phd mama

from diapers to deconstruction


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Wabi Sabi: A Japanese List

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My younger daughter says her favorite thing about our unit study of Japan was the rice, providing further confirmation that we’re in it for the food. We did go out for Japanese food during this study, practicing with chopsticks and sampling sushi. My older daughter says she loved learning about all the different festivals and holidays in Japan, and these books certainly cover those topics as well. They also fell in love with Totoro in their introduction to anime. As you can see, this list does what I strive to do with all of our place-based unit studies: get a sense of the culture through history, folklore, fairy tales, contemporary accounts, food, music, crafts, and geography. This list showed us loyal animals, origami, wise rulers, everyday families, and, yes, rice. It’s the next best thing to travel!

  1. All About Japan: Stories, Songs, Crafts and More by Willamarie Moore and Kazumi Wilds
  2. Chibi: A True Story from Japan by Barbara Brenner, Julia Takaya, and June Otani
  3. Cooking the Japanese Way by Reiko Weston
  4. Color Crayola’s Japanese Flag and Map
  5. The Culture and Crafts of Japan by Miriam Coleman
  6. Dodsworth in Tokyo by Tim Egan
  7. Dragon of the Red Dawn by Mary Pope Osborne and Sal Murdocca
  8. The Emperor’s Plum Tree by Michelle Nikly and Elizabeth Shub
  9. Erika-San by Allen Say
  10. Hachiko: The True Story of a Loyal Dog by Pamela Turner and Yan Nascimbene
  11. I Live in Tokyo by Mari Takabayashi
  12. Watch Families of Japan
  13. The Funny Little Woman by Arlene Mosel and Blair Lent
  14. Japan by C.I.A.’s World Factbook
  15. Japan: Tradition, Culture, and Daily Life by Michael Centore
  16. Japanse Celebrations: Cherry Blossoms, Lanterns and Stars! by Betty Reynolds
  17. Japanese Children’s Favorite Stories by Florence Sakade and Yoshisuke Kurosaki
  18. Little Kunoichi: The Ninja Girl by Sanae Ishida
  19. My First Book of Japanese Words: An ABC Rhyming Book by Michelle Haney Brown and Aya Padrón
  20. My Japan by Etsuko Watanabe
  21. Watch My Neighbor Totoro
  22. Night of the Ninjas by Mary Pope Osborne
  23. Ninjas and Samurai by Mary Pope Osborne and Natalie Pope Bryce
  24. Make an Origami Crane
  25. Watch Ponyo
  26. The Real Princess Diaries by Grace Norwich
  27. Three Samurai Cats: A Story from Japan by Eric Kimmel and Mordicai Gerstein
  28. Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein and Ed Young
  29. The Way We Do It in Japan by Geneva Cobb IIjima and Paige Billin-Frye
  30. Tokyo Friends by Betty Reynolds


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When Irish Eyes Are Reading

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For our study of Ireland, we listened to a lot of toe-tapping tunes and fancied finding wee folk all over. As with all of our place-based units, there’s a mixture here of folklore and history. We made connections to our own family background and our region’s Irish influences, not to mention finding a new bread recipe we love. I got to share one of my favorite childhood movies with my girls and found a new and enchanting film for us all. Our exploration of The Emerald Isle was filled with wonder, but the real magic, as always, is in the journey-by-book.

  1. Brigid’s Cloak: An Ancient Irish Story by Bryce Milligan and Helen Cann
  2. Watch Darby O’Gill and the Little People
  3. Fiona’s Lace by Patricia Polacco
  4. Fiona’s Luck by Teresa Bateman and Kelly Murphy
  5. Great Irish Legends for Children by Yvonne Carroll and Robin Lawrie
  6. “Ireland” by CIA World Factbook
  7. Color the flags of Ireland and Northern Ireland by Crayola
  8. The Irish Cinderlad by Shirley Climo and Loretta Krupinski
  9. Irish Fairy Tales edited by Philip Smith
  10. Bake Irish Soda Bread
  11. Jamie O’Rourke and the Big Potato: An Irish Folktale by Tomie dePaola
  12. Leprechaun in Late Winter by Mary Pope Osborne and Sal Murdocca
  13. Leprechauns and Irish Folklore by Mary Pope Osborne, Natalie Pope Bryce, and Sal Murdocca
  14. The Leprechaun’s Gold by Pamela Duncan Edwards and Henry Cole
  15. Leprechauns on the Loose: An Adventure in Ireland by Disney’s Small World Library
  16. The Long March: The Choctaw’s Gift to Irish Famine Relief by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick
  17. O’Sullivan Stew by Hudson Talbott
  18. Patrick, Patron Saint of Ireland by Tomie dePaola
  19. The Prince of Ireland and the Three Magic Stallions by Bryce Milligan and Preston McDaniels
  20. Listen to Putumayo Presents: Celtic Crossroads
  21. Listen to Putumayo Presents: Women of the World, Celtic
  22. S is for Shamrock: An Ireland Alphabet by Eve Bunting and Matt Faulkner
  23. Watch The Secret of Kells
  24. This is Ireland by Miroslav Sasek
  25. Tim O’Toole and the Wee Folk: An Irish Tale by Gerald McDermott
  26. Viking Ships at Sunrise by Mary Pope Osborne and Sal Murdocca


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The Magic of Music

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I try to incorporate music into almost every unit study we do, so my children gain exposure to all kinds of styles and instruments. For this list, I intentionally went more general. My elder daughter is working on learning to read music, and I wanted to give her and my younger child an overview of common musical instruments, key concepts in music appreciation and composition, and the role of music in storytelling. Some of these resources are technically suited to children younger than mine (ages 6 and 3), but we found them beneficial. It’s been exciting to watch them play orchestra, to value the role of a conductor, and to bring music into their play more frequently after this unit. While I’ve limited the list to only 14 items, this unit definitely illustrates for me the incredible power of music to shape all of our stories!

  1. Watch Baby Einstein’s Meet the Orchestra: First Instruments
  2. Watch Cathy & Marcy’s Song Shop’s Meet the Instruments: Things with Strings
  3. Do Re Mi: If You Can Read Music, Thank Guido d’Arezzo by Susan L. Roth and Angelo Mafucci
  4. Watch Disney’s Fantasia/Fantasia 2000
  5. Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle and Rafael López
  6. Watch Sesame Street’s Elmo’s Musical Adventure and Sing Yourself Silly
  7. Watch Keep Christmas with You Featuring Santino Fontana and the Muppets® from Sesame Street®
  8. Ketzel, the Cat who Composed by Lesléa Newman and Amy June Bates
  9. M is for Melody: A Musical Alphabet by Kathy-jo Wargin and Katherine Larson
  10. M is for Music by Kathleen Krull and Stacy Innerst
  11. Watch Disney’s Make Mine Music
  12. Watch Disney’s Melody Time
  13. Meet the Orchestra by Ann Hayes and Karmen Thompson
  14. The Usborne Internet-Linked Introduction to Music by Eileen O’Brien


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Keep Calm and Read On

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For our latest literary adventure, we traveled to London—home to some of the greatest children’s literature of all time. From Paddington to Queen Victoria, from The Globe to Big Ben, from The Beatles to Mary Poppins, we canvased England’s capital city. Our selections span time periods and genres, and includes well-known characters as well as lovable new friends. As always in our travels, we immersed ourselves in the history and culture of our subject, taking on new characters to add to our repertoires, and finding our worldviews transformed in the process.

  1. The Adventures of Bella & Harry: Let’s Visit London by Lisa Manzione and Kristine Lucco
  2. Listen to The Beatles
  3. The Beatles by Mick Manning and Brita Granström
  4. The Beatles by Mike Venezia
  5. The Beatles Were Fab (and They Were Funny) by Kathleen Krull, Paul Brewer, and Stacy Innerst
  6. Bed-knob and Broomstick by Mary Norton
  7. Watch Disney’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks
  8. A Boy Called Dickens by Deborah Hopkinson and John Hendrix
  9. Charles Dickens: The Man Who Had Great Expectations by Diane Stanley and Peter Vennema
  10. Charlotte in London by Joan MacPhail Knight and Melissa Sweet
  11. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and Brett Helquist
  12. Read the CIA’s World Factbook about the United Kingdom
  13. Color Crayola’s flag and map of England
  14. Fur, Fins, and Feathers: Abraham Dee Bartlett and the Invention of the Modern Zoo by Cassandre Maxwell
  15. A Ghost Tale for Christmas Time by Mary Pope Osborne
  16. Good Queen Bess: The Story of Elizabeth I of England by Diane Stanley and Peter Vennema
  17. Katie in London by James Mayhew
  18. The Knight at Dawn by Mary Pope Osborne and Sal Murdocca
  19. Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers
  20. Watch Disney’s Mary Poppins
  21. Watch Disney’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol
  22. Paddington by Michael Bond
  23. Watch Paddington
  24. Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
  25. Watch Disney’s Peter Pan
  26. Popcorn at the Palace by Emily Arnold McCully
  27. A Possum’s Tail by Gabby Dawnay and Alex Barrow
  28. Queen Victoria’s Bathing Machine by Gloria Whelan and Nancy Carpenter
  29. The Queen’s Progress: An Elizabethan Alphabet by Celeste Davidson Mannis and Bagram Ibatoulline
  30. Shakespeare’s Seasons by Miriam Weiner and Shannon Whitt
  31. Stage Fright on a Summer Night by Mary Pope Osborne and Sal Murdocca
  32. Watch The Sword in the Stone
  33. This is London by M. Sasek
  34. Color Crayola’s flag and map of the United Kingdom
  35. A Walk in London by Salvatore Rubbino
  36. William Shakespeare & the Globe by Aliki
  37. Who Was Charles Dickens? by Pamela Pollock and Meg Belviso
  38. Who Was Queen Elizabeth? by June Eding and Nancy Harrison
  39. Who Was Queen Victoria? by Jim Gigliotti and Max Hergenrother
  40. Who Was William Shakespeare? by Celeste Davidson Mannis and John O’Brien
  41. Who Were the Beatles? by Geoff Edgers and Jeremey Tugeau


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O, Pioneers!

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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

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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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Dragons and Dynasties

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Our literary travels to China introduced us to fairy tales, folk tales, poetry, everyday images, immigrant stories, and so much more. The variety of sources helps us see the diverse perspectives even within a single nation, because there are so many stories and so much history that make up China. My children especially loved the stories about dragons, and we learned how much of our own cultural values and perspectives are invested in our ideas about dragons, whom Chinese stories regard as signs of good luck! And we felt lucky indeed to journey through time and space for a reading adventures in China.

  1. Beautiful Warrior: The Legend of the Nun’s Kung Fu by Emily Arnold McCully
  2. Beyond the Great Mountains: A Visual Poem about China by Eo Young
  3. Watch Sesame Street’s Big Bird in China
  4. C is for China by Sungwan So
  5. China: The CIA World Factbook
  6. Color the Chinese Flag and Map by Crayola
  7. The Chinese Siamese Cat by Amy Tan and Gretchen Schields
  8. Dim Sum for Everyone by Grace Lin
  9. Watch Families of China
  10. Jin Jin the Dragon by Grace Chang and Chong Chang
  11. Liang and the Magic Paintbrush by Demi
  12. Lion Dancer: Ernie Wan’s Chinese New Year by Katie Waters, Madeline Slovenz-Low, and Martha Cooper
  13. Listen to Little Dragon Tales: Chinese Children’s Songs
  14. Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China by Ed Young
  15. The Long-Haired Girl by Doreen Rappaport and Yang Ming-Yi
  16. The Magic Horse of Han Gan by Chen Jiang Hong
  17. Picture a Country: China by Henry Pluckrose
  18. Mouse Match by Ed Young
  19. My Chinatown: One Year in Poems by Kam Mak
  20. Oranges on Golden Mountain by Elizabeth Partridge and Aki Sogabe
  21. The Paper Dragon by Marguerite Davol and Robert Sabuda
  22. The Race for the Chinese Zodiac by Gabrielle Wang and Sally Rippin
  23. The Real Story of Stone Soup by Ying Chang Compestine and Stephane Forish
  24. Red Butterfly: How a Princess Smuggled the Secret of Silk Out of China by Deborah Noyes and Sophie Blackall
  25. The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin
  26. Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China by Ai-Ling Louie and Ed Young