Journey to the River Sea

untitled (3)

Eva Ibbotson is my favorite author. Her style is similar to Roald Dahl and E. Nestbit. Whether her setting  is the Amazon Jungle or prewar Vienna, she creates delightful descriptions of her surroundings.  Her characters are always colorful and her villains deliciously creepy.

Like many great heroines of literature, Maia is an orphan.  She is attending boarding school in England when her lawyer discovers that she has relatives living near the Amazon River in Brazil.  While classmates warn her about frightening creatures and wild jungles, Maia does her research and anticipates a grand adventure.  She is especially excited to meet her twin cousins, Gwendolyn and Beatrice.

Maia and her guardian Miss Minchin sail from England to Brazil.   On the ship, she befriends Clovis, another orphan, who is acting with a traveling company.  Clovis hates his life in the theatre and longs to go back to a more civilized life in England.

In Brazil, Maia discovers that her new relatives despise Brazil and most everything else.  They never venture outside avoiding the heat  and the mosquitos.  They reject the fresh bananas and local seafood in favor of imported beet root, corn beef and green jelly from England.  Gwendolyn and Beatrice are especially disagreeable.  From the start, they attempt to make Maia’s life miserable.

Maia is enchanted by the Amazon River, often called the River Sea, and the nearby rainforest where howler monkeys swing from the trees as scarlet parakeets and clusters of butterflies fly overhead.

Maia also meets Finn (yet another orphan) who lives among the natives on the edge of the Amazon. His father was a wealthy man with an estate in England.  He was an outdoorsman who married a native and settled in Brazil.

Two men from his father’s estate, known to the natives as “the Crows”, because of their grey suits, are trying to capture Finn and take him back to England.  The bumbling crows are constantly thwarted by Finn’s friends who send them in the opposite direction.

So Maia and Finn develop an elaborate plan to ship Clovis to England and then set off a journey of their own, with chaperones, down the Amazon River for the most magical journey of all.

This is a great book for fourth grade and up.


















Empathy and Reading

Here’s more good news for children who read.  A Study by the New School for Social Research in New York revealed that reading quality fiction improves empathy. ( Novel Finding: Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy.)  This will not surprise avid readers or their parents.

51meGC4gxXL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Your child likely goes to school with someone like Albie.   No matter how hard he studies, he can’t pass the weekly spelling test, or read on grade level.   He never gets picked for sports team and sits alone in the cafeteria.

As Albie shares his story in Absolutely Almost, the reader learns that Albie’s parents are busy people with high expectations for their son.  Mom and Dad feel disappointed that Albie has been asked to leave his private school.  When his  father tells him that his grades are “unacceptable,”  Albie feels baffled because he tries so hard but his work is never good enough.

Albie  knows he is not a “cool kid.” A brief period of “popularity” followed by rejection by the same crowd only leaves him feeling more dejected

His new babysitter, Calista, finds new ways to help him study spelling and math, teaches him how to draw and counsels him on the social dynamics of fifth grade.  As a newcomer to New York City, she insists that Albie show her around. Albie may not be a whiz in the classroom but he  navigates his New York neighborhood.    Unfortunately, Calista often forgets that she is working for Albie’s parents and makes some unwise decisions.

Albie is an appealing character, resourceful and kind. When Calista breaks up with her boyfriend, Albie sneaks downstairs to buy her ice cream. He takes the blame for vandalism in his classroom to keep his friend Betsy out of trouble.

The reader can’t help but root for Albie. There are no simple solutions but his story ends on an optimistic note.   When his grandfather criticizes Albie’s grades, his dad defends his son.  Father and son work on a model airplane together.

Children will both identify and sympathize with Albie.  After seeing the world through Albie’s eyes for 320 pages, they will see some of their classmates with new eyes.  This is a great book for children in 3rd-6th grades.
























Make Reading Aloud Fun!

Learning to read can be tedious.  When some children are learning to decode words, they need a lot of practice. Listening can be a chore for mom or dad, especially if the text isn’t very interesting.  This is a sample of an early reading book  by Margaret Hillert.

Here is a little cowboy.

And here is a big cowboy.

Here is something for the little cowboy.

It can go.   It can run.  (snore)

Mary Ann Hoberman’s You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You Series can help take the drudgery out of reading practice.  These books are designed for children and adults to read together.  There’s lots of rhymes and funny dialogue.  Here is a short section from Very Tall Tales tountitled (2) Read Together:

Reader  1:  Annie Oakley, what a shot!

She could hit most any spot!

In a contest with a gun,

Bet your  britches, Annie  won!

 Reader 2:  When she was a little kid,

She learned shooting, Annie did.

Shot to keep her family fed,

“Had to do it.” Annie said.

Here are some other books in the same series:

These books are fun to read.  They share a lot of the silly poetry that children love.  They are likely to forget that this is reading practice.   Rhyming and repetition make for great phonics practice for beginning readers.

These books can be a challenge to locate at the library.  They have unusual call numbers. Some can be found in poetry (J 811.54) and some in folk tales. (J 398)  It’s better to request them online.

See more about Mary Ann Hoberman’s Series







Beautiful Picture Books

I was recently disheartened at the books at the child development center.  The teachers’ books were unattractive and out of date.  The books the children were allowed to handle were mostly paperbacks with ripped pages and scribbles.

I returned after a visit to the public library with some beautiful books to share.  The teachers were apprehensive. I felt nervous too I but I decided that I could pay for one book.  Until then, I would let the children look at the books under my supervision. I told them that these books were special and must be handled with care.

Here are the books I chose:


This is a wonderful concept book with so many things for children to enjoy. Fleming hides ladybugs throughout the book and the children loved finding them.  I enjoyed watching the children go through the book, naming the animals, colors, shapes, etc.  Earlier that week, I had listened to a teacher scold children for not knowing colors, and shapes, yet the children eagerly identified colors,.shapes and letters of the alphabet.


If you want to send preschoolers into a fit of giggles just mention underwear. This book combines a silly story with lots of counting and rhymes.   All of the animals have one thing in common: they hate to share. The comical pictures of bears sharing underwear and skating ducks with sticks and pucks are delightful. Learning to recognize rhyming patterns is a great pre-reading skill. Without realizing it, they are beginning to recognize syllables and parts of words.   The children spent a lot of time counting and identifying objects.


This book involves the children in a two-part guessing game. First they identify the color from a small circular opening on the page. They are also told one important fact about the animal. (i.e. I have a large trunk) Even after seeing the full spread, some animals like the Orangutan will be unfamiliar to  children. This is a great book for reading aloud. It’s also a great way of introducing children to beautiful art.  The children enjoyed guessing which animal would emerge on the next page.


The pictures in this book are amazing! The cover focuses on his large protruding teeth. There is a picture of a hippo devouring a crocodile in one bite. Almost every child reacted to the page where hippos stand rump to rump and throw dung at each other. This book has a broad appeal. The more general facts are in bold with smaller sections that give more information for older children.


The preschoolers loved51JP+4DUDaL._SX383_BO1,204,203,200_ browsing this  book about four mice brothers: Rick, Mick, Vick and Nick. Each wears a different color shirt, choses a different food and has a unique dream. Only little Nick must find his own way to shine-shades of Leo the Late Bloomer by Leo Lionni.  This book was a little long to be read aloud to preschoolers but they enjoyed the colorful pictures.

No children’s books were harmed in this endeavor