phd mama

from diapers to deconstruction

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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)

Follow me @ErinWyble!


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.

Follow me! @ErinWyble

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It’s not that I object to princess stories per se, but I like to challenge the mainstream princess motifs (beauty and marriage, the occasional sleeping curse) with alternative storylines now and then. I like to think that even princesses aren’t monolithic, and I want my daughters to see lots of stories that illustrate their potential pathways in life—not just the standard princess’s happily ever after. Each of the stories on this list features a strong, likeable female character, and all of them play with the genre in ways that freshen up the stories and the princess perspective.

1. Blueberry Girl  and “Boys and Girls Together” by Neil Gaiman

This book is technically not about princesses, but it’s by one of my favorite authors and it’s oozing with magical girl power. The text reads like part incantation, part prayer, all enchanting. And the poem gives an interesting glimpse into the post-happily-ever-after world, when the princess becomes the queen.

2. Olivia and the Fairy Princesses by Ian Falconer

After perpetuating the obsession, Olivia realizes she’d prefer to be more unique than the stereotypical pink, tutu clad fairy princess; she alters her style in search of something different, something more powerful, and bears the transition royally.

3. The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch

In this twist on the fairytale conclusion, Princess Elizabeth rescues the Prince but ultimately decides he’s not worth the trouble. Too much of a complainer. Ever the optimist, Elizabeth dances off into the sunset on her own, proud to be (and be by) herself.

4. Princess Bee and the Royal Goodnight Story by Sandy Asher and Cat Bowman Smith

Another of my favorite authors, Sandy Asher tells the sweet story of Princess Bee, who really just wants her mother to tell her a bedtime story. The story—soft and charming—features a royal family that’s mostly functional and loving, with a special relationship between the queen and her youngest princess.

5. and 6. The Princess Knight and Princess Pigsty by Cornelia Funke

Both of Funke’s stories show protagonists who deviate from the traditional line of princess work; instead of preening and pampering, these princesses play rough and tumble and like to get their hands dirty. Turns out they’re mighty good at their vocations, too.

7. The Princess and the Pizza by Mary Jane Auch and Herm Auch

A comedic gem, this tale tells of Princess Paulina’s efforts to get back to “princessing” and riffs on several well-known fairytales in the process. In the end, Paulina decides she’s more invested in entrepreneurship than matrimony, and her choice is simply delicious.

8. The Princess and the White Bear King by Tanya Robyn Batt and Nicoletta Ceccoli

This story updates a classic fairytale, with a brave, resourceful, and virtuous princess. She makes mistakes but atones for them, and rescues her true love along the way. The illustrations in particular make these Northern European folktales timelessly beautiful.

9. Princess Pig by Eileen Spinelli

Pig is a makeshift princess (and another addition to the strange trend of coupling princesses and pigs) who learns that being royal isn’t all about luxury. Sometimes it’s better to be a regular old pig—if, as her wise friend Pony reminds her, that’s what one happens to be.

10. The Queen of France by Tim Wadham and Kady MacDonald Denton

This story is a delightful romp through Rose’s imagination, where she alternates between her ordinary self and the Queen of France, and whatever else her mind can conjure up.

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Unit Study: Dinosaurs

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I’m a firm believer that the best science education starts with lots of time outdoors; what better way to appreciate and understand the natural world than by experiencing it firsthand? Children are natural explorers, observers, and recorders—as long as grownups give them enough space to adventure at their own pace. This unit study serves as a supplement for that kind of outdoor education by providing resources that enrich children’s understanding of natural history and the contemporary world.

READ: combine fiction, non-fiction, picture books, and simple reference-style books for variety

National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Dinosaurs by Catherine Hughes and Franco Tempesta (language arts, science)

National Geographic Kids Ultimate Dinopedia: The Most Complete Dinosaur Reference Ever by Don Lessem, Franco Tempesta, and Rodolfo Coria (language arts, science)

Dinosaur A-Z: For Kids Who Really Love Dinosaurs by Roger Priddy (language arts, science)

Dinosaurs A-Z: Dinosaur Train by Andrea Posner-Sanchez and Terry Izumi (language arts, science)

The Dinosaur Museum: An Unforgettable, Interactive Virtual Tour Through Dinosaur History by The National Geographic Society and Sebastian Quigley (language arts, science)

How Do Dinosaurs… series by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague (language arts, science)

Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs by Byron Barton (language arts, science)

Bones, Bones, Dinosaur Bones by Bryon Barton (language arts, science)

Dinosaurumpus by Tony Milton (language arts, science)

Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct by Mo Willems (language arts, science)

Dinosaur Dream by Dennis Nolan (language arts, science)

Shadow of the Dinosaurs by Dennis Nolan (language arts, science)

The Magic School Bus in the Time of the Dinosaurs by Joanna Cole (language arts, science)

Encylopedia Prehistorica Dinosaurs: The Definitive Pop-Up by Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart (language arts, science)

Big Book of Dinosaurs by D.K. Publishing (language arts, science)

Dinosaur Bones by Bob Barner (language arts, science)

Dinosaur Train Field Guide by PBS (language arts, science)


WATCH: see these amazing creatures come to life on screen accompanied by music and fun facts

Dinosaur Train (Dinosaurs A-Z, Dinosaurs in the Snow, Dinosaurs Under the Sea, Dinosaur Big City, T-Rex Tales, Pteranodon Family Adventure, Big Big Big, Submarine Adventures, Eggstravaganza) (science, music)

Sesame Street’s “Herb the Plant-Eating Dinosaur” (Season 37, Episode 3) (science, music)

Sesame Street: Dinosaurs (science, music)

Walking with Dinosaurs (science, music)

How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? (and More Classic Dinosaur Tales) (language arts, science)


LISTEN: set as background music for playtime or bop along in the car as science gets set to music

Once Upon a Dinosaur (science, music)

Most Amazing Dinosaur Songs (science, music)

Wee Sing Dinosaurs (science, music)

Dinosaur Train Volume 1 (science, music)


MAKE: incorporate dinosaurs into craft-time and creative play

Color a Pteranodon, a Plesiosaurus, a T-Rex, fossils, a Stegosaurus, and Dinosaur Train characters (science, art)

Hide mini-dinosaurs in plastic eggs and host a “hatching” party (science)

Make a feast for herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores (science, home economics)

Make Dinosaur playdough shapes (use a cookie cutter or just your imagination) (science, art)

Play with prehistoric pals like these (science, plain old fun)

Practice tracking on a nature hike (science)

Stamp or sticker a dinosaur scene, or turn it into a diorama (science, art)

Stomp, roar, flap (more fun)

Sort the mini-dinosaurs: count and classify by species, family, type of eater, and time period (science, math)

Track dinosaurs across a “mudpit” (real mud or playdough) (science)

Take dinosaurs to the “sea” (bath or water table) (science)


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