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from diapers to deconstruction

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Colonial Times










It was easy to get carried away with our unit study of colonial times because the resources listed below helped us to explore nearly every aspect of that historical era. We made colonial crafts, recreated recipes of the times, and visited historical sites to capture the feeling of the American colonies. This list emphasizes the daily life as well as the big issues of the day so we can see the ways that the micro- and macro-levels of history converge. And while we didn’t talk about it with quite that language, it came up conceptually—until we got distracted again by conversations about colonial bathrooms.

  1. Watch “Ben and Me” on Walt Disney’s Timeless Tales, Volume 3
  2. Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin by His Good Mouse Amos, Discovered, Edited, and Illustrated by Robert Lawson
  3. The Blacksmith by Bobbie Kalman
  4. The Cold, Hard facts about Science and Medicine in Colonial America by Elizabeth Raum
  5. Colonial Times from A to Z by Bobbie Kalman
  6. Watch clips from “Colonial Williamsburg”
  7. A Day in the Life of a Colonial Doctor by Laurie Krebs
  8. A Day in the Life of a Colonial Glassblower by J. L. Branse
  9. A Day in the Life of a Colonial Indigo Planter by Laurie Krebs
  10. A Day in the Life of a Colonial Innkeeper by Kathy Wilmore
  11. A Day in the Life of a Colonial Lighthouse Keeper by Laurie Krebs
  12. A Day in the Life of a Colonial Miller by Laurie Krebs
  13. A Day in the Life of a Colonial Printer by Kathy Wilmore
  14. A Day in the Life of a Colonial Sailmaker by Laurie Krebs
  15. A Day in the Life of a Colonial Schoolteacher by Kathy Wilmore
  16. A Day in the Life of a Colonial Shipwright by Laurie Krebs
  17. A Day in the Life of a Colonial Wigmaker by Kathy Wilmore
  18. The Dish on Food and Farming in Colonial America by Anika Fajardo
  19. The Dreadful, Smelly Colonies: The Disgusting Details about Life in Colonial America by Elizabeth Raum
  20. Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by Robert Byrd
  21. A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat by Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall
  22. Hasty Pudding, Johnnycakes, and Other Good Stuff: Cooking in Colonial America by Loretta Frances Ichord and Jan Davy Elis
  23. If You Lived in Colonial Times by Ann McGovern and Brinton Turkle
  24. If You Lived in Williamsburg in Colonial Days by Barbara Brenner and Jenny Williams
  25. Inventors and Inventions in Colonial America by Charlie
  26. Journey to Monticello: Traveling in Colonial Times by James E. Knight
  27. The Milliner by Niki Walker, Bobbie Kalman, and Barbara Bedell
  28. Molly’s Pilgrim by Barbara Cohen and Michael J. Deraney
  29. The New Americans: Colonial Times (1620-1689) by Betsy Maestro and Giulio Maestro
  30. Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall and Barbara Cooney
  31. The Real Story about Government and Politics in Colonial America by Kristine Carlson Asselin
  32. The Real Story on the Weapons and Battles of Colonial America by Kristine Carlson Asselin
  33. The Scoop on Clothes, Homes, and Daily Life in Colonial America by Elizabeth Raum
  34. The Scoop on School and Work in Colonial America by Bonnie Hinman
  35. When I Was Built by Jennifer Thermes

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New York, New York: A Helluva State









I’ve lived in New York for nearly a decade now, though I’ve never been to New York City during that time. I know…I know. I’m not exactly a city girl. This list includes the glamorous, bustling Big Apple, but, like my experience, it showcases the rest of this great state, too. From history to politics to classics in American literature to landmark environmental movements, this list illustrates the richness of New York. And while I haven’t taken my girls to Times Square…yet, they’re just as excited about the big city as they are about Niagara Falls and the rolling farmland closer to home. I hope you enjoy this list, and I hope it helps you see the Empire State in a new way, too.

  1. Blizzard! by Jim Murphy
  2. Celebrating New York by Marion Dane Bauer and C.B. Canga
  3. Christmas in New York City: Adventures of Bella and Harry by Lisa Manzione and Kristine Lucco
  4. The Christmas Tugboat: How the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Came to New York City by George Matteson, Adele Ursone, and James E. Ransome
  5. Color Color New York: Official Symbols and Fun Facts about New York State from the NY Dept. of State
  6. Color Colonial Kingston Coloring Book from Ulster County
  7. Color Crayola’s New York shape and flag
  8. The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden and Garth Williams
  9. E is for Empire: A New York State Alphabet by Ann E. Burg and Maureen K. Brookfield
  10. Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  11. Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey by Maira Kalman
  12. Good Night, New York City by Adam Gamble and Joe Veno
  13. Good Night, New York State by Adam Gamble and Mark Jasper
  14. Historic Houses of New York State by A.G. Smith
  15. Hudson by Janice Weaver and David Craig
  16. In New York by Marc Brown
  17. The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge by Hildegarde H. Swift and Lynd Ward
  18. Make Your Mark, Franklin Roosevelt by Judith St. George and Britt Spencer
  19. Mirette & Bellini Cross Niagara Falls by Emily Arnold McCully
  20. New York: The Empire State by Margery Facklam, Peggy Thomas, and Jon Messer
  21. New York, New York! The Big Apple from A-Z by Laura Krauss Melmed and Frané Lessac
  22. Visit The New York State Museum
  23. Old Penn Station by William Low
  24. Rip Van Winkle’s Return by Eric A. Kimmel and Leonard Everett Fisher
  25. River of Dreams: The Story of the Hudson River by Hudson Talbott
  26. Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building by Deborah Hopkinson and James Ransome
  27. This is New York by M. Sasek
  28. A Walk in New York by Salvatore Rubbino
  29. What Is the Statue of Liberty? by Joan Holub and John Hinderliter
  30. What Was Ellis Island? by Patricia Brennan Demuth and David Groff
  31. Who Was Eleanor Roosevelt? by Gare Thompson and Elizabeth Wolf
  32. Who Was Franklin Roosevelt? by Margaret Frith and John O’Brien



Alternative ABC’s

I love alphabet books, the traditional sort as well as those listed below, each of which provides a twist on the standard format for the genre.  I like to think of these as making the familiar strange, taking something as easy as ABC and looking at it in a new way; that process reminds me that the alphabet is an invention, with a history of its own, and that at one point it was considered a technology. At the very least, this list makes me appreciate how much easier it is to learn the Roman alphabet than it would have been to learn hieroglyphics.

  1. Alphabet City, by Stephen Johnson; using urban photographs, Johnson finds unexpected letters in the cityscape. It reminds me of the way children see shapes and letters in unpredictable ways before grownups train the creativity out of them.
  2. The Dangerous Alphabet, written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Gris Grimly; set in rhyming couplets, Gaiman’s wonderfully creepy alphabet world follows two children on a treasure hunt.
  3. Eating the Alphabet, Lois Ehlert; I love Ehlert’s bold, colorful collage style. Here she covers the pages from A-Z with delicious fruits and vegetables that look good enough to eat.
  4. A Fabulous Fair Alphabet, by Debra Frasier; this text recreates the stimulation of attending the fair with simple shapes and bright colors exploding on each page; find the letters in fair-friendly terms splayed across each spread in images as delightful as a trip to the fair itself.
  5. The Graphic Alphabet, by David Pelletier; each letter in Pelletier’s text visually represents a corresponding concept; some are strange, some abstract, but all of them display a starkly modern look at the alphabet. Letter “I” is my favorite.
  6. The Handmade Alphabet, by Laura Rankin; Rankin’s book shows the letters of American Sign Language. Each page shows a hand forming the letter and an image that illustrates something hands can do. Sometimes strange and weirdly disembodied, this book draws new attention to body language.
  7. I Spy: An Alphabet in Art, by Lucy Micklethwait; densely packed with images, this book lets the readers invent the alphabet. I love the way that each reader can create and invent from the same picture—“j for jewelry” or “n for necklace” to show language’s possibilities.
  8. LMNO Peas, by Keith Baker; playing on that tongue twister from the traditional alphabet song, Baker’s whimsical book looks at a crowd of peas with all kinds of interesting hobbies and professions.
  9. Museum ABC, by The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art; following the standard “A is for Apple” format, this book quickly departs from the norm by showing 4 pictures for each letter. Close-ups of famous artworks illustrate that even “A is for apple” is open to interpretation.
  10. Ox, House, Stick: The History of Our Alphabet, written by Don Robb and illustrated by Anne Smith; as the title indicates, this book tells the history of the alphabet. I like the attention to the story behind each letter, and it reminds me that even the deceptively-simple letters come from somewhere.
  11. Superhero ABC, by Bob McLeod; casting each letter as a superhero, McLeod using a comic-style of illustration to turn the alphabet into a silly, sweeping adventure.
  12. The Z Was Zapped by Chris Van Allsburg; in “26 acts,” Van Allsburg raises the curtain on each letter and its terrible fate. Each page depicts a letter, and readers must turn the page to discover the corresponding text, making this a page-turning mystery from cover to cover.

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Embodied ABC’s


(This image courtesy of Carolina Weick’s Walk With Me Photography)

Embodied ABC’s

There are some amazing alphabet books out there (more on that here), but small children learning their ABC’s often benefit from more embodied educational approaches. Being able to handle, create, and manipulate letters provides children with ways to connect their incredible physical energy with their busily whirring brains. Uniting body and mind enhances the images children see on the pages of alphabet books, and makes letters come alive—not as static pictures but as living language.

Here are some strategies for working with the alphabet beyond books:

  1. Use pipe cleaners to form the letters.
  2. Twist letters out of Play-dough.
  3. Play with Scrabble or Upwords tiles (with or without the game boards).
  4. Put alphabet magnets on the fridge or in the bathtub.
  5. Write letters on the side of the tub with foam soap.
  6. Draw letters in the sand or in the dirt with a stick.
  7. Try to turn your whole body into each letter.
  8. Trace each letter with your finger on your child’s back.
  9. Make cookies (or Play-dough shapes) with alphabet cookie cutters.
  10. Learn the ASL alphabet.

As you try these, embrace imperfections and incompleteness, and keep in mind that learning to craft letters with a writing implement requires significant patience, practice, and highly-developed motor skills. Experiment with these, but don’t force it. If you draw the entire alphabet in the sand and your kid stomps all over it, be cool. That’s learning too, and most importantly, it’s fun.

Follow me! @ErinWyble