School is almost out, but pirates are most definitely still in, which is why it is wonderful to come across a picture book like A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade. In it, a young boy gets ready for his first day of school, accompanied by all of his imaginary pirate friends. He awakens to his scurvy dog happily licking his face, but there’s no time to wait! Ye must set sheets to the wind and sail!
The text, all in pirate talk, might be a bit distancing at first, but with a glossary in the back and the clear illustrations, I think most young first mates will be able to figure out what’s going on. A parent could even make up a game with their child, figuring out what “Gangway me hearties!” could possibly mean.
In A Tale of Two Castles, by Gail Carson Levine, young Elodie embarks on her journey to Two Castles with the warning of her family ringing in her ears: beware of ogres and dragons, and, even worse, the whited sepulcher. Elodie’s parents think she will apprentice to a weaver. But headstrong, independent Elodie dreams of becoming a mansioner--an actress. As she nears Two Castles, Elodie discovers that the free,10-year apprenticeships have been abolished. She does not have enough money to pay for an apprenticeship or to pay for the voyage home. What will she do? How will she survive?
Ella Fitzgerald developed a love for music and singing while she was a young girl growing up in New York. She and her mother Tempie used to dance around their apartment while Ella's younger sister Frances repeatedly put the needle back to the beginning of the record so that they could dance and sing the day away. They had such a grand time that they forgot all about the washing and the ironing. The book Skit Skat Raggedy Cat Ella Fitzgerald by Roxanne Orgill and illustrated by Sean Qualls introduces us to the young Ella. At thirteen, Ella and her friend Charlie were singing and dancing on Morgan Street outside the apartment building. It was 1930 in Yonkers New York and people did not have much money. But some folks were able to spare some change for Ella and Charlie. They occasionally had a nickel or two tossed at them.
Charlie and Ella put their nickels together and they were able to take the Number 1 trolley to the end of the line. From there they climbed aboard the subway train to 125th Street. They were in Harlem. Ella watched the dancers at the Savoy Ballroom on Lenox Avenue. When Ella and Charlie danced outside the theatre, people tossed them their loose change. They were making more money than the shoeshine boys. Ella knew that she was going to be famous and she told everyone so.
In Jacqueline Davies’ The Lemonade War, Jessie Treski and her brother Evan have a pretty good relationship…usually. But when Evan finds out that Jessie will be skipping third grade and will share his fourth-grade classroom, he gets pretty angry. It’s bad enough that his sister gets all the good grades, but now she is going to mess up things with his friends as well. His anger grows…and grows…and then he explodes, saying awful things to her that he knows he will regret later. Jessie responds and their argument swells until they make a wager with high odds, all riding on who can sell the most lemonade in the last five days before school starts.
Sometimes you want to do more than just dig in the dirt, and a targeted gardening project is an excellent way to develop green thumbs. DK’s new gardening book for kids, Ready, Set, Grow! Quick and Easy Gardening Projects, offers some creative and colorful projects that won’t break the bank or send you all around town looking for obscure ingredients. Like all DK books, this one offers wonderful photographs and cheery art, making it a visual feast for the eyes as well. I loved the decorations that we can make out of foil containers, the garden buddy made out of recycled materials, and the “strawberry boot,” made from a pair of old rain boots.
There is also lots of gardening information here, such as a list of quick-to-grow plants that offer quick gratification when growing from seed (try marigolds, nasturtiums, and clary sage). There is a handy list of top microgreens, and how to grow salad greens in a succession to ensure you always have a salad handy. There are a few recipes along the way for Asian stir-fry, sun tea, nasturtium salad, and more. I loved the step-by-step instructions to make a floral tepee from morning glory seeds and branches. We will be creating ours right after Mother’s Day, and by summer’s end we’ll have a magical play area that we created ourselves.