Saturday, March 31, 2012

We Like Lists-Books Starring Girls

Josephine and Tess both love books and reading them books is something I can (almost) always happily do.  Since she first discovered Fancy Nancy and Pinkalicious Josephine has loved books featuring a little girl (whether human or mouse or badger) and especially a series of books featuring the adventures of a particular little girl.  This is a list of some of our favorite picture books that feature the same little girl as the main character.  If you have any others you like that fit in this category, please share!

Pinkalicious (Victoria Kann) We like this book, and well, honestly Josephine loves this book. Purplicious has some mature themes for the preschool age group but Goldilicious, and Silverlicious are cute, if a little saccharine.

Fancy Nancy (Jane O'Connor) A cute detail is that in one of the more recent books (Fancy Nancy and the Fabulous Fashion Boutique) we learn Nancy's little sister's name is JoJo. There are lots of Fancy Nancy books but I think Jo's favorite is "Bonjour Butterfly."

Amazing Grace (Mary Hoffman) Great book about an interesting little girl who assumes the personalities of many of her favorite story book characters even when her classmates tell her she can't. "Princess Grace" is one book in the series and it is great for showing girls (and boys) that there are non-Disneyfied princesses out there.

Yoko (Rosemary Wells) This is a cute series about a kindergarten aged kitten, in a class full of other animals, who has recently relocated from Japan to the US. She brings sushi to share with her friends at school and they decline to try it, making Yoko feel bad. In the end she makes a friend who shares her sushi. In another Yoko book, "Yoko's Paper Cranes," she folds origami cranes to send to her grandparents in Japan, and in "Yoko Writes her Name," she gets teased for writing in Japanese but ends up teaching her classmates to write their names in Japanese.

Katie and the Sunflowers (James Mayhew) We really love this set of books! We have not read them all, but they make art come alive when main character Katie visits museums with her grandmother, who falls asleep and leaves Katie to explore the museum on her own. She meets characters inside paintings who step out into the museum to be with her, and also meets characters in famous paintings that she enters into. These books really get you looking at paintings you've probably seen many times and are really engaging.

For instance, in "Katie's Sunday Afternoon," she sees the Seurat painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, and makes friends with the little girl in white you can see in the center of the painting. She notices the monkey in the foreground, and the little girl in white laments that no one in the painting is swimming. It's so cool to imagine getting inside these paintings and meeting the characters.  There are lots of books in this series including, "Katie Meets the Impressionists," "Katie and the Mona Lisa," "Katie's Picture Show," "Katie and the British Artists," and "Katie and the Spanish Princess," among many others.

Ella Bella Ballerina and Swan Lake (James Mayhew) This is another nice series of books by James Mayhew about a little girl named Ella Bella. In these books Ella Bella, who loves to dance, is transported into the stories as her teacher Madame Rosa tells her students about the ballets. It's a very accessible way to introduce children to a few classic ballets, including the names of their composers (Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky). In addition to Swan Lake there is one about Cinderella, and one about Sleeping Beauty (the ballet, not the Disney version).

Bread and Jam for Frances (Russell Hoban) These are books starring a stubborn and strong-willed little badger named Frances.  She decides in Bread and Jam for Frances, for instance, that she will only eat bread and jam until she gets totally sick of it and decides she needs to add more variety to her meals.  We also like "A Baby Sister for Frances," and "Bedtime for Frances."  There was also an animated Frances show on for a while that Jo really liked.  The shows were based on the books.

Mirette on the High Wire (Emily Arnold McCully) This series of books is about a determined little girl who lives in her mother's boarding house in France and there meets a famous tightrope walker.  She vows to learn how to walk the wire and sticks with it until she can.  She then helps her mentor overcome his fear of the wire, and goes on tour with him performing all over the world in the follow-up book, "Starring Mirette and Bellini."  There is also, "Mirette and Bellini Cross Niagara Falls."

One Morning In Maine (Robert McCloskey) This wonderful book is about a little girl named Sal who loses her first tooth while clam digging on the coast of Maine with her father. She collects a seagull feather to put under her pillow since she's lost her tooth. She spends the day with her dad and sister Jane, going into town, eating chocolate ice cream, and finally taking their boat home to eat clam chowder. It's nice, and sweet, and really evokes the sights and sounds of Maine on a normal day with two little girls and their dad.  This is the same Sal that stars in "Blueberries for Sal," another great book, which is why I included it here.

Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse (Kevin Henkes) This is a really funny book about a little mouse named Lilly who loves her teacher, but gets in trouble when her enthusiasm over her new plastic purse gets the better of her at school. Lilly has a really funny and realistic personality and goes through impulsive emotions that I think makes it easy for kids to relate to her. Lilly also stars in "Lilly's Big Day," and Henkes has a few other really cute books starring little girls (well, girl mice) "Chrysanthemum," and "Sheila Rae, the Brave." "Julius the Baby of the World," is about Lilly's little brother, and her reaction to him, and Lilly also shows up in "Chester's Way."

Angelina Ballerina (Katherine Holabird) These are pretty popular books, and Josephine would agree that they should be. They are all about the adventures of a little mouse, Angelina, who loves ballet, and her cast of friends, and little sister.  There are too many Angelina books to name here, but there is also an animated series  on Sprout.

Madeline (Ludwig Van Bemelman's) The Madeline books are a favorite here and I even remember them from when I was a kid! You can find "Madeline's Christmas", "Madeline and the Bad Hat", "Madeline and the Gypsies", and "Madeline in London." These books are about a little orphan named Madeline and her escapades.

Eloise (Kay Thompson) This is the famous little girl who lives in the Plaza hotel and gets into all sorts of trouble.  She is also hilarious!  I really like these books because they really sound like they are written in the voice of a little six or seven year old girl. This is what Publisher's Weekly said about Eloise back in 1957; "As everyone who can read must know, Eloise is an overprivileged 6-year-old, the terror of the Hotel Plaza in New York. She is also ill-mannered, ill-tempered and ugly. But she has her charm. She often means well, and her mother neglects her. Even though you know that you would do the same thing if she were yours, you can't help finding this appealing."  It is "a book for precocious grown-ups" after all!

Olivia (Ian Falconer) This is a story about another sassy and precocious child who happens to be a pig. I've read descriptions that say Olivia is like Eloise if Eloise were a pig. She's pretty hilarious too and Jo loves both the books and the television show. Watch out though...your kid might start talking like her, and that will drive you (me) crazy!
So, what do you think?  Do you have any favorite picture book series starring a little girl?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

History Lessons and Colonial Williamsburg

We just enjoyed a fun weekend away at Williamsburg with Tess and Josephine's grandparents (thanks Mimi and Bob!). Williamsburg is a fun vacation destination for us because it offers special experiences that appeal to each of us: the ability to immerse oneself in a dramatic story for Jo, ginger cakes for Tim and me, and lots of gravel and dirt for Tess.  Actually they are shells, not gravel, that cover the streets.  I was asked to pocket many handfuls of shells by a very enamored Tess, and those were in addition to the ones she had in her mouth.

Jo is just starting to understand and absorb some early US history. We checked out two interesting books at the library before we went, "A Williamsburg Household" and "Mary Geddy's Day, A Colonial Girl in Williamsburg."  We have also read some of the Felicity stories.  Felicity is an American Girl doll (also "archived" which is American Girl doll speak for it's gonna cost a lot to buy this doll on ebay).  Josephine does not have a Felicity doll, but we've read a few of the stories, which are set in colonial Williamsburg.  Honestly she is young for the themes presented in the Felicity books and both the Mary Geddy book and particularly the Williamsburg household book talk about slavery in some depth and that's upsetting to have to explain to her. Of course it'll be upsetting to explain to her at any age, but at four her picture of the world is so incomplete that I'm not sure what exactly she took away from my explanation, and yes I do mean please let this topic not randomly come up when we are chatting with a stranger at the store.  Anyway I would still recommend both the books and especially Mary Geddy for a young visitor to Williamsburg.  You can visit the actual Geddy house, which is pretty interesting.

Another of Jo's favorite things to do at Williamsburg is dress up like a colonial girl.  The shops have dresses for sale, you could make one (not I, but you), or you can rent them once you get there. It's pretty fun to watch Jo do her "courtesies" outside each store.  It was a great time!  

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Wild Violet Jelly

We've been having so much fun this week discovering that some of the plants growing wild outside our front door can be used to make pretty and tasty treats. After making the dandelion jelly and reading more about foraging, I stumbled upon a recipe for wild violet jelly and realized that the pretty little purple flowers growing in our front yard are wild violets. A reward for having an unmanicured lawn!  

The thing is, while looking for wild asparagus, chickweed, or amaranth might sound exciting to me, Jo and Tess (especially Jo) would never go near those, probably not in the wild, let alone on a plate. So my only hope of truly roping the girls in (to not just the foraging, but also the eating) is to look for flowers we can eat, or things we can turn into something sweet. And these little violets are as pretty as it gets, and can be used many ways. To make sure you are picking a violet, look for heart shaped leaves and make sure the flower has five petals.

We spent a few hours outside playing and picking the flowers. Once we'd collected enough, we repeated the steps we'd taken to make the dandelion jelly. We separated the flowers from the stems, gave them a little water bath, patted them dry, boiled them in a cup of water for 10 minutes, strained them, mixed the infusion with sugar, a little lemon juice (and this is a really fun part so make sure your kids watch; the blue/dark purple infusion will magically become a very lovely light purple) and pectin, and cooked it for a little bit.  Find a more specific recipe and instructions for canning here. I'm going to try canning one of these days, but not today, and anyway we didn't collect enough flowers to make enough jelly to can this time. Find yourself a little patch of these flowers and try out a few recipes with them (more inspiration here)!

The color of the infusion before lemon juice.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Making Dandelion Jelly

Today we worked on a project that I've wanted to do with the girls for a long time. The name of this blog was inspired by a story I read in the New Yorker about foraging for food (read it here) and today was our first experience foraging for edible flowers and making something delicious with them.  We made dandelion jelly!

Dandelions may be the scourge of people trying to grow a nice lawn and of gardeners, but they are actually useful and edible plants.  They are also very popular with children, at least mine.  First of all kids think the flowers are beautiful, no one ever objects to them picking them, and the flowers turn into fluffy cotton balls of seeds they can blow all over the place.  In fact Jo admonished me for picking too many yellow flowers today; she's worried there won't be enough "blowing dandelions" if we pick all the yellow ones right now.  A dandelion conservationist!

Curiously, and probably because it's only mid-March, although it feels like May, we really had to hunt for the dandelions.  We walked all around our neighborhood and visited two parks to collect enough to make a small jar of jelly. It was pretty fun just hunting for them, and the girls were able to basically pick all of them. We collected them in a basket and brought them home to clean and pick.

First we rinsed them in water, gently. This made them look really soggy and wilted, but I couldn't bring myself to let them steep in water and use that for jelly without first soaking and wiping them off.  Then I cut the tops off the stem and pulled the flower out of the green stem.  The stems are bitter, so you want to use just the flower, no green stuff.  The girls helped with this, but it is tedious, so they mostly watched me do it.  Jo did think it was so cool to see the blowing dandelion parts buried inside the yellow flower.

I used this recipe, but I cut it in half, because we only collected a cup worth of dandelion petals.  You might want to double it if you're making these as gifts, but if you cut it in half, like I did, it'll make a small amount you can put in a jar and use right away.  I don't have canning equipment, but this jelly will definitely last in your fridge for the time it takes you to eat it.  It's really quick and easy to make once you have the flowers picked, and separated from the stem.

In a nutshell I boiled the flowers in a cup of water for ten minutes, and then strained the infusion and tossed the flowers out. Then I put the infusion back in the kettle and added half a cup of sugar, a teaspoon of fresh lemon juice, and 1/2 a teaspoon of pectin and cooked it, stirring with a wooden spoon. I cooked it for longer than the recipe says, and it seems to have set up okay.  I have not made jelly much so I'm a novice. Once finished I poured the jelly into a glass jar and let it cool, storing in once it cooled in the fridge. The stuff is delicious!  Really good.  The girls thought it tasted like honey, and I agree.  It really is a fun project and I think it's nice to teach the girls about hidden treasures in things we see all around us and take for granted, and even disparage. Although honestly I think this is really a message for me, because to the girls the dandelion is actually beloved.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Make a Leprechaun Trap!

What a week we are having!  The weather has been great and we've been spending as much time outside as possible.  However we have been working on a little something fun this week.  About a month ago I bought the girls a book called, "The Night Before St. Patrick's Day."  It's such a cute book!  In a nutshell it's about a sister and brother who are excited about St. Patrick's Day and in anticipation create some leprechaun traps and set them the night before the holiday.  They think they've caught one, but in the end the leprechaun plays a (basically good-natured) trick on them.  This of course gave us (okay, yes, me especially) the idea to make leprechaun traps here at our house.  The only caveat here is that Josephine has vowed and made me promise to set them up in the basement, not in her room, where the children in the story set theirs up.  For some reason the thought of a mischievous little man, capable of magic flight and prone to playing pranks, flying around her room while she sleeps makes her nervous.  Honestly I think only the hope that she'll make out with some chocolate coins in the end is even keeping her in this game.  But she did have fun decorating her 'trap.'

We used old shoeboxes, green tempera paint, shiny rainbow stickers, glue, glitter, and oil pastels. Basically they each painted a box, I cut a hole in the box with an xacto knife (for the leprechaun to climb in), and then they finished decorating the box with stickers, oil pastels, and glitter.  We plan to dangle gold mardi gras beads from the box to lure the leprechauns.  They like gold, of course!

I don't know if this might be one of those signs (you know, where later everyone is like, "ah, yes, the leprechaun traps...I knew then.") that I'm losing it, but I have really enjoyed watching and assisting the girls as they've made these.  I think...I think I might believe. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

More Classical Music

Today we took a trip to Baltimore to attend a concert put on by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and to really dig into some culture of the not-Nick-Jr. variety. The BSO has a family concert series and this show was a part of that series. Called "Sea Songs," the music featured works about the sea or with subjects related to the sea, like pirates, sharks, and dancing Russian sailors (The Russian Sailor's Dance is an interesting piece written for a Soviet era ballet called The Red Poppy, and per my master googling skills, frequently used as an encore at the symphony).

It was a really fun show which included the theme to Jaws (by John Williams), "He's a Pirate," from Pirates of the Caribbean, and a traditional version of "Blow the Man Down," sung by the group Magpie and featuring a concertina and a harmonica. Our only glitch was that Jo spotted a gong (actually the musicians referred to it as something else, but I didn't catch the name, and it looked and sounded like a gong) in the percussion section and worried over that before every song. I promise it's not because we wake her in the morning to the sound of a gong, though you'd think maybe we did.

At any rate before the show, while Jo was somersaulting through the lobby in order not to be outdone by the various animals visiting from the zoo (a pre-show bonus), I went to the gift shop and bought the coolest book and CD!  I do not have a background in music, but being of course an aesthete, I am drawn to all things of culture and refinement and no that is not related to my Bravo TV and Disney (although) obsessions, but thanks for asking. This book though, and the CD, and actually lots of music this company produces, are really interesting and I can't wait to poke around on the website more.

The book is called, "My First Classical Music Book", and the CD is called  "Famous Composers," narrated by Marin Alsop (music director of the BSO).  The book begins by talking about places to hear music (the cinema, weddings, the concert hall), then covers a handful of famous composers, and then goes through the various parts of the orchestra.  There are songs and excerpts of songs you're directed to play (off an accompanying CD) throughout the book.  The girls loved it!

The "Famous Composers" CD covers six composers with Marin Alsop describing their lives, and featuring a variety of their music.  The CD was produced by Naxos and among the many interesting albums they make, you can find a bunch of classical music CD's for kids. These include the "My First," series which offers a ballet collection, a Mozart album, a lullaby album, a violin album, a piano album etc....  On their website you can also follow a link to the "My First Classical Music Book," for the ipad.  They even have a CD compilation of favorite poems for children and many other unique and interesting titles.

Now go enjoy yourself some music composed by a teenager!  (Mozart, I mean).  Happy listening.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Let's Talk about the Sun!

This week when my mom came to visit she brought some solar print paper for the girls to try out.  It is pretty interesting stuff, and gave me a good excuse to talk to Jo about the solar storm occurring this week.

So, okay, sidebar.  If you have a slightly anxious four year old prone to worrying about things, don't go talking about solar storms unless you really know what you are talking about. Because if you don't you will end up backtracking, making stuff up, and finally, in response to your child's increasing panic, resort to declaring that the sun is a "shiny friend," and that a solar flare is, "the sun blowing us a kiss." So much for science! Don't even think of bringing up auroras!  Where is the Magic School Bus story about the class visiting the sun when you need it?!  We did look up some things on the internet and found a website that helped (a little), but there is probably a reason Kindergarten teachers don't go deep into nuclear fusion.  Find a song for kids about the sun here.  

Back to the solar prints.  Tess first made one out of a big oak leaf she found in the back yard.  Then Jo made one from cutting out geometric shapes and arranging them into a princess. She then used foam letters to spell out her name.  This is pretty cool because it's a fun way to work on letter recognition and spelling your name (without the kid realizing they are "working" on either).  The paper is coated with light sensitive chemicals which react to light waves when exposed to sunlight.  When you put an object on the paper it blocks the light and turns the paper white, while the remaining paper stays blue.  Running it under water once you bring it inside fixes the image on the paper.


There were lots of ideas included with the paper that would be fun to try; flowers, buttons, keys, lace, and even a film negative (if we could put our hands on one).  We will definitely be experimenting more with this, just as soon as I can convince Jo it's safe to go outside again.  

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Cute Book and some Insomnia

For as long as I can remember I've been a night owl.  If I could I'd go to bed at three am and nap for a few hours each afternoon.  Life hasn't worked out for me to do that without total disruption to my routine (hasn't kept me from trying) since I waited tables, and I think that's one reason I liked working in restaurants. When I stay up late I get less art done with the girls during the day. And for the past week I've stayed up way too late! I always feel, after it gets past midnight and I'm still up, that I'm breaking the law.  I have the feeling that I'm letting myself get away with something I shouldn't.  Perhaps I just discovered why I do it.  I guess if this is all it takes for me to feel subversive than I and my family are lucky.  But I am so tired!

We did use a new art product this week and it's pretty fun.  It's called "Amazing Paper."  It's a little box of paper that comes with two colorless pens.  The paper undergoes some magical change when you write on it, so for instance on the green paper the writing looks orange, even though the pen looks white.  The girls really enjoyed this paper and both made lots of drawings with it.

Then we read the book, "The Dot," which is a charming little book about a girl named Vashti.  She suffers some serious self-doubt about her inability to draw until her teacher tells her to, "Just make a mark and see where it takes you."  Such good advice, right?  I'm all grown up (at least if you're counting chronologically) and I still get tripped up making the first mark/taking the first step because I'm worried about the finished product.  Anyway Vashti makes a jab in the picture and her teacher tells her to sign it and then puts it up on the wall.  This validates her but also brings out her competitive side and she gets determined to make a better dot.  This ushers her into her dot period and she makes lots of dot pictures.  She has her work shown and it inspires another little boy.  It's a great book with nice illustrations by Peter Reynolds.

It inspired Jo to make her own dot drawing (above, lower right picture).  She was cute about it because she made a big deal of making the dot and then signing it with her signature J O.  Then she punched a hole in the picture, put a pipe cleaner through it, and it's been hanging on our mantle since.  Good thing we never get around to taking down the Christmas stocking hangers!  

The soundtrack for all our rule breaking late nights (and the daytime too) this week is Manu Chao.  

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Outer Space Projects

Josephine discovered the Magic School Bus series a few years ago and has been a fan since.  They can be tedious to read to a child (lots of sidebars and thought bubbles to read in addition to the story) but they are really wonderful. They teach kids so much about science in a very accessible way and with a cute cast of characters.  Reading the Magic School Bus book about space got Jo really interested in the subject and since we have looked for lots of books, videos, and projects related to space.

Recently we discovered (at the library) a DVD called, AstroPuppies in Space.  In the show two puppies go to space and fly around in their rocket ship and visit planets. The show has cute little songs, including one about the phases of the moon that goes like this: (disclaimer...this is dictated from Josephine's sounds complete to me, but I don't actually remember how the heck it goes)

A crescent moon is a cradle that rocks a baby to sleep, a half moon is a little boat that sails the ocean deep, a full moon is a silver coin that shines so very bright, and a new moon is like magic 'cause it hides from me at night.

The brilliant thing about DVD's like this is that kids can learn poems about the phases of the moon while mommy and/or daddy can sit for a minute and watch the paint dry on the wall.  Or the cat hair float in the sunlight coming through the window.

We have two more DVD favorites to share on this topic.  Field Trip to the Planets, and The Big Space Shuttle. "The Big..." series is interesting and there are several different topics they cover.  There are DVD's about national parks, trains, planes, newspapers, and a few other topics.

In keeping with the space theme we made some special play dough this week called galaxy play dough. We found the inspiration here and used the recipe in MaryAnn Kohl's book, First Art.


  • 5 cups water
  • 5 cups flour
  • 2 1/2 cups salt
  • 3 Tablespoons cream of tartar
  • 10 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Food coloring


Mix water, salt, cream of tartar, and food coloring. Cook on medium-low heat, stirring regularly until mixture is hot. Add oil. Stir in flour a cup at a time, stirring in between each addition. Mix until playdough pulls away from pan and is no longer sticky (pinch it between your fingers to test). Dump dough on counter, let cool a bit, then knead.  

After making the play dough (adding lots of black and blue food coloring while making it) I let the girls knead it while it was still warm, which they like to do.  Then they mixed lots of blue, black, and silver glitter into the dough.

We then took out some store bought pots of brightly colored play dough and made a little solar system.  In addition we used some spaghetti to poke the play dough.  Just to poke it.  They found that pretty satisfying and we got the idea from this great post on The Artful Parent, which is a compilation post about lots of fun ideas for play dough.  More space related fun to come!