phd mama

from diapers to deconstruction

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“There is no Frigate like a Book”


Every spring, our town displays miniature painted boats along the main road. The marine-inspired artwork will be auctioned off in the fall, and many of the previous boats still decorate lawns and businesses around town. It’s a kind of yearly homage to the character of a town shaped by the Hudson River, the ever-flowing backdrop to our daily affairs. We gaze at the river and play by the river, and this year, my girls and I took several “boat walks,” where we tried to see and photograph as many of the ships as possible. Those walks, and a life lived alongside the river in our “hamlet on the Hudson,” inspired this list of basic boat books.

  1. The Boat Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta and David Biedrzycki
  2. Boats by Anne Rockwell
  3. The Boats on the River by Marjorie Flack and Jay Hyde Barnum
  4. Boats: Speeding! Sailing! Cruising! by Patricia Hubbell, Megan Halsey, and Sean Addy
  5. Ferry Boat Ride! by Anne Rockwell and Maggie Smith
  6. Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey by Maira Kalman
  7. Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat by Philip C. Stead
  8. The Lamp, the Ice, and the Boat Called Fish by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Beth Krommes
  9. Little Bear and the Marco Polo by Else Holmelund Minarik and Dorothy Doubleday
  10. Little Boat by Thomas Docherty
  11. The Little Sailboat by Lois Lenski
  12. Little Toot by Hardie Gramatky
  13. Little Tug by Stephen Savage
  14. Sea Stories compiled by Cooper Edens
  15. Scuffy the Tugboat by Gertrude Crampton and Tibor Gergely
  16. Sheep on a Ship by Nancy Shaw and Margot Apple
  17. This Boat by Paul Collicutt
  18. Three Bears in a Boat by David Soman
  19. Toy Boat by Randall de Sève and Loren Long
  20. U.S. Navy Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta, Sammie Garnett, and Rob Bolster
  21. Where Go the Boats? Robert Louis Stevenson and Max Grover

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The Barre to the Bookshelf









After my older daughter started taking ballet class (the first activity she chose for herself), my younger daughter wanted in on the action too. My little one got excited every week about waiting in the lobby just so she could catch a glimpse of her sister sous-sus out of the studio. My elder child loves ballet, but in a reserved, quiet way that fits with her personality; my younger child oozes delight and enthusiasm out of every pore. Finally, we found a class for toddlers and picked up a pair of ballet slippers (on clearance, two sizes too big) for my two-year-old. For the entire first day, she refused to take off the slippers, pirouetting (to the best of her abilities) around the house and asking us all repeatedly if we liked her ballet slippers. We do. She fell asleep with them on and awoke to the same routine. Her class starts in a few days, but her excitement is undiminished, and I have a feeling my children’s love of dance is only beginning. Here are some fun ballerina-stories to keep you inspired between lessons.

  1. Ballet of the Elephants by Leda Schubert and Robert Andrew Parker
  2. Ballet Kitty Ballet Class by Bernette Ford and Sam Williams
  3. Ballet School by Naia Bray-Moffatt and David Handley
  4. Belinda Begins Ballet, Belinda the Ballerina, Belinda and the Glass Slipper, Belinda in Paris by Amy Young
  5. A Bunny in the Ballet by Robert Beck
  6. Dogs Don’t Do Ballet by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie
  7. Ella Bella Ballerina and Cinderella, Ella Bella Ballerina and the Nutcracker, Ella Bella Ballerina and the Sleeping Beauty, Ella Bella Ballerina and Swan Lake by James Mayhew
  8. First Ballet by Deanna Caswell and Elizabeth Matthews
  9. Going to My Ballet Class by Susan Kuklin
  10. Lili at Ballet by Rachel Isadora
  11. Miss Lina’s Ballerinas, Miss Lina’s Ballerinas and the Prince, Miss Lina’s Ballerinas and the Wicked Wish by Grace Maccarone and Christine Davenier
  12. On Your Toes: A Ballet ABC by Rachel Isadora
  13. Tallulah’s Nutcracker, Tallullah’s Solo, Tallulah’s Toe Shoes, Tallulah’s Tutu by Marilyn Singer and Alexandra Boiger
  14. We Love Ballet! by Jane Feldman


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From Russia with Love









I meant to post this before the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, but somehow the list kept getting longer and time slipped by. This unit study combines Russian folklore, history, geography, music, language, arts, and culture; these sources are inspired by my own love of Russian history and culture and my daughters’ love of dancing around the house to classic Russian ballets. There’s a bit of magic here—the spellbinding experience of glimpsing another culture, time, and place through the arts. The texts, music, and activities transport audiences to a snowy world filled with onion-shaped domes and enchanted forests. I hope you enjoy your travels through Russia as much as we do—the only cost is imagination, and you can return again and again.


Around the World Russian Timeline by TIME for kids

At the Wish of a Fish by J. Patrick Lewis and Katya Krénina

Baboushka and the Three Kings by Ruth Robbins and Nicolas Sidjakov

Babushka by Sandra Ann Horn and Sophie Fatus

Clever Katya by Mary Hoffman

Famous Children: Tchaikovsky by Ann Rachlin and Susan Hellard

First Thousand Words in Russian by Heather Amery and Stephen Cartwright

The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship by Arthur Ransome and Uri Shulevitz

The Frog Princess by J. Patrick Lewis and Gennady Spirin

Frog Went A-Traveling by Amanda StJohn and David Wenzel

The Gigantic Turnip by Aleksei Tolstoy and Niamh Sharkey

The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco

The Little Humpbacked Horse by Elizabeth Winthrop and Alexander Koshkin

The Littlest Matryoshka by Corinne Demas Bliss and Kathryn Brown

Luba and the Wren by Patricia Polacco

The Magic Nesting Doll by Jacqueline Ogburn and Laurel Long

Peter the Great by Diane Stanley

Russia by CIA’s World Factbook

Russia ABC’s by Ann Berge and Jeff Yesh

Russia in Colors by Catherine Ipcizade

Sasha’s Matrioshka Dolls by Jana Dillon and Deborah Nourse Lattimore

The Sea King’s Daughter by Aaron Shepard and Gennady Spirin

The Snow Princess by Ruth Sanderson

The Tale of the Firebird by Gennady Spirin

The Wolfhound by Kristine L. Franklin and Kris Waldherr



American Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake


Disney’s 1946 Peter and the Wolf

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s Peter and the Wolf

Kirov Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty

Nutcracker: The Motion Picture

Sesame Street’s Elmo’s Musical Adventure: Peter and the Wolf

The Snow Maiden

Teach Me More Russian



Color the Russian flag or St. Basil’s Cathedral.

Color a world map.

Decorate Fabergé eggs.

Learn to play chess.

Prepare traditional Russian dishes (try the blini!).

Print and color nesting dolls or paint your own.

Recreate Russian architecture.

Stamp your passport to Moscow.


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Whale Tales








My entire family was enchanted by the beluga whale exhibit at The Mystic Aquarium. We watched through the glass, mesmerized, as those big white beauties glided through the water. Although we saw a lot of amazing animals on that trip, none made quite the same impression as the belugas—whose combination of adorableness and majesty captivated my older daughter in particular. She used some of her birthday money to purchase a plush beluga in the souvenir shop, and that whale still holds pride of place even months after our aquarium encounter. I fueled her interest with this book list, featuring some titles about belugas specifically and some about whales more generally. These stories balance fiction and nonfiction while highlighting the beauty of these gentle giants.

  1. Amos & Boris by William Steig
  2. Beluga Passage by Linda Lingemann and Jon Weiman
  3. Beluga Whales by Megan Gunderson
  4. The Christmas Whale by Roger Duvoisin
  5. Hello, Baby Beluga by Darrin Lunde and Patricia J. Wynne
  6. Humphrey the Lost Whale: A True Story by Wendy Tokuda, Richard Hall, and Hanako Wakiyama
  7. Ibis: A True Whale Story by John Himmelman
  8. Jonah’s Whale by Eileen Spinelli and Giuliano Ferri
  9. Pipaluk and the Whales by John Himmelman
  10. The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
  11. The Whale: Lighthouse Family by Cynthia Rylant and Preston McDaniels
  12. Whale Is Stuck by Karen Hayles and Charles Fuge
  13. A Whale of a Tale! All About Porpoises, Dolphins, and Whales by Bonnie Worth, Aritides Ruiz, and Joe Mathieu
  14. Whales by Gail Gibbons
  15. Whales by Seymour Simon
  16. Whales: The Gentle Giants by Joyce Milton and Alton Langford

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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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