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The Well Written Kitten

blog for all things related to children’s literature
by Candace J.Hardy

This blog is dedicated to the memory of Cat Lambert whose untiring efforts to support artists and musicians in the Toledo, Ohio area continued until her untimely passing this past summer; thus the cat and kitten references. This blog is for readers and their parents; I want to scour the bookstores and libraries for the best of the best including some oldies and classics. I look forward to hearing from parents and children alike, and as always, I will do everything in my power to make sure this blog is family friendly and “kitten” safe.

My name is Candace Hardy. I am an author/illustrator from NW Ohio. My love of books goes back to my childhood when my favorite place to read was enclosed in the laundry chute which encircled me like a cage. With sheets draped around me tent-like, I was good for hours with my favorite CHERRY AMES NURSE series.

Today, I see children descending on our library browsing the rows of CD’s, and leaving, for the most part, bookless. This blog is dedicated to children who love to read, love to be read to, have found reading boring, are emergent readers or are sophisticated readers looking for high interest age-appropriate reads. The WELL-WRITTEN KITTEN will try each month to include some good reads from each genre.

To Mama and Papa Cats To help the mama and papa kitten select the very best reads for their little litter as well as words of caution where appropriate.

PICTURE BOOKS Itty Bitty Kittys Books with a much lower word count and aimed at the earliest ‘listener’. Great for preschoolers who will enjoy the illustrations which often carry the story line.

For “Mewly” reading kittens These books are for the emergent reader; from the early reader who can COP_kitty_blackandwhitepick out letters and repetitive words to the school age early reader who can begin reading for himself. Remember this child will often enjoy listening to a book with a higher interest level than his reading level; nice time for Mama and Papa cat to read an early high interest chapter book creating a lifelong love of reading and books.

FOR THE Mid-Grade Kittens Mid-grade novels with a word range from 20,000 – 55,000, aimed at 8-12 year olds, some aimed at the “tween reader” and having a longer word count for the “upper middle grade”.

THE SOPHISTO-KITTY This is for the young adult reader; YA is the official category. The age of the young adult reader has dropped drastically in recent years. Perhaps wonderful books such as the HARRY POTTER SERIES have in part been responsible for that change. I very much consider the first installment, HARRY POTTER and the SORCERERS STONE to be a strong midgrade. By the time the child is reading DEATHLY HALLOWS, the series should be characterized as a YA because of word count, sophistication of language and subject matter as well as intensity.

That being said, I hope no parent will overlook this amazing series because of content. My advice to Mama and Papa cat is to be aware of your child’s reading choices but not censor. catnipI’ll give each book a “catnip rating” . Last but not least I’ll try to include THE WELL-WRITTEN KITTEN’s Current Read; so feel free to read along and give it your own catnip rating.

 

December 2015

The Christmas Kitty

 

 

Christmas and books just naturally go together. One of my fondest memories growing up was Christmas Eve when my aunt spent Christmas with us. She stayed with my sister and me in our room. An old army cot was put into place for my older sister and my aunt slept in her bed. We were allowed to place on two gifts under the bed to be shared the next morning, in all probability to keep us entertained until my parents awakened. It was almost always a book. How excited I was to feel along the side of the package and discover the unmistakable spine of a book. When I was really small it was Bobsey Twins for me and Nancy Drew for my sister. But one year I remember distinctly receiving Mary Poppins. Now I know, most kids today cannot hear that name without an image of the Disney version, complete with Julie Andrews. But the bright red cover and it’s silhouette of a lady flying with an unbrella captured my imagination and I’m quite happy that I wasn’t given preconceived notions provided by Disney, however enchanting that movie is.

 

For Traditional Kitties and their families.

Of course the classic Christmas tales should not be overlooked. Consider a keepsake edition of the original

THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS by Clement Moore. Don’t let the classical language deter you from the original; I guarantee you, no child will miss the message because of reindeer flew like the “down of a thistle”. This is literature at its best. Fantam apps carries the 1912 version with illustrations by Jessie Wilcox Smith. Here is the link for other apps you might enjoy for android or phone: NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS APPS

Not usually thought of as a children’s book but a favorite classic nonetheless is

A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens. Read slowly and with great interest on the part of the narrator, children will love the lyrical prose from “Marley was dead, of course” to “God bless us every one.”

 

November 2015

A Word about the YA (YOUNG ADULT) READER

 

I’ve dubbed the young adult reader as the SOPHISTO-KITTY. Smug, sophisticated and dying to get into the adult book section. And that’s the problem, the reading level at this point is beyond the maturity level. And it’s kind of a rite of passage to graduate to all adult books. Sadly, this teen (and sometimes pre-teen reader) is missing out on some really good reads that address real life teen problems that teens are passionate about. When my children were in junior high, a point in time when they could engage in the wonderful world of young adult (YA) novels, many of their contemporaries were wandering into the adult section, almost exclusively and as a rite of passage to Stephen King. Now I’m a fan of Stephen King but as a parent have to say some of what he writes might be a tad powerful for the average thirteen year old. My goal is to scour the library shelves for books that entice those sophisticated mature readers without compromising their still youthful sensitivities. Many YA reads are timeless and have become “required” reading. If that isn’t a turn-off for most mature readers, I don’t know what is.

This following summer reading list for 6th grade certainly isn’t exhaustive but a great cross selection of books for this age group.

  • Absolutely Normal Chaos by Sharon Creech Belle
  • Prater’s Boy by Ruth White
  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, Donna Diamond (illus.) –
  • Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman
  • The Complete Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, Chris Van Allsburg (illus.) –
  • The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Alton Raible (illus.) –
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven
  • The Island by Gary Paulsen
  • Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
  • The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman
  • Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
  • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, Jules Feiffer (illus.) –
  • The River by Gary Paulsen
  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
  • Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawl
  • The Wish Giver, Three Tales of Coven Tree by Bill Brittain, Andrew Glass (illus.) –
  • Words of Stone by Kevin Henkes
  • Wringer by Jerry Spinelli

I have to say it would be a strong reader (and an ambitious one) to cover these even a large selection of these books in asummer. It’s truly a decent list compiled by http://www.educationworld.com/summer_reading/6th_grade.shtml Many of these books are ageless classics, some relatively new, some I recognize as having occurred on my own children’s required reading lists when they were young and some I recognize by authors who never fail to please. I have highlighted those which I have read and strongly recommend or whose authors are exemplary.

 

Thanksgiving Reads

In keeping with the Thanksgiving holiday, I’ve included some fun reads for all ages. CRANBERRY THANKSGIVING Picture storybook. Text for strong young reader or any age read aloud. cranberrythanksgiving Here’s a cover that most parents and educators will surely recognize for this Thanksgiving classic. Every year Grandmother invited a guest for Thanksgiving dinner and allowed Maggie to do the same. “Ask someone poor or lonely,” she always said. Thanksgiving was Grandmother’s favorite day of the year. The cooking was done and her famous cranberry bread was cooling on a wooden board. But she wasn’t happy to find out Maggie had invited the unsavory Mr. Whiskers to dinner. Would her secret cranberry bread recipe be safe with him in the house? After a long absence this delightful 1971 classic is back. So is Grandmother’s secret recipe. Five catnips for this classic.


SILLY TILLY’S THANKSGIVING DINNER

For the emergent reader, AN I CAN READ BOOK Level 1. Thanksgiving story. Written and illustrated by all-time favorite children’ author Lillian Hoban, best remembered for her Arthur the Chimpanzee books and my favorite, Frances the Badger series. Animorphia at its best, Tilly ” forgets to remember” everything from invitations to her recipes. Reminiscent of AMELIA BEDILIAS antics, the young reader will appreciate the humor. Three catnips for this 63 page early reader.

 

 

For ITTY BITTY KITTIES, a couple of wonderful wintry but non-holiday picturebooks.

THE SNOW by Sam Usher. It is the first snow of the season; who wouldn’t want to be the first to put their footsteps on the pristine untouched snow. But waiting for someone is agonizing. And Grandpa is taking his time to dress and get ready to go with the little boy. A wonderful read with sequencing that will keep the youngest reader absorbed and simple but colorful illustrations make this a good pick for littlest kitties; great for snuggling in a lap. I give this read four catnips.

A SNOWY DAY by Jack Ezra KeatsSnowyDayKeats

A list of favorite winter picture books just wouldn’t be complete without a mention of this classic for the Itty Bitty Kitties.

I have loved this book for many years; simple colors and the Jack Ezra Keats first attempt at a collage. A

Caldecott winner, A SNOWY DAY, also broke color barriers for children’s literature, Peter, the hero of the

story, having been created from 1940’s photos of a three or four year old African American boy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEmBTYc7Ivo Available in its completion on YouTube.

A couple of concerns; I don’t believe this is professionally read and the reader’s voice is uneven and a tad distracting. Also the text is partially hidden.

However it is another wonderful way to enjoy this read.

Definitely 5 catnips!

 

Current SOPHISTO-KITTY Read

 

FULL CICADA MOON by Marilyn Hilton

If it isn’t difficult enough to be a girl in the 1960’s who wants to be an astronaut and take Shop classes instead of Home Economics, imagine also having a Japanese mother and an African American father. A new life in Vermont proves to be very challenging for Mimi Yoshiko Oliver. But the promise of Apollo II space mission and her science project on the moon lift her spirits enough to overcome the snubs and whispers of her new classmates.

With characters so genuine and real you almost wish you lived next door, this is a charming YA or mid-grade for sophisticated readers. Charmingly written in poetry format, you’ll fly through Mimi’s page turner journal. I’d love to hear what other readers think of this read.

OCTOBER 2015

Halloween reads for Bewitchin’ Kittens

For Mama and Papa Cats

Halloween is such a fun time of year and children everywhere love the costumes and treats. Their reading should reflect the joy and mystery of the season. I love to find books for the littlest kittens that have a gentle “mew”. Perhaps a goblin, witch, or broomstick; I leave the heavily paranormal and vampire stuff to Stephen King.

A favorite of mine that has been around for awhile (published in 1960) is

THE LITTLE LEFTOVER WITCH by Florence Laughlin. Warm and charming, a little witch is “stuck” after Halloween is over when her broom breaks. Of course coming from a “bewitched “ background, Felina is not the most pleasant of little girls. But the Doon family is patient and determined to help her.

A small word of caution, while charmingly vintage, values change and you might wish to explain or skip over promises of a “spanking”. And of course her excursion to the grocery store is something out of another day and age including the prices. The option of putting Felina in an “institution” is not timely, of course. A good opportunity to discuss how society has changed over time.

It was a favorite read aloud book for my daughter when she was just an emergent reader, and later she chose this as a favorite independent read.

I still give this one a strong four catnips.

For extra fun let your child don a large witch’s hat which adds to the fun when you read it together.

 

 

For “Mewly” reading kittens

Halloween is such a spooky and fun time of year. But imagine if a little witch girl broke her broom and had to stay with your family for a year? Would your family take her in? The Doon family does just that and everything from taking a bath to going to the store is very new and strange for her. I give this book 5 catnips.catnipcatnipcatnipcatnipcatnip

THE WITCHES OF WORM by Silpha Keatley Snyder

For Mama and Papa cats

This NEWBURY HONOR book is one of the lesser known books from this prolific author who has penned other childrens’ favorites such as THE EGYPT GAME.

A wonderful mystery for strong reader. Mama Kitten beware; it does deal with the subject of witchcraft and exorcism. My only concern is that the reader understand this is fiction and there was a purpose to the exorcism. The scene is amusing, pp161-164 and the reader very much gets the feeling of desperation on the part of Jessica who performs the ceremony on Worm.

For strong reading Middle Kittens

When Jessica , bored and lonely runs from her apartment in the Regency to escape to a cave she and her former friend Brandon once played in, she doesn’t expect to encounter a nearly dead newborn kitten. So gray and unlike a kitten, Jessica names it Worm. Her neighbor Mrs. Fortune, whose apartment is overrun by cats, instructs Jessica on how to bottle feed and wipe the kitten’s bottom every two hours to keep it alive.

Jessica isn’t a fan of cats and reluctantly gets up every two hours to tend the kitten. As it grows, it becomes even less kitten-like until one day in a growl it speaks to Jessica.

Joy, Jessica’s very young and stylish mother works late and spends a lot of time with her new boyfriend Alan, so Jessica has a lot of uneasy time with a strange kitten who speaks to her.

Jessica comes to believe that perhaps the cat is really a witch as it suggests things to do which will get Jessica in trouble.

A horrible storm changes everything for Jessica, her feelings about the kitten, her friendship with Brandon, and her feelings about herself.

Plotline is a bit forced and contrived at times but a worthwhile read. I give this one three catnips.

SEPTEMBER 2015

To Mama and Papa Cats

As a former elementary teacher and special education teacher, I know how hard it is to get kids interested in non-fiction and particularly historical non-fiction. Books written in the first person as diaries or with real characters solving real problems can change all that.

As everyone takes one last dip in the pool, runs through the sprinkler, takes in a movie before heading back to the classroom, I think of a time in the 1950’s when the pools and movie theatres closed and many children whose summers began with the joyful abandonment of summer break ended with braces, iron lungs or worse.

It was the polio epidemic of the 1950’s. Author Peg Kehret remembers it well in her book SMALL STEPS; THE YEAR I GOT POLIO.

FOR THE Mid-Grade Kittens

Meet twelve year old Peg Schulze (later, author Peg Kehret). An ordinary Friday Morning in September can’t go by fast enough as Peg awaits a Homecoming Parade for which she and her have created a magnificent float, sure to win first prize.

She tries to ignore a twitching on her thigh during chorus and hands that tremble as she reaches for her glass of milk. But she can’t ignore the high fever and headache that finally send her willingly to bed. The next morning, with a temperature of 102, too ill to dress herself, she is taken to a hospital where a procedure called a spinal tap gives her and her family a diagnosis. Polio.

You’ll cheer her on as she takes her first hesitant steps and learns to use fore-arm crutches. You’ll laugh as she hides the goodies under the beds that her parents bring. You’ll cry with her as her favorite cards and toys have to be burned before she can move to another room in the hospital.

This 174 page book will have you turning pages as she goes to a hospital for polio victims, meets three other girls who share each others’ journeys and finally makes her way home again to a life that will be forever changed.

I give this read five catnips

 

 

For the Mama and Papa cats of Itty Bitty Kittys

Picture books are of course a mainstay and delight for the littlest readers. In fact many children return to their favorites long after being read to has been replaced by independent reading. At this time of year the early read section of the library has numerous books to help the youngest readers with their first school experiences.

I WILL NEVER GET A STAR ON MRS. BENSON’S BLACKBOARD byJennifer K.Mann. We can all identify with the child who seems to always be going the wrong way down a one way street. Rose is that child. She doodles, she daydreams, she doesn’t finish math problems and her desk is a mess. And she wants more than anything to get a star on the blackboard.

With a heart as big as gold, she goes to work designing the very best thank you card for Mr. Sullivan who had told everyone about being an artist.. Trouble is she had just cleaned her desk, hoping for a clean desk star. Her enthusiasm for the art project rendered her desk a mess once more.

A terrific and heartfelt “read to me book” or book for the emergent reader. Illustrations are simple and colorful with wonderful expressive faces.

I give this book from Candlewick Press five catnips.

 

 

BRIGHT SKY STARRY CITY Uma Krishnawami Pictures by Aimee Sicuro

Non-fiction books sadly get a bad rap. So when I see fiction as a backdrop to non-fiction, I’m always very excited. BRIGHT SKY STARRY SKY is a color picture book aimed at the youngest astronomer. Simply written, it’s a wonderful introduction to the solar system with a more sophisticated appendix at the end of the book for the parent or mature child who would like more information.

Pheobe is excited to set up telescopes outside her dad’s store so they can see two planets, Saturn and Mars. Problem is, Pheobe lives in the city, and the city lights keep them from seeing the night constellations and planets. Then a thunderstorm cuts off the power to the city and everything including the sky is black.

I give this read four catnips.

 

 

I love, LOVE, LOVE the I Can Read series for emergent readers. The Biscuit books are filled with repetition and are perfect for the early reader to share, chiming in with the vocabulary that is familiar to them. Concepts are simple and fun with light-hearted illustrations throughout.

BISCUIT GOES CAMPING by Alyssa Satin Capucilli illustrated by Pat Schories explores the familiar sights and sounds of backyard camping. Fireflies, frogs, and the booming of thunder. Of course, Biscuit repeats, “Woof, woof” and the littlest reader can recognize this and other repeated words to join in the fun. Loveable and warm read, perfect for sharing at nap or bedtime, I give this read 5 catnips.