phd mama

from diapers to deconstruction

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Horse and Pony Tales

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It took a while for my older daughter to work up the courage for a pony ride, but once she did, both of my girls officially became horse-crazy. The little one learned to sign “horse” and would ask to see those equine beauties wherever we went; after her first carousel ride, she worked out a way to say “neigh neigh go ‘round,” just so we all knew how desperately she wanted to do it again. I’m sure my younger girl will soon be following her big sister around the ring—and both of them are eager to get back in the saddle. In the meantime, we’ve read a lot of horse and pony books, and once more I realize how easily we could study everything through this lens—from science to art to history; this list includes our favorites, from practical care guides to flights of fancy, all focused on our equine friends.

  1. The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse by Eric Carle
  2. Bramble and Maggie (part of a series) by Jessie Haas and Alison Friend
  3. Buffalo Bill and the Pony Express by Eleanor Coerr and Don Bolognese
  4. Calico the Wonder Horse, or the Saga of Stewy Stinker by Virginia Lee Burton
  5. Chang’s Paper Pony by Eleanor Coerr and Deborah Kogan Ray
  6. Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse by Rebecca Janni and Lynne Avril
  7. A Friend for Einstein, the Smallest Stallion by Charlie Cantrell and Rachel Wagoner
  8. Fritz and the Beautiful Horses by Jan Brett
  9. The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble
  10. Horses by Laura Driscoll
  11. Horses Trotting! Prancing! Racing! By Patricia Hubbell and Joe Mathieu
  12. If I Ran the Horse Show: All about Horses by Bonnie Worth, Aristides Ruiz, and Joe Mathieu
  13. Leah’s Pony by Elizabeth Friedrich and Michael Garland
  14. The Mud Pony by Caron Lee Cohen and Shonto Begay
  15. My Chincoteague Pony by Susan Jeffers
  16. My First Horse and Pony Book by Judith Draper
  17. My First Horse and Pony Care Book by Judith Draper
  18. My Pony by Susan Jeffers
  19. Noni the Pony by Alison Lester
  20. National Geographic Kids: Ponies by Laura Marsh
  21. Pony Crazy (part of a series) by Catherine Hapka and Anne Kennedy
  22. Rosie’s Magic Horse by Russell Hoban and Quentin Blake
  23. Seabiscuit the Wonder Horse by Meghan McCarthy
  24. The Wild Little Horse by Rita Gray and Ashley Wolff

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The Sweetest Stories








Our family stopped at Hershey’s Chocolate World on a recent road trip, and my older daughter soon developed an obsession with the chocolate-making process. Though we’d only spent an hour at the site, the factory tour ride and chocolate milk in the café influenced her play for weeks to come. When I started research children’s chocolate books, I quickly realized how many academic disciplines we could cover through the subject of chocolate—a confection that’s traveled the globe and still makes an international impact on history, the environment, and cultures. The books on this list represent that range; as always, there are works of fiction and non-fiction—and all of them are sweet reads.

  1. Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake by Michael B. Kaplan and Stéphane Jorisch features the titular character, a beloved “handful,” who just can’t wait to get her hands on some chocolate cake
  2. Blue Frog: The Legend of Chocolate by Dianne de Las Casas and Holly Stone-Barker tells a trickster tale about how humans learned to love chocolate, the food of the gods
  3. The Chocolate Cat by Sue Stainton and Anne Mortimer shows the transformation of a chocolate maker, his shop, and his village with a little magic and a loyal feline friend
  4. The Chocolate Voyage by Tish Raibe and Dave Aikins takes readers on a trip to learn the process of making chocolate in the delightful Forest of Coco-a-licious
  5. Cocoa Ice by Diana Appelbaum and Holly Meade follows a ship from Santo Domingo to Maine (and back) to reveal the history of the chocolate trade
  6. From Cocoa Bean to Chocolate by Robin Nelson uses facts and photos to illustrate the way chocolate is mad, from bean to bar
  7. Grandma’s Chocolate by Mara Price and Lisa Fields shares a bilingual story of a grandmother, granddaughter, and their shared heritage and love of chocolate
  8. Lilly’s Chocolate Heart by Kevin Henkes keeps it sweet and simple with a little mouse’s dilemma about where to stash her last chocolate
  9. No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart, Allen Young, and Nicole Wong depicts the interconnected plants and animals that support cacao trees and their environment
  10. Smart about Chocolate: A Sweet History by Sandra Markle and Charise Mericle Harper describes the chocolate-making process and the candy industry in a fun format, complete with recipes
  11. You Can’t Eat a Princess by Gillian Rogerson and Sarah McIntyre launches into a silly outer-space story of a determined princess who loves chocolate almost as much as she loves her father

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A Literary Safari


We selected a safari theme for my elder child’s nursery before she was born, and she received a pride’s worth of stuffed lions as gifts in her earliest months. Her interest in big cats has not abated since, and she recently started asking a lot of questions about predators and prey, relationships between species, and geographic locations for animal groups. Since she still loves to play lion, and indeed sometimes insists on travelling on all fours while we’re hiking, I thought I’d start by introducing her to some of the animals of Africa. The following list includes some of our favorites, a mixture of science-oriented nonfiction, poetry, fables, and counting stories—many accompanied by stunning photography. These books illustrate the way science, history, and art intertwine to weave a portrait, however partial, of the reciprocal influences of animals, people, and land. This is one more list I could continue to expand as we learn more and more about an entire continent’s worth of amazing creatures, but for now, I hope you enjoy our literary safari as much as we did.

African Acrostics: A Word in Edgeways by Avis Harley and Deborah Noyes

African Animal Alphabet by Beverly and Dereck Joubert

African Animals by Caroline Arnold

African Cats by Disney Nature (a documentary film)

Baby Baboon by Mwenye Hadithi and Adrienne Kennaway

Baruti and the Chameleon by Lisa Brothers Arbisser and Glenn Darlington

Crafty Chameleon by Mwenye Hadithi and Adrienne Kennaway

The Elephant and the Scrub Forest by Dave Taylor

Giraffes by Catherine Ipcizade

Greedy Zebra by Mwenye Hadithi and Adrienne Kennaway

Hot Hippo by Mwenye Hadithi and Adrienne Kennaway

Hungry Hyena by Mwenye Hadithi and Adrienne Kennaway

Lazy Lion by Mwenye Hadithi and Adrienne Kennaway

Lions by Catherine Ipcizade

A Magic Skeleton Book: Safari Animal Adventure by Shaheen Bilgrami, Chantal Kees, and Chris Shields

Planet Earth: Animals of Africa by Lisa L. Ryan-Herndon

Safari by Robert Bateman

Safari, So Good: All about African Wildlife by Bonnie Worth, Aristides Ruiz, and Joe Mathieu

Simms Taback’s Safari Animals by Simms Taback

Tricky Tortoise by Mwenye Hadithi and Adrienne Kennaway

Water for One, Water for Everyone by Stephen Swinburne and Melinda Levine

We All Went on Safari: A Counting Journey through Tanzania by Laurie Krebs and Julia Cairns

A Zeal of Zebras: Animal Groups of an African Safari by Alex Kuskowski

Zebras by Catherine Ipcizade

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So Many Cinderellas


My elder daughter has been going through something of a Cinderella phase, originating with a viewing of the 1950 Disney film (of course, right?). Her grandparents gave her a book derived from the movie, and then she chose another, nearly identical book version as a prize for the library’s summer reading program. Before we knew it, my husband and I were reading multiple versions of the same story every night at bedtime, so I decided to see how deeply we could immerse ourselves in Cinderella tales. The following list comprises the results of this experiment, divided into three categories: Cinderella-type stories from countries and cultures around the world to show its universal themes and particular variations; adaptations of the Perrault version that originated in 17th-century France and inspires the most popular retellings in this country (including Disney’s); and spoofs or spinoffs that change and challenge the perspective of the story or reinterpret its key characters and plot points. I think I could keep building this list ad infinitum, and while we still enjoy Disney’s Cinderella, these books have expanded and enhanced our understanding of a timeless tale that enchants us in all of its manifestations.


Cinderella around the World

Adelita: A Mexican Cinderella Story by Tomie de Paola

Angkat: The Cambodian Cinderella by Jewell Reinhart Coburn and Eddie Flotte

Ashpet: An Appalachian Tale by Joanne Compton and Kenn Compton

Anklet for a Princess: A Cinderella Story from India by Lila Mehta, Meredith Brucker, and Youshan Tang

Cendrillon: A Cajun Cinderella by Sheila Hébert Collins and Patrick Soper

Cendrillon: A Caribbean Cinderella by Robert D. San Souci and Brian Pinkey

Fair, Brown & Trembling: An Irish Cinderella Story by Jude Daly

The Golden Sandal: A Middle-Eastern Cinderella by Rebecca Hickox and Will Hillenbrand

The Irish Cinderella by Shirley Climo and Loretta Krupinski

The Korean Cinderella by Shirley Climo and Ruth Heller

Little Gold Star: A Spanish-American Cinderella by Robert San Souci and Sergio Martinez

The Orphan: A Cinderella Story from Greece by Anthony Manna, Christodoula Mitakidou, and Giselle Potter

The Persian Cinderella by Shirley Climo and Robert Florczak

The Rough-Faced Girl by Rafe Martin and David Shannon

The Salmon Princess: An Alaska Cinderella Story by Mindy Dwyer

Sootface: An Ojibwa Cinderella Story by Robert D. San Souci and Daniel San Souci

Smoky Mountain Rose: An Appalachian Cinderella by Alan Schroeder and Brad Sneed

The Way Meat Loves Salt: A Cinderella Tale from the Jewish Tradition by Nina Jaffe and Louise August

Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China by Ai-Ling Louis and Ed Young


Perrault Revisions

Cinderella by Marcia Brown

Cinderella by K. Y. Craft

Cinderella by Max Eilenberg and Niamh Sharkey

Cinderella by Paul Galdone

Cinderella by Barbara McClintock

Hilary Knight’s Cinderella by Hilary Knight

James Marshall’s Cinderella by Barbara Karlin and James Marshall


Cinderella Spoofs and Spinoffs

Belinda and the Glass Slipper by Amy Young

Bigfoot Cinderrrrrella by Tony Johnston and James Warhola

Cinder Edna by Ellen Jackson and Kevin O’Malley

Cinderella: An Art Deco Love Story by Lynn Roberts

Cinderella’s Rat by Susan Meddaugh

Cinderella Skeleton by Robert D. San Souci and David Catrow

Cindy Ellen: A Wild Western Cinderella by Susan Lowell and Jane Manning

Dear Cinderella by Marian Moore, Mary Jane Kensington, and Julie Olsen

Ella’s Big Chance: A Jazz-Age Cinderella by Shirley Hughes

Penguin Cinderella, or The Little Glass Flipper by Janet Perlman

Prince Cinders by Babette Cole

Seriously, Cinderella is SO ANNOYING by Trisha Speed Shaskan and Gerlad Guerlais

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Fair to Midway Stories


Ever since I took my daughters to the county fair this summer, they’ve been reenacting it with their toys. From the twirling rides to the newborn cow to the snow cones, their fair memories add new glamour to our old wagon and farm play set. I wanted to enrich their recollections with stories about all kinds of fairs. Each of the stories on this list shows a unique perspective, but all of them capture the excitement of the lush sensory experience that epitomizes the fair. So take home these stories, and keep that fair feeling all year long.

  1. Clarissa by Carol Talley and Itoko Maeno; take an unexpected trip to the fair with Clarissa the cow, who finds out that kindness offers its own rewards.
  2. County Fair by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Jody Wheeler; bask in the sights and sounds of an old-fashioned fair as the Wilder family displays their hard work and earns their ribbons.
  3. A Fabulous Fair Alphabet by Debra Frasier; traipse from A to Z with bold, energetic illustrations that mimic the fair’s stimulating scenes.
  4. Fair! by Ted Lewin; watch the fair’s transformation from setup to opening night to judging day to take down, and see the labor and pleasure in every stage.
  5. Fair Cow by Leslie Helakoski; help Effie prepare for the fair and learn that she can be the fairest of them all simply by being herself.
  6. Hurry Down to Derry Fair by Dori Chaconas and Gillian Tyler; catch the rhyming excitement of Dinny Brown, who can’t wait to get to the fair with his family.
  7. I Know a Wee Piggy by Kim Norman and Henry Cole; chase a wee piggy through a colorful, rhyming romp at the fair.
  8. Knitting Nell by Julie Jersild Roth; get to know Nell, a great knitter and listener who wins big at the fair and finds her friendly voice.
  9. Minerva Louise at the Fair by Janet Morgan Stoeke; follow a star-struck chicken through the fair’s dazzling sights, including a blue ribbon and a fancy new coop.
  10. Molly Who Flew Away by Valeri Gorbachev; chase Molly and her friends through the fair and the skies in this uplifting tale of friendship.
  11. Only One by Marc Harshman and Barbara Garrison; practice creative counting with a book that shows how all the exhibits come together for one fantastic fair.

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Books of a Feather

owlMy daughters have always loved birds; “bird” was one of the first signs each of them used. It’s hard not to be impressed by these beautiful feathered creatures whose territory includes air, land, and sea. My children’s love for birds has inspired me to pay more attention to the sights and sounds of these winged beauties, and it seems like every day we learn a new species or song just by paying attention to the world around us. I’ve compiled the list below as a unit study on birds generally; there are lots of ways to get more specific (with owls or ducks or birds of a specific location), and I hope my ideas here help your imagination take flight.


About Birds by Cathryn Sill and John Sill (language arts, science)

Are You My Mother?, The Best Nest, and Flap Your Wings by P.D. Eastman (language arts)

Aviary by Paul Nelson (art)

Baby Birds and How They Grow by Jane R. McCauley (language arts, science)

Birds by Kevin Henkes and Laura Dronzek (language arts)

Birds, Nests and Eggs by Mel Boring and Linda Garrow (language arts, science)

The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon by Jacqueline Davies and Melissa Sweet (language arts, science, history)

Bring on the Birds by Susan Stockdale (language arts, science)

Fine Feathered Friends: Poems for Young People by Jane Yolen and Jason Stemple (language arts)

Fine Feathered Friends: All About Birds by Tish Rabe and Aristides Ruiz (language arts, science)

How to Paint the Portrait of a Bird by Jacques Prévert and Mordicai Gerstein (language arts)

National Geographic Backyard Guide to the Birds of North America by Jonathan Alderfer and Paul Hess (language arts, science)

National Geographic Kids Bird Guide of North America by Jonathan Alderfer (language arts, science)

Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Birds: Eastern Region (language arts, science)

Wild Wings: Poems for Young People by Jane Yolen and Jason Stemple (language arts, science)


The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot about That: Wings and Things (science)

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s YouTube channel (science)

Hear the calls of New York’s birds. (science)

The Fascinating World of Birds (science)

The Life of Birds (science, geography)

“Put Down the Duckie” (music)

“Rubber Duckie” (music)

“Three Little Birds” (music)

You Are My Little Bird (not all bird-related, all good, music)


Build or decorate a birdhouse. (art)

Color birds and create your own bird book. (art and science)

Create a bird mobile. (art)

Draw birds with The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds by John Muir Laws (language arts, art)

Fold origami birds. (art)

Go to a local river or pond and feed the ducks. (science, physical education)

Grab some binoculars and go birding in the forest or the backyard. (science, physical education)

Learn real bird calls with these plush pals. (science)

Make a birdfeeder. (art, science)

Pile up pillows and blankets for a kid-sized nest. (just plain fun)

Play a bird memory game (or make your own!). (art)

Trace and color Charley Harper’s beautiful birds. (art)

Use pictures of birds (stickers, magazine cutouts) and feathers to create a collage. (art)

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Worm Books for Book Worms

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In last year’s summer-reading program through our local library, my elder daughter chose as her prize a large stuffed snake. It now spends each day, in its six feet of plush glory, coiled on her bed. My daughter always loved snakes, so imagine my surprise when she recently developed an intense and prohibiting fear of worms. She spent a long car ride trying to explain why snakes are NOT like worms, and why worms are fearsome creatures, whereas snakes are “just a little wild.” I still don’t understand, but I persuaded her to read some books with me about worms so that we could both better appreciate the critical function of worms. We may fear earthworms in my family, but we are certifiable book worms. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Bob and Otto by Robert O. Bruel and Nick Bruel

This story of friendship begins with a worm and a caterpillar and ends with a worm and a butterfly. But when Otto the earthworm begins to feel left behind by Bob’s amazing transformation, Bob reminds his friend of all the important work Otto does. Through bold, bright illustrations befitting a butterfly, this story teaches Otto to see himself as essential to both the health of the earth and to his beautiful friend, Bob.

  1. Calvin Can’t Fly: The Story of a Bookworm Birdie by Jennifer Berne and Keith Bendis

I couldn’t resist playing with the bookworm idea, so this book is not really about worms at all. Originally, the term bookworm did refer to worms, and it was (and some would say still is) derogatory in its emphasis on “excessive” reading. Yet in this story, Calvin’s reading comes in handy, and he demonstrates that being a bookworm—much like being a worm—can enrich everything around us.

  1. The City Worm and the Country Worm by Linda Hayward and Carol Nicklaus

Using the delightful and underappreciated Sesame Street character Slimey the worm, this fictional tale plays with the traditional city mouse/country mouse story. We see two worms in two different worlds; Slimey and his country cousin Squirmy convey a little bit of scientific knowledge and a lot of charm to make the oft-devalued earthworm endearing.

  1. Compost Stew by Mary McKenna Siddals and Ashley Wolff

As an alphabet book and a “recipe” for a compost heap, this book teaches readers how worms work as nature’s recyclers. The text itself is a collage composed of recycled materials; its playful rhymes advocate that we readers take a cue from our squirmy eyeless friends and make the work a richer place even with what seems like waste.

  1. An Earthworm’s Life by John Himmelman

With earth-toned illustrations and simple text as well as a glossary and key scientific facts (like the earthworm’s Latin name and its reproductive habits), this scientific text works great for readers at multiple levels. It’s readable, engaging, and fulfills the author’s subtitled mission of showing audiences a new perspective of nature, up close.

  1. Wiggling Worms at Work by Wendy Pfeffer and by Steve Jenkins

This alliteratively-titled book shows the work worms do through the seasons, above ground and underground. It provides detailed descriptions and large-scale images to show a worm’s lifecycle and usefulness for the soil. The book concludes with questions and experiments so readers can further explore earthworms.

  1. Winnie Finn, Worm Farmer by Carol Brendler and Ard Hoyt

In this fictional story about a county fair, we meet the intelligent, persistent protagonist Winnie Finn, who, as the title tells us, is a worm farmer. She prepares herself and her neighbors for big prizes at the fair by putting her creativity and her wiggly charges to work throughout the food chain. The book concludes with an activity where kids can apply Winnie’s skills to their own worm farms (or, learn how to make a worm farm here).

  1. Yucky Worms by Vivian French and Jessica Ahlberg

French and Ahlberg tell two tales at once, often side by side on the pages to mirror the gardeners’ toils above ground and the worms’ lives above and beneath the soil. Part fiction and part scientific text, this story reveals the parallel lives we lead with worms so that maybe we’ll stop calling them yucky and start admiring their wonderful wiggly ways.

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