Category Archives: Books

First Chapter Books to Read Aloud

(These reviews contain affiliate links)

When my oldest was about 3, I couldn’t wait to start reading chapter books with her. I was a librarian by training, a homeschooler at heart, and a reader since… always. I had dreams of us reading a chapter a night from our book and was eager to get started. But, it felt very hard to find books that were suitable for someone so young. So many “early chapter books” dealt with school or friendship troubles or other things that were far outside of her experiences. Through some digging, research, and talking with other librarians, we found some great books that have gone on to be family favorites. And, as an extra bonus, having them in our home library means that they’re ready for her when she’s reading chapter books on her own!

Here’s what we found; I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments!

cover art for Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same

 

Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same by Grace Lin

A series of four very, very beginning chapter books (my library keeps them with the early readers). Ling and Ting are twins, but they are not exactly the same. In bite-sized stories, they have sweet daily-life adventures: playing, cooking, and observing the seasons. This series was perfect for my realistic fiction-loving, literal-minded eldest.

 

 

 

 

cover art of Mercy Watson to the Rescue

Mercy Watson (series) by Kate DiCamillo

This funny six-book series about a pet pig and her owners is so much fun to read aloud! Mr. and Mrs. Watson are convinced that Mercy is a porcine wonder. In one book, she inadvertently alerts the fire department to an emergency at the Watsons’ and saves the day. However, she does it by smushing her nose against a neighbor’s window looking for sugar cookies. The startled neighbor calls the fire department, which arrives in time to save the Watsons. This series features a lot of funny secondary characters that have inspired their own spin-off series for slightly older readers, Tales from Deckawoo Drive. And, I can’t talk about this series without mentioning the fantastic art by Chris VanDusen. The characters’ exaggerated features and expressions dial up the humor and make it as much fun to “read” the pictures as the words.

 

 

Cover art for Dinosaurs Before Dark

Magic Tree House (series) by Mary Pope Osborne

This series is hardly a secret, but I was surprised how much my three- and four-year-olds have loved it! The audiobooks are our family go-to for car trips. Jack and Annie discover a tree house in the woods near their home that can take them through time and space. Early in the series, they visit the dinosaurs, ninjas, and the moon. I think the series really shines in the later installments, which are a bit longer, when they visit specific historic events and figures – the 1889 Paris World’s Fair, Louis Armstrong, and many (many) others.

 

 

 

cover art of Two Times the Fun

 

Two Times the Fun

Twins Jimmy and Janet have four old-fashioned adventures in this lesser-known Beverly Cleary book. These simple stories are heart-warming and wholesome, inspired by Cleary’s own twins.

 

 

 

 

Cover art for My Father's Dragon

My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett

This is one that showed up on nearly every list of “chapter books for preschoolers” I found, yet I never read it until my second daughter was ready for longer books. A boy sets off on an adventure to a mysterious, remote island. He must outsmart a series of animals before he reaches the mistreated baby dragon he is trying to rescue. It is fun adventure for kids who like a tiny bit of excitement. Originally published in 1948, it has an old-fashioned feel, from a time when there might have been undiscovered islands with unknown treasures.

 

 

 

cover art of Maybelle in the Soup

Maybelle in the Soup

Maybelle is a cockroach who lives under the refrigerator in a posh apartment. She and her friend Henry, a flea, get in over their heads as they seek a more exciting life (and diet) than crumbs dropped on the floor. Funny illustrations bring Maybelle with her big, floppy hairbow to life. In other installments, she spends a night in a hotel – with room service! – and visits an equally appetizing school cafeteria.

 

 

 

 

cover art of Mrs. Noodlekugel

 

Mrs. Noodlekugel

This quirky, slightly surreal series is laugh-out-loud funny and has added a few phrases to our family’s inside-joke vocabulary. Mrs. Noodlekugel is a funny old lady who lives with four blind cats in a Narnia-ish cottage hidden inside a big city. Nick and Maxine are put in her care and spend their time learning the ways of her unique visitors, including Drooly the Bear and a talking cat named Oldface. It’s reminiscent of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and I only wish there were more books in the series.

 

 

cover art of Diva and Flea

The Story of Diva and Flea

The longest of this batch, but arguably my family’s favorite. Diva is a little white dog who lives in an apartment building in Paris. Flea is a cat who doesn’t live anywhere in particular, but knows the city inside and out. They meet and each help push the other out of their comfort zone. Gorgeous illustrations by Tony DiTerlizzi and first-rate writing by Mo Willems, this makes a delightful readaloud.

 

 

 

 

Disclosure: DFW Homeschool Resource will receive a small commission from any Amazon purchases made through the links in this post. This helps our site to run. Thanks!

Source: I was not asked to review these books. I purchased some for my home library and borrowed some from my public library.

Laura Jewell is a mom to three young readers in Richardson. She was a children’s librarian at a public library before deciding to stay home with her girls.

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State Fair Books – State Fair of Texas Books

State Fair Books

It’s time again for the great State Fair of Texas! A friend of mine recently posted a book by a friend of hers on the State Fair. It got me thinking about trying to finds books on the fair. Turns out there’s quite a few about it! Here’s a list of the ones I found: (This post contains affiliate links)

  1. Maddy Lou and Mack

This book was just published at the beginning of the month! It’s the start of a cute series about Maddy Lou and Mack traveling around the great state of Texas!

2. Cotton Candy Catastrophe at the Texas State Fair

This tasty tale tells what happens to Jake when the cotton candy machine malfunctions.

3. The Spaniel Family Goes to the State Fair

This is the store of Joe, a cocker spaniel, who really wants to meet Big Tex!

4.Billy and Goat at the State Fair

Billy and his friend goat have different ways of exploring their state fair.

5. Bluebonnet at the State Fair of Texas

Just another one of Bluebonnet’s adventures around Texas!

6. Good night Dallas/Fort Worth

Not specifically about the fair, but this book features many landmarks in the DFW Metroplex.

 

All three books are cute ways of talking about our great state and the part of the state we all live in.

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The Journey by Francesca Sanna

The Journey by Francesca Sanna

The Journey by Francesca Sanna

(This review contains affiliate links.)

In this gorgeous picture book, Francesca Sanna brings to life the fear, heartbreak, and hope of a refugee’s journey. The unnamed protagonist describes the arrival of war and his/her family’s escape. Through breathtaking, magical illustrations, Sanna ratchets the tension. A guard at the border looms larger than life, unfamiliar landscapes fill the page, and the mother’s hair creates a cocoon to protect her family. The family represents so many families facing this impossible voyage.

Oversize guards in The Journey

The refugee crisis is a difficult subject for everyone, especially young children. This sensitive, beautiful book offers an opportunity to share it in an appropriate way. You don’t have to take my word for it – the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, and the New York Public library all named The Journey one of their best books of the year.

 

Recommended for ages 4-9.

Disclosure: DFW Homeschool Resource will receive a small commission from any Amazon purchases made through the links in this post. This helps our site to run. Thanks!

Source: My public library.

Laura Jewell is a mom to three young readers in Richardson. She was a children’s librarian at a public library before deciding to stay home with her girls.

 

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Masters of Disguise: Amazing Animal Tricksters

Masters of Disguise: Amazing Animal Tricksters

Masters of Disguise: Amazing Animal Tricksters by Rebecca Johnson

(This review contains affiliate links.)

 

Red next to black, friend to Jack,

Red next to yellow will kill a fellow.

A few weeks ago, my six year old and I were talking about coral snakes, which led to a discussion of mimicry, which led us to the library. As you do. We borrowed Masters of Disguise: Amazing Animal Tricksters, and it has dominated our bedtime reading ever since.

After a quick explanation about different kinds of animal fakery, it introduces nine trickster animals and their secrets. There is a spider that creates a giant puppet version of itself, a moth that chirps to confuse bats’ echolocation, a bird that sneaks her eggs into another species’ nests, and so on.

For each animal, there is a little story about how it uses trickery to get its way, then a two-page explanation of the science behind the trick. These science sections each introduce the scientists who figured out how these animals succeed. A lot of the experiments are fascinating — how do you change the way an animal smells? How do you record the sounds ants make deep in their tunnels? It is a nice way to get a glimpse of the many kinds of scientists and ways to study animals.

Recommended for non-fiction lovers from 5-10.

Disclosure: DFW Homeschool Resource will receive a small commission from any Amazon purchases made through the links in this post. This helps our site to run. Thanks!

Source: My public library.

Laura Jewell is a mom to three young readers in Richardson. She was a children’s librarian at a public library before deciding to stay home with her girls.

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Read for Today is National Literacy Day!

DFW Homeschool Resource BooksToday UNESCO celebrates 50 years of National Literacy Day. The theme for the year is “Reading the Past, Writing the Future.” UNESCO founded National Literacy day to “promote literacy as an instrument to empower individuals, communities, and societies.”

If you and your children want to make an impact on world literacy, look to your local library and community centers. There are adult literacy programs all over the metroplex. Your younger children may not be able to volunteer, but check and see if they’ll allow your high school students.

And celebrate the day by reading. Reading is not a right that everyone in the world has. Women are severely discriminated against in other countries when it comes to education.

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Anna Hibiscus — Audiobook win!

This review contains affiliate links.

Cover art of Good Luck, Anna Hibiscus

Anna Hibiscus series by Atinuke, illustrated by Lauren Tobia, narrated by Mutiyat Ade-Salu

I have a family of amphibious readers. We read paper books, audiobooks, e-books, and everything else. Format doesn’t matter, just give us the story. But every once in a while, we find an audiobook that is absolutely the best format for that book, no contest. One of our absolute favorites is Anna Hibiscus.

Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa. She lives in a big house with her mother, father, brothers – twins, named Double and Trouble – grandparents, uncles, aunties, and cousins. In short chapters, she has everyday adventures. She tries selling oranges outside her house, goes on a quest to find out what snow is like, and takes the lead in a school performance. In one of the books, she leaves home to visit her grandmother in faraway Canada. Anna Hibiscus will remind you of Ramona Quimby, a curious girl with an unbreakable spirit.

BUT. The audiobooks are where this series truly shines. Mutiyat Ade-Salu brings the dialect and colloquialisms to pitch-perfect life. In addition to hearing the story of Anna’s family, you can hear their voices, in a way that would be very difficult for most American-accented readers to replicate. Ade-Salu gets the pacing and tone exactly right, allowing the reader to listen in on the cheerful hustle-bustle of a heart-warming family.

The books are fantastic, full of vibrant characters and charming stories for early chapter book readers. The audiobooks are a joy for the whole family. Check out all four: Anna Hibiscus, Hooray for Anna Hibiscus, Good Luck, Anna Hibiscus!, Have Fun, Anna Hibiscus!

Disclosure: DFW Homeschool Resource will receive a small commission from any Amazon purchases made through the links in this post. This helps our site to run. Thanks.

Source: I was not asked to review this series. I borrowed one from my public library, requested two through inter-library loan, and purchased the fourth.

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Learning about Eugenie Clark, Shark Lady

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Cover art of Shark Lady by Jess Keating

Shark Lady by Jess Keating, illustrated by Marta Álvarez Miguéns

Cover art of Swimming with Sharks by Heather Lang

Swimming with Sharks by Heather Lang, illustrated by Jordi Solano

Two new picture book biographies bring to life the Shark Lady, Eugenie Clark.

At a time when many believed that women weren’t brave enough to explore the oceans, Dr. Clark was diving deep to make all kinds of discoveries. She was the first to learn that sharks don’t need to keep moving to stay alive. She was the first to learn that sharks can be trained like other animals. And, she taught the world that sharks aren’t mindless killers.

Shark Lady and Swimming with Sharks cover a lot of the same ground, story-wise. However, Shark Lady shines in the artwork. Marta Álvarez Miguéns’s colorful, cheerful illustrations are enormously appealing. My girls are drawn to it over and over again. Their very favorite picture shows Dr. Clark training sharks to ring a bell to receive a fish.

Eugenie Clark training a shark in Shark Lady by J. Keating
from Shark Lady

Swimming with Sharks excels in the details. It tells stirring stories of her dives to sharks’ caves and describes her discoveries in a way that young minutia lovers will gobble up. Her patience, curiosity, and determination are inspiring.

Image of Eugenie Clark scuba diving from Swimming with Sharks by H. Lang
from Swimming with Sharks

For readers interested in sharks, oceanography, or women scientists, both of these books are great choices. Shark Lady recommended for ages 3-8, Swimming with Sharks for ages 4-9.

 

Disclosure: DFW Homeschool Resource will receive a small commission from any Amazon purchases made through one of the links in this post. This helps our site to run. Thanks!

Source: Shark Lady is from my personal collection. I borrowed Swimming with Sharks from my local library.

Laura Jewell is a mom to three young readers in Richardson. She was a children’s librarian at a public library before deciding to stay home with her girls.

 

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Bedtime Math by Laura Overdeck

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Bedtime Math cover

Bedtime Math (series) by Laura Overdeck, illustrated by Jim Paillot

Quick: If a helicopter airlifts 4 lost rhinos and 3 stranded hippos to safety in one day, how many big endangered animals does it save?

The Bedtime Math series is a hilarious way to bring a little bit more math into your day. Each book has nearly forty funny tidbits to read, each followed by three questions: one for wee ones, one for little kids, one for big kids. The idea is to help kids think of math as enjoyable, not a chore. As it says in the introduction, “If kids like flamingos, frogs, and chocolate chips, then let’s give them math problems about flamingos, frogs, and chocolate chips!”

Sample page from Bedtime Math

The best part is that Bedtime Math can be read as a family. A younger child can count the number of socks in the picture while an older child figures out a sock-related multiplication question.

One thing to note: the first book in the series skews a bit more difficult than the rest. In the first book, my six year old can answer the Wee Ones questions and a few of the Little Kids. In the second book and the rest of the series, the Wee Ones questions are geared for preschool and the Little Ones are just right for my six year old. The later books also add a trickier bonus question, usually one that requires more than one step.

If you’re already a Bedtime Math fan, check out their website for a daily math question, fun facts, and more: http://bedtimemath.org/

And it doesn’t hurt to mention: the covers glow in the dark. Enjoy!

Recommended for ages 4 – 11.

Bedtime Math: A Fun Excuse to Stay Up Late

Bedtime Math^2: This Time It’s Personal

Bedtime Math: The Truth Comes Out

Bedtime Math: How Many Guinea Pigs Can Fit on a Plane?

Disclosure: DFW Homeschool Resource will receive a small commission from any Amazon purchases made through one of the links in this post. This helps our site to run. Thanks.

Source: Purchased for my own collection.

(Sample question from Bedtime Math: A Fun Excuse to Stay Up Late, p.45; Flamingos, frogs, and chocolate chips quote from the introduction to Bedtime Math: This Time It’s Personal.)

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Real Friends by Shannon Hale

 

This post contains affiliate links.

Real Friends is written by Shannon Hale and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. For some of you, no further review is needed.

Shannon Hale’s somewhat-fictionalized memoir of her school years is funny, touching, and completely relatable. Little Shannon has a big imagination. Her friends can count on her to invent the best games at recess. She is also caught up in the orbit of a third-grade queen bee, a girl who is a good friend to Shannon, but comes with some less-friendly hangers-on. At home, Shannon is dealing with a bullying older sister. It is not an issues book, but it does take a realistic look at everyday troubles.

Hale brings each episode to life with striking imagery. Young Shannon imagines her older sister as a bear – tame at times, but still a wild animal, and not to be trusted. She has detailed fantasies about leaving behind the drama of her clique-ish classmates and going on adventures with her true friends. Pham’s illustrations beautifully stitch together Shannon’s real and imagined lives, as well as the highs and lows of life as a tween.

Fans of Raina Telgemeier’s Smile and Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl, check this one out. Recommended for ages 8-12.

 

Disclosure: DFW Homeschool Resource will receive a small commission from any Amazon purchases made through one of the links in this post. This helps our site to run. Thanks.

Source: Borrowed from my public library. I was not asked to review it.

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Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

This review contains affiliate links.

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

Sometimes, summer is just the right time for trying something BIG. For Jabari, this means jumping off the high dive. He is definitely ready. Well. Almost definitely.

In this joyful picture book about gathering your courage, we see all the little hurdles that come before trying something new. Before Jabari can jump off the high dive, he must first climb the ladder and walk to the end of the board. Jabari’s body language and facial expressions beautifully mirror every child who has felt a little nervous.

Jabari gets some excellent advice from his dad, gives himself a little peptalk and…

 

Whether the reader is anxious about the pool or anything else, everyone can relate to this charming boy and the feeling of needing just a little nudge. Recommended for ages 3-8.

Disclosure: DFW Homeschool Resource will receive a small commission from any Amazon purchases made through one of the links in this post. This helps our site to run. Thanks.

Source: Borrowed from my public library. I was not asked to review it.

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