2 Great Picture Books and 1 Biography of Jacque Cousteau.

jacques.jpgI grew up watching the TV series The Undersea World of Jacque Cousteau with my family in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  For a little girl living in Boise, Idaho, his beautiful footage of exotic fish, strange underwater plants and faraway oceans was almost more than I could comprehend.  And even though I was a bit afraid of the ocean, I enjoyed his passion for the seas and the fascinating creatures who live there.

The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau by Dan Yaccarino, 40 pages (2009) and Manfish: A Story of Jacque Cousteau by Jennifer Berne, 38 pages (2008) are two well-written picture books of Mr. Cousteau’s life and describe how he revolutionized the world of deep-sea diving.  His is a fascinating story starting with his early life in France as a sickly child to his invention the Aqua-Lung and eventually exploring the world’s oceans aboard his famous ship the Calypso.

manfish.jpgPicture books like The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau and Manfish: A Story of Jacque Cousteau are just the kind of preparatory books I’ve mentioned before that I liked to use with my children before introducing them to a full-length biography or autobiography of someone.  After reading these picture books, you’ll also enjoy watching a few of the original TV shows now on You Tube.

jacque photo.jpgIf, after reading the short picture books, you find that Jacque Cousteau really hits the mark for your child, try reading Jacque Cousteau: A Life Under the Sea by Kathleen Olmstead, 128 pages (2008)  which will flesh out his life and achievements in a more substantial way.

Early and Middle Grade Reading Levels

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The Children of Noisy Village by Astrid Lindgren (1962)

noisy.jpgIf you only know Astrid Lindgren’s beloved Pippi Longstocking books, then you’ve got a treasure trove of other books to explore!  She wrote dozens of books and more than 60 have been translated into English.  One of her best-known is The Children of Noisy Village.  

Six young children live on adjoining farms in rural Sweden.  They have so much fun together and make so much noise doing it, that their farms earn the nickname Noisy Village.  These chapter titles give you a sweet glimpse into their everyday adventures:  My Nicest Birthday, How Olaf Got His Dog, Anna and I Make People Happy, Those Mischievous Boys, Walking Home From School and 14 other darling chapters of everyday life in Sweden.

Here is 128 pages of real-aloud bliss.  Light the fire, snuggle up on the couch and enjoy some good old fashioned Swedish fun!

Other books about Noisy Village that have been translated into English:

Christmas in Noisy Village (32 pages — more of a picture book) — 1963

Happy Times in Noisy Village (128 pages) — 1952

Middle Grade Reading Level, 128 pages, Sweden, Published in 1962.



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Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936)

gone.jpgGone with the Wind wasn’t an international best seller for nothing!

When I was a junior in high school my friend Jill mentioned she’d just read Gone with the Wind in THREE DAYS.  This wasn’t for a school assignment or anything, but just for fun.  I’d seen the Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable movie, of course, but had never even thought of reading the original book.  On Jill’s recommendation, I picked up the NINE HUNDRED AND SIXTY page book at the library and was done in less than a week.  I remember staying up — on a school night no less — until 3 AM to finish.  It’s that good.

This is the classic love/hate story of Scarlet O’Hara and Rhett Butler but quite a bit different from the 1939 film — more marriages, more children, more Civil War.  You’ll love it!  If you’ve never read this Pulitzer Prize winner, now is the time.

High School reading level, 960 pages, Civil War, Pulitzer Prize Winner, Published in 1936.


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Blue Willow by Doris Gates (1940)

blue willow.jpgJaney’s family used to own a home and land in Texas, but then the Great Depression descended on the country and they, like so many, lost everything.  Father is now an itinerant farm worker moving the family frequently as he follows the crop harvests in California.

Carefully wrapped and protected in a family suitcase is a single Blue Willow plate that belonged to Janey’s great-great-grandmother.  The plate is painted with an image of a river, an arched bridge, willow trees and a home.  Janey loves to look at the precious plate and dream, not only of the home her family left behind in Texas, but of a future, stable life they might have again one day in the future.

Will Janey’s family ever find that life?  Blue Willow, a Newbery Honor Book in 1941, is often called a child’s version of The Grapes of Wrath. 

My parents were children of The Great Depression.  In my opinion, those difficult years colored nearly every decision they made for the rest of their lives.  For those of us who have not lived through a time like that, it is hard to imagine the despair and fear it brought to those who did.  Books like Blue Willow help us understand — at least to some degree — how life was in that far away, difficult time.

Middle School Reading Level, 176 pages, The Great Depression, Published in 1940.


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My Favorite Early Chapter Books: Oliver and Amanda Pig series by Jean Van Leeuwen (1979 – 2008)

Amanda.jpgThese 20 early reader chapter books about Oliver and Amanda Pig are my very favorite!  I discovered them by chance at our tiny Wisconsin library in 1988, and have been reading them to my children — and now grandchildren — ever since!  The interactions between Oliver and Amanda, Mother, Father and Grandmother are sweet and believable.  Oliver, the older brother, can sometimes be a bit bossy, Amanda is sometimes afraid or just simply too little to play the games her big brother wants to play, but they work it out and Mother or Father are always somewhere near with wise counsel.  The holiday books (Christmas and Halloween) are particularly good!  The illustrations by Ann Schweninger add so much to the darling stories.  All of the books contain several short, large-print chapters,although each chapter can also be a stand alone story.  These are wonderful stories about a good family who works to establish unity and love as they face everyday events.  Perfect for reading aloud to children starting about age 3.

Tales of Oliver Pig (1979)

More Tales of Oliver Pig (1981)

Amanda Pig and Her Big Brother Oliver (1982)

Tales of Amanda Pig (1983)

More Tales of Amanda Pig (1985)

Oliver, Amanda, and Grandmother Pig (1987)

Oliver and Amanda’s Christmas (1989)

Oliver Pig at School (1990)

Amanda Pig on Her Own (1991)

Oliver and Amanda’s Halloween (1992)

Oliver and Amanda and the Big Snow (1995)

Amanda Pig, Schoolgirl (1997)

Amanda Pig and Her Best Friend Lollipop (1998)

Oliver and Albert, Friends Forever (2000)

Amanda Pig and The Awful Scary Monster (2003)

Oliver the Mighty Pig (2004)

Amanda Pig and the Really Hot Day (2005)

Oliver Pig and the Best Fort Ever (2006)

Amanda Pig, First Grader (2007)

Amanda Pig and the Wiggly Tooth (2008)

Early grade reading level, each volume about 50 pages, published from 1979 – 2008.

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Watership Down: A Novel by Richard Adams (1972)

watership.jpgIn true British literary tradition, Watership Down began as a story Richard Adams told his daughters night after night as an ongoing bedtime story.  Eventually they convinced him to write it down into a proper book.  He did, and after being rejected by 7 publishing houses (sound familiar??), it was published and became an  international best seller in the 1970s.  Don’t you love that??

Watership Down is a nearly 500-page novel following a small colony of rabbits’ epic journey to establish a new warren.  The plot and writing are so good, you’ll completely forget you’re reading a novel about a group of little bunnies.  Although Mr. Adam’s rabbits can talk, they are still rabbits who hop and dig and forage for food.

I can’t wait for you to meet Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig and Kehaar!  This isn’t a baby, fairy story.  It’s a novel of daring and survival, just right for your high school reader — or YOU!

There is a sequel Tales From Watership Down (288 pages).

High School reading level, 476 pages, Books for Boys, Published in 1972

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James Herriot’s Treasury for Children by James Herriot (1992)

Yes, here I am again recommending ANOTHER book by James Herriot!

james herriot.jpgIf your children are too young for the All Creatures Great and Small etc. books, James Herriot’s Treasury for Children is a darling collection of short stories with gorgeous illustrations for young children.  I bought this at Sam’s Club back in the 90s, and enjoyed reading it with my son many times when he was little.  Now I pull it off the shelf any time my grandchildren are visiting and we snuggle on the couch for a little time with Moses the kitten, Bonny the show-horse, or Smudge the little lost lamb — and 5 more stories.

James Herriot’s Treasury for Children appears to be out of print, but you can probably find it at your library, your mom or grandma’s house or from several third-party sellers at Amazon.

Read-aloud for early grader readers, 260 pages, Published in 1992.  

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