details as they learn more from other resources.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is a wonderful story of two children who decide to run away and live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The story was published in 1968 and won a Newberry Award.

The story combines elements of realistic fiction and mystery. As the story ages, children are starting to appreciate it as historical fiction as they learn more about what life was like for children in the late 1960's. One great activity for parents or teachers reading this book with children is to discuss the differences between Jamie and Claudia's life experiences and current life for children. The cost of living is one of the most interesting discussions I have had with children.

Mrs. Frankweiler tells the story to her lawyer. Early on, you can understand the relationship between her lawyer, the children, and Mrs. Frankweiler.

My fascination with the story has always revolved around the children living in the museum. The main plot however, revolves around Claudia and Jamie trying to discover if Michelangelo created an angel that the museum has purchased from Mrs. Frankeweiler. The children are not handed the answer to their question, but given one shot to discover the answer in the mixed up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

The story does not address the dangers of running away. I have read criticisms that it presents an idealized view of children surviving on their own. I can say honestly I read and enjoyed this book as a child and shared it with many younger relatives with none of them who truly believed they could run away and safely survive in an art museum. It was fun to contemplate what it would take. It also was a good chance to discuss the financial costs of living independently. Claudia and Jamie discuss the challenges of budgeting their limited funds in order to survive the trip.

Another criticism of this book is the lack of concern for the family left behind. Jamie expresses some regret, but Claudia is frustrated and searching for something. This book is not a statement about family life, but if Claudia's reaction bothers people, it is a chance to discuss what the family and Claudia could have done differently to address her issues. We all know of children who have these frustrations. Claudia can be a way of opening the door to discussing alternate solutions.

I have found success using this book as a literature circle book to discuss the story or as a read aloud that involves think alouds. These methods seem to develop some interesting discussions. For many students, I found it still required generating some interest, helping make connections, in order to have a more successful independent read. The students that did not like the book were often the ones I did not spend as much time promoting the book to prior and during reading.

Free Resources:

Comprehension Questions from Scholastic

Schools of California Online Guide for Teachers Curriculum Guide

Wadsworth Elementary Curriculum Guide

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


I was introduced to Skip-Bo at a summer retreat with some teaching colleagues. It was so addictive I had my husband stop on the way home from picking me up to get a set of cards so we could play. He was quickly a fan, too. I have since purchased Skip-Bo Junior to engage younger members of the family in playing the game.

The basic rules of the game are easy to teach and to follow for children who can count and have the patience to follow suit and wait for turns. For parents who are looking an alternative to Uno Skip-Bo is a good choice.

Card games are convenient to stuff in a bag when you need something to keep children and adults busy. We often take Skip-Bo or one of our other card games with us because they are easier to pack than a traditional board game and they keep not only us, but often the kids who are in are party amused during waits or weather delays. Unlike an expensive computer game, if lost the replacement cost is not nearly as painful. Most of these card games are not expensive and are great suggestions for family members looking for inexpensive gifts. I use them to add to Christmas stockings, Easter baskets, and for other fun occasions.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Detectives in Togas

Detectives in Togas combines historical fiction with mystery to create a fun children's novel. I find historical fiction is a great way to supplement the study of history. When an author finds a way to combine another genre with historical fiction it just increases the ability to draw children in to reading it.

This is another republished older book. The original publication date was 1956. It is still in print and available for purchase.

Detectives in Togas is the story of Roman students and their teacher trying to solve the mystery of an attack on their teacher and graffiti that has appeared on a Roman Temple. One of their classmates is jailed for the crime because of actions that occurred during class.

As the mystery unfolds, the reader learns more about Roman society, government, and history. The book is more meaningful if students have some background and knowledge of Roman history, but it can be read as a mystery without too much additional research.

I will be looking for the sequel at the library. It appears the boys are in trouble again. One of their fathers is in danger of being assassinated.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Red Pyramid

The Red Pyramid is the first book in Rick Riordan's Kane Chronicles series. While the Percy Jackson series have focused on Greek and now Roman mythology, the Kane chronicles introduce readers to Egyptian mythology.

The format for this series is also a departure from the Percy Jackson series. The story starts with a warning to the reader that reminds me a bit of Alcatraz . Riordan draws the reader in by having the characters leave a message for some mysterious person who will be coming for what they are leaving in a locker, indicating that the reader is in danger just by picking up the novel to follow their journey.

This novel also departs from the previous novels by using the first person instead of the traditional third person voice. Sadie and Carter tell the story trading off chapters.

Sadie and Carter are brother and sister raised apart. Her grandparents raise Sadie and Carter travels constantly with his father. While this might seem like a bad custody story, there is a reason for the children's separation, which the reader soon learns.

While Riordan invited readers to learn more about Greek myths in his Olympian series, this series seems like it requires more background knowledge. He spent a significant amount of time in the Percy Jackson series helping readers less familiar with Greek mythology. This novel seems to expect readers to become educated or have more of a background in Egyptian history. I wish this novel had been available when I was teaching Egyptian history and mythology to fourth graders. There would have been a chance to apply what they knew.

Sadie's character is the reader's voice in the novel, as she was not raised with Carter and his father's knowledge of Egyptian history. However, as we discover more about Sadie's heritage, she loses some of that voice for a reader who may not be familiar with the stories of Isis, Osiris, Horus, and Set.

I am enjoying the series and looking forward to the The Throne of Fire due out May 3. If your child is not as familiar with Egyptian history there are some great resources. Mary Pope Osborne's non-fiction series includes one on Egypt, Mummies & Pyramids (Magic Tree House Research Guide). Eyewitness has long been one of my favorite non-fiction resources and they have two books in their series that would be useful Ancient Egypt and Eyewitness Pyramid .

Riordan has given Carter and Sadie choices that Percy did not have. Readers of the Percy Jackson series will notice the author has managed to avoid contradictions when presenting two opposing religious theories. It will be interesting to see where he proceeds with the characters and the plot as the series continues.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Charlie Card Discounts

This applies to those in the Massachusetts area that use the MBTA passes that are now called Charlie Cards. I know over the years there have been various promotions to encourage the use of the MBTA, but there is now a formal online free Charlie Card Discount Booklet that will tell you where to show your Charlie pass to get savings. Like the PBS card, the discounts range from shopping to attractions, and theater. You will want to compare your discounts to see which one provides the best options. Unlike some of the other discount options I have discussed, many of the Charlie Card discounts do not cover multiple users. Depending on the discount, it could be a way to add to the group savings or a great deal for one person wanting to save.

As I advice with all discount cards it is always best to call if you have any questions about what the discount covers or if it is still valid.

If you do not live in Massachusetts but have a transit pass in another state, check online to see if there are any similar programs.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

History News Series

If you are looking for some fun and educational reading material to supplement your history curriculum the History News series published by Candlewick publishing may be something to research.

I used The Egyptian News, The Greek News, and The Roman News for two years. The Explorers Newswas added to my classroom library when the curriculum changed and I needed new supplemental material. These books offer a variety of learning opportunities in a fun format.

The books are set up in a magazine style. The articles reflect the various types of writing one would see in a newspaper/magazine. The articles attempt to create the feeling for what might have appeared if the articles were written at the time the events occurred, but in modern language students will connect to and comprehend. The books even include letters to the editor about topics that might have been debated at the time.

These books provide a wonderful opportunity to discuss the difference between factual reporting and opinions. Students can be asked to identify and support their reasons for labeling pieces as factual or as opinion articles and learn to apply this skill to current news material, too.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

PBS Member Discounts

While some people take advantage of the privileges of membership, some are not aware that becoming a PBS member offers more than just a charitable donation. It also can provide discounts depending on how well your local station markets itself to donors.

Our area is served by three stations. The Boston Station WGBH is the largest and offers an extensive lists of discounts available to members through their Perks program here. The discounts include activities for adults and families as well as shopping.

New Hampshire has a smaller list, but should be checked for updates. Click on the Member Card Website for an updated list. Some of the museums and other attractions popular in this state are covered for members.

Rhode Island surprisingly has a list that is highly competitive with Boston's. In fact, there are many Massachusetts’ attractions on Rhode Island's discount list.

Like the AAA discounts, they are not always as good as the library passes, but if you or family member is a member of your local PBS station, you should be using these discounts. Review your options and take the best discounts you have available to you. It is not a reason to join, but if you have spent the money, get the best value for your money by using the discounts for trips or shopping you already plan on doing.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Day of Glory the Guns at Lexington and Concord

Edited June 5, 2018 to add I went looking for this book to use with a family member and much to my delight discovered it is available now as a Kindle e-book with the original cover art.

I thought about reviewing Day of Glory: The Guns at Lexington and Concordtoo late to request the book from the library in time to reread and write a review in time for Patriot's Day. It did remind me to put a request into our local library for the book.

The book was originally published in 1955 and picked up as a Scholastic Book selection in the 1970's. At some point Scholastic printed the book again in the 1990's under their Apple Paperback brand. I have not been able to locate a date because the library copy I borrowed still lists the original 1955 copyright date.

The story is a historical fiction account of the Battle of Lexington and Concord. The book is formatted in hour chapters beginning at 7PM the night before the battle and ending at 7PM the day of the battle. The book is historical fiction because it attempts to provide more emotional and personal details and create a story line to guide the readers through the events. This is what makes this novel a great book to accompany what can be dry historical accounts of the battle itself. Students can and should be asked to verify information for accuracy.

What I liked about this book is that it does not only focus on Lexington and Concord and the generic Minutemen who fought. It discusses the towns and locations where the volunteers came from to fight. While I was aware of many of these stories, I think it is important for students to hear them. Not all the Minutemen arrived at Lexington. It took time for the news of the Regulars arrival to get to these towns, the men to assemble, and then travel to the areas. This book does a good job explaining how the residents learned of the British troop movements and the journeys required to make it to the battle locations. It also explains the British plans and movements that are rarely addressed in most children's historical accounts of the battle.

This book is not currently in print, but it is commonly available in used books sites and as I demonstrated your public library. As with all resources, I suggest reading it yourself before using it with your children. This story would make a good read aloud in conjunction with other non-fiction historical accounts.

If you can find the original book, the cover art is better. The original cover depicts an artistic view of the Minutemen walking. The Apple cover is of children and is less focused on the content of the novel. The cover is hardly essential to the content of the writing.

Additional Links:

Acton Minutemen

Danvers Alarm List

Menotomy Minutemen

Minuteman National Park

Sudbury Minutemen