phd mama

from diapers to deconstruction


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Unicorns: The Loveliest List of All

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I’ll be honest, this list is short in spite of reading rather a lot of unicorn books. There are a lot of sappy, sentimental literary tributes to these mythical creatures out there, and that’s not really our family reading style. Still, both my girls stake their place in what is no doubt a rather long line of little girls who long for pet unicorns. So here are some silly and whimsical stories that play with our fascination with a beast who’s eluded our capture, but never our imaginations.

  1. Claire and the Unicorn: Happy Ever After by B.G. Hennessy and Susan Mitchell
  2. Day Dreamer: A Journey of Imagination by Emily Winfield Martin
  3. Goldilicious by Victoria Kann
  4. “Help!” by Shel Silverstein (from Falling Up)
  5. Lily the Unicorn by Dallas Clayton
  6. Nobody Rides the Unicorn by Adrian Mitchell and Stephen Lambert
  7. Stories of Unicorns by Rosie Dickins and Maria Cristina Lo Cascio
  8. The Tale of the Unicorn by Otfried Preussler and Gennady Spirin
  9. Uni the Unicorn: A Story about Believing by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Brigette Barrager
  10. “The Unicorn” by Shel Silverstein
  11. Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea


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For the Love of Elephants

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When my younger daughter initiated a study of elephants (her favorite animal), I didn’t anticipate the emotional reading we had in store. Along with silly stories and scientific facts, we read stories of animal cruelty and elephants’ bravery. My daughter loves elephants even more now (and understands why we shouldn’t ride on them!), and her affection is tempered by a burgeoning respect for the dignity of all creatures, great and small. By looking at elephants across different cultures, throughout history, and from different disciplinary perspectives, we all came away with new-found appreciation for these impressive animals.

  1. Ballet of the Elephants by Leda Schubert and Robert Andrew Parker
  2. Big Beasts: Elephant by Stephanie Turnbull
  3. Watch Elephant by DK
  4. Elephants by Sydnie Meltzer Kleinhenz
  5. Elephants: An Affectionate Portrait by Jean Brody
  6. Elephants Can Paint, Too! by Katya Arnold
  7. Elephants of Africa by Gail Gibbons
  8. Elephants of the Tsunami by Jana Laiz and Tara Cafiero
  9. Elephants: From Trunk to Tail by Lucy Sackett Smith
  10. Endangered Elephants by Bobbie Kalman
  11. Elephant Prince: The Story of Ganesh by Amy Novesky and Belgin Wedman
  12. Support The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee
  13. Mission: Elephant Rescue by Ashlee Brown Blewett and Daniel Raven-Ellison
  14. “Stand Back,” Said the Elephant, “I’m Going to Sneeze!” by Patricia Thomas and Wallace Tripp
  15. Tarra & Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Best Friends by Carol Buckley


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Dragons and Dynasties

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Our literary travels to China introduced us to fairy tales, folk tales, poetry, everyday images, immigrant stories, and so much more. The variety of sources helps us see the diverse perspectives even within a single nation, because there are so many stories and so much history that make up China. My children especially loved the stories about dragons, and we learned how much of our own cultural values and perspectives are invested in our ideas about dragons, whom Chinese stories regard as signs of good luck! And we felt lucky indeed to journey through time and space for a reading adventures in China.

  1. Beautiful Warrior: The Legend of the Nun’s Kung Fu by Emily Arnold McCully
  2. Beyond the Great Mountains: A Visual Poem about China by Eo Young
  3. Watch Sesame Street’s Big Bird in China
  4. C is for China by Sungwan So
  5. China: The CIA World Factbook
  6. Color the Chinese Flag and Map by Crayola
  7. The Chinese Siamese Cat by Amy Tan and Gretchen Schields
  8. Dim Sum for Everyone by Grace Lin
  9. Watch Families of China
  10. Jin Jin the Dragon by Grace Chang and Chong Chang
  11. Liang and the Magic Paintbrush by Demi
  12. Lion Dancer: Ernie Wan’s Chinese New Year by Katie Waters, Madeline Slovenz-Low, and Martha Cooper
  13. Listen to Little Dragon Tales: Chinese Children’s Songs
  14. Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China by Ed Young
  15. The Long-Haired Girl by Doreen Rappaport and Yang Ming-Yi
  16. The Magic Horse of Han Gan by Chen Jiang Hong
  17. Picture a Country: China by Henry Pluckrose
  18. Mouse Match by Ed Young
  19. My Chinatown: One Year in Poems by Kam Mak
  20. Oranges on Golden Mountain by Elizabeth Partridge and Aki Sogabe
  21. The Paper Dragon by Marguerite Davol and Robert Sabuda
  22. The Race for the Chinese Zodiac by Gabrielle Wang and Sally Rippin
  23. The Real Story of Stone Soup by Ying Chang Compestine and Stephane Forish
  24. Red Butterfly: How a Princess Smuggled the Secret of Silk Out of China by Deborah Noyes and Sophie Blackall
  25. The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin
  26. Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China by Ai-Ling Louie and Ed Young

 


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Our Place in Space

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One of the coolest things about our unit on space was seeing how the content is always being revised. We read older books that still counted Pluto as a planet and newer books that explained its new status; the changing discoveries displayed in the texts reminded us how much more there is to explore! In this list, I’ve tried to only include the most updated texts, though there may be some exceptions where the rest of the content is strong. And I’m sure in a few years, the content in even the best of these will require updating. That’s part of the pleasure of learning and recognizing that our place in space is always open to new knowledge.

  1. Watch The Cat in the Hat Knows a lot about that: Space is the Place!
  2. Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars: Space Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian
  3. Watch Eyewitness: Planets
  4. If You Decide to Go to the Moon by Faith McNulty and Steven Kellogg
  5. The Moon Book by Gail Gibbons
  6. Mousetronaut by Astronaut Mark Kelly, illustrated by C. F. Payne
  7. Planets by Elizabeth Carney
  8. Reaching for the Moon by Buzz Aldrin, paintings by Wendell Minor
  9. Watch The Magic School Bus Space Adventures
  10. The Magic School Bus Super Star Power
  11. Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca
  12. National Geographic Little Kids’ First Big Book of Space by Catherine Hughes and David Aguilar
  13. Our Solar System by Seymour Simon
  14. There’s No Place like Space! All about Our Solar System by Tish Rabe and Aristides Ruiz


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Butterfly Books

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Tomorrow might be the first day of spring, but this winter is unrelenting. One sure sign of the seasonal shift, though, is the monarch migration—and they’re already on the move! We’ve been learning about monarchs’ amazing inter-generational journey as we studied butterflies of all sorts. These beauties have inspired artists, writers, and scientists for centuries with their incredible feats of metamorphosis. So flit through this list, which includes fiction as well as non-fiction, and transform your reading with these bedazzling bugs.

  1. The Beautiful Butterfly: A Folktale from Spain by Judy Sierra and Victoria Chess
  2. Watch BBC Nature’s Monarch Butterfly
  3. Watch Butterfly & Moth by DK Eyewitness
  4. A Butterfly is Patient by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long
  5. A Blue Butterfly: A Story about Claude Monet by Bijou Le Tord
  6. The Butterfly Alphabet by Kjell B. Sandved
  7. The Butterfly Alphabet Book by Brian Cassie and Jerry Pallotta
  8. Butterfly House by Eve Bunting and Greg Shed
  9. Caterpillar to Butterfly by Laura Marsh
  10. From Caterpillar to Butterfly by Deborah Heiligman and Bari Weissman
  11. How to Hide a Butterfly & Other Insects by Ruth Heller
  12. Hurry and the Monarch by Antoine Ó Flatharta and Meilo So
  13. Track Monarch Migration with Journey North
  14. Color with Crayola’s “Make Your Own Color Code” Butterfly
  15. Monarch and Milkweed by Helen Frost and Leonid Gore
  16. Monarch Butterfly of Aster Way by Elizabeth Ring and Katie Lee
  17. My, Oh My—a Butterfly! All about Butterflies by Tish Rabe, Aristides Ruiz and Joe Mathieu
  18. Watch National Geographic’s Monarch Butterfly
  19. Open House for Butterflies by Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak
  20. Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian by Margarita Engle and Julie Paschkis
  21. Waiting for Wings by Lois Ehlert
  22. Where Butterflies Grow by Joanne Ryder and Lynne Cherry


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Good Eats, Good Reads

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My family lives in a fantastic area for foodies; we’re not far from The Culinary Institute of America, and our region is rife with farm-fresh pickings. We’ve made it part of our lifestyle to pick our own fruits and vegetables, to purchase from farmers’ markets as often as we can, and to celebrate food that is healthy as well as delicious. When I started looking for children’s books about healthy eating, I knew I wanted a holistic approach that accounts for food as cultural, social, and historical as well as nutrition. Each of these books gave an interesting spin on health, nutrition, and the important roles food plays in our lives.

  1. Crayola’s Craft “Food for Thought…and Energy, Too!”
  2. Dinosaurs Alive and Well! A Guide to Good Health by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown
  3. Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert
  4. Eat Healthy, Feel Great by William Sears, M. D., Martha Sears, R.N., Christie Watts Keyy, and Renee Andriani
  5. The Edible Pyramid: Good Eating Every Day by Loreen Leedy
  6. The Food Parade: Healthy Eating with the Nutritious Food Groups by Elicia Castaldi
  7. Good Enough to Eat: A Kid’s Guide to Food and Nutrition by Lizzy Rockwell
  8. Good for Me and You by Mercer Mayer
  9. Growing Vegetable Soup by Lois Ehlert
  10. How Did that Get in My Lunchbox? The Story of Food by Chris Butterworth and Lucia Gaggiotti
  11. Oh, the Things You Can Do that Are Good for You! All about Staying Healthy by Tish Rabe and Aristides Ruiz
  12. Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace
  13. My Amazing Body: A First Look at Health and Fitness by Pat Thomas
  14. Plants Feed Me by Lizzy Rockwell
  15. The Vegetable Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta, Bob Thomson, Edgar Stewart
  16. The Vegetables We Eat by Gail Gibbons
  17. What’s So Yummy? All about Eating Well and Feeling Good by Robie H. Harris and Nadine Bernard Westcott
  18. The Yummy Alphabet Book: Herbs, Spices, and Other Natural Flavors by Jerry Pallotta and Leslie Evans

 


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Early Reading Instruction

I decided that my older daughter was ready for more formal reading instruction when she started picking out common words in our stories and asking more questions about the texts themselves. She seemed to be initiating a move toward more independent reading, and I wanted to support and encourage her efforts appropriately. The resources I provide here represent what I found useful in helping my elder child start reading independently. I can imagine a different list of resources for a different child, but this post covers a lot of basic principles that early readers need to master in order to achieve independent literacy.

We started by building on PHONEMIC AWARENESS, the ability to isolate individual sounds within a word. Here’s what we used: Meet the Phonics! (Letter Sounds, Blends, and Digraphs) from the Preschool Prep Company. They can be played in full or broken in to lessons, and they helped my daughter connect her visual understanding of letters to the many sounds they can make, alone and in combinations. The animation is helpful and the sounds are instructive as well as cute.

From there, we moved to Meet the Sight Words! (also from the Preschool Prep Company). This series covered words commonly appearing in children’s picture books. Many of the words are not phonetic, so memorizing them as SIGHT WORDS (words that a reader recognizes instantly, by sight) is useful. The sheer volume of sight words also gave my daughter confidence that she could look at a page in her picture book and already know many of the words.

Once my daughter had a large repertoire of sight words, we worked on RHYMES. We made lists starting with a common sight word (like “at”) and added letters (“cat, bat, mat,” etc.). We practiced this with written lists and letter magnets, and I saw the way it built my daughter’s confidence to branch out from the sight words. It also gave us the chance to talk about words that contain sight words but change the sound (like “one, bone, gone”). Getting accustomed to those shifts takes awareness of the context and lots of repetition, just like so many other skills. For books that highlight rhymes and building on sight words, we turned to a lot of Dr. Seuss books, and the series of Bright and Early Books and Beginner Books.

Knowledge of sight words also helps with a skill I call CHUNKING, where my daughter can break up a longer, more daunting word into its parts. This works well for compound words (like “daytime”) and longer ones like “bringing” where she can sound out the digraph and the double “ing.” Strong readers always have multiple strategies for approaching a text, and phonemic awareness, sight words, chunking, and things like visual cues that children use even as pre-readers can work together to strengthen literacy skills. We used these skills at first with simple board books and books with only a few words (like Jez Alborough’s Hug, Tall, and Yes or Peggy Rathman’s classic Goodnight Gorilla). The idea of reading entire books on her own gave my daughter a sense of pride and accomplishment.

As she has advanced, we’ve worked with the I Can Read! Series that provides books at different levels depending on a reader’s ability, and my elder child especially likes the silliness of the Elephant and Piggie series, another great option for early readers. I also returned to a lot of board books that we haven’t read in years to balance books that push my daughter’s abilities and books that build her confidence. I encouraged her to sit down with copies of Little Bear and Frog and Toad, which we own in print and audio format; her task was to keep up with the audio version while following the printed text. Since she already has many of these stories memorized, the process reinforced the connection between phonemes and graphemes (the sound of the word and the written word); it also encourages FLUENCY, because she had to keep up with an expressive, experienced reader. We also love Barefoot Books story and CD combinations for the same emphasis on great stories with great storytelling for fluent, expressive reading. We also co-read with her and read aloud to her ourselves to demonstrate expression and fluency, not to mention our familial love of stories. We still regularly read aloud from books well beyond her own reading level (like chapter books) because, for most people, auditory comprehension is strongest and she can enjoy many levels of stories this way.

To further enhance the link between auditory language that she’s been learning since the womb and the world of print, we watched familiar movies with captions on. We also enjoyed Scholastic’s Storybook Treasures series that features a read along option, and lots of sing-alongs from Disney that show the word-by-word connections in some of their favorite songs. We have also co-written a lot of stories together, where my daughter dictates and I type, or she writes and draws. Using her own language and “publishing” her own books strengthens the relationship between her own reading, writing, and awareness of print.

For more information about the academic research behind a lot of these concepts, see Dr. Bonnie Armbruster’s “Research-Based Instruction in Reading.” As I write about this process, everything seems quite orderly and sequential, but I want to stress that learning to read is not always (or even often) linear and regularly involves doubling back. My daughter started to read long before we began working on phonemic awareness or even learning the alphabet, and her journey will continue long past sounding out words. My greatest desire is to instill in her a love of learning, to foster her creativity and curiosity, and to facilitate her entrance into worlds of wonder as she opens each book; this most recent adventure is one step along that path.

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