phd mama

from diapers to deconstruction

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Suddenly Homeschooling?

If you suddenly find yourself homeschooling and working from home and social distancing…it can feel pretty overwhelming! I’d like to offer some suggestions about what has worked for my family, where my husband and I have done some combination of working from home while homeschooling for the last decade. Of course the suggestions represent what works for our family, and each family and work situation is different.

  1. Try not to recreate school at home. The setting and context are different, which is why it helps us to think in terms of rhythms rather than routines. Both my husband and I are morning people; we do our best work before noon. That means we often don’t try to do hands-on things with our kids first thing in the day. They can sleep in, eat breakfast, read, play, etc.
  2. Pay attention to energy levels. This one is basically about finding the teaching window. If the timing is right (developmentally, and during the day), teaching our kids doesn’t feel torturous. If we’re tired, hungry, restless, squirrely, it’s probably not the time to introduce a new math concept. Take a break or play outside or get a snack. We typically give them their hardest school task (depends on the kid) right after a meal, and when that’s done, we encourage them to play or exercise. We also give them our full attention for that task; sometimes multi-tasking just takes longer.
  3. Expect basic chores. My kids (aged 7 and 10) do chores every day. They team up to change the trash and my older child takes out the recycling (as needed). They put away their own laundry and clear their own dishes. Both of them are capable of using rags, wipes, a dustpan, and my elder sweeps and vacuums. They can help with simple meal preparation (pouring milk, setting the table, making salads) and get their own snacks. They don’t do all of these things every day, and they haven’t always been able to do all of them (that’s a helpful part of kids getting older), but their competence in these areas means my husband and I are not always being interrupted to do little things for them that they can do for themselves.
  4. Designate a parent in charge. I realize this isn’t always possible, as there are not always two adults in the space. If it is possible, it’s huge. Kids tend to have a default parent (me, in our house) who gets asked all the questions even when both parents are present. It also helps a lot if the parent working uses a different space to avoid confusion and distraction for everyone.
  5. Set up for success. If the snacks available to the kids are the ones you’re OK with them eating, then they can’t really make a wrong choice. The same is true for activities. Surround them with things valued in your family. We are a low-screen-access family, so our kids do not have that technology available without supervision. They’re surrounded by books, board games, dolls, blocks, art supplies, etc., so they can always use those things. If you’re OK with more screens, then give them the access you’re OK with them having. The idea is to make it easy for kids to find things themselves that align with your family values, so parents aren’t wondering what they’re up to.
  6. Keep it simple. It’s easy to over-parent and over-teach, especially if we’re feeling overwhelmed. Kids can survive boredom—and even thrive! A lot of nights when I’m on my own making dinner or cleaning up the kitchen, I put on an audiobook we all enjoy while my kids color. It’s a way to be together and get things done that makes all of us happy and less stressed.
  7. Prioritize and categorize work. My husband and I are both academics. Neither one of us can write and research with distractions, so that is work we prioritize for times when we get focused alone time to work. We can grade papers and plan lessons with mild distractions, so we can do those things while also interacting with the kids. The tasks and priorities will depend on the kind of work, family dynamics, and time availability.
  8. Give kids some control and choice. We have a whiteboard schedule for the week on the refrigerator. For us, that strikes as great balance between responsibility and flexibility. We also all really like lists. Some days the kids knock out all their tasks first thing and spend the rest of the day doing what they want. The older they are, the more they can direct themselves and their own time—and this is a great skill to hone before heading off to college.
  9. Carve out alone time for the grownups. Honestly, some days the only alone time I get is a shower. Usually it’s more than that, but I have become very flexible about the times of day I’m willing to exercise in order to get that bit of time to myself. This is so much harder if you’re the only adult or your kids are little, but even a few minutes where you can take care of yourself exclusively is critical.
  10. Be thankful for each other. We try to do this when there’s not a global pandemic. We set aside time each day (sometimes a little, sometimes a lot) for doing things and just being together. Maybe it’s watching a movie or baking something or playing a game. What matters is setting work and school aside to enjoy each other.

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How to Organize a Homeschool Year

For me, organizing our homeschooling year is one of the most interesting parts of the process. My background includes a doctoral degree in Curriculum and Instruction, so you could say this sort of thing is my jam. I teach English at the collegiate level, and I always enjoy making the syllabi for my courses and thinking about how to break down the big-picture goals of the course into the weekly and daily practices. Charting a homeschool curriculum is a similar process.

I begin with the New York state regulations and break them down into the requirements for my children’s ages and grade levels.

Then, I look at the year month-by-month. Here is our rough topical schedule for 2017-2018:

First Quarter Second Quarter Third Quarter Fourth Quarter
July 2017


  • Hello Kitty, Hello USA!
  • 50 States Puzzle
  • Wee Sing America

U.S. History

  • (See Above)


August 2017


  • Story of the World, 1-6

U.S. History

  • American Revolution


  • Ocean Preview

September 2017


  • Story of the World, 7-12

U.S. History

  • American Revolution


  • Ocean
October 2017


  • Judaism/Israel

U.S. History


  • Farms/Farm Animals

November 2017


  • Story of the World, 13-18

U.S. History


  • Inventions

December 2017


  • Story of the World, 19-24

U.S. History

  • Civil Rights


  • Space Preview


January 2018


  • Story of the World, 25-30

U.S. History


February 2018


  • Puerto Rico

U.S. History


March 2018


  • Story of the World, 31-36

U.S. History

  • Pioneer Preview


  • Trees


April 2018


  • Story of the World, 37-42

U.S. History


May 2018


  • Explorers

U.S. History


June 2018


  • Finish Story of the World

U.S. History

  • Field Trips T.B.D.


  • Field Trips T.B.D.



 I do not include arithmetic, English language arts, health education, music, visual arts, or physical education on here because those are daily topics for us. This chart represents the big unit studies that I do and record on my website: phdmama—though I am woefully behind in posting what we’ve covered already!

I use the following chart to track their monthly progress, inserting brief notes and dates for my family’s usage. Since we school year-round, I review three months of these in order to write my quarterly reports. So, for instance, for our first month, I would write “September 30” and the appropriate year for the Quarterly Report due date. For the month, I would write “July,” and then in submitting the first quarterly at the end of September, I would look at the months July, August, and September. I store all of these files in a binder, one for each child. A typical entry in the chart below might look like this: “7/12—Tour of Kingston Senate House” for “United States History,” or “7/2, 7/9, 7/16, 7/23/7/30—Swimming” for “Physical Education.”

Quarterly Report Due:

Grades 1-6: 225 hours per quarter







English Language Instruction










United States History  








Health Education  






Visual Arts  



Physical Education  



Finally, I use a whiteboard on the refrigerator to cover the daily work expected of my children. That way, I can easily update their workload when they complete a book or we need to shake things up. Since we work year-round, I do build in breaks around holidays, visits from grandparents, and vacations, as well as the occasional day off when my kids just need it. Sometimes, though, the curriculum gets stale and the whiteboard flexibility allows me to accommodate my children’s choices and needs.

The whiteboard currently looks like this:

Kid 1 Kid 2
Monday Piano Practice, Science Experiment and Journal, 3 pages Math Workbook, Times Tables Flashcards, French Piano Practice, Science Experiment, Sight Words, 2 pages Math Workbook
Tuesday Piano Practice, Dance Class, 3 pages Math Workbook, Times Tables Flashcards, French, Handwriting Piano Practice, Dance Class, 4 pages Big Workbook, Sight Words, Handwriting
Wednesday Reading, Puzzles, Games, Crafts Reading, Puzzles, Games, Crafts
Thursday Piano Practice, Times Tables Flashcards, Magazine, 50 States Workbook or Flashcards, French Piano Practice, Sight Words, Magazine, 2 pages of Mazes, 2 pages of Number Dot-to-Dot
Friday Piano Practice, 3 pages Math Workbook, Times Tables Flashcards, French, Handwriting Piano Practice, 4 pages Big Workbook, Sight Words, Handwriting

The unit studies listed above are in addition to the daily activities and field trips. Both of my kids are bookworms who love to read and write, so at this stage, I don’t list it on most days because they do it without thinking of it as “school.” For workbooks, I like the Kumon Math Workbooks and buy the whole series for each child’s grade level. For Big Workbooks, I like the variety and coverage of the Brain Quest series. Each child uses the Bastien piano book appropriate for her abilities. The magazines are either Highlights or Ranger Rick.

All of these charts are posted in my kitchen, so the entire family knows what’s scheduled for when. We’re currently working on the final quarter of our third year of homeschooling, and, so far, this is a system that supports the structure and flexibility my family needs.

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Aloha, Hawaii!









I started this list because of all the buzz about Moana; while I realize that film is not totally rooted in Hawaiian culture, I wanted my children to have a deeper understanding of the rich history of one of the Polynesian islands than a single film (however dominant in the marketplace) could provide. What follows is a list that delves into the historical, geological, and mythological stories of Hawaii. There are stories that focus on native peoples, colonialism, Pearl Harbor, and President Obama, as well as tales that tell of contemporary, everyday life on the islands. There are stories of the volcanoes and wildlife that make the islands unique. And there are, of course, stories from the mythological tradition (many about Maui that, my elder daughter noted, did not make it into the Disney movie). As always, I appreciate the interdisciplinary approach of this list and the way it illustrates a place with a rich history that is by no means confined to the past.

  1. A is for Aloha: A Hawai’i Alphabet by U’ilani Goldsberry and Tammy Yee
  2. The Adventures of Bella & Harry: Let’s Visit Maui! by Lisa Manzione and Kristine Lucco
  3. Aloha Is… by Tammy Paikai and Rosalie Prussing
  4. Children of Hawaii by Frank Staub
  5. Dumpling Soup by Jama Kim Rattigan and Lillian Hsu-Flanders
  6. Goodnight Hawaiian Moon by Dr. Carolan and Joanna F. Carolan
  7. Grandma Calls Me Beautiful by Barbara Joosse and Barbara Lavallee
  8. Listen to Hawaiian Playground by Putumayo Kids Presents
  9. Hawai’i: The Aloha State by Jill Foran
  10. Hawaii: The Aloha State by Emily Oachs
  11. The Hawai’i Snowman by Christine Lê and Michel Lê
  12. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park by M.C. Hall
  13. How Māui Slowed the Sun by Suelyn Ching Tune and Robert Yoko Burningham
  14. Hula Lullaby by Erin Eitter Kono
  15. The Last Princess: The Story of Princess Ka’iulani of Hawai’i by Fay Stanley and Diane Stanley
  16. The Legend of the Kukui Nut by Robert Brandon Henderson and Mark McKenna
  17. Legends of Landforms: Native American Lore and the Geology of the Land by Carole G. Vogel
  18. Little Princess Ka’iulani in Her Garden in the Sea by Ellie Crowe and Mary Koski
  19. Māui and the Secret of Fire by Suelyn Ching Tune and Robert Yoko Burningham
  20. The Menehune of Naupaka Village: A Hawaiian Fairy Tale by Christopher Sur and Gary Kato
  21. The Musubi Man: Hawai’i’s Gingerbread Man by Sandi Takayama and Pat Hall
  22. Pearl Harbor by Stephen Krensky and Larry Day
  23. Pele and Poli’ahu: A Tale of Fire and Ice by Malia Collins and Kathleen Peterson
  24. Pele and the Rivers of Fire by Michael Nordenstrom
  25. Pig-Boy: A Trickster Tale from Hawai’i by Gerald McDermott
  26. A President from Hawai’i by Dr. Terry Carolan, Joanna Carolan, and Elizabeth Zunon
  27. Punia and the King of Sharks: A Hawaiian Folktale by Lee Wardlaw and Felipe Davalos
  28. South Pacific Mythology by Jim Ollhoff
  29. The Story of Hula by Carla Golembe
  30. The Surprising Things Maui Did by Jay Williams and Charles Mikolaycak
  31. Tales of Tutu Nene and Nele by Gale Bates and Carole Hinds McCarty
  32. Tsunami: The True Story of an April Fools’ Day Disaster by Gail Langer Karwoski and John MacDonald
  33. The Woman in the Moon: A Story from Hawai’i by Jama Kim Rattigan and Carla Golembe
  34. Young Princesses around the World: A Story Based on the Real Life of Princess Liliuokalani of Hawaii by Joan Holub and Nonna Aleshina
  35. Who Is Barack Obama? by Roberta Edwards and John O’Brien

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Earth, Moon, and Stars









[Disclaimer: Based on my daughter’s artwork, above, an asteroid will obliterate the earth, rendering this list unnecessary.]

This list repeats a little of “Our Place in Space,” but it’s primarily an extension of that content because my kids are really into space. In addition to using some great, clear nights to use our telescope, we developed this list to enhance our understanding of space with stories about the earth, moon, and stars. Some of the texts are scientific non-fiction; others are myths and legends; others still are historical and biographical. I love the way these different kinds of stories intersect across disciplines and reveal so many different perspectives of the world, our place within it, and our role in the big picture of space.



Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm

Comets, Meteors, and Asteroids by Seymour Simon

Watch The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot about That: Space is the Place

Destination: Space by Seymour Simon

The Earth Is Painted Green: A Garden of Poems about Our Planet edited by Barbara Brenner and illustrated by S. D. Schindler

Earth: Our Planet in Space by Seymour Simon

Earth Tales from Around the World by Michael J. Caduto and Adelaide Murphy Tyrol

First Earth Encyclopedia by DK Publishing

Living Sunlight: How Plants Bring the Earth to Life by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm

Watch Nutmeg Media’s Living Sunlight

On Earth by G. Brian Karas

Our Solar System by Seymour Simon

Planet Earth/Inside Out by Gail Gibbons

Watch DK Eyewitness’s Planets

The Planets by Gail Gibbons

Saturn by Seymour Simon

What Makes Day and Night by Franklyn M. Branley and Arthur Dorros

You’re Aboard Spaceship Earth by Patricia Lauber and Holly Keller

What’s So Special about Planet Earth? by Robert E. Wells



Armstrong: The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon by Torben Kuhlmann

Hello, Harvest Moon by Ralph Fletcher and Kate Kiesler

I Took the Moon for a Walk by Carolyn Curtis and Alison Jay

If You Decide to Go to the Moon by Faith McNulty and Steven Kellogg

The Man Made of Stars by M. H. Clark and Lisa Evans

The Moon by Seymour Simon

Moon by Steve Tomecek and Liisa Chauncy Guida

The Moon Book by Gail Gibbons

Moonday by Adam Rex

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and John

Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me by Eric Carle

Phases of the Moon by Gillia M. Olson and Jo Miller

Thirteen Moons on Turtle’s Back: A Native American Year of Moons by Joseph Bruchac, Jonathan London, and Thomas Locker

What the Moon is Like by Franklyn M. Branley and True Kelley



How the Stars Fell into the Sky: A Navajo Legend by Jerrie Oughton and Lisa Desimini

How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffers

Jump into Science: Stars by Steve Tomecek and Sachiko Yoshikawa

Our Stars by Anne Rockwell

Stars by Mary Lyn Ray and Marla Frazee

The Sun: Our Nearest Star by Franklyn M. Branley and Edward Miller


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The Beauty of the Body










For this unit study, we explored the human body and its many systems. We looked at lots of pictures of the amazing internal workings of our bodies and learned how each system does its job to keep us healthy and strong. Technically speaking, the books on this list fall under health and science, but it’s hard not to classify them as art as well given the beauty of the human body. We gained new appreciation for each word read, each heartbeat, each breath as we learned about our brains and our hearts and our lungs, and everything in between.

  1. Body Sense, Body Nonsense by Seymour Simon and Dennis Kendrick
  2. Bones: Our Skeletal System by Seymour Simon
  3. Boy, Were We Wrong about the Human Body! by Kathleen Kudlinski and Debbie Tilley
  4. The Brain: Our Nervous System by Seymour Simon
  5. A Drop of Blood by Paul Showers and Don Madden
  6. Ears are for Hearing by Paul Showers and Holly Keller
  7. The Everything Kids’ Human Body Book by Sheri Amsel
  8. Eyes and Ears by Seymour Simon
  9. Germs Make Me Sick! by Melvin Berger and Marylin Hafner
  10. The Heart: Our Circulatory System by Seymour Simon
  11. The Human Body by Seymour Simon
  12. Watch DK’s Human Machine
  13. Infographics: Human Body by Peter Grundy
  14. Inside Your Outside: All about the Human Body by Tish Rabe and Aristides Ruiz
  15. It’s Not the Stork: A Book about Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families, and Friends by Robie Harris and Michael Emberley *Note that this book is particularly graphic*
  16. Lungs: Your Respiratory System by Seymour Simon
  17. The Magic School Bus: Inside the Human Body by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen
  18. The Magic School Bus Presents: The Human Body by Tom Jackson and Carolyn Bracken
  19. Me and My Amazing Body by Joan Sweeney and Annette Cable
  20. Muscles: Our Muscular System by Seymour Simon
  21. My Amazing Body: A First Look at Health and Fitness by Pat Thomas
  22. My Body Is Private by Linda Walvoord Girand and Rodney Pate
  23. Watch Cat in the Hat Knows a lot about that: Oh, the Skin We Are In!
  24. Oh, the Things You Can Do that Are Good for You! All about Staying Healthy by Tish Rabe and Aristides Ruiz
  25. Professor I.Q. Explores the Brain by Seymour Simon and Dennis Kendrick
  26. See Inside Your Body by Katie Daynes and Colin King
  27. The Skeleton and Muscular System by Carol Ballard and Steve Parker
  28. The Skeleton Inside You by Philip Balestrino and True Kelley
  29. What Happens to a Hamburger by Paul Showers and Anne Rockwell
  30. Your Skin and Mine by Paul Showers and Kathleen Kuchera

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A Sap for a Story










After years of trying to coordinate a trip to one of our local maple syrup houses, my family finally made it this year to an event for NY’s Maple Weekend. I expected an afternoon of tromping through snow and tapping trees, but our experience was much sleeker and more sophisticated than that (you can read about that visit here). We decided to extend our field trip with large bottles of maple syrup and lots of library books about the history and process of sugaring. This list reflects the old-fashioned methods I’d imagined as well as more modern processes, and, of course, some stories that are just about sticky fun. These books aren’t quite as delicious as syrup-soaked pancakes, but they’re all good reads.

  1. From Maple Tree to Syrup by Melanie Mitchell
  2. At Grandpa’s Sugar Bush by Margaret Carney and Janet Wilson
  3. If You Give a Pig a Pancake by Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond
  4. Maple Moon by Connie Brummel Crook
  5. The Maple Syrup Book by Marilyn Linton
  6. Maple Syrup Season by Ann Purmell
  7. From Maple Trees to Maple Syrup by Kristin Thoennes Keller
  8. The Missing Maple Syrup Sap Mystery: Or, How Maple Syrup Is Made by Gail Gibbons
  9. Sugar on Snow by Nan Parson Rossiter
  10. Sugar Snow by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Doris Ettlinger
  11. Sugarbush Spring by Marsha Wilson Chall and Jim Daly
  12. Sugaring by Jessie Haas
  13. The Sugaring-Off Party by Jonathan London and Gilles Pelletier
  14. Sugaring Time by Kathryn Lasky and Chrisopher Knight
  15. A Tree for All Seasons by Robin Bernard

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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


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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little girl holding a blue stuffed toy

This image and the banner are courtesy of Carolina Weick @ Walk With Me Photography. She did a day-in-the-life shoot for us that captured our family better than any posed pictures of our own could.

Table of Contents

  1. “Alternative ABC’s”
  2. “The Barre to the Bookshelf”
  3. “Books of a Feather”
  4. “Embodied ABC’s”
  5. “Fair to Midway Stories”
  6. “From Pole to Pole”
  7. “A Glue Stick and a Dream”
  8. “Horse and Pony Tails”
  9. “How to Develop a Unit Study”
  10. “In Defense of Libraries”
  11. “Indian Food for Thought”
  12. “A Literary Safari”
  13. “Paris in the Springtime”
  14. “Royal Riffs: My Favorite Princess Stories”
  15. “Reading Empathy”
  16. “From Russia with Love”
  17. “So Many Cinderellas”
  18. “The Sweetest Stories”
  19. “‘There is no Frigate like a Book’”
  20. “Dinosaurs”
  21. “Whale Tales”
  22. “Winter Reads”
  23. “A (Wolf)Pack of Stories”
  24. “Worm Books for Book Worms”