Little Blue Truck

Schertle, Alice (2008). Little Blue Truck. Boston: Harcourt, Inc.


At first I was remiss that I’d left Alice Schertle’s Little Blue Truck off of my “Top Ten Picks for Toddlers” post, but then I realized that with three sequels, it has probably earned a post all to itself. Filled with two of little boys’ favorite interests, trucks and animals, this story of a friendly truck helping others, and being helped himself, is a favorite among my early intervention students. The premise is simple: after helping out a self-centered dump  truck who gets himself in a fix, Little Blue Truck, likewise, needs a hand. Because he is well-loved by his many animal friends, they work together to come to his rescue. In the end the big, yellow dump truck learns a valuable lesson.

Sequel Little Blue Truck Leads the Way teaches about taking turns and putting others ahead of oneself, and Little Blue Truck’s Christmas is just pure, counting backwards fun- complete with twinkling lights adorning the final page. Illustrator Jill McElmurry also deserves praise for her colorful, engaging drawings.

Marketed as a preschool book, this series is especially appropriate for ages 2 1/2 to 4 years.


Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Lin, Grace (2009). Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. New York, NY: Little, Brown, & Company.


In this middle grade fantasy author Grace Lin does an outstanding job of weaving Chinese folktales into an original, engaging story. Living beside “Fruitless Mountain”, Minli’s hard life working the rice fields alongside her parents, is brightened by only one thing: her father’s stories. When a talking goldfish provides her with directions to “Never-Ending Mountain”, Minli sets out to find the Old Man of the Moon and change her family’s fortune. Like the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, a dragon who cannot fly joins the heroine in her quest when he is freed. Together they embark on a journey of courage and self-discovery, meeting more than a few interesting characters along the way.

This book is phenomenal for character studies and comparisons: Ba’s contentment versus Ma’s discontentment, Magistrate Tiger’s selfishness versus Jade Dragon’s children’s and other characters’ self-sacrifice, and Minli’s courage, to name a few. It is a perfect introduction to Chinese folktales, and a wonderful way to capture student interest when studying this culture. Opportunities to incorporate geography (the origins of the Jade, Pearl, Yellow, Long, and Black rivers, as given in folklore, are included), technology (Minli must make a compass for her journey), creative writing (they can attempt to write their own folktales), and history, abound. Grace Lin’s website offers a reader’s guide with ten questions that make excellent writing prompts. (These can also be found at the end of the Little, Brown, and Company 2011 edition of the book).

And the best news is Lin doesn’t stop here: sequels Starry River of the Sky and When the Sea Turned to Silver are nearly as good as the first book of the series. The books are quite intricately woven, and I would suggest students journal or illustrate the story as they read to aid in following them, especially the last in the trilogy.


Recommended for ages eight to twelve, (grades three to seven), this Newbery Honor Book and New York Times best seller is too good to be missed, so if your teens haven’t had the opportunity to enjoy it, use it as a family read aloud. It is one of the finest works of children’s literature published since the century began, and I expect will remain in my top five favorites for upper elementary fiction for years to come.

Sugarbush Spring

Chall, Marsha Wilson (2000). Sugarbush Spring. New York, NY: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books.


It is February in the Finger Lakes, and the maple syrup makers are expectantly tapping trees, running lines, and watching the forecast to see when the first sap collections will be made. My husband is no exception. Any day now I will lose him to the sugarhouse (which luckily I can see from several windows of our home). My kitchen will be overtaken by giant pots, bottles, gauges, and scents of sweetness. And in the evenings, when the kids are snuggled on the couch, sleepily watching DVDs, I will sneak out and join him for the familiar annual sounds of boiling sap and crackling timber.


Marsha Wilson Chall depicts the experience exquisitely in her book, Sugarbush Spring. Through the eyes of a child, from tapping to bottling, a day of sap harvesting and syrup making is revealed in beautiful word pictures:

“I hang a pail beneath each of them and wait. The sun side spills first. Ping…ping…dripple, dripple-dripple.” (p.7)

“All around the sugarbush I measure who is ready, filling up my arms with trees.” (p.8)


But the writing is only the half of it; Jim Daly’s illustrations are nothing short of frameable. Year after year the kids and I pour over the beautiful paintings, enjoying them every bit as much as the story itself.


Maple syruping abounds in children’s literature, as I shared in the unit study I wrote several years ago (see The Old Schoolhouse magazine, Fall 2008 issue, or TOS Digital Products WeE Book “From the Tree to the Table: A Maple Syrup Story”). Miracles on Maple Hill, A Gathering of Days, The Birchbark House, Calico Bush, and Little House in the Big Woods, all include descriptions of the process in various times and places. Sugarbush Spring works especially well as a read aloud for younger children. It goes beyond the technical knowledge of syrup making (although this isn’t neglected) to the beauty of one of God’s gifts- hidden in trees for thousands of years before its discovery.


Enjoy a sign that spring is on its way. If you can, make it to the sugarbush yourself, (and if you come to ours, be sure to wear boots!). If you can’t, find yourself a copy of Sugarbush Spring.

Emily Dickinson


“There is no frigate like a book                                                                                                                                To take us lands away,                                                                                                                                            Nor any coursers like a page                                                                                                                                     Of prancing poetry.”  Emily Dickinson

Poetry is an often overlooked genre in homeschool literature and in children’s literature in general. One of my favorite collections is the Poetry for Young People series published by Sterling Children’s Books. Originally copyrighted in 1994, their 2014 editions now include no less than twenty-two well-known poets to learn about. I have chosen Emily Dickinson because there are a number of excellent fiction and non-fiction resources readily available to create a beautiful family unit study.

The Mouse of Amherst by Elizabeth Spires is told by the character of “Emmaline”, a mouse who has taken up residence in Emily’s room. Through an exchange of poems between herself and Emily Dickinson, we learn about events in Emily’s life, and develop a picture of her as a person. This book is an excellent read aloud for ages six and up, although I would say my upper elementary aged kids have appreciated it the most.

Author Eileen Spinelli’s Another Day as Emily is a fun read for fourth through sixth graders- especially for girls with younger brothers! Written in non-rhyming poetry it is a way to demonstrate that not all poems need to rhyme. Also, it’s short enough to assign as an independent read on top of other programs.


For preschoolers and lower elementary students my first choice in picture books would be Marty Rhodes Figley’s Emily and Carlo. Carlo was Emily’s Newfoundland, and her constant companion as she explored the meadows around her New England home. One other picture book about this well-known poet is Michael Bedard’s Emily, which takes the perspective of a little girl who lives on her street.

Jane Yolen writes in couplets, taking the voices of Emily, and others in her life in The Emily Sonnets: The Life of Emily Dickinson. All of the books provide historical information and could be utilized to gather facts for a biographical assignment. Poetry for Young People’s Emily Dickinson provides definitions of less familiar words used in her poems and makes an excellent framework for the other titles.


Bedard, Michael (1992). Emily. New York, New York: Doubleday Book for Young Readers.

Bolin, Frances Schoonmaker (editor)(2014). Poetry for Young People: Emily Dickinson. New York, NY: 2014

Figley, Marty Rhodes (2012). Emily and Carlo. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.

Spinelli, Eileen (2015). Another Day as Emily. New York, NY: Yearling.

Spires, Elizabeth (1999). The Mouse of Amherst. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

Yolen, Jane (2012). The Emily Sonnets. Mankato, MN: Creative Editions.