phd mama

from diapers to deconstruction

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O, Pioneers!


There’s a romantic nostalgia attached to the Little House stories, one that I carried with me from my own childhood. Reading them to my daughters has been both delightful and eye-opening, as I can see from an adult perspective (not to mention a specialist in American literature and history) the idealism in the stories that glosses over ordinary struggles and major social issues. For this unit, we built our own wagons (out of cardboard boxes and blocks), listened obsessively to the music inspired by the stories, dressed and baked according to character, and talked a lot about what’s changed and what’s stayed the same. I might not regard the pioneers with quite the same rose-colored glasses now, but I still recognize the way the West captivates readers and tells one kind of American story.

  1. Apples to Oregon by Deborah Hopkinson and Nancy Carpenter
  2. Aunt Clara Brown: Official Pioneer by Linda Lowery and Janice Lee Porter
  3. Buffalo before Breakfast by Mary Pope Osborne
  4. The Buffalo Storm by Katherine Applegate and Jan Ormerod
  5. Daily Life in a Covered Wagon by Paul Erickson
  6. Dandelions by Eve Bunting and Greg Shed
  7. Dust Devil by Anne Isaacs and Paul O. Zelinksy
  8. Listen to Happy Land: Musical Tributes to Laura Ingalls Wilder
  9. I Have Heard of a Land by Joyce Carol Thomas and Floyd Cooper
  10. Johnny Appleseed: A Poem by Reeve Lindbergh and Kathy Jakobsen
  11. Johnny Appleseed: My Story by David L. Harrison and Mike Wohnoutka
  12. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Songbook by Eugenia Garson, Garth Williams, and Herbert Haufrecht
  13. The Little House Collection by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Garth Williams
  14. The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Classic Stories by Barbara M. Walker and Garth Williams
  15. My First Little House Books Collection by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  16. My Little House Crafts Book by Carolyn Strom Collins, Christina Wyss Erkisson, and Mary Collier
  17. My Little House Christmas Crafts Book by Mary Collier and Deborah Maze
  18. My Little House Cookbook by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Amy Cotler, and Holly Jones
  19. Papa and the Pioneer Quilt by Jean Van Leeuwen and Rebecca Bond
  20. Prairie Friends by Nancy Smiler Levinson and Stacey Schuett
  21. Twister on Tuesday by Mary Pope Osborne
  22. Seed by Seed: The Legend and Legacy of John “Appleseed” Chapman by Esmé Raji Codell and Lynne Rae Perkins
  23. Squirrel and John Muir by Emily Arnold McCully
  24. Swamp Angel by Anne Isaacs and Paul O. Zelinsky
  25. Wagon Wheels by Barbara Brenner and Don Bolognese
  26. Westward Ho! An Activity Guide to the Wild West by Laurie Carlson

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¡Hola! Mexico









Once more, food and parties inspired our most recent literary excursion. This time we traveled by book to Mexico, where my children delighted in the rich traditions of folklore and religion, the artists’ biographies, and the contemporary glimpses of our neighbors to the south. And, of course, we were all so pumped about the piñatas that we threw two parties just to keep the festivities alive. What we found in our perusal of Mexican stories holds true for all our literary explorations across the globe: each place and people group tells of a unique history and perspective that connects past to present. And, as always, it’s a privilege to step into these story worlds and see just a glimpse of another culture, to broaden our world and our mind with stories. To that, we can only say gracias!

  1. Watch The Book of Life
  2. Borreguita and the Coyote by Verna Aardema and Petra Mathers
  3. The Cazuela that the Farm Maiden Stirred by Samantha R. Vamos and Rafael Lopez
  4. Color Crayola’s Mexican Flag and Map
  5. Day of the Dead by Tony Johnston and Jeanette Winter
  6. Listen to De Colores and Other Latin-American Folk Songs for Children by José-Luis Orozco and Elisa Kleven
  7. Diego by Jeanette Winter and Jonah Winter
  8. Diego Rivera: His World and Ours by Duncan Tonatiuh
  9. Elena’s Serenade by Campbell Geeslin and Ana Juan
  10. Erandi’s Braids by Antonio Hernández Madrigal and Tomie dePaola
  11. Watch Families of Mexico
  12. The Fisherman and the Turtle by Erica A. Kimmel and Martha Aviles
  13. Frida by Jonah Winter and Ana Juan
  14. Frida Kahlo: The Artist Who Painted Herself by Margaret Frith and Tomie dePaola
  15. José! Born to Dance by Susanna Reich and Raúl Colón
  16. Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book by Yuyi Morales
  17. The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola
  18. The Lizard and the Sun by Alma Flor Ada and Felipe Dávalos
  19. Mexico by CIA World Factbook
  20. Nacho and Lolita by Pam Muñoz Ryan and Claudi Rueda
  21. Off We Go to Mexico! An Adventure in the Sun by Laurie Krebs and Cristopher Corr
  22. Our Lady of Guadalupe by Felipe Dávalos and Francisco Serrano
  23. Pequeña the Burro by Jami Parkison and Itoko Maeno
  24. The Piñata Maker by George Ancona
  25. Listen to Putumayo Presents Mexico
  26. The Sad Night: The Story of an Aztec Victory and a Spanish Loss by Sally Schofer Mathews
  27. Soccer on Sunday by Mary Pope Osborne
  28. The Turkey Girl: A Zuni Cinderella Story by Penny Pollock and Ed Young
  29. Under the Lemon Moon by Edith Hope Fine and René King Moreno
  30. Watch Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales
  31. What Can You Do with a Paleta? by Carmen Tafolla and Magaly Morales
  32. Who Was Frida Kahlo? by Sarah Fabiny and Jerry Hoare

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Egyptian Treasures, Ancient and Modern


In our latest literary journey, we traveled to Egypt, where we explored stories both ancient and modern. I wanted to show the nation’s rich history without crystalizing it in the past, so we combined stories of mythology with tales from the present. This list shows a similar geographic setting for both old and new, illustrating the way past, present, and future converse through stories.

  1. Cleopatra by Diane Stanley and Peter Vennema
  2. Cry of the Benu Bird: An Egyptian Creation Story by C. Shana Greger
  3. The Day of Ahmed’s Secret by Florence Parry Heide, Judith Heide Cilliland, and Ted Lewin
  4. Egypt: CIA World Factbook
  5. The Egyptian Cinderella by Shirley Climo and Ruth Heller
  6. Color the Egyptian flag and map by Crayola
  7. Watch Families of Egypt
  8. Build a Great Pyramid by Crayola
  9. Hands around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books by Susan L. Roth and Karen Leggett Abouraya
  10. Magic Treehouse Fact Tracker #3: Mummies and Pyramids by Mary Pope Osborne, Will Osborne, and Sal Murdocca
  11. Mummies in the Morning by Mary Pope Osborne and Sal Murdocca
  12. Mummies, Pyramids, and Pharaohs: A Book about Ancient Egypt by Gail Gibbons
  13. Pepi and the Secret Names by Jill Paton Walsh and Fiona French
  14. Rimonah of the Flashing Sword: A North African Tale by Eric A. Kimmel and Omar Rayyan
  15. The Tomb of the Boy King by John Frank and Tom Pohrt
  16. We’re Sailing down the Nile: A Journey through Egypt by Laurie Krebs and Anne Wilson

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Big Cats, Little Cats

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Sometimes it’s hard to believe that the lazy cats who lounge around our house all day are related to majestic beasts like lions and tigers. But big or little, these cat cousins have lots in common, as we learned from this list. Using fiction and non-fiction, we explored cats’ role in nature, history, and mythology, and learned just how much humans have always been intrigued by felines—no matter their size.

  1. Watch African Cats by Disney Nature
  2. Watch The Aristocats
  3. Amazing Cats by Eyewitness Junior
  4. Big Cats by Seymour Simon
  5. Big Cats by Jonathan Sheikih-Miller and Stephanie Turnbull
  6. Watch Cat by DK Eyewitness
  7. The Cat at Night by Dahlov Ipcar
  8. Cats by Jane Resnick
  9. Catwings by Ursula Le Guin
  10. City Cat by Kate Banks and Lauren Castillo
  11. Everything Big Cats by Elizabeth Carney
  12. Millions of Cats by Wanda Ga’g
  13. Outside and Inside Big Cats by Sandra Markle
  14. Puss in Boots by Paul Galdone
  15. Watch Puss in Boots by Dreamworks
  16. Six-Dinner Sid by Inga Moore
  17. Small Cats by Markus Kappeler
  18. The Tenth Good Thing about Barney by Judith Viorst and Erik Blegvad
  19. There Are Cats in This Book by Viviane Schwarz
  20. The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr
  21. Time Cat by Lloyd Alexander
  22. Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurrican Katrnia, Friendship, and Survival by Kirby Larson, Mary Nethery, and Jean Cassels
  23. Your Cat’s Wild Cousins by Hope Ryden
  24. Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein and Ed Young
  25. The Wild Side of Pet Cats by Jo Waters

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What Does the Fox Read?


Real foxes, the shy sort who peek out from the edges of fields and forests, don’t typically make quite the same stir as the famous Ylvis song they inspired. But they are beautiful, fascinating animals who’ve appeared in folklore and fables for centuries. In this list, I combine non-fiction with fiction to show the many creative ways we interpret these clever creatures.

  1. Around the House the Fox Chased the Mouse by Rick Walton and Jim Bradshaw
  2. Chanticleer and the Fox adapted from The Canterbury Tales by Barbara Cooney
  3. Exploring the World of Foxes by Tracy C. Read
  4. Watch Fantastic Mr. Fox
  5. Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake
  6. Flossie & the Fox by Patricia C. McKissack and Rachel Isadora
  7. The Fox and the Hen by Eric Battut
  8. Foxes by Emilie U. Lepthien and Joan Kalbacken
  9. The Fox in the Dark by Alison Green and Deborah Allwright
  10. Fox Tails: Four Fables from Aesop by Amy Lowry
  11. On the Trail of the Fox by Claudia Schnieper and Felix Labhardt
  12. Reynard: The Story of a Fox Returned to the Wild by Alice Mills Leighner
  13. The Tale of Tricky Fox by Jim Aylesworth and Barbara McClintock
  14. The Tomten and the Fox by Astrid Lindgren and Harald Wiberg
  15. What’s in Fox’s Sack? by Paul Galdone
  16. The Wonder of Foxes by Patricia Lantier, Judy Schuler, and John F. McGee

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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







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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