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A Summer Full of Imagination

by Miriam Downey 5. July 2012 10:56

When my son was about 12, he told me one "boring" summer afternoon that he wanted to make an "imagination cake." I told him that he could experiment in the kitchen as long as he cleaned up after himself. Of course, the product that came out of the oven didn't look anything like a cake because he had used some of his favorites like peanut butter and catsup but had used no flour or eggs or leavening agent. After I explained to him about how a cake had to have all the previously mentioned things, he and I baked a real cake together. It was a good experience for us both; he got to use his imagination, and I got to teach a cooking skill.

Summer is a great time for children's imaginations to run wild. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (May 23, 2012) discusses this very topic. Tinkerers Unite! How Parents Enable Kids' Creativity talks about how having time to "mess around" may be an extremely valuable experience for children by allowing them time for unstructured, hands-on creativity. The family in the story kept a box of junk that the children could use to make whatever they wanted.

The article suggests that even though Legos and other toys that can be purchased can encourage a lot of hands-on play, some of the best play comes when the play equipment has to be scavenged and repurposed. The article suggested that telling a child that you won't purchase some big single-purpose item may encourage a creative solution to the problem. Following the article, readers expressed opinions on the article. One anonymous reader said: "As a society, we've transformed childhood from a time of exploration and imagination into a time of consumerism and staring. It's critical that we parents limit screen time and require our young people to come up with their own activities, ideas and plans, if we are to support a future society in which people know how to fix, build, and create."

The problem with massive amounts of creative play is massive amounts of chaos in the house and yard that has to be cleaned up. I can offer no solution for that, but I can offer some books that will help guide your child's creative efforts. The following lists of books are about sewing, cooking, building, technology, putting on shows, etc. Most will be available at your public library. Any one of these books can inspire a summer's worth of tinkering.

I must say in closing that the same son who experimented with cake baking and other messy, messy endeavors as a child is now a toy designer and inventor. Some of his creations may be in your playroom or your game closet. It is satisfying as a mother to know that all the chaos and cleanup amounted to something!

The Way Things Work or The New Way Things Work by David McCaulay. These classic books are a tinkerer's guide to creation. Everything you would ever want to know about how things work.

The Way Science Works by DK Publishing. All the secrets of science.

Gizmos and Gadgets: Creating Science Contraptions that Work and Knowing Why by Jull Frankel Hauser. Perfect for making major messes!

Kids and Inventing! A Handbook for Young Inventors by Susan Casey. Easy-to-follow instructions for turning ideas into realities.

New Junior Cookbook by Better Homes and Gardens. This cookbook is appropriate for even the youngest cooks, and the recipes are appealing to older children as well. There are lots of cookbooks for children available. Your own favorites may be a child's best source of recipes, however.

Sewing School: 21 Sewing Projects Kids Will Love by Amie Plumley and Andria Lisle. These projects look really cute and fun. They also use material scraps, which makes for fun for most children.

Theatre for Young Audiences: 20 Great Plays for Children by Coleman A. Jennings. Some original plays and some adaptations that children can act out and plan the production of.

On Stage: Theatre Games and Activities for Kids by Lisa Barry-Winters. More fun in putting on a show.

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English | Learning

Going on a road trip? Listen to a book.

by Miriam Downey 11. June 2012 11:38

When my daughter was in middle school, we frequently drove from Michigan to New York and Minnesota to visit relatives. Both were very long trips for me as the driver and her as the rider. I remembered that my mother had read to us in the car when we were young, so I went to the library and got audio books for us to listen to in the car. It turned out to be a wonderful experience for us both; I tried to pick books that we both would like to hear. My fondest memory is when we listened to To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It turned out to be transformative for both of us.

If there are several children in your family, you will need to be cognizant of the differences in the ages as you are choosing your audio books. Remember that children can listen to books geared to an older age level than they can read. You will find that even the driver tunes into the book. I have always gotten a kick out of my husband and the books we listen to in the car. He says that he doesn't like fiction, but he is always the first to turn on the player when we get into the car.

Here are my best suggestions for books for road trips. All of these books are available at my local library. Check with your library website or just go and browse their audio book shelves.

The best part of listening to a book in the car is that the hours just fly by!

These books are appropriate for almost all families.

The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Most of the books in the series run about 6 hours on CD. The book for the youngest children is The Little House in the Big Woods. Please be warned that Pa speaks despairingly of Native Americans in some of the books but not in The Little House in the Big Woods. Probably will need some explaining about how pioneers felt about Native Americans.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. 4 1/2 hours. An adventure novel and modern fairy tale. It is fun with lots of puns and jokes about the meanings of English language idioms.

Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe. 2 hours. Talk about silly! A vegetarian vampire bunny. Other books by the Howes that are also available on audio book include Howliday Inn and The Celery Stalks at Midnight. Everyone will be in stitches.

Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater.  2 hours. Mr. Popper is a house painter who is given two penguins who begin a small flock. The curiosity of the penguins and Mr. Popper's goodwill is memorable.

Redwall by Brian Jacques. 10 hours. Several books in the series. The story of a brave mouse who founds an abbey deep in the woods and fighs evil. Great stories.

Travels with Charlie by John Steinbeck.  8 hours. Travel with the famous American author John Steinbeck as he travels around the United States with his dog, Charlie.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  12 hours. The classic story about Scout, a girl of the South and her lawyer father, a kind man who tries to live a just life. Scout is one of the most appealing children in American literature.

Happy Travels!

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Blog | English

Girls Like Adventure Stories Too

by Miriam Downey 30. May 2012 14:31

My sister and I are writing down three stories that have been in our family for about 100  years. One is about our grandmother and an adventure she had with some pigs when she was five years old. She told this story many times in our childhood, complete with authentic pig noises. We were only vaguely aware of another family story until we recently uncovered the obituary of our great, great grandmother. In the obituary, the story was told about our ancestor meeting up with the outlaw Jesse James on the day that Jesse James and his gang robbed the bank in Northfield, Minnesota.

These family stories caused me to start thinking about girls and adventure stories. My guess is that girls like to read about girls having adventures as much as they like to read about boys having adventures. Today I would like to share with you some stories about remarkable girls and their adventures, both fictional and true.

Jeanne Craighead George, who died this month, was a naturalist and author who wrote fiction and non-fiction books about nature. Her fiction book series, Julie of the Wolves, Julie, and Julie's Wolf Pack tells about the adventures of Julie, a 13-year-old Eskimo girl. In Julie of the Wolves, she gets lost on the tundra and is protected by a pack of wolves. The book won the Newbery Medal in 1973. The third book in the series, Julie's Wolf Pack, tells the story from the perspective of the wolves and is very exciting. I would recommend it for girls in grades 4-6. Her other famous story is My Side of the Mountain, an adventure about a boy named Sam who lives by himself in a tree house in the Catskill Mountains. It was a Newbery Honor Book.

Here is a list of adventure books with heroines and the recommended age levels.

Grades K-2

Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey. Parallel adventure stories of a little girl and a baby bear picking blueberries in Maine.

Brave Irene by William Steig. Irene is the dressmaker's daughter, and she has to deliver a ball gown in a fierce snowstorm.

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. Available online.Twelve little girls have madcap adventures in Paris.

Miss Rumphuis by Barbara Cooney. Miss Rumphius spent her life trying to make the world more beautiful. She traveled and had many adventures.

Swamp Angel by Anne Isaac. A wonderful tall tale in which Angelica saves a pioneer town.

Grades 3-5

 The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Two girls, interested in ancient Egypt, invent a game that leads them to a criminal investigation.

Five Children and It by E. Nesbit. Available online. Five English children (three boys and two girls) have adventures regarding a mysterious creature with the power to grant wishes.

From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. Two children hide in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. Harriet wants to be a writer, she has adventures as she watches people and takes notes. The notebook falls into the wrong hands.

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell. Karana is a Native American girl who spends 18 years alone on a rocky island off the coast of California. Based on a true story.

Grades 6-8

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi. In 1832, Charlotte Doyle age 13 was sent across the ocean on her own. She gets involved in a mutiny and a murder.

I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade by Diane Lee Wilson. A young Mongolian girl treks across the Gobi Desert and then along the Great Wall of China.

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. Salamanca heads on a spiritual quest from Ohio to Idaho to search for her mother.

The White Stallion by Elizabeth Shub. Gretchen and her old mare find themselves in the midst of a band of wild horses. Thrilling.

A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer. A young African girl escapes an arranged marriage by following the Musengezi River in a canoe. She has one adventure after another.

Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary "Jacky" Faber, Ship's Boy by L. A. Meyer. First of a series of books about a girl on a British warship.

Grades 9-12

Pirates! The True and Remarkable Adventures of Minerva Sharpe and Nancy Kington, Female Pirates by Celia Rees. The true story of two young women who became pirates to escape arranged marriages.

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich. A young Ojibwa woman lives on an island in Lake Superior in 1847.

The Secret Soldier: The Story of Deborah Sampson by Ann McGovern. A biography of a woman who disguised herself as a man and joined the Continental army during the Revolution.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. The first of a series about Lyra who sets out to protect her friends and other kidnapped children from a sinister plot.

The Bean Tree by Barbara Kingsolver. Taylor makes her way West with an abandoned baby girl.

Some True Adventure Stories for Teenage Girls:

Race Across Alaska: First Woman to Win the Iditarod Tells Her Story by Libby Riddles. Story of the remarkable woman who won the Iditarod race.

The Lady and the Panda: The True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back China's Most Exotic Animal by Vicki Constantine Croke. One woman's adventurous trek through Tibet to capture a panda-alive.

No Pretty Pictures: A Child of War by Anita Lobel. A piercing account of surviving the Holocaust by a famous children's author and illustrator.

Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board by Bethany Hamiton. Could you return to the water after losing an arm in a shark attack? Hamilton did.

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung. How a young girl survived Cambodia's Pol Pot regime.

Have fun, all you adventurers out there!

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Wild Things: A Tribute to Maurice Sendak

by Miriam Downey 11. May 2012 08:46

I started writing a blog posting about adventure books, but it will have to be postponed because I want to pay tribute to my all-time favorite children's book, Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak.

Maurice Sendak died on May 8 at age 83. His influence on children's literature is immeasurable, primarily because of his groundbreaking picture book, Where the Wild Things Are. I don't believe it would be an overstatement to say that Where the Wild Things Are may be the most influential picture book of the 20th century. So influential, I might add, that I have a grandson named Max after the hero of the book.

Max is a naughty boy, gets mad at his mother, and is sent to bed without any supper. And like the hero of Greek mythology he sets sail:

       "Through night and day

         and in and out of weeks

         and almost over a year

         to where the wild things are."

My favorite line in the book is "Let the wild rumpus start." I think of that line every time all my grandchildren arrive at the house and every time we have a party. My other favorite line comes at the beginning of the book when Max begins his mischief, and his mother reprimands him. He gets so mad he tells his mother, "I'll eat you up!" which is the reason he is sent to his room.

Before Max, most picture book children were well-behaved little things, and picture books told stories with morals, and nothing bad ever happened. Where the Wild Things Are tells the story of the interior life of an angry little boy and how he deals with that anger. I believe that is why children identify so strongly with Max. He can get really angry, but he finds ways in his imagination to deal with that anger. Kids get the moral of that story ... we can learn to deal with anger in an interior way and return to the real world calmed and reflective. Where the Wild Things Are opened a floodgate of picture books which dealt with children's anger and all the other things that children face--death, fear of abandonment or not fitting in, as well as all the other childhood experiences, including the rich imaginary experiences so similar to Max's.

I watched my year-old granddaughter get really mad at dinner a couple of nights ago. Her father pulled her out of the high chair and carried her into the living room to cool off. Her fit subsided, and she returned to finish her dinner ... "and it was still warm."

I can't say that I recommend all of Maurice Sendak's books. I do like Chicken Soup with Rice, The Nutshell Library, and In the Night Kitchen, although I do have to mention that the little boy is naked in In the Night Kitchen. Maurice Sendak also illustrated many books by other authors including, Little Bear by Minarik and A Hole is to Dig by Kraus.

The New York Times quotes a letter that Maurice Sendak received from an 8-year-old: "Dear Mr. Sendak, How much does it cost to get to where the wild things are? If it is not expensive, my sister and I would like to spend the summer there."

In honor of Maurice Sendak, why don't you pull out your copy of Where the Wild Things Are or borrow one from the library? Have your children read it, and then write a story or essay about anger, or imagination, or "wild things" or whatever comes into their heads. It would be a fitting tribute to a great children's author and a great American book.

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Blog | English

Great Adventure Stories

by Miriam Downey 24. April 2012 11:19

As a young boy, my brother was a great reader--still is today. When he was quite young, he had a book about pirates that he read many times over, and mother probably read it to him as many times as he read it to himself. Lately, he has specialized in books about ultimate adventures, like mountain climbing and exploring. He has become a bit of an expert on Shackleton's adventures in Antarctica.

There are many adventure books that have stood the test of time, books like Kidnapped, Moby Dick, and Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. These books are addictive. If you can get a young person to begin reading one of them, he won't be able to quit. The books on this list are available online and are included in the FWU library. These are also great books to listen to as audio books. The audio version of your chosen book will most likely be available at your public library. And, for most of these books, there is a movie available as well; sometimes, several movies have been made of the classic adventure stories.

I recently read some interesting advice from Judy Blume, the children's author, about how to get your child to read a classic book. "First, invest in one with a new cover. Even if you like the old, original covers. Second, don't give it to them. Just leave the books strategically placed around the house and then occasionally say: 'Oh, no. You're not raading that--you're not ready for it yet.'" I might also add, make sure you find a version with illustrations. For a book like Moby Dick, illustrations really help. I particularly like the classic illustrations by N.C. Wyeth which can be found in many of the books by Robert Louis Stevenson, like Treasure Island and Kidnapped.

Some of the best authors in history have written adventure books. Children should be exposed to Jules Verne, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, James Fenimore Cooper and Herman Melville. They should know about Captain Nemo, Huclkeberry Finn, Phileas Fogg and his valet, Passepartout.

The following list of books includes classic adventure stories that can be accessed online. Just click on the book titles, and you will be taken to the book. You can find more classic books in the FWU library. The next blog posting will be about modern adventure stories that you can find in your library or local book store.

Grades 4-6

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne. A balloon trip around the world.

Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne. An expedition descends into a subterranean world.

Heroes Every Child Should Know by Hamilton Mabie. Hero stories.

Kidnapped ; Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Pirate stories.

Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Gray. One of many cowboys Gray wrote about the Old West.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Life on the Mississippi.

Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea by Jules Verne. The story of Captain Nemo and his submarine, Nautilus.

Grades 7-12

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain. Time travel in medieval times.

Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper. An adventure tale during the War of 1812.

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad. The adventures of Jim, a seaman.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville. A classic tale of the sea.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac. The classic road trip. This is a book for High School students.

The Odyssey by Homer. The adventure story upon all which all adventure stories are built.


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More on the weather: Books and information for the middle grades

by Miriam Downey 12. April 2012 12:53

There is a man in a community near me who has been tracking the weather as a hobby every day since he was about twelve years old. In the days before computers and the Internet, he kept track of the weather, weather history, and weather trends with charts and notebooks. The local newspaper would contact him to ask if the weather was following trends or if it was veering off into something extreme, much like this March behaved in Michigan. He became the regional amateur weather expert. I think about him often--a man whose passion turned him into an expert. If he were doing it currently, he would probably have a website and a blog, and people all over the world would be checking into his weather report.

The middle grades are when many young people find the interests that will last them a lifetime. And although most kids won't pick meteorology as a career choice, nearly everyone is interested in the weather. Here are some supplemental books and websites to aid with the weather studies in the FWU curriculum or to spark an interest in the curious reader.


The Kids' Book of Weather Forecasting by M. Breen and K. Friestad. Lots of good weather activities. You might also want to connect this book with a weather station kit.

Peterson First Guide to Clouds and Weather by Jay Pasachoff and Vincent Schaefer. This is similar to other Peterson guides--concise, easy to read, and very complete.

Inside Hurricanes by Mary Kay Carlson. Stunning photographs. Includes eyewitness accounts.

Eye of the Storm: Inside the World's Deadliest Hurricanes, Tornadoes, and Blizzards by Jeffrey O. Rosenfeld. A fascinating look at extreme weather and the people who risk their lives to give us an understanding of these phenomena.

Restless Skies: The Ultimate Weather Book by Paul Douglas. Questions answered by a meteorologist.

The Water Cycle

One Well: The Story of Water on Earth by Rochelle Strauss. A look at all the water on Earth and the water cycle. Also discusses our limited resource.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba. This is a true story of a boy who built a windmill from junkyard scraps in Malawi. With that windmill, he powered a well which watered the crops to feed his village. It is also available as a picture book.

Climate Change

The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming by Laurie David and Cambria Gordon. Will help kids get interested in the environment.

Weather and Climate by Seymour Simon. Lots of pictures.

All of these books are available at your local library or bookstore.

Here are some weather websites:

The National Weather Service has a lot of information and books about weather. Also videos and other online resources:

Careers in meteorology from the Weather Channel:

A whole list of weather websites from

In your search for weather materials, please also look at the books and websites on my previous posting. You might find some helpful books there as well.


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It's Spring! Or Is It Summer? Books for the Seasons

by Miriam Downey 25. March 2012 10:31

Every day for the past couple of weeks, I have heard people say, "Such crazy weather!" and "I can't believe it's still March." Old-timers in Michigan where I live are fond of saying, "If you don't like the weather, wait a few minutes."

FWU has excellent flashcard units on weather. If your children haven't done the weather flashcard units yet, this is probably the time to do them. In this posting, I have included a list of books and a couple of websites that will go with the weather units. I have grouped them by season. Most all of these books are available at your local library or bookstore. The books that are available online are linked to the website where they can be found. The books listed are most appropriate for elementary-age children. Another posting will include informational books and websites about weather for middle school children.

For fun, everyone should begin by reading Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judith and Ron Barrett. After you read that crazy book, the real weather will never again seem so crazy!


Weather in General

A Drop of Water by Walter Wick. Experiments about water, clouds, rain, and snow.

Books by Seymour Simon: Lightning; Storms; Weather; Tornadoes; and Hurricanes. Lots of facts and great photographs about weather.

Eye Wonder: Weather by John Farndon. The power of the weather in photographs.

The Kid's Book of Weather Forecasting by Mark Breen. Everything any kid would want to know about weather forecasting.

Two Websites about Weather Resources

USA Today's alphabetical listing of hundreds of weather resources:

NOAA's weather website:


Twisters by Kate Hayden. Facts about tornadoes.

Come a Tide by George Ella Lyon. What happens in the spring when there has been a lot of snow during the winter.

And Then It's Spring by Julie Fogliano. This is a brand new, award-winning book.


Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco. A summer storm is on the horizon and the little girl is afraid of thunder. Grandma comes up with a great solution.

Come on, Rain by Karen Hesse explores a summer drought and how the children celebrate the rain.

Peter Spier's Rain. Another summer rain story.

A Prairie Boy's Summer by William Kurelek. Also, A Prairie Boy's Winter. Life in the 1930s.

When the Wind Stops by Charlotte Zolotow. A summer day's story.


Hurricane by David Wiesner. The adventures of two boys when a hurricane knocks down a big tree in their yard.

Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf by Lois Ehlert. An explosion of autumn color.

The Story of Johnny Appleseed by Aliki. Why did Johnny Appleseed plant apple trees all over the Great Lakes states?

Picking Apples and Pumpkins by Amy Hutchings. What every child wants to do in autumn.

Why Do Leaves Change Color? by Betsy Maestro. An explanation of autumn weather.


The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. The classic story of a child and the snow.

It's Snowing! It's Snowing! by Jack Prelutsky. Poems about winter.

Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin. Wilson A. Bentley took photographs of snowflakes for many years and discovered that no two snowflakes are alike. Here is the website about him:

Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton. There is a wonderful You Tube video of this book that you can find here:

Blizzard: The Storm that Changed America by Jim Murphy is about the blizzard of 1888.

So, dear readers, enjoy the weather and everything it brings us.


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Memorize a Poem: Expand Your Brain

by Miriam Downey 7. March 2012 16:34

When I was a piano teacher, I required my students to memorize two pieces every year--one to play at the Christmas piano recital and one to play at the spring recital. I noticed two things from that requirement: 1) some children memorize easily and for others the experience is difficult, but all my students grew in their piano playing ability as they memorized their pieces; 2) whenever those children sat down at the piano recreationally, they played those memorized pieces. The experience of memorizing a piece gave them instant access to the instrument, and they were able to play their memorized pieces with a great deal more feeling than they could when they played them with the music.

I thought about this experience as I was working on last week's blog posting about the poetry in the FWU curriculum. Should school children be required to memorize poetry? isn't that just too old-fashioned? I suggest that there is as great a value in memorizing a poem as there is in memorizing a piano piece or lines for a play. These activities stretch and activate parts of your brain that are often dormant. And the thing about a memorized poem is that it stays with you your entire life. You can call it up whenever you need it.

Let me give you an example. Once for a presentation as a child, I had to memorize I thank you God by e.e. cummings. It begins like this:

i thank you God for most this amazing

day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue, true dream of sky; and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(e.e.cummings never used capital letters and hardly ever used punctuation. That was just his style. One of the things I had to learn about when I learned this poem was why he wrote that way.) Well, the point of telling you this is that for every morning all the rest of my life, I have recited that poem as a morning prayer. It has sustained me my entire life.

Here are some things children learn by memorizing and reciting poetry:

1) A richness of vocabulary

2) A feel for the English language in general. Important if they are going to speak, write, and read English with ease.

3) An enormous amount about order, measure, proportion, balance, symmetry, agreement, temporal relationships, and mood.

4) Rhythm and rhyme

5) An increased brain capacity. (The brain is not a quart jar that will be filled up!)

So...what to memorize? Here are some suggestions based on books that are in the Free World U library and some easily accessible poetry available online. For more suggestions of poetry books, see last week's blog posting.


Grades K-2

     Stevenson, Robert Louis: A Child's Garden of Verse. Look up The Swing. It is a good one to say when you are swinging on the swing set.

     Lear, Edward: The Book of Nonsense

     Milne, A. A.: When We Were Very Young.

Grades 3-6

     Milne, A. A. Now We Are Six.

     Silverstein, Shel: Where the Sidewalk Ends. Shel Silverstein has a wonderful website with a lot of his poems on it. check it out:

     Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth: The Children's Longfellow. Try out Hiawatha.

Grades 7-12

     American Poetry. Pick out something by Robert Frost. Perhaps...Stopping by the Woods or The Road not Taken.

     Shakespeare, William: The Complete Works.  Learn a speech from a play or a sonnet.

     The Works of Edgar Allen Poe. Try out The Raven.

If all else fails, which it might have with one of my children, have them memorize a joke or a riddle and practice telling it out loud. Your child will get the memorization practice and the speaking ability. All that will be missing will be the beauty of the poetry.

Here is an interesting essay about memorizing poetry: resources/


Beyond Mother Goose: Poetry to Please Your Student

by Miriam Downey 29. February 2012 10:37

 I had an interesting experience the other day. My infant granddaughter was sitting on my lap, and I felt compelled to recite the Mother Goose poem:

Little Robin Redbreast

Sat upon a pole

Wibble Wobble went his tail

And plopped into a hole!


Reciting this poem came automatically to me. She loved being plopped into the hole as I opened my legs to let her drop down. Her laugh told me that I needed to do it again. Following that, I told her:

 Jack and Jill went up the hill

To fetch a pail of water.

Jack fell down and broke his crown

And Jill came tumbling after.

These are the rhymes of my childhood and of my children's childhood. Whatever our cultural background, there are certain poems, rhymes, and songs that remain with us forever. I call them "forever poems." I know them instinctively. You probably know some of those poems or songs as well.

A professor of children's literature notes, "Children have a natural affinity for poetry, which is exhibited before they enter school by their love for nursery rhymes, jingles, and childhood songs."

Poetry is a part of the Language Arts curriculum for every grade at Free World U. And in every year of the curriculum, several different types of poetry are taught.

Narrative poems tell stories.

Lyric Poems are like songs.

Limericks are humorous poems that end with a joke.

Haiku is a very specialized poem with 17 syllables.

Concrete Poems are physically shaped like the subject of the poem.

Free Verse is usually un-rhymed and lacks a consistent rhythm.

The professor continues: "A poetry collection should include poems that meet the needs of children who are in the process of developing an appreciation of poetry. This means building a collection filled with a variety of poems to match differing tastes and levels of sophistication."

There are rich resources to supplement the FWU curriculum available through the FWU library. Most of the poems and poets taught in the curriculum have been around for awhile, so their poetry is available in the public domain and can be found online.

Below you will find a listing of the books of poetry currently available through the FWU library. I have connected the title to the link, so you can easily access them. I have also listed them by grade levels.

Happy reading!

Grades K-2

A Apple Pie     A Child's Garden of Verse     Hey Diddle Diddle    Johnny Crow's Garden

Mother Goose     The House that Jack Built

Grades 3-6

I See the Rhythm   Now We Are Six  Golden Treasury of Songs and Poetry  Poems Every Child Should Know

Where the Sidewalk Ends

Grades 7-12

American Poetry    Poems by Emily Dickinson     Poems Published in 1829 

Selections from Wordsworth and Tennyson  The Works of Edgar Allen Poe




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Blog | English

2012 Award Winning Books: Caldecott and Newbery Awards

by Miriam Downey 10. February 2012 10:06

Every year in January, the American Library Association announces the winners of the Newbery and Caldecott awards for the best children's books of the previous year. The Newbery is awarded to the author of the most distinguished children literature of the year. The Caldecott award is given to the best illustrated children's book of the year. That award goes to the illustrator, not the author.

I have followed these awards for most of my career. Some of the best books ever written for children have received the Newbery and Caldecott awards. Here are this year's winners and honor books.

 Newbery Award: Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos is a book about a boy named Jack Gantos, apparently no relation to the author. Smile It is very funny and both boys and girls will love it. The book jacket says it all: "...a sly sharp-edged narrative about a small western Pennsylvania town and a dead-funny depiction of growing up in a slightly off-kilter place where the past is present, the present is confusing, and the future is completely up in the air." (Grades 6 and up) Jack Gantos has written a lot of very funny books including the Joey Pigza series about a hyperactive boy with a very complicated life. (Grades 5-7)

 Caldecott Medal: A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka

I fell in love with Chris Raschka several years ago with the publishing of his delightful books Yo! Yes? and Mysterious Thelonius, both of which were Caldecott Honor Books. A Ball for Daisy, is brilliant in its wordless simplicity. The dog is playing with his ball and the ball breaks. Raschka said he got the idea for the book when watching his daughter playing with a favorite toy which broke. Her reaction to the broken toy inspired the award-winning book. The School Library Journal's review (Aug. 2011) suggests that: "Raschka's genius lies in capturing the essence of situations that are deeply felt by children." (ages 3 and up)

Newbery Honor Books

Inside Out and Back Again by Tahnhha Lai. This is the moving account of one girl's year of change, dreams, grief, and healing as she journeys from one country to another, one life to the next. (grades 4-8)

Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin. Written for middle grade students, this short novel about a boy in the Soviet Union in the 1950s will thrill older readers as well. (grades 4-8)

Caldecott Honor Books

Blackout by John Rocco. What happens to the city when the electricity goes out? What do people do to entertain themselves? These issues are explored in the wonderful illustrations that move from color to black-and-white. (preschool-grade 2)

Grandpa Green by Lane Smith. Lane Smith is a well known illustrator, and his beautiful picture book Grandpa Green explores the life of a great-grandfather. (k-2) Lane Smith also illustrated the Caldecott Honor Book, The Stinky Cheese Man, which, by the way, is a very funny book.

Me...Jane by Patrick McDonnell is my favorite of this year's award books. McDonnell draws the comic strip, Mutts, so the illustrations have a signature comic strip quality. The remarkable story is about Jane Goodall and her special childhood toy chimpanzee named Jubilee. It is accessible to very young children. (preschool-grade 2)

Here are some more of the year's best books

Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom by Shane W. Evans (The Coretta Scott King Award) (grades 2-4)

Heart and Soul:The Story of American and African Americans by Kadir Nelson. (Coretta Scott King Honor Book) (grades 4-6)

Two other must-read books of 2011 and award-winners in 2012

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick. If you loved The Invention of Hugo Cabret, you will also love Wonderstruck. Graphic novel for middle grade students.

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. While the movie was told from an adult perspective, the novel is told from the perspective of the horse. Excellent for grades 6-10.

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