„The Blue Bird’s Palace“ by Orianne Lallemand

Sometimes life just happens – and your blog is deserted for weeks… But no matter how stressful life is, grabbing a good book always is always like a short vacation. I really enjoy our evening story time. Transferring some if Finja’s books into their temporary home aka “moving boxes” almost hurt, although I know we’ll unpack them again in just a week. 🙂

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To make up for the smaller selection of books available outside of our countless book boxes we read some new ones. Finja now reached the age where she loves fairytales and especially everything about Disney. Because, let’s be honest: Which girl doesn’t? To achieve a balance, I try to incorporate some unusual fairytales from all over the world in our daily reading routine. Sometimes really good tales are hard to come by, especially when you are searching for strong female role models. Luckily, there are some stories with strong female protagonists – Finja was fascinated by the real-life-stories of “Goodnight stories for rebel girls” by Elena Favilly.

But heroines are not always born strong, brave and kind – sometimes they have to grow into their roles. During the last days, I fell in love with the modern version of a Russian fairytale. „The Blue Bird’s Palace“ by Orianne Lallemand was published by one of my favorite publishers, Barefoot Books.

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The magically illustrated volume tells the story of Natasha. Natasha has a wonderful childhood in the Blue Forest, spending her time picking apples, baking bread and making sweet jam with her mom. Life changes when Natasha’s mother dies during an especially cold winter. Natasha’s dad buries himself in work to forget about his wife’s death. To make up for it, he spoils Natasha with everything she wishes for. Only the tastiest food is good enough for her. She enjoys only the finest fabric and the best stories. At age sixteen, the blessed girl is beautiful, but moody. She wants more and more – and especially: A bigger, better house with more rooms. But her father refuses to leave the cottage he shared with his wife. Natasha gets consumed by her own fury. When an old woman with a blue bird offers her a wish in exchange for a tasty fruit in her basket, Natasha desires a palace. But “not just any old palace, though, a magical one. One where I can invent all kinds of different rooms whenever I like.” Natasha’s wish is granted, but it doesn’t turn out as she likes… Natasha will not be able to leave her magical palace. For some time, the girl entertains herself with inventing new rooms. She wanders the wonderful palace and is at easy with the life of a princess.

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But after some time, Natasha gets bored with inventing new rooms. She misses her dad, the orchard the grew up in – and finds back to a simpler life again. “There would be no more dressing-up sessions; no more walks through her splendid rooms; no more magnificent feasts.” The magical palace shrinks to the size of a cottage. When Natasha discovers she’s able to leave the palace as a blue bird at night, she spends her days baking bread, leaving the loaves on the doorsteps of the poorest cottages. Will Natasha’s kindness be repaid? Will she be able to return to her father?

What I loved about “The Blue Bird’s Palace” is Natasha’s development from a selfish, spoiled girl to a thoughtful and kind woman. The story can be a reminder for us parents not to spoil our kids too much – but it can also be a story of growing-up and achieve happiness with being at ease with ourselves. I didn’t expect Finja to follow the modern interpretation of a Russian folk tradition. The tale is longer than most fairytales, there are not fairy godmothers or sparkles involved. But Finja listened carefully, asked questions about Natasha, her moodiness and her development to a kind young woman. Actually, she just snatched the book away while I was reviewing it, quickly retiring into her room to browse through the pages!

Barefoot Books recommends “The Blue Bird’s Palace” for age 5 to 10, but the book offers a complex story and is a wonderful gift for adult readers, too.

There is just one word left for the illustrations by Carole Henaff: Beautiful! The acrylic artwork seems to be inspired by The Arabian Nights and other classics, uniting the classical fairytale illustration with a radiant, more modern approach.

“The Blue Bird’s Palace” is a wonderful tale for children and adults every age – from “twonagers” to teenagers to adults 🙂

“The Blue Bird’s Palace”
written by Orianne Lallemand
illustrated by Carole Henaff
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Barefoot Books
Language: English
ISBN-13: 978-1846868856

„Sophie Sue – Book 1: Robbie the Rhino“ by Stef Albert

We always had pets as part of our family and I can just imagine how author and illustrator Stef Albert felt after passing of his beloved Dachshund “Sophie Sue” … Stef Albert set pen to paper and created “The Magical Adventures of Sophie Sue” as an educational and inspirational adventure series for children and a way for Sophie Sue’s legacy to live on. “Sophie Sue travelled the world, sailed the seven seas and lived in a variety of countries. Always ready for the next adventure and loved by all who knew her, Sophie Sue touched the hearts of many.” Stef Albert’s mission: Through magical rescue missions, Sophie Sue and her animal friends teach children love towards pets and animals, awareness on endangered species, international travel, countries, flags, cultures and even a few foreign words in each story.

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Dogs and world cultures – doesn’t that sound great? We were thrilled when Stef Albert contacted us about writing a review of the first part of the Sophie Sue series! „Sophie Sue – Book 1: Robbie the Rhino“ arrived just in time for Christmas with free stickers of Sophie’s animal friends and a bookmark. To be honest: I let Finja browse through the first adventure of Sophie Sue alone before I had a peek. Funny enough our four-year-old understood most of the story without even being able to read. And she had lots of questions right away: “Are these the Rhino’s parents?” “Why are they in a cage?” “Are these bad men?”

We read the book together a few days later. The story: Sophie Sue is a friendly Wiener dog with lots of friends. And Sophie Sue has lots of magic, too: Her magic ball tells her whenever an animal around the world needs help and she’s able to turn into a special Wiener-Copter to start a rescue mission with all her friends. Today Rhino Robby from South Africa needs Sophie Sue’s help. On the way to the country on the South tip of the African continent giraffe Larry Long tells his friend about South Africa and its inhabitants, its flag and spoken languages. Within “Sophie-seconds” the copter arrives in the bush of South Africa; the animals can spot Robbie Rhino right away. Poachers have kidnapped his parents and Robbie tries to keep up with the fast driving truck who will take his parents away… Sophie and her friends arrived just in time – but will they be able to rescue the Rhinos and bring the family back together?

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“Robbie Rhino” teaches children about language, nature and culture of South Africa.

I loved that Steph Albert teaches a lot about the destination country, in this case South Africa. Basics like the flag, language or characteristics of a certain culture will stick with the young readers. In this book of the series children learn to say “Thank you” and “Goodbye” in Afrikaans. He also educates about conservation and nature protection. The important of these topics shouldn’t be underestimated in today’s world! I want our daughter to be raised with the awareness of other cultures and the need to protect nature and wild animals. And as I spend some month in Namibia during High School I loved to hear some Afrikaans words again!

Finja loved the colorful, almost cartoon-like illustrations by the author. Sophie Sue and her friends show lots of expression; the thieves seem like caricatures. She also caught on to the moral of the story pretty quick, even without me reading the whole book right away!

Sophie Sue’s magic makes rescue missions over continents possible and although a dog turning into a helicopter being a little much for me (especially after Sophie’s house falls away when she turned fist, but is whole again when the animals arrive back after they adventure) it seems to spark children’s imagination and may be one of the reasons why younger kids love Sophie Sue. I read Fantasy novels as well, so it’s absolutely understandable!

Robbie the Rhino” is just the first of eight Sophie Sue adventures. The curious Wiener will travel to India to rescue an elephant, will visit Croatia, Frankfurt and other places of the world. Most of the books will be released in 2017 and are available for pre-order on the Sophie Sue homepage. Until then young fans of can find a free holiday video about Radkus Reindeer in Russia, a short ‘Meet the Characters‘, screensaver and more online.

Radkus Reindeer in Russia by Stef Albert from Sophie Sue on Vimeo.

Stef Albert donates a large portion of proceeds from The Magical Adventures of Sophie Sue to animal and children organizations.

More information:
„Sophie Sue – Book 1: Robbie the Rhino“
written and illustrated by Stef Albert
available online

“Clive and his hats” by Jessica Spanyol

I’m not a friend of gender neutral education. Because, let’s face it: Girls and boys just are different. That doesn’t mean that there is any justification for gender stereotypes though. Although boys and girls are different, learn differently and have different interest, girls play with fire trucks, too. And boys like to play kitchen. Or to dress up.

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Clive, the hero of the board book “Clive and his hats” by Jessica Spanyol, is a boy with a vivid imagination. He likes to build castles out of sand and jump into puddles. He loves to play in his little pool and to pretend he’s a cowboy. But he also likes to dress up, play peek-a-boo and wearing his own creation during a visit in the art gallery. Clive has lots of hats – and bunny ears are just part of his inventory as a fireman hat and a wooly hat for cold days. Because “Clive likes lots and lots of hats!”

“Clive and his hats” by Jessica Spanyol is a book for children age 1 to 3. The board book convinces with sturdy pages, that are easy to grasp for early readers. We loved the colorful illustrations by the author – Finja especially likes Clive’s black Moshi cat and it’s mischieveos smile… Jessica Spanyol doesn’t just write to challenge gender stereotypes, her illustrations embrace diversity: Clive’s friends are from all parts of the world. This is one of the best parts of this book in my opinion – because is there a better way to show our children how diverse and colorful the world is? Or, as another children’s book publisher stated: “Books are for ALL children”. You want your child to find themselves or their friends in the book they read. You want them to become tolerant and aware that there is no “average” kid. Because there are girls playing with cars – and boys playing with dolls, there are children from Asia and with lighter or darker skin color than yours!

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This book is part of the “All about Clive” book series about Clive and his everyday life. Jessica Spanyol created books about “Clive and his babies”, “Clive and his art” and “Clive and his bags”. We didn’t read the other parts of the series, but the titles promise more diverse books who defy gender stereotypes. And we definitely need more diverse books to make the world a little more colorful for toddlers and preschoolers!

The “All about Clive” series was created by Child’s Play International. According to the publisher, Child’s play “is more than just a publishing program, it is a philosophy.” As children learn most about the world around them in their early years, the publisher wants to expose children to diverse, quality books “to develop an enquiring mind and a lifelong love of reading.”

More information:
“Clive and his hats”
written and illustrated by Jessica Spanyol
Age Range: 1 – 3 years
Grade Level: Preschool and up
Series: All about Clive
Board book: 12 pages
Publisher: Child’s Play International; Brdbk edition (July 1, 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-13: 978-1846438851

„Lessons for the wolf“ by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley

What do you admire, which characteristics don’t you like at all, who do you want to be when you are grown up? Growing up means not only finding yourself, but also creating yourself to a certain degree. We are the ones deciding who we are – to a certain level. Because you can never escape who you are, even if you try to pretend on a superficial level.

"Lessons for the Wolf" is another Inuit tale published by Inhabit Media
“Lessons for the Wolf” is another Inuit tale published by Inhabit Media

With “Lessons for the wolf“, Inhabit Media brings another Artic legend to life and captures young readers with the fascinating world of Inuit mythology. Here, they meet a wolf who spends his days admiring all the other animals of the tundra. He is filled with love for the tundra, wants to be part of it – wants to be more than “just a wolf”. Making a plan he collects a pair of caribou antlers, steals owl feathers and scrounges up wolverine hair.

But when the magic of the Land finally grants his wish and he becomes a mixture of all the animals he admired, this wolf finds out that what he admires may not be what he really wants in the end… Near starving, weak and lonely he learns an important message: “you cannot admire beauty by becoming it.”

"You cannot admire beauty by becoming it"
“You cannot admire beauty by becoming it”

With a quite complex message “Lessons for the wolf” is a mystic tale for Kindergarten- and elementary-school-aged children. Our almost-four-year-old loved the story and was fascinated by the emotions of the main character, but didn’t quite get the message right – according to her this story was about “dressing up” and she couldn’t understand why it didn’t make the wolf happy. She loved this Northern legend anyway, as did I! “Lessons for the wolf” is a wonderful way to introduce children to a culture they wouldn’t get in contact with otherwise.

Inhabit Media, an Inuit-owned publishing company with a head office located in Iqaluit, Nunavut, has been working to encourage Arctic residents to share their stories and their knowledge. Almost every book Inhabit Media publishes is also available in Inuktitut or Inuinnaqtun. “One of our aims is to ensure that Arctic voices are heard and that they have the opportunity to contribute to Canadian literature. Since our inception, Inhabit Media has been working with elders and storytellers to ensure that the rich story-telling culture of the Inuit is preserved and passed on. As well, we have been working with elders, hunters, and knowledgeable residence to ensure that the rich traditional knowledge about the environment is not lost.”

More information:
Lessons for the wolf
Written by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley
Publisher: Inhabit Media
Illustrated by Alan Cook
ISBN: 978-1-77227-005-1
Hardcover

Please enjoy our review of “Leah’s mustache party” by the same publisher!

“Thistle Games – A brawn Scots story for bairns” by Mike Nicholson and Jo Litchfield

We traveled to Germany in April, so we are staying home this summer. Have to enjoy the time when you are not dependent on school break! Finja had some half day camps at her regular preschool and the climbing gym to give me some time to work (I’m always filling in for some colleagues in the summer) – other than that we enjoyed time to climb, bike and read. Finja is growing too heavy for the jogging stroller, so not as much running as we planned…

But back to our current reading curriculum. Some of you know that I was a Barefoot ambassador for a few months – I love their multicultural books and the motto of their summer reading program: “Read the world”. Although I’m not working for Barefoot anymore and we didn’t sign up for any formal “summer reading program” you might guess that we read a lot – and we love bilingual and diverse books! No better way to spark curiosity and an understanding for other cultures at an early age.

Welcome to the Thistle Games, Scotland's best highland game!

For two days in a row we visited Scotland now – even if it was “just” a mind travel. I have to be honest that even though I’m from Europe I never traveled to Great Britain. So this was new for me, too. We got some great review copies from PictureKelpies, a range of Scottish children’s picture books, all of which have Scottish authors or illustrators, are set in Scotland or have Scottish themes. In perfect sync to the Olympic games we even took part in the “Thistle Games, Scotland’s best Highlands game!”

Thistle Games – A brawn Scots story for bairns” by Mike Nicholson and Jo Litchfield describes the life around the “Thistle Games”, a fictional series of traditional Scottish games and competitions while introducing some of these funny Scottish words. To be honest, I had to use lots of search engines to find out that the “Thistle Games” are indeed a fictional event, but I’m sure there are lots of similar happenings all over Scotland…

“Thistle Games” is a fun little book for everyone who is interested in life in Scotland, Scottish culture and traditions, sports and learning new words. Dwam or Lugs anyone? I’m not a big friend of rhymes and the Scottish words made it a little difficult to read out loud at the first time. Our sports fan Finja wanted to read this book again and again, so I think we finally figured it out!

So – are you reading the world this summer?

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More information:
Thistle Games – A brawn Scots story for bairns
written by Mike Nicholson
illustrated by Jo Litchfield
Series: Picture Kelpies
Publisher: Floris Books
ISBN-13: 978-1782502548

I also loved the activity sheet for readers and teachers!

Cultural literacy: Read the world this summer!

My husband and I grew up in Germany – Finja was born in the US. German and American culture are not so different, but we use books to give Finja a basic understanding of German language. But it can go further than that! Sharing stories from around the world is a great way to start a conversation about diversity – even before children start thinking about other cultures actively!

20160503_222633566_iOSWhen you love reading you want to share this love with your children. This is the most important part – in the end it doesn’t matter of you join one of the different summer reading programs available or share the books you love with your children. But I have another idea: Why not “read” the world this summer? Why not only share the love of reading with your children, but also learn something about world cultures?

Why summer reading is so important

Summer reading is important. Not only because reading is fun, but because it’s a fun way to work your kid’s brain and prevent learning loss during the summer break. What is learning loss? According to a newer study, average school aged children loose one to three months of learning through the summer. This not just applies to school aged children, but to preschoolers and Kindergardeners as well. Reading interactively is a fun way to keep these little minds sharp!

Reading over the summer is critical for maintaining and expanding the intellectual development of children of all ages. The good news is: With some simple steps you can take to keep your child’s mind sharp over the summer!

According to experts, reading 6 books or more over the summer is essential in keeping “summer brain drain” away. The summer is a great chance to build your library! Have a diverse selection of books on hand from which your children can choose. Not surprisingly children are more engaged when they have the opportunity to select books themselves!

And now to the fun part: Bring the books to life. Give your children more to look forward than “just” a book. Pair it with activities. Why not pair arts and crafts with the book your child loves? I love Pinterest to get some ideas – that makes it easy to tailor activities to the age and interest of your children.

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When talking about cultural literacy a fun way to encourage your children to “read around the world” and keep the engagement going is a “world passport”, which is a fun activity to do with your kids. From every country they read a book they can color or stamp it in. Barefoot also uses a world atlas as a map to organize summer reading. Africa, Europe, Asia, America – which continent seems to be most fascinating for your child? Every book about other cultures can give you and your children insight into other parts of the world and a welcome break from everyday school life! 

Read the world!
elephant-dance_fc_wNot only does reading together help children’s cognitive development, but it also strengthens your parent-child bond. Plus, we sometimes forget about something else: As parents we are also concerned about our children’s character development. What kind of people will they grow up to be? We want them to be caring and socially conscious citizens of the world: self-confident, curious and compassionate. And what better way to grow your childrens’ confidence, empathy and knowledge about other cultures than books? That’s why I love the Barefoot books summer reading program. Barefoot books cares about global citizenship. Their reading program encourages families to “travel the world” with a world atlas and use this as a map to organize summer reading. Barefoot books are about cultural diversity – but you sure can use every book to “travel the world” with your children! But: What books will you read? Maybe you already have a selection of cultural books from your home country or out of your own bookshelf. Perfect! Other than that I have some recommendations for you. All these recommendations are from Barefoot books, as I love their cultural books and they fit perfectly into a summer reading program “around the world”. However, please understand these recommendations just as this: Recommendations. Every book about other cultures can give you and your children insight into other parts of the world, so please choose the books you like!

weallwentonsafari_genpb_fc_rgb_w_1Africa
For children (and parents 🙂 ) who are fascinated by the African continent I can recommend two books:

We all went on safari”: Join Arusha, Mosi, Tumpe and their Maasai friends as they set out on a counting journey through the grasslands of Tanzania. Along the way, the children encounter all sorts of animals including elephants, lions and monkeys, while counting from one to ten in both English and Swahili. You could create masks from paper plate as an activity to go with this book!

Another great book is “Mama Panya’s Pancake”: On market day, Mama Panya’s son Adika invites everyone he sees to a pancake dinner. How will Mama Panya ever feed them all? This clever and heartwarming story about Kenyan village life teaches the importance of sharing, even when you have little to give.  The book comes with Mama Panya’s pancake recipe.

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Southern Asia
Elephant Dance” lets you listen along with Ravi to Grandfather’s captivating stories about India, where the sun is like a ferocious tiger and monsoon rains cascade like waterfalls. Notes after the story include facts about India’s animals, food, culture and religion, and a simple elephant dance music score. “Elephant Dance” is a NAPRA Nautilus Award Finalist.

Mexico
Or maybe sunny Mexico is your favorite? Then you’ll love “Off we go to Mexico“. Swim in turquoise seas, admire grey whales and monarch butterflies, trek to native villages and sing and dance to the music of Mariachi bands. Along the way, you can learn Spanish words and phrases and discover Mexican culture. Why not pair this book about Mexican culture with a visit in an original Mexican restaurant?

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You love fairytales from different cultures and want to “travel” to Asia with your children? Then “Lin Yi’s Lantern – A Moon Festival Tale” is a fantastic book for you and your children. Meet Lin Yi — a little boy with a big heart and a talent for bargaining. Tonight is the moon festival and he wants nothing more than a red rabbit lantern; but first he must buy the things his mother needs at the market. This heartwarming story shows the rewards of putting others first, and includes educational notes at the end about the Chinese moon festival, life in rural China, and the legend of the moon fairy.

chandras-magic-light_w_1One of the newer books, that will captivate elementary school aged children as well as adults, is “Chandra’s Magic Light”. Join sisters Chandra and Deena at the market in Nepal. A man is selling lamps that are powered by the sun instead of kerosene, and Chandra knows the magic solar lamp would help her baby brother’s cough. But how will they afford one? This lyrical tale is brought to life with luminous acrylic artwork, and comes complete with seven pages of endnotes, including an illustrated map of Nepal, notes on Nepali daily life and instructions for making a pizza box solar oven, which is a great activity to go with your summer reading. This book was developed with the help and advice of SolarAid UK and ECCA (Nepal).

Which books are you choosing?
You don’t need to buy the recommended books for this summer reading program – every book about other cultures can give you and your children insight into other parts of the world and a welcome break from everyday school life! Which books are you choosing?

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